The chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force has proposed that uniformed officers be given more say vis-a-vis civilians in the operations of the nation’s military, but the Defense Agency chief has no plans to push for this option at present, agency officials said Friday.

Adm. Koichi Furusho proposed that the new position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to debut in 2005, should have authority over all Self-Defense Forces operations and not be under the control of civilian Defense Agency officials.

Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba said Friday that he has no immediate plan to seek legal amendments to enable this, although he indicated the proposal merits consideration.

The proposal was made at a June 16 meeting of an intra-agency panel attended by key civilian officials and uniformed officers, including Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba, chairman of the Joint Staff Council, and chiefs of staff of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces.

The agency plans to integrate operations of the three SDF branches under the new office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Furusho’s proposal was made in that context, the agency officials said.

To prevent the military from running amok, like it did when it led Japan into its last war, postwar Japan instituted strict civilian control over the Self-Defense Forces.

In addition to the final authority of the Diet and Cabinet on defense policy decisions, uniformed SDF officers are under the supervision of designated high-ranking Defense Agency civilian officials dealing with SDF operations.

The law setting up the Defense Agency prohibits direct communication between top uniformed officers and the agency chief, who is a Cabinet member.

It stipulates that officers must report to the agency chief through 10 Defense Agency “defense counselors.” Not even the top uniformed officer is allowed to state opinions directly to the agency chief.

The law gives the top agency bureaucrat — administrative vice defense minister — authority to supervise SDF’s operations in support of the agency chief.

Civilian officials at the agency have expressed alarm over the proposal put forward by the top uniformed officer.

“That is a very dangerous plan, which could shake the foundation of civilian control,” a high-ranking official said.

According to the agency officials, such a demand has been floated not only by Furusho but other top uniformed officers, beginning about a year ago when the Joint Staff Council compiled a report on the joint operation of the SDF.

Agency chief Ishiba is believed to be more sympathetic toward uniformed SDF officers than many of his predecessors.

He has said repeatedly that it is important for civilian officials as experts on law and uniformed officers as experts on military affairs to work together to support the agency chief and the prime minister, just like “the two wheels of a vehicle.”

But at a news conference Friday morning, Ishiba denied there is a public consensus at present supporting a change in the current system to give uniformed officers a greater say.

“If I am asked if there is already a consensus, I must say there is none,” he said.

Quantico link revealed

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The Self-Defense Forces have stationed a liaison officer at the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., since mid-May, Japanese and U.S. sources said Thursday.

This is the first time the SDF has sent a liaison officer to a Marine Corps command in the United States.

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