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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
April 7, 2003

Caught between Iraq and a North Korean hard place

Kenzo UCHIDA (Professor of Political Science, Tokai University)

When the war between the U.S.-British coalition and Iraq finally began on March 20, a Japanese magazine put out a special issue headlined "The Realization of Justice or Arousal of the Devil?" to stress the importance of looking through to the essence of the war.

During the first days of the war it seemed that Iraq was going to be floored in a very short time by America's overwhelming physical strength and propaganda machine. After about the first week had passed, however, the whole world began to recognize that things were not going to be so easy.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's reckless behavior over the past decade had invited harsh criticism from the international community. The United Nations had repeatedly tried to get Iraq to allow it to carry out nationwide weapons inspections in a way that was satisfactory to the United States and others. But to no avail. And Iraq was not persuaded to correct its course.

The U.S. and Britain grew increasingly impatient, and eventually America (we can leave Britain out of the picture at this point) unilaterally moved to topple the Iraqi regime by military force without waiting for a consensus on war from the international community.

Although America's efforts drew criticism from such countries as France, Germany, Russia and China, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, after vacillating for a few days, expressed his full support for the U.S. policy.

The international community, while criticizing the barbaric and villainous behavior of Hussein, cannot hide its feelings of abhorrence for the self-righteous and egotistic action of U.S. President George W. Bush. I am surely not alone in feeling an aversion toward and a deep concern for the unilateralism put on display by the world's only superpower.

The Hussein regime will probably implode and collapse at some stage, but one wonders how much chaos, death, blood and tragedy Iraq and the Arab world are going to have to suffer until that day comes. Much of humankind faces a tough ordeal ahead, both materially and psychologically.

And what about Japan? Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the first autumn of the new century, the world has changed. In particular, the U.S. has changed. Bush said the three countries of Iraq, North Korea and Iran made up an "axis of evil."

It is a fact that Koizumi has expressed his full support for the U.S. attack of Iraq because of the existence and behavior of North Korea. The Japanese government has to think about resolving the issue involving the past abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. Undoubtedly Tokyo has found itself caught between South Korea's "sunshine policy" toward Pyongyang and the hardline "axis of evil" approach of Bush, who seems to have suggested at times that the U.S. may have to deal forcefully with North Korea after Iraq.

In addition, there are the two big Asian powers of China and Russia. Even if some kind of settlement is reached in Iraq and the Middle East, the Japanese government is aware that a complex game is about to unfold in Asia among the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and North and South Korea.

Behind Koizumi's expression of full support for the U.S. in Iraq, therefore, is his awareness that the problem of how to respond to North Korea looms. We shall have to keep a watch on Koizumi's performance to see how he goes about unraveling this complex puzzle.

(This article originally appeared in the April 2, 2003 issue of The Japan Times)

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