Iraq Deployment Shows the East German Syndrome
by Tim Shorrock
years ago, the author and critic Chalmers Johnson wrote a prescient
book about U.S. foreign policy that unfavorably compared Japan's
postwar prime ministers to the East German leaders Walter Ulbricht
and Erich Honecker.
as the two satraps of the German Democratic Republic faithfully
followed every order they ever received from Moscow, each and every
Japanese prime minister, as soon as he comes into office, get on
an air plane and reports to Washington," Johnson wrote.
words stung in Tokyo, largely because they were true. Since World
War II, Japan has played a subservient role to the United States
in foreign policy on nearly every issue to come its way. Its servile
role has often been embarrassing, and frequently left many observers
with the impression that Japan was no more than a bit player to
its master in Washington.
1972, for example, US President Richard Nixon gave Prime Minister
Eisaku Sato just a few minutes notice before announcing to the world
that he was recognizing the People's Republic of China as the official
representative of China. Nixon's "shock" reversed years
of official policy that Japanese diplomats and businessmen had been
dreaming about for decades, and reportedly brought Sato to tears.
10 years later, former US Ambassador Edwin Reischauer confessed
in an offhand interview that US warships had been routinely bringing
nuclear weapons into Japanese ports and territorial waters since
1960 with the full knowledge of Japanese leaders, thus violating
Japan's antinuclear stance.
nearly four years into the 21st century and more than a decade after
the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the relationship between the United
States and Japan that was forged in the early days of the Cold War
does not seem to have changed much at all.
fact, as the two nations celebrated the 50th anniversary of the
US-Japan Security Treaty in November, Japanese leaders appeared
to be bent on deepening their reliance on the United States, seemingly
without any national debate about whether a close military alliance
with the United States is in Japan's best interest or not.
best example of Japan's willingness to do the United States' bidding
is the Middle East, where the cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi agreed last week to deploy 1,000 soldiers from Japan's Self-Defence
Forces (SDF) to Iraq at Washington's request.
dispatch of the SDF, which comes in the aftermath of the killing
of two Japanese diplomats in Iraq, marks the largest overseas deployment
of Japanese troops since the Second World War.
this significant turn in Japanese policy would never have taken
place if President Bush had not reversed two centuries of US policy
with his unilateralist, preemptive strike on Iraq. "Rebuilding
Iraq is necessary for the stability of the entire Middle East and
the rest of the world, and is in Japan's best interests," Koizumi
said in a nationally broadcast news conference on Dec. 10.
of course, exactly mirrors Bush's belief that rebuilding Iraq is
necessary for the stability in the Middle East and the world, as
Bush has made clear in his many speeches on the subject.
went on to say that Japan was meeting its responsibility as a longtime
US ally, as opposed to a sovereign nation with its own obligations
to the world. "The US is Japan's only ally, and it is striving
very hard to build a stable and democratic government in Iraq,"
he said. "Japan must also be a trustworthy ally to the US"
those words were designed to assuage the Japanese public, which
is overwhelmingly opposed to his decision to involve Japan in America's
overseas ventures. Recent polls show that only about one-third of
Japanese voters approve of the sending the non-combat troops to
to Nobukatsu Kanehara, a counselor for political affairs in the
Japanese Embassy in Washington and the former director of the Japan-U.S.
Security Treaty Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan's
adherence to US foreign policy goals will only increase in the coming
are dependent on the U.S.-Japan alliance," he declared at a
Dec. 10 forum on the Security Treaty sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace
Foundation in Washington.
described Japan's current policies as a continuation of the national
strategy its leaders adopted in 1952 at the height of the Korean
War, when Japan agreed to keep US bases on its territory indefinitely.
that time, "we jumped into the new world and extended our national
interests," he said. "Japan needs friends to expand its
global influence. Our choice was the United States."
Japan "won't be an expanding country," assured Kanehara,
because its military is defensive in nature and lacks offensive
the United States withdrew nearly all of its army forces from Japan
after the Korean War, "that left the burden on Japan's ground
forces," which remain three times larger than its air force,
which has no ability to strike, and its navy, which can only monitor
sea lanes out to 1,000 miles. "The US Seventh Fleet is our
friendly fleet," said Kanehara.
overseas deployments have been closely aligned with US policy goals
as well. Its first overseas peacekeeping mission, which took place
under U.N. auspices in 1993 in Cambodia, was widely seen in Japan
as an experiment to gauge both foreign and domestic reaction. It
was followed by another "blue helmet" peacekeeping mission
1998, however, Japan's overseas military capacity expanded significantly
when it signed a major agreement to provide logistics support to
US forces in Asia. Then, following the terrorist attacks on the
United States in 2001, which took the lives of 24 Japanese citizens,
Japan sent 24 naval ships to the Indian Ocean. These oilers, Kanehara
said, eventually carried 50 percent of the oil for the coalition
forces fighting in Afghanistan.
to Kanehara, James J Przystup, a research professor at the Institute
of National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University
and the former director of Asian Studies at the conservative Heritage
Foundation, called the U.S.-Japan alliance a "central element"
in the US global strategy.
alliance is important because it defends Japan in Northeast Asia,
provides "regional stability," and is "part of US
global military strategy," said Przstup. He noted that the
"first foreign deployment after Sept. 11 came from Japan."
He concluded that "Japan's policies have changed remarkably
over the last 10 years."
Japan was an independent player on the world stage, that might be
true. But as a junior partner to the United States in an alliance
that has remained unchanged for over half a century, Japan may merely
be moving in sync with the changes taking place in Washington just as the former satellites of the Soviet Union might still be
orbiting Moscow if their long-dead patron was still alive.
Shorrock [send him mail]
is a freelance journalist based in Silver Spring, Maryland, who
specializes in US foreign policy in Asia, Korea, and labor issues.
His writings have appeared in many publications at home and abroad.
© 2003 Inter Press Service