(Themis: June 2015 – p. 32-33)
Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff, joint staff, is committed to turning Japan’s Self-Defense Forces into a “quick response unit” to better respond to the changing security environment surrounding Japan both at home and abroad.
Kawano commands 230,000 SDF personnel and was appointed Japan’s top-ranking SDF official in October 2014. On April 20, he spoke at an event organized by U.S.-Japan LINK, a nonprofit aimed at making contributions to the Japan-U.S. alliance, under the theme the “70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the SDF mission.” The event was closed to media reporters, but was joined by many officials from the Ministry of Defense and other influential ministries and agencies, as well as U.S. military personnel.
The SDF celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding last year. In his address, Kawano divided SDF history into the first 40 years and the latter 20 years. He argued that during the former period, the SDF was perceived as a symbol of the violation of the Constitution and that it was difficult to hold in-depth discussions on national defense at the Diet.
The latter 20 years, he said, began from around the end of the Cold War in 1989 and outbreak of the Gulf War in the 1990s. Discussions on an SDF role from the perspective of making international or personnel contributions intensified. “The SDF entered the era of the latter 20 years, as the focal point of discussions shifted from whether the SDF is constitutional or not to how to mobilize the SDF,” he said.
The SDF has been complacent about its status of being a “training unit” over the past 40 years. Now it is expected to cast away that mindset and act as a “quick response unit.” But several newspaper outlets criticize revisions to the Act of the Establishment of the Ministry of Defense, which have been presented to the current Diet session, as an initiative that could unleash the military on a rampage.
In his speech, he dismissed these concerns and said: “The media is expounding the critical narrative that the SDF may cause a revolt similar to the Manchurian Incident of 1931, but please rest assured. Prompt responses will become more urgent down the road. Under such circumstances, coordination between the Joint Staff and MOD’s operational policy bureau becomes essential. The ministry has become a hybrid organization embracing both civilian officials and SDF personnel. Discussions on the division of their roles are falling out of step with the times. Civilian and SDF officials should work hand in hand so they can respond to situations in a prompt manner. They should do so to meet the expectations of the people and for the sake of the country.”
A recent public poll done by the Cabinet Office shows that 92.2% responded they have a favorable impression on the SDF. The SDF also tops the rankings of most trusted public organizations in a survey jointly conducted by a Japanese newspaper outlet and a foreign organization.
“I joined the SDF when it faced severe challenges,” Kawano said at the event. “Because of that, I more strongly feel the changing times. The SDF is in a totally new environment compared to those times.”
The Abe government endorsed security bills at a cabinet meeting on May 14 to allow the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense. The move will definitely advance the role of the SDF. (Summary)