70th Anniversary of SDF’s Founding: Deepen Trust by Performing Wide Range of Missions

The security environment is deteriorating significantly. The role of the Self-Defense Forces has increased. It is hoped that the SDF will preserve peace in Japan and contribute to the stability of the international community by continuing its rigorous training.

The SDF will mark the 70th anniversary of their founding tomorrow. When the Constitution was established in 1946, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida ruled out the nation’s rearmament. However, following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Japan launched the National Police Reserve partly at the request of the United States. That was followed by the inauguration of the National Safety Force in 1952, and eventually the establishment of the SDF in 1954.

Ever since the SDF were created, questions have been raised over their relation to the “war potential” that Article 9, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution prohibits the nation from maintaining. As a result, the SDF have continued to face criticism that their existence violates the Constitution.

The Gulf War was a turning point. Following the war, Japan dispatched a Maritime Self-Defense Force minesweeping unit to the Persian Gulf in 1991. It was the first full-fledged overseas mission for the SDF.

The SDF have subsequently participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations in such countries as Cambodia and South Sudan, as well as reconstruction assistance in Iraq.

The SDF have been highly praised for their disciplined work in many of the places to which they have been dispatched. Their dedicated activities, which were conducted to meet local needs, may have greatly enhanced Japan’s presence in the international community.

The SDF have also engaged in lifesaving and relief support for people affected during disasters such as the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Trust in the SDF has steadily increased as a result of these achievements over the years. According to a government opinion survey, the number of people who have a good impression of the SDF was 69% in 1969, but the figure rose to 91% in 2022.

It can be said that the SDF are now widely recognized as indispensable for national security and social stability.

However, the SDF must perform a wider range of missions in the future.

For many years, the SDF had not possessed capabilities to strike enemy bases as a policy decision, although they are allowed to do so under the Constitution. But the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided to allow the SDF to deploy long-range missiles, making it possible for the SDF to exercise these capabilities.

Threats are no longer limited to the traditional areas of land, sea and air; they now extend to cyberspace and outer space.

The government has decided to increase the total amount of defense spending for the five years from fiscal 2023 by 1.6 times the amount for the previous five years. How funding will be secured is an important issue. The government must also sort out its interpretation of the Constitution regarding the secrecy of communications to strengthen the cyber defense system.

On the other hand, slackness in the SDF has been noticeable in recent years, as there has been a series of problems in recent years, including helicopter crashes, leaks of classified information by SDF personnel and cases of sexual harassment.

The SDF must keep in mind that if they are careless, the trust that they have built up will be lost in the blink of an eye.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 30, 2024)