Asian Forces in Iraq Signal Global Shift

Article excerpt

James Baker, as a United States special envoy, is wrapping up a trip to Japan and China to discuss with leaders there strategies to reduce Iraq's official debt. It is high time that US policymakers and pundits recognize that the center of economic gravity is shifting away from Europe.

While transatlantic partnerships remain important, US allies in Asia - especially Japan and South Korea - are becoming increasingly more important players in the search for global stability.

Given historical links and ancestral ties for the majority of its citizens, US foreign policies have long reflected a distinct Eurocentricity. The political browbeating over the rift between the US, France, and Germany on the eve of the Iraq war illustrates this.

But the worries over unpleasant exchanges with France and Germany overshadowed the fact that many other European countries had joined the "coalition of the willing." Besides the 12,000 troops from Britain, other Europeans that contributed to the multinational force include Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Spain, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. And logistical support is provided by Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal.

Yet, while editorial writers and politicians anguished over the Bush administration's insensitivities toward the French and the Germans, US allies in Asia were stepping up to the plate.

In particular, the democratically elected governments of both Japan and South Korea have been generally supportive of US policy in Iraq and have pledged materiel and manpower to join coalition forces. Indeed, Japan pledged active involvement in the Paris Club, the informal group of official creditors studying ways to reduce Iraq's debt, before Mr. Baker even left on his trip last week. In another sign of solidarity, Japan is likely to forgive up to two- thirds of the $4 billion Iraq owes Japan. And Tokyo has offered $5 billion for reconstruction in Iraq.

In the cases of Japan and Korea, their decisions to support US efforts in Iraq came despite the fact that several Japanese diplomats and South Korean reconstruction engineers were gunned down this fall by Iraqi guerrilla forces in separate attacks. The two countries remained firm in their commitment of support in the face of considerable pressure from protestors urging their governments to avoid further entanglement in Iraq.

From an economic standpoint, Japan contributes significantly more than either Germany or France respectively. But even when the GDP of the two European powerhouses is combined ($3.7 trillion), it is only a smidgen more than is Japan ($3. …