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In a controversial move, the Defense Ministry might include a Self-Defense Forces officer as one of the three people it appoints as deputy director general at the Defense Policy Bureau, its powerful policymaking body.

The move, revealed in a draft of its reorganization plan, could fuel concerns about the robustness of civilian control in the national defense apparatus. No SDF officer has ever been assigned to such a senior post in the elite policy bureau, which is mostly manned by civilian officials.

The ministry also envisions setting up a strategic planning division that would be tasked with devising medium- to long-term strategies.

According to the draft, the policy bureau’s deputy director general post will be filled by a Defense Ministry official, an SDF officer and a counselor from the Foreign Ministry.

In addition, another bureau combining the defense equipment groups of the Defense Ministry and the air, maritime and ground staff offices, which sit atop the three branches of the SDF, will be placed under the control of the ministry. A civilian ministry official would be appointed as the bureau’s director general, while another ministry official and an SDF officer would fill the deputy director general posts.

Ranking officers would also be appointed to division chief posts in the Defense Policy Bureau and the defense equipment groups, the plan says.

The reorganization is aimed at improving the defense bodies’ ability to cope with the changing security environment they face, including the nuclear and ballistic missile threat from North Korea, China’s growing military power, and the increase in the SDF’s forays abroad.

The Defense Ministry plans to submit bills to the Diet next year to bring about the changes.

However, the plan might draw criticism, given the flak the ministry got from the scandal involving former Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami, who was sacked last fall after questioning the government’s position on Japan’s wartime record.

Efforts by Tamogami to give ranking officers history classes that were criticized as rightwing cast doubt on how well civilian control was working in the defense apparatus.

In any case, it is possible the plan will be affected by the House of Representatives election, which must be called by early September, because there is a rare but realistic chance that the opposition parties will take power and hence modify the defense plan.

The Defense Ministry’s plan, which toes the line draw last July by a government panel, is part of a series of changes proposed after a spate of scandals and lapses involving the ministry and the SDF, including collusion involving former Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya and the fatal collision between an Aegis destroyer and a fishing boat.

As part of the reorganization, the post of defense counselor will be abolished by next March and replaced by the new post of adviser to the defense minister. The adviser post will be filled by a political appointee, such as a private-sector expert, former ministry official or SDF officer.

The ministry’s Operational Policy Bureau will be abolished in fiscal 2010. Its work will be transferred to the Joint Staff Office, the SDF’s top operations body.

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