National / Politics

Advisory panel to Abe kicks off discussions on Japan’s new defense guidelines with a focus on space and cyberspace

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

A panel of experts advising the prime minister started discussions Wednesday on the revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines, a policy document that outlines the nation’s defense objectives for the next decade, with the aim of addressing the new realities that permeate the modern security landscape.

At the outset of the panel’s inaugural session Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized the need to address those challenges.

“It’s now critically important to maintain advantages in new areas such as cyberspace and outer space,” Abe said at the meeting. “We will no longer be able to fully defend our country if we stick to the old paradigm of relying on traditional land, sea and air (forces),” he added.

The nine-member panel is chaired by Akio Mimura, chairman of The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The deputy chairman is Shinichi Kitaoka, a professor emeritus of politics at the University of Tokyo.

Asked why the government plans to revise the basic defense policy guidelines now, last updated in 2013, Kitaoka pointed to a number of emerging factors that have increased threats to Japan over the past five years, including North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and advanced ballistic missiles.

“There have been major changes in international situations and technological developments,” Kitaoka said. “We have no choice but to revise the guidelines now.”

The NDPG’s Annex Table is a registry that documents the basic configuration of the Self-Defense Forces — including the total number of military personnel and major weapon systems, such as fighter jets, destroyers and submarines — and is what the Defense Ministry uses to draw up its long- to mid-term procurement plans. According to Kitaoka, however, the expert panel is not likely to discuss details included in the Annex Table, instead focusing on analysis of international situations and basic policies aimed at national security.

The advisory panel is unlikely to form a consensus and will not submit a set of proposals to the prime minister, Kitaoka told a news conference after the first session.

“This panel won’t publicize a set of proposals. We want the government to use our discussion as a reference,” he added.

Meanwhile the Defense Ministry now plans to set up an in-house panel to discuss specific details of the new NDPG.

The ministry’s panel, consisting of senior ministry officials and chiefs of staff of the SDF, is likely to have the final say in deciding much of the substance of new defense guidelines.