Self-Defense Forces’ Key Mission ‘to Prevent Armed Attacks’; Chief of Staff Warns of Contingency in Indo-Pacific

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The main gate of the Defense Ministry is seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

Monday marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces, based on the implementation of the Defense Agency Establishment law and the Self-Defense Forces law in 1954.

“Our principal mission is to continue to prevent armed attacks,” Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, chief of staff of the Joint Staff of the SDF and the SDF’s top uniformed officer, said in a written interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, noting that Japan has never faced such an attack in the Self-Defense Forces’ lifetime.

Yoshida divided the 70 years into (1) the U.S.-Soviet Cold War period (1954-1989), (2) the post-Cold War period (from the 1990s to the 2010s) and (3) the period of competition among new major powers (from the 2020s on).

“The current period will last until the mid-21st century,” he predicted.

According to Yoshida, the current competition among major powers is taking place mainly in the Indo-Pacific region. He particularly stressed that Japan is at the forefront facing China, North Korea and Russia, all of which aim to unilaterally change the status quo by force.

“It is impossible to deny the possibility that something serious will happen around our country, just like in Ukraine,” Yoshida stressed. To prepare for such a situation, he said the SDF have been drastically strengthening their defense capabilities based on such grounds as the National Security Strategy that the government approved in December 2022.

In recent years, the SDF has been working to strengthen cooperation with like-minded countries, with the Japan-U.S. alliance at the center. Yoshida said deepening ties with countries such as the Philippines, South Korea and member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — with a focus on the relationship between Japan, the United States and Australia — would create strength to maintain the international order based on the rule of law.

As the birthrate continues to decline, securing SDF personnel is expected to become more difficult. According to Yoshida, 8.7% of the now about 228,000 SDF personnel are women, and the SDF have set a goal of increasing the percentage to at least 12% by fiscal 2030.