On Saturday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush renewed their friendship on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit conference in Santiago, Chile. At what was their first meeting since Mr. Bush’s re-election, the two leaders reaffirmed the importance of the Japan-U.S. security alliance.
That there is no overt friction in Tokyo-Washington relations is to be welcomed. In fact, the alliance has solidified since Mr. Koizumi came to power in April 2001. It is also true, though, that cooperation between the two governments, particularly on the Iraq crisis, has been extraordinarily close in contrast to the cautious responses of the international community.
In the Nov. 2 election, Mr. Bush won a mandate to continue his “war on terrorism.” The likelihood is that he will stick to his Iraq policy, though the reality on the ground is not promising — for now at least. Mr. Koizumi expressed his continued support for Mr. Bush, promising full cooperation in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.
The Bush administration remains under criticism, both at home and abroad, for pursuing unilateralist policies, including the doctrine of preemptive military action. As a true friend of Mr. Bush, Mr. Koizumi should have urged him to change gears in favor of international cooperation. The Japan-U.S. alliance is important, but no less important is promoting multilateral efforts for peace and stability.
The Iraq conflict continues to bedevil Mr. Koizumi as well. He has until Dec. 14 to decide whether to extend the deployment of Self-Defense Forces in Iraq. In his meeting with Mr. Bush however, he reportedly made an explicit commitment. In his previous meeting with Mr. Bush in June, Mr. Koizumi promised, without first consulting the Diet, to include SDF troops in a U.S.-led multinational force following the handover of Iraqi sovereignty, and he was roundly criticized at home for “prioritizing U.S. interests.”
During last week’s parliamentary exchanges, as fighting continued in Iraq, Mr. Koizumi tried to downplay the extension issue. But he left little doubt that he intended to extend the deadline. Responding to questions from Mr. Katsuya Okada, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, Mr. Koizumi said, “Any place where SDF troops are deployed is a noncombat area.” An ad hoc law on Iraq prohibits deployment in a combat area.
Mr. Koizumi, however, will find it more difficult to justify an extended deployment if security in Iraq does not improve. U.S. and Iraqi forces reportedly have brought Fallujah under control, but armed anti-American elements appear to be preparing for new attacks across the country.
The situation in Samawah, southern Iraq, where SDF troops are stationed to support humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, is no longer considered safe. The SDF camp and its vicinity have been hit by rockets several times, though there have been no casualties. A militant group headed by Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, views Japanese troops as an “occupation force.”
Mr. Bush says the world is safer without Saddam Hussein — a perception that is not shared by the international community. French President Jacques Chirac seems to grasp the reality more accurately. The Iraq war, he says, has made the world “more dangerous,” spreading terrorist activities across borders and provoking Islamic reactions in many countries. Mr. Koizumi can and should do something to help repair damaged trans-Atlantic relations.
The issue of U.S. military reorganization in Japan was also a key subject of the Japan-U.S. summit in Santiago. Here, too, Mr. Koizumi did not necessarily exercise his leadership. Given fierce opposition by residents around likely relocation sites, his power of persuasion is put to the test. The protracted dispute over the planned relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, is a sobering reminder that a government-to-government agreement won’t work unless it is accepted by residents.
The Japan-U.S. alliance itself would be tested if in its second term the Bush administration were to pursue military rationality at the expense of Japanese interests. In this sense, the departure of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been widely applauded for his moderate approach to international affairs, is to be regretted. And so, too, is the resignation of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a leading “Japanophile.”
The Japan-U.S. alliance must develop in a sound direction, regardless of the lineup of the new Bush administration, or any U.S. administration for that matter. The bottom line is that Japan’s security efforts, bilateral or multilateral, must continue to be guided by the principles of peace laid out in the Constitution and the U.N. Charter.
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