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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has faced the wrenching task of spelling out his foreign policy on Iraq. Until Monday he remained noncommittal on how Japan would respond if the United States goes to war without explicit U.N. backing. Now, with the U.S. having issued an ultimatum to Iraq and an invasion imminent in 48 hours, Mr. Koizumi has announced that Tokyo will back Washington.

With the U.N. Security Council sharply divided, the U.S., Britain and Spain have decided not to call for a vote on a resolution paving the way for military action. U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking from the White House on Tuesday, told America and the world that Iraqi President “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave the country within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.”

In his speech, Mr. Bush stressed that peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime “have failed again and again — because we are not dealing with peaceful men.” He held Iraq responsible for the launching of the coming war by saying “intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

Drawing attention to a linkage between Iraq and terrorism, Mr. Bush said Iraq “has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda.” Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the U.S. or any other country, he said.

The U.S., he continued, will be exercising its sovereign authority to use force to assure its own national security before such a day of terror can come, before it is too late to act. Referring to some Security Council members’ opposition to America’s use of military force against Iraq, Mr. Bush said, “these governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it.”

Mr. Bush’s ultimatum has forced Prime Minister Koizumi, who had remained equivocal, saying he wanted to see how the diplomatic tug-war-war at the Security Council concluded, to clarify his position. In the wake of the Bush speech on Tuesday, Mr. Koizumi declared that Japan supports U.S. action concerning Iraq.

This announcement will not result in any sudden policy change, however. It is no secret that the government has been prepared to support a U.S. attack even if such a move is not explicitly endorsed by a U.N. resolution. This puts Japan’s U.N.-centered foreign policy to the test, for unilateralism is incompatible with internationalism. Japanese support is a necessary corollary of the bilateral security alliance. But the problem is that the support must not usurp the framework of international cooperation.

The basic tenet of Japan’s foreign policy was universally declared in 1956 when Japan joined the United Nations. In an acceptance speech to the world body, then-Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu emphasized that the nation’s postwar Constitution was founded on the same basic principles of peace that underline the U.N. Charter.

Mr. Koizumi has often stressed compatibility between international cooperation and the bilateral security alliance. More recently, though, he has clearly shifted emphasis to the alliance, as evidenced by the government’s backing of a U.S.-British-Spanish resolution that would have authorized the use of force.

Realistically, supporting the U.S., with or without a U.N. mandate, is the only option open to Japan. This position is related to the security crisis in its backyard: the threat from North Korea, which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Japan would have no choice but to rely on U.S. military might to counter a North Korean missile attack.

In fact, a strategy report from Mr. Koizumi’s foreign policy panel identifies the U.S. as the only country that would defend Japan in the event of a foreign attack. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are organized primarily for defensive missions. To meet possible foreign aggression, Japan allows the U.S. to maintain military bases here under their bilateral security treaty.

Japan wants to resolve the North Korean crisis peacefully through negotiation. To that end, Tokyo is calling for a multilateral solution involving the U.S., South Korea, China and Russia — an approach that excludes a U.S. military option. This is essentially the same approach that Japan has insisted on with regard to Iraq’s disarmament. Unfortunately, this approach of international cooperation is now overshadowed by the dominant doctrine of preemptive attack.

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