The legislation just enacted to upgrade the Defense Agency to ministry status and revise the Self-Defense Forces Law will significantly change the character of the Self-Defense Forces, which has assumed a low-profile posture under the nation’s strictly defensive security policy, reflecting the nation’s determination not to repeat aggression toward other countries.

Overseas operations will become a primary mission of the SDF along with mobilization for national defense, maintenance of public security and guarding of U.S. bases in Japan. The change, which is supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito as well as the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, will be more than nominal.

The upgrade of overseas missions is likely to encourage a move to lessen restrictions on the use of weapons abroad, which would run counter to the spirit of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. It may lead to the SDF’s procuring new equipment such as long-range air transports ostensibly for the purpose of sending SDF members overseas, thus raising suspicions there.

The upgrade is also likely to accelerate a move to dispatch SDF units overseas without approval of the Diet — an undermining of the SDF’s civilian control and a departure from the current practice of enacting an ad hoc law each time it is necessary to send SDF units overseas. It may also increase the chance of SDF members operating overseas in closer partnership with U.S. armed forces, with the greater possibility that the SDF will be knitted more firmly into the U.S. global military strategy.

Although the prime minister will retain ultimate authority to command and control the SDF, the defense chief’s authority will increase. The defense chief will be able to call for a Cabinet meeting to consider defense-related legislation or SDF personnel affairs, and directly make a budget request to the Finance Ministry. Thus civilian control of the SDF by the prime minister, who is elected by the Diet, will be somewhat diluted. The Diet’s and the people’s strict watch over the SDF and the “Defense Ministry” will be called for all the more.

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