It’s bureaucracy vs. bid to create security regime

by Hiroko Nakata

Tokyo’s sectionalist bureaucracy is the biggest obstacle to creating a centralized national security apparatus, said Yuriko Koike, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s national security adviser.

Koike, 54, named one of Abe’s five special policy advisers at the Sept. 26 launch of his Cabinet, set up a panel of experts last week to discuss creation of a national security body.

“If you ask me what is the biggest obstacle (to creating such a regime), it would be the walls surrounding each ministry,” Koike said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

Creating a possible U.S.-style national security council is a key component of Abe’s drive to centralize policymaking at the prime minister’s office.

But this is no easy task, said Koike, who served concurrently, under Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, as environment minister and minister in charge of issues pertaining to Okinawa and the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

“I realized during my ministerial stints that the walls are very high and require a lot of power to surmount,” she said.

Experts warn that the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Agency will resist Koike’s efforts to transfer some of their policymaking powers to the envisioned new security body.

“If the new national security body makes the policies, it will create friction with the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Agency,” said Yuichiro Hitoshi, chief of foreign affairs and national defense at the National Diet Library’s research and legislative reference bureau.

The envisaged national security council would act as a central information-gathering body that would also form long-term security strategies.

“This is the Abe Cabinet’s mission, and the prime minister spelled this out in his (inaugural) policy speech,” Koike said. “So it is my duty to achieve this.”

For Koike, a TV anchor-turned-politician, this is not her first tough task.

In the Sept. 11, 2005, general election, she was fielded by the Liberal Democratic Party as one of Koizumi’s “assassin candidates,” competing against Koki Kobayashi, who was ousted from the party for opposing Koizumi’s postal system privatization plan. Koike won the Tokyo No. 10 district.

Originally from Hyogo Prefecture, the LDP tabbed Koike to run against Kobayashi in his home district under Koizumi’s drive to keep the ousted LDP postal reform foes out of the Diet.

Firmly determined to carry out her new assignment, Koike said national security is more critical now than ever in the wake of North Korea’s Oct. 9 nuclear test.

Experts have criticized Japan for failing to have a centralized regime for gathering national security intelligence.

Currently, critical intelligence is gathered separately by the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Agency, the National Police Agency and Cabinet ministers via their posts.

These parties do not share their intelligence in part because of sectionalism but also out of fear that important security intelligence could be leaked by politicians because there is no law against this.

The National Public Service Law bars bureaucrats from leaking information they gather in the course of their duties, but politicians face no such legal constraints.

Thus senior officials at each ministry report intelligence matters directly to the prime minister or chief Cabinet secretary and not to other politicians, including Cabinet ministers, to keep information from being leaked to journalists, experts say.

“It will be necessary in the future to create legislation” to allow the new security body to gather and analyze key intelligence data, Koike said.

She also said Japan, to be more self-reliant, needs to improve the capabilities of its intelligence satellites.

Some government sources say the new national security body may more closely resemble Britain’s Ministerial Committee on Defense and Overseas Policy, which is part of the U.K. Cabinet and smaller than the U.S. National Security Council.

In October, Koike visited White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in the U.S. and Nigel Sheinwald, a foreign policy adviser for Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Britain to take a firsthand look at their organizations.