Friday, October 22, 2004

The US, Japan, and the War(s)

The fact that the Japanese Prime Minister - in a move widely derided as unconstitutional at the time - sent 600 ground troops and 400 air and naval personnel from Japan's tiny Self-Defence Force to help out in non-combat roles in Iraq has already led many to fear that the era of a peaceful Japan is over. Now is the US out to re-write the avowedly pacifist constitution of Japan to gain a new military ally in the war on terror? Either way, it looks like the Japanese government is about to experience divisions similar to that taking place within the British Labour party over the role their country should play in this apparently never-ending conflict.

Thanks to Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a mean of settling international disputes... In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

This, of course, could have left Japan open to attack, so a treaty was signed by which US occupying forces would provide the protection traditionally held by a national military. The last version of this treaty was signed on 19th January 1960, stating that "For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East," Article VI granted the US "the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan," governed by a separate agreement, signed in Tokyo on February 28, 1952.

This agreement stated that these US forces could only be used to defend Japan from attack or act to preserve the peace in the Far East - hence Japan being used as a staging post during the Korean and (to a far lesser extent due to public protest) Vietnam wars.

However, Japan is now under pressure from the US to allow a shift in the terms of the treaty, especially since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's meeting with President Bush in New York on Tuesday. The US wants to transfer the headquarters of the the U.S. Army's I Corps from Washington state to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, setting up new command centres for the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. This new base would be used to help conduct the "war on terror", and troops stationed there might be sent anywhere in the world.

According to the Japan Times the head of the Japanese Defence Agency, Yoshinori Ono, has told the House of Councillors' Budget Committee that it is his personal view that allowing this redeployment will not violate existing treaties. But Ono's comments were quickly disavowed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, who has stated catagorically that the government will not allow the Japan-US Security Treaty to be altered, and that US troops stationed in Japan will still be bound not to venture beyond the region.

Yet Hosoda has hinted that America might still use the country as a staging post for troop movements from the west coast of the US towards the Middle East, something which some argue is technically inconsistent with the treaty: "the United States is engaged in global security operations, and Japan-U.S. cooperation in the global context should be separated from (the context of) the bilateral security treaty... I think they should not be mixed."

This is a significant shift from the the Japanese government's line after US troops were transferred to Iraq from Okinawa, where the official statement was that Japan was not aware of their destination when they left. A somewhat convenient get-out which gave Koizumi's government a bit of breathing space to work on their excuses for flaunting the constitution's central pacifism.

The proposed new US military bases are set to heighten already existing tensions within Japan. Some critics of Koizumi's closeness to Bush (a relationship which has forced official denials that Koizumi is backing Bush in the upcoming US elections) are already raising awkward questions - why, after all, should Japan welcome yet more US troops when they still have 50,000 stationed there nearly 60 years after the end of WWII?

The US in turn is tapping in to this on-going resentment of its troops' continued presence, with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage hinting in a press conference held at the US Embassy in Tokyo on 13th October that any transformation of the US' military role in Japan "had to be done in a way that enhanced our deterrents and that lessened the burden on the people of Japan." Might the US be offering to withdraw its unpopular troops in exchange for more Japanese co-operation in the war on terror, perchance?

The Japanese government has already started to stifle attempts at protest and revive long-forgotten militaristic tendencies, despite the fact that a majority of Japanese are opposed to the Iraq war and to any changes to the constitution. Koizumi has packed supposedly bipartisan "expert" panels formed to discuss the country's future military role with his allies, and former advisors of the Prime Minister's have gone on the record to state that they feel Japan should take a more active military role alongside the US.

In short, Japan is coming under a lot of pressure to shift its attitutde to war - an attitude, lest we forget, which was initially forced on the country by the US itself. Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura has already hinted that the Japan-US alliance is more important than the legalities of Japan's own constitution, which is ringing a few alarm bells amongst those (such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Security Council of which Japan is aiming for a seat on) who feel that the Bush Doctrine of "pre-emptive defence" is somewhat in breach of international law.

So, could there really end up being such delicious irony? Could it really be the case that the only country the US has ever successfully managed to pacify and Americanise is going to be forced into becoming belligerent again in order to help the US pacify and Americanise another? Is a constitutionally pacifist nation going to be forced to build up a military and wage war to help President Bush spread his own uniquely destructive form of peace?

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