"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 SUGA Yoshihide at the Graduation Ceremony of the National Defense Academy

[Date] March 21, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

Today, at the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the graduating class, who will shoulder central responsibilities for Japan's national defense.

Congratulations on your graduation.

As the impacts of the novel coronavirus become prolonged, today, as you set out on your career paths, it is extremely unfortunate and truly regrettable that we could not celebrate together with your parents and others who have helped you in your journey.

And yet, to protect the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people, we must do everything we can to bring the novel coronavirus situation to an end as soon as possible.

In that context, expectations are high for the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) as our final stronghold. In January this year, I instructed the SDF to prepare a fail-safe system so that a medical treatment team could be assigned at any time, upon the request of a governor.

Afterwards, nursing officials from the SDF promptly rushed to assist an elderly care facility in Okinawa where a cluster had emerged. We later heard comments filled with appreciation, saying, "Thanks to the SDF, the mood in this facility improved," and "I am truly grateful."

With more than 20,000 SDF members in total dispatched to various locations thus far, I am proud that the SDF is undertaking these activities that are aligned with the needs of the Japanese people.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck a decade ago, then too the SDF played a role as our final stronghold.

SDF members rushed in from locations nationwide -- 60,000 of them 72 hours after the quake struck, and 100,000 a week after the disaster. They searched for the missing, recovered the remains of the deceased, and buried them despite getting hardly any sleep or rest.

"It is when we take on hard, demanding missions that the commander's role is to encourage those working beneath him. But this time, there was no need for that at all."

That is how INOUE Takeru, 14th Brigade Commanding General dispatched from Shikoku, looked back on his experience. That is because the morale of the SDF members working in the disaster areas was extremely high, and they were filled with both a strong awareness and a sense of mission.

With each of the SDF members nurturing strong resolve, thinking, "Everything we do is for the people affected by the disaster," and "I'll do anything to help them," the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self Defense Forces and the U.S. Forces in Japan united to undertake their missions, making their utmost efforts.

In a public opinion poll conducted one year after the disaster struck, the percentage of people answering that they "valued" the activities of the SDF reached 97.7 percent. I consider this proof that SDF members' strong feelings resonated with the citizens.

Even as the SDF was carrying out these operations, the largest in scale they have ever undertaken, they remained fully vigilant for our national defense and also solemnly executed International Peace Cooperation missions in Haiti and South Sudan.

There are two points I wish to emphasize to the cadets who will take on such a wide range of duties as these in the future.

First, I want you to respond accurately to future changes.

It was exactly 30 years ago, in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. As the national security environment that followed changed dramatically, the SDF was invested with many new duties in succession, and the scope of the SDF's activities broadened considerably. In particular, regarding missions overseas, a total of 60,000 SDF members have been dispatched to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and other assignments.

"I will meet the expectations of the Japanese people by striving to complete duties which may involve risking my own life when facing challenges." Taking this oath of service to heart, the cadets that came before you responded outstandingly to the many missions that, 30 years ago, no one could have predicted.

Imagine the situation 30 years from now, when you are high-ranking SDF officers. With unprecedented issues and threats appearing, I expect new duties to be conferred upon the SDF.

Among them, the most critical will be readiness to defend Japan. The reason you will surely be able to respond to new duties as well is that you work hard training for day and night so that you can deal with national defense, the most arduous situation.

The defense of Japan and the peace and stability of the international community rest upon your shoulders.

My favorite motto is "where there's a will, there's a way."

I want you to move forward with strong will, take on new challenges, and adapt to future changes.

My second point is that I want you to actively engage in exchanges with our allies and friendly nations to build relationships of mutual trust.

With the national security environment becoming increasingly complex, it is no longer possible for any one nation to secure its own peace and stability only by itself. Cooperation from allies and friendly nations is indispensable.

Through the trip I am planning to make to the United States next month, I myself will deepen the personal relationship of trust I share with President Biden, and I am determined to engage in a comprehensive further reinforcement of the Japan-U.S. alliance. At the same time, making use of all kinds of diplomatic occasions to proactively develop summit diplomacy, I am also working to strengthen our relations with other countries.

Following these relations at the summit level, there is no one other than the SDF that is able to build firm bonds of friendship with other nations' armed forces. I want each of you to make our armed forces-related bonds of friendship, which are a pivot for regional security, even more solid, utilizing dialogues, joint exercises, and other such interactions with other nations' defense authorities.

You already enjoy significant assets to help you achieve this. In attendance here today are 29 international students with whom you shared your joys and sorrows. Dear international students, our friendship is beyond price. I have high hopes that each one will serve as a bridge with Japan and stand side by side with the members of the SDF, together working hard to ensure regional peace and stability.

To the graduates, your daily life during your four years at the National Defense Academy no doubt included many hard and trying times. The fact that you could overcome them to arrive here today is, I think, thanks to having friends and fellow cadets beside you.

"The SDF is an organization of people, and the personal bonds of friendship constitute the most important fighting potential." Subordinates trust their superiors, and superiors trust their subordinates. In your respective assignments, deepen those bonds thoroughly, and furthermore, cherish your bonds with the Japanese people, as well as our bonds with our allies and friendly nations.

To the families of the graduates and others involved in the cadets' path here, the graduates have grown to be valiant and dependable indeed. I extend my wholehearted appreciation to you for the support you have given them. As the Commander-in-Chief of the SDF, I pledge to put forth every effort so that they are able to undertake their missions in any environment.

Finally, I would also like to express my gratitude to the faculty and staff for the continuous devoted guidance they gave the students.

In particular, President Kokubun has put his heart and soul into educating the cadets over the last nine years. His ardent instruction, brimming with devotion, has become a key guide for the cadets he taught, and will surely serve as an inspiration to them for the rest of their lives. I once again express my appreciation for his devoted work over the years.

I will close my address wishing for the great future success of the graduating class and the further development of the National Defense Academy.

March 21, 2021

SUGA Yoshihide

Commander-in-Chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces

Prime Minister of Japan