Inconsistencies in Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's remarks on U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan have raised questions as to whether she properly controls the ministry.
Four opposition parties, including the Democratic Party (DP), have agreed to demand Inada step down from her post.
The Defense Ministry has released daily reports compiled by the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) unit participating in the mission, which vividly describes an armed conflict that broke out in South Sudan in July last year. "Fierce combat using tanks and artillery has been confirmed," one of the reports partly reads.
With regard to the fact that the word "combat" frequently appears in these daily reports, opposition parties have grilled the defense minister over whether the GSDF unit's activities in South Sudan could constitute a violation of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution and the five principles of Japan's participation in peacekeeping operations. There are growing calls urging the government to pull GSDF personnel out of South Sudan.
Diet debate on the issue focuses on the wording in the daily reports and the interpretation of the situation in South Sudan. Priority should be placed on accurately grasping the local situation, deepening discussions on the GSDF's activities there and preparing to withdraw GSDF personnel should they become unable to conduct meaningful activities.
The government explained the term "combat" was used in the daily reports as a general term. Noting that there is no country or a similar entity that could be a warring party in South Sudan, the government claims that what can be legally interpreted as an "act of combat" has not occurred in the area.
However, Inada's remarks in the Diet could be taken to mean that the word "combat" was changed to "conflict" to keep consistency between the GSDF activities and Article 9 of the Constitution. Inada was frequently at a loss for an answer and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe replied for her. A lack of consistency in the defense minister's Diet remarks has caused serious problems.
Moreover, it is problematic that the government instructed the GSDF to use the word "combat" after fully understanding its meaning. If the government suppresses reports by GSDF personnel engaged in peacekeeping operations in South Sudan for the sake of Diet deliberations, accurate information on the situation of the area, where U.N. peacekeeping operations are underway, cannot be conveyed to the public.
In response to an information disclosure request, the Defense Ministry had initially refused to release the daily reports on the grounds that the documents had been discarded. After ruling Liberal Democratic Party legislators urged the ministry to examine if the documents had actually been discarded, the ministry responded that they found electronic data on the documents and released them.
It is hard to understand why it took ministry officials one month to report the discovery of the electronic data on the reports to the defense minister. Isn't this because of Inada's failure to control the ministry or the lack of a system to swiftly convey important information to the minister?
There are numerous problems involving the way the ministry manages in-house documents. Why did the ministry need to discard the daily reports? Inada denies that the ministry attempted to cover up relevant information.
If primary information is discarded, it could allow the government to release only convenient information to the public, making it difficult to examine relevant information later. The Defense Ministry says it will try to preserve in-house documents for at least six months, but it is not difficult to preserve electronic data over a long period. The ministry should fundamentally review the way it manages its in-house documents.