Military to Assume New Role


Despite being one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated militaries, Japan’s military is saddled with pacifist restrictions. It operates under a constitution that confines it to acting primarily as a defensive organ with little influence in the Diet, Japan’s governing body. On Dec. 15, 2006, however, Japan’s parliament enacted defense bills that will help change that.

First, after more than 50 years of operating as a second-tier agency buried behind other influential government ministries, Japan’s Defense Agency is being upgraded in status to become the Defense Ministry. Asia Times reported on the significance of this change on Dec. 1, 2006: “[T]he director general of the agency will become the defense minister. It will be the first time the name of the agency has been changed in its 53-year history. At present, the Defense Agency is under the direct control of the prime minister as an affiliate of the Cabinet Office. One of the state ministers at the Cabinet Office heads the agency as its director general. Unlike ministries, the current agency cannot call snap cabinet meetings to make big decisions, nor can it submit bills to the Diet on its own. Instead, the agency has to go through the Cabinet Office. The agency also has to make budget requests in the name of the Cabinet Office rather than the agency chief. The change in status to a ministry will enable the defense entity to follow administrative procedures more smoothly.”

The decision to give the Defense Agency a more prominent voice in Japanese politics shows Tokyo’s desire to consider military matters in its foreign policy. With North Korea creating problems, China beefing up its military establishment and American influence declining in Asia, Tokyo wants to open up its strategic and military options.

The second bill approves the expansion of the primary duties of Japan’s Self Defense Forces (sdf). Since the sdf was established in 1954, its primary duties have been confined to national defense and disaster relief at home. Overseas operations, classified as “supplementary duties,” required an elaborate approval process. Asia Times explained how the bill to expand the sdf’s primary duties “will put such activities as international emergency assistance missions, participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations and support for the U.S. military during emergencies near Japan on par with national-defense and disaster-relief operations at home” (ibid.).

This legislation to upgrade the status of the military within the government and to expand the primary functions of the military is symbolic of the growing importance that Tokyo (with the support of its citizens) is placing on national security, as well as Japan’s role in Asia and the world.