Think tank plugs Okinawa peace training center

by Tai Kawabata

A Tokyo-based think tank submitted a research report Wednesday to Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, calling on Japan to turn Okinawa into a training hub for peace operations, with participants including the United States, Australia, China, South Korea and Taiwan.

The report calls for creation of the Center for International Peace Cooperation Action in Nago in northern Okinawa Island to train military forces, police and civilian specialists for peace operations, and conduct advanced research.

The Strategic Research Institute of International Change, headed by military affairs analyst Kazuhisa Ogawa, prepared the report “Peacebuilding and National Interests — Meeting the Challenge with a Model of Australian-Japanese Cooperation” with Australia-Japan Foundation research funds.

Ogawa said activities by the proposed center would help achieve a “peaceful reorientation of the Japan-U.S. alliance” that would be more true to the spirit of the preamble of the Constitution, and this change would also help change the nature of U.S. bases in Okinawa, making them more acceptable to the people in the prefecture.

The Constitution’s preamble in part mentions the Japanese people’s determination to “occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace.”

The report envisages Japan, the U.S. and Australia cooperating in the training at the center since Japan signed an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement with the U.S. in 1996 and a similar agreement with Australia last May.

These pacts provide for a smooth exchange of logistic support, supplies and services. The center in Okinawa would be a partner with Australia’s Asia Pacific Civil-Military Center of Excellence and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

Because Japanese police are reluctant to take part in overseas peace operations, the report proposes recruiting retired Self-Defense Forces personnel as police officers. They would perform ordinary police duties, but some could be dispatched for peace operations.

Ogawa said their experience in the SDF would provide a great benefit. He noted the 1993 death of a Japanese police officer during the SDF’s peacekeeping operation in Cambodia was traumatic for the nation’s police and they have shied away from taking part.

The report proposes that Japan set aside a “national security budget” that could be used by the SDF, the National Police Agency, the Japan Coast Guard, local governments and nongovernment organizations for peace operations without worrying about using up their own funding.

Units that include personnel trained at the center would mainly be engaged in countries where peace and security have broken down, hopefully with the United Nations playing the central role. The public needs to develop a consensus on the shape of the units’ operations and the type and use of equipment they would employ, Ogawa said.

Ogawa said that despite the war-renouncing Constitution, Japan lacks a concrete philosophy and methodology for contributing to peace-building, although SDF personnel dispatched abroad for peacekeeping operations receive fairly high praise.

He said it is important to combine Japan’s capabilities with the brain power of Australia, which has a solid philosophy about the importance of peace-building.

Personnel from China, South Korea, Taiwan and other governments interested in peace operations could take part if the center is set up, Ogawa said, adding China is keen to participate.