Of the cadets graduating this month from the National Defense Academy of Japan, the number of those who have declined to seek commissions as Self-Defense Force officers almost doubled from a year earlier, Jiji Press learned Saturday.
The proportion is the highest level in 25 years.
The sharp rise is believed to reflect the recent improvement in the labor market and the enactment last year of national security legislation, which will expand the scope of activities SDF personnel are allowed to participate in overseas. That legislation will come into force on March 29.
Of 419 graduates in the current fiscal year, 47 have expressed an intention to pursue professional careers outside the SDF, up from 25 in the previous year, according to Defense Ministry sources.
The number of such cadets comprised 11.2 percent of the graduates, rising above 10 percent for the first time in a quarter century and marking the fourth-highest level ever. The figure for fiscal 2014 stood at 5.3 percent.
Both the number and share of cadets who declined to join the SDF after graduation reached the highest levels in fiscal 1990, during the last phase of the speculation-driven bubble economy period and when the Gulf War broke out. The rate exceeded 10 percent only two other times, in fiscal 1988 and fiscal 1989.
A senior official with the Defense Ministry said, “The economic recovery is the biggest factor behind the increase in the number of cadets not joining the SDF.” But the official added, “We cannot rule out the effects of the national security legislation and a change in the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense,” or coming to the aid of an ally under assault even if Japan itself is not attacked.
“We want to keep the number of cadets opting out of the SDF as small as possible,” another ministry official said. “We will try to persuade them (to change course) until the last minutes before the graduation ceremony.”
This year’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for Monday, which will be attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The National Defense Academy of Japan, a four-year school in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, is the training ground for officers in the top echelons of the tri-service SDF.
Academy cadets attain the status of special national public servant and receive monthly benefits and semiannual bonuses. After graduation, they usually enter the officer candidate schools of the Air, Ground or Maritime Self-Defense Forces before becoming entry-level officers a year later.