According to the Sankei Shimbun (many of whose articles are quoted below), the purpose of the NSC bills is to more rapidly reach a consensus on diplomatic and security issues (an important development given the response of previous cabinets to diplomatic and security events in the East Asian region). The Prime Minister, Chief Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Minister, and Defence Minister will be the main members of the “Four Ministers’ Meeting”, with a ‘National Security’ Office to be established within the Cabinet Secretary’s Office. As a result of demands from the DPJ, the Abe government has amended its NSC bills in relation to the type of information and resources each agency and ministry is obliged to contribute to the NSC.
On the 11th, PM Abe announced that the first Director General of the NSC Office will be Yachi Shōtarō, a former diplomat and one-time secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the Asahi Shimbun, Yachi has long functioned as the ‘brain’ behind many of PM Abe’s foreign policy decisions, and maintains a close relationship with the prime minister. Yachi is particularly well informed about the activity of the US NSC, and has often stressed the needed for consistency across diplomatic and security policies. During the first Abe Cabinet, Yachi served as a Special Advisor to the Cabinet, and was a member of the influential ‘Roundtable Conference on Security and Defence Power’ (J).
It appears as though the post of Director General of National Security was sought after by both the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, and led to some turf wars between both. While the Director General stems from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office requested that responsibilities for six areas deemed necessary for national security, these being ‘General’, ‘Strategy’, ‘Intelligence’, ‘Allies’, ‘China and North Korea’, and ‘Other Regions’, be distributed among those government departments responsible for security.
As such, these six areas will be broken up between the Ministry of Defence (responsible for 3 areas), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (responsible for 2), and the National Police Agency (responsible for 1). The National Security Office will have a staff of 60, with Defence bureaucrats overseeing strategy, defence planning, and areas of higher terrorist activity such as the Middle East and Africa. Foreign Affairs bureaucrats will be responsible for maintaining links with allies and other friendly nations, while also collecting information on Chinese and North Korean military activities, among other things. The National Policy Agency will take responsibility for the handling and storage of information.
The formation of a central authority responsible for security in Japan is a novel development in Japan’s bureaucratic landscape, although it will be seen as a consequence of the increased level of tension between Japan and its neighbours, although its impetus came from discussions held during the first Abe Cabinet. The NSC will allow Japan’s leadership to receive information from relevant agencies in the one venue, rather than the practice up until now of creating a temporary office within the PM’s office to respond to diplomatic and security crises as they emerged, with a fragmented intelligence community spread among four agencies, each providing analyses that differed from one another.
As was alluded to above, the effectiveness of such a Council depends on the ability of each agency to cooperate in providing an overall security framework for Japan. Too often ministries and agencies dispute one another over their sphere of influence, each attempting to surpass the other in terms of influence over government decision making (thereby securing a greater proportion of budget funds.) While such an approach may have distinguished bureaucratic relations in the past, it will simply not do for agencies to engage in in-fighting while issues of national security are at stake.
If the passage of the NSC bills produces the intended effect – i.e., greater coordination in diplomatic and security policy, a faster response to diplomatic and security incidents, a greater awareness by the executive of the activities of Japan’s intelligence agencies and how these match the national interest – then the next step may be to strengthen Japan’s intelligence community. The creation of a Japanese version of the NSA (or perhaps more ambitiously, the CIA) would give Japan the sort of intelligence it previously had to rely on others to provide, and the proximity of Japan to China would give it an advantage in terms of infiltration of its neighbour and the collection of HUMINT and SIGINT.
Expanded intelligence collection capabilities would raise questions within Japan as to whether the state was acting in violation of the Constitution, although given that the collection of information in itself does not constitute an act of aggression, such questions would be moot so long as covert operations did not spill over into so-called ‘black ops’. Unlike questions of collective self defence and an expanded role for the SDF, it is less likely that greater work by Japan’s intelligence agencies would provoke the same level of dissent given that such activity could be interpreted as a form of ‘defence’. The current security environment in East Asia would give credence to the need for information, specifically information related directly to Japanese interests. This may be another policy area pursued by the Abe government, although we may have to wait until the New Year to see any development to this end.