- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

TOKYO — Japan, which has depended on the United States for its defense since the end of World War II, faces new pressure to develop its own national security policy as neighboring North Korea threatens to pursue the development of nuclear weapons.

As Tokyo considers sending troops help the U.S.-led coalition reconstruct Iraq, its constitution, which bars deployment to combat zones, also undergoes a review.

In the changing global situation, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi faces growing demand for Japan to step out of the shadow of the United States and develop a mature, independent foreign policy that makes Tokyo an equal — not junior — partner of Washington.

Tokyo, which possesses only Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) under its U.S.-authored constitution and hosts U.S. troops on its soil, is worried about how to deal with the North Korean regime’s suspected weapons of mass destruction.

“The prospect of North Korea’s nuclear capability is of vital concern to Japan,” said Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy and defense studies specialist at the Cato Institute. “Yet Japan lacks the ability to really develop an independent policy to deal with that issue.”

The North Korean nuclear weapons program is expected to be a major topic of discussion when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrives in Tokyo today for talks with Japanese Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba.

The two officials also are expected to talk about plans to deploy JSDF to Iraq to support the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts. Mr. Rumsfeld also is scheduled to visit South Korea, where he is expected to continue the North Korea discussions.

It is Mr. Rumsfeld’s first official visit to either country since being named defense secretary in January 2001.

Many Japanese opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld often were criticized here. Some argue, however, that Japan is vulnerable without U.S. protection.

Tadae Takubo, a professor of international relations at Kyorin University in Tokyo, said the U.S.-Japanese alliance is “most important” and that “Japan must go along with Mr. Rumsfeld.”

“You need to contemplate what Japan can do by itself. You should know yourself,” Mr. Takubo said.

Japan was jolted when North Korea launched a missile over the country in 1998. Last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il also spooked and angered Japan when he said his regime’s agents had kidnapped a dozen Japanese in the 1970s. Shortly afterward, five of the abducted Japanese returned home after 24 years.

Now, Pyongyang claims to have resumed its nuclear weapons programs.

Some analysts criticize Mr. Koizumi for taking advantage of public jitters.

“Apart from whether the threat of North Korea is real, the Japanese media repeatedly highlighted the threat. And Mr. Koizumi built public support based on people’s fear and backlash against North Korea,” said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based veteran political analyst.

The threat posed by North Korea helped Mr. Koizumi push his agenda, such deployment of the JSDF unit to Iraq, analysts said.

Japan also will provide $5 billion over four years — $1.5 billion in grants and $3.5 billion in loans — to help the U.S.-led reconstruction effort.

Opposition party members and critics accuse Mr. Koizumi of currying favor with the Bush administration.

When it comes to the relationship with the United States, “Mr. Koizumi acts only when he is told something by Washington,” said Yukio Edano, policy chief of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the largest opposition party.

An official from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) defended the Koizumi administration’s diplomacy, saying that Japan “enhances international partnership on the axis of the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

“If the DPJ were in power, they would definitely tone down their words, facing up to the reality,” the official said. “While the United Nations does not function well, Japan needs to be working actively with the U.S. And the issues of North Korea are particularly important.”

Mr. Bush called Mr. Koizumi a “very strong leader” during his brief stopover in Japan on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand last month.

He has described his relationship with the Japanese leader as “very close and personal.”

DPK leader Naoto Kan, however, reportedly was denied a request to visit government officials in Washington.

“Many Japanese are aware that Mr. Koizumi is controlled by the U.S., and that the U.S. is asking too much of Japan,” Mr. Morita said.

Many Japanese are wary of sending the JSDF to Iraq, where U.S. forces are attacked almost daily. The deployment has been delayed because of security concerns, and Japanese soldiers reportedly will be dispatched to “safer” areas of the country.

Yesterday, Tokyo ruled out any immediate deployment of JSDF to Iraq. A bomb attack in Nasiriyah on Wednesday killed at least 26 persons, including 18 Italian military police officers.

Many Japanese “don’t think the premier could refuse the U.S. request while North Korea has threatened Japan. They feel Japan needs U.S. protection,” Mr. Morita said.

Mr. Takubo of Kyorin University said Japan must cooperate with the United States to stabilize Iraq because the country depends on the Middle East for more than 90 percent of its oil imports.

“Instability in the region could affect not only the Japanese economy but the global economy,” he said.

After the September 11 attacks in the United States, Japan has become more willing to use its own military abroad. The government dispatched warships to the Indian Ocean to provide rear-guard support for the U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan.

In general elections last weekend, the LDP held on to power but lost some seats in parliament to the opposition DPJ, making it necessary for Mr. Koizumi to offer concessions.

Mr. Koizumi has promised to draft a proposal by 2005 to revise the 1947 constitution. The DPJ also said the country needs to debate the constitutional status of the JSDF.

“It is inevitable that Japan will take an assertive and independent position with regard to security issues. Prime Minister Koizumi is a bit behind the curve in terms of those developments,” Mr. Carpenter of the Cato Institute said.

Japan is becoming a “normal country when it comes to security issues,” he said. “And the U.S. needs to accept that gracefully. It’s in America’s interests to have a more assertive and stronger Japan in East Asia.”

Mr. Carpenter said American officials have become too comfortable with Japan as a junior partner, although that attitude is beginning to change.

“Washington does not want to have an equal partner — it never has — when it comes to the relationship with Japan. It has never fully trusted Japan,” he said.

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