Expert wary of centralized command
The Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) has now started the “Ground Component Command” (GCC), which will command and operate the GSDF’s five regional armies across the country. Its inaugural ceremony was held on April 4 at GSDF Camp Asaka (straddling Tokyo’s Nerima Ward and some other areas), where the GCC is headquartered. The GCC’s establishment is reorganization on the largest scale ever since the GSDF was founded in 1954.
The GSDF is made up of five regional armies that have been under their respective command functions to cover Japan’s northern, northeastern, eastern, central, and western areas. Under the circumstances, the GSDF’s five regional armies were said to have difficulty in conducting integral operations with other regional armies since they were under their respective chains of command. The GCC, positioned above the regional armies, conducts nationwide command and operations across the barriers of the regional armies in the event of major disasters and contingencies.
Meanwhile, the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) and the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) have established their central commands – the Self-Defense Fleet and the Air Defense Command. However, the GSDF’s predecessor, the Imperial Army, ran away before World War II, Reflecting on this fact, “politicians didn’t want to place the GSDF under a single chain of command,” said a former GSDF official. Subsequently, the GSDF’s command unification has long been postponed. There has been no actual obstacle to GSDF operations. In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, however, a total of about 100,000 GSDF members were dispatched from all over Japan to the disaster-stricken areas in cooperation with the MSDF and the ASDF. This helped the GSDF gain a momentum in conducting integral operations among the regional armies. A plan to establish a GSDF central command was incorporated into the 2013 National Defense Program Outline. A “Japan-U.S. joint division” will also be established in a bid to enhance cooperation with the U.S. military.
“The GCC will enable us to more swiftly, flexibly and seamlessly respond to various situations,” said Lt. Gen. Shigeru Kobayashi at a press conference, given North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, China’s moves to the Southwest Islands, and preparedness for the Nankai Trough earthquake and other major disasters. He added, “The GCC will also improve the effectiveness of joint operations between Japan and the U.S.” In the latest reorganization, the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (about 2,100 members) was also established. Its ceremony will be held on April 7.
Military commentator Tetsuo Maeda expressed concern about the GSDF reorganization, saying: “Before the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Imperial Army reorganized its regional defense ‘garrisons’ into ‘divisions,’ which were transformed into an expeditionary force that would make it easy for Japan to go to war overseas under the centralized command. The GCC reminds me of that.”
After the ceremony, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told the press: “The current system totally differs from that under the former constitution, and strict civilian control is thoroughly functioning. Some people say the GSDF will run away with the GCC’s establishment. That’s off the point.”