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By announcing his support for a U.S.-led war on Iraq without a fresh United Nations resolution, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made it clear Tuesday that his government emphasizes Japan’s alliance with the United States over U.N.-centered efforts for peace.

“If the U.S., in cooperation with Britain and other countries, has no other choice but to resort to force, the Japanese government will support this decision,” Koizumi said.

The comments mark a departure from the prime minister’s earlier emphasis on the importance of international coordination on the Iraq crisis. Koizumi has repeatedly said the U.N. Security Council should adopt a fresh resolution authorizing a war on Iraq.

Experts on international affairs were mixed in their reactions to the prime minister’s latest pronouncement.

Yoshimitsu Nishikawa, a professor of international politics at Toyo University, said Koizumi has no option but to support Japan’s key ally since it has only limited military capabilities to protect itself from threats such as North Korea’s suspected development of nuclear weapons.

“North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is closely monitoring how the international community deals with Iraq,” Nishikawa said.

If the U.S. was unable to act on the Iraq crisis because of divisions within the Security Council, that would have sent the wrong message to the North Korean leader, he warned.

Nishikawa went on to say that with the U.S. as the sole superpower in the post-Cold War world, there are two alternatives for other nations to take — go against the U.S. and try to create a multipolar world order, or side with the U.S.

Despite criticism that Japan is simply following in the footsteps of the U.S., Tokyo has no choice but to express support for Washington, he said.

Keio University professor Fumiaki Kubo, an expert on international politics, pointed out that the division exposed at the Security Council reflects the ineffectiveness of the United Nations as a mechanism to settle international military crises.

“The United Nations does not seem effective in dealing with such issues (as the Iraq crisis),” Kubo said. “Japan cannot entrust its national security to the U.N.”

He also suggested that it was inevitable for Koizumi to demonstrate clear support for the U.S.

However, Motofumi Asai, a Meiji Gakuin University professor, says Koizumi’s statement simply shows that Japan’s stated policy of seeking international peace and stability through the United Nations has been a sham.

Japan’s diplomatic policy has put weight on the U.N. framework only when U.N. policies are consistent with those of the United States, Asai said.

“What the government actually meant was a U.N.-oriented diplomacy that is obedient to the U.S.” he said.

Asai further warned that Japan’s support for war in Iraq could cost the nation international respect. Japan is now labeled as an “agent of the U.S.,” as demonstrated by continued efforts to persuade Security Council members to throw support behind the U.S.-led draft resolution.

He also said Koizumi’s decision may expose Japanese to the threat of terrorism, noting that the bomb attack in Bali, Indonesia, in October was targeted at Australian tourists as reprisal against their country’s support for the war on terrorism.

“There will be a greater danger that the people of Japan will become a target of terrorism” now that Koizumi has clearly expressed his support for the U.S.-led war, Asai said.

The Foreign Ministry has been the driving force behind Japan’s decision to express clear support for the U.S. Some ministry officials even say that the crisis may provide an opportunity for Japan to strengthen its alliance with the U.S.

“There will naturally be a difference between those who backed (the U.S.) in a crucial moment and those who did not,” said a ministry official who asked not to be named.

But the official also said the government hopes the U.S.-led war will “moderately succeed and fail” at the same time.

“An overly aggressive U.S. would not be good (for international society) but (a weak U.S.) would encourage” security threats from North Korea or terrorist groups, the official said.

Besides coming out in favor of the U.S., the government has mapped out plans to provide financial aid to Iraq’s neighbors and push relief supplies through international organizations for refugees expected to flood out of the country.

The government reportedly plans to provide about $1 billion to Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian Authority to help them secure basic infrastructure such as waterworks and power.

Emergency aid and supplies will be provided through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, government sources said.

Although Japan will be expected to play a major role in Iraq’s reconstruction process once the war is over, some government officials expressed doubt over its smooth implementation.

The government has been considering new legislation that would empower it to dispatch Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq to join in the post-conflict reconstruction.

But since the attack is now likely to be launched without U.N. authorization, it may be difficult for the Koizumi administration to obtain Diet approval of such a bill, Foreign Ministry sources said.

A senior ministry official expressed concern that smooth enactment would become even more difficult if the war were to drag on.

In fact, Koizumi has faced criticism not only from the opposition camp but from his ruling coalition over his position on the Iraq crisis.

Fukashi Horie, president of Shobi University, said Koizumi’s popular approval ratings, which have long been a key to his power, will see a rapid fall now that he has clearly expressed his support for the U.S.

A Kyodo News survey over the weekend showed the public support rate for Koizumi dropped to 41.3 percent — an all-time low since his April 2001 inauguration and sharply down from 48.8 percent only last month.

The same survey showed that nearly 80 percent of those polled opposed a war on Iraq.

Horie predicted that the support rate will decline to nearly 30 percent, in which case, he said, Koizumi may have a hard time seeking re-election as LDP president when his current two-year term expires in September.

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