Gulf Crisis Tests Japan's Position in World Community Does Political Leadership Match Economic Superpower Role?

By Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 1991 | Go to article overview

Gulf Crisis Tests Japan's Position in World Community Does Political Leadership Match Economic Superpower Role?


Clayton Jones, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


JAPAN is struggling hard not to be a loser in the Gulf war before the first battle.

So far, almost everything the government has done - from hostage-handling to diplomacy - has been criticized both at home and abroad.

"Unless we can make a contribution other than a financial one," says Gaishi Hiraiwa, chairman of Japan's Federation of Economic Organizations, "we cannot come out of the Gulf crisis as a member of the international community."

At stake for Japan is not only the safeguarding of its supply of Middle East oil but also preventing an anti-Japan backlash in the United States.

Many observers and Japanese leaders see the crisis as a test of Japan's skills in global political leadership as an economic superpower. If Japan appears unwilling to share the risks in the Gulf, concludes Michael Armacost, US ambassador to Japan, that will influence how the rest of the world responds to Japan's desire to become a member of the United Nations Security Council.

A December poll of embassies in Tokyo by the Mainichi newspaper revealed that fewer than half of their respective governments would support either a permanent or nonpermanent council seat for Japan.

Unlike Germany, which after much hesitation has finally sent military planes to Turkey under the NATO umbrella, the Japanese government continues to be stymied by domestic opposition from sending its military to the Middle East. Japan does support the anti-Iraq resolutions of the UN.

Parliament even failed to vote on a government bill that would have authorized the first overseas deployment of troops since World War II. That put a black mark on the leadership of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.

According to an Asahi newspaper poll, the Japanese are divided somewhat evenly into three camps: those who support sending troops and money, those in favor of sending only money, and those opposed to anything but diplomatic measures.

A second bill, which would create a new "peace corps" of Japanese personnel separate from the military is promised by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). But such a bill would face tough opposition. And it would not likely be enacted until well after a Gulf war has begun or ended, leaving Japan vulnerable to US criticism that it is getting a "free ride." Such criticism might add new pressure to revise or scrap the US-Japan security treaty, a keystone to the bilateral relationship.

"If fighting breaks out, Japan will be criticized for not being there," says Hiroyuki Kishino, a Japanese diplomat on leave as a research fellow. "Many Japanese take peace as a given, not requiring any painful efforts," he says. "This is thanks to Japan living under a US security arrangement for the last 45 years. This mentality is a problem, and will be very hard to change."

Japanese officials say the proposed bill would let Japan's military participate in UN-sponsored actions. Japan is eager to join in a UN role in Cambodia after a settlement.

"Our impact in the global community is larger than we think," says Mr. Kaifu. "We can't just expect to assist in the Gulf with money and so we must find other means of cooperating."

To pass a new bill, the LDP still needs support from two small opposition parties. …

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