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The confusion in the Defense Ministry that accompanied the selection of the ministry’s new administrative vice minister appears to have been settled. But the unfortunate episode revealed a lack of prudence on the part of Defense Minister Yuriko Koike and a lack of leadership on the part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The confusion stemmed from Ms. Koike’s failure to inform Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya in advance of her plan to replace him with Mr. Tetsuya Nishikawa, chief of the ministry’s secretariat. Although Ms. Koike reportedly tried to call Mr. Moriya to explain her plan, she apparently couldn’t get through and made no further efforts to contact him. Consequently, Mr. Moriya learned of the plan through a newspaper report, became angry and sought to resist it.

Ms. Koike wanted Mr. Nishikawa, originally from the National Police Agency, to serve as her deputy because she thought he would be able to prevent defense information leaks — a problem that has plagued the Self-Defense Forces. Mr. Moriya, who began his career as a bureaucrat at the Defense Agency, the ministry’s predecessor, wanted an official with a similar career background to succeed him. A Cabinet minister has the power to enact bureaucratic personnel changes, but Ms. Koike’s efforts to explain her plan to her deputy and gain his acceptance fell woefully short.

Ms. Koike also failed to follow established procedure and obtain prior consent for her personnel affairs plan from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki and the three deputy chief Cabinet secretaries. These four officials meet to decide on personnel changes affecting high-ranking bureaucrats. Mr. Shiozaki also became upset because Ms. Koike skipped the established procedure.

In the end, a third person, the ministry’s Personnel and Education Bureau chief Kohei Masuda, was named Mr. Moriya’s successor. But it is problematic that Mr. Abe, the SDF’s supreme commander, let confusion reign at the ministry for 10 days. Poor communication at the top of the ministry and Mr. Abe’s lack of awareness of his responsibility to resolve the problem expeditiously will have a negative effect on SDF members and undermine the people’s trust in the government’s leadership.

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