Japan Extends Iraq Troop Mission
Linsey Brancher (Presenter, BBC News)
Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
The government has decided to extend the period of the Japanese troop
dispatch to the southern Iraqi city of Samawah by one year through to 14
December 2005. The decision was taken despite strong public opposition to
what is the most dangerous overseas deployment in the 50-year history of the
Lindsey Brancher: How significant is this troop extension?
Sean Curtin: I think it is extremely significant and an important milestone in postwar Japanese history. This deployment represents the first time that Japanese troops have been deployed in an active combat area since 1945. This is obviously not the most important decision in the troop dispatch process, that was the initial order to send them to Iraq at the beginning of this year. Now that they have been there for almost a year, what this decision
does is to tell the world that Japan is firmly back on the global stage as a
full player with a military presence and it is here to stay.
Lindsey Brancher: But there has been huge, massive opposition to this in Japan. Why does the government think it is wise to do it?
Sean Curtin: Certainly, if you look at the opinion polls, it is
overwhelmingly unpopular and there is great dissatisfaction with extending
the deployment. People oppose the dispatch for a wide range of reasons
including the dangerous nature of the mission and questions about its
constitutionality. There are three basic reasons why the deployment has been
extended. Firstly, to demonstrate support for the United States and further
cement the US-Japan relationship. The Koizumi administration has been an
immensely strong supporter of the US and President Bush. Secondly, Japan
wants to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. This
deployment will help them in this endeavor by demonstrating that they can
send troops to work in difficult areas, albeit under certain restrictions.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for Prime Minister Koizumi and the
more rightwing elements of his party, the continuation of the mission will
assist in efforts to have the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese
Constitution amended or modified in some way to allow the country to send
troops on humanitarian tasks to trouble spots like all other countries. At
the moment Article 9 inhibits such actions and some claim it actually
prohibits them. Basically, Koizumi wants to ultimately shake off the shadow
of WWII and that is why this decision is so important.
Lindsey Brancher: Why did the government leave this decision to the last minute?
Sean Curtin: I think that basically because it was such an immensely
unpopular decision, they wanted to leave it to the very end. The government
justified the timing by saying that they wanted to base their judgment on
the current conditions and the most up to date intelligence. Taking the
decision today did not require a legislative vote as parliament adjourned
last Friday. Another important factor was probably the recent revelations
concerning the North Korean abduction issue which have absolutely dominated
the Japanese media. Yesterday, it was reported that the supposed remains of
Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota, which North Korea handed over to Japan last
month, were not in fact her remains at all. DNA tests show they belong to
two different people. This revelation has caused an enormous storm in the
Japanese media, and like all the most skillful politicians, Koizumi never
misses an opportunity to try to bury bad news under something else, which
probably explains why the decision was suddenly brought forward a day.
The above discussion was originally broadcast on BBC World's Asia Today
programme on 9 December 2004.