RIETI Report (longer version)

War and Public Opinion: What Should Japan Do in face of the Looming War over Iraq?

This month's featured article

War and Public Opinion: What Should Japan Do in face of the Looming War over Iraq?

FUJIWARA KiichiProfessor of Law, University of Tokyo

MEKATA MotokoFellow, RIETI

Special Interview

FUJIWARA Kiichi, Professor of Law, University of Tokyo
Interviewer: MEKATA Motoko , Fellow, RIETI
(The interview took place on March 4, 2003)

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 features an interview with Kiichi Fujiwara, professor of law, University of Tokyo, by Motoko Mekata, RIETI Fellow.

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 Kiichi, Professor of Law, University of Tokyo 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.

Why were there large anti-war demonstrations in Europe?

We must consider why the antiwar demonstrations were so large in Europe. Large demonstrations were seen mainly in a number of European countries, and on a particularly large scale in places such as the UK and Italy, countries whose governments support Washington's position. However, outside of Europe, with the exclusion of various Islamic countries and Australia, interest was low and demonstrations generally on a small scale, the US included. There are three key reasons for these different levels of participation. Firstly, the focus of media reporting in each country is different. Germany's television program 'DW' routinely shows the activity of German soldiers working to secure law and order in post-conflict Afghanistan. The US is concentrating its efforts on cleaning up the terrorist threat in Afghanistan instead of leading on the maintenance of law and order. German TV reports the scenes as German soldiers cleaning up the mess left by the US. The viewpoint of US television is that the Germany military is in Afghanistan to support the fragile Afghan government, whose legal basis is rather questionable, following the US declaration of victory in the war. For those in Germany regularly watching programs such as DW, President Bush's words must ring hollow. Conversely, there has hardly been any reporting in the US on a series of events from the Arab side. In the US, discussion of issues from an Iraqi perspective is voluntarily suppressed, as demonstrated by the thorough criticism CBS's Dan Rather one-on-one interview with Saddam Hussein came under. Opinions surely differ between those who watch the US's Fox TV and DW of Germany. Secondly, the Middle East is regarded by European society as a neighbor whose security is bound up with that of Europe. Ever since the days of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, for Europe, the Middle East has been the closest non-European sphere and questions over coexistence and how to prevent conflict have long been considered. Europe may accept the idea of military intervention if there is the threat of the Middle East becoming unstable, but there is also a great deal of wariness that, on the other hand, such a policy might prompt further instability. Europeans feel that this war on Iraq destabilizes not just Middle Eastern security, but also threatens their own safety. Thirdly and finally is the difference in the amount of damage done in different parts of the world. Americans do not regard Iraq as a military threat to their country - neither do they believe that instability in the Middle East threatens the American power structure. In Asia there is little interest in Iraq. With the exception of Muslim society, most countries in Southeast Asia are instead focused on the North Korea issue. These geographic factors are having a large influence.

How can peace be guaranteed?

Mekata : Turning to Japan, momentum for antiwar demonstrations is not building. Instead, attention is being drawn away by the threat from North Korea, and the situation is different from that in Europe in that antiwar feeling is not being generated. Why is that so?

Fujiwara : Considering how to maintain peace, two different pragmatic theories have evolved. The first says that without power, peace cannot be preserved, and that unarmed neutrality and peace constitutions may notionally exist but are in fact a fantasy. Whether people like it or not, this idea is widely accepted and is gaining further favor with the danger on the Korean peninsula. The second theory, realism, says that, in the end, the US is powerful and Japan has no other choice but to go along. Whilst the US-Japan relationship is of key importance for Japan's survival, it is disadvantageous for Japan to think differently from the US and a waste of time to oppose US military action. Believers in this theory accept these facts - or are resigned to them. Furthermore, some conclude that it is inconceivable that North Korea will come under control without the deterrent effect of US nuclear weapons, and therefore, Japan has no choice but to back the U.S. war on Iraq.

There is no need for military action against Iraq

These two theories differ significantly in substance and both ideas are not necessarily realistic. Firstly, can peace be preserved through the use of military threat? Situations certainly exist where peace is being maintained by the use of military force and it is difficult to discuss the conditions for peace without considering the concept of deterrence. That said, for each individual conflict, we must think if a resolution can be achieved without resorting to military means. And from my point of view, as a scholar of international politics, it is our responsibility to do so. Whilst another means exists, it would be irresponsible to resort to any policy of violence. Regarding Iraq, I believe that there is no need for military action. No matter what kind of regime President Hussein's is, the actual military threat can be adequately deterred. Most of Iraq's main military installations have already been destroyed by US and British bombing. Because it is unrealistic to think that in the period between 1998 and the arrival of the weapons inspectors, the Iraqis have been able to scrap all their weapons, it is possible that Iraq holds stores of biological and chemical weapons. Yet, neither evidence for a nuclear weapons program nor that to show a link with Al Queda has once been produced. Secretary of State Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council was weak on both of these points. Even if Iraq poses a military threat, it is not one that warrants elimination through war. As Saddam Hussein's regime is certainly not popular in the Middle East, a number of countries in the region favor reducing the threat from Iraq. However, all countries of the region, including Kuwait, oppose going beyond that and conducting a preventative war to counter not the present threat, but one that Iraq may present in the future. Such a war is neither necessary nor acceptable from an international legal perspective. If one thinks countries which may develop weapons of mass destruction are dangerous and threatening, then Israel, India and Pakistan are problematic. Ignoring those and going to war with Iraq shows, in the end, the US attitude of just moving to a war that can be won. Although a war in terms of a confrontation of powers, it would be one with little rational basis.

US fears of isolation in the international community

From a military perspective, the US can go to war without support from allies. In fact, the US feels that allies are unnecessary because they can hinder the US's command and control systems. But even though it may be a military possibility, politically speaking, doing so will not always be a wise choice. And these days we are in a strange situation where the more the US, not requiring military allies, appears to be ready for war, the more internationally isolated it becomes. At the start of this year, the reaction of many governments was that no matter how unilateral or foolish the US's belligerent approach towards Iraq, governments must think of their respective bilateral relationships with the US. However, because France and Germany did not back down and emphasized the UN inspections, their voices were effective in the debate. Between the middle of January and the end of February, that debate brought about a momentum of opinion that war could be delayed and influenced the size of mass-demonstrations at that time. The US and the UK were thoroughly isolated at the February 14 meeting of the UN Security Council and people gathered in response in demonstrations on February 15. This swell of opinion did not really spread to Japan - the atmosphere here in Japan was, I believe, that there was little point in protesting as the war had been decided. It looks at present that it will be difficult for the US to get a majority at the Security Council. If voted upon, the US could lose. As the Security Council is a bureaucratic body, a division of opinion is most unwelcome and therefore a compromise is being sought. However, the proposal by Canada was not favored by the US and the UK. The side that rejects a compromise proposal isolates itself. Since January, a cycle of proposals, stiffening of position by the US and subsequent isolation has repeated itself. I think that Secretary of State Powell understands that the US may isolate itself from the Security Council. Also, should a second resolution be unattainable, UK Prime Minister Blair risks being abandoned by the Labor Party.

The Iraq issue and the North Korea situation

Japan postpones decision

Fujiwara : Rather than making support for the US the top priority, it is more the case that Japan has been delaying its decision. Japan's position is unlike the clear pro-American stance of the UK or the clear anti-American stance of France and Germany. One could say that Japan is lending support in public whilst thinking differently behind the scenes. At the least, to date, Japan has been able to avoid presenting an image that it is cooperating with plans for war. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in his responses in the Diet, has not moved an inch from the line of waiting to see the result of inspections, and continues to say that international cooperation is important. Under these circumstances, Japan's worst nightmare is that Iraq partially satisfies the inspectors and that countries begin supporting Iraq, leaving Japan to decide what to do in the case that American chooses war without the support of the Security Council. Presently, the chances of such a situation arising are increasing.

Regarding North Korea, it is somewhat of a simplification to think that because Japan needs the US to counter North Korea, it should participate in a war on Iraq. That view says that, if the US threatens North Korea militarily, North Korea will change its policies (deterrence) or through a preemptive strike, North Korea will suffer a collapse of its regime. Depending on which occurs, the solution is completely different. In the case of the former deterrence scenario, even if a single country threatens North Korea, there may not be a solution. I believe that events of the last few months have borne that out. The threat was initiated by not North Korea, but the US. Since the Bush Administration came to power, there has been a change of course from President Clinton's policy framework for North Korea. Consideration of options, including military ones, has begun with respect to North Korea as well as Iraq. Publicly, the Axis of Evil speech was a clear announcement, but strategically speaking, there was also last spring's Nuclear Posture Review, a report that has been published by successive administrations. The Bush Administration announced in this report a policy that nuclear and conventional weapons could be used together - in other words, a policy of preemptive military action. Previously, it was unthinkable because there was the possibility of a counter-attack, but the first administration which could allow a nuclear preemptive attack was born last spring. Currently, the US enjoys overwhelming military superiority and therefore there are few countries which can attack it with nuclear weapons. North Korea is building counter-attack systems while it cannot be attacked with nuclear weapons, but the fact that the US may in the future use nuclear weapons means one military safety valve has been removed.

North Korea's runaway brinksmanship

North Korea has begun moving swiftly in two directions. The first move was resumption of its nuclear development program last autumn, and the second its diplomatic concessions. Before then, North Korea never admitted to abducting people, but has made a significant policy shift. The background of these changes is that North Korea, facing a threat, was compelled to conduct hitherto unseen diplomacy in order to maintain its own system. North Korea understands that its previous military and diplomatic policies were no longer working and it is now conducting simultaneously both Dovish and Hawkish policies in order to sustain the North Korean system. Because both Doves and Hawks appear to hold extreme positions, their proposals may appear exceptional but this is often the case when a regime faces a crisis. Because North Korea's conventional policies were not working, its new policy approach has swung wildly back and forth. North Korea is dangerous not just because it has many weapons, but also because these policy shifts have been acute. In other words, there is the chance that North Korea will make further concessions, but it may also choose radical military options.

With not just the abduction issue, but military incidents off Japan's coast, North Korean intelligence gathering operations and the issue of foreign remittances, to date Japan has not always been proactive in its dealings with North Korea, nor has it completely co-operated with South Korea's sunshine policy. Last summer's negotiations with North Korea were essentially the first chance to open negotiations with North Korea. But from the US's perspective, the negotiations interfered with efforts to exert pressure and extract concessions. Therefore in around September of last year, the US began to leak information about North Korea's nuclear programs. The US showed clearly that its posture was to be one of threat rather than compromise. Although North Korea specialists maintained that lines of communication with North Korea should not be cut, President Bush stopped the supply of heavy fuel oil to the North. Had North Korea, under pressure, obediently backed down, the issue would have been simple. But in reality, the US met with reprisals to its own brinksmanship. As North Korea made preparations to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the US backed off. That may have been because the US cannot prosecute two simultaneous wars, but it is right to say that victory after a preemptive attack is not a certainty. There are people who contend that there is no chance of a collapse in North Korea, but at the very least, because Washington could not discount collapse as a possibility, it backed off. Looking at it this way, Washington ended up by rewarding North Korea's brinksmanship policy. From its perspective, North Korea had already moved in the direction of thinking that threatening the US without talking to other countries could be productive. Such developments may mean that the US will become unable to make compromises and once again tend towards unyielding measures. In this way, with the prospect of an actual war being unpalatable, even though each side threatens the other, there is no prospect for one side to simply back down. Instead, whilst the threat of a huge war hangs, one can describe the situation as aimlessly drifting along. Therefore to think that if the US threatens, North Korea will change, is wishful. If that is the case, what can be done?

The North Korea problem cannot be resolved without the co-operation with China, Russia and the Republic of Korea

The important thing is that this problem cannot be solved without the cooperation of the three countries, China, the Republic of Korea and Russia. Itself, China does not have that much influence over North Korea - neither does Russia. But if these three bordering countries cannot find a common policy position, then in the end there can be no positive outcome. We are now at a point where the three countries can reach a consensus about North Korea's nuclear and chemical programs. Out of the military options, one cannot imagine that the Republic of Korea would agree to a preemptive strike against North Korea. For Japan, joining the US in military action against North Korea would again make enemies of Korea, China and potentially Russia and would, diplomatically, be a very foolish move. In the end, a military balance is important. But above all else, the building of cooperative diplomatic policies by countries surrounding North Korea is the top priority. In other words, there are no other options besides opening dialogue, whilst clearly indicating to North Korea that 'brinksmanship' is not the way forward. This is not the same as being dependent on the US. Instead, it would be showing multilateral diplomatic leadership.

Post Iraq

Mekata : Mobilizing international opinion does not change US policy. Even though Germany and France were able to continue criticizing the US policy line and that the US is not able to secure a second Security Council resolution, it seems like the US may independently attack Iraq. With the Iraqi case becoming a precedent, from now on, even without international support, isn't there a chance that the US will undertake further preemptive attacks?

Fujiwara : It is not as bleak a situation as that. Even for the US, isolation in the Security Council is extremely serious - it has not entirely abandoned Internationalism. For that reason, President Bush reluctantly accepts the necessity of international cooperation, as asserted by Secretary of State Powell. If the US wishes to go to war it can, but the outbreak of hostilities has been delayed by more than a month in comparison with the assumptions made last fall. President Bush continues to say that if the Security Council does not enact a resolution it will have become a talking shop, but in fact the movement in the Council is towards not endorsing a resolution - a resolution to support the US. Even so, the US can resolve to start a war, but as of the beginning of March has not done so. For the US, the risk of abandoning internationalism is still a large one.

The US is not a country greatly affected by the opinions of foreign governments. However, it is very sensitive to domestic public opinion. Should 300 soldiers die in the war, public opinion will quickly change. Also, I think that opposition will greatly increase if war goes ahead without a second Security Council resolution. In this way, though the US military appears strong, it is in fact fragile.

Mekata : If there is a chance, albeit a small one, that military action goes ahead - even as the US asks itself "why us?" after 9.11 and antiwar sentiment is on the rise with no clear relationship identified between Iraq and Afghanistan - then one can envisage an atmosphere where 'preemptive' wars occur.

The US cannot ignore the Security Council

Fujiwara : There is of course that atmosphere but it is also true to say that it is changing. The US is a country that has strongly supported internationalism. The League of Nations was conceived by Franklin Roosevelt. At the beginning of the Clinton administration, the US participated in peace keeping operations, but quickly withdrew after its troops died in Somalia. Although they withdrew, the US continued a policy of multinational cooperation. The US wishes to see cooperation in East Asia, the Middle East and particularly on North Korea, in the form of multilateral consultations and engagement policy.

The US also has a tradition of internationalism by maintaining order through diplomacy or international mechanisms. From the point of view of groups who support those international mechanisms, the Bush administration is destroying international diplomacy; ever since 9.11 the general opinion has been overwhelmingly that supporting President Bush has been a nightmare. Also there are many critics in the US of the policy of armed intervention. Since the Vietnam War, antiwar activities have occurred on university campuses. The less the forthcoming war in Iraq has to do with people's own survival, the easier it is to oppose. I think that antiwar protests will grow. The question is, whether protests can achieve something before the war occurs, or after.

Whilst continuing to stress the relationship with the US, Japan should push cooperation with South East Asia

Mekata : What should Japan's diplomatic policy be, whilst the disagreements between US and UK on one side and France, Germany and Russia on the other are ongoing?

Fujiwara : I understand that it is difficult for the Japanese government to take a stance like that of France or Germany. That is because Japan does not have an organization like the EU to support it. Japan does however have a forum for consultation with Asian countries in the form of ASEAN+3. For Japan, trying to resolve the problem by relying on the US may in fact be disadvantageous. Based on economic diplomacy, Japan has constructed cooperative relationships in Southeast Asia. This resulting network of links is widening into East Asia. For Japan, this network represents a diplomatic asset - regarding the North Korea issue, the best course is to utilize this network. As for the Iraq issue, Japan should demonstrate its diplomatic clout not just with Iraq, but also with many developing countries - and seek to gain confidence in its approach. In doing so, whilst stressing the importance of its relationship with the US, Japan should, with international coordination, insist more vigorously than the UK that the US should take the UN route. Among the Arab League and regional organizations, there is not a single country that supports military action. Considering that, instead of the current policy, Japan should think whose trust it should gain. If Japan conducts diplomacy focused solely on Tokyo and Washington, then instead of widening, it will narrow its policy options.


Fellow titles and links in the text are as of the date of publication.

For questions or comments regarding RIETI Report , please contact the editors .

RIETI Report is published monthly.

Event Information

For a complete list of past and upcoming event information.

Symposiums

Workshops

BBL Seminars

Fellow titles and links in the text are as of the date of publication.

For questions or comments regarding RIETI Report, please contact .

RIETI Report is published monthly.