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NSC in Japan: Needed, But Still Hurdles (Page 2 of 2)

Abe seems to have learned some lessons from his failures during his first tenure and has heeded the advice of his top cabinet ministers to lead with the economy. Taro Aso, deputy prime minister and finance minister, recently cautioned that the Cabinet has “persuaded Mr. Abe to set aside his pet interests and focus on the economy first” but noted that there remains concern amongst the opposition and vocal critics in China and South Korea that “once we get a victory in the upper house election, Mr. Abe might go in a different direction.”

Abe has laid out his case for a more centralized NSC to serve as a “control tower” in light of the shifting security environment in Northeast Asia. When addressing the NSC advisory board in May, Abe noted, “As the security environment surrounding Japan grows more severe, there is a need to establish a system as soon as possible to strategically, flexibly, and swiftly respond to the many foreign and security issues. The establishment of the National Security Council will be the first step toward a great turning point in the history of foreign and security issues in Japan.”

A remodeled NSC would be a much trimmer body with four representatives: the Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs. The lean NSC would be led by a National Security Advisor that reports directly to the Prime Minister and is supported by a staff (similar to the U.S. model). Ideally, this reform would reduce bureaucratic silos and facilitate more efficient decision-making.

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The current bill likely will have to wait until the fall before it gets an approval stamp by the Diet and is able to be enacted. Even if it gets to this point, questions remain about the efficacy of such a renewed body. One major concern is the lack of national security and intelligence experts to support and supplement a renewed NSC. Another worry is the potential isolation of ministries currently included under the chapeau of the NSC – including the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry. Finally, there are potential rifts that may arise between areas of responsibility between the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs.

Despite these potential landmines, it is clear that the current system is not working in Japan and there is a pressing need for change on national security decision-making. Enacting the NSC also allows Abe to test the political waters on his greater goals of constitutional change – especially the contentious Article 9. And Japan can take comfort in the fact that a functional NSC takes time to develop and such reforms will be only an initial step in centralizing security decisions.

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