Cabinet reshuffle for convenience

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reshuffled his Cabinet Monday — the second in nine months. His aim is clear: removing obstacles — Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and infrastructure and transport minister Takeshi Maeda — to facilitate negotiations with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito on bills to eventually double the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 10 percent.

But Mr. Noda must consider whether it is wise to push a consumption tax hike when the economy is suffering from longtime deflation. Pushing the tax hike without first carrying out necessary reform such as making the social security system sustainable and eliminating wasteful use of public money is like putting the cart before the horse. The opposition parties called for removing Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Maeda, both censured in April in the Upper House, if the Democratic Party of Japan wanted to enter into negotiations with them over the tax raise bills.

Mr. Tanaka was censured for his lack of knowledge of defense-related matters and Mr. Maeda for his questionable behavior before a mayoral election in Gero, Gifu Prefecture. Mr. Noda picked Mr. Satoshi Morimoto, a professor at Takushoku University, to succeed Mr. Tanaka, and Mr. Yuichiro Hata, head of the DPJ’s Diet affairs committee in the Upper House, to succeed Mr. Maeda. Mr. Morimoto, a graduate of the National Defense Academy, first joined the Air Self-Defense Force and later joined the Foreign Ministry. He served as an aide on defense matters in Prime Minister Taro Aso’s administration. He is not an elected legislator. Even within the LPD there is a view that his appointment runs counter to the principle of civilian control of the Self-Defense Forces.

Another question raised is whether it is appropriate to let a nonlegislator make decisions on the operations of SDF units and have access to top defense secrets. Although the prime minister is the top commander of the SDF, it must not be forgotten that Mr. Morimoto makes decisions on SDF operations at the practical level.

Mr. Morimoto has the view that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense — a view that the government traditionally believes is unconstitutional. He also calls for revising the Constitution’s war-renouncing clause. Article 99 of the Constitution says that the Emperor, Cabinet and Diet members, and public servants “have the obligation to respect and uphold this Constitution.” One wonders whether his appointment is constitutionally appropriate.

He strongly supports the plan to transfer the functions of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko, both on Okinawa Island. He and Mr. Noda should heed Okinawan people’s call to move the functions outside Okinawa. He is said to have a network with defense experts in the United States. But he should realize that there are occasions in which Japan’s and the U.S.’s strategic interests do not necessarily meet.