As mentioned by James Noda has selected Takushoku Professor Morimoto Satoshi to replace Tanaka Naoki as Defense Minister. While he is an academic and Japan’s first non-politician (民間人) Defense Minister/JDA Chief since the establishment of the JDA in 1954, he is certainly not short on experience and knowledge of both defense issues and the political system. He joined the ASDF in 1965, then spent time on secondment in the MOFA’s North America division from 1977, before joining MOFA officially in 1979 (日) where he continued to work on security issues. He joined Takushoku University in 2000. Including his experience as an aide in the Aso Cabinet he has a good blend of military, diplomatic, political and academic experience regarding security issues. He also has featured on Japanese TV as a commentator on SDF and defense issues, and in fact he came to be more widely known during the 1991 Gulf War in this capacity.

He is considered to be very much on the pro-US conservative side of the security policy divide, and indeed as I write the top three stories on the Yomiuri Shimbun’s main page feature the selection of Professor Morimoto as DM. As the China Daily has already (中) picked up, he is a strong supporter of the US-Japan alliance as a hedge against China’s military modernization. His analysis has regularly been published by the Sankei Shimbun, the latest being a discussion of the merits of Japan’s BMD system and critique of the Japanese government’s management of information regarding the latest missile/rocket launch by North Korea (日). He was a supporter of Japan helping with the reconstruction of Iraq, although he was also subsequently quoted as asking whether the US had “lost its mind” in trying to introduce democracy and freedom through the use of force. While clearly not a liberal, his own preference for the post-Koizumi leadership position was actually Fukuda Yasuo rather than Abe Shinzo.

Prime Minister Noda described Morimoto (日) as “The leading person on the discussion of the security of our nation. He is a clear advocate of Japan exerting itself given the increasingly opaque regional security situation which is a challenge to peace and our security. I look forward to receiving excellent advice from him.”

Perhaps rather than his views on foreign policy, Professor Morimoto’s primary significance might be political, in that he has close connections with the LDP, due to his support of Koizumi’s security policy, and his working close (日) with both the Abe and Aso cabinets. Whether this has any implications for Noda trying to court the LDP to pass his consumption tax raise in light of Ozawa Ichiro’s recent ‘rejection’ is however unclear. Given the so-called ‘civilian’ and frankly amateurish tenures of the previous two defense ministers then Noda probably found the prospect of his cabinet not being seen to be “weak,” or more so, “incompetent” on security policy rather appealing.  This is probably all the more relevant a consideration given the suspicions surrounding the DPJ and in particular two, now former, cabinet ministers regarding the Chinese “spy” incident that was revealed last week. It will certainly make the LDP pause (but only briefly) before criticizing him given he could be considered one of their own.

Despite Professor Morimoto’s views on the need for a stronger Japanese security policy, he is unlikely to have much of an immediate impact on its current direction in the short-term. If, however, the DPJ government lasts beyond the current Diet session due to end in June, then he may prove to be an asset for the DPJ should discussions on constitutional revision, currently ongoing in the Diet, move forward with the LDP. On the Futenma issue he seems to be very much in favour of the Futenma to Henoko base relocation, which at the level of rhetoric will keep the US happy, although he won’t be any more successful than any of his predecessors in making this happen.

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 50 post(s) on Japan Security Watch