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Japan and the New World Order

Courtesy Reuters

A crisis almost always reveals the reality, and the Persian Gulf crisis revealed the real Japan. In the moment of truth, an economic superpower found itself merely an automatic teller machine-one that needed a kick before dispensing the cash. The notion that economic power inevitably translates into geopolitical influence turned out to be a materialist illusion. At least many Japanese now seem to subscribe to that view.

In Japan the crisis over the gulf was a manifestation of the failure of Japanese leadership. In 1989 Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost control of the Diet's upper house, the House of Councilors. Thus when the gulf crisis erupted, Japan was governed by its politically weakest leadership of the postwar era, and it had great difficulty in forming a coalition with the opposition-the Democratic Socialist Party and the Komeito-to support its response. The public was polarized. Japan had not witnessed such a divergence of views on an issue of this magnitude for thirty years past. Slow and cumbersome decision-making was the result, which only benefited Japan's powerful bureaucracies and served the status quo. In the end the government proved totally unfit to respond quickly in a crisis.

Japan nevertheless managed to be part of the international coalition effort by making a $13 billion contribution. But it could not make even the most modest contribution of manpower, falling short of Korea's dispatch of 150 medics and the Philippines' 190 doctors and nurses. Certainly many Japanese are pleased that the national consensus finally solidified against sending troops abroad. Many feel that Japan did what it could and that the Japanese themselves, as well as foreigners, should not expect too much of Japan. Moreover the $13 billion, made possible only by a tax increase, was not negligible. It was more than Japan's annual foreign aid program, its Official Development Assistance (ODA), which ranks first in the world.

The Gulf War was a unique phenomenon. The war itself crystallized and magnified issues that Japan should have addressed long ago. For Japan

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