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Thursday, Dec. 18, 2003

Question of SDF being sent to Iraq divides panelists

The British journalists taking part in the Keizai Koho Center symposium had the opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi during their one-week visit to Japan, with the issue of the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq one matter that came up in their discussions.

Representing the full spectrum of politics in British broadsheet newspapers -- from The Independent, which was vehemently opposed to the invasion of Iraq, to The Times, which supported it -- the journalists also had differing views on whether Japanese troops should be sent to the region.

"My own view is that the war in Iraq was a rather serious mistake," said Anatole Kaletsky, of The Times. "I believe that it distracted attention away from the real issues that the United States should have been addressing, which were the spread of terrorism and trying to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, which is the other great source of terrorism in the world."

In terms of whether the SDF should be sent to support the post-war reconstruction of the country, Kaletsky was dismissive of the suggestion that public opinion in the U.S. will be influenced by Japanese troops being on the ground.

"I don't think the Americans care very much whether Japan participates or not," he said, a view that was echoed by Larry Elliott, of The Guardian.

"Although the Japanese government seems to think that the Americans do actually care whether the SDF is involved in Iraq, I think they might only care briefly and for propaganda reasons," he said.

What it boils down to, he said, is that it would be disastrous if the question of whether the SDF should be dispatched or not came to overshadow Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's reforms.

"If you look at it as a cost-benefit analysis, if the cost was that it derailed the domestic reform agenda, that would be crazy," he said. "It would be a very strange order of priorities."

Rosemary Righter, however, disagreed with the suggestion that there is any link between the domestic situation and the SDF being sent to Iraq.

"I think Washington does care," she said, emphasizing that the U.S. government sees it as a test of the two nations' friendship and whether "important allies are prepared to help shoulder an out-of-area and unconventional burden in the post-2001 world."

Japan's provision of naval support for U.S. operations in Afghanistan have been "warmly noted" in Washington, she said, while the amount of money that Tokyo has pledged to the reconstruction of Iraq has been "very favorable" compared to that from Europe.

Righter's most serious concern, she said, is that nowhere in Iraq can be considered a noncombat area and "the very fact that Japan is known to have these constitutional, political and psychological inhibitions about the dispatch of the SDF means that if I were an al-Qaeda member or a Saddam Hussein henchman, I'd hope to attack the SDF at any opportunity because it would have maximum impact and probably lead to their rapid withdrawal.

"Unless the SDF is prepared to be attacked, it cannot go -- under any circumstances," she said.

The greater importance lies much closer to Japan, however. Iraq was invaded to preserve the rule of law, she said, after invading Kuwait and defying legally binding United Nations resolutions, leaving nuclear proliferation issues unresolved.

"To have given Iraq a final chance and then done nothing would have been to give up on the nuclear nonproliferation regime worldwide," she said. "We now have an even more serious proliferation issue right next door to Japan. I think this is part of the same effort of containment and I think it is right for Japan to be engaged in both efforts and engaged very fully."

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