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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007

BUREAUCRATS' POLICY GRIP TO WEAKEN

Panel endorses formation of new security council


Staff writer

The formation of a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council designed to respond quickly to fast-developing threats ranging from terrorism to North Korea's nuclear ambitions was endorsed Tuesday by a government panel in its final report.

The new body would be made up of four core members -- the prime minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the defense minister, the report says.

The council, however, would not have the final say on policy. Under current law, all policies must be approved by the Cabinet.

Government officials said the government will submit bills to the Diet during the current session to create the council.

Yuriko Koike, national security adviser to the prime minister, told a news conference later in the day that the council will formally be launched in fiscal 2008.

Creating a security council was one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's key pledges when he took office in September. The new body's secretariat would be in the prime minister's office, fulfilling Abe's aim to take policymaking on national security issues out of the hands of bureaucrats.

Some politicians and experts have complained that the current security system is slow to react and unable to form workable short- and long-term strategies partly because policymaking is controlled by bureaucrats, who are notoriously inflexible and prone to sectionalism.

National security experts from the private sector as well as members of the Self-Defense Forces would be among the 10 to 20 members of the council's secretariat.

It is unclear whether the council would conduct daily intelligence gathering and analyze data for the prime minister's office.

A separate government panel is discussing how to integrate the important security intelligence functions now divided among various ministries.

In its report on the security council, the panel, which is composed of defense and diplomacy experts, states: "The country's national security system does not have a structure to thoroughly and strategically project wide-ranging foreign and security issues."

The council should meet at least twice a month, and more often when the chairman or prime minister deems it necessary, according to the report. The frequency of meetings and the limited number of council members is intended to help the four core members focus on urgent issues.

Under the current system, nine council members -- the prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary and seven ministers -- generally meet about 10 times a year or during an emergency, government officials said.

The government panel also recommended in its report that the prime minister appoint a national security adviser. Abe named Lower House lawmaker Koike as the nation's first national security adviser, but the post is not permanent.

The report says the adviser must take part in the new council's meetings and offer comments when asked to do so by the prime minister.

The panel also said that the prime minister can have the national security adviser head the secretariat, adding there is also a need for laws against any leaks of national intelligence by members of the new council.

The new security council can also discuss such issues as energy, overseas economic cooperation and economic diplomacy. To this end, the prime minister can summon other ministers, it says.

Currently, ministries and government agencies gather security information separately and do not share their intelligence partly because of sectionalism but also out of fear that important security information could be leaked by politicians.

Lawmakers face no legal constraints from leaking information, while bureaucrats are barred by law from leaking information obtained in the course of their duties.



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The Japan Times

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