Great Eastern Japan Earthquake: “Lessons Learned” for Japanese Defense Policy

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The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake (GEJE) on March 11, 2011 was the worst disaster in the nation’s recorded history.  The triple combination of an earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station dealt a severe blow to northeastern Japan, resulting in the largest and fastest mobilization of the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) since its establishment in 1954, and an unprecedented cooperative relief effort with the US armed forces, Operation Tomodachi.  The JSDF’s commendable efforts in the face of this challenge demonstrated its incredible strength and the US-Japan alliance, but the unprecedented nature of this disaster response also generated a number of “lessons learned.”

This report, written by Yuki Tatsumi, documents the challenges faced by the JSDF related to its capabilities: from C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to logistics, and even the JSDF’s capability to respond to nuclear accidents.  It also discusses potential areas of improvement in terms of the JSDF’s institutional organization, including enhancing joint-ness among the three services, improving JGSDF’s organizational structure, and mental health support for personnel.  The report also outlines the limitations of the current legal mechanism that launches bilateral defense coordination with the US in case of non-combat emergencies, and the need for the JSDF to find a relational balance with US Forces Japan and PACOM.  Although the Japan Ministry of Defense has already started to implement these lessons, the report points to the challenges that the ministry faces in successfully implementing them, as it strives to develop the JSDF into a truly “dynamic defense force.”

Click here to download the report.


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