Reversing Course: An Iraq Syndrome in Japan
Despite predictions that the Japanese public would come to accept SDF overseas combat deployments following the Iraq dispatch and would support the hawkish policies of Koizumi’s successor, the resurgence of entrapment fears as a result of the SDF deployment to Iraq only increased the salience of the Japanese public’s general skepticism about the utility of offensive military power. Consequently, in the wake of Iraq the Japanese public pushed for retrenchment.
This chapter thus explores the overall trajectory of Japan’s security policies over the two years following the GSDF’s withdrawal from Samawah and the impact of the Iraq deployment on this trajectory. It finds that opposition to the Iraq War, the SDF’s deployment there, and the resulting aggravated entrapment fears produced an “Iraq syndrome” (or perhaps a “Koizumi syndrome”) in public opinion characterized by reduced support for SDF overseas deployments of any kind. Support for constitutional revision or reinterpretation, especially in connection with Article 9, also fell drastically as a result.
A Nordic diplomat based in Tokyo and long-time observer of Japanese politics told the author, “Japan’s deployment was amazingly successful. Japan did not suffer any causalities.… this is a great success for Koizumi.”1 Beyond the obvious success of avoiding causalities, many observers saw the Iraq deployment as conditioning Japanese public opinion to accept overseas military deployments for the sake of the U.S. alliance, if not for the sake of engaging in combat. According to another astute observer, political scientist Ellis Krauss, LDP leaders have often molded public opinion by breaking
“small taboos” on security then let[ting] the public get used to the new outer limits,
thus pushing the envelope out further next time of what is acceptable and what not.
This is exactly what Koizumi did with Iraq.… So now the taboo of only sending
SDF abroad under UN auspices has been broken for the first time, and because of
that, Abe now takes the public stand that there has to be a case by case consideration