Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This time, definitely

The inner pages of the newspapers are all a'twitter about the plan for a revamped National Security Council:
NSC to comprise prime minister, three Cabinet ministers
The Asahi Shimbun

Under the concept presented in Tuesday's report, the existing Security Council of Japan will be condensed into a smaller council comprising the prime minister and the three ministers, according to the report.

The finance minister was included in the council under an earlier plan, but that post was excluded from the latest report.

The special adviser to the prime minister in charge of national security will also attend the meetings. Other related ministers and the chief of staff of the Self-Defense Forces will join the meetings on an as-needed basis.

But the framework of the current Security Council of Japan will be retained because the NSC will discuss the National Defense Program Outline and other matters.

Something is very wrong here. I understand the reasoning behind the report's conclusions and for the most part agree with the plan.

The institutionalization of the post of Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for Security Affairs was probably a given, since a Council member had to become the permanent head of the National Security Council Secretariat.

What is interesting is the creations two new categories of Deputy Chief Cabinet Ministers: an Assistant Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary (ADCCS) of Foreign Affairs and what looks a lot like Assistant Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary for Homeland Security. These two individuals will be the NSC director's direct subordinates.

None of the current DCCSs (Shimomura Hakubun, Suzuki Seiji, Matoba Shunzo) have the background nor even an interest in security affairs. Establishment of the NSC would thus have to come after the passage of the enabling legislation and a Cabinet reshuffle.

It is also unclear whether the two new DCCS positions will supplement or replace current DCCS postings. My guess is that with Abe's love of councils, committees and extra-ministerial posts, the number of DCCS positions will rise to five from the current three.

The exclusion of the Finance Minister from the inner circle is more than a bit petty. This represents one more clipping of the wings of the Finance Ministry which, through its decades of arrogant, bullying behavior, built up so much resentment against it that politicians see both it necessary and popular (and, to top it off, nearly risk-free fun) to beat the MOF down one more time--this long after if has been stripped of most of its most fearsome powers.

Of course, the absence of financial brainpower from the deliberations of the NSC will mean that the blindness toward the international financial implications of Japanese domestic decisions will only deepen. Japan will have no "committee to save the world" prepared to handle a significant global financial meltdown. It may not even get to nominate a member to such a committee.

As for the staffing of the NSC, well, the report's authors seem to have kicked the ball to the sidelines:
Govt seeks early launch of Japan NSC
Yomiuri Shimbun

The number of personnel (sic) in the secretariat office is expected to be between 10 and 20 people (sic), with core members to be assigned as graded post officials. Uniformed Self-Defense Forces officers will be actively recruited as secretariat members, as will private sector experts and researchers.

Concerning the exchange of information with intelligence sections of government ministries, the report said, "Intelligence officers of the Cabinet Office will always provide necessary and appropriate information."
Hope triumphing over experience again, I'm afraid.

Later - Jun Okumura has mailed me pointing out that one of my sources, the English language text of the Asahi Shimbun online, contains a whopping error. He's right-- the Japanese original states that the deputies to the Special Advisor will be Assistant Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretaries (kanbōfuchōkanho), not Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretaries (kanbōfuchōkan).

Hence the major strikethrus in the above.

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