A YEAR after first debating whether to send troops to the Gulf
effort, Japan has once again hesitated to decide if it should ever
dispatch its combat forces overseas.
Parliament adjourned last week without passing a bill to allow
Japanese soldiers to serve in United Nations (UN) peace-keeping
forces. The measure to permit Japanese troops to serve outside the
country was strongly promoted by the ruling Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP), which has been trying to expand the military role of a
nation that thinks of itself as pacifist.
But support for the bill faltered when LDP leaders made an
awkward interpretation of Japan's "peace" Constitution, which bans
force in solving global conflicts. The LDP claimed the use of guns
by Japanese soldiers in a UN force would not be the same as the use
An outcry by the political opposition and the news media against
this attempt at a legal distinction delayed a final vote. Passage
is not expected until at least late November, when parliament is
expected to reconvene.
The Asahi newspaper referred to the LDP's explanation as
"opportunistic" and an attempt to "call a spade a diamond." The
Japan Times said, "This kind of spurious argument has been
effective to a certain extent toward the domestic audience, but
will only be accepted as illogical petti-fogging by other nations."
The delay in passing the bill has caused some anxiety among the
LDP and government officials for three reasons.
One is that they are eager for Japanese troops to join a UN
peace-keeping force expected to enter Cambodia in early November,
when a settlement of that conflict is likely to take effect. Such a
step would mark a new era for Japan in Asia.
"Japan intends to make personnel and financial contributions ...
to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia which has been
ravaged by years of war," said a Foreign Ministry statement.
Another reason is that Japanese leaders want to dampen criticism
in the United States over the nation's refusal to send rear-line
personnel to the multinational forces during the Gulf war. The
criticism has worsened US-Japan economic friction.
"Whatever impression people had of Japan before, it should not
be taken for granted," says Foreign Ministry spokesman Taizo
Watanabe. "We are changing in a better direction."
And a third reason for the bill is to prepare the Japanese for
another type of military dispatch, slated for next fall.
The government plans to send naval ships and helicopters to
guard a freighter carrying a shipment of plutonium back from
Europe, where it has been recycled from spent nuclear fuel. The
military escort is needed to prevent possible terrorist hijacking
of the freighter, which must travel for five or six weeks over some
18,000 miles of ocean.
Officials have tried to lay the groundwork, both at home and
abroad, for acceptance of a Japanese move to send combat soldiers
overseas for the first time since the end of World War II. …