WASHINGTON – Declassified White House documents show that U.S. President George H.W. Bush strongly urged Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu in 1990 to send Maritime Self-Defense Force units to join the U.S.-led multinational forces during the Gulf War.
A record of telephone talks between Bush and Kaifu on Aug. 13, 1990, was obtained by the National Security Archive, a U.S. think tank. Iraq had invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2 and Bush was starting to build an international military coalition to evict the invaders.
According to the documents, Bush told Kaifu, “I would certainly encourage as much support as Japan can give on the economic and military side. . . . I would like you to consider a direct Japan contribution to the multinational naval force.
“I realize that would be a watershed event in the post-World War II history of Japan, but if it could be worked out it would really send a signal that Japan was a full participant in the Western alliance. This . . . would show Japan in a common alliance to protect against (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein,” Bush said.
In response, Kaifu explained the constitutional restraints and told Bush, “It is almost a national policy in this regard so it would be next to unthinkable to participate directly in the military sphere. . . . It is not immediately possible to take part in the multinational naval force,” the documents showed.
Instead, Kaifu promised to provide more economic and financial assistance, saying, “I would like to explore what we can do this time.”
Bush said, “I just was not fully aware of your constitutional problem but take a look to see whether there is something that can be done, perhaps on the logistics side, that will not put you in conflict with Diet resolutions.”
The Japanese government has not released records of telephone talks that took place between the two leaders following the outbreak of the gulf crisis.
In the end, MSDF minesweepers were sent to the Persian Gulf in April 1991, after Iraq had been defeated by the U.S.-led forces. It was Japan’s first overseas military mission since World War II.