The Yomiuri ShimbunDuring the Gulf crisis set off by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War in which multinational forces fought off the invaders in January and February 1991, the Japanese government was in turmoil over how to respond to these events, as Tokyo was urged to send the Self-Defense Forces. The Yomiuri Shimbun asked then Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, 87, about the state of affairs during this period. The following are excerpts from his remarks.
[Then] U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s argument was that he wanted [Japan] to make a visible contribution. In particular, he used the phrase “show the boots” [sic]. He repeatedly said it. That is to say, he wanted [Japan] to send the Self-Defense Forces.
However, I did not allow myself to say over the phone: “Got it. Let’s do it” — no matter how close [Japan’s] ties with the United States were — as Japan was a country that made a decision to live as a peaceful nation after the end of World War II.
This is also because before the Gulf crisis occurred, Bush originally said the opposite by telling me — he called me Toshiki — not to do or say anything too brave, as it wouldn’t contribute to peace and stability in East Asia.
Even if he changed that position, I couldn’t. So I kept refusing [Bush’s request], saying Japan has a national policy [that would not allow the country to send the SDF].
At a press conference on Aug. 29, 1990, where he announced his policies to contribute to resolving the Gulf crisis, Kaifu made clear his intention to consider establishing a U.N. peace cooperation bill, with a view to supporting the U.N. peacekeeping operations. But he said he would not dispatch the SDF.
My basic position at the time was that Japan should head toward the future as a peaceful nation. I drove this principle home to people because everyone [in the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party] would have said whatever they wanted to if I let them go.
From the right wing of the LDP, there were many voices calling for sending the SDF at that point.
But I thought I had successfully pushed through my own view: “If we do that [send the SDF] and things go wrong, next time we’ll have to bring guns. If we bring guns, then we’ll be loading bullets and shooting them, so we can’t do that.” I thought so at that time.
[Then LDP Secretary General] Ichiro Ozawa also came and said, “We should do it [send the SDF].” So I said, “I can’t cross that line, but I’ll do whatever I can.”
We can’t send the SDF as a military force. That’s why I said in the press conference that we would create something like the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers [regarding a U.N. peace cooperation bill].
However, the U.N. peace cooperation bill — which was prepared thereafter mainly by the Foreign Ministry — stated that members of the SDF would be dispatched to engage in such activities as transport cooperation by concurrently serving as members of a peace cooperation unit. In Diet deliberations, the bill was met by backlash from opposition parties that were concerned about the possible use of force overseas.
The response was also chaotic on the government side, with the ministry’s director general of the treaties bureau contradicting the foreign minister’s remarks that no weapons or ammunition would be transported. The bill was eventually killed without being passed through the House of Representatives.
The Foreign Ministry had people who were in touch with the U.S. State Department. The LDP also had people who sympathized with them, so views gradually became bolder.
If we sent people saying that they’re a peace cooperation unit and then they turned out just to be SDF members in different uniforms, the nation would have lost a significant amount of trust, and that wasn’t what we wanted. That’s why I opposed the bill from the beginning. I was also opposed to transporting weapons and ammunition.
The problem was whether the people approved [of sending the SDF] or not. At that time, it still couldn’t be said that they completely approved.
The opposition camp occupied the majority of the House of Councillors at that time, but that’s not the reason the bill was killed.
If the people don’t approve of something, it won’t pass, no matter how well you explain it — that is what I thought.
On Jan. 17, 1991, the Gulf War began with the aerial bombing of Iraq by multinational forces and the active fighting ended at the end of February as Iraq withdrew from Kuwait. Japan provided assistance totaling $13.5 billion. But Japan’s name was not included among the list of countries in the ad that the Kuwait government ran in U.S. newspapers to show its appreciation.
The other side [The United States] was [calling for] peaceful resolution with their right hand, and with their left hand they were doing this [clenches his fist]. That’s the kind of country the United States is. If you don’t keep that in mind when you deal with them, you’re in trouble.
I got many phone calls from Bush, but he just kept repeating the same thing. In a well-intended manner, I took this as his efforts to win me over in search of support. He must have thought that he needed to tell Japan things over and over again. It was to the point where it was rather relentless.
It was very displeasing that Japan’s name was not included in the appreciation ad. Countries that just receive when it’s time to receive without showing any gratitude are no good. Therefore I strongly expressed displeasure, which is a rare thing for me to do. But later, the Kuwaiti government did come to explain its circumstances.
In April 1991, Japan dispatched Maritime Self-Defense Force minesweepers to clear mines that had been strewn across the Persian Gulf. This marked the first overseas dispatch of the SDF.
The Gulf War ended, and there was a feeling that we had to do something. We have the expression “exclusively defensive security policy” [as Japan’s principle]. I was thinking about what we could do within that framework.
What surprised me at the time was that the United States said, “You say that Japan can’t even send minesweepers and can’t send anything, but in reality, aren’t Japanese tankers traveling back and forth through there?”
The argument that it was wrong for Japan not even to be able to send minesweepers when Japanese ships were using these sea lanes made sense to me.
I was also prompted by the fact that Germany had sent minesweepers earlier.
If Japan sends them, it wouldn’t be seen by the international community as going too far or as an act of combat, I presumed. It would just be maintaining and developing trade routes. In that case, let’s send them — that’s what I thought.
That was the natural thing to do.
Through the Gulf crisis and the Gulf War, Japan formed a self-image of not having contributed sufficiently. In 1992, it enacted the U.N. Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law and sent the Ground Self-Defense Force to Cambodia. Debate over revising the Constitution, which had earlier been seen as taboo, gradually began to take place.
To put it simply, whatever you can do, you have to do. You can’t just watch quietly, so do something. It is an age when we’re being told to “show the boots,” [sic] so the SDF should go and cooperate.
But the SDF must not go with guns for the purpose of fighting. I think that means that if they don’t go for such a purpose, that is all right.
I believe that pacifism ought to be maintained along the lines of an exclusively defensive security policy.
— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Haruki Sasamori.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 25, 2018)
■ Toshiki Kaifu / Former Prime Minister
Born in 1931, Kaifu graduated from Waseda University. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1960 after working as a secretary to a Diet member. Called a favorite disciple of former Prime Minister Takeo Miki, Kaifu served as deputy chief cabinet secretary and education minister in the Miki Cabinet before becoming prime minister in 1989. During his two years and three months in office, he worked on political reform following the Recruit corruption case and tackled challenges including how to respond to the Gulf crisis and the Gulf War. In 1994, Kaifu left the LDP and became the first president of the now-defunct Shinshinto (New Frontier Party). He later returned to the LDP. Kaifu retired from politics in 2009.Speech