The Self-Defense Forces were sent overseas for the first time in 1992 to participate in United Nations-led peacekeeping operations (PKO) in Cambodia.
I visited Cambodia six times while the troops were there. I learned that many of the men had mixed feelings or doubts about what they were doing. When an SDF public relations team polled the first 600 dispatched troops and asked if they would participate in another PKO mission, 19 percent said ``no.''
Article 3 of the Self-Defense Forces Law defines their mission as ``to preserve the peace and independence of the nation and to maintain national security.'' As there is no mention of any overseas mission, it was only natural for some members to hesitate answering that question in the affirmative.
And that was an official SDF poll. Had it not been so, I believe considerably more troops would have said ``no.''
After Cambodia, there have been six PKO missions abroad, and repetition has made them more acceptable to many. However, the latest SDF dispatch is to Iraq under postwar occupation. I cannot but wonder how the troops are feeling.
The government says the troops are being sent for humanitarian reconstruction work. If this is to be taken at face value, then the troops would have to go to wherever reconstruction is necessary and work practically side-by-side with the local people. At Samawah, the scheduled destination of the SDF, close collaboration with the Iraqis should evoke feelings of gratitude.
In reality, however, the water purification and supply project-which is central to this particular mission-is to be conducted in a fortified camp protected by trenches and barricades. Only representatives of the city of Samawah will be allowed inside to fetch water. I doubt this could be called an effective humanitarian aid project in the true sense of the term.
Granted, going among the local people and mixing freely with them could result in some unfortunate incident. Naturally, the troops must take every security precaution.
The SDF are ``top heavy'' organizations where administrative and policing officers predominate. But Iraq at present is in a state of guerrilla war. I assume the skirmishes are being supported by regional group networks, rather than planned and directed top-down per classic military chain of command. I hardly think the situation is anything in which the SDF can concentrate on reconstruction work.
Iraq possesses advanced technology as well as abundant oil resources. What the nation truly needs is assistance that will tap and nurture the wealth that is already there. And where water supply is concerned, the Iraqis themselves are asking that their existing facilities be repaired and restored first. But this is a request the SDF are unable to accommodate.
If the SDF must be sent to Iraq under U.S.-British occupation, then I insist this be done on at least one condition-that the government predetermine in no unclear terms the circumstances of troop withdrawal.
Actual combat is fought by the military, but war itself is a matter for political handling. This distinction is vital from the standpoint of civilian control.
Allowing the Imperial Japanese Army to run amok in Manchuria dragged Japan into that quagmire of World War II. The wartime Japanese government missed the timing for withdrawal.
I demand that the conditions of SDF withdrawal from Iraq be spelled out by a government declaration or a Diet resolution, so that the pullout will be effected automatically the moment any one of those conditions becomes applicable.
Leaving the withdrawal decision to any field commander forces him to consider the pride of his unit. But he can be free of such a dilemma if the pullout conditions are already spelled out.
Compared to the naval force that comes home by ship, it is more difficult for the ground force to withdraw. In the face of an unexpected eventuality, the army tends to send reinforcements in a knee-jerk reaction. I would say this is the nature inherent in any ground force.
There is still time before the main SDF unit goes to Iraq. If the dispatch must take place, then I demand that the government at least discuss the conditions of withdrawal in dead earnest.
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The author is a journalist and professor of national security studies at Tokyo International University. He contributed this article to The Asahi shimbun.(IHT/Asahi: January 19,2004) (01/19)