On September 2nd 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan stepped down after six months in the trenches. The man who will be defined by his responses to the Tohoku Disaster and subsequent accident at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant has been replaced with Yoshihiko Noda, a 54-year old Waseda graduate from Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.
Noda’s background has been of great interest to security watchers. His father was a member of the GSDF 1st Airborne Brigade, generally considered an elite unit within the GSDF. There was some hope that this link to the Self-Defense Forces, quite unique within Japan’s postwar history, would give him the background necessary to address Japan’s security issues – a feature that has arguably been missing since Shinzo Abe left office.
Noda is also somewhat of a nationalist: his book, Minshu no Teki (‘Enemy of Democracy’), apparently discusses his views on China, and he has numerous other remarks on record about Japan’s various territorial issues, Yasukuni visits and the alliance with the US, as this Asahi Japan Watch article discusses. From the same article, here are some of his thoughts on the key issues:
However, whatever Noda’s personal views on these issues, like Shinzō Abe before him, Noda has put up a less inflammatory public face. We can expect the realities of leadership to put a lid on any China-baiting and Yasukuni visits (as Noda himself has already announced). However, this has also extended to defense and security.
Putting expectations from his family heritage aside, Noda has sought to promote party unity through his appointment of Yasuo Ichikawa as Minister of Defense. Ichikawa, a support of the ‘Shadow Shogun’ and party wrecking-ball Ichiro Ozawa, has a background in agricultural affairs and apparently has no experience in security or defense issues, stating himself: “I am an amateur regarding security issues, but this is what you call the real ‘civilian control’.”
Ichikawa’s predecessor, Toshimi Kitazawa, had been the chairman of the Upper House Foreign Policy and Defense Committee prior to his appointment to the Ministry of Defense in 2009. Kitazawa is the MoD’s longest-serving minister in its four and a half year history. Yasukazu Hamada, Tarō Asō’s Defense Minister, had served as Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Defense and Director of the LDP’s National Defense Division. Even Hamada’s predecessor, Yoshimasa Hayashi, who lasted a little over a month, had spent time in the Upper House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense.
Shigeru Ishiba, Hayashi’s predecessor, was angered by Ichikawa’s admission of ignorance, stating: “That remark itself warrants his dismissal as defense minister.” Ishiba had served in various defense-related positions before he got the job, but was also known for being a ‘military otaku’, enjoying making models of military equipment.
Ichikawa unsurprisingly back-tracked on his comments, no doubt sensing his job was at risk, stating on Friday: “I meant to say that most of the people are amateurs and it is important to pursue security policies from the people’s viewpoint.”
The Ministry of Defense, with its uniformed and civilian bureaucrats, is a challenging position to be given, and balancing the two sides is important. Having someone with experience will not only help with that balancing act, but also help in the event of another crisis such as the disaster in Tohoku.
Ichikawa’s placement at Ichigaya has unseated a defense minister who will be remembered for presiding over the Ministry of Defense during a period of political turmoil and disaster. He may not have been the best defense minister in some people’s eyes, but he survived many Cabinet reshuffles and provided a constant presence for dealings with the US over Okinawa (Robert Gates was his counterpart until July 2011), which is more than can be said for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With this legacy behind him, one cannot help but be resigned to the likelihood that Ichikawa will disappoint.
It is unlikely that Noda will dismiss Ichikawa without him having a chance to make his mark, but the appointment has already put the pressure on the Prime Minister, who is not expected to serve a particularly long-term as it is.
Japanese Prime Ministers and their Ministers of Defense
I put together this little infographic to show you just how turbulent the top spot at Ichigaya has been. Each pixel in height represents a day in office, beginning on the left with Shinzō Abe taking office on September 26th 2006, and the establishment of the Ministry of Defense on January 9th 2007 on the right. Prior to that date, Fumio Kyūma served as Head of the Japanese Defense Agency for Shinzō Abe (and thus could be considered to have been Minister of Defense since Abe took office), but this chart considers only the ministerial position, not its stunted predecessor. Click the image for a full-sized copy.
A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan.
His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch