The Defense Ministry on Tuesday punished a senior Self-Defense Forces member for insulting a Diet member on a street while he was off duty, concluding in a report that his act degraded the “dignity” an SDF member should maintain.
The incident has raised doubts about whether civilian control of the SDF is functioning properly, a matter of concern in a country that has bitter memories of its failure to control the military prior to and during World War II. But the ministry denied that the case constituted a breakdown of the system.
According to the ministry, the SDF officer came across House of Councilors member Hiroyuki Konishi near the Diet building on April 16 while he was jogging at night. The officer then told Konishi, “What you are doing undermines Japan’s interests,” adding “Are you stupid?” and “You are disgusting.”
The officer admitted during a ministry probe that he made the remarks. But he has denied calling Konishi, then a member of the Democratic Party — which merged with another opposition party on Monday — “an enemy of the people” as Konishi alleged.
The officer also said during the investigation that he had an “overall image” that Konishi was often speaking against the government and the SDF and that he thought he had to “say a word” to the lawmaker.
A Defense Ministry official said he takes seriously the concerns raised over civilian control but also said, “Neither the Defense Ministry nor the SDF have endorsed any of these remarks made by this SDF officer … and this person, although he belonged to the Joint Staff office, was acting in a private capacity … so we don’t expect this case to affect the control (over the SDF) by the Diet.”
The ministry did not issue formal disciplinary actions against the officer, a major in the Air Self-Defense Force. But the admonishment will still lead to a cut in his bonus payment, according to the ministry. The ministry has also decided to transfer the officer to the headquarters of the Western Air Defense Force in southwestern Japan.