Op-Ed

What Should Japan Do Next in the War on Terror?

Michael E. O’Hanlon

Japan has been a strong ally of the United States in the conflict against terrorism since September 11, 2001. It has continued to provide important base access for the global operations of U.S. military forces. It has cooperated in the international effort to share intelligence and cooperate in law enforcement activities. It has provided military support to the United States in the form of naval supply ships in the Arabian Sea. Tokyo has provided humanitarian relief for the Afghan people and aid for reconstructing Afghanistan over the coming years. In Japan’s own neighborhood, Prime
Minister Koizumi has made prudent efforts to stabilize the Korean peninsula, an action that benefits the United States greatly as well. All of these measures have been important, and appreciated by American policymakers.

But these steps are not yet enough. For one thing, Japan has not done as much as our NATO allies in the war on terror. But leaving aside such comparisons, there is a more important issue as well: much remains to be done in
Afghanistan. For both of these tasks, a bolder and more direct form of Japanese help would be greatly appreciated. In particular, in the coming months, Japan could make history by sending modest numbers of ground combat units to one or both of these places as part of a postwar, multilateral stabilization effort.

I am not proposing that Japan participate in a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, should he refuse to comply with demands that he eliminate his weapons of mass destruction or otherwise cause a conflict. It is clear that Japan does not feel comfortable with the idea of such a war, and that it may
not even wish to support it financially as it did in the previous U.S.-led war against Iraq. More broadly, Japan’s strong commitment to pacifist ideals, and its concerns about preserving good rapport with its neighbors, make it unlikely to wish to provide combat forces for the actual hostilities.

But stabilization measures after war are something else. And here, Japan can do a great deal to help in a way that is consistent with its own ideals of preserving peace and helping other peoples aid their poor and develop their countries and their economies.

The need for such efforts is already great in Afghanistan. The current operation designed to help bring peace and security to that country, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has only 5,000 troops. They work just in the capital of Kabul and environs. That can be compared with the roughly 50,000 NATO forces who went to Bosnia in 1995, a country less than one-fifth the size of Afghanistan, and a similar number of troops who deployed to tiny Kosovo in 1999.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the Bush administration entered office in early 2001 strongly opposed to the use of American forces in international peace operations. Yet President George Bush
recognized shortly after the September 11 tragedy that any military operations in Afghanistan would have to be followed by an effort to rebuild that country. Today, his administration has recognized that ISAF does not
truly suffice to accomplish that goal. Banditry remains prevalent throughout Afghanistan; warlords rule most regions, even if their behavior has improved somewhat on the whole; relief and reconstruction efforts are minimal in
places that are distant from Kabul. But to deal with these problems would require troops that the United States says it does not have available. Washington would welcome a broader, stronger mission throughout Afghanistan,
but says that will only happen if other countries offer the troops needed to make it possible.

Could Japan be one of those other countries who provides troops to a broader stability operation in Afghanistan? Surely the answer is yes. This mission might not take a huge force, if its goals are carefully defined. Dr. William Durch of the Henry Stimson Center in Washington has devised a plan for about 20,000 foreign troops to provide some basic level of security throughout Afghanistan. That amounts to an increase of 15,000 troops relative to today. Japan could provide perhaps 5,000 troops, and offer to lead the mission in certain parts of the country. If a few other key countries also volunteered—possibly Malaysia, Thailand,
the Philippines, South Korea, South Asian countries, and several European states—the mission would become feasible. In my view, the United States should also contribute. But it continues to deploy 10,000 forces for combat purposes within Afghanistan, and those combat missions are also important for the stabilization of Afghanistan. So perhaps it is fair that Washington ask
others to do more.

Many Japanese will surely think this suggestion to be extreme. They will fear that the world in general, and Asian neighbors in particular, would see this as a sign of a Japan that is again returning to military ways. They will wonder if the Japanese public will support a war so far away, especially when some of its country’s troops could be injured or killed in a bombing or from a land mine or in an accident. They will doubt that the modestly-sized Japanese Self Defense Forces could provide the needed capabilities, or that it has the necessary experience to do the job.

Each one of these points can be addressed. In terms of the first concern, who could really object to a multilateral operation designed to stabilize a country that until
recently had some of the world’s worst refugee problems, starvation problems, and ongoing conflict? Surely no Asian country can think that such a 5,000-person Japanese force could pose a threat to them. In fact, by showing how much
it wants to contribute to international peace and stability under U.N. auspices and in cooperation with other countries, Japan could eventually reassure some countries that presently still worry that it has secret, latent
aspirations to become a nationalist military power again. Germany has done this sort of thing already, contributing to NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo and helping the United States with combat forces in Afghanistan, so perhaps Japan is now also ready to begin to move beyond the scars and fears of the past.

Second, in terms of the Japanese public’s views on such an operation, an American like myself cannot really understand the issue. But I can say that Americans are also averse to casualties, and nervous about sending troops
abroad, each and every time we start a new mission in a new place. That does not mean we should avoid difficult missions. It means we should be sure that the mission is well designed, and important, before committing troops.
Military operations are risky and demanding. But my knowledge of the Japanese Self Defense Forces suggests that they are capable of the job. And my knowledge of the Japanese people suggests that they would take pride in
contributing to the betterment of a foreign country despite the risks and costs.

Finally, Japan’s military may be small, but it could handle this type of mission. It has experience from Cambodia to East Timor to South America that has educated its officers and prepared its political leaders for the challenge. In addition, deploying 5,000 troops out of a Ground Self Defense Force of 150,000 is certainly possible. The U.S. Army has more than 50,000 troops abroad in difficult settings out of a total active-duty force just under 500,000.

If this idea for a Japanese-run, expanded ISAF is too much, Tokyo may have another opportunity to help the cause of global stability soon as well. Should the United States overthrow Saddam Hussein, history suggests that an occupation of considerable size could be needed for half a decade or more in that country. Initially at least, the force could require 100,000 or more troops. Even if the United States does not expect much help from allies with combat operations, it will surely need help after the war, should
a decade-long occupation really be needed.

My purpose in suggesting these ideas is not to pressure Japan to consider them. But as a friend and admirer of the Japanese people, I do believe that Japan has
become very capable of handling such tasks, should it choose to do so. And as an American already appreciative of the help of allies since September 11, 2001, I would be personally very grateful if Japan chose this moment in
history to offer an even more impressive contribution to global security.

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