The Iraq War and depleted uranium shells: A need to examine Japan’s participation and establish “peace diplomacy”

Nobuo Kazashi, professor at Kobe University’s Graduate School of Humanities

by Yumi Kanazaki, Editorial Writer

Ten years have passed since the start of the Iraq War. The weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by the regime of Saddam Hussein, which U.S. President George W. Bush cited as the reason for going to war, were never found. But Japan consistently supported the U.S. What lessons can be learned from the Iraq War? The Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Nobuo Kazashi, 59, a professor at Kobe University’s Graduate School of Humanities, who is addressing the issue of health problems resulting from the use of depleted uranium (DU) shells that have been used in Iraq. The following are excerpts from that interview.

About 110,000 Iraqis were reportedly killed in the war. Nevertheless the U.S. has summed up the war by citing the democratization of Iraq as a major achievement.
Following on the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War, this military intervention merely brought about impoverishment and chaos. Even now the people live with the fear of terrorism. Only a few areas have been revitalized. Far from achieving democratization, radioactive contamination of the land resulting from DU is hampering the rebuilding of the country. The U.S. justification of the war is full of contradictions.

How do you assess Japan’s involvement in the Iraq War?
When the war was launched, many countries, such as France and Germany, opposed it. But the Japanese government expressed its support right from the start. In the face of public opposition in Japan, the government proceeded to station Ground Self-Defense Force troops in Samawah and provide transport support by the Air Self-Defense Force. How was this series of decisions made? This question should be thoroughly examined in an open forum. Instead, the government has left this matter unresolved and is actively moving to authorize the use of the right of collective defense and to revise the Constitution. I feel this is very dangerous.

In December of last year the Foreign Ministry put together a final report on Japan’s Iraq War operations. After conducting closed discussions, the ministry only released a 4-page summary.
It can hardly be called an examination of Japan’s involvement. It’s truly unfortunate that, what with the confusion within the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan and the change of government, the government was not “politician-led.” In the United Kingdom, an independent investigation committee was set up, and Prime Minister Tony Blair and others were summoned before the committee. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should also directly address the people of Japan.

It has been come to light that DU shells were used, primarily as anti-tank ammunition.
According to doctors in Iraq that I keep in touch with, there has been a rapid increase in congenital abnormalities among babies born primarily in areas where the fighting was intense. The incidences of childhood cancer and leukemia are also clearly increasing. More than 300 tons of DU was used in Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991, leading to serious health problems. Added to this is the impact of the Iraq War.

The U.S. has not acknowledged a causal relationship between cancer and DU shells. Why is that?
It’s certain that other weapons containing harmful substances were used in battle and that multiple health problems have occurred. As with diseases caused by environmental pollution, it’s difficult to determine the cause of each individual’s illness. Nevertheless it can’t be denied that there are health problems. U.S. military personnel who served in the Gulf War have also complained of illness. From the standpoint of the U.S., if they acknowledge that health problems have arisen, it may shake the foundation of their justification of the war. This is one aspect of the situation.

Doesn’t it seem that most people in Japan have almost forgotten the Iraq War?
Looking into the Iraq War is essential in terms of reexamining Japan in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake as well. A large number of weapons made with reused low-level radioactive waste have been used in Iraq. At the heart of the problem is internal exposure to radiation, which results when people inhale tiny particles. Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the nuclear power plant accident occurred in Fukushima. I want Japan to realize that the Iraq War is not just someone else’s problem.

In response to the lessons of the Iraq War, what sort of international contributions should Japan seek to make?
I’d like to see Japan work to ensure that DU shells cannot be used again. Japan should take the lead in the effort to bring about a treaty banning these weapons. This would be a step toward Japan’s establishing its own “peace diplomacy” instead of always trying to curry favor with the U.S.

The U.S. is opposed to even debating the issue of DU shells at the United Nations. Can Japan, which puts top priority on its alliance with the U.S., really do that?
Belgium banned DU shells with domestic legislation. The headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Western military alliance, is in Belgium. Norway is also a NATO member, but it is serious about addressing this problem. The Norwegian government supports an international organization my cohorts and I are active in by providing us with a grant. They are establishing a diplomatic posture that raises questions about inhumane weapons. There’s no reason Japan can’t do the same.

Nobuo Kazashi
Native of the city of Shizuoka. Holds a master’s degree in area studies from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University. Assumed his current post in 2001 after serving as a professor at Hiroshima City University. Specializes in contemporary philosophy. Serves as director of the “No DU Hiroshima Project” and as a member of the steering committee for the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, a non-governmental organization. Co-author of various works including “Owaranai Iraku Senso Fukushima kara Toinaosu” [The Unending Iraq War: Taking Another Look Post-Fukushima] and other works. Resident of Saeki Ward in Hiroshima.

(Originally published on March 27, 2013)