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Takakazu Kuriyama : Overcoming Japan's Past to Get On With Its Future

October 28, 1990|Sam Jameson | Sam Jameson is The Times bureau chief in Tokyo. He interviewed Takakazu Kuriyama in the vice minister's office

TOKYO — For the first time since the end of World War II, Japan is debating whether to send armed forces overseas to perform noncombat missions.

Article 9 of Japan's constitution, adopted during the postwar U.S. occupation, declares that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as any other war potential, will never be maintained." But the Japanese government has claimed that a clause renouncing "the use of force as a means of settling international disputes" allows the country to establish "Self Defense Forces" for deployment in Japanese territory only.

Now, in submitting a "U.N. Peace Cooperation Bill" to Parliament, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu's government has broadened that interpretation--without admitting it. It claims the bill's noncombat limitation upholds the spirit of Article 9.

The bill, if approved, would enable Japan to send troops for noncombat missions to the Middle East and to such trouble spots as Cambodia, if a U.N. peacekeeping mission is dispatched there in the future.

So controversial is the bill that debate inside the government and the ruling party over its contents consumed even more time than Japan's decision to approve $4 billion in aid to the U.S.-led multinational forces and front-line countries in the Middle East.

Many Asian countries, victims of Japan's past aggression, have raised cries that the move would resurrect Japanese militarism. Many Japanese have expressed fears that it represents a step toward Japan assuming a role as a military giant that it has shirked for the last 45 years.

But to some Americans, the bill, even if enacted, would still leave Japan with a privileged position in the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty--the United States burdened not only with an obligation to defend Japan but also with the task of providing combat troops to deal with such conflicts as the Middle East crisis with no reciprocity from Japan.

Lacking a majority in the upper house of Parliament, Kaifu may fail to get the bill approved. Whatever the outcome, the debate has raised fundamental questions about the role of Japan in a world no longer dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union.

Vice Foreign Minister Takakazu Kuriyama, 59, Japan's senior career diplomat, has been in the eye of the typhoon of debate that has raged within the government over the gulf crisis.

A former ambassador to Malaysia, Kuriyama has been in Japan's foreign service since 1954. He headed the Foreign Ministry's North American Division, and, as deputy vice foreign minister, led Japan's negotiations seeking a long-delayed peace treaty with the Soviet Union before assuming his current post in May, 1989.

His late father, Shigeru, also was a career diplomat and a Supreme Court judge.

Question: What kind of structure does Japan see for a new international order?

Answer: The structure itself must be of a rather evolutionary nature. . . . We would certainly like to broaden the kind of trilateral political consultations (conducted by Japan, the United States and Western Europe) that have been gradually evolving over the past year or so.

Previously, we had only the economic summit and consultations at the political directors' level in preparation for the G-7 summit. . . . (Now) political consultations (are being) conducted informally at similar levels not necessarily in connection with preparations for G-7 summits. . . . I think these informal consultations may eventually grow into a more institutionalized structure. . . .

Q: The trouble your government has had in finalizing a bill to dispatch overseas personnel to make non-military contributions in the gulf crisis suggests it may be difficult for you to make a contribution to a new political order.

A: First, let me emphasize there is widespread recognition among the Japanese that we . . . have to play a more active and responsible economic and political role in close cooperation with other industrial democracies.

Secondly, there is also a solid consensus among the Japanese that our contributions should not be of a military nature. . . . In the foreseeable future, it is not possible for Japan to share international responsibility in playing a regional or global military role.

This is because of the constitution. I wouldn't call it constitutional constraint--because it's not the kind of thing that is imposed on us. It is self-imposed. But this is the restriction the Japanese people would like to continue to support.

Looking at Japan from outside, that Japan is not going to play an international military role may be perceived as inaction in response to an international crisis, such as the gulf crisis.

(Rejection of any international military role) is the basic position we have maintained over the postwar years and that we will be maintaining in the foreseeable future. . . . That's (why) we have to pursue a foreign policy with an unassuring posture.

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