A law giving priority to civilians in decision-making at the Defense Ministry is set to be changed, according to sources close to the ministry.
Early next month, ministry officials will submit to the Diet a proposal to revise the law permitting amendments to the decision-making to be amended, the sources said Saturday.
The move could arouse concern over the erosion of civilian control of the military.
The amendment will give uniformed personnel more control over Self-Defense Forces tactical operations. According to the sources, pressure to change the law came from SDF personnel as well as former members who are now Diet lawmakers.
Under the amendment, the operation and planning bureau of the ministry will be abolished, and its operational functions transferred to the Joint Staff of the SDF. The Joint Staff will create an operational plan for the SDF and seek approval from the defense minister, the sources said.
The notion of civilian control was enshrined in law when the predecessor to the Defense Ministry law was enacted in 1954, reflecting a history of rebellion against the government by military personnel in the lead-up to World War II.
Another check on the SDF’s power was removed in 2009 with the scrapping of a system whereby senior civilian ministry officials directly aided the defense minister.
Japan currently places strict restrictions on its military officers, based on wartime lessons learned in the 1930s and 1940s, when young Imperial Japanese Army officers repeatedly ignored orders from the central government, thus helping to drag the nation into war with China and, eventually, into the Pacific War.
1931 Manchurian Incident serves as a good illustration. Without Tokyo’s approval, Japanese troops in northeastern China bombed a Japanese-operated railway line in the area and claimed the attack was carried out by Chinese forces. This led to an immediate invasion by Japanese troops and the establishment of Manchukuo, a puppet state controlled by the Imperial Japanese military.
In a separate move, a top official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed setting out conditions for the use of weapons by SDF personnel in a permanent law to allow the dispatch of troops to offer logistic support to foreign militaries at any time.
Speaking at a conference in Fukuoka on Saturday, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said legislation is necessary to establish a framework to prevent the excessive use of force by SDF troops during such operations.
The legislation would eliminate the need to set up an ad hoc law each time an overseas SDF mission is planned.
The proposal is apparently intended to help soften the stance of LDP coalition partner Komeito on the permanent law. Komeito has balked over how far the ruling coalition should expand the SDF’s overseas activities.
Komura, head of the coalition’s committee for national security legislation, noted the need to take into consideration Komeito’s requests regarding the use of weapons.
He also reiterated his support for the government’s recent proposal to revise the existing law, which currently only allows for SDF logistic support of U.S. forces in the event of “contingencies in areas surrounding Japan.”
Komura said the legislation does not define a geographic concept but represents the nature of contingencies. “Any misleading phrase should be dropped” from the law, he said, adding that the concept of “areas surrounding Japan” also should be omitted.