RIETI Report March 2003

What Should Japan Do in face of the Looming War over Iraq?
<RIETI Special Interview> FUJIWARA Kiichi

This month's featured article

What Should Japan Do in face of the Looming War over Iraq?
<RIETI Special Interview> FUJIWARA Kiichi

FUJIWARA KiichiProfessor of Law, University of Tokyo

Greetings from RIETI

Public opinion surveys in many countries show that the voices opposing the war against Iraqi are overwhelming those supporting. Though the war has yet to begin, antiwar demonstrations are taking place around the world in a scale never seen since the time of the Vietnam War. While the United States is reportedly in the final countdown to attacking Iraq, how does public opinion affect foreign policy? What options should Japan take? RIETI Report features an interview with Kiichi Fujiwara, professor of law, University of Tokyo, by Motoko Mekata, RIETI Fellow.

Special Interview

"War and public opinion: What should Japan do in face of the looming war over Iraq?"

Iraqi problem and antiwar demonstrations

Mekata: During the past several months, we have witnessed an upsurge of antiwar demonstrations especially in the U.S. and Europe. Media reports say that 10 million people rallied in the Feb. 15 mass demonstrations that took place in 60 cities in 60 countries. In the mean time, Washington is steadily proceeding with preparations for a strike on Iraq. How should we interpret this gap between the U.S. government stance and public opinions? Also, some people say it is nothing but populism for a government to follow public opinion and denounce a war against Iraq. What do you think about this view?

Going with the ongoing antiwar movement is not populism

Fujiwara: In the world of diplomacy, it is not rare to stir up certain public opinion and use it for a specific political purpose. These tactics are often used by a government or party politicians. Mobilizing public opinion does not necessarily lead to a policy that is rational from an objective viewpoint. However, it is a big mistake to ignore completely the ongoing antiwar movement and demonstrations, and to say that the public opinion is populism.

First of all, let's take a look at the scale. The percentages of those opposing the war against Iraq, though differing from one country to another, were extremely high ranging from 60 to 90 percent prior to the Feb. 15 demonstrations. It was not that certain politicians were out there serving as agitators. Populist diplomacy is to appeal to the bias and prejudice people have in mind and reflect the public opinion thus formed on policies, which is opposite to what is happening now. It is not that people rallied because they were agitated. They rallied because they are against the government's policy. Following their opinion is not at all populism but how a democratic government and its foreign policy should be.

Second, there is a question about why public opinion has been shaped this way. Is it because people are ignorant and know little about diplomacy? Some Japanese politicians might say it is. They would insist that prioritizing the relationship with the U.S., which is of utmost importance for Japan, must come before any political judgment but that the general public does not understand this. However, this is not a question of whether public opinion is silly or not. Current public opinion stems entirely from a strong doubt over the legitimacy of a war against Iraq and the government is obliged to respond to such concern.

Supporting a war fought by the U.S. because the relationship with the U.S. is important is not rational as a foreign policy. A war that is easiest to justify in the public eyes is a war to protect their own country. But we have hardly seen politicians in Japan who dare to say that a war against Iraq will contribute to Japan's defense. Insisting on the need to support a U.S.-led war against Iraq to maintain good relationship with the U.S. is tantamount to admitting that the war has nothing to do with Japan's defense. Killing people in war that is unrelated to the defense of one's own country is not an action that is normally justifiable under international law. Public opinions denouncing such warfare are a legitimate reaction. What should be questioned instead is whether it is both rational and wise to limit policy options to those that comply with the premise of prioritizing the relationship with the U.S. Based on what I have just said, I don't support the arguments that public opinions are irresponsible and that those siding with the public opinions are populist.


This is the excerpt from an interview that took place on March 4, 2003. For the longer version, click here

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