New revelations about the Ground Self-Defense Force’s peacekeeping operations in South Sudan indicate a serious breach of public trust on the part of the top SDF brass.
They call into question whether Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and the SDF leadership are fit for making weighty decisions to deploy SDF personnel for dangerous overseas missions.
It has come to light that daily reports by GSDF peacekeepers on their activities in the African country were actually kept digitally within the GSDF despite the government’s initial claim that they had been discarded.
It has also been reported that the data in question may have been deleted after the Defense Ministry said in December the reports had been discarded in response to a journalist’s request for disclosure.
If that is the case, there is a strong suspicion of a deliberate, systematic attempt to cover up the information.
In describing the large-scale fighting that broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, between the government’s army and armed rebel groups, the reports repeatedly used the word “sento” (fighting). But the government has refused to recognize the incidents as fighting and instead used the term “shototsu” (clashes) in answering related questions at the Diet.
The government’s refusal to depict the situation as fighting was motivated by concerns that the SDF would have to withdraw from the peacekeeping operations if it recognized that sento was occurring in the area. The SDF’s activity in such a situation is regarded as a violation of the Constitution.
When a request for releasing the reports was made in December, the ministry said the documents had already been disposed of.
Later, however, the ministry disclosed part of the reports, saying they had been discovered in digital form at the Joint Staff.
The recent revelations show the data was also kept within the GSDF.
If Inada knew this all along, that means she has repeatedly lied in answering questions at the Diet.
If she didn’t, that means she failed to see through the GSDF’s attempt to cover up the information.
Inada should be held responsible for giving misinformed and misguided answers to questions concerning the highly important policy decision on overseas deployment of SDF personnel, thereby providing misleading information about the issue to the public.
Inada’s responsibility is also serious from the viewpoint of civilian control of the SDF.
If the GSDF actually tried to conceal the information, why did it do so?
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apparently wanted to continue the SDF’s PKO activities in South Sudan to build a track record of new types of operations including a “kaketsuke keigo” mission, which entails SDF troops coming to the rescue of other nations’ peacekeepers and civilians under attack. This mission was added by the administration to the list last year.
We suspect that the GSDF, acting in line with the administration’s policy agenda, tried to conceal the harsh security situation in the African nation from the public.
It seems that the Abe administration’s policy of attaching greater importance to the role of troops in uniform is behind the GSDF’s behavior concerning the issue.
Inada has ordered the Defense Ministry Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance to carry out a “special defense inspection” to investigate the allegations.
She naturally has the responsibility to the public to make an exhaustive inquiry into the case and publish the findings as soon as possible.
During a March 16 Diet session, Inada said, “If the Defense Ministry and the SDF have a culture of covering up (inconvenient information) that should be rectified, I will take responsibility to improve it.”
But Inada’s remarks came on the heels of her apology for repeatedly making false statements concerning questions at the Diet about her provision of legal assistance to scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
Her pledge to improve the culture at her ministry sounds hollow as it came after the credibility of her words had suffered serious damage.
How does Abe, who has been keen to appoint Inada to key government and party posts, intend to respond to all these problems?
It goes without saying that Abe should do much more than simply say he wants her to make a “thorough investigation” into the SDF snafu.