Will new ‘NSC’ enhance security?

The Abe Cabinet on June 7 endorsed a bill to create a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, which serves the White House in considering national security and foreign policy matters. The government hopes to have the bill enacted by the Diet this fall.

In view of the dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, at a first glance, setting up an NSC-like organization appears to be necessary. But there is no guarantee that the planned organization will acquire the capability to quickly and flexibly respond to an emergency situation. It’s possible that the new organization will complicate the decision-making process, thus reducing the government’s flexibility to make timely judgments and respond quickly to emergencies.

Under the bill, the prime minister, the foreign minister, the defense minister and the chief Cabinet secretary will serve as the core of the new organization. The prime minister and the three Cabinet ministers will meet roughly once every two weeks and decide on basic lines in foreign and defense policies. An official will be appointed to advise the prime minister on national security issues. The adviser will also give advice at meetings of the prime minister and the three Cabinet ministers.

Inside the Cabinet Secretariat, a National Security Bureau will be set up with dozens of members. It will coordinate different government ministries and agencies and work out related policies. To ensure that necessary information is fed into the bureau without fail, a liaison officer will be stationed in each government ministry and agency concerned. But turf wars cannot be ruled out.

The Security Council, established in 1986 and composed of the prime minister and eight Cabinet ministers, including the foreign, defense, finance, transport and trade and industry ministers, will remain intact to discuss basic defense policy matters such as the outline of the national defense program.

Whether the new setup will work successfully will greatly depend on whether the government can recruit people who are good at collecting and analyzing information, and working out long-range strategic policies. Merely collecting a large amount of information will not produce desired results. It will be critical during emergencies that coordination between the planned bureau and the deputy chief Cabinet secretary in charge of crisis management goes smoothly.

The establishment of this new and very complex organization could also result in too many layers of bureaucracy and deprive the prime minister of flexibility in using the foreign minister, the defense minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, other Cabinet members and the prime minister’s office as currently set up when dealing with emergencies.

In addition, the Abe administration plans to impose a duty of confidentiality on officials of the new organization and to submit to the Diet a bill to guard national secrets. Such a bill would place restrictions on the people’s right to know what their government is doing and limit the activities of journalists. It will lead to the accumulation of more national secrets, thus weakening the foundation of democracy.