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Editorial: Defense chief should explain why she softened stand on policies

  • October 6, 2016
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:35 p.m.
  • English Press
  • ,

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada came under attack on Oct. 5 at the Upper House Budget Committee, which started deliberations for the current extraordinary Diet session.


Renho, chief of the main opposition Democratic Party, questioned Inada over her past controversial remarks, drawing even more attention than Renho’s confrontation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the session.


Renho focused on Inada’s comments in the March 2011 issue of the monthly magazine Seiron, when the Liberal Democratic Party was in the opposition camp.


“Should we choose to defend our country by ourselves, or should we rather choose child-care benefits?” Inada was quoted as saying in the magazine.


She was referring to the fact that Japan’s defense budget at that time–4.68 trillion yen ($46 billion)–was smaller than the 5.5 trillion yen the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (now the Democratic Party) had promised to spend on families with young children under a support program introduced in 2010.


“If we use the money earmarked for child-care benefits to increase the defense budget, Japan’s military spending will come close to the international standards,” she said, calling for a doubling of the budget.


During the Oct. 5 Budget Committee session, Inada soft-pedaled on the issue. “Policy support for child rearing is very important, but we also have to take all possible measures to ensure the defense of our own country,” she said.


Renho also questioned the defense minister over another comment she made in the same magazine: “From the long-term perspective, Japan should probably consider possessing nuclear arms as a national strategy.”


Inada responded to Renho’s query by pledging to ensure that Japan will “maintain the three non-nuclear principles and do its utmost to realize a world without nuclear weapons.”


What Inada said represents a reasonable view that is fully in line with the non-nuclear policy of successive LDP Cabinets.


It is hardly surprising that Inada has changed her positions on these issues, and we welcome the switch.


But it should be noted that she has not offered any convincing explanation about why she has changed her opinions.


Did she realize that her hawkish views on these issues during her days as a rank-and-file lawmaker were wrong after she became defense minister and learned more about defense policy, an area in which she didn’t have much experience?


Or has she just decided to toe the official line while being a Cabinet member?


The remarks she made five years ago cannot be brushed aside simply as a thing of the past. It is also hard to believe there are no other politicians who share these views.


China continues its military buildup and aggressive naval expansion, while North Korea is striving to develop nuclear arms and missiles.

There are actually calls within the government to double defense spending.


Political pressure for increasing the defense budget is certain to grow as the government prepares the next Mid-Term Defense Program.


In 2006, Taro Aso, who was then the foreign minister of the first Abe Cabinet, implicitly called for debate on Japan’s nuclear armament. “When a neighboring country comes to possess (nuclear arms), it is important to have various discussions as one way of thinking (about the issue),” Aso said.


Some politicians remain sympathetic to the idea of Japan possessing nuclear arms.


The opposition camp, for its part, should do more than just question the consistency of Inada’s remarks on security issues.


What was Abe’s aim in appointing Inada as his defense minister? What is an appropriate amount for Japan to spend on defense? What actions should Japan take to help realize a world without nuclear weapons?


The Japanese public deserves to hear a more in-depth debate between the two sides on these issues.

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