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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
April 12, 2004

Why is Japan sending SDF troops to Iraq?
Emergence of the "Dimension-Traversing Security System" and the Role of Japan

Ken JIMBO (Director of Research, The Japan Forum on International Relations, Inc.)



Lacking Security Concept in the Dispatch of Self Defense Forces to Iraq

On December 9, 2003, the Koizumi cabinet approved The Basic Plan regarding the measures based on the Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq. On February 9, 2004, the Upper House of the Diet, following the Lower House, endorsed the dispatch and a supplementary budget to finance the deployment.

Sending Self Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq is a phenomenal event in the history of Japan after WWII, in that they have been sent to an area "where the combat has not completely ceased" on a "difficult and dangerous mission", to cite the words of Prime Minister Koizumi.

In 1991, after the first war against Iraq, minesweeping ships of Marine SDF were dispatched to the Gulf region, and in 1993 the SDF was sent to Cambodia to participate in the UN's peacekeeping operations (PKO). If they can be called the "dawn of cooperation in international peacekeeping operations" (according to the government's White Paper on Defense, 2003), Japan already has more than a decade of experience in such operations. But as was stipulated in the five principles recognized by the government under the Law concerning Cooperation for United Nations Peace-Keeping Operations and Other Operations (Peace-Cooperation Law) of 1992, SDF participation in PKO activities were not to be involved in such dangerous missions as monitoring or patrolling of cease-fire zones. Indeed, the safety of SDF activities has been the utmost consideration.

The dispatch of SDF to Iraq this time differs from this traditional concept in that; 1) the mission will be carried out in an occupied zone; 2) where the risk of the area becoming a combat zone is real; 3) and the possibility of utilizing firearms is high. This indicates that the security policy of Japan has entered a new phase.

It was a natural course of events, then, for a fierce discussion to take place in the diet over "why send SDF 'despite' the danger". The killing of two Japanese diplomats by local terrorists on November 29, 1993, indeed had vividly illustrated that Japan's engagement in Iraq might entail the question of her national identity. As Masataka Kosaka, a well-respected scholar of international politics wrote regarding the essence of security, "it is to face the contradictions present at the very basis of the existence of human beings". By this he meant that there are objectives of which nation state and their people must risk their lives to protect. In this regard, the fundamental task of politics is to define what those objectives are, legitimatize the means to protect them, and honor those who actually protect them. The policy decision to send SDF to Iraq by the government was to be made based upon this single and fundamental principle.

Public opinion polls, according to TV-Asahi on February 21, show that 49% support the dispatch of SDF to Iraq with 44% opposed. But when asked whether the explanation provided by Koizumi is "adequate", only 16% replied "yes", while 63% consider it to be "unsatisfactory". It could be said, then, that even among those who support the Prime Minister's policy decisions, there is uneasiness in the reasoning provided to justify it. Even though half of the population agrees with the deployment of SDF to Iraq, they cannot answer "why" with confidence; or at least they are not satisfied with the government's explanations. As reflected in this poll, Japan's public needs solid reasoning to support why we are engage in Iraq, with clearer security concept.


Security Policy of Japan after the Cold War - Three Turning Points vis--vis Three Spatial Dimensions

To secure the reasoning for the new security concept, I would like to propose that it appeared in conjunction with the emergence of the idea of a "dimension-traversing security system". Until this stage, the decision by the Japanese government to send SDF to Iraq has been said to be based upon two factors: one, to support the resurgence of Iraq, and two, to acknowledge the importance of the coalition with the US. But to discuss reconstruction of Iraq, its effect on the security of Japan has to be assessed at the same time. Although the coalition with the US is important, especially when the threat from North Korea of its nuclear armament development is heightening, resorting to justification of the deployment based only on this consideration would be trivializing the issue to that of technical management of the Japan-US alliance. With these two reasoning, the debate on grand-design of the security strategy of Japan towards Iraq was lacking. The issue needs to be tackled first by reviewing the security policy of Japan after the Cold War.

There were at least three turning points vis--vis three spatial dimensions with regard to Japan's security policy (global, regional and national dimensions). This classification is rather rough, and it is impossible to separate them clearly because the dimensions interact with each other. But it is a necessary and effective classification in dealing with the issue.


Japan's Involvement in the Global Dimension

The first turning point was the "involvement in the global dimension". Through the dispatch of minesweepers to the Gulf in 1991 and participation in PKO activities in Cambodia in 1993, Japan had paved the way for its partaking in international peace cooperation. Backed by the Peace Cooperation Law enacted in June, 1992, Japan sent members of SDF abroad for the first time since WWII. Since then, SDF troops were sent to cooperate in the UN's PKOs, international relief efforts, and selection observation activities in such areas as Cambodia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Golan Heights, East Timor, and Afghanistan. Thus, Japan's security activities after the Cold War, based on a somewhat more positive stance, began with "global international peace cooperation".


Coping with Regional Security Affairs

The second turning point was "coping with regional security affairs". Reestablishment of the Japan-US coalition through the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security of April 1996, review of The Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation in 1997, and the Law on a Situation in the Areas Surrounding Japan of 1999 were all aimed at defining the function and aim of the coalition and Japan's specific role in it. The fact that the new guideline was based on the three basic notions of peace, contingency, and the affairs of surrounding areas vividly indicated that the function of the coalition was extended to cover the surrounding region. In this context, when the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security expressed that "the two governments will jointly and individually strive to achieve a more peaceful and stable security environment in the Asia-Pacific region", it was thought that the bilateral coalition had changed its nature from the traditional Cold War ideology of countering the threat of attack, to that of stabilizing the Asia-Pacific region. Also, by actively taking part in regional cooperative security processes such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, Japan has aimed to engage itself with the "regional dimension" through the double-track framework of the Japan-US alliance and the multilateral security system.


Consolidation of National Security System

The third turning point could be seen in the "consolidation of the national security system". Study of a legal framework for national security actually started back in 1977. But as there was a significant level of criticism that the study of the framework itself would induce war, the effort produced very little results over the following quarter of a century. But with the enactment of the Three Laws Regarding Response to Armed Attacks in June 2003, the basic framework for Japan to deal with contingencies was established. Introduction of the contingency laws have raised shared awareness toward responsibilities of the national and regional governments, and the extent of cooperation to be borne by citizens. Other individual laws, such as the legislation to protect civilians, would also play a part in redefining the delicate balance between emergency situations and basic civil rights. Such change of peoples' ways of thinking in the "national" dimension is symbolic of this third turning point.


Coming of the Fourth Turning Point: Dimension-Traversing Security

Japan is now at the verge of the fourth turning point with regard to the security system. This was initiated by the challenge to the traditional concept of security by the 9.11 incident and its aftermath. Faced with changes of international society and regional environment since the end of the Cold War a decade ago, Japan has been searching for its place within each of the global, regional, and national dimensions. But the 9.11 attack distorted this framework, and each dimension has begun to erode into other dimensions. This transformation of each dimension is one of the two vital respects in today's security structure.

First, in the "global dimension", the scope of geopolitics with regard to security is expanding enormously. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have brought "global" threats close to home, thus destroying the conventional notion of geography. It is no longer a fantasy to envision terrorists trained in a poor country in Africa, manufacturing biological/chemical weapons financed by a billionaire in the Middle East, traveling to an advanced country in a matter of days, and carrying out an act of WMD terrorism. The world is no longer so simplistic where a dispatch of SDF can be explained and understood in a context such as an "international contribution" to participate in a PKO activity in a situation that "cannot be ignored from a humanitarian point of view". International peace cooperation by SDF after 9.11 is directly related to the safety of Japan itself.

The second point is that the "regional dimension" after 9.11 has expanded beyond the scope of the Japan-US alliance, which had supposedly incorporated the notion of the surrounding area. Nuclear armament development by North Korea, for example, has exceeded the geopolitical framework of North-East Asia because nuclear bombs could be created out of sight of international society and transported elsewhere easily, so North Korea now must be treated as a global threat. Proliferation of WMD in Central Asia and Middle East would seriously affect the security of East Asia in unprecedented speed and magnitude. Unlike ballistic missiles where range and scale of possible attack can be calculated beforehand, once WMD fall into the hands of terrorists, they can be carried to any part of the world and easily activated. Here again, the regional dimension is eroding the global dimension, which in turn could be construed as a national threat.

Thus, in the post-9.11 world there is an issue of "dimension-traversing security system". This means that if reconstruction of Iraq fails and the region becomes a breeding place for terrorists, it would constitute a direct and immediate threat to Japan's security. In this context, it was very appropriate for Prime Minister Koizumi in his General Policy Speech on January 19, 2004 to say that "In the midst of the ongoing fight by the international community against terrorism, if we were to now yield to terrorism, allowing Iraq to become a base for terrorism, the threat of terrorism would hang not only over Iraq, but also over the entire world."

"Why is Japan sending SDF to Iraq?" It is an attempt for Japan to break through the traditional notion of security, conceived as a framework consisting of three dimensions, and to grapple with the new "dimension-traversing security". Supporting Iraq to rebuild the country through humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities thus would significantly enhance Japan's security. Herein lies the justification for the Japanese people to support SDF with the mission in Iraq.


(Article originally appeared in Japanese in March 30, 2004 issue of "Sekai Shuho" (Jiji Press World Affairs Weekly))

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