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The world faces a double threat posed by Iraqi and North Korean weapons of mass destruction and missiles, a peril no less serious than the terrorist scare following the 9/11 attacks. According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the year of the sheep, a nonviolent animal, but past years of the sheep have been far from peaceful. In 1991, the Persian Gulf War broke out; in 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan; and in 1967, the Middle East War broke out and China conducted its first hydrogen-bomb test.

In his New Year’s Day statement, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan will engage in active diplomacy that will “contribute to world peace and stability.” He also mentioned three keywords regarding diplomacy: Japan will take the “initiative” on the basis of “international cooperation,” along with “national interest.” The important thing is action, not rhetoric.

After 9/11, Japan, under Koizumi’s leadership, swiftly enacted special antiterror legislation making it possible for the Self-Defense Forces to provide logistic support to allied forces pushing a military campaign in Afghanistan. Japan was praised internationally for its unprecedentedly speedy action.

In September, Koizumi visited Pyongyang, where he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed the Pyongyang Declaration to pave the way for the resumption of talks on normalizing diplomatic relations. So far, however, Japan has established no clear-cut policies to deal with the North Korean and Iraqi crises.

The government has disclosed no plans about what Japan would do should the United States launch an attack against Iraq. Regarding this problem, no legislative action has been taken along the lines of the special antiterror legislation enacted after 9/11. The government is reportedly considering legislation for providing refugee and postwar reconstruction aid, but prolonged debate is likely on the issue, especially in connection with SDF participation. Delays are expected in Japanese efforts to deal with the Iraqi issue.

North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction and missiles pose a grave threat to Japanese security, but the government is in a quandary, bound by its own words.

Japanese were enraged by Pyongyang’s announcement that eight Japanese abducted by North Korean agents had died. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a hardliner in talks with North Korea, said the public reaction gives the government “stronger negotiating power.” Foreign Ministry officials regret that the abduction issue has become a “domestic issue.” While public reaction can strengthen Japan’s negotiating position, it can also shackle diplomatic strategies. The unsolved abduction issue has put Japan and North Korea at odds and stymied talks for diplomatic normalization.

For the sake of “international cooperation,” Japan must enact legislation making it possible to send the SDF overseas.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda’s advisory group on international peace and cooperation, chaired by former United Nations Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi, said in a report published in December that the government should consider legislative action to make it possible for the SDF to provide rear-area support to multinational forces deployed on the basis of a U.N. resolution.

The group also proposed that the five principles limiting SDF participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations — such as a ceasefire accord between warring parties — be relaxed. It is logical for international cooperation in PKOs to be promoted on the basis of international standards.

Another keyword is “initiative.” Japan should clarify its roles in the quest for international peace. In security policy, both the government and the ruling coalition tend to follow U.S. policies. This has stemmed from the Japan-U.S. security system in which Japan has totally depended on the U.S. for diplomacy and security since the Occupation years.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has become the sole military superpower. But the U.S. alone cannot control a world where a new order has yet to be established and terror and conflicts are rampant. Japan faces a difficult question over what to do about the right of collective self-defense — which is not allowed under the nation’s no-war Constitution — as it pertains to participation in multinational forces and development of missile-defense systems. This issue forces Japan to redefine its security alliance with the U.S., which the political world has taken for granted for half a century.

The foreign-relations task force, an advisory group to Koizumi, in November published a report on Japan’s medium- to long-term diplomatic policies. The report urged the government to reappraise Japan-U.S. relations in a comprehensive manner, focusing on security. Otherwise, it warned, emerging differences in Japan-U.S. relations could widen, undermining Japanese and U.S. public confidence in the bilateral alliance. The report said Japanese diplomacy must establish clear strategies “on the basis of national interest.”

The Bush administration has not abandoned international cooperation, but tends to lean to unilateralism. The U.S. advance into the Pacific region was fueled by 19th century expansionism. Even after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. appears to follow the same expansionism. U.S. frictions with Western Europe and Asia appear to reflect the doctrine.

Japan’s most serious challenge is to deal with new threats of the 21st century and to restructure diplomatic strategies, including its relations with the U.S. Political leaders must have a strong will and imagination to establish a new order in Asia. They must also be ready to disregard domestic political interests in conducting diplomacy. Otherwise Japan will continue drifting without a sense of direction.

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