U.S. will welcome Japan input in Iraq: CSIS expert

by Sayuri Daimon

Postwar Iraq will need a heavy American military presence to maintain order, but Japan can also play an important role in providing humanitarian assistance and helping international organizations’ efforts to rebuild the country, according to a senior member of a Washington-based think tank.

“Many Japanese have worked for NGOs and international relief organizations, so there will be Japanese people involved, whether they are working for the government or NGOs,” said William Breer, Japan chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That is the kind of thing which will be most helpful.”

In a recent interview, Breer, who was visiting Tokyo last week, said the U.S. government greatly appreciates Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s strong moral and diplomatic support.

But he added that Washington will not make a specific request as to what kind of support it expects from Tokyo regarding the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

“I think the Japanese government is fully capable of determining how it can be most helpful,” said Breer, who served as former deputy chief of mission under U.S. Ambassador to Japan Michael Armacost between 1989 and 1993.

“In other words, I don’t think Washington would give specific instructions,” he said. “There will be plenty of hints and it would be obvious what needs to be done.”

Breer also touched on recent media coverage of a request that U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker reportedly made to Japan. It was reported last week that Baker had told the secretaries general of the ruling parties that Japan should send Self-Defense Forces units to postwar Iraq to help maintain order.

“I’m told by the ambassador’s assistant that was an exaggeration and not an accurate description of what the ambassador said,” Breer said. “But having said that, if it were possible for Japan to provide personnel help from the ‘jieitai’ (SDF), that would be welcome. There is no question about that.”

The former U.S. diplomat also welcomed the suggestion that Japan should shoulder 20 percent of the cost of rebuilding Iraq — an idea that has been floated among politicians of the ruling coalition.

“I don’t think there is any sort of fixed amount, but 20 percent may be a good starting point,” Breer said. “I think Washington will appreciate whatever financial aid Japan can provide to the postwar efforts.”

It is still unclear when the war will end and Breer expressed serious concerns over recent indications that the fighting may continue for longer than most people had anticipated.

Unless the U.S. ends the war as quickly as possible and is able to move on to creating a better future for the Iraq people, public support for the U.S. mission will decline and the global economy could be hit hard, he said.

“I’ve always been concerned that it wouldn’t be as easy as some analysts thought,” he said. “I also think it’s going to have a very serious effect on our fiscal situation in the United States. The president has already asked for some $70 billion in supplemental (funds), and I think that’s just the beginning.”

Breer went on to criticize the administration of President George W. Bush for its handling of the North Korea situation, pointing out that many people in the current government were those who opposed the framework agreed on in 1994, in which Pyongyang promised to halt its nuclear weapons development program.

There are also members of the administration — part of the so-called neoconservative policy group — who believe the ailing communist country should be allowed to collapse, he said.

“The collapse of North Korea would create havoc and chaos in Northeast Asia,” Breer said. “We have to give talks with North Korea a try before doing something else,” Breer said.

“North Korea could pose a threat to Japan with missiles and the acquisition of nuclear weapons, but I think North Korea also understands that the American and South Korean military forces are overwhelming,” he said. “To that extent, deterrence could work.”