Soviet pressures spur debate on Japan's defenses
"If the Soviets landed on Hokkaido tomorrow, we would quickly be reduced to the same kind of octopus-hole suicide tactics we used in World War II," the Japanese general said.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
(An octopus hole is a hole dug by an infantryman lying in wait for an oncoming tank. He crouches within it, octopus-like, and explodes his charge at the moment the tank's vulnerable underbelly passes over him. The tank may be blown up, but so will the attacker.)
"It's such a pity," the general continued. "Toward the end of World War II, we had no choice. We were poor, our technology was outdated, we were running out of supplies.
"But today we are rich, and our technology is superb. We don't need to make a vast outlay in order to have a pretty good defense force. Some of our equipment today compares favorably with that of other advanced states. But we don't have enough of it. And some of our guns, like the 105-mm cannon we trundle around by truck, go back to the Korean war."
Japanese generals do not like to talk on the record. Defense is a sensitive political subject in Japan, where Article 9 of the postwar Constitution bans "war potential" and the right of belligerency.
Japan's armed forces are therefore called self-defense forces and their annual budget, as a proportion of gross national product, is the lowest among the world's advanced industrialized democracies -- .91 percent in 1981, compared with 6 percent for the United States.
In any all-out war Japan would have to rely on the American nuclear umbrella provided under its security treaty with the U.S. But Washington has long felt (and many Japanese agree) that even in terms of conventional weaponry Japan's defense forces are far from adequate.
On a recent visit to Japan's Maine-sized northern island of Hokkaido, adjoining Soviet Sakhalin and the Kuriles, this correspondent was able to interview self-defense force personnel only on the understanding that no names would be used.
Four of the ground self-defense forces' 13 divisions are stationed on Hokkaido, and they have the best equipment available. Of the 400 tanks on Hokkaido, 300 are the new variable-profile type 74 developed by Mitsubishi and particularly suited for the country's hilly terrain. Self-propelled 105-mm and 155-mm cannons are being introduced, and the truck-trundled relics the general complained of will be retired by next spring.
Nevertheless, if war were to break out tomorrow, Japanese defense sources are quick to admit that both in ammunition and in equipment they would be ill-prepared to last more than a short while. Whether this would be a matter of hours, or of days, or of weeks, the officers in Hokkaido did not want to say.
This point has also been repeatedly stressed to the Japanese by Washington, both by former Defense Secretary Harold Brown and by the present Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Mr. Weinberger is sending his deputy, Frank Carlucci, to Tokyo this fall to continue the steady pressure the Reagan administration has been applying to get the Japanese government to increase its defence spending.