‘Military geek’ Ishiba returns to friendly territory



News photo
Shigeru Ishiba – takes over as defense minister from Masahiko Komura on Wednesday.

Shigeru Ishiba, a 50-year-old Lower House member from Tottori Prefecture, is widely known for his expertise on weapons systems, complicated legal issues regarding defense, and above all his hobby of assembling and painting elaborate plastic models of warships and airplanes.

He was appointed defense minister Tuesday by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

Ishiba served as director general of the Defense Agency, which has since been upgraded to a ministry, from 2002 to 2004. When he departed, he told officials and officers he hoped someday to work with them again.

“The reason I have been appointed defense minister this time is perfectly clear. It’s to maintain the logistic mission of the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean,” Ishiba told reporters Wednesday during his first news conference at the Defense Ministry.

Fukuda badly needed a defense minister who could safely field questions and flak from opposition parties, which now control the Upper House.

Extending the 2001 special law that allows the MSDF to support NATO-led antiterrorist operation in and around Afghanistan is a top priority for the government in the current Diet session.

Ishiba is one of only a few lawmakers who can boast a thorough knowledge of military affairs. In October 2003, when the antiterrorism law was extended for the first time, it was he, as defense chief, who took questions in the Diet.

According to Ishiba, Fukuda gave him two main missions.

One is to get the law extended and the other is to help implement the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

“I will devote all my energy to tackling this agenda,” Ishiba said.

Despite his expertise and long-held desire, serving as defense minister under Fukuda may not be easy.

When Ishiba was the defense chief last time, Fukuda was chief Cabinet secretary.

At the time, Fukuda was dubbed the “shadow Defense Agency director general,” wielding great clout over diplomacy and defense issues — often at Ishiba’s expense.

“I believe (Fukuda) is extremely strict as far as work is concerned,” Ishiba told the news conference. But Fukuda was a “very reliable and warm-heated” boss when Ishiba worked with him before, he said.

These characteristics “are never incompatible,” Ishiba added. “I’m very happy because I can work under Fukuda as prime minister.”