2015.11.28 Saturday 23:27

Japan and the war on terror

  Calls are rising — particularly from within the government and the ruling coalition — for Japan to beef up its security measures in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. During specially arranged Diet sessions held right before the deadly attacks, while the legislature was not in an official session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned the idea of giving the government emergency powers at the time of crises as a theme on which to amend the Constitution. It may be improper to say this but the latest terrorist incident may serve as a convenient pretext to push his agenda of constitutional revision.

We need to confirm one thing here — that the government bears the burden of proof that anti-terrorism measures that it spells out would really deter terrorist activities. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki preaches the necessity of making the act of conspiracy a crime. But he does not explain how that serves to prevent terrorist activities from taking place. Prime Minister Abe would likely be unable to give clear explanations as to why changing the Constitution to give the government massive powers to respond to what it determines as an emergency would contribute to protecting people’s safety.

What I would like to know is whether Japan’s police, which were incapable of preventing the terror attacks launched by the Aum Shinrikyo cult 20 years ago, have reflected on their inability and improved their operations. In 2010, internal police documents on their probe into the privacy of innocent Muslim residents in Japan — determining that some of them were terror suspects — were leaked on the Internet. Is it certain that such sloppy intelligence operations would never be repeated? There is a risk that the terror attacks in Europe would be used as an excuse by Japan’s authoritarian lawmakers and police bureaucrats to expand their powers.

On the very day the Paris attacks took place, Japan’s Foreign Ministry put up a help wanted ad to recruit experts on Middle East affairs as part-time workers. What it offers as working conditions is a shabby treatment — three days of work per week with no social security coverage for a job that requires high levels of foreign language skills and academic backgrounds of at least graduate school levels. Beefing up Japan’s intelligence capabilities became a national agenda under the Abe administration, which in 2014 established the Japanese version of National Security Council. But the administration is going to rely on part-timers for help in the analysis of the Middle East situation —supposedly the most crucial part of anti-terrorism efforts. Japanese politicians and bureaucrats have an illusion that problems at hand will be resolved once a new organization or a system has been created. It is not a laughing matter that Japan’s crucial intelligence matters are handled by anti-intellectual politicians and government officials.

What needs to be examined in the first place is how seriously the Japanese government has pursued efforts to thwart terrorism under the existing legal framework. We should never repeat the days when fear of terrorism justified giving unconditional powers to the government.


So much for the talk about domestic measures against terrorism. Now that the new security legislation makes it possible for the Self-Defense Forces to use force abroad, how Japan would involve itself in the war on terrorism in the international community must be questioned. It would become necessary to use force to fight against fanatic groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram, which totally disregard humanity and human rights. Such use of force, however, has always carried the risk of sacrificing innocent civilians. The war on terrorism waged since 9/11 — especially since the Iraq War — has produced large numbers of victims and intense hatred, which in turn produced new breeds of fanatic terrorists. The world shudders when more than 100 people get killed in Paris. But the news of large numbers of unintended civilian deaths in mistaken bombings by U.S. forces hardly attract worldwide attention. Such a disparity will continue to breed more terrorists. In short, the problem will not be resolved with or without the use of force.


I believe that Japan, which has given up on the use of force in the international arena so far in its postwar history, will have no choice but to start by resigning itself to this reality. It would be unrealistic to proclaim that it would reconcile the Western powers and the Muslim world. What Japan can do now would be to sympathize with people who were irrationally sacrificed in the war on terrorism and extend its helping hand to them. It should not rally behind the major powers which use force out of desire for revenge. While reiterating that terrorism cannot be tolerated in the name of humanity and human rights, the nation should keep declaring that the lives of people in the Middle East on whom the use of force by major powers inflicted an irrational sacrifice have the same value as those of other people.

The Japan Times, November 26

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