Japan's top general officer has pubicly criticized important aspects of the country's military policy, adding fuel to the growing debate about whether its armed forces are adequate to its needs.
In his remarks, Gen. Goro Takeda, chairman of the Joint Staff Council, challenged the official doctrine that a draft would be unconstitutional, said that prohibitions against Japanese troops being sent abroad would impede defense of the homeland and called for a threefold increase in the military budget.
The comments, made in a magazine interview and widely quoted in the daily press, brought calls from Socialist members of parliament for his resignation.
His unusual breaking of ranks posed an awkward problem for Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, who ordered an inquiry, and for the civilian defense minister, who cautioned Takeda about his remarks.
It is rare in Japan for a uniformed officer to publicly question government policy, even in the current climate of opinion in which the long-taboo subjects of defense policy and budgets are routinely discussed.
Takeda, a World War II fighter pilot, is chairman of the Joint Staff Council, which oversees Japan's air, sea, and land self-defense forces.
In the interview, Takeda objected to the government's position that military conscription would violate two articles of Japan's constitution, one of which prohibits involuntary servitude.
Takeda said it is "unbearable" for a soldier's role in defending his country to be considered akin to slavery.
The interpretation he challenged has been government policy since 1970 and was restated last August when questions about the possibility of a military draft were raised in the parliament.
Japan has an all-volunteer defense force of about 240,000 men, currently under-strength because of recruiting problems. The government has said it could draw on a small reserve force in an emergency but contends that a draft would be unconstitutional either in normal times or in an emergency.
Takeda also questioned the long-established doctrine that Japan's military forces are purely for defensive purposes and cannot be used abroad, even as a way of defending Japan. Such a policy makes defense difficult, he said in an interview, and he warned that it could mean Japan would, in an emergency, have to fight on Japanese soil. That, he added, could mean foreign occupation of part of Japan.
Takeda also took issue with the government understanding that defense expenditures wil not exceed 1 percent of the country's gross national product, a limit being adhered to in the current budget. A defense budget in the neighborhood of 3 percent would be "meaningful," he said.
Takeda's outspokeness recalled a similar breach of ground rules by his predecessor, Hiroomi Kurisu, who in 1978 suggested that his forces, under the constitution, would have to resort to extralegal measures to respond to an attack on Japan. He was dismissed.
Like Kurisu, Takeda was accused in the parliament of threatening the civilian control of the military, an issue with stong emotional content ever since the end of World War II.
It is known that many high-ranking Japanese officers favor a substantial military buildup and a clarification of their fighting roles. Usually these arguments are carried on by civilian leaders of the Defense Agency or by hawkish supporters in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
They have been given a more respectful hearing in the past few years as Japan worried about the U.S. military commitment in Asia and a Soviet buildup in the Far East. The receptivity to promilitary arguments has grown since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Takeda responded to press inquiries by saying he was only expressing his personal opinions and emphasizing that he was not proposing a military draft, merely questioning the government's rationale in finding one unconstitutional.
His right to voice private views was supported in the parliamentary questioning by his civilian boss, Joji Omura, director general of the Defense Agency. However, Omura also said that because of his high position Takeda should exercise prudence in public remarks.
Socialist Party leaders demanded that Takeda be dismissed, calling his remarks a challenge to civilian control of the military. The Socialists and other minority parties are waging a campaign through parliamentary questioning to get the government to publicly state limits to Japan's military expansion.