This year’s government white paper on defense touches on North Korea’s missile tests, closer security cooperation between Japan and the United States, and proposals to upgrade the Defense Agency to ministry status and expand the Self-Defense Forces’ overseas activities, among other things.

Although the security environment around Japan is changing, utmost care must be taken to ensure that the nation’s defense debates do not deviate from the nation’s “defense only” policy and the principles of the war-renouncing Constitution. This is the surest way to win the people’s understanding of the nation’s defense policy and avoid raising unnecessary suspicions in neighboring countries.

In the preface of the white paper, Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga mentions proposals to upgrade the Defense Agency to ministry status and, as one of its main tasks, to normalize the SDF’s overseas activities. His statement apparently reflects a high level of confidence following the conclusion of an agreement with the U.S. on the realignment of its bases in Japan, the strengthening of Japan-U.S. defense ties under the Koizumi and Bush administrations, and the safe completion of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s mission in Iraq.

But upgrading the Defense Agency to a ministry will undermine civilian control of the SDF. At present, the prime minister keeps the agency and the SDF under his or her effective control. When the Defense Agency chief wants to have a Cabinet meeting to consider SDF personnel affairs, defense-related legislation or SDF mobilization in the event of an imminent attack on Japan, he or she first must consult with, and present a request to, the prime minister. The same procedure is followed in budgetary matters. If the Defense Agency becomes a ministry, these steps will be skipped.

As for the expansion of the SDF’s overseas missions, Mr. Nukaga has been calling for the enactment of a permanent law to enable such missions instead of an ad hoc law for each overseas mission. Under such legislation, overseas deployment of the SDF would become possible without Diet debate or approval. This would undermine civilian control of the SDF.

The white paper refers to Japan’s decision to continue air transport missions in Iraq by the Air Self-Defense Force. But there is a possibility that the missions will end up transporting supplies and personnel to American and other forces in Iraq without contributing to Japan’s stated purpose of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. The government must make public detailed reports of the ASDF’s activities in Iraq.

Referring to the July 5 test-firing of seven missiles by North Korea, the white paper warns that “North Korea’s development, deployment and proliferation of ballistic missiles, along with the nuclear-arms issue, are a destabilizing factor not only for the Asia-Pacific region but for the entire international community.”

It goes on to say, “The range of North Korean missiles is expected to be extended further, and there is a possibility that derivatives of Taepodong-2 missiles may be produced.”

The white paper does not not present a detailed analysis of the July 5 launches because of the editing deadline. Following the July 5 launches, though, Mr. Nukaga had made a proposal that surely would aggravate the security situation in this region. “As a sovereign nation, it is natural to consider possessing the minimum capability (for a preemptive strike against a foreign missile base) within the confines of the Constitution in order to protect citizens,” he said.

Japan’s possession of such a capability would be a clear deviation from the nation’s long-standing defense policy and could ignite a regional arms race. His remarks might have raised suspicions even in Washington, because under the Japan-U.S. security arrangement the U.S. is to play the offensive role in the event of an attack on Japan.

The white paper mentions Japan’s effort to build a missile defense system. But it will be illusory to treat missile defense as if it were a panacea for missile threats. The public has never been informed in detail about its effectiveness in either test situations or actual combat. Serious debate must be held on missile defense from the viewpoint not only of cost performance but also of the likelihood of starting an arms race in the region.

Dedicating 50 pages to the significance of Japan-U.S. security cooperation, the white paper says that by jointly working to improve the international security environment, Japan’s peace and prosperity will be further secured. But tensions may increase between Japan and neighboring countries if they perceive that Japan is too closely incorporated into U.S. worldwide military strategy. It is all the more important for Japan to pursue a cautious defense policy with mature, balanced diplomacy.

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