Japan’s SDF chief discusses regional threats, new laws


Self-Defense Forces officers will get full training on the terms of engagement spelled out by new national security laws that take effect on March 29, said Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the SDF’s top uniformed commander.

“Mistakes regarding the use of weapons must never happen, so we’ll have our personnel fully understand the standards,” the chief of the SDF Joint Staff said in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday.

He also expressed unease over the mental state of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and said the U.S. seems to want to conduct joint exercises with Japanese forces in the South China Sea.

On the new laws, Kawano pledged full training on the changes regarding the use of arms: “Some SDF members seem to be worried, but their concerns will be wiped out through sufficient training and education.”

Among the reforms the laws will introduce is the possible assignment of SDF troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions overseas in the defense of civilians and other peacekeepers under attack.

He said officials are drawing up “a new operational code of conduct” that will ease the restrictions on the use of arms ahead of the March 29 implementation of the legislation, Kawano said.

Asked if SDF troops currently serving in South Sudan will get new assignments, Kawano said a decision will be made after a review of the situation. He added that assigning the troops as guards for other nations’ peacekeepers is “not immediately necessary.”

Kawano addressed the question of China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, saying the SDF is ready to conduct joint exercises there with the U.S. military.

He said the United States has no plan for joint freedom of navigation operations with Japan but seems to want to carry out joint exercises with Japanese forces in the South China Sea.

Kawano said that North Korea now appears to be “even more belligerent.”

He added: “I’m very much concerned whether and to what extent the regime of its leader, Kim Jong Un, is stable.

“It’s unlikely that North Korea will take direct military action, but it may try to escalate the situation, so Japan should be fully alert by sharing information with the United States and South Korea,” Kawano said.

On whether Japan may introduce new missile defenses, Kawano said, “We’re still at the research stage on whether to adopt the U.S. military’s ground-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system.

“First, we’re spending our resources on increasing the number of our Aegis destroyers with missile defense capabilities,” he added.

“Discussions will be possible on whether Japan should possess capabilities to attack enemy bases because the government has come up with a view that attacking enemy bases is within constitutional limits under certain conditions, although we’re not studying the issue currently,” he said.