Japan's new, tougher foreign
policy By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's
commitment to the international community that Japan's
Self-Defense Forces (SDF) will join a planned
multinational force in Iraq has far-reaching
implications. After much criticism for its limited
monetary support in the first Gulf War, Japan is now
stepping up to global demands.
preferred to maintain a low profile in global politics
following its disastrous defeat in World War II. But now
Koizumi is ushering in dramatic changes that spell
uncertain times," said Rei Shiratori, head of the
Institute of Political Studies in Japan.
week, Koizumi said Japanese troops would join a United
Nations-led multinational force in Iraq as long as their
role is limited to humanitarian missions. He made the
commitment at the end of the annual two-day gathering of
leaders from the Group of Eight (G8) countries in the US
state of Georgia.
The United States failed to
win a commitment from France, Germany and other G8
members for troops to serve in Iraq after June 30, when
power will be handed over to a new Iraqi
Shiratori said the Iraq crisis has
forced Japan to reconsider its traditional postwar
diplomacy that leaned heavily on monetary contributions
to support the country's global responsibilities.
"The Japanese are now realizing that financial
contributions are not enough, and Japan must be more
active in a political and military sense," he said.
Shiratori added, "The consensus, though, is that
rather than following the United States, the best way of
doing this is supporting the United Nations' efforts for
In recent years, Japan has slowly and
discreetly sought more active participation in
international peacekeeping efforts. Japanese troops have
been sent to Cambodia, East Timor, and most recently to
the Indian Ocean, where the Maritime SDF provided the US
military with logistical support in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Japan has been routinely
criticized for "checkbook diplomacy", notably during the
first Gulf War in 1991 when Tokyo failed to mobilize its
troops. Although Japan contributed US$13 billion (1.4
trillion yen) in aid during that conflict, it received a
lot of flak from Western countries that accused Tokyo of
watching from the sidelines while other nations did the
dirty work in securing global stability.
Professor Yoko Iwama at the National Graduate
Institute for Policy Studies suggested that Japan's more
active foreign policy also stems from increased US
expectations. After the tragic events of September 11,
2001, Washington expects more support from its close
allies for future military operations beyond its
"The end of the Cold War has seen a
slow shift in the strategic Japan-US security pact,"
Iwama said. "Now with US President George Bush's
anti-terrorism policy, Japan is expected not only to
provide bases for US troops as before but to go beyond
that by participating with the United States overseas.
"The future now depends on Japan's skilled
decision making," stressed Iwama.
Japan has about 600 SDF troops based near the town of
Samawah in southern Iraq, the nation's first troop
deployment under its own flag rather than the UN's since
World War II. This particular involvement of the SDF in
Iraq is different from previous Japanese peacekeeping
missions, where the troops have always been in
post-conflict and non-combat situations. For the first
time in postwar history, Japanese peacekeeping troops
might have to use weapons for self-defense in a hostile
However, Japan's constitution,
drafted with the United States after World War II,
forbids Japanese troops from engaging in the act of
combat unless the nation is under attack. For that
reason, General Osamu Akiyama, the chief of the Cabinet
Legislature Bureau, said the SDF joining a planned
multinational force in Iraq will ignore orders from UN
commanders that conflict with instructions from Tokyo.
"The SDF can join the multinational forces if
the situation allows them to operate on their own
judgment and discontinue operations under certain
conditions," the general told the Diet (parliament).
Nonetheless, deployment of the SDF to Iraq still
remains a hot topic in Japan, where critics view it as
contravening Japan's pacifist tradition.
Japanese constitution forbids dispatching troops to a
country where fighting is going on," said Yoko Kitazawa,
who leads the Japan Network on Debt and Assistance, a
non-governmental organization. "Such a deployment is
very unpopular among the public," she said.
Kitazawa is among more than a hundred civilians
in Tokyo suing the government for causing personal
damage with this deployment, which they claim is an
"Using the SDF for
peacekeeping [in post-conflict situations] has popular
support," she said. "But a move to create peace, as is
the objective in Iraq, is constitutionally wrong."
Moreover, as Koizumi pushes for an active role
in peacekeeping, there are indications that Japan's
official development assistance (ODA) will play a less
pivotal role in foreign policy. ODA is set to become a
mix of peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance, forming
the cornerstones of Japan's new active diplomacy.
Signs of this change are already apparent. A
long economic recession saw Japan slip from first to
second place in the past three years among the donor
community. In 2004, Japan has budgeted $8 billion to
developing countries, 10% less than in 2003.
a recent press conference Sadako Ogata, the new head of
the Japan International Cooperation Agency - the
technical lending arm of the ODA budget - acknowledged
that chances to expand ODA looked slim.
would like to see an increase in ODA, this looks
difficult given domestic economic concerns," she said.
"The best approach is to make ODA more effective by
targeting the poorest countries such as those in