GLOCOM Platform
Debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books & Journals
Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Commentary (December 10, 2004)

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 Self-Defence Force.

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.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications