Ten years ago, the world was in turmoil over the Persian Gulf crisis that started with the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. Now a new crisis appears to be brewing between Arabs and Israelis.
The Gulf War has influenced the world in many different ways. It showed the effects and limitations of power. At the recent Middle East summit at Camp David, U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders failed to reach agreement over the status of Jerusalem. The basic question was whether to comply with a United Nations resolution or to accept realities that contradict the resolution.
A U.N. resolution adopted in 1947 called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states and placed Jerusalem under U.N. control, in effect deciding that the city should not belong to any specific religion. Israel, however, occupied West Jerusalem in the 1948-49 war and seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. A U.N. Security Council resolution in 1967 demanded Israeli withdrawal from the areas occupied in the 1967 war. In 1980, however, Israel claimed Jerusalem as its indivisible capital. Most U.N. members, including Japan and the United States, have not backed Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel’s effective rule of all of Jerusalem has rendered the two U.N. resolutions irrelevant. The Palestinian demand that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state does not comply with U.N. resolutions either. U.S. intervention in the Middle East summit appears to be based on Washington’s view that the resolutions are effectively invalid. Realities take precedence over U.N. resolutions.
During the Gulf crisis, Iraq proposed to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the territories it occupied. Iraq also proposed that Israel be subject to the same sanctions that were imposed on Iraq if it refused to withdraw from the occupied territories. The U.S. rejected these “linkage” proposals despite charges that its actions demonstrated a double standard.
As soon as Israel made a compromise proposal that deviated slightly from realities, some members of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s government protested. This reflected a belief that power takes precedence over such resolutions.
After the Persian Gulf War, U.S. President George Bush lost his bid for re-election. His successor, Bill Clinton, is fading into political retirement, but Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains in power. Some people still insist that during the Gulf War, the U.N. multinational force should have invaded Baghdad and overthrown Hussein’s government. However, the U.N. resolution that gave permission to the multinational force to use force to expel the Iraq troops from Kuwait did not call for Hussein’s ouster.
The multinational force gave up the idea of invading Baghdad more out of fear that it could have thrown the Gulf region into uncontrollable chaos than for respect for the U.N. resolution. Britain reportedly gave a strong warning to the U.S. regarding that risk. In fact, after the war ended, U.S. forces stationed in Saudi Arabia face strong hostility from the local populace. Ethnic and religious conditions in the Gulf region prevented a total U.S. victory in the war. The U.S. failed to establish what it called a “new world order.”
The multinational force’s massive air strikes and limited ground warfare failed to oust Hussein. That experience, however, influenced U.S. policies in Asia.
In the mid-1990s, there were growing calls in the U.S. for air strikes against North Korea’s suspected nuclear-arms facilities. Washington decided against the raids for fear they could throw the region into chaos. At that time, China and Russia were making overtures toward North Korea, and attacks on North Korea would have caused more serious consequences than those on Iraq, which was internationally isolated at the time. In addition, South Korea raised strong objections to possible attacks on North Korea. Air strikes in disregard of South Korean objections would have stirred an anti-U.S. backlash throughout the Korean Peninsula.
The Gulf War also shook the foundation of Japanese diplomacy, which differed little from U.S. diplomacy. The only difference concerned policies toward the Middle East. Japan’s Middle East policy places top priority on securing vital oil supplies. After the 1973 oil crunch, Japan took a pro-Arab stance. But for Japan, its security alliance with the U.S. is critically important. When major oil producer Iraq and the U.S. fought in the Persian Gulf War, Japan was at a loss over which country to support.
In the end, Japan supported the U.S. and opposed Iraq, abandoning its pro-Arab stance. Since then, Japan has steadfastly supported the U.S. on military and security issues. It has, for example, supported U.S. air raids on Yugoslavia and strengthened its security alliance with the U.S. by revising guidelines on bilateral defense cooperation.
During the Gulf War, the Diet debated a revision of the war-renouncing Constitution that prevented Japanese Self-Defense Forces personnel from taking part in military operations overseas. Many lawmakers exposed their ignorance of Middle East affairs. Some thought Turkey was an Arab nation, while others thought Kuwait was a free, democratic nation.
Japan contributed $11 billion to the multinational force but received little gratitude for the contribution. It was branded a diplomatic failure. Amid growing calls for Japan to offer not only financial aid but also personnel to international military operations, the Diet in 1992 passed legislation that made it possible for SDF troops to take part in U.N. peacekeeping operations. The Gulf War greatly changed Japanese perceptions about security.
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