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Interview with MSDF Chief of Staff Admiral Eiji Yoshikawa

Eiji Yoshikawa
Eiji Yoshikawa

Would you tell us about your career in the Maritime Self-Defense Force?
I joined the Maritime Self-Defense Force [MSDF] in 1971, upon graduating from the National Defense Academy. My assignments included Commanding Officer of the JS Minegumo at Kure, Commander of Escort Division 41 at Ominato, and Commander of Escort Flotilla 3 at Maizuru. Thus my career centered on surface forces. After that I served as Director of J5 (Plans and Policies) of the Joint Staff Office, Commandant of the Ominato District, and Commandant of the Yokosuka District. In August 2006 I became the twenty-eighth MSDF Chief of Staff.

Are there particular episodes that stand out in your memory?
In the suspicious-boat incident we did everything we could, but in the end the boats managed to slip away. Even now I feel mortified. Still, improvements were made in equipment to respond to such incidents and the system of communication with the Japan Coast Guard as a result, so the experience had some good effects.
     The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, marked a major turning point both for Japan and for the MSDF. For some time after the end of the cold war, we weren't sure what direction the world would take. With 9/11, I felt that the security framework changed. Although the importance of security dialogue had been recognized before that, it had focused on exchange with the United States and other major powers. After 9/11, the security framework widened to include neighboring countries. At present the number of countries with which the MSDF has defense exchange has increased to 23.

What are your thoughts on the future shape of the MSDF?
I think the MSDF is in a period of transition. Times have changed; nowadays the Self-Defense Forces [SDF] as a whole, not just the MSDF, are used in diverse arenas. Their missions range from the defense of Japan in emergencies to disaster-relief operations in peacetime. In order to establish a system that will allow us to act more effectively with limited resources, I wish not only to pursue organizational flexibility but also to make commanders capable of thinking flexibly, while providing Japan and its people with a wide range of options. Character building is also important. I'm always urging young MSDF personnel to strive for considerateness.