Japan Institute for National Fundamentals
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Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#456】“SDF That Cannot Combat” Weakens Deterrence

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2017.08.02 (Wed)


July 31, 2017

     Responsible politicians should tackle a national security crisis Japan faces instead of playing with empty theories about the Self-Defense Forces’ “cover-up tendency.” In a manner to ridicule Japan’s politics, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile again. As the ICBM is seen as capable to fly more than 10,000 kilometers to reach the mainland United States, a U.S. attack on North Korea has grown likelier. Japan remains in a peaceful, tranquil world despite the fact that the ICBM fell into waters close to Japan.
     Over a report from a Ground Self-Defense Force unit dispatched to South Sudan for United Nations peace-keeping operations, Japanese politicians have devoted themselves to a word game regarding whether there was a “combat” or an “armed conflict” in South Sudan. Eventually, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has been forced to resign for allegedly attempting to cover up the fact that there was a combat. Branding the Self-Defense Forces as forces that cannot go to any combat zone, Japanese politicians have made the SDF as a subject for contempt, weakening Japan’s deterrence.

Opposition parties paying no attention to national strategies
     The cover-up scandal originated from Defense Minister Inada’s remark at the National Diet on a report from the GSDF unit about the situation in South Sudan. In the remark, she replaced the word “combat” in the report with a “clash” to justify the dispatch of the GSDF unit for peacekeeping operations because the SDF are not allowed to be deployed to combat zones according to the Japanese constitution. “In a legal sense, there was no combat action,” she said. It was a tricky remark, reminding observers of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s statement saying, “Any place where SDF personnel are present is a non-combat zone.”
     Once in South Sudan, the GSDF PKO unit was uncertain about when a clash between government forces and rebels would occur. Amid such uncertainty, the unit had to flexibly conduct not only cease-fire surveillance and disengagement but also the protection of civilians and other peace-keeping operations.
     Nevertheless, opposition parties treated the Inada remark as a matter of national importance and mobilized media to consume time for a debate on whether South Sudan was a combat or non-combat zone. Despite a nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula and Chinese ships’ frequent incursion into Japanese territorial waters, inward-looking opposition parties have failed to discuss Japan’s national or security strategies. They have devoted themselves to sticking to the interpretation of insignificant words to undermine the government.

Musharraf’s surprise
     In November 2001 when U.S. forces were attacking Afghanistan, the three Japanese ruling parties’ secretaries general called on then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and explained that Japan had enacted the antiterrorism act to allow the dispatch of the SDF abroad. Pleased to hear the explanation, Musharraf asked Japan to protect refugee camps some 500 kilometers from the border. “The SDF cannot go to any combat zone under constitutional constraints,” then Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taku Yamasaki hastily told Musharraf. The Pakistani leader shouted: “Any military force is meaningless unless it goes to combat zones. Even Japanese women from non-government organizations are working at the refugee camps.” The meeting represented peace-addicted Japanese politicians’ encounter with wartime international common sense.
     Musharraf then knew that there were military forces that could not go to combat zones. The South Sudan report issue could lead China, Russia and North Korea to mistake the Japanese SDF as an organization that cannot combat. Japan’s weak country image could lead to a decline in deterrence, encouraging neighboring authoritarian countries to easily use military pressures on Japan. In this way, Japan is urgently required to amend its constitution. The presence of lawmakers who give priority to their parties’ interests rather than national interests could jeopardize Japan.

Hiroshi Yuasa is a Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a columnist for the Sankei Shimbun.