Japan Moves Two Steps Forward, One Back
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI, Taiwan — After decades of snail’s-pace progress toward a “normal” military, Japan’s national security infrastructure and policy framework took dramatic steps forward in 2007.
The military transformed the Japan Defense Agency (JDA) into a ministry, giving it a say in Cabinet-level decisions; launched its first unofficial aircraft carrier; inaugurated its first woman defense minister; and launched its fourth surveillance satellite. But Tokyo has yet to unshackle itself from a pacifist constitution that has encumbered the military on things from defense budgets to troop deployments.
The year’s changes began in December 2006, when the Diet upgraded the JDA to a full ministry, raising the military’s influence and morale.
Lawmakers switched the Self-Defense Force’s overseas peacekeeping operations from supplemental duty to a primary role, a largely symbolic move that nevertheless gives the military a device to push the envelope for expanded duties.
The young Defense Ministry had a bumpy start. Its first minister, Fumio Kyuma, was forced to resign in July after condoning the U.S. decision to use atom bombs during World War II. He was replaced by Yuriko Koike, Japan’s first female defense minister. But her tenure was brief, as incoming Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda appointed former JDA director Shigeru Ishiba as defense minister soon after taking office in September.
“Kyuma, who retired after making expansive remarks on the conclusion of World War II; the subsequent appointment of the first woman, Koike, who inspired jealousy and ruffled peacock feathers; and finally returning to the traditional ol’ boy, Ishiba,” said Peter Woolley, author of “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices.”
In 2007, the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into allegations of corruption in the procurement of GE Aviation engines for the new Kawasaki Heavy Industries CX military cargo aircraft.
Prosecutors raided the Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Nov. 29, one day after the arrests of the former vice minister of defense, Takemasa Moriya, and his wife, Sachiko. Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga, a former defense minister, has also been implicated.
Prosecutors allege that Moriya accepted free golfing trips valued at $36,000 between 2003 and 2006 and a birthday cash gift of $1,845 from General Electric sales representative Motonobu Miyazaki, who has been charged with embezzlement and forgery. GE fired Miyazaki after the charges came to light.
Japanese military officials are forbidden from taking gifts or even playing golf with defense contractors or agents.
GE denies any wrongdoing and is not the subject of an investigation.
“The issue is significant because it occurred during administrative reform drives under Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe,” said Yoichiro Sato of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu. “Long-standing collusion between government ministries and industries in Japan has been known as ‘structural corruption,’ and the recent scandal in the newly launched MoD is already proving itself to be a tip of the iceberg. A closer political scrutiny of the extremely high cost of domestic defense productions is clearly in order for the coming years, as the opposition Democratic Party sees an opportunity to attack the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on these issues.”
Japan launched a fourth surveillance satellite Feb. 24, part of a four-satellite, $1.66 billion effort to deploy two optical and two radar platforms in the wake of a 1998 firing of a North Korean ballistic missile over Japan.
Weeks later, the first of the satellites failed one year short of its five-year design lifespan.
The launch raised questions over whether the satellite program would contravene the 1969 Diet resolution that created the National Space Development Agency, predecessor of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It declared that Japan would seek only peaceful uses for satellites, and it placed them under control of the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, not the military. Japan has divorced military applications from peaceful space exploration and development.
However, the resolution, like many others concerning defense, has enough elasticity to allow for information gathering about possible threats, both natural and man-made, Woolley said.
The issue allowed new changes in the ways to “justify collective defense without constitutional amendment,” Woolley said, “not least the passing by both houses ... of legislation endorsing procedures for the amendment of Article Nine, including a referendum in 2010.
“Not that Japan needs these formalities to support the evolution of its defense policies. Japan has done well building its defense forces within the slowly expanding theoretical limitations of Article 9,” he said. “There is little that is not ‘normal’ about Japan’s power. In any case, significant change in Japan’s defense policies in the next decade will come as a result of external threats, such as turmoil on the Korean peninsula or in the Straits of Taiwan, not as a result of constitutional amendment.”
Despite legislative efforts to modify old laws to adapt to a changing security environment in Asia and evolve toward a “normal” military power in the region, there have been some setbacks. Japan’s legislature declined to renew the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law Nov. 1, ending Indian Ocean refueling missions to warships supporting the U.S.-sponsored Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.