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Declassified papers show U.S. asked Japan for SDF support during 1990 Gulf crisis

U.S. President George H.W. Bush asked Japan to provide logistical support to the U.S. military via its Self-Defense Forces during the Gulf crisis of August 1990, according to diplomatic records declassified Wednesday and testimonies from former government officials.

The request was made to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. But Japan did not fulfill Bush’s request to dispatch the SDF to the Gulf War effort — although it deployed minesweepers in the Persian Gulf as a postwar contribution, reflecting the strong influence the United States has on Tokyo’s security policy.

A top secret diplomatic cable that recorded a meeting between Kaifu and Bush on Sept. 29, 1990, revealed that the former president told Kaifu he knew Japan was looking for ways to get its forces involved, and that such a move would be appreciated by the world.

Koichiro Matsuura, a former Japanese ambassador to France who served as head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, said Bush had asked earlier, in a phone call on Aug. 14, for the SDF to sweep mines and transport weapons.

In a series of talks, Kaifu responded by expressing the need to protect the war-renouncing Article 9 of the postwar Constitution, while stressing his desire to cooperate.

He sought to compromise by establishing a nonmilitary U.N. peacekeeping operations team and having some SDF personnel be part of that. But the plan ran into difficulties after a bill aimed at allowing Japan to cooperate in U.N. peacekeeping operations was scrapped in November of that year due to public opposition.

According to diplomatic cables and former government officials, the United States effectively notified Japan of its intention to use force on Jan. 14, 1991, three days before the Gulf War began.

Then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker secretly told his Japanese counterpart Taro Nakayama during his visit to the United States that the blood of Americans would be shed.

The records and testimonies also revealed that of the $13 billion Japan provided to the multinational coalition in aid, $9 billion was added in response to a request by then U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady during a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Ryutaro Hashimoto in New York.

Multiple former Japanese government officials have testified that while there was no basis for the total amount sought by the United States, there was “no other choice” but to meet the request.

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