Nuclear weapons can be eliminated: Chapter 7, Part 3

Chapter 7: Making a fresh start
Part 3: Politicians lead bureaucrats

by Junichiro Hayashi and Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writers

Clear distinction from previous nuclear policy

On September 17, shortly after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama selected the members of his cabinet, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada entered the Foreign Ministry office in the Kasumigaseki District of Tokyo. Mr. Okada had undergone his swearing-in at the Imperial Palace and took part in a press conference after assuming his post. Still wearing formal tails, the new foreign minister ordered the bureaucrats at the ministry to conduct a thorough investigation of the alleged "secret agreements" between Tokyo and Washington, including the entry of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory by U.S. vessels.

"Politicians must show our initiative," Mr. Okada said firmly to about 60 reporters at another press conference held in the Foreign Ministry office right after his arrival. Foreign Ministry officials, watching the minister, looked on somewhat stone-faced.

Mr. Okada serves as the president of the Parliamentarians for Disarmament Promotion of the Democratic Party and is known to hold a strong desire to "take the lead in the elimination of nuclear weapons," a policy proclaimed by the Hatoyama administration.  

Politicians take the lead in conveying information

At the press conference held in the Prime Minister's Office before heading to the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Okada made a bold remark with regard to nuclear weapons, revealing his long-held thinking on the subject. "I don't believe a nation, which clearly states that it will rely on a nuclear first strike, is entitled to mention nuclear disarmament," he said, alluding to the official view by previous administrations of relying on the U.S. nuclear deterrence. Raising the matter of the "nuclear umbrella," Mr. Okada continued, "There are various views within the Foreign Ministry. I will discuss this issue with foreign ministry officials." With this beginning, Mr. Okada demonstrated his determination for change.

Half a month has passed since Mr. Okada assumed his post. As foreign minister, he has elevated the openness of press conferences at the Foreign Ministry by initiating new measures, such as enabling reporters working for magazines and the Internet to attend the ministry's press conferences.

Mr. Okada has also changed the system of conveying information in that politicians within the ministry, such as Mr. Okada and his vice ministers, now take the lead in these communications while the number of press conferences given by bureaucrats has declined. Foreign Ministry officials have seemed to sigh, feeling Mr. Okada's politician-led approach.

Masayuki Koike, a professor at the Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing and a specialist in international relations, is a former diplomat and familiar with inside stories of the Foreign Ministry. Mr. Koike said, "In many cases, the bureaucrat-led politics of previous years, too, was achieved when the bureaucrats fell in step with the thinking of politicians in the ruling parties. Reflecting on this fact, if the politicians of the new administration firmly indicate their beliefs, the bureaucrats will surely follow."

As for the Liberal Democratic Party, Yoshimasa Hayashi, the former minister of defense, frowned in his office at the House of Councilors Building. "If politicians insist on an approach characterized by the initiative of politicians, creating a gap with Foreign Ministry officials, I suspect this will have negative repercussions," warned Mr. Hayashi. "Will officials be able to examine the statements or comments made by the minister and other politicians within the ministry in advance?" Mr. Hayashi made this remark in reference to a past controversy. Before Prime Minister Hatoyama took office, a U.S. newspaper quoted an article he had written for a Japanese publication, in which he expressed criticism of U.S.-led globalism.

Would Japan's position be respected?

Sheila Smith, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, sees Mr. Okada's expression of doubt about a first strike with nuclear weapons as "a big change."

The nuclear umbrella could become a focus of future negotiations between Japan and the United States, and the outcome would depend on Japan's actions. Ms. Smith, though, believes that the issue of the nuclear umbrella is not as significant as the issue of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. In her analysis of current conditions, she has concluded that U.S. conventional weapons alone could represent a deterrent for Japan. She also suspects that if the Japanese government seeks to revise the policy of employing the nuclear umbrella, the United States will respect Japan's position.

(Originally published on October 6, 2009)

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