SDF 70 yrs on — Expanding Roles / Ex-Commander General: GSDF Will Remain Last Line of Defense; Japan Should Prepare Defenses in “Both North and South”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Koichiro Bansho, former commanding general of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Western Army, speaks during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 24.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Self-Defense Forces, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed Koichiro Bansho, a retired commanding general of the Western Army of the Ground Self-Defense Force. The following are excerpts from the interview by staff writer Kenta Kamimura.

The Ground Self-Defense Force has shifted from an “era of existing,” when it defended the nation’s peace by existing and emanating authority during the Cold War, to an “era of actions,” when its activities themselves, such as overseas deployment and disaster mobilization, are highly valued.

With its flexibility that allows it to carry out missions under any circumstance, the GSDF will likely continue to serve as the last line of defense in the future.

Even before I assumed in 2013 the post of commanding general of the Western Army, which is responsible for the defense of Kyushu and Okinawa, there was growing concern about China’s activities in the Nansei region.

Now, along with a “Nansei shift” to strengthen defense capabilities on the Nansei Islands, new GSDF camps have been opened and the GSDF’s presence in the region is increasing. In light of current trends, it is important for the GSDF to build up its strength so that it can protect Japan’s land and sea territory, airspace and people.

However, instead of shifting the emphasis “from north to south,” we must prepare in both the north and south.

The distance from Cape Soya in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost point, to the Russian Far East region of Sakhalin is only about 40 kilometers. Russian troops are also in the northern territories, and they are still continuing their aggression against Ukraine. We cannot let our guard down.

The essence of defense is power, and in the case of the GSDF in particular, the root of this power is people.

I hope that the GSDF will pay close attention to this fact while boosting its power and enhancing its deterrent capabilities to keep foreign enemies at bay.