Japan and the Occupation-Reconstruction of Iraq: The Re-emergence of an Ideological Agenda?
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Japan's military presence in Iraq is largely understood as being principally motivated by Japan's desire and need to maintain good relations with the United States. Japan depends heavily on its alliance with United States as a guarantor of its national security. Much of the discussion surrounding Japan's historic decision to send troops abroad without UN sponsorship for the first time since 1945 has been based on the interpretation that Japan has acquiesced to US demands as a quid pro quo for US involvement in East Asia, in particular in the conflict with North Korea.
Along these lines, some analysts have argued that Japan and the US are involved in a "historic task of modernizing developing nations." In other words, that they are jointly engaged in a program that seeks to develop Iraq's economy, nourish its democracy and spread the rule of law to every corner of social life. Analogies to Japan's transformation during the US-led occupation that lasted from 1945-52 are often drawn as a way to demonstrate that radical and positive change is possible.
Yet, this is not the primary argument used by the Japanese government to justify its participation in the occupation-reconstruction of Iraq. It is interesting to note that to a domestic population that opposed the US-led attack on Iraq by four to five and continues to hold an unfavorable view of Japan's military presence in Iraq, the Japanese government has gone to great lengths to present its participation in the occupation-reconstruction of Iraq as distinct from that of the United States. Significantly, this message is also being spread to the Muslim world as a whole, and to Iraqi's in particular.
The justification put forward by the Japanese government is in part a response the perceived bankruptcy of America's ideological and moral persuasiveness around the world due to abuses and torture witnessed at Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as well as to the heavy toll that the invasion and the continued occupation of Iraq is having on civilians.
So what is this autonomous discourse that the Japanese government is selling to its public and to those in the Islamic world? The message is one of "Modernization without Westernization": a form of modernization that combines Western technology with the values of the East. It is a program of modernization that also sets out to preserve cultural and religious traditions.
With the explicit purpose of promoting a readily identifiable international ideology for Japan that is distinct from the United States, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), has established a Department of Public Diplomacy within MOFA, equipped with a $400 million budget.
Reminiscent of the series of discussions taken up by the Kyoto School on the theme of kindai no chokoku (overcoming modernity) in the 1940s (which served weaken the perception that Japan was a colonizer), this organ seems to be trying to reposition Japan as uniquely situated to develop an alternative modernity to the materialistic Euro-American model because it was the only nation in Asia to modernize successfully while retaining the spirit of the East.
Toward that end, Japan is promoting Judo in Iraq, a martial art constructed in the Meiji period as a part of a strategy aimed at preserving the spirit of Japanese style of thinking. The government is also funding the broadcasting of Japanese postwar dramas and documentaries into Iraq, including Oshin and Project X, which tell the tale of Japan's rise from the ashes in WWII. All of this indicates that Japan is trying to speak in a language that differentiates itself from the West.
Japanese, officials and intellectuals are well aware that the concept of "modernization without Westernization" resonates with leaders in Islamic countries. At the 2005 World Economic Forum, for instance, the Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and Turkey all agreed that the challenge for Islamic countries was how to modernize without Westernizing. Japanese hope to sell the idea that their experience "can bridge the gap between Islam and the West."
The Japanese government has put this motto into action by hosting former Afghan warlords, Iraqi officials and other authorities from primarily Arab countries in Japan to witness the success of Japan's rise from the ashes. A series of seminars that seek to deepen mutual understanding between Japan and the Islamic world have also been held since 2002. These seminars are co-hosted by MOFA, various prefectures and the Japan Foundation. The stated objective is to "foster mutual understanding" and do so in a manner that once again stresses Japan's unique approach to the Arab and larger Islamic world.
These initiatives are evidence of concrete efforts to differentiate Japanese policy from US objectives in Iraq. Through public diplomacy, Japan is aiming to carve out an alternative image for itself from the US. Stressed is the image of Japan as a model for a form of modernization that does not sacrifice identity, values and culture. This is a powerful universal message aimed at distinguishing Japan's presence in Iraq from that of the US.
This is a discourse unheard in the US and it demonstrates Japan's ability to employ a complex approach to its foreign relations. It also exhibits the difficult political position that Japan finds itself in today as its government responds to pressure from the US, from its population and from people and governments in the Islamic world.
Finally, worrisome is the fact that Japanese government officials are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of promoting an ideological agenda that is reminiscent of the discourse it used to justify colonialism in Asia. Although government sources and officials assure us that this will not be the course that Japan takes in the future, we in the public sphere have the responsibility to be conscientious of this danger and to actively preach against Japan heading in that direction.