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In May 2008, the Diet enacted a basic law on space without rousing sufficient public debate. Representing a drastic departure from Japan’s traditional “peaceful purposes only” space policy, the law paves the way for extensive use of space for security purposes, especially missile defense.

A panel at the government’s space development strategy headquarters headed by Prime Minister Taro Aso has announced a draft of the basic plan on space. Conspicuous in the draft is wider use of space by the Self-Defense Forces.

The draft calls for increasing the number of information- gathering satellites from three currently to four within five years and developing advanced sensors and cameras for early- warning satellites in a geostationary orbit to detect a ballistic missile launch. Apparently behind this call is North Korea’s launch in early April of a long-range rocket ostensibly for putting a satellite in orbit.

But one wonders if the government has carefully considered the cost-effectiveness of missile defense. The government also should seriously consider the danger that missile defense may intensify tension in the region and sow the seeds for a pre- emptive attack. Priority should be given to diplomatic efforts to solve problems and establish stable relations with neighboring countries. The expansion of the use of space for security purposes is likely to give rise to secrecy, promotion of vested interests and increased spending.

The draft gives the impression that it has simply collected as many space projects as possible. This is likely to lead to a wasteful use of money. The fiscal 2009 budget allocates some ¥350 billion for space programs, 10 percent more than in fiscal 2008. The draft says that, in five years, annual spending must be more than double the current spending.

For example, it calls for launching 34 satellites in the next five years, more than twice the number of the past five years. Before deciding on a final plan late this month, the government should scrutinize each project from the viewpoint of cost-effectiveness and its contributions to Japan’s basic scientific research.

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