Events Reflection on the First JSDF Deployment to Iraq

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Reflection on the First JSDF Deployment to Iraq

November 30, 2023 @ 9:00 am - 10:15 am

On Thursday, November 30, 2023, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA) hosted the in-person policy briefing, Reflection on the First JSDF Deployment to Iraq.”  In this event, LTG Koichiro Bansho, 35th Commanding General of the Western Army, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) (Ret.), shared his reflection on the 20th anniversary of Japan’s first deployment of Self-Defense Force (SDF) to Iraq. LTG Bansho then outlined the challenges and opportunities for the U.S. and Japan to bolster their alliance. His presentation was followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Sasakawa USA’s Policy Briefing Series presented this discussion and held in-person. Attendees included distinguished guests from the Washington, D.C. policy community along with members of academia, think tanks, and current and retired members of the U.S. military and Japanese SDF members, and members of the U.S.-Japan communities. Dr. Satohiro Akimoto, chairman and president of Sasakawa USA, provided introductory remarks, facilitated this event, and moderated the Q&A discussion.

Reflection of the First Deployment to Iraq

The Self-Defense Force’s (SDF) deployment overseas date back to conducting mine sweeping operation on the Persian Gulf in 1991. Since then, the SDF have been involved in other UN Peace Keeping Operations and international missions overseas such as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), the United Nations Operations in Mozambique (ONUMOZ), the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), and deployment to Rwanda. The SDF’s first deployment to Iraq began in 2004, and LTG Bansho was appointed as the Commander of the 1st Reconstruction Assistance Group in Iraq in 2004 and stationed at Iraq’s southern major city of Samawah[1].

The SDF’s main missions were to provide medical support, fresh water supply, and engineering support to the Iraqi people. The SDF’s green uniform allowed the Japanese forces to stand out from other partnering forces and engage with Iraqi people with empathy as green is a symbolic color in Islam. LTG Bansho described the role of the SDF should be a “lion” (powerful and dependable) that operates like a “donkey” (supportive role for the locals) by maintaining high discipline, which LTG Bansho called it a “Silk Hat Diplomacy” maintaining high Bushido spirit while engaging with local Iraqis with empathy. Through its engagements, local Iraqis thanked the SDF by holding appreciation marches. Based on his deployment, LTG Bansho underscored that the success of the SDF’s deployment to Iraq shall not become de facto understanding of its future operations overseas; instead, the success story in Iraq should serve as an exemplary and reference point for the future.

Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. – Japan’s Alliance

LTG Bansho argued there is a possibility of a global war and/or major disasters to occur soon which the U.S. and Japan must be ready to prevent, deter, and resist. In terms of potential war zones, he pointed to the three fronts which the world and Japan face. During the Cold War, the U.S. and its allies were focused on Europe and East Asia region in mitigating the threats imposed by the Soviet Union. From the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union shifted their focus from the European front and to the Middle East in countering terrorism. As the war in the Middle East dwindled in recent years, the world then focused more on the Indo-Pacific region. However, wars broke out in Ukraine and Israel which increased the potential global war zones in three fronts: the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East. Narrowing the focus on Japan, the country must counter three fronts in the north (Russia), west (North Korea), and south (China). Of these three fronts, potential contingency in Taiwan has gained public attention as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated, “A Taiwan contingency is contingency for Japan.”[2]  If a war were to break out in Taiwan, China is expected to expand its battlegrounds all the way from Japan’s southwestern island chains of the Yonaguni Islands and to the north of the shores of Kyushu region.

In mitigating such threat, Japan’s new National Security Strategy outlined Japan’s milestones in strengthening its defense in the southwest by stationing SDF units, realizing rapid deployment of the SDF from Honshu region to the southwestern islands, and bolstering the SDF’s amphibious capabilities. LTG Bansho referred to this approach as Japan’s’ new “Southwest Wall Strategy,” conducting forward defense against its adversary and establishing asymmetrical costal “wall” and land protection along Japan’s southwestern island chain. The threat perception of China’s potential invasion is shared among local Japanese and the U.S. forces stationed in Japan. For instance, the SDF has been conducting various exercises and joint trainings with the U.S. forces in the region. LTG Bansho also insisted the U.S. and Japan to resume their joint exercise on the Senkaku Islands.

In a worst-case scenario that Taiwan contingency were to occur, Japan must defend itself on all domains, support the U.S. forces stationed in Japan, conduct Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO), accept and control refugees from Taiwan and southwestern islands of Japan, and prepare for coordinated offense by Russian and North Korean forces. Thus, LTG Bansho highlighted it is crucial for Japan to establish a diplomatic tie with Taiwan as soon as possible. Moreover, the invasion of Ukraine reiterated the importance of not bankrupting the deterrence against the adversaries, formulating a strong sense of unity among the political leader, citizen, and its military, and gaining and maintaining global support from allies and partners such as the NATO.

Japan’s Roadmap Ahead

While the U.S.-Japan alliance will continue to be the cornerstone of maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, LTG Bansho listed following points to strengthening the U.S. – Japan security alliance:

1) aligning common strategic objectives,

2) modernizing the U.S.-Japan C2 structure,

3) bolstering Japan’s “6 Warfares” against its adversary,

(i) Media Warfare,

(ii) Psychological Warfare,

(iii) Legal Warfare,

(iv) Legitimacy Warfare, justifying its action using international law

(v) Advanced Technology Warfare, maintaining the lead in advanced technology, and

(vi) Alliance Warfare, cooperating with QUAD and ASEAN countries.

4) conducting more bilateral and multilateral joint exercise and training,

5) sharing the U.S. Forces in Japan and the SDF’s bases and facilities, and

6) promoting joint R&D for new warfare.

Lastly, LTG Bansho introduced interesting surveys which portrayed the public understanding of the Japanese people. According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Statistical Mathematics, many Japanese answered they would want to be reborn as Japanese. However, when surveyed on whether they would fight for Japan in a case of a war, only 13% replied they would fight while more than 40% answered they do not know, per World Value. Therefore, LTG Bansho encouraged more Japanese people to have better understanding of the national security dynamics Japan currently face and become a true ally of the U.S., “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

Q&A Session

A Q&A with the audience followed the presentation covering a wide range of topics. A summary of their responses is below:

  • It is still questionable whether Japan could realize all the goals listed in its national security docs in a timely manner.
  • It is important for the U.S. and Japan to focus on soft deterrence, soft power diplomacy, and other non-kinetic means to countering the adversaries.
  • The role of international institutions and frameworks has become more important than ever.
  • The SDF’s deployment to Iraq proved Japan as a trustful partner of the U.S.
  • The proportion of women in the SDF remains low. The SDF should encourage more gender integration as part of improving its recruitment strategy.
  • For Japan, the country needs to build bilateral and multilateral relations on government-to-government and military-to-military level with Taiwan.
  • The 2015’s Legislation on National Security formed a new framework for Japan and the U.S. to further cooperate.
  • If Japan were to join AUKUS, the alliance should not be limited to military-to-military aspect but also cooperate on manufacturing advanced technology such as semiconductors.

[1] Also referred to as “Al-Samawah.”


Sasakawa USA is grateful to LTG Bansho for his service in Iraq and outlining the roadmap for the U.S. and Japan to strengthening their alliance at this event. Sasakawa USA also thanks the Q&A participants and attendees for joining us in this engaging discussion. 

The summarized views of the speakers expressed herein are entirely the work of Sasakawa USA and do not represent the official positions of any of the speakers.

For more information about Sasakawa USA’s Policy Briefing Series, click here.


November 30, 2023
9:00 am - 10:15 am
Event Category:

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