Rail CEO to head defense panel


The government announced Tuesday it has set up a panel to revise defense policy, tapping a businessman as chairman to head the team of experts on national security.

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, the group will consist of defense experts and academics, including Kyoto University’s Hiroshi Nakanishi and Keio University’s Yoshihide Soeya.

The group will be headed by Shigetaka Sato, chairman and chief executive officer of Keihan Electric Railway Co.

“We didn’t want somebody who may be biased (by) strong ties to defense issues,” Hirano explained. Sato was chosen for “his objective viewpoint, character and discernment.”

Hirano said the panel will start meeting soon. Media reports said the meeting may come as early as Thursday.

The government plans to revise the new National Defense Program Guideline by the end of the year, which will set Japan’s basic defense policies and the posture of the Self-Defense Forces.

Hirano said the panel is expected to meet about twice a month before compiling a report in seven or eight months.

Agenda topics for the panel are expected to include North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats as well as China’s growing military power in the region.

The discussions “of the panel will be the foundation of the National Defense Program Guideline, which will eventually be connected to the draft (defense) budget,” Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said.

“I am hoping to receive a report as soon as possible so the Defense Ministry can use it as the basis of its discussions.”

The government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama decided last fall to put off adopting the new National Defense Program Guideline for a year.

The current 2004 guideline stipulated that it must be reviewed in five years and the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito coalition had been ready to compile a new guideline by the end of last year.

Last August under Prime Minister Taro Aso of the LDP, a separate government panel had submitted a report on new defense policies that were supposed to serve as the basis for the new guideline.

Hirano said the government would not specifically stick to the recommendations in the previous report.

In the 2009 report, the panel recommended the government change its interpretation of collective self-defense and allow Japan to intercept any missiles launched from North Korea toward the United States.

It also said the government should relax the three principles banning arms exports so Japan can join international joint research and development, and production.

“The government has no intention of asking the panel members to use (the previous report) as the basis of their discussions,” Hirano said. “However, I do think it is natural for the panel . . . to refer to it in the process. But we have no intention of asking them to stick to it.”