Japan’s Two Traumas for the Coalition in the Gulf

By: Professor. Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Global Security and Religion, University of Tokyo.

The United States is urging allied nations to share the burden of securing the maritime route of the Persian Gulf. Responses from the US allies are subdued ones.

Germany and France are not in a mood to participate at this stage. The U.K. is trying to convince European neighbors by bridging them with the U.S. but with no much success. Recently, Israel jumped in, muddying the Gulf diplomatic waters.

Japan has been carefully considering this issue even after the U.S. secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s visit to Japan on August 7.

For Japan, being faced with “showing the flag” in the Gulf at the request of the US evokes two bad memories or traumas.

One is the bitter memory of the Gulf War in 1991. Japan’s pacifist constitution prohibited any military participation in the US-led war on Iraq which invaded Kuwait in the previous year. Japan paid a total of $ 13.5 billion funding the U.S.-led multinational forces.

It is well remembered by the Japanese policy maker that right after the Gulf War, the Kuwaiti government advertised in the US newspapers expressing its sense of recognition of sacrifices for its liberation. It counted as many as 29 countries without naming Japan, even though in order to pay this huge amount of support for US-led war, the Japanese government issued bonds and raised taxes, burdening the Japanese people.

Since then, Japan has been traumatized to be criticized for “free-riding” the security in the Gulf secured by the US.

The second trauma arose at the US war on Iraq in 2003. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, Japanese officials were shown classified documents which constituted, by the US assertion, the “smoking gun” or the evidence for the accusation that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.

High ranking officials who were governing Japan at that time took the evidence at face value and expressed support for US cause of war. Japan did not send forces for the combat mission in Iraq but sent military engineer units for postwar reconstruction.

Embarrassingly, no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. That was the second trauma for Japanese policy makers.

Many of those government officials who were shown the “confidential documents” in 2003 still hold power now. Even Japanese voters who are well known for its patience it may not tolerate this time if the information for the basis of decision was unfounded. That’s the cause of indecisiveness in Japan for joining the coalition in the Gulf.