June 14, 2004
Koizumi demonstrates Japanese-style leadershipBy Thomas Lifson
The Japanese prefer to communicate their most important messages indirectly, using subtle signals, with the true meaning visible only via implication. For this reason, key elements of important debates often soar right over the heads of foreign observers.
Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has just made an important move, taking Japan one more step away from its postwar status as a nation which renounced military power, and towards active military participation in the Coalition of the Willing. Few ripples from this rather large stone thrown into the Japanese political pond, however, have reached the shores of America.
Although the American and European press is largely intent on declaring America's intervention in Iraq to be 'unilateral,' P.M. Koizumi has smashed successive Japanese political 'sacred cows' to dispatch his nation's armed forces for service with the Coalition in Iraq. In typical Japanese fashion, his major new point is visible only by implication, and directly appears nowhere in formal documents or statements. For this reason, Koizumi's move has remained all but invisible to the American press. Nevertheless, it is significant.
Koizumi's latest step moving Japan toward full—fledged status as a 'normal' nation, able to defend itself and the cause of freedom with arms, consists of a minor—looking, but politically potent declaration. Last Tuesday, during the G—8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, Prime Minister Koizumi spoke with President Bush in a side conversation, and pledged to keep Japan's Self Defense Force (SDF) troops in Iraq following the formal transfer of sovereignty on June 30th.
On the surface, this would seem to be nothing more than a preservation of the status—quo in new circumstances, not a move forward. But the declaration came as the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing a US—led military force to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq."
While non—Japanese observers might see nothing particularly significant in this matter, it quickly roiled the press and political circles in Japan. Koizumi's declaration was seen as an effective promise to use the SDF in a multinational military operation. Currently, Japan's dispatch of troops to Iraq has been strictly for non—combat purposes, under the auspices of a separate Status of Forces Agreement with the Coalition Provisional Authority, limiting the Japanese forces to humanitarian missions. As of June 30th, that mandate will expire, and Japan will then be operating in Iraq solely under the auspices of the multinational forces just authorized by the UN to take 'all necessary measures.' In other words, a noncombat mission will be (at least theoretically) transformed into a combat mission, in form, if not yet in immediate substance.
By such small, often initially theoretical steps, Japan has been steadily moving away from its pacifist Constitution, and towards the dispatch of, and eventually use of, military force overseas.
Critics within Japan, schooled in the subtleties of Japanese—style maneuvering, harshly criticized Koizumi's move.
"That would be a deviation from the government's traditional interpretation of the Constitution that has guaranteed the nonuse of force when (the SDF) participates in U.N.—backed peacekeeping missions," said Tetsuo Maeda, a security expert and professor at Tokyo International University.
"This isn't something you just tell the leader of the United States," he said. "Why didn't he follow the due process of explaining to the Japanese people (the decision) and then report it to the United Nations?"
Only if Japan were to negotiate a separate Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi interim government, would Japan be able to formally maintain the formerly strict limit on its troops to act in humanitarian and reconstruction functions only. If the government takes no action, then a precedent will have been established that Japanese troops can operate under a unified command structure that engages in military activity.
A special law was required last year to enable the dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq, and it limited the troops to humanitarian missions. But now, those limits will become a bit fuzzier:
"When you become part of a certain framework, you have to follow its practices," said Admiral Toru Ishikawa, Chairman of the SDF's Joint Staff Council. "But I understand that each force will carry out its mission under the orders of its government."
There will still be vigorous political debate ahead in Japan. But the ground under that debate will have shifted. Another step has been taken.
I have long argued that Japan's military significance to the forces of freedom is vastly underrated by most casual observers. Each step Japan takes towards open, visible, and vigorous participation in multinational force deployment is to be applauded, and reinforces the ability of the civilized world to protect itself from the incipient barbarism which threatends to engulf us all.
Along with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and the UK's Tony Blair, Prime Minister Koizumi has repeatedly displayed a political profile in courage, doing the right thing, regardless of strong domestic opposition and possible danger to his political career. In his own context and way, the Prime Minister of Japan is displaying visionary leadership, advancing the cause of his nation, and of freedom and democracy.