Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet is mulling how to respond to a possible U.S.-led military strike against Syria without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
One day after returning from a six-day trip to the Middle East, Abe on Friday instructed his ministers to collect information on an alleged chemical weapons attack by the government of President Bashar Assad against his own people.
Meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Vice Defense Minister Akinori Eto, he also ordered them to prepare to protect Japanese nationals in the area should it become necessary.
The U.S. could strike soon after a U.N. team investigating the purported chemical attack leaves Damascus on Saturday.
Suga said the government believes there is a high possibility that Syria resorted to using poison gas and that Japan will not tolerate such action under any circumstances. But he repeated the position that he will not comment on whether Japan would condone U.S. punitive attacks on Syria without a U.N. mandate.
“I cannot comment on Japan’s stance against possible U.S. military intervention, as it is still hypothetical at this stage,” Suga told a news conference.
While U.S. officials are saying there is no doubt that Syria used chemical weapons, the international community is wary about repeating the mistakes of the Iraq war, in which the U.S. and Britain launched an invasion without a U.N. resolution and never found any weapons of mass destruction.
The British Parliament narrowly voted Thursday against possible military action against Syria, a serious blow to President Barack Obama’s efforts to build an international consensus. A high-ranking Japanese official said that the British may be lacking sufficient information about the chemical attack and that Japan will move cautiously regardless of the decision in London.
Japan has faced similar situations before, but Abe will have to engage in a delicate political balancing act as he seeks to deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance. A former Pentagon official told the Japan Times that the U.S. will seek vocal support from its ally at the least.
When NATO conducted airstrikes on Kosovo without a U.N. mandate in 1999, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi issued a statement via the Foreign Ministry saying it was a necessary action to prevent atrocities.
In 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed Japan’s support three hours after concerted military strikes on Iraq by the U.S. and Britain, also without a U.N. mandate.
The Koizumi administration even passed a special law and sent Self-Defense Forces personnel to southern Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance.