A bill to create a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council has passed the Lower House and is now on the floor of the Upper House. The NSC is the principal forum used by the U.S. president for considering national security and foreign policy matters. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that the purpose of the Japanese NSC would be to enable the government to carry out security measures and diplomacy flexibly and strategically by collecting information held by various government organizations in an integrated fashion.
It should not be forgotten that the Japanese NSC is an important part of Mr. Abe’s plan to push his policy of “proactive pacifism.” Through the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, “proactive pacifism” could eventually lead to deployment of the Self-Defense Forces overseas on armed military missions.
In short, if implemented Mr. Abe’s policy of “proactive pacifism” will destroy the Constitution’s war-renouncing principle and Japan’s traditional “defense-only defense” posture. Thus the prime minister’s push for “proactive pacifism” must be stopped.
The NSC bill goes hand in hand with a secrecy bill to give heads of administrative bodies discretionary power to designate information related to security, diplomacy, counterintelligence and measures related to counterterrorism as special secrets, thus severely limiting public access to government information. The secrecy bill, on which the Lower House started interpellation Thursday, does not incorporate an independent third-party committee that would examine information designated as special secrets to determine if the designation is justified. The government will be able to maintain the designations as long as it desires.
The bill mandates harsh penalties for those found guilty of leaking special secrets. National public servants would be subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years and Diet members for up to five years. Reporters who gather such information could be imprisoned for up to five years.
Thus the secrecy bill will make it extremely difficult for reporters to ferret out hidden government information that ordinary citizens have a right to know because of the impact it could have on their lives. The public will be unable to know even in general terms what items are designated as special secrets.
The secrecy bill also will undermine the power of the Diet, which is “the highest organ of state power” under Article 41 of the Constitution and has the constitutional right to “conduct investigations related to government.”
The government will be able to expand the scope of special secrets almost limitlessly because the definition of items that can be designated as special secrets is both wide and vague. Thus the government will be able to keep an extremely large amount of information hidden from the public. Even information related to nuclear power stations could be classified as special secrets on the grounds that they concern measures against terrorism.
It is obvious that the secrecy bill undermines not only freedom of the press and people’s right to know but also the very constitutional principle that “sovereign power rests with the people.”
The Abe administration says that the secrecy bill is necessary to protect sensitive information given to Japan’s NSC, especially that supplied by the United States and other foreign countries. But the dangers posed by the secrecy bill to Japanese democracy outweigh such considerations.
Under the NSC bill, the prime minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the defense minister will regularly meet. There is a danger that important security and diplomatic policies will be decided solely by the prime minister and the three other Cabinet members without wider discussion.
There is also no clear mechanism to keep proper official records of their discussions, thus the Diet, the public and future generations won’t be able to scrutinize their discussions and decisions.
There is also a possibility that the establishment of the new organization alongside current government organizations will complicate decision-making processes, thus reducing the government’s ability to make timely judgments and respond quickly to emergencies.
In addition, the collection of a larger amount of information by the NSC will not necessarily lead to the making of rational defense and security policies. The possibility cannot be ruled out that Japan’s policies could be unduly influenced by biased or inaccurate information supplied by foreign governments.
One wonders if the planned NSC will have the capability to weed out irrelevant, misleading or false information.
Mr. Abe’s obsession with the NSC bill shows that he thinks that enhancing Japan’s military activities through his policy of “proactive pacifism” will help to resolve difficult foreign policy issues that Japan is now facing, including a territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Only diplomacy can resolve such issues in a satisfactory manner. A National Security Bureau will be set up and manned by some 50 officials, including about a dozen uniformed SDF officers, to serve as the NSC’s secretariat. The bureau will consist of six units; one of these will focus solely on China and North Korea. This setup itself could increase tensions between Japan and its two neighbors.
The NSC bill and the secrecy bill are inseparable. If they are enacted, a large part of Japan’s defense policy and diplomacy would be veiled in secrecy.
It is absurd to let the secrecy bill undermine two pillars of Japanese democracy — freedom of information and the people’s right to know — for the sake of establishing the NSC.
Citizens should not hesitate to express their opposition to these two bills, using all available means at their disposal, including pressing their Diet representatives to vote against them.
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