New defense minister’s coordination skills to be put to the test

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, center, leaves the Prime Minsiter’s Office on Aug. 10, ahead of an attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace.

The inauguration of the second Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Aug. 10 saw Yasukazu Hamada return to the post of defense minister, following a stint in the role in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2008-09.

Hamada’s skills will be put to the test as he coordinates discussions within the government and ruling parties in preparation for the revision of three documents, including the National Security Strategy, due at the end of the year.

On Wednesday, Hamada talked by phone with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin. During the call, the defense ministers strongly condemned China’s landing of ballistic missiles in waters near Japan and reaffirmed Japan-U.S. cooperation.

Hamada, an influential member of a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who have strong ties to the Defense Ministry, has served as director of the party’s National Defense Division and deputy director general of the now-defunct Defense Agency.

Unlike his father, Koichi “Hamako” Hamada, a former House of Representatives member known for his rambunctious behavior, the defense minister does not like to act flamboyantly.

He is not a member of an LDP faction and has a reputation for having a sense of balance.

The prime minister has known Hamada for a long time and Kishida places a lot of trust in him.

At his inaugural press conference on Aug. 10, Hamada said, “We’ll lay out necessary projects and fundamentally strengthen defense capabilities within five years,” regarding an increase in defense spending.

This is close to the thinking of Kishida, who is cautious about prioritizing a numerical target as demanded by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among other LDP hardliners.

Hamada maintained a certain distance from the Abe administration.

When he was chairman of a lower house committee deliberating security-related legislation, he complained about the fact that the Abe administration had consolidated 10 bills into one and discussed them all at once.

“We should make it a little easier to understand,” he said after a committee vote.

Kazuhisa Shimada, a former administrative vice defense minister who was also an executive secretary under Abe, had been serving as a policy adviser to the defense minister since July, but Hamada got rid of him when he assumed his current post, claiming “it didn’t make sense” to have him continue in the role.

“There are concerns about a possible shift away from the Abe line,” said a mid-ranking party member.

With the government striving to strengthen its capabilities in new areas such as space and cyber security, some in the LDP have expressed concern about Hamada’s approach.

A party official linked to the Defense Ministry said: “We cannot rely on conventional thinking to handle these new fields. I wonder if Hamada will be able to lead the discussion.”