"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Address by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy

[Date] March 22, 2015
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

Today, here at the graduation ceremony of the prestigious National Defense Academy, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the graduating class, who will bear a core responsibility in Japan's national defense.

Congratulations on your graduation.

As the Commander-in-Chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), I am deeply impressed and extremely proud of you with your highly refined discipline and your truly valiant manner. On this day that you set out on your careers, taking a new step as officers of the SDF, I would like to take this opportunity to make some remarks.

That day last year in Guadalcanal, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was beaming, just like it was 70 years ago. Last autumn, the precious remains collected in Guadalcanal, of the 137 who died in the war were held firmly in the arms of your senior colleagues as they climbed the gangway of the training vessel Kashima. These remains were then safely repatriated to our homeland. This was the mission given to this training voyage. On the battlefields in these far-off countries, so many precious lives of those concerned for the future of their homeland and filled with prayers for the happiness of their families were lost. I ask that you join me, as you embark on your careers as SDF officers in this milestone year of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, in offering our prayers for the repose of those who fell in battle.

The peace that we enjoy today is built on the precious sacrifice of our forefathers. We must always remember this and ensure that it is etched deeply on our minds. The tragedy of war must never again be repeated. This is the immense responsibility that we bear. Throughout our postwar history, Japan has consistently walked the path as a peace-loving nation.

However, this ideal was not realized by simply proclaiming to be a "peace-loving nation".

I believe that it is the fruit of the efforts of our forebears who faced the changing situation in the international community and, based on the peace-loving principles enshrined in the Constitution of Japan, took bold action, including the establishment of the SDF, the revision of the Japan-United States Security Treaty, and Japan's participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (PKO).

"In times of prosperity, prepare for adversity."

These were the words spoken to the first graduating class of this academy by then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, the founding father of the SDF and the National Defense Academy.

"The peace of yesterday" is no guarantee of "the peace of tomorrow." With the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of terrorism, regardless of what we may hope, the international situation is constantly changing. In order to fulfill the "pledge to never wage war again", we must look to the example of our forebears and take action in a resolute manner. The development of a security legislation is underway, which will enable a seamless response to all situations, from so-called "gray zones" to the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.

"Actions" can engender criticism. In the past, irresponsible remarks, such as "(actions) will embroil Japan in war," have been repeated in a way that serves only to stoke unease.

However, the 70 years of our postwar history proves that such criticisms are absurd.

"In case of emergency, I would strive to complete duties, which might put myself in danger, as entrusted by the nation."

The importance of your oath of service is something that is always engraved in my mind as Commander-in-Chief. The mission entrusted to members of the SDF continues to be one that could entail danger. However, there is just one purpose for engaging in such a mission, namely, to protect the lives and the peaceful livelihood of the Japanese people. There is absolutely no change to that ultimate objective. It is with such strong sense of mission and responsibility that I would like you, as prospective officers, to make infallible preparations in the fields to which you are dispatched and carry out your noble duty of national defense.

In successive natural disasters, including the Great East Japan Earthquake, the SDF has engaged in relief and rescue operations day and night, regardless of the dangers in the way. The trust the people of Japan now have in the SDF is unwavering. The concept of "military force being used only in battle" is now outdated. From rescue and relief operations to conflict prevention, and reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, the role of military forces equipped with multiple functions continues to expand and grow in the international community.

The history of SDF's international cooperation activities began 24 years ago with minesweeping duties in the Persian Gulf. The 1,200 mines that had been laid during the Gulf War represented a perilous obstacle to the oil transportation routes that are vital for Japan.

"It was with the words ‘detonation successful' that the world became aware of Japan's presence."

These were the words of SDF members dispatched for this mission, conveying the sense of pride that they felt at the time. In a punishing environment with temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, the SDF units worked at an operating rate of 100% for over three months, facing a situation where precision was vital, given the oil pipelines that cross the waters in all directions. These units admirably demonstrated to the world the high morale and capabilities of the SDF.

Civil war-torn Cambodia was the location for the SDF's first PKO activities. There is no mistaking the major role that the roads and bridges constructed by SDF units played in restoring peace and enabling the reconstruction of the country. On the day that the unit left the town of Takeo, the roads were lined with rows of local people and crowds of children who wished to express their thanks and sadness at the unit's departure.

At this very moment, SDF units are engaged in PKO activities in the scorching heat of Africa, working to assist newly independent South Sudan on its path to self-reliance. There is a hospital in the town of Juba that is used by the SDF members, run by a PKO unit from Cambodia. Cambodia, which has recovered from civil war, is now participating actively in PKO activities, working hard together with Japan as a partner. This is what the head of this Cambodian unit said to one of the SDF members there:

"The activities of Japan as a part of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia are still fresh in the memories of the people of my home country of Cambodia… To tell you the truth, my hope is that this hospital will be used by Japanese people more than anyone. For the Japanese people, we are ready to provide treatment at any time, 24 hours a day."

The international cooperation activities of the SDF over the course of more than 20 years have undoubtedly made a significant contribution to global peace and stability, and SDF activities are widely appreciated. I say this with confidence. I would like to express my heartfelt respect for the unwavering sense of mission and dedicated efforts of the 50,000 SDF members.

In counter-piracy operations in the major sea artery of the Gulf of Aden, from this May, a SDF officer will serve as commander of the international Combined Task Force, for the first time in the postwar period. This is the very proof of the great extent to which the activities of the SDF are valued and trusted by the international community.

The world has great expectations of you. The world is depending on your abilities. I hope that the members of the SDF will take pride in this fact and embrace an even greater role.

Today we are joined by overseas cadets and officers from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, the Republic of Korea, Timor Leste, the Philippines, Viet Nam and Mongolia. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to you for making it to graduation, despite the challenges of living and studying in an environment where language and customs differ from those of your own countries. I hope that after returning to your home countries, you will continue to value the bonds you have formed during your time here at Obaradai at the National Defense Academy. I hope that your careers will flourish so that defense cooperation between your countries and Japan will develop still further.

For its part, hand in hand with your home countries and the international community, Japan is determined to make an even greater contribution to global peace and stability in light of the 70th anniversary year of the end of the war, hoisting the banner of "Proactive Contribution to Peace" ever higher.

The beautiful South Pacific island of Peleliu, Palau, was the scene of a fierce battle 70 years ago, which claimed more than 10,000 lives. Lieutenant General Kunio Nakagawa, who was in command of the Peleliu garrison, ordered the evacuation of 1,000 islanders before the full scale hostilities commenced, thus saving their lives. As the battle situation deteriorated, those under his command strongly requested to engage in sorties. However, Lieutenant General Nakagawa gave these strict orders to his troops, urging them to live and continue the battle of endurance.

"You must continue to fulfill your duty right up until the very end."

What is the duty that you are tasked with? It is to never again repeat the tragedy of war. It is to fulfill this duty, that as prospective officers with a central role in the SDF, you will engage in constant training and make infallible preparations from day to day. In any situation your task is to resolutely protect the lives and the peaceful livelihoods of the people of Japan. I stand before you today, determined to accomplish this responsibility to the fullest extent. It is my wish that you will also devote body and soul to fulfill your duty to the people of Japan.

To the families of the graduates, words cannot express my appreciation to you as the SDF Commander-in-Chief for sending off your precious family to the SDF. All the graduates have grown to become outstanding young personnel. This is thanks not only to their days spent studying at the National Defense Academy, but also to the exemplary manner in which they have been raised by their families. It is precisely because you provided this firm foundation that they have grown in this way. I thank you so much. As you entrust your precious family members to us, I pledge to take all possible means to enable them to execute their duties with care.

Finally, I would also like to express my respect to President Kokubun and the rest of the faculty and staff, who have spared no efforts to cultivate the graduates. Furthermore, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the guests and to the graduates' families for their invariable understanding and support towards the National Defense Academy. I close my address wishing for the continued success of the graduating class and the further development of the National Defense Academy.