Any government to be formed after the June 25 Lower House election should take steps to increase Japan’s preparedness for natural disasters and other emergencies that could endanger national security or the lives of the citizens, said Kazuhisa Ogawa, an expert in crisis management.
“In terms of managing emergencies, Japan lacks an effective system that such a highly-industrialized nation ought to have,” said 54-year-old Ogawa, a military analyst who has long been calling for Japan’s security awareness to be increased, both at the government and public levels.
Ogawa argued in a recent interview that political leaders themselves should be questioned for their capacity to manage critical situations, even within their own field of politics.
“When former Prime Minister (Keizo) Obuchi fell into a coma in April, the government had a void in its leadership until Chief Cabinet Secretary (Mikio) Aoki took over as acting prime minister,” he said. “The lack of a hierarchical order for the automatic transfer of power exposed Japan’s inabilities in crisis management at the top level.”
Ogawa pointed out that the government as a whole has learned little from the Great Hanshin Earthquake, a major quake that devastated Kobe and surrounding areas in January 1995, claiming more than 6,300 lives.
“One of the lessons from that earthquake is that Japan should create its own version of the FEMA (the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency),” he said. “The government, however, has yet to take steps in that direction.”
The FEMA, established in 1979 as an independent agency of the U.S. federal government, deals with many forms of disasters — hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, hazardous substance spills as well as acts of terrorism.
The U.S. agency’s mission is to reduce loss of life and property and protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from all types of hazards through a comprehensive, risk-based emergency management program.
Citing the May hijacking of an intercity bus in Fukuoka Prefecture, in which a knife-wielding 17-year-old youth was arrested in Hiroshima after taking command of the vehicle for over 15 hours and fatally stabbing a female passenger, Ogawa said the case could have been resolved within three hours if the government had a body similar to the FEMA.
“From the eye of foreign countries, the biggest question about the hijack is why a police sniper did not shoot at the hijacker to reduce casualties,” the analyst said. “The case has reportedly raised concerns among the other members of the Group of Eight countries about the security of their leaders during the (July) Okinawa summit.”
A lack of political leadership in managing emergencies apparently delayed critical decisions to resolve the case, only to prolong the ordeal for the hostages, Ogawa charged.
In Japan, politicians have long left matters of crisis-control to bureaucrats, believing they are sufficiently capable of handling emergencies, but the public has recently become disillusioned with that belief through this recent series of mismanaged incidents, Ogawa said.
Under the Obuchi administration, Ogawa occasionally advised the prime minister, as well as then Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, to formulate an effective system of crisis management.
“Regardless of the result of the upcoming election, the new government must strive to carry out the policy tasks the Obuchi administration left unfinished in this field,” Ogawa said.