Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

By Paul Midford | Go to book overview

5
The First Gulf War

The Persian Gulf Crisis of 1990 and the Persian Gulf War of JanuaryFebruary 1991 provided the first political stress test of the Japanese public’s attitudes toward sending troops overseas since the end of the Pacific War in 1945. For the first time since Japan regained independence in 1952, the nation was openly pressured by the United States to dispatch Japanese per— sonnel overseas to participate in a multilateral military operation, namely the U.S.—led multilateral army assembling in Saudi Arabia to oppose the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Japanese government and the ruling LDP responded by proposing a “U.N. Peace Cooperation Corps” (UNPCC) bill before the National Diet in October 1990. SDF and other personnel would be members of what the bill called the “U.N. Peace Cooperation Corps (UNPCC).” However, the Japanese public did not support this plan, forcing it to ultimately be scrapped. This political drama lay bare, for the first time in a generation, the large gap between Americans and Japanese in the way they view the utility of strategically offensive military force.

This chapter is thus a case study examining how the public responded to this proposal and how they influenced politicians and policy. It shows how the Japanese public’s distinctive views on the utility of military force and the U.S. role internationally led it to consistently oppose the dispatch of the SDF overseas for combat or any operations connected to combat. The LDP’s attempts to persuade the public failed, and the party was ultimately com— pelled by broad and stable public opposition to abandon the planned dispatch of the SDF to Saudi Arabia. In short, this chapter shows the public’s influence and skepticism regarding the utility of projecting military power overseas.

Subsequent efforts to dispatch ASDF transports to the Middle East to evacuate refugees during the Gulf War similarly failed. On the other hand, the government’s dispatch of minesweepers following the official end of hostilities proved to be both politically possible and popular with the public. The reasons for the contrasting success of the minesweeper deployment will be analyzed at the end of the chapter.

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