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This year’s government report on defense, the first since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, devotes much space to the terror-related events. That was only to be expected, considering that they have changed the contours of the international community, particularly the global security environment.

The white paper comes across as a ringing endorsement of the U.S. military campaign against terrorism. In the absence of an in-depth analysis of the terrorist attacks, however, its staunchly pro-American stance sounds less than persuasive. The report also leaves much to be desired in the examination of Japan’s security policy.

The approach of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 incident evokes vivid memories. The report says that those unimaginable acts of terrorism — unimaginable in casualties (more than 3,000 dead), the pattern of attack (crashing hijacked airliners into America’s symbols of power) and other aspects — have “made us realize that the world is in a new age of anxiety.” It is a statement that hits the nail on the head.

The annual report emphasizes the significance of Japanese support for the U.S. strikes on the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the militant Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Japanese government, it notes, threw its weight behind the war against terror by getting antiterrorism legislation through the Diet and dispatching Self-Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean.

The U.S.-led military campaign was a subject of heated debate in Japan, as in other countries. While terrorism was roundly denounced, the ultimate effectiveness of military action was held very much in doubt. The SDF deployment also split public opinion here, although deployment was confined to noncombat activities, such as supplying fuel to U.S. forces. It was the first time since the end of World War II that Japanese troops had been sent close to a combat area abroad.

The antiterror deployment marked another landmark shift in Japan’s security policy following SDF participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations and passage of contingency legislation mandating cooperation with U.S. forces in the event of a military conflict in areas around Japan. Constitutional constraints on the use of force, as ever with an overseas SDF mission, stirred controversy.

The report comes as a big disappointment to those who had expected the government, particularly the Defense Agency, to examine and explain these underlying issues close up. Readers are likely to come away with the impression that it is trying to paint a rather simplistic picture of justice (America) vs. evil (al-Qaeda).

According to the report, the war on terror has entered a second phase, making it likely that the military campaign will continue for a long time. “The United States does not exclude any options,” it says, suggesting the possibility of an attack on Iraq. It also describes U.S. efforts for homeland defense.

It cannot be forgotten, however, that military power, however strong, is not an absolute guarantee of security. Indeed, the 9/11 attacks came as a shocking reminder of that. The lesson is that military might, even with the most advanced weapons, is not sufficient to prevent “low-tech” terrorist strikes, such as suicide bombings by hijacked jetliners.

What is needed, as the report points out, is an integrated mobilization of all means available, including diplomacy, intelligence and police. The need to address the root causes of terrorism is also obvious. The looming prospect of a war against Iraq — a highly risky option that has many countries, including those in Europe, wondering about its advisability — must be considered from such a multidimensional perspective.

These are challenging times for our defense policymakers who face daunting problems at home and abroad. To get ahead, they must first secure public trust. Recent disclosures about the Defense Agency’s compilation of lists of personal data on individuals who had requested copies of defense-related documents under the freedom-of-information act have put the agency under critical scrutiny. The report, however, makes only a brief reference to the scandal.

Public confidence is the sine qua non for the effective operation of the Defense Agency, which is seeking an upgrade to ministerial status. “It is important to create a ministry in charge of national defense,” says the report. In light of Japan’s positive role in the antiterror war as well as its participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions, the desire to create a “defense ministry” is not difficult to understand. But, as the white paper rightly says, it is essential, first and foremost, to obtain public understanding and support for expanding SDF activities.

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