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FEATURE: GSDF eyes peacekeeping, adds women after Cold War.

TOKYO, Aug. 14 Kyodo

Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) is seeking new peacetime missions and is recruiting more female troops following the end of the Cold War, during which it was born and grew alongside the Japanese economy.

Created in 1954 as the successor to the Police Reserve Force and the National Security Force, and developed amid military threats from the Soviet Union, the GSDF was forced to undergo drastic change when the Cold War ended.

The new missions sought by the GSDF include natural-disaster relief work and U.N. peacekeeping operations under reduced overall troop strength.

In line with a 1995 revised defense program, the GSDF is turning part of its 13 divisions of 7,000-9,000 personnel each deployed across the country into brigades of 3,000-4,000. It is also reducing its total forces from 180,000 to 160,000, of which 145,000 are to be regular personnel.

The 13th division, stationed in the western prefecture of Hiroshima, has been reorganized into a brigade, and in fiscal 2000, the 12th division, based in Gunma Prefecture northwest of Tokyo, will also become a brigade.

In 10 years, the fifth and 11th divisions, both in Hokkaido, will become brigades, while the first combined brigade in Okinawa and the second combined brigade in Kagawa Prefecture on the western main island of Shikoku will be upgraded to full-fledged brigades.

According to Defense Agency sources, personnel and equipment will be relocated for more effective deployment to areas where major political and economic centers are located, neighboring countries are close and distant islands are numerous.

The moves reflect a change in defense policy from placing priority upon the northern part of Japan during the Cold War to a strategy of coping with the situation on the Korean Peninsula and a strengthened military in China. The change signals a shift of attention from the north to the west, military analysts say.

Learning a lesson from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, in which the GSDF was criticized for not reacting fast enough to the devastation in the Osaka area, natural-disaster relief work was added to the force's peacetime duties.

Last year's nuclear accident at Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, prompted the GSDF to add such nuclear disaster responses to its duties.

Since 1992, when the Peacekeeping Operation Cooperation Law was enacted, the GSDF has dispatched more than 2,000 troops to five countries for peacekeeping.

Debate is likely to intensify over the GSDF's possible participation in the U.N. Peacekeeing Force, the duties of which include cease-fire monitoring. The government has decided not to take on cease-fire monitoring due to the possibility that Japanese peacekeepers might have to use force, banned under Japan's postwar Constitution.

Following North Korea's launch of a multistage rocket over the Pacific in 1998 and the invasion of Japanese territorial waters by North Korean spy ships in 1999, the GSDF is also eyeing coping with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as guerrilla attacks by armed groups that are too large for police to handle.

''Discussing these (possible roles) was regarded as taboo before. I feel as if I am living in a quite different age,'' said a former high-ranking GSDF officer.

The GSDF has also allowed female troops to join combat missions, which were restricted to men until fiscal 1995. A female battalion commander and helicopter pilot have since been added to the GSDF's troop list.

Since women were recruited as nurses in 1952 by the National Security Force, the GSDF's immediate predecessor, the scope of duties for women has continued to expand and was finally broadened to include all missions.

There are about 6,500 women in the GSDF's Women Army Corps, accounting for about 4.3% of total personnel. The most senior female officer is a colonel, but about 270 GSDF women are officers above the rank of second lieutenant. The force could see a female general soon.

Seven young women recruited this year after graduating from senior high school are being trained at the Komakado base in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan as 74-type tank drivers.

Mayumi Ichimichi, an 18-year-old private second class from Nara Prefecture, western Japan, said with a smile, ''My first license will be a tank driver's. As far as physical strength is concerned, men naturally are superior to women, but I want to drive a tank by all means.''
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Aug 21, 2000
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