[Nasional-e] Japan: Pacifist or 'normal'?
Tue Dec 10 23:24:04 2002
Japan: Pacifist or 'normal'?
Yumiko Nakagawa IHT Tuesday, December 10, 2002
TOKYO Japan appears to be using its armed forces to seek a higher
international profile. Tokyo recently agreed to send Maritime Self-Defense
Force fueling ships and an Aegis-class destroyer to assist the United States
in the Gulf. And it decided to extend logistical support for U.S. military
operations in Afghanistan until next May 19.
So Japan may be becoming a more "normal" country through the use of its
military. Expanding such roles overseas, as part of United Nations forces or
in alliance with the United States, could mean Japanese soldiers fighting
and dying in the national interest.
But the public seems unprepared to deal with the consequences of being a
"normal" nation. People are not ready to follow the national interest if it
leads to Japanese loss of life. When Nakata Atsuhito, a volunteer member of
the UN Transition Authority in Cambodia, was shot by guerrillas in Cambodia
in 1993, almost the entire Japanese nation wept.
The fate of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea has triggered a similar
emotional reaction. Some of them died after they disappeared. The Japanese
public has focused on the fate of the 13 abductees to the virtual exclusion
of a bigger and more pressing interest: the threat from North Korea's
weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
Weighing the national interest against the individual lives that may be lost
for those interests is never easy. Every society treasures its young
soldiers and does not want to send them to die. The shrinking size of
families in Japan and other industrialized societies makes their governments
even more reluctant to put young soldiers at risk.
The prospect of casualties has a significant impact on military policy
planning. The United States was reluctant to send ground troops into Bosnia
and Afghanistan; instead, air strikes were used to minimize causalities.
In Somalia, the deaths of fewer than two dozen American soldiers were enough
for the United States to pull troops out. A key question hanging over any
attack on Iraq remains: "Is getting rid of Saddam Hussein worth our people's
The dispatch of Japanese military forces on overseas missions is a test of
Japan's democracy. The public must consider national interests and weigh
them against the human costs when making policy decisions.
Anxiety about the rise of China and North Korea's weapons of mass
destruction is fueling nationalism in Japan. Some people want the armed
forces to play a more active military role in upholding national interests.
People need to think more creatively about other options for increasing the
country's international weight and influence before concluding that the
military option is best.
For example, pacifism still can be a source of national pride. Japan's
pacifist constitution, adopted at the end of World War II, is a noble pledge
not to repeat the aggression of the past. It is also an assurance to Japan's
The very democracy that gives the government the authority to expand Japan's
military role abroad means that the public itself must accept responsibility
for unpopular outcomes. Citizens are responsible for the acts of Japanese
soldiers. Unlike the period before and during World War II, neither the
emperor nor generals can be held responsible.
The writer is the Vasey fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS, a think tank based in
Honolulu. She contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.