Iraq and Japanese Isolation

Every country that has sent troops to aid America's efforts in Iraq is under pressure, as the decision by the Philippines to withdraw its small contingent shows. But for Japan, the question of whether to continue to aid in Iraq's reconstruction extends beyond the merits of this particular policy and goes to the heart of Japanese notions of security and what constitutes the national interest.

Throughout the Cold War, Japan's national security policy appeared to waver between "UN-first-ism" and an "Alliance-first" principle. In essence, however, fostering alliance with the United States dominated Japan's course. That tendency remains dominant.

But the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001 pressed Japan to recognize that it must begin to exercise greater autonomy and independent judgment in formulating and implementing its national security policies. The paradigm of international security that had long dominated Japan's defense thinking had shifted and policymakers realized that they had to shift with it. For Japan nowadays, security policy must satisfy a trinity of criteria: "national interests," "alliance," and "international cooperation."

This trinity is not something new for Japan, but has deep historical roots. It may be helpful to look back, in particular, to Japanese actions at the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1900), as well as during World War I. Of course, there are huge differences between the situation then and what Japan faces now. But those historic contexts shed light on Japan's response to events in Iraq and the wider world today.