The Gulf War and Japan’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations: The internalisation of an international norm


During the Cold War, the Japanese government did not allow the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations (UNPKOs) although it was not unconstitutional provided the mission did not use force. It was the SDF Law that prohibited the SDF’s dispatch overseas. Although revising the SDF Law was an option for enabling the SDF’s participation, it was highly likely that such a revision would give rise to domestic controversy. As domestic politics was divided in two groups, each with a different interpretation of the domestic norm, Japan’s contribution to global security was limited to financial support.

However, following the 1991 Gulf War, the government enacted the Act on Cooperation for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations (hereafter, the PKO Law), thus enabling the SDF to participate in UNPKOs. Given the long-term prohibition on their participation during the Cold War, this was an important step. By delving into the interaction between domestic and international norms, this chapter examines the factors driving Japan’s shift in its peacekeeping policy. It first explains Japan’s response to the Gulf War. Second, by focusing on domestic discourse, it explains the socialisation process of the international norm of making a military contribution. Third, it discusses the localisation process of the international norm. It examines why the international norm was internalised when Japan's domestic norm was incompatible with the norm. Fourth, it analyses whether the anti-militarist group affected the localisation process of the international norm.

The Gulf War: A prevailing international norm

As discussed in Chapter 5, some politicians as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) felt the need, in addition to financial assistance, to make a contribution by sending the SDF to UNPKOs. As long as a mission did not use force, such participation would not violate Article 9. However, during the Cold War, the question of whether Japan should participate in UN peacekeeping operations was not intensively discussed in the Diet. Given the divisive political situation, with the anti-military group questioning the constitutionality of the SDF. such an attempt was likely to result in political turmoil. Moreover, the government did not feel the urgency to do so because only some states participated in UNPKOs. The debate regarding the country’s participation therefore remained confined to a particular circle. The domestic consensus was that Japan should contribute to global security through financial assistance. Given Japan’s growing trade surplus, it seemed reasonable to contribute to world peace through economic means.

Following the end of the Cold War, Japan revealed its willingness to contribute to a new world order by taking advantage of its economic strength.1 However, such enthusiasm was easily wrecked by its diplomatic failure during the Gulf War. The war posed a question about the validity of Japan’s economics-centric approach. It also showed that military power still mattered in maintaining peace and stability in the world.

In August 1990, Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait and annexed it. Responding to the invasion, the UN soon adopted a resolution condemning Iraq’s unilateral annexation and endorsing the formation of a multinational force. In January 1991, the US-led multinational force consisting of 35 nations attacked Iraq. Within three months, the US defeated Iraq and declared an end to the war. However, Hussein remained in power since the US-led multinational forces did not attack him.

Japan’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was prompt. Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu imposed economic sanctions on Iraq in line with the US even before the UN resolution was adopted. However, the subsequent response was rather slow and inappropriate. Although Japan was not requested to participate in the multinational force, the US demanded Japan make a substantial contribution by sending personnel in addition to financial support.

Moreover, the US demand extended to multiple fields. For example. Ambassador to Japan Michael H. Armacost demanded: 1 ) financial support to the multinational force; 2) financial support to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan; 3) an increase in Japan’s burden-sharing for US forces stationed in Japan; 4) any form of contribution to the defence of the Gulf (such as sending personnel and dispatching minesweepers to the Persian Gulf); and 5) a plan for Japan to purchase US defence equipment such as airborne warning and control aircraft, aerial refuelling aircraft, etc. in the next round of defence planning.2 In response, the Kaifu government began to examine what contribution, including dispatching minesweepers, Japan could make.

Meanwhile, MOFA viewed the Gulf crisis as an opportunity to launch a legal framework to enable Japanese troop contributions. During the crisis, the Kaifu government therefore submitted the ‘United Nations Peace Cooperation Bill' to the Diet in October 1990. This bill envisaged sending military personnel to the Middle East to provide logistical support to the multinational force. The government intended to achieve this goal by establishing the United Nations Peace Cooperation Corps, a new organisation, although members of the organisation were to consist of SDF personnel. The government considered that the establishment of a new organisation was preferable because dispatching the SDF as a unit was too controversial. While Prime Minister Kaifu fully understood the need to contribute to the war by sending personnel, he was reluctant to dispatch the SDF as a unit. Even within the government, a degree of bewilderment existed because the aim of the dispatch was beyond self-defence.

Komeito. which acknowledged the SDF and took a middle stance, was not supportive either. Opposition parties such as the JSP and the Japanese Communist Party were also against. Moreover, not only China and South Korea but also Southeast Asian countries were concerned about an overseas dispatch of the SDF.3 These countries were still suspicious about Japan’s militarisation. For instance, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew exhibited his concern by stating: ‘You may be giving liqueur chocolates to an alcoholic’.4 The Japanese media also supported Japan's diplomatic engagement rather than dispatching the SDF. All opposition parties except for the Democratic Socialist Party opposed even the use of SDF aircraft for rescuing refugees.5 As a result, the bill was not thoroughly studied and therefore simply dropped. However, when abolishing the bill, the LDP agreed with Komeito. the Democratic Socialist Party, and the JSP (even though the JSP soon left the framework) to continue working on a bill to enable Japan’s substantial contribution. These parties signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding on International Peace Cooperation’ and then started negotiations over a new bill.

Due to the dropping of the first bill, Japan was unable to make a personnel contribution to the Gulf War in a timely manner. Japan ended up providing financial assistance to the multinational force led by the US. However, partly due to the opposition of the Ministry of Finance, Japan provided financial assistance little by little as if reluctantly responding to US demands. This created the impression that Japan was reluctant to contribute to global peace despite its heavy dependence on Middle Eastern oil as well as global peace.6 Consequently, despite its substantial financial support of $13 billion, Japan’s support that did not include a personnel contribution was internationally criticised as ‘too little, too late’. Moreover, whereas the Kuwaiti government posted thank-you advertisements in the Washington Post and the New York Times after the war, Japan was excluded from the list despite its massive financial support.

After the end of the Gulf War in March 1991. the idea of dispatching minesweepers to the Persian Gulf arose within the government. Although Prime Minister Kaifu was not keen, the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) supported the dispatch. Yukihiko Ikeda, Director General of the Defence Agency, also urged the dispatch of minesweepers, arguing that the public was supportive of such a move.7 The dispatch of minesweepers did not require amendment of the SDF Law. Besides, the battle was over, and the domestic debate had turned favourable to the dispatch.8 Komeito also agreed to the dispatch. The party came to understand that Japan somehow needed to make an international contribution in the security field.

Other states quickly became engaged in minesweeping operations in the Gulf. Following the end of the war. not only the US and Britain but also Germany, which did not dispatch troops to the multinational force, carried out mine clearance tasks at the request of the US. Germany was prevented from sending troops outside North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) territory under the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bonn Constitution). Thus, Germany declined a US request to dispatch forces to the war on the grounds that the dispatch would violate the Bonn Constitution. Its primary assistance remained a financial contribution (amounting to 17.2 billion Deutschmarks, which was equivalent to

$11.5 billion). Germany’s inability to send troops also elicited similar criticism as that levied at Japan for conducting ‘chequebook diplomacy’.9 However, this time, even the opposition Social Democratic Party agreed to implement a minesweeping mission. The party considered that such a task constituted a humanitarian, not military contribution. The government regarded the minesweeping mission as a necessary measure in order to start reconstruction support in the Middle East.10

Germany’s participation, even if it did not join the multinational force in the war (even though it sent troops to Turkey within NATO territory), was one of the factors driving the Japanese government. With many countries making a military contribution to the stability of the region, Japan felt the need to engage in the process actively. Mines removal after the end of the battle would pose no legal problems since the SDF Law does not preclude such a mission. Therefore, after the Gulf War ceasefire agreement in April 1991, the government dispatched a Maritime SDF minesweeping unit to conduct minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf. The SDF thus became the entity of choice for making contributions as a representative of Japan."

Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who succeeded the Kaifu administration in November 1991, was eager to send the SDF to the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), where Japan put in substantial diplomatic efforts towards making peace.12 Miyazawa showed his enthusiasm because, he thought, the dispatch would compensate for diplomatic failure suffered during the Gulf War.'Yasushi Akashi, who was appointed Special Representative for the Secretary-General of UNTAC in January 1992, also advised the government that Japan should send police officers to UNTAC to meet the expectations of the international community.14 Without the dispatch of personnel, Japan would not be able to take the lead in the Cambodian reconstruction process. The lack of physical presence might nullify Japan’s past mediation efforts. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s strong request also encouraged the government to pursue this goal.15

When public opinion began to show some understanding of making a troop contribution, the government again submitted a bill that would allow Japan to send the SDF overseas. The three parties, namely the LDP, the Democratic Socialist Party, and Komeito formulated the basic framework of the PKO bill. However, minor differences among the three parties existed. The Democratic Socialist Party was adamant about the Diet’s prior approval before dispatching the SDF. The party insisted that it was indispensable to ensure civilian control. Komeito argued that SDF personnel should participate in UNPKOs as individuals by taking leave of absence. The party was against the SDF’s participation in Peacekeeping Forces (PKF), which conduct the main task, such as patrolling demarcated areas. As a result, the three parties made adjustments by making following compromises:


Diet approval before SDF participates in PKF.

  • 2. A moratorium on the SDF’s participation in the main task (until the international and domestic understanding of their participation has been fully obtained); and
  • 3. Reappraisal of the law every three years.

Because it fell short of a majority in the House of Councillors, the LDP desperately needed to obtain support from the two parties in order to pass the bill. With these adjustments, the three parties submitted the bill to the Diet.

The JSP strongly opposed the bill, arguing that such a dispatch would lead to the revival of militarism. However, despite the JSP conducting a filibustering strategy (gyuho senjutsu), the government managed to adopt the bill after 190 hours of deliberation in June 1992. Simultaneously, the Five Principles (which will be explained in a subsequent section) were attached to avoid a situation in which the SDF would have to use weapons. The SDF’s participation in the main tasks, such as ceasefire monitoring and buffer zone patrol, was frozen out because the mission might involve the use of force. Japan's contribution was thus limited to operations such as military surveillance by individual personnel (not as troops), logistical support operations, and infrastructure reconstruction. These missions would be unlikely to use weapons. No controversy would therefore occur. By making sure that it would not violate the domestic norm, Japan began to make a troop contribution in the security field.

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