End run around civilian control

The Diet last week passed a revision of the Self- Defense Forces Law to identify actions Japan would take if faced with an imminent ballistic missile attack. This simplification of the command procedure for firing interceptor missiles, however, poses several questions, especially regarding the issue of civilian control. The introduction of missile defense itself also should be questioned.

Under existing law, in the event of a military attack from another country, the prime minister would order an SDF mobilization with approval from the Diet. In an emergency case, the prime minister could mobilize SDF units first, but would have to get ex post facto approval immediately from the Diet.

Under the revision, the SDF could fire interceptor missiles without the prime minister’s mobilization order. If another country indicated that it intended to launch a ballistic missile attack on Japan — such as by fueling a missile launcher — the Defense Agency chief would seek permission from the prime minister in a Cabinet meeting to deploy the missile shield. If there were no clear signs of an imminent attack but another country behaved in a manner that led Japan to be on high alert — for example, by preparing for an apparent missile test that could turn into a real attack launch — the defense chief would get permission from the prime minister to implement an emergency procedures manual with an expiration date for deploying the missile shield.

In both cases, the defense chief, after getting approval from the prime minister, would give an advance order to commanders to launch interceptor missiles if necessary. In the second case, the commanders would decide at their own discretion whether to launch. In either case, a launch of interceptor missiles would have to be reported to the Diet.

The revision of the law is primarily designed to counter moves by North Korea. Since a ballistic missile launched from there would reach Japan in about 10 minutes, a simplified interceptor launch procedure is essential. Yet the Diet was not provided with the emergency procedures manual for when there is a possibility but no clear signs that another country plans a missile launch. Thus the Diet could not determine how strict or loose the steps are in the manual — a big problem from the viewpoint of civilian control.

Another problem is that, if interceptor missiles are fired, the government does not have to get ex post facto approval from the Diet; it only has to report the fact to the Diet. It must never be forgotten that ex post facto approval by the Diet is the last resort for civilian control.

To leave final responsibility for civilian control to the prime minister alone runs counter to the constitutional principle that the Diet shall be the highest organ of state power. The original bill did not even include the duty of the government to report to the Diet — a clear sign of the government’s tendency to make light of the principle of civilian control.

The government is to write the procedures manual later. Japan’s missile defense system is scheduled to begin deployment in March 2007. Although missile defense is hardly a perfected technology, Japan is expected to spend 1 trillion yen over 10 years from fiscal 2004. Japan’s system will comprise SM-3 missiles (Standard Missile-3), which are to be installed on Aegis destroyers to intercept an incoming ballistic missile outside Earth’s atmosphere, and land-based PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability-3) missiles, for intercepting a ballistic missile that has broken through the SM-3 shield. Both SM-3 and PAC-3 missiles are supposed to directly hit the target and destroy it — an extremely difficult task.

PAC-3 missiles are to be deployed at only three bases — Iruma (Saitama Prefecture), Gifu (Gifu Prefecture) and Kasuga (Fukuoka Prefecture). This means that, even with enormous spending, missile defense won’t cover the whole nation. Defense Agency Chief Yoshinori Ono has made it clear that only 24 of the 60 launchers at the three missile bases will have PAC-3 missiles. The question of cost-effectiveness will linger, and the cost is likely to increase due to future system upgrades. In addition, it is feared that strong electromagnetic waves from the land-based radar for PAC-3 missiles could affect local residents.

Last year the government decided to allow the export of missile defense-related parts to the United States, and Mr. Ono said recently that the U.S. can export interceptor missiles incorporating Japanese technology to a third country. These steps will undermine the nation’s long-standing export ban on weapons and weapons technology, a policy that has helped to prevent Japan from being dominated by the military-industrial complex.

Inevitably, Japan and the U.S. will closely share radar and satellite information. While such a relationship may be militarily logical, it may cause worry and suspicion among neighboring countries.