The role of Japan in the post 9/11 war on terror has been important. It has been trying to put itself in line with the global policy of the US as a “Britain of Asia”. Its contribution went beyond the financial support it offered the US during the early 1990’s Gulf War (Walia, 2020). Following the attachment on the World Trade Centre in 2001, Koizumi’s Japan was determined to find a way to take a more active role in supporting their allies in times of conflict. The domestic challenge was the constitution’s Article 9, which laid out how Japan was to be a peaceful nation, and described clear limits to the use of Japanese troops. They were not to engage in any conflict overseas and only to be active in the direct defense of Japanese right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Regarding the Anti-terrorism Law legislation of 29 October 2001, the Japanese Ministry of Defense promptly applied the law to the Indian Ocean fueling mission. Three Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) fleets, including an escort vessel, sailed for the Indian Ocean on 9 November 2001 (Ishizuka, 2012). Koizumi introduced major changes to the law in 2003 allowing use of Japanese troops overseas, providing a logistic and intelligence support of allied forces engaged in conflict. At the same time, the law allowed Koizumi to send 1,000 troops to Iraq to help with re-construction. In this way stage by stage, Koizumi’s government paved the way for a more visible and active defense and counter-terrorism role for Japan globally.
Japan’s support, however was not limited to direct logistic and intelligence assistance to the active allied forces, but importantly included aid to other countries who provide support to management and care of refugees. Since the end of World War II (WWII) Japan has based its ‘peace’ strategy in funding development, dealing with humanitarian and capacity building, and this continued to be the mainstay of its international peace strategy. These are ‘softer’ long-term items that help develop sustainable change, stable societies, and help eradicate conditions that nurture instability and terrorism.
In 2013, Shinzo Abe used the combination of this traditional approach as a platform on which to build more visibility around Japan’s contribution to ‘world peace’, as well as seeking to take advantages of the potential commercial opportunities that increased engagement with more countries would bring to the table. Japan’s support of Afghanistan post 2016 included direct aid to Hamid Karzai’s government to support a program of nation-building after the temporary suppression of Taliban by a united allied attack. This emphasis more truly reflects the continuing fundamental role Japan has played and will continue to play in the war on terror and focus on building sustainable stable non-threatening societies. That emphasis is explicitly laid out in 2015 ‘three pillars’ – which include (1) Strengthening Counter-Terrorism operation, (2) Enhancing diplomacy in the Middle East, (3) Assisting in creating societies resistant to radicalization (Walia, 2020). All the specific action items under each of these headings refer to capacity building, diplomacy, humanitarian aid, stable societies, and exchanges.
Article 9 in the constitution has succeeded in forcing Japan to avoid deployment of troops directly in conflict, unless defending Japan. Global terror is now seen as a threat to Japan in many ways, and Japanese citizens have been killed while on military duty or humanitarian missions in conflict areas. This has enabled the definition of ‘defending Japan and protecting Japanese’ to be expanded. Thus, one motive – to act in line with the constitution, has been achieved by a deft realignment of definitions. This seems to us the major driver, as the vast majority of initiatives This has also allowed Japan to achieve another objective, that is to improve its standing with allies on confronting and overcoming terrorist threats and supporting military action.
A third objective will enable Japan to benefit from commercial opportunities in the countries where they are engaged. While this has sometimes been used to imply that they have ‘ulterior’ commercial motives, that may not be as noble as the ‘peace initiative’, the truth is that ‘Aid for Development’ has always been tied to commerce, and to implicit or explicit trade agreements and preferential deals. This is true not only for Japan, but for all countries. It is therefore not a case for doubting the major focus of their international development strategy, which is clearly the first motive cited above.
That policy of a focus on the long-term, on building stability, and capacity and nation building has been a vital part of global strategy in taking a sustainable approach to managing future areas of conflict. Another way is to recognize Japan’s Afghan assistance in terms of the foreign policy priorities of Tokyo, which are, as stated earlier, (1) to help manage and improve the partnership between the US and Japan; (2) to demonstrate Japan’s significant contribution to global peace and security; and (3) to forge a strong relationship with a new-born Afghanistan. In this regard, it would be fair to say that positive results have been achieved by the Japanese government (Ashizawa, 2014). It is therefore the media’s focus on sensationalism that denies the valuable long-term peace initiatives form getting the attention and praise they deserve. From this perspective, the story in Afghanistan is a continuation of the policy since WWII, adjusted to the current situation and to an expanded geopolitical sphere of action. The three pillars, referred to above, it is this policy that will continue to win Japan the recognition it deserves.
Ashizawa, K. (2014). Japan’s Approach to Peacebuilding in Afghanistan: Money, Diplomacy and the Challenges of Effective Assistance. Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, 9(3), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/15423166.2014.984555
Ishizuka, K. (2012). Japan’s Policy towards the War on Terror in Afghanistan (Working Paper Series Studies on Multicultural Societies No.3). Afrasian Research Centre. https://afrasia.ryukoku.ac.jp/phase2/publication/upfile/WP003.pdf
Walia, S. (2020). Securing Peace in Afghanistan: A Primer on Japan’s Role (ORF Issue Brief No. 347). Observer Research Foundation. https://www.orfonline.org/research/securing-peace-in-afghanistan-a-primer-on-japans-role-63634/