Commentary / Japan

'Hawkins of Arabia'

by Kuni Miyake

I have a venerable comrade in the foreign ministry of Australia. His name is Neil Hawkins, and he was the only non-Japanese boss that I ever had during my 27-year diplomatic career. He later became ambassador of Australia to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but our first encounter was in postwar Baghdad in March 2004.

He was the director of development cooperation and senior adviser to the Iraqi Minister of Planning and International Cooperation at the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which was virtually an occupational governing entity in Iraq established after the Iraq War of 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussain’s Baathist Iraq.

The CPA was vested with executive, legislative and judicial authorities over Iraq between April 2003 and June 2004. I was seconded to its Office of Development Cooperation from January 2004, succeeding two Japanese diplomats: the late Katsuhiko Oku and Masamori Inoue, who were murdered in Iraq three months earlier.

Hawkins came to our office to coordinate the coalition’s economic cooperation for Iraq. The office consisted of diplomats and engineers from various countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Poland. It was an extraordinary mixture of talent. Our Polish colleague, for example, later became the president of Poland.

Hawkins was indeed the right person to direct the office. He was one of the few men and women inside the CPA headquarters in 2004 who were both aware of the Arab world and fluent in Arabic. I remember he was brought up, if not born, in Cairo and he still speaks beautiful standard Arabic with a perfect Egyptian accent.

By the time Hawkins arrived in Baghdad, civil war had already erupted all over the country. That was when I learned the acronym “IED,” which stands for “improvised explosive device.” Everyone, except for those at the top of the CPA and some politicians in Washington, knew that the coalition forces’ occupation of Iraq was becoming a total fiasco.

Although a bit younger than I am, Hawkins did a great job with his administrative skill. His leadership and wisdom were superb not only in putting together office members of different nationalities but also persuading stubborn American decision-makers at the CPA as well as proud but sometimes incompetent Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats.

Thus I eventually came to call him “Hawkins of Arabia,” who, like the original “Lawrence of Arabia,” performed splendidly in his desperate struggle to achieve the ultimate ambition of rebuilding the Arab nation. It was good to know that Australia has a diplomat like Hawkins and I was grateful to Canberra for sending him to Iraq.

However, Hawkins of Arabia is not the only reason why I pay respect to Australia. Many in Tokyo might have forgotten but it was the armed forces of Australia that protected the activities of the Ground Self-Defense Force unit based in the southern Iraqi town of Samawah between January 2004 and July 2006.

It was a battalion-size humanitarian contingent providing services such as water purification, reconstruction and re-establishment of public facilities for the Iraqi people. Since the group was legally supposed to remain within the “non-combat zones,” Dutch troops first provided security support for the Japanese unit.

In January 2005, the government of the Netherlands announced that it would withdraw all its troops by mid-March, and it was the armed forces of Australia that replaced the Dutch and British forces, and provided additional security protection for Japan’s Reconstruction and Support Group based in Samawah.

I am not trying here to reopen the meaningless constitutional debate over the definition of “noncombat zones.” What I’m trying to draw your attention to and remind you of is that the recent progress in the Japan-Australia security relationship could date all the way back to those CPA and Samawah days in Iraq between 2004 and 2006.

I learned two important lessons during my duty in Iraq. The first was that an alliance means sharing intelligence. When I first arrived in Baghdad to join the CPA in January 2004, my security clearance was “level 5,” which had no access to CPA’s classified information. I was just another “guest” from a non-coalition country in the CPA.

Things changed dramatically when the GSDF’s main unit started arriving in southern Iraq. The CPA headquarters suddenly issued me a new ID card with a level 4 security clearance, which allowed more access to classified information, including that on car-bombs and IED threats in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq.

I asked the officer in charge why the new ID was issued. He said Japan, having sent a unit to Iraq, was now a “coalition partner” and merited a higher security clearance. It was then I realized what an alliance is all about. You share critically important information only with your allies to survive.

This leads to the second lesson: An alliance means sharing risks. If you are not an ally, you don’t send your troop to provide protection. Since Japan became a coalition partner, the Dutch, British and Australian governments most likely decided to provide additional security protection to the Japanese unit in Samawah.

It is gratifying to know, as Michael MacArthur Bosack wrote in The Japan Times last week, that the bilateral Japan-Australia security relationship “gained new life in 2007 with the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.” Australia is now becoming one of Japan’s most important security partners — or a “virtual ally,” as I prefer to call it.

Having said that, Tokyo should not forget the truth about alliances. An alliance means sharing risks by sharing intelligence in times of crises. If Japan continues to be unilaterally reliant on other security partners or allies, such alliance relations will not survive contingencies in the years to come.

Japan’s experience with Hawkins of Arabia in Baghdad and the Australian assistance to the GSDF units in Samawah was just the beginning and the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation is another step forward. Tokyo should not spare its efforts to make the security partnership or alliance as substantially mutual as possible. That’s the only way to maintain long-lasting mutual security alliances.

Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies.