The Diet started deliberations Friday on a bill to establish a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, an entity designed to enhance the government’s ability to deal with national security and manage crises.
The council, slated to be launched in January if the bill is passed in time, will be designed to process information from related ministries before it is presented to the prime minister. It should allow the Cabinet Office to have a more centralized role in defense and crisis management.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes that enhancing information flow and its analysis is necessary for the Cabinet to better respond to security matters. It will also bolster coordination with foreign counterparts such as the United States amid the more volatile security situation in Asia.
“The (council) will allow the Cabinet to take more robust initiatives on diplomatic and national security matters,” Abe told the Diet. “It will allow us to act in a swift and strategic manner.”
The hostage crisis at an oil complex in Algeria in January, in which 10 Japanese were killed, convinced Abe that the government needed a better system for collecting information. The government had a hard time gaining coherent information about the well-being of Japanese citizens during the incident.
Under the current system, each ministry and agency relays information to the prime minister separately, so some of the data will inevitably be contradictory. Sometimes information gets misplaced or is not delivered to the prime minister due to bureaucrats’ sectionalism.
Under the auspices of the envisioned council, the prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary, foreign minister and defense minister will meet and share their top-secret information to bypass bureaucratic red tape.
The four ministers will also draw up mid- to long-term policies on security and diplomacy.
Because the council will deal with highly sensitive information, Abe is also pushing a bill to protect state secrets, which his Cabinet approved Friday. The bill would impose heavier punishment on seekers and leakers of classified information, which Abe believes is indispensable for the council to function properly.
The opposition camp says the bill would give the government too much power to limit the public’s right to know and the freedom of the press by designating information as secret at officials’ discretion.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, submitted a bill Friday to amend the information disclosure law to guarantee the public’s right to know. The bill would allow the courts to scrutinize the legitimacy of classifying information as secret.
“The bill to protect state secrets expands the coverage of classified information,” said former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano of the DPJ. “Our bill is designed to minimize the amount of information designated secret.”