So there was a cover-up, it has turned out. Following the discovery last year that logs of Japanese members of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in South Sudan were covered up, it has emerged that the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) continued to hide the logs of troops dispatched to Iraq for over a year despite being aware of their existence.
In February last year, then Defense Minister Tomomi Inada ordered an investigation into the logs, and a month later they were found at the GSDF's Ground Research and Development Command (GRD), but this was not reported to the minister.
On April 2, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera announced that the Ground Staff Office had received a report in January this year that the logs had been discovered. But just two days later, his announcement was amended to state that the logs had actually been found much earlier, in March 2017.
The confusion over the announcement raises two questions. First, why was a report not filed in March last year as soon as the logs were discovered? The activity logs are said to have been found during a probe of the South Sudan logs, but it is unthinkable that those in charge were unaware of the Defense Ministry's order for an investigation. Explanations like "awareness was lax" are unacceptable.
It is plausible there were fears that if the problem surrounding the Iraq logs expanded on the heels of the issue surrounding the South Sudan logs, then the GSDF as an organization could suffer a heavy blow. Inada and the then GSDF chief of staff stepped down in the wake of the South Sudan log issue, but the cover-up of activity logs continued after this.
The other issue is the 2 1/2 month gap between January, when the Ground Staff Office is said to have received a report on the logs' existence, and March, when the information reached Onodera through the Joint Staff Office.
The Joint Staff Office includes civilian bureaucrats, and arranges contact with internal Defense Ministry departments that assist the defense minister. In light of the latest discoveries, officials must quickly shed light on how information is shared, including with these internal departments.
If necessary information is not handed up from the Self-Defense Forces to the minister of defense, then civilian control by the Cabinet cannot function. In this instance, officials ended up lying to the Diet for over a year that the logs could not be found.
It would be a dangerous situation indeed if it emerged that the GSDF was trying to keep the information hidden while leaving questions unanswered to protect itself as an organization. Politicians have a responsibility to reform the organization's nature of repeatedly covering up information with inward-looking logic that is far removed from common sense.
In that respect, Inada is an involved party. Simply criticizing the GSDF and saying, "I can't help but be angry," is irresponsible.
Civilian control of an armed organization like the Self-Defense Forces is, in the end, an issue relating to the political administration as a whole. We would like to point out that this can't be swept away as an issue relating to the Ministry of Defense alone.