Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trouble in Ichigaya

Ishiba Shigeru, defense minister and self-described "defense otaku," is getting a lesson in bureaucratic politics.

The Minami commission, a public-private consultative body at the Kantei convened under the chairmanship of Minami Naoya, an adviser to Tokyo Electric, has been deliberating on reform of the Defense Ministry since December. The commission formed in response to the corruption scandals at the Defense Ministry that came to light last autumn, but the deliberations have widened to include information security and the organization of the ministry as a whole, in addition to corruption.

Mr. Ishiba has been particularly eager to reorganize the department, consolidating the ministry's five bureaus into three and mixing civilian and military personnel. What the latter means in practical terms is still unclear — as Mr. Ishiba suggested in this press conference and as revealed in the commission's documents — but both proposals are already drawing fire from the JSDF, the civilian members of the commission, and certain members of the LDP. Not surprisingly, there is also opposition from within the ministry. Reducing the number of bureaus, and therefore the number of administrative positions, will necessarily anger the ministry's bureaucrats.

The underlying problem is probably money. A departmental reorganization would be much easier to accept if the agency/ministry's budget had been rising instead of falling over the past decade. Each bureau — and JSDF service — is already in a defensive crouch, fighting to preserve its share of a shrinking budget. It is unlikely that they will accept reform proposals that attenuate their power within the defense establishment. At the same time, they will also fight for every platform possible, including platforms of questionable value.

If opposition is in fact coming from politicians, the uniformed services, and the defense bureaucracy, Mr. Ishiba's reform project is doomed before it even gets enshrined in an interim report. (The Minami Commission's mid-term report, originally due in February, has been postponed until June.) With no signs that the defense budget will grow anytime soon, the Defense Ministry's current organization is probably here to stay.


Janne Morén said...

I did have the impression that while terminating a state employee is very difficult, reassigning people can be done almost at will. So if a minister is getting resistance to a reform from his department heads, why can't he just reassign such heads to multiyear on-site investigations regarding the defence issues surrounding lighthouses in the Okhotsk sea until their successors (or their successors in turn) happily and snappily carry out the suggested reforms?

Japan Observer said...


Arguably the problem isn't the individuals but the bureaus.

I think there's a lot of truth in the phrase "Where you stand depends on where you sit." What's to say that the new bureau chiefs wouldn't be captured by their bureaus?

The question is whether a bureaucratic organization will happily agree to its extinction. Mr. Ishiba's approach threatens all five, because he essentially wants to redraw the ministry's org chart from scratch. All the bureaus are, therefore, in it together.

Mr. Ishiba is apparently a poor strategist. Hasn't he heard of divide-and-conquer?

Younghusband said...

Do you have some JDA/MOD budget stats handy?

Japan Observer said...

The following is from a December 2007 MOF document related to the government's FY2008 budget bill: "Points on the Heisei 20 Fiscal Year Defense-Related Budget."

The first line in the report notes that defense-related expenditures have fallen for six consecutive years.

The drop from Heisei 19 to Heisei 20 is .5%. The H19 budget was approximately JPY4.8 trillion (approximately US $44.6 billion at current exchange rates). The H20 budget proposal is for JPY4.779 trillion (approximately $44.42 billion at CER). The proposed drop is JPY 21.7 billion, approximately $202 million.

Yes, it's a slight drop, but with growing commitments for missile defense and the relocation of US forces to Guam (this comes out of the defense budget), every yen counts.

Younghusband said...

Okay, we have to be careful. You have the 1% of GNP limitation on the defense budget from the 70s. Bases are included in this but BMD is not. Neither are military pensions and benefits. Same goes for JCG, which some say is a kind of military backdoor. Is the MOD ministerial budget kept separate?

Japan Observer said...

Granted, there are some ambiguities, not least the question of the Coast Guard, but the point remains that the Ministry of Finance is still holding the line on defense spending, which impacts the internal dynamics of the MOD.

Younghusband said...

What I would like to know is if the JDA and MOD budgetary allotments are kept separate, and whether or not they are both declining. Any clue?