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Editorial: Japan ministry report on canceled missile defense plan far from satisfactory

  • September 5, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The Japanese Defense Ministry has compiled a report on the withdrawal of its plan to deploy Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense systems in the country.

 

The report said that the ministry had made a promise with local residents that interceptor missile rocket boosters would only fall onto safe areas, but the ministry became unable to keep that promise. Officials apparently explained about the boosters to the locals without sufficient evidence as the ministry was rushing to deploy the defense systems following a series of ballistic missile launches by North Korea.

 

Defense Minister Taro Kono has apologized over the matter, saying that the ministry’s handling “lacked caution and sincerity.”

 

Kono said in June when he announced the ministry’s decision to retract its Aegis Ashore plan that it was due to the issues with the boosters.

 

The report was maintained along the lines of Kono’s earlier claim. Its brief 9-page body is filled with almost nothing but a list of events that took place. Kono had said that the ministry would review the developments leading up to the defense system cancellation, but we must question whether we can even call this a “review.”

 

In reality, the ministry had come to a deadlock over the deployment plan, with the selection of candidate sites and radars done in a sloppy manner. The prevailing view is that the ministry decided to cancel the plan, using the boosters as an excuse.

 

There were serious errors in data provided to the candidate site in the country’s northern prefecture of Akita. A Defense Ministry official dozed off during a briefing for local residents, sparking a backlash. The selection of the deployment site was put back on the drawing board due to strong objections from local residents.

 

Furthermore, the ministry picked a radar model that had never been used and had no prototype. This decision was met with objections even from parties related to the Self-Defense Forces.

 

While the government backed down on the defense systems’ deployment, it nevertheless plans to purchase the radar according to the contract and will divert its use for something else. Considering that questions have been raised over the matter, the selection process for the radar also needs to be examined.

 

If in-house investigations and reviews into the process by ministry officials were difficult, the ministry could have asked outside parties, such as lawyers, to look into the issue.

 

The timing of the report’s publication comes during a transition of power as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is stepping down. It’s only natural for people to suspect that the ministry is trying to draw a curtain on the issue during this time of confusion. The report should not just simply be released, but should be the subject of discussion during the extraordinary Diet session scheduled for mid-September.

 

It was also revealed that Defense Ministry officials, including its top bureaucrat administrative vice-minister, did not report the issues with the boosters to Kono for about half a year while knowing about them.

 

A country’s security policy cannot exist without trust from the public. The Defense Ministry should have used its report as the first step to win back people’s trust that it lost over the revocation of the Aegis Ashore deployment plan. The ministry will face a rough road ahead to win back that trust without a proper investigation.

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