On Saturday, May 7th, Asahi Shimbun published the views of three experts on the SDF’s role in providing assistance and relief to Tohoku (p. 13). The opinions did not make it onto Asahi‘s website, so it is up to JSW to step in with a rough translation. Here is the second pundit’s view:

We must get over this allergy!

Gen Nakatani (Former Director-General of the Japanese Defense Agency, and a Liberal Democratic Party Member of the Diet)
Born in 1957. Graduated from the National Defense Academy. GSDF member, moved into politics and was elected to the Lower House of the Diet in 1990. Worked as Director-General of the Japanese Defense Agency in 2001-02. Elected 7 times in Kochi Prefecture’s 2nd District.

Gen Nakatani on the cover of his 2008 book: 'The Book No-one Would Write: The Truth about the Defense Ministry'

Gen Nakatani on the cover of his 2008 book: 'The Book No-one Would Write: The Truth about the Defense Ministry' (Source: Amazon)

I believe the SDF are currently doing a great job. On April 11th and 12th, I observed the SDF’s disaster relief operations on the ground and still, one month on, they were all working without rest or sleep. The three branches of the SDF, plus the reserves and US forces in Japan joint operations might be unprecedented, but they are performing extremely well.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office’s handling of the disaster has been problematic. On the day after the disaster, March 12th, Prime Minister Naoto Kan suddenly raised the size of the SDF dispatch from 50,000 to 100,000 members. On the ground, the numbers were not stacking up as a result of the Prime Minister’s sketchy ‘political leadership’. With 100,000 people, there is a danger that food and fuel supplies, as well as other logistical concerns such as accommodation arrangements will fall behind.

If those aware of the true nature of the situation – commanders on the ground, the Joint Staff Office, and Ministry of Defense – are not trusted to do their jobs, it would be impossible from the start. It is easier for those on the ground to get on with their work during a crisis if they are not unnecessarily burdened. That is real political leadership.

If I were Prime Minister Kan, I bring someone over from the Ministry of Defense as an adviser. For precise crisis management, putting a uniformed representative of the Joint Staff Office in the Prime Minister’s Office would be far more desirable one of the Ministry of Defense’s suits. There can not afford to be even 1 or 2 seconds’ delay in crisis management. There must be a direct connection from the Prime Minister’s Official Residence to the general staff of the SDF.

It is necessary to augment the equipment and SDF members. Even while extending the deployment of forces on the ground, we must still be ready to deal with Russian or Chinese airspace incursions and other crises. On April 4th in my home area of Komi City in Kochi Prefecture, a volcano erupted but the SDF’s helicopters were all out on operations and were not scheduled to return until the next day. These are obstacles to the SDF’s standard operations. While I believe we are doing all we can to cope with the nuclear crisis, as it is not the original assignment, the necessary equipment is not in place. From now on, we should enlist the assistance of US forces equipped with unmanned helicopters or reconnaissance drones with robotic cameras.

However, the SDF are not an all-purpose force. On the community level, disaster prevention standards must be improved to prepare for future disasters to the greatest possible extent. Moreover, if the SDF are to be automatically dispatched, the handover of control must go smoothly.

I must also express my admiration of Miyagi Prefecture. Prefectural Governor Yoshihiro Murai, a former SDF member, built up excellent relations with the SDF. Immediately after the earthquake, he set up an operations room within the prefectural office and, working with prefectural staff and the SDF, scored several major successes. Until that time, automatic dispatches of SDF forces had not performed so well.

We don’t need the taboo, or allergy, towards crisis management. As it becomes increasingly necessary to use the SDF, we must put our trust in them. I believe it is time to get over the ‘SDF allergy’ that affects our whole society.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch