Make effective use of Japan’s NSC to present united front on security crisis

If the government responds to the increasingly fluid international situation with bureaucratic sectionalism among its ministries and agencies, it will be impossible to protect Japan’s national interests. It is vital to strengthen a system to formulate strategies and deal with the situation in an integrated manner.

Former Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba has become secretary general of the National Security Secretariat, the administrative top post of the National Security Council (NSC), which is chaired by the prime minister. Akiba’s career at the Foreign Ministry was likely a consideration in his appointment: He has served as director of the ministry’s China and Mongolia Division and as a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, so is well versed in the policies of the United States and China.

The largest factor driving shifts in the international situation is the movement of China. The country continues to challenge international order both economically and militarily, which has invited an intensifying confrontation with the United States. North Korea and Russia are also beefing up their military capabilities.

If the Japanese government is just going to wait until something happens before discussing countermeasures, it will be difficult to secure national interests.

The role of the NSC, which is the command center for Japan’s diplomacy and security, has been further growing. It is important that the foreign minister, defense minister and other relevant Cabinet members discuss Japan’s strategies from a broader perspective based on information accurately analyzed by the National Security Secretariat, always with a view to the future and taking into account what will happen next.

However, some have pointed out that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has little interest in diplomacy and security, and discussions at the NSC have flatlined. In fact, only 12 meetings were held in the first half of this year, which is said to be the fewest in a half-year period since the establishment of the council at the end of 2013. The NSC should be used more effectively.

The issue that should be discussed with the highest priority is how to deal with economic security, which has become a focus of the U.S.-China conflict. The fields of science and technology and cyberspace have become inseparable from security.

While China focuses on diverting advanced technologies for military purposes, the United States and other major countries have been corralling important technologies and data to their own advantage.

Japan should also adopt a security perspective in its economic and industrial policies. Although promoting trade is important, security-related fields must be strictly controlled. It is essential to take measures with the right emphasis on key points.

Cyber-attacks mainly on key infrastructures and businesses are also becoming more serious.

Defense measures through international cooperation are needed, but Japan has no legislation that would allow it to take these measures against cyber-attacks on a par with other countries, such as breaking into and dealing with the systems of attackers. There is an urgent need to strengthen response capabilities, including the establishment of laws for that purpose.

To enhance Japan’s deterrence, defense budgets must be increased and a policy needs to be formulated to prevent missile attacks, with the possession of counterattack capabilities in mind.

The National Security Strategy, which was first mapped out in 2013, does not include the “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision — which has become a pillar of Japan’s foreign policy — and a basic stance to deal with economic issues in terms of security. Revising the strategy will also be a challenge.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 30, 2021.