Thirty years after Gulf War, face changes in security environment

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces’ Type 16 maneuver combat vehicle fires during their annual live fire exercise last year. AFP

January 17 marked the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the Gulf War, in which multinational forces led by the US launched a military attack against Iraq, which had invaded Kuwait, and restored order.

In recent years, the overwhelming power that the US demonstrated at that time has been waning. Washington must question anew how it will deal with attempts to destroy world peace.

The Gulf War broke out at a time when the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was coming to an end, and the international order led by the US was consolidating.

Based on a UN Security Council resolution, neither the Soviet Union nor China opposed the attack by the multinational forces. Iraqi troops withdrew completely from Kuwait one and a half months after the start of the war.

The countries concerned gathered under the US, which upholds the ideals of freedom and democracy, and eliminated the invasion that violated international law. It does not even need to be said that the action contributed to increasing the credibility of order based on the rule of law. It left a strong impression of the importance of US leadership and international cooperation.

The situation has been changing drastically over the past 30 years. How well can the US cope with a crisis similar to the Gulf War?

The wars on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq have consumed the US militarily and economically and have weakened its influence. As a result, the “America first” policy touted by the administration of US President Donald Trump has been accelerated.

Under the current circumstances where the US is in fierce conflict with China and Russia, it is also extremely difficult for the UN Security Council to approve the use of military power by multinational forces. It is essential for Japan and Europe among others to play a greater role and work to support the US.

During the Gulf War, Japan provided a huge amount of financial support. After the war ended, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were dispatched for a minesweeping mission, but the image that Japan was trying to buy peace could not be dispelled for a long time.

Also, in discussions within Japan, many parties were against an overseas dispatch of the SDF, saying it was a revival of militarism and could drag Japan into war. It is obvious that the fears proved to be utterly groundless.

After that, with the aim of realising visible international contributions, the government proceeded with the necessary legislative arrangements concerning SDF personnel participating in UN peacekeeping operations and providing logistical support to multinational forces. Public support for these activities has been firmly established.

Japan now advocates an actively pacifist stance in its national security strategy, and it can be said that this is the result of the country learning lessons from its experience of the Gulf War.

The free and open Indo-Pacific vision has become a concept for which the circle of cooperation has expanded beyond Japan to cover the regions of the US, Asia and Europe. It is desirable to reaffirm how important it is for Japan to proactively contribute to the peace and stability of the international community.