SDF should enhance disaster relief role
The Self-Defense Forces have mobilized an unprecedented 100,000 personnel to conduct rescue and relief activities in areas hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, as well as to keep the mishaps at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from developing into a major disaster.
The SDF can perform painstaking missions, including the dangerous work of spraying water over malfunctioning nuclear reactors, because they are a well-trained, well-equipped organization capable of providing their own food, clothing and shelter. We want the SDF to be involved continually in relief activities that are certain to take a long time.
At the time of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, some local governments had a lingering allergy to the SDF. But even so, the SDF made great achievements in saving lives and assisting with reconstruction. Since then, cooperation between the SDF and local governments has become stronger as they worked out disaster-response measures and conducted exercises together.
The immense damage caused by the March 11 earthquake extends over a vast area along the Pacific coast of the Tohoku and Kanto regions. The administrative functions of some local governments have ceased to exist, while the SDF itself has faced difficulty in carrying out relief operations.
SDF ties with local govts
The SDF has mobilized an unprecedented number of personnel, accounting for about 40 percent of its total number. But in our view, this is insufficient. The SDF needs to strengthen cooperation with the relevant local governments to carry out more effective aid activities.
Regarding the transportation of food and other goods, the SDF should consider leaving what can be done by the private sector in the hands of private organizations while undertaking transportation to evacuation centers that are hard to access due to bad road conditions.
The SDF has established a joint regional command of its ground, maritime and air forces for the first time. Smoother and more rapid operation can be expected by unifying the chain of command under the commandant of the Ground Self-Defense Force's North Eastern Army based in Sendai.
In the current crisis, SDF reserves have been called up for the first time. Reservists hold regular civilian jobs but train with the SDF for five or 30 days a year. Reservists cannot be expected to function at the same level as full-time SDF members, but it is natural to resort to every possible measure in case of an emergency.
Joint relief activities by the SDF and U.S. military forces have been put into high gear.
U.S. help appreciated
In conducting activities named "Operation Tomodachi," the U.S. military has deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan off the Sanriku coast in Tohoku to serve as an offshore base for search and rescue operations and the transportation of supplies by SDF and U.S. military helicopters. Also, U.S. marines based in Okinawa Prefecture have engaged in work to remove rubble from Sendai Airport.
Among the assistance offered by many countries, U.S. aid stands out in terms of both quality and quantity. We want to express our gratitude for the swift and substantial assistance from our ally.
Since Japan's change of government in September 2009, some people have been skeptical about the importance of continuing to have U.S. forces stationed in this country. Nevertheless, the U.S. military has been earnestly involved in relief activities in the devastated areas. This is quite clearly the result of a relationship of trust built by the two countries over many years.
The SDF and the U.S. military have developed ties through joint exercises and have closed ranks on various occasions such as antiterrorism and antidisaster activities overseas. We hope that the bilateral cooperation we see now will serve as an important step forward toward deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2011)