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SDF beefed-up role in operations planning to unite officers, bureaucrats, defense chief says

Kyodo

Defense chief Gen Nakatani said Tuesday that a bigger role for Self-Defense Forces officials in drafting the next overall operation plan for troops will provide a boost to the somewhat strained relationship between the officers and civilian bureaucrats in the Defense Ministry.

“It is important that drafting of plans and policy decision making are done properly as we enhance the unity between the civil bureaucrats and SDF officials,” Nakatani said at a regular news conference.

Nakatani was referring to the ministry’s policy, announced Friday, to partly transfer authority from civilian bureaucrats to uniformed SDF personnel in drafting overall operation plans after senior SDF officials requested a larger role in their formulation.

The bureaucrats had turned down the request out of concern uniformed SDF personnel could extend their influence — reversing a long-held power dynamic — following the enactment of legislation last June that removed the control civilian officials had over SDF members.

The legal change put uniformed SDF personnel on an equal footing with civilian defense bureaucrats in assisting the defense minister.

Nakatani said the transfer of authority was to “reorganize and improve the line of work of the Joint Staff Office (which comprises SDF officials,) and a ministry bureau,” which is comprised of civilian bureaucrats at the ministry.

The plans, fully revised every three years, will reflect for the first time the new security bills passed last year that expand the role of Japanese troops overseas.

The law will enter into force by the end of this month.

Under the new policy, defense bureaucrats will be limited to deciding on the minister’s guidelines, which set forth basic principles for devising an operational plan. SDF officials, meanwhile, will be able to draft the actual operations plan based on the principles while also seeking the defense minister’s approval of it.

Previously, defense bureaucrats had the authority to seek the defense minister’s approval.

“Securing assistance from both the political and military points of view in a balanced manner, like a pair of wheels, remains important,” Nakatani said.

The next overall SDF operation plan will also take into account Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines that were revised last April to expand the scope of bilateral cooperation and boost its force’s role abroad.