Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Japan's Response to the War against Terrorism: Yujiro Iwamoto and Sisira Edirippulige Comment on the Domestic and International Aspects of Japan's Reaction to the 11 September Attacks on the United States

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Japan's Response to the War against Terrorism: Yujiro Iwamoto and Sisira Edirippulige Comment on the Domestic and International Aspects of Japan's Reaction to the 11 September Attacks on the United States

Article excerpt

The news that the Japanese supply vessel Hamana had refuelled US Navy ships in the Arabian Sea came as the culmination of a series of bitter political battles and heated debates in political and academic circles as well as among the general Japanese public in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. The event was an important landmark in Japanese history as the first `wartime' deployment of Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) since the end of the Second World War. Without doubt, it was the 11 September attacks that paved the way to these unprecedented changes in Japan's post-war security policy.

Although the reaction from the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to the terrorist attack came a day later, his words and consequent actions were resolute and sound in contrast to previous occasions. Japan determinedly moved to take diplomatic and economic actions to match those of other members of the international community and play a noticeable role in a time of global crisis.

Within a matter of two months, the Diet managed to pass the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law and revise the UN Peacekeeping Operations Cooperation Law of 1992, making it possible for Japan to send SDF personnel to supply logistic support to the US-led coalition forces fighting against terrorist groups in Afghanistan. As the anti-terrorism bill states, it

   intends to enable Japan to contribute actively and on its own initiative to
   the efforts of the international community for the prevention and
   eradication of international terrorism, thereby ensuring the peace and
   security of the international community including Japan itself, through
   such activities as (a) co-operation and support activities for the armed
   forces of the United States and other countries, which aim to eradicate the
   threat of the terrorist attacks, (b) search and rescue activities for such
   foreign forces, and (c) relief activities for affected people. (1)

With the passage of the anti-terrorism bill, the Diet has given approval to the dispatch of Japanese SDF personnel to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea to provide logistic support to the coalition forces. New legislation allows SDF members to operate in non-combat areas, provide fuel and supplies, transport of weapons and ammunition by sea, provide medical care to wounded soldiers, and help refugees.

The revised UN Peacekeeping Operations Co-operation Law has lifted the previous ban on Japanese peacekeeping troops engaging in activities such as monitoring ceasefires, disarming local forces, patrolling demilitarised zones, and collecting and disposing of abandoned weapons. Also under the new law, Japanese troops may be deployed to places far from Afghanistan if current US-led military operations spread to other regions. Such deployments are possible without Diet approval under the vaguely worded basic plan.

Remarkable speed

What is remarkable is the speed of these developments. Post-war Japan has never been as keen and enthusiastic in any previous international conflict as it has been this time. In the past, its reaction has been slow and cautious, even in reaction to events that involved the United States, Japan's number one ally. For example, during the 1979 US-Iran crisis Japan showed little interest in getting involved, sidelining it as a bilateral diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Even during the Gulf War, Japan limited its responsibilities to a financial contribution when Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu offered $13 billion, also with a five-month delay. Indeed, there was no debate about the use of the SDF on any such occasions.

Several factors explain Japan's enthusiastic and proactive stance after 11 September and the consequent US-led war. First, Japan, like other members of the international community, accepted that the war against terrorism is a global issue, not the concern of a single nation. …

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