2 Organizations Must Deepen Cooperation in Preparation for Contingencies

An armed attack against Japan is not just a theoretical possibility. It has become a real threat. To protect Japanese territory, including territorial waters, the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard must work together and enhance their response capabilities.

The government has formulated guidelines that outline procedures for the defense minister to command the JCG in the event of a contingency. The aim is to ensure that the SDF and JCG cooperate and carry out their missions smoothly.

The Self-Defense Forces Law stipulates that the defense minister can place the JCG under their command when the prime minister issues a defense mobilization order to the SDF.

This provision has been in place since the law was established in 1954, but details about how it would work in practice had not been decided. The government has resolved this long-standing issue only because the security environment around Japan has deteriorated to an unprecedented extent.

Normally, the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister commands and supervises the JCG, but under the newly decided guidelines, the JCG will be placed under the command of the defense minister after a Cabinet decision.

If Japan is invaded by another country, the SDF will concentrate on defensive operations on the front lines to repel the attack.

The JCG, on the other hand, will focus on evacuating and rescuing residents, providing information to nearby fishing boats and others, and protecting port facilities from terrorist attacks, among other activities. The JCG will only act as a police organization.

It is important to clarify the division of roles between the SDF and JCG and to perform to the fullest extent of their abilities that each has.

Simply establishing procedures, however, does not mean that the SDF and JCG will be able to respond to any contingency appropriately. Holding thorough joint training drills in advance will be indispensable.

The SDF and JCG will reportedly soon carry out a tabletop exercise and then conduct maritime drills. The SDF and JCG must steadily improve their capabilities in preparation for not only armed attacks, but also for ambiguous situations such as armed fishermen landing on remote islands.

In terms of preparedness for a contingency, the creation of a system to protect citizens is also an urgent task. In particular, there are various challenges to be addressed in the evacuation of residents from remote islands, such as how to secure transportation and where to accommodate evacuees.

In March this year, the Okinawa prefectural government conducted its first drill to simulate an evacuation of residents of the Sakishima Islands to Kyushu on commercial aircraft and ships. To complete an expected evacuation of about 120,000 people under the scenario, it was reportedly found to take at least six days.

Prefectural governments play a major role in the protection of citizens, but it is not easy for them to carry out such tasks as coordination with airline companies and securing evacuation sites across prefectural boundaries.

The central government must support various initiatives rather than leave it up to local governments.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2023)