Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Japan Officially Remains Part of Iraq Coalition

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the Japanese contingent remaining in Iraq. The article places the recent Japanese decision to remain in Iraq for another year in the context of a decreasingly pacifist Japan emerging on the regional and world stage.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet agreed on Thursday to extend the deployment of Japan's 600 non-combat troops in Iraq for up to one year, despite condemnation of the mission by more than half of the Japanese public and opposition political parties.

The mission, the largest overseas deployment of Japanese soldiers since World War II, is part of what many experts view as a reemergence of Japan's armed forces in world affairs.

In a further step in that direction, Japan is set to unveil a new national defense strategy Friday that calls for closer military ties with the United States as well as better training and transport capabilities for future deployments of forces abroad, according to a draft copy obtained by The Washington Post. The document also calls for Japan to move toward building an antimissile shield in conjunction with the United States.

Highlighting a slow but steady shift away from more than half a century of pacifism, Japan will give its armed forces, known officially as the Self-Defense Forces, a more conventional command structure, putting its land, sea and air forces under a joint command.

North Korea and, for the first time, China are named as potential security concerns.

Japan has long focused its security strategy on defending the home islands. The new approach significantly broadens the officially recognized scope of national interests to include a vast area from the Middle East to East Asia.

Although Japan plans to cut defense spending slightly over the next five years, some analysts say expanding the geographic range of its security interests is likely to spark criticism from Asian nations, where many people retain harsh memories of wartime Japanese occupation.

I mentioned the Japanese were going to remain in Iraq on here the other day. This piece dovetails nicely with that post and the one in response to Chrenkoff's discussion of strategic maneuvering in Asia.

It will be interesting to see the effect of Japan's more assertive role in the region. I have always understood the regional dynamic as being one in which an American presence is largely welcomed throughout the region. China, the biggest state, has traditionally been on board with this because it was assumed that a US presence and security guarantee for Japan keeps the Japanese down and quiets a major threat to China. A United States and Japan working closely together in the context of a Japan that appears to be adopting a more muscular military posture would be worrisome for the Chinese . Instead of the US presence keeping Japan down, the Chinese would likely assume that the US and Japan are working together to keep the Chinese down. This would greatly alter the regional security dynamic.