TOKYO, NOV. 7 -- Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, yielding to deep anti-military feelings among the Japanese people, has given up his effort to pass a bill authorizing the dispatch of Japanese troops to the Middle East, top political figures here said today.
Leaders of Kaifu's dominant Liberal Democratic Party, meeting with opposition party officials, said their proposed United Nations Peace Cooperation Corps law will not even be brought up for a vote on the floor of the Diet, or parliament. That decision would spare LDP leaders the acute embarrassment of seeing their own party members duck the vote to avoid supporting a bill that has proven, after a month of impassioned debate, to be enormously unpopular.
LDP leaders plan to introduce a greatly revised version of the bill near the end of the year, but it is not clear whether any such measure can pass.
"What this debate has shown is that Japan is still not over World War II," said Akihiko Tanaka, a political scientist at the University of Tokyo. "The reluctance to play any political role in the world, particularly if it involves a military presence, is still predominant."
Under pressure from President Bush and other Western leaders to provide manpower as well as money in support of the multinational force in the Persian Gulf, Kaifu has told the Japanese people repeatedly this fall that the nation's status as a global economic power dictates that Japan should be a player on the world political scene as well.
But most people here would not buy that argument.
"The Japanese really have not come to the point of realizing the obligations that other countries consider commensurate with the economic power they enjoy," said Prof. Tatsuro Kunugi of International Christian University here.
"They've been doing very well for years without any involvement," Kunugi continued. "Within this country, the idea of internationalization has not progressed very far at all. It is not something that is important to the average Japanese."
Instead, much of the country seems to be fearful of any foreign involvement. The attitude, dating back to Japan's disastrous defeat in World War II, is a broader and longer-lasting version of what in America came to be known as the "post-Vietnam syndrome." The term for it here is heiwa bokeh, which translates as "peace senility."
That attitude helps explain the Japanese reverence for the nation's Peace Constitution, the document in which Japan pledged to renounce war forever as an instrument of national policy. The constitution was written by Americans and imposed on the Japanese by occupation forces in 1947. But it struck a chord so deep in the collective psyche that it is now stands on a par with Mount Fuji and hot sake as a national icon.
If anything, the debate over Kaifu's bill -- proposing to send units of the Japanese military, or Self-Defense Force, to fill noncombat support roles in the gulf -- has hardened the national view that Japan should keep its strictly nonviolent place in world affairs.
When Kaifu formally presented his bill to the Diet five weeks ago, opinion polls showed slightly more than half the public opposed to the idea. In the latest national poll, reported this week in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 78 percent said they were opposed.
Kaifu had been aiming for a vote in the Diet's lower house, where his party has a majority, by the end of this week. But today, when leaders of the LDP met with the opposition parties, the LDP said the bill probably will be left to die quietly, without a floor vote.
That development forces Kaifu and his party backers to come up with a new approach to the task of supporting the allied troops on the Arabian Peninsula. This will not be possible before December, because the Diet will recess most of this month for ceremonies surrounding the enthronement of Emperor Akihito.
One possible step would involve creation of a volunteer Japanese corps without members from the Self-Defense Forces.
Another proposal, being championed here by Kunugi, the political scientist, would have the Japanese form cooperative units with other Asian nations -- India, Pakistan and Indonesia, among others -- that have experience participating in U.N. peace-keeping units.
Such a move might help calm the evident concern in East Asia about the emergence of a newly militarized Japan. Because Japan conquered and colonized several Asian nations in this century, those countries have expressed fear about any new dispatch of Japanese troops overseas.