Japan Echo Web posted a translation of an eye-opening interview from the Chuokoron between Yomiuri editor Hidemichi Katsumata, GSDF Col. Jiro Hirose and Robert D. Eldridge PhD, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-5, the Community Policy, Planning and Liaison Office of the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa. It covers a lot of ground concerning joint operations between the two countries under the first ever Bilateral Crisis Action Team (BCAT) at the Ministry of Defense.

Katsumata: Were there any times when the U.S. forces expressed their frustration or voiced displeasure about such responses by the JSDF?

Eldridge: Never. That is because we were in the position of assisting Japan. Japan gives the orders and the United States meets those requests, so there was never a time when we had to quarrel.

But there were some problems. First, it took time for the Japan side to gather information from all the units and organizations with their diverse intentions, organize them and share them with us. We on the U.S. side could offer specific cooperation only when such information was organized and shared.

Another issue I must point out was that Japan and the United States did not have free discussions at the initial stage. Even in a situation where we were working together to think about what we can do at this stage and what is necessary, the Japanese side would talk based on a preconceived scenario of sorts, which eliminated any opportunities for the two sides to discuss and come up with new possibilities. I believe it was two or three days later when we were finally able to have frank discussions.

And although we held two meetings a day in the morning and at night, the United States was unable to get the overall picture of Japan’s relief plan. Indicating some level of vision instead of just plans and goals for the next few days would have made joint operations work smoothly. This was another issue.

Another obstacle to smooth joint operations was that the JSDF initially did not have an accurate understanding of the capabilities of the U.S. forces.

Hiroe: As mentioned by Dr. Eldridge, we lacked full understanding of the capabilities of the U.S. forces. This was a lesson that needed learning. For instance, the Marine Expeditionary Unit (31MEU) in Okinawa, which I hope to elaborate on later, literally saved an island in Kesennuma called Oshima that had fallen into isolation due to the tsunami. The Japanese side, at the time, did not know the volume nor the size of the equipment and manpower the Marines had at their disposal at the time, which was necessary to remove the debris on Oshima. We did have a certain amount of knowledge of each other’s strengths through the numerous joint training exercises that we have conducted over the years. Yet, I must confess, we lacked knowledge, in terms of U.S. capabilities based on a disaster relief scenario. This experience only reminded me of the critical importance of continued exchange of information between our two countries about our capabilities and the need for joint training and exercises based on various future scenarios.

It’s an interesting read and I highly recommend you take a look at the full article over at Japan Echo Web.

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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