Japan Deals with Terrorism


The most recent incident involving two Japanese hostages in Syria implores Japan to depart from its present counter-terrorism policy and engage proactively in efforts to protect Japanese, even as Japanese society continues to focus primarily on economic solutions to counter terror, maintains Katsumi Ishizuka

Japan’s policy towards counter-terrorism lost credibility when two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, were brutally murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria in January and February 2015, respectively. The counter-terrorism approach of the Japanese government and citizens was based on their recognition that Japan, a peaceful Asian country with a pacific constitution, would attract sympathy from fundamentalists based in the same region.

Post-9/11 Approach

Japan’s crisis management capability towards counter-terrorism developed especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US. The day after the terrorist attacks, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered his cabinet members to consider the possibility of dispatching Japan’s Self Defence Force (SDF) for counter-terrorist activities in future. The SDF Anti-Terrorism Bill was passed in October 2001 after speedy deliberations in the Diet. Then, the Ministry of Defence promptly applied the Anti-Terrorism Law to the fuelling mission in the Indian Ocean to assist the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan. In November 2001, three fleets from the Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF), including an escort vessel, left for the Indian Ocean. These fleets were initially used for a fact-finding mission. After the Japanese government finalised the implementation outline for the MSDF dispatch, these fleets initiated their fuelling activities to support US troops, followed by three more. Thus, five MSDF corps in the Indian Ocean constituted the second largest contribution after the US mission, supplying about 137 million gallons of fuel oil over more than 1,000 trips. The Japanese government spent over $700 million in total on the Indian Ocean mission. The fuelling missions continued until the expiry of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the withdrawal of the MSDF from the Indian Ocean in January 2010.

However, the above pro-US policy in Afghanistan portrayed Japan as ‘an enemy’ of fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri repeatedly considered Japan a ‘crusader’ in view of the consistent support to US policy in the Middle East.

International terrorism aims to propagate the terrorists’ belief and principle to the entire world by brutal violence and terror. Therefore, the success of their terrorist activities depends on the attention gained in the mass media. Mobilising the media in democratic countries like Japan, which tend to take the news of terrorist attacks ardently, is an effective tool of propaganda for international terrorists.

The most recent incident involving two Japanese hostages in Syria implores Japan to depart from its present policy and engage proactively in efforts to protect Japanese. However, Japanese society still focuses mainly on economic solutions to counter-terrorism, as highlighted in a column in Newsweek (Japanese edition) on February 17:

It is best to deal with terrorists quietly. Even if international terrorists become more provocative in our surrounding areas such as Southeast Asia, we should be careful to dispatch the SDF there. Once Japan dispatches even a small corps there for a counter-terrorism measure, it would be difficult to make a decision of its withdrawal. Therefore, it would be desirable for Japan to maintain the complementary measure to vulnerable developing countries by assisting in their economic development by Official Development Assistance (ODA). Instead of using unaccustomed arms, Japan should play an important role to lessen the economic gaps between rich and poor countries…

Counter Terrorism Assistance

The Japanese government has recognised that some developing countries with the political will to fight against terrorism do not necessarily have sufficient counter-terrorism capacity. The government has assisted countries particularly in Southeast Asia in counter-terrorism capacity building. For example, based on the agreement reached at the December 2005 ASEAN-Japan Summit, the first ASEAN-Japan Counter-Terrorism Dialogue was held in Japan in June 2006 with the purpose of exchanging views between Japan and ASEAN countries to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation. The second dialogue took place in Kuala Lumpur in September 2007. The Japanese government established the new grant aid scheme – Great Aid for Cooperation on Counter-Terrorism and Security Enhancement – and extended a grant aid of up to 1,921 million yen (about $19 million) to Indonesia for the provision of three patrol vessels in June 2006 and a grant aid of up to 927 million yen (about $9 million) to Cambodia for the improvement of security facilities and equipment in Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh Port in August 2006. The Philippines received grant aid up to 609 million yen (about $6 million) towards the enhancement of communications systems for maritime safety and security in July 2007, while Malaysia received a grant aid of up to 473 million yen ($4.7 million) for the improvement of equipment for maritime security enhancement in January 2008.

Three Pillar Foreign Policy

Following the murder of Japanese hostages in Syria, Fumio Kishida, Minister of Foreign Affairs announced the ‘3-Pillar Foreign Policy in Response to the Terrorist Incident Regarding the Murder of Japanese’. These include:

1. Strengthening counter-terrorism measures, including border control, investigation/prosecution capacity, development of legal system;

2. Enhancing diplomacy towards stability and prosperity in the Middle East, including high-level mutual visits; and,

3. Assistance in creating societies resilient to radicalisation, including youth employment policy, improvement of income disparity, and assistance in education.

While these pillars are considered to be comprehensive, they do not indicate a significant shift in Japan’s diplomatic policy to a more proactive engagement to fight terrorism. Further, the Japanese government has not strengthened efforts significantly to protect Japanese overseas. When Japanese citizens are abducted overseas, the government tries to directly negotiate with terrorists. However, as in the case of Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto in Syria this year, direct negotiations and information collection proved to be extremely difficult.

Urgent Proactive Measures

There is an urgent need to comprehensively reinforce countermeasures to protect Japanese living abroad, gather information on terrorism, and guard key facilities. According to Yomiuri Shimbun, the headquarters tasked with promoting measures to handle international terrorism at the Prime Minister’s Office will gather information about local security conditions through Japanese embassies and other diplomatic missions. Security for Japanese schools abroad is expected to be stepped up since such facilities are easy targets for terrorists. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also announced an increase in the number of defence attaches, who are SDF officials, at Japanese diplomatic missions abroad. At present, more than 50 defence attaches are stationed in about 40 countries.

Most importantly, Japan needs to establish an intelligence agency to collect and analyse information relating to international terrorism. In retrospect, during the Cold War, Japanese security was guaranteed by the Japan-US security treaty and the US nuclear umbrella. However, in the post 9/11 period, Japan has suffered greatly from invisible enemies, namely international terrorists. Therefore, intelligence agencies need to be urgently established not only in Japan, but also in many other vulnerable countries, which also need to promote a system of international cooperation on intelligence.

Finally, is there any possibility of Indo-Japanese collaboration? The Japanese SDF, Coast Guard, and the Japanese National Police Agency could conduct joint counter-terrorism training with their Indian counterparts. Since both the countries aspire to a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, they must take robust action against international terrorists.

Go to Content Page


Katsumi Ishizuka

Katsumi Ishizuka is currently professor at Kyoei University, Japan. He may be reached at ishizuka@kyoei.ac.jp

Back to Top

Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.