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In its basic plan to reform the Self-Defense Forces, the Defense Ministry aims to reduce the power of non-uniformed SDF officials while giving more say to uniformed SDF officers. Uniformed officers have been dissatisfied with the level of influence wielded by non-uniformed officials in the current structure of the SDF and the ministry.

It must be remembered that both uniformed officers and non-uniformed officials are SDF members. A widespread misconception is that control of the SDF by non-uniformed officials constitutes civilian control of the SDF. The basics of civilian control of the SDF — control by the government and the Diet — must be upheld. The prime minister, the defense minister and lawmakers should recognize their responsibility in properly controlling and operating the SDF in the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution and related laws.

According to the Defense Ministry’s basic plan, the Operational Policy Bureau in the so-called internal bureaus, controlled by non-uniformed officials, would be abolished and the Joint Staff Office would work out plans for SDF operation and communicate with other government ministries. The Defense Policy Bureau, headed by a non-uniformed official, would include a uniformed officer as deputy chief. The procurement functions of the internal bureaus and the SDF’s three branches would be integrated. In sum, it is likely that uniformed officers would get the upper hand in proposing important decisions concerning SDF operation.

One naturally wonders whether the Defense Ministry’s reform plan is advisable in view of the recent incident in which Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami resigned after writing an essay contradicting the government’s position that Asian people suffered under Japan’s colonialism and military aggression. It is all the more important that politicians actively involve themselves with SDF reform. Diet members should seriously discuss the matter when related bills are before the Diet.

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