TCS Daily

Constitutional Obstacles?

By Jason Miks - May 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Fifteen years ago this June, Japan dispatched a minesweeping force to the Persian Gulf to clean up unclaimed mines in the region. The mission was a success and marked a high point in what had been until that moment one of the most humiliating episodes in recent Japanese diplomatic history.

At the outset of the first Gulf War Japan was under enormous pressure to play some part in the military effort. However constrained by its own war renouncing constitution -- Article 9 of which is supposed to bar it from engaging in military action -- it instead chose to make a substantial financial contribution to Allied efforts.

Yet rather than applaud Japan's $13 billion donation, the international community derided what then Secretary of State James Baker called its "checkbook diplomacy" and failure to dispatch its Self Defense Forces to the region. Indeed Japan was excluded from the list of countries to which Kuwait extended its thanks.

Stung by the sharp criticism that it received -- both international and domestic -- over its handling of the Gulf War and flush with the apparent success of its minesweeping mission; the government moved to authorize Japanese soldiers to take part in a UN peacekeeping mission in Cambodia. There was a sense among the Security Council Permanent Five that if Japan wanted even to be considered for a seat it had to do more to contribute to peacekeeping efforts. Indeed, then US ambassador to Tokyo, Michael Armacost, captured the international mood well when he said that "Japan will pay money, perhaps break a sweat, but will never spill a drop of blood. Why is that?"

The 1992 International Peace Cooperation Law was therefore meant to herald a new phase of co-operation and participation. However the bill's five principles -- including that agreement on a ceasefire had to have been reached among the parties to armed conflicts and use of weapons was limited to the minimum necessary to protect personnel lives -- proved extremely restrictive.

Although the Cambodian operation was considered a relative success, little progress was seen thereafter in expanding Japan's presence in the field. Under the 1992 law, Japan has contributed to 8 operations, but its main role has been as a financial contributor. Following the September 11th attacks the law was revised in 2001 to provide greater flexibility, and to enable Japan to provide logistical support to coalition forces in Afghanistan. However, although the peacekeeping law allows using weapons for self-defense, opening fire remains a controversial and sensitive issue in Japan.

The limitations on Japan's military contribution have come into focus again in Afghanistan. With an apparent spike in violence recently the NATO troops have their work cut out to ensure stability as they expand their presence in the country. But Japan is still restricted in the military role it can play.

That it has made a valuable financial and political contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction is not in doubt. The country hosted a key donor conference early on and has provided more than a billion dollars in assistance including a recent pledge of $2.3 million to help with police training and the purchase of communication equipment and vehicles. Indeed Afghanistan's Ambassador to Japan, Haron Amin, was quick to point out to me in a conversation earlier this year that Japan has played a crucial role in highlighting the challenges faced by the Afghan people. But these efforts have not included boots on the ground and instead the country's self defense forces are limited to vessels transporting fuel and supplies to American ships.

The role of SDF personnel in supporting Operation Enduring Freedom was last month extended through October and Japan has also deployed about 600 troops in southern Iraq in a non-combat, humanitarian capacity under another law passed in 2003.

Yet these measures are ad hoc and are a result of a flurry of special laws which are no replacement for a comprehensive strategy for peacekeeping. Developing a new strategy does not necessarily mean contributing huge numbers of infantry, but it should mean getting more personnel directly involved. Japan's contribution to peacekeeping missions is a fraction of another country seeking permanent membership, India, despite the fact that it could offer a great deal with properly trained and equipped police for example.

Ultimately, for there to be any lasting change, Japan will have to wait for constitutional amendments -- and especially any changes to Article 9. In revising it, the government will have to tread carefully. The Iraq mission -- Japan's largest overseas military dispatch since World War II -- has been unpopular with many Japanese who believe the deployment violates the constitution. And Japan's neighbors are worried that once the shackles of the 'peace constitution' are removed it will revive Japanese militarism.

But clarifying the position of Japan's forces in terms of the right of self defense and peacekeeping does not have to lead to adventurism. The country has a right to engage in the sometimes messy effort of peacekeeping if it wants its deserved permanent seat at the UNSC, and has an obligation to do so if it wants to more fairly share the military burden with allies like the United States.

In 1993 the new leader of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, produced a book titled Blueprint for a New Japan in which he set out his thoughts on how to make Japan "a normal country" -- one that could play an effective role in the international community. But until Japan's peacekeeping role is properly clarified, this vision will not -- indeed cannot -- be realized.

Jason Miks is a Tokyo-based writer and Assistant Editor at the Center for International Relations.


1 Comment

One worlders unite!
I can not imagine any sane government contributing troops to carry out military missions in which its national interests are not involved. Wors when carried out under the banner of an organization as corrupt and inane as the UN you reduce your military to the role of mercenaries in the service of a world government.

This was an article without a goal. Why bother?

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