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December 6, 2006

Suggestions for Japan's National Security Council

Tomohito SHINODA (Associate Professor, International University of Japan)

Mr. Abe appointed former environment minister Yuriko Koike as Special Advisors to the Prime Minister in charge of national security. On November 22, the first meeting of the government panel was held to discuss establishing a "National Security Council" (NSC) in Japan.

There seem to be expectations for the information gathering capabilities the NSC, but it needs to be pointed out that the U.S. NSC, which Japan's NSC is said to be modeled after, is a policymaking body, not an intelligence agency. The NSC, which is chaired by the U.S. President, and its official members include the Vice President, the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense.

In the United States, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (often referred to as The National Security Advisor) is appointed by the President to attend the Council. The U.S. NSC has 200 staffers and 15 senior directors. Five of them are in charge of regional affairs, and others are specialized in specific fields such as arms control. The NSC's strong influence is largely due to the White House's central role in U.S. budget making in the executive branch. The State and Defense Departments often request NSC to be involved in discussions when major policy changes are envisaged.

Some in the Japan government propose to provide the Special Advisors to the Prime Minister with the authority to instruct respective ministries. Under the parliamentary system, however, executive power does not belong to the Prime Minister himself but to the whole Cabinet in a collective manner. Article 6 of the Cabinet Law clearly stipulates that the Prime Minister can only "exercise control and supervision over the administrative branches in accordance with the policies to be decided upon at Cabinet Meetings."

Thus, providing direct control over the ministries to the Advisors would challenge the principle of the parliamentary system, and could bring about conflicts and confusion within the government. Even in the United States there have been cases where fruitless conflicts were observed, such as when Dr. Kissinger, being an Advisor at the time, pursued his own diplomacy while ignoring the State Department.

Japan's NSC should initially serve the function of intermediation and coordination among various governmental agencies. Mr. Masaharu Gotoda, when he was the Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Nakasone Cabinet, suggested establishing five Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretaries to be in charge of specific fields such as foreign relations, domestic affairs, and public relations. In 2000, the Cabinet Secretariat was defined as the agency with "supreme and final" coordinating powers. It seems more appropriate, therefore, to assign such functions to a Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary who already has powers, rather than to an "Advisor" whose authorities remain somewhat ambiguous.

Another aspect in need of consideration for Japan's NSC is its function as a "customer" of information. Information gathered at intelligence agencies passes through various routes to finally reach the Prime Minister and the Chief Cabinet Secretary. But currently there is no institution to accumulate and store information gathered. It is unrealistic to burden the Prime Minister and the Chief Cabinet Secretary to remember all such information.

In the United States, based on the notion of "need to know," NSC is assigned to be a "customer" of intelligence from various agencies. Japan's NSC needs to play a similar role, and to be equipped with the authority to demand information from any government agency. Then it would effectively analyze, accumulate, and archive the information. If the NSC becomes influential, intelligence agencies would be competing to provide information.

It is desirable to appoint a Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary to look after the NSC, and to whom the existing Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretaries in charge of foreign relations and national security would report. The next step would be to recruit, from inside and outside the government, about 20 capable staffers. If they efficiently formulate policy by utilizing the information from various agencies, they could assist the prime minister in conducting foreign policies and act as a control tower to instruct various sectors of the government.

The Constitution assigns executive authority to conduct foreign policy to the Cabinet, not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) per se. Important policies, therefore, should be advanced by the prime minister, who is held politically accountable for policy decisions, assisted by the MOFA. Such a format would be more desirable for democratic diplomacy.

(The original Japanese article appeared in the November 25, 2006 issue of the Asahi Shinbun)

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