New panel mulls new security parameters

by Masami Ito

A newly set-up government panel began discussing basic defense policies Thursday, ultimately aiming to revise the National Defense Program Guideline before year’s end.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who was present at the first meeting of defense experts and academics, urged the members to hold open and free discussions.

He listed examples of security issues, including North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat and development of arms and the modernization of military capabilities of “neighboring countries” as well as how Japan can participate in the international community in fields like U.N. peacekeeping operations, disaster relief activities and antiterrorism.

“I would like the members to hold diverse discussions with a mid- to long-term point of view and include many new viewpoints in revising the guideline,” Hatoyama said. “I would like the discussions to be taboo-free.”

The panel, headed by Shigetaka Sato, chairman and CEO of Keihan Electric Railway Co., will meet about twice a month with the goal of submitting a report to the government this summer.

Using the report, the government would then revise the National Defense Program Guideline before 2011.

This would determine basic defense policies and the posture of the Self-Defense Forces.

“More than five years have passed since the last revision of the current guideline and there have been various changes in the state of the international community around our country,” Sato said.

“It is important for us to discuss Japan’s security and defense from a comprehensive viewpoint based on the changes in the situation of international society, while keeping our eyes on the future.”

The current guideline was drafted in 2004 under the leadership of then ruling Liberal Democratic Party and stipulates it be reviewed in five years. Last August, a government panel had submitted a report to then LDP Prime Minister Taro Aso and his government and was set to revise the guideline by the end of 2009.

But instead of using it, Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party of Japan last August ousted the LDP after decades of rule, put off the revision for a year and set up his own panel.

“In order for this government to fulfill our duties, I believed it was extremely important to hold discussions all over again under the new government and decided to postpone the process for a year,” Hatoyama said.

The 2009 report submitted to the conservative LDP included a recommendation to change the government’s current interpretation of collective defense and enable Japan to intercept missiles fired from North Korea toward U.S. targets.