TOPICS : Koizumi ushers in active foreign policy

Suvendrini Kakuchi

The commitment made by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the international community that the country’s Self Defence Forces (SDF) would join a planned multinational force in Iraq, has far-reaching implications globally. According to analysts, Japan can now be expected to play a more active role in foreign policy.

Koizumi last week said Japanese troops would join a UN-led multinational force in Iraq as long as their role is limited to humanitarian missions. He made the commitment at the end of the annual two-day gathering of leaders from the G-8 countries in the US state of Georgia.

Rei Shiratori, head of the Institute of Political Studies in Japan, said the Iraq crisis has forced Japan to reconsider its traditional post-war diplomacy that leaned heavily on monetary contributions to support the country’s global responsibilities. Since the end of the first Gulf War, Japan has slowly sought more active participation in international peacekeeping efforts. Japanese troops have been sent to Cambodia, East Timor, and most recently to the Indian Ocean.

Nevertheless, Japan has also been routinely criticised for “check-book diplomacy,” notably during the first Gulf War in 1991 when Tokyo failed to mobilise its troops. Instead, Japan contributed $13 billion in aid during the conflict. But it received a lot of flak from Western countries that accused Tokyo of watching from the sidelines. Professor Yoko Iwama., at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out that Japan’s push for a more active foreign policy also stems from changing US policy. At present Japan has about 600 SDF based near the town of Samawah in southern Iraq — the nation’s first troop deployment under its own flag instead of the UN’s. But this particular involvement of the SDF in Iraq is different from previous Japanese peacekeeping missions, where the troops have always been in post-conflict and non-combat situations.

Now for the first time since its post-war history Japanese peacekeeping troops might have to use weapons for self-defence in a hostile environment. But Japan’s constitution drafted with the US after World War II, forbids Japanese troops from engaging in the act of combat unless the nation is under attack. For that reason, early this week, the chief of the Cabinet Legislature Bureau told the Diet the SDF that joined a planned multinational force in Iraq will ignore orders from UN commanders that conflict with instructions from Tokyo. But deployment of the SDF to Iraq still remains a hot topic in Japan, where critics view it as contravening Japan’s pacifist

tradition. In the meantime as Koizumi pushes for an active role in peacekeeping there are indications that Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) will, now, play a less pivotal role. Instead, it is set to become part of a mix of peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance that will form the cornerstones of Japan’s new active diplomacy. A long economic recession saw Japan slip from first to second place in the past three years, among the donor community. At a recent press conference Sadako Ogata, the new head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency acknowledged that chances looked slim for the country to expand its overseas aid programme in the future. — IPS