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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
February 24, 2003

Security Alliance Matters Most

Hisahiko OKAZAKI (Director, Okazaki Institute)

The snowflakes that had blanketed Tokyo disappeared almost as quickly as they descended. A New Year's card I received shortly afterward carried this haiku poem: "Speaking ill of America is harmless - spring snow."

The sender has a point. Indeed, anti-Americanism seems harmless, up to a point, now that even former Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama says the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty should be "firmly maintained," and those lashing out at America have no credible alternative to the bilateral alliance.

So there seems to be no cause for worry as long as those anti-American critics do not lose sight of the long-term importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance. In other words, one need not worry too much about those people as long as they behave like office workers who, after complaining about their companies and bosses at after-hours drinking parties, show up the next morning as if nothing had happened and keep on working for the benefit of their organizations and their families.

However, the anti-American mood bears watching with regard to the looming war against Iraq. The worry can be ignored if this sentiment remains as it is. But if it begins to affect the government's stance on the Iraq crisis, then one has to worry because the relationship of mutual trust that underscores the alliance could be undermined. Currently two major U.S. allies, France and Germany, are opposed to military intervention. However, most members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--Britain plus southern, central and eastern European states--are going along with the U.S.

There are few parallels between Germany and Japan. After the end of the Cold war, left-center parties came into power in much of Europe. In doing so, they abandoned their hidebound socialist ideology. But they still carry baggage from those days, such as their opposition to missile defense and nuclear energy. Their anti-American feelings also remain.

In Germany in particular, cooperation of the Greens was sought to establish a multiparty coalition government. It was as if the Murayama Cabinet had brought together all major opposition parties, instead of aligning itself with the Liberal Democratic Party, with an "anti-establishment" leftist holding the post of foreign minister. In fact the German foreign office is deeply embarrassed by the present regime. France, fiercely independent since the days of President Charles de Gaulle, is opposing the U.S. march to war mainly on procedural grounds. It is likely that Paris will join in a U.S.-led attack once the U.N. Security Council passes a new resolution authorizing the use of force.

French President Jacques Chirac is on record as saying that Iraq President Saddam Hussein's regime is evil, and harmful not only to the people of Iraq but also to regional and global stability. I have not seen any Japanese politician show the courage to denounce Hussein in such clear-cut terms. At the same time, however, Chirac has expressed doubts over taking military action without a U.N. resolution ミ action he believes would contradict international law that has been established since the 17th century.

International norms are at the heart of the Iraq dispute. Modern nation-states came into being following the treaties of Wesphalia that ended a protracted religious war in the mid-17th century. At that time, principles of religious and ideological freedom and equal sovereignty were established. As Chirac sees it, the view that there are good and evil states in the world, and that therefore a preemptive attack on an evil state can be justified, goes against the principles that govern the international community.

However, this contention is open to argument, legally and otherwise. International laws are not as firmly established as they seem. Indeed, the history of the modern world indicates that the rules governing international society have been violated far more often than not. In the three centuries since Westphalia, the basic structure of international relations has been based on great-power relations--most recently, those of the United States and the Soviet Union. No country has ever possessed power as overwhelming as that presently held by the U.S. Nor has a value system ever been as dominant as democracy is today.

To be sure, the basic structure of the international community has been transformed. It is essential, therefore, that Japan adapt itself to this new situation. Instead of adhering to the international norms it has learned and observed since opening its doors to the West in the 19th century, the nation should watch how the situation develops and pursue measures that maximize the interests of the Japanese people. Finally, let me introduce excerpts from an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine by Foud Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

In an article titled "Iraq and the Arabs' Future," Ajami starts with a pessimistic note: "There would be no 'hearts and minds' to be won in the Arab world, no public diplomacy that would convince the overwhelming majority of Arabs that this war would be a just war." But then he asserts: "The battle for a secular, modernizing order in the Arab world is an endeavor for the Arabs themselves. But power matters, and a great power's will and prestige can help tip the scales in favor of modernity and change."

"It is with sobering caution, then, that a war will have to be waged. Any fallout from war is certain to be dwarfed by the terrible consequences of America's walking right up to the edge of war and then stepping back, letting the Iraqi dictator work out the terms of another reprieve. It is the fate of great powers that provide order to do so against the background of a world that takes the protection while bemoans the heavy hand of the protector."

(This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2003 issue of The Japan Times)

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