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Former GSDF chief of staff: Codifying SDF in Constitution will give members confidence

  • February 7, 2020
  • , Yomiuri , p. 13
  • JMH Translation

[Former chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defense Force Kiyofumi Iwata made the following remarks during an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.]


Interviewed by Takeo Maeda, political news department


The security environment surrounding Japan is at its harshest since the end of the Cold War. In addition to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and China’s expansion of hegemony, Russia is turning the whole area surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk into a military fortress. Also, such new domains as outer space and cyberspace are facing growing threats, increasing the importance of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF).


It was not until recently that the SDF received public recognition for its disaster-relief missions and made a favorable impression.


But the public has not gained a better understanding of the SDF’s primary role of defending the country. When a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer set sail from the Yokosuka base (Kanagawa Prefecture) for the Middle East, some people held up signs which read “constitutional violation.” My heart ached when I thought of the MSDF officers and their family members who were there to see them off.


Article 9 [of the Constitution] should be amended, but paragraph 1, which embodies Article 9’s spirit of “renouncing acts of war as a means of invasion of other countries,” must not be changed. This represents the extremely significant lesson Japan learned from the previous world war. The problem is what to do about paragraph 2, which prohibits the nation from possessing war potential. People who argue that the SDF is unconstitutional have been strongly insisting that the paragraph literally means that the SDF is unconstitutional. That has been preventing the public from engaging in calm and sound discussions on national defense. I personally think we should remove paragraph 2 and discuss how Japan should possess the deterrence capability and the ideal national defense amid a severe security environment.


But as we can tell by looking at the attitudes of the opposition parties and many constitutional scholars with regard to the national security legislation, we are not yet in a situation where we can calmly discuss the deletion of paragraph 2. The idea proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to add a paragraph stipulating the status of the SDF while maintaining both paragraph 1 and 2 is realistic. I hope the plan will serve as a springboard to advance substantive discussions on constitutional amendment.


Even though there will be no change in the SDF’s activities, clarifying the legal status of the SDF in the Constitution, which is the basic framework of the nation, will be a major step toward resolving the mental issues of SDF members. When I was a student at the National Defense Academy, I was very shocked when the mother of one of my friends told me that I was a “tax thief.”  I also still remember listening to a speech in which a person said, “Though the SDF is disdained….” at a wedding reception of an SDF member.


When the Rites of an Imperial Funeral for Emperor Showa was held in 1989, SDF aircraft were used to carry foreign dignitaries. But a government official told us, “The SDF’s olive color is conspicuous, so hide the vehicles and equipment behind buildings,” which made us frustrated and sad. Codifying the SDF, whose mere existence has been scorned by the public, will encourage SDF members to confidently perform their duties. It will also provide the public with an opportunity to reconsider the significance of Article 9.

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