Discipline in Self-Defense Forces Under Scrutiny after Fatal Incident

A shocking incident occurred in which an 18-year-old cadet who was undergoing training in the Self-Defense Forces allegedly opened fire on other SDF personnel, killing two members and wounding another. There is an urgent need to clarify what was behind the incident.

The male cadet is suspected of firing a rifle at two SDF members in their 20s and one in his 50s at a Ground Self-Defense Force firing range in Gifu City. Two of the victims died and one was injured, with reports that one of those shot was an instructor.

The teen joined the GSDF training unit in April this year and was based at Camp Moriyama in Nagoya. At the time of the incident, a live-fire exercise was being conducted as part of SDF cadet training.

The police arrested the teen at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder. Had there been some kind of trouble following his enlistment or during the training? It is hoped that the police and the SDF will swiftly get to the bottom of the incident.

Cadets undergo basic training for three months to qualify as SDF members, after which they start a fixed term of service. Usually, after enlistment, they are supposed to first learn how to handle an unloaded gun before proceeding to live-fire training.

In the 1980s, a GSDF member in his 20s shot personnel at a firing range in Yamaguchi Prefecture, killing one and seriously or slightly injuring three others. The shooter was not indicted on the basis of a diagnosis of insanity.

Training that involves pointing a gun at other members should not exist. Such situations are extremely dangerous. It is important to examine whether it was really appropriate for the teen to be carrying a gun loaded with live ammunition.

In recent years, the increasing involvement of the SDF in disaster rescue operations has put a positive spin on the activities they conduct in conjunction with conventional defense missions. The SDF have also provided medical assistance since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. With the worsening security environment surrounding Japan, the role of the SDF is further increasing.

Due to the special nature of their missions, the SDF are required to execute their duties in a top-down manner, and their members are required to maintain strict discipline. However, there have been a series of scandals.

Last year, revelations emerged of sexual assault committed by several male SDF members on a female member who has since left the forces. Abuse of power by superiors toward subordinates is also rampant.

The question of whether the culture of the organization was behind the latest incident should also be investigated.

The number of people applying to join the SDF is decreasing and the number of members who left the forces is increasing, exceeding 5,000 in fiscal 2021. The declining birth rate as well as an aversion to rigorous training and strict discipline are believed to be factors behind this situation.

To secure talented personnel, it will be necessary to improve the treatment and work environment of SDF members and reassess the recruitment process.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2023)