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SECURITY > Self-Defense Forces

Shrinking population is casting a shadow on national security

  • December 1, 2018
  • , Nikkei , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

Japan’s declining birthrate is affecting the nation’s national security. The securing of Self-Defense Forces personnel and improvement of their working conditions will emerge as major discussion topics in the review of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), which will be approved by the cabinet in mid-December. On Nov. 30, the government submitted to the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito Party a proposal for stipulating the expansion of personnel recruitment and use of former SDF personnel in the NDPG. With the population eligible for SDF hires shrinking, the government is struggling to find fundamental solutions as this may affect the operations of SDF units.


The government proposed raising the retirement age, increasing the hiring of non-fixed term personnel and women and improving the remuneration structure. It has already reviewed the hiring criteria of high school graduates, and raised the age limit to 32 from 26 from October. It will incorporate into the NDPG plans to change the “system of retiring at a young age.” At present SDF members can retire as early as 53 years. The retirement age will be raised over several years. 


The effective allocation of personnel and the use of former SDF personnel are other issues that the government needs to address.


Some experts note that the allocation of personnel is uneven across the three branches of the SDF, with the GSDF accounting for about 60% of the overall personnel quota of roughly 250,000. The Ministry of Defense is making preparations to introduce a “cross-service” program to allocate GSDF personnel to MSDF and ASDF bases for patrol operations.


With regards to the use of former SDF personnel, the government is considering expanding SDF reserve personnel, who are called up in the event of contingencies and serious natural disasters. It is also mulling setting up an external organization to allow former SDF personnel to register with to perform high-skilled tasks, such as the management of new systems and equipment, and recruiting them as needed.


Various ideas are being proposed, but the view prevails that many of these do not offer fundamental solutions as the nation’s population is forecast to shrink further. To best deal with personnel shortages, the government also plans to include the use of artificial intelligence (AI), unmanned operations and operation of units with reduced manpower into the NDPG. (Abridged)

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