Japanese troops for Iraq

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

FOR the first time since the Second World War, Japanese troops will be seeing military action outside their country. The government issued the order in the last week of January, after months of debate, to send 1,000 troops to Iraq. Japanese society is divided on this issue. Many Opposition politicians and ordinary citizens are of the opinion that the Junichiro Koizumi government's decision goes against the letter and spirit of Japan's pacifist Constitution. Public opinion continues to be against militarism and ultranationalism. In fact, in the 1950s, no military attaches were posted in Japanese diplomatic missions abroad.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution states explicitly: "Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes... Land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of the belligerency of the state will never be recognised." The Japanese right wing has never reconciled to this provision. For many years now they have been busy subverting the Article. There are indications that it will be removed formally from the Constitution in the not-too-distant future.

In the first week of February, the leader of the Opposition Democratic Party Naoto Kan questioned in the Diet (Parliament) the constitutionality of the move to send troops to Iraq. The Opposition boycotted the Diet session that was called to get retroactive recognition for the government's decision. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was itself divided on the issue, with many of its leading lights abstaining from the vote. In July last year, Koizumi, in the face of fierce criticism on the issue, had backtracked, stating that he had wanted the Bill passed so that Japanese troops can be sent on foreign missions in future, pointing out that the Bill "is not one that requires the sending of Self-Defence Forces (SDF) - it's a Bill that allows the despatch of the SDF." The issue will be an important one in the forthcoming elections to the Japanese Upper House.

Six hundred soldiers will be initially deployed in Iraq along with a naval detachment and air support. An advance detachment of troops had left for Iraq in the middle of January. Attacks by the Iraqi resistance on the Japanese have already begun. In the last week of January, a truck carrying equipment for Japanese soldiers was attacked killing the Iraqi driver. Two diplomats were killed soon after Koizumi made known his intention to dispatch troops.

The government has been insisting that its troops will only be engaged in peace-keeping activities and will not be involved in combat operations. This is easier said than done as virtually the whole of Iraq has become a war zone. Many commentators have observed that countries wishing to bail the United States out of the quagmire in Iraq are assuming the garb of peace-keepers. Japanese troops will be based in the southern Iraqi town of Samawa, which is situated in the comparatively tranquil Shia-dominated part of the country. However, the Japanese are not taking any chances. The media in Japan have reported that an advance party of Japanese officials have disbursed millions of dollars to village sheikhs in the surrounding areas as an insurance against attacks. The troops will be living in a well-fortified area and are authorised to return fire if attacked.

The critics of the government's move say that the real aim of Koizumi is to break the prohibition against Japanese troops being deployed on foreign soil. Japanese troops were deployed in United Nations peace-keeping missions after the Diet passed a law authorising this in 1992. Troops were sent subsequently to Cambodia, Rwanda and East Timor. The government was quick to get the "Anti-Terrorism Special Measure Law" passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the U.S., further whittling down Article 9. Japanese troops were also despatched to Afghanistan, where they were mainly deployed for offshore duties.

Critics, however, point out that the deployment in Iraq is of a totally different kind as the Japanese troops may actually see combat. This is in clear violation of the Constitution, they say. "The U.S. is Japan's only ally and is striving to build a stable and democratic government in Iraq. Japan must be a trustworthy ally to the U.S.," Koizumi said recently, trying to justify his controversial decision.

Observers of the East Asian scene are of the view that Koizumi has taken the calculated step for a variety of reasons. The faltering economy has a lot to gain if Japan gets lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts. The Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that the plum contracts will go to companies belonging to countries that are part of the "coalition" in Iraq. Japan also hopes to get preferential access to Iraqi hydrocarbon resources. Japan gets the bulk of its oil supply from West Asia. The U.S., which is in desperate need of allies in Iraq, has already signalled that it would reward Japan's participation in Iraq handsomely.

Another important intention of Koizumi is to set a precedent for the possible deployment of troops on the Korean peninsula. The government had announced in March 2003 that it would launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if it got evidence that Pyongyang was planning a missile attack. This is an alarming development for Japan's neighbours, who have not yet forgotten the military atrocities committed by Japan during the Second World War.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment