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A special panel last week started discussions on setting up a Japanese version of the National Security Council of the United States. The White House-style organization is a pet idea of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In his first policy speech before the Diet, Mr. Abe expressed his resolve to “strengthen the control tower functions of the prime minister’s office and to improve the office’s information gathering functions so that the prime minister can make decisions quickly with strong political leadership on national strategy in diplomacy and security.” The same theme was repeated when Ms. Yuriko Koike, special adviser to the prime minister on national security, read Mr. Abe’s speech in the first session of the panel.

The prime minister hopes to create a system in which information gathered by the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Agency and other government organizations will be concentrated and analyzed in the prime minister’s office so that it can work out long-term diplomatic and security policies and execute crisis management quickly and efficiently.

Mr. Abe’s enthusiasm shows itself in the fact that the panel is chaired by Mr. Abe himself and made up of 13 other influential members, including Ms. Koike, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara, who served in that capacity from 1987 to 1995, former Foreign Ministry, Defense Agency and National Police Agency bureaucrats, and academicians.

The panel will issue a report on the shape of a new organization by the end of February, with the aim to create it in 2008. New legislation may become necessary. But several questions must be solved to translate Mr. Abe’s idea into reality. One is how to demarcate the functions of the new organization and the functions of the existing government agencies and ministries. The latter is likely to resist giving up their powers to the new organization.

In view of the rapidly changing international environment, Mr. Abe’s desire is understandable. But he should not forget the importance of checks and balances in Japan’s parliamentary Cabinet system.

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