Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has assured Mr Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister that the Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) would continue with their assigned mission of reconstruction of the war-torn country. Their current deployment expires on December 14, 2004 but Tokyo has plans to extend the deployment of the SDF for another year.
So far, the Self Defense Force (SDF) troops have completed more than nine months of there tenure in Iraq. There have been no casualties or major injuries among them, justifying Koizumi's decision to permit SDF participation in Iraq. Prime Minister Koizumi is happy, so are the Japanese people. Some five hundred SDF personnel have been engaged in providing clean water, medical aid and help in repairing roads and schools in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah. Besides, three C-130 military cargo planes have also been airlifting relief goods and military supplies, including personnel, into Iraq from a base in Kuwait. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force transported GSDF personnel as well as material, to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr Thus the Japanese military have been fully engaged in Iraq.
Reports also suggest that the Japanese government has paid some ten billion yen (US$ 94 million) to the Iraqi tribal leaders to provide bodyguards for the Self Defense Forces (SDF) in Iraq. A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office noted that it was cheap to buy security for the Japanese soldiers to help the local economy and sustain Japan's foreign policy toward the new Iraq. This embodies a novel way of buying security and achieving its foreign policy objectives. Interestingly, the first contingent of Japanese troops that arrived in Samawah in January 2004, prior to the arrival of the main force, were escorted by Dutch marines who were in Iraq since August 2003.
According to the Japanese government, the SDF personnel have been deployed in non-combat zones. They operate under a Japanese chain of military command and do not take orders from any other foreign military commander of the coalition multinational force. More importantly, they have not used military force. Also, since November 2001, thirty-six vessels of the Japan Maritime Self Defence Forces have visited the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support for the US and military forces of other states engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution severely restricts overseas military activities. The Japanese government's official interpretation is that the SDF cannot participate in a multinational force that entails use of force. It has however downplayed SDF participation in Iraq. They argue that the SDF is engaged only in reconstruction activity. In the past, the SDF has achieved many successes in their overseas activities. During the last twelve years, the SDF has engaged in overseas operations in the Persian Gulf (mine sweeping), peacekeeping operations in the Cambodia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Golan Heights and East Timor. It has also engaged in counter-terrorism assistance in the Indian Ocean. The fear is that it may be difficult to draw a clear line between reconstruction work and operations involving self-defence.
It now appears that there will be a long-term Japanese involvement in Iraq as a member of the multi-national force notwithstanding the return of power to the Iraqi Government whenever that happens. But the fear of an attack or abduction of its personnel similar to the recent US, British or Indian truck drivers by local anti coalition factions remain high. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also expressed his happiness over the support provided by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean for the operation Enduring Freedom.
It is evident that in recent years Japan's military has increasingly begun to bridge the gap between being a self-defense force and a regional military power capable of distant operations. This creeping Japanese assertiveness, expanding the geographical area of its operations and greater military engagement are clear signs that Japan is shedding the conventional pacifism attached with it.