(Asahi: February 24, 2015 – p. 4)
The Defense Ministry has begun amending Article 12 of the Defense Ministry Establishment Law, which has been a symbol of “civilian control” of the military. Although the ministry cited improving the efficiency of the Self-Defense Forces and streamlining defense decision-making as the reasons for amending the law, the clout of uniformed officials (of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces) will now grow rapidly. There is a risk that that uniformed officials will run amok due to the decline in the authority of civilian officials (of the Defense Ministry). The ministry’s responsibility will be called into question and it will be required to ensure that proper checks and balances are in place.
There has been infighting between the SDF’s uniformed officials and the ministry’s civilian officials over Article 12. Some had called for “deleting Article 12 altogether,” but an agreement was reached on a draft article in which the uniformed and civilian officials will equally support the defense minister.
Incumbent Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who are part of a defense policy clique in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have called for a review of the article. They cited an incident in which the Aegis destroyer Atago collided with a fishing boat in 2008 and it took one hour and 40 minutes before the defense minister received a report. This is because it takes too long for communications to pass through multiple sections in the ministry.
Nakatani asserted in his book that SDF commanders and chief of staff should directly inform the minister, the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei], and the prime minister about their operations and training, and receive direct orders from them. Nakatani’s appointment to the post of defense minister is a major factor behind the ministry’s moves to amend the law.
Uniformed officials welcome the idea of amending the law because it will significantly strengthen their authority. A senior SDF official with the rank of general said: “The fact that ministry officials (civilian officials) who are not experts in operations are involved in communications between the ministry and the chief of staff is illogical.”
The amendment to the Defense Ministry Establishment Law calls for abolishing the Operational Policy Bureau in the ministry, having bureau employees in charge of operational policy become Joint Staff Office members, and creating a system under which the chief of staff directly supports the defense minister on the operation of the SDF. Another senior SDF official said: “The civilian officials make decisions from a policy perspective and the uniformed officials do so based on military thinking. The uniformed and civilian officials support the ministry from both sides.”
Meanwhile, a civilian official whose authority will be reduced as a result of the amendment is suspicious about it, saying, “I wonder if uniformed officials are really capable of making policy decisions on operations.”
There are also some uniformed officials who take a cautious stance on the expansion of their own authority. A senior MSDF official emphasized that uniformed officials must support the SDF’s operation while welcoming the amendment. This official said: “Originating from the belief that ‘operations are the sanctuary of the uniformed officers,’ the military authorities intervened in policy-making and politics. This was the lesson of the prewar period. We must not cross that line.”