RIETI Report January 2004

The SDF Dispatch to Iraq as a Diplomatic Issue <RIETI Featured Fellow> SOEYA Yoshihide

Greetings from RIETI

This year's "Coming-of-age Day" for Japan's recently-turned 20-year-olds coincided with the publication of the results of a government survey aimed at shedding light on how young Japanese people think. Compared to two previous surveys in 1993 and 1998, the respondents to the 2003 survey, aged 18 to 24, were less inclined to say that Japan was economically wealthy, while the most popular response when asked what problems they saw with the country was "it is difficult to find a job and many people are unemployed." In the midst of a loss in faith in the traditional system, previously unpopular jobs are gaining a new appeal it seems, and according to the Yomiuri Shimbun of January 9, there has been an enormous rise in the number of young people looking to enter Japan's Self-Defense Force. While some applicants might be cynically motivated toward such government employment as a result of the recession, one hopes that for the most part this new interest in the SDF marks a growing appreciation amongst the youth of Japan for the increasingly contentious role of the SDF, and the part it must inevitably play in contributing to international society.

This month, RIETI Report is proud to present a translation of an article written by Faculty Fellow Prof. Soeya regarding the SDF dispatch to Iraq that was previously published on the Japanese RIETI website. (DC)


SOEYA Yoshihide
After receiving a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 1987, Prof. Soeya worked in a number of positions serving as a lecturer at Sophia University, and an assistant professor and then associate professor at Keio University. During this time he was also a visiting fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu, as an Abe Fellow. In 1995, he was appointed Professor of Political Science in the Faculty of Law at Keio University. Prof. Soeya has been a Faculty Fellow at RIETI since 2001. His expertise is politics and security in the Asia-Pacific region, U.S.-China-Japan relations, and Japan's external relations and diplomacy. Recent publications in English include "The China Factor in the U.S.-Japan Alliance: The Myth of a China Threat," Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, August 2002, and "Taiwan in Japan's Security Considerations," The China Quarterly, No. 165, March 2001.

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The SDF Dispatch to Iraq as a Diplomatic Issue

On Dec. 9, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi approved a basic plan to dispatch members of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq. On Dec. 18, Koizumi endorsed an implementation plan compiled under the leadership of Shigeru Ishiba, director-general of the Defense Agency. Then, on Dec. 19, the Defense Agency chief instructed Ground, Maritime and Air SDF units to begin preparation for missions in Iraq, while at the same time issuing an order to dispatch an advance air force contingent to undertake liaison and coordination duties.

Any decision concerning the SDF dispatch to Iraq, whether in favor of or against the dispatch, must have been a step of great gravity for a political leader. Thus, it is all the more important for Prime Minister Koizumi to demonstrate strong leadership and clearly explain to the Japanese people why he decided to send SDF troops to Iraq. At the same time, those opposed to the SDF dispatch need to reconstruct the very foundation of their argument. Rather than simply enumerating reasons for their opposition, they must form a clear understanding of the current state of international politics and set forth a clear alternative direction for the future course of Japan's diplomacy.

The explanation provided by Prime Minister Koizumi following the Cabinet approval of the SDF dispatch plan had three key points. Firstly, he spoke of the need to support the Iraqi people and the international community as a philosophical idea, referring to the preamble to the Constitution. Secondly, the prime minister explicitly acknowledged the possibility of the SDF being attacked, and then stressed that the purpose of dispatching the SDF troops is to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, not to take part in military actions. Thirdly, he underlined the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and the need for Japan to simultaneously pursue two goals in its diplomacy - the bilateral security alliance with the U.S. and international coordination.

The second point contains significant implications that may determine Japan's future role in international security, that is, how the country should participate in international efforts to maintain security. The statement by the prime minister effectively provided the interpretation that sending the SDF abroad in a situation that may eventually require the use of weapons does not conflict with the Constitution as long as the purpose of their dispatch does not include the use of force.

This comes as a reminder of Japan's experience with the SDF dispatches to Cambodia and East Timor. At the time of sending the SDF units to join the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), the opposition centered on the unconstitutionality of the SDF dispatch. Looking back today, there are probably no strong objections to the view that the enactment of the International Peace Cooperation Law was a significant step forward for Japanese diplomacy. In the case of East Timor, the Japanese government was hesitant to send the SDF because it was anticipated that the mission would involve the use of weapons and Japan decided on the SDF dispatch only after peacekeeping operations by the Australian forces produced results.

* Relevance between the SDF dispatch to Iraq and the guidelines for Japan's diplomacy needs to be clarified *

The latest decision can be interpreted as a move that has turned Japan into a "normal" country (one that exercises military capability as many sovereign states do) in the sense that the government has given the green light to sending the SDF to areas where the use of force is anticipated. At the same time, it can be said that such a move remains within the scope of the framework of postwar Japan because public peace preservation activities requiring the use of weapons are explicitly excluded from the mission of the SDF. Still, there is no doubt that it was a very bold decision for Japan, a country that embraces the war-renouncing clause (Article 9) under the Constitution. If Japan is to exclude the use of force from the purpose for deploying the SDF on overseas missions, the upcoming Iraqi mission will set a precedent that would enable the future dispatch of the SDF troops even in cases resembling the one in East Timor.

Thinking this way, it could be said that arguments as to whether or not the SDF personnel will get entangled in a situation necessitating the use of weapons and whether their destination is safe or dangerous have, in effect, lost relevance as an issue in the discourse on Japanese diplomacy. Or it may be the case that these factors were not even such a significant problem to start with, at least not to the extent of affecting the decision of the Koizumi administration except with regard to the question of how to convince public opinion. In fact, Koizumi emphasized it is because of the danger involved in the Iraqi mission that the SDF troops need to be deployed for humanitarian and reconstruction tasks. Needless to say, criteria for judging whether it is safe or dangerous are valid as a point of argument only with regard to constitutional debate. Many of the arguments opposing the dispatch of the SDF citing the danger involved with the mission are, in the end, nothing more than arguments calling for the protection of the Constitution.

According to the explanation by Prime Minister Koizumi, the decision to dispatch the SDF is based on two motivations, which are the need for Japan to stand by the international community, in line with the principle of the Constitution, and the need to maintain the Japan-U.S. security alliance. Both are legitimate reasons. However, what is more important than simply chanting the mantras is the clarification of why and how these two factors, as a matter of Japan's diplomatic policy, relate to the SDF dispatch to Iraq.

Generally speaking, terrorism is a threat targeted at the very vulnerable parts of civil society. Furthermore, it jeopardizes the foundation for free activities in the international community. It is quite legitimate for the principle of international cooperation to serve as a basis for governmental decisions and it is true that the SDF has the capacity to assume important roles where necessary. Moreover, there is no doubt that the Japan-U.S. security alliance is the axis of Japan's foreign policy. It is therefore inevitable for Japan to work in close cooperation with the U.S. in order to protect itself from the potential threat of terrorism or missile attack. Also, Japan, as an ally, is duly obliged to cooperate with the U.S. war on international terrorism.

* What does it mean for Japan to be more "proactive"? *

Problems arise, however, when the two principles - the Japan-U.S. security alliance and international cooperation - conflict with each other. In this regard, Japan was not confronted with any serious challenges in its diplomacy after the Sept. 11 terror attacks when it provided support to multinational forces in operations in Afghanistan. Not only other member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but also Russia and China supported the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan. But that has not been the case with the U.S. attacks on Iraq. These two U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - though consecutive events for the administration of President George W. Bush - are separated by a gulf in the eyes of Japan and many other members of the international community.

The Koizumi Cabinet's decision over the SDF dispatch exposed the reality that Japan, in the end, has no choice but to side with the U.S. when it is confronted with the choice between the Japan-U.S. security alliance and the principle of international cooperation. I believe that the crucial factor behind this is the fact that Japan lacks an effective platform and means for multinational diplomacy equivalent to what the European Union and the U.N. provide for France, Germany and Russia.

If those urging Japan to take a more "proactive" approach as regards the Iraqi problem are prompted by antagonism against Japan's diplomacy, which is often ridiculed as being the "policy of flattering the U.S.," then they should specify how Japan can and should be "proactive" under the principle of international cooperation (that is, if they are not advocating isolation). Then there again, they cannot avoid the question of how to utilize the SDF for international security. And it is theoretically impossible to say that the SDF would be in safer hands under a multilateral framework.


1/16-17 Asian Network of Economic Policy Research (ANEPR) 2003-2004 "Asia in Search of a New Order"
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3/11-12 RIETI Symposium
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"Reform of U.N. Security Council and Japan"
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This month's featured article

The SDF Dispatch to Iraq as a Diplomatic Issue <RIETI Featured Fellow> SOEYA Yoshihide

SOEYA YoshihideFaculty Fellow, RIETI

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