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Comment: Japan needs to rethink its military role
( 2003-12-11 00:18) (China Daily)

Despite strong voter opposition, Japan's cabinet approved a basic plan on Tuesday to dispatch its Self-defence Force (SDF) to Iraq, clearing the way for what could be the nation's biggest and most dangerous overseas military mission since World War II.

At the request of the occupying authorities rather than the Iraqi Government, Tokyo's decision, for the first time, enables the country to send its SDF troops equipped with the heaviest artillery they have ever taken overseas to an occupied country where war has not yet officially ended.

Less than two weeks ago, two Japanese diplomats were killed in Iraq.

The basic plan is envisioned to show Tokyo's general framework for dispatching the SDF to the war-ravaged country under a special law enacted in July, allowing them to be sent only to "noncombat zones.''

The plan stipulates that the SDF's mission is to assist Iraq with reconstruction and humanitarian efforts during a one-year period starting on December 15.

At the same time, it states that SDF members will also provide the US military with logistical support in peacekeeping operations, including the transportation of US weapons and ammunition.

The plan omits, however, the specific timing of the dispatch or the conditions under which Japan would withdraw its troops.

It is expected that Air SDF personnel are set to leave first -- in January -- followed by a dispatch of Ground SDF units in southeastern Iraq early in the year.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, explaining the decision at a news conference in Tokyo, said: "We have been put to the test to show with action, not just with words, our commitment both to the Japan-US alliance and international co-operation.''

Given that the US-led invasion of Iraq got no green light from the United Nations (UN), the so-called international co-operation in Iraq is controversial as the United States keeps a tight rein on the Middle East country.

The dispatch of SDF personnel is banned under the peace principles of the Japanese constitution.

Under Article 9 of its post-World War II constitution, Japan "forever renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force'' as a means of solving international disputes.

This provision has been traditionally interpreted as prohibiting the nation from exercising the right to collective defence, including joint military operations with US forces and collective security activities, such as UN peace-keeping operations.

"They will not exercise military force, they are not going there to stage war,'' Koizumi said.

With US and allied casualties mounting in Iraq with almost daily guerrilla attacks, it will be difficult to distinguish combat from noncombat zones amid the deteriorating security situation.

Furthermore, there is no assurance, for now at least, that SDF personnel will not get bogged down in combat-like scenarios where lurking danger could necessitate the use of force.

Since the end of the Cold War, Japan has been expanding its military role overseas, in particular under the banner of fighting terrorism, since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

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