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$1 Billion and All It Gets Is Grief

The call to arms in the Iraqi crisis has made things difficult for Japan. Tokyo is coming under harsh--and unfair--criticism for not sending its own citizens to help protect the world’s oil supply. This is dangerous nonsense. No one’s interests would be served if Japan shed its constitutional prohibitions against offensive military action in the gulf.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did play a useful role in nudging Japan into action with her criticism of Tokyo. But now, after Tokyo has committed $1 billion in gulf aid, why is Japan still under fire?

Japan too often is oblique and slow in its response to international affairs. The delayed reaction to the Iraqi crisis demonstrates Tokyo’s internal political difficulties, fears and inexperience in foreign policy. But even when Tokyo cooperates, it is still criticized for not doing enough. Japan was one of the first U.S. allies to endorse economic sanctions against Iraq. Admittedly, the plan Tokyo came out with this week is short on specifics. Some U.S. officials had hoped for something like a naval presence--minesweepers, military airlifts and dispatch of noncombatant military personnel. But one must remember that the constitutional prohibitions against an independent military capability were adopted after World War II at U.S. insistence.

The $1-billion commitment in non-military aid to the multinational forces in the gulf will help pay for charters of non-Japanese aircraft and ships to carry supplies and personnel to the gulf--including foreign military equipment and troops.

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Now the Administration is launching a big offensive of tin-cup diplomacy--soliciting funds from other wealthy countries to defray $1 billion in monthly costs for the U.S. buildup. Notably, at his press conference yesterday, President Bush made a point of acknowledging the Japanese commitment, saying drolly that it didn’t take an American envoy for Japanese officials to make the offer. He’s right, so save the criticisms for a country more deserving. Prime Minister Thatcher has been lambasting some European nations for their failure to respond. In truth they are far better targets for bashing than Japan.


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