Defense minister stresses civilians still have control over Japanese military


Staff Writer

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on Tuesday downplayed a news report that some senior officers in the Self-Defense Forces are demanding a bigger role than the civilians in drafting the next three-year overall operation plan.

Nakatani sought to stress that the principle of civilian control over the SDF is still in place in response to the report, but he admitted that such a discussion is in play.

He said both the civilian officials and uniformed officers are still deciding who will take part in drafting the plan, which will reflect the new security laws taking effect in March that will expand the SDF’s overseas role.

Nakatani rejected the notion that the Joint Staff will have the final authority.

“The basic policy will be drafted with the assistance of both civilian and uniformed defense officials,” said Nakatani, a former SDF member and a graduate of the National Defense Academy. “But ultimately I will be fully in charge of making decisions.”

His comments were in response to a report that the Joint Staff wants to have a bigger role in drafting the Defense Ministry’s basic policy for the overall operation plan as well as in seeking the defense minister’s approval for the plan.

Some civilian and uniformed officials on Tuesday denied speculation that the Joint Staff would have a greater role in influencing the basic policy. They said the draft has to be approved by civilian officials and there will be coordination between them before it is presented to Nakatani.

The law outlining the role of the Defense Ministry was revised last year, stripping civilian bureaucrats of their authority over uniformed SDF officers and placing them on an equal footing.

Following the revision, the Defense Ministry’s operational policy bureau, which drafted basic policy, was abolished. Its mission was partially split between the Joint Staff and the ministry’s Defense Policy Bureau.

Before the change, military officers worked only on the actual operational plan based on the basic policy. It was reported this week the Joint Staff wants to take over the entire process.

The next overall operation plan, which is revised every three years, will not only incorporate the changes made to the security laws, but will also reflect the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines that were revised last April to broaden bilateral cooperation. Some scholars are worried that giving the uniformed officers a greater role will undermine the nation’s defense-oriented posture.