Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister(10:47-11:10 P.M. June 4, 2012)
- Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date 10:47-11:10 P.M. June 4, 2012
Place:Press Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only)
The original text is in Japanese.
As you may already know, I have been with the MOD for about 15 years and have been with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for about 15 years, so I am not too sure myself where my true affiliation is. During the time of the LDP government, I worked as the first Special Advisor to the Minister of Defense for about a month, so I feel like I have come back to the fold. When I received the telephone call from the Prime Minister, I first declined the offer saying “I do not have the stature for the post, so I will not be able to take on such heavy responsibilities.” However, the Prime Minister said, “This cabinet reshuffle in a sense contains a strong message of inducing a complete change in public sentiment, so I would really like you to accept this offer.” So I said, “Please excuse my inexperience” and thereby accepted the offer. To be honest, I really don’t have any confidence in this, but with the cooperation of officials and numerous SDF personnel, I hope to accomplish this noble yet difficult and important mission of maintaining the defense of this nation in these difficult times in the most efficient way, so that the people will be able to truly appreciate the sense in knowing that they are indeed safe and secure. I mentioned this point to the Prime Minister when receiving the instruction document. Since this is my first press conference, please don’t be too hard on me and I will try to answer your questions as faithfully as I can.
2. Questions and Answers
Congratulations on your appointment as Defense Minister. First, can you tell us of your enthusiasm in becoming the first civilian Defense Minister? Also, there are some people not only from the opposition but from within the ruling parties who are raising questions about whether a person who had not received the public mandate can maintain civilian control as Defense Minister. How do you feel about this? Please kindly answer both questions.
As I have mentioned just now, national defense is a truly noble and yet the most basic function of a nation. In addition, in the current international situation, we have a very difficult situation centering in East Asia, and a lot of people have been making efforts up to now in maintaining the safety of the nation under this situation. The SDF has also been growing in earnest during this time, and I feel that the SDF is now receiving recognition from the people as an SDF that can be counted on, as we have seen in its activities during the Great East Japan Earthquake and the response toward the missile launch by North Korea. However, national defense is something that allows for no degree of carelessness, so in that sense, I hope to fulfill this national defense duty in light of this severe international environment through enlisting the cooperation of everyone, and although I may not be a Diet member, as a person who had been specializing in national defense and security issues I would like to put my limited knowledge to use for the defense of Japan. Civilian control was originally a concept for a system where politics takes precedence over the military. Therefore, in Japan’s case, the Prime Minister as a civilian holds the highest right of command over the SDF, and the national budget and defense system have all received approval through the deliberations in the Diet, and our national defense system is founded upon this concept. Therefore, as Minister of State entrusted with the defense of the nation and as a civilian Minister of State, the Defense Minister is also given the mission to oversee the operations of the SDF units by the Prime Minister under his/her right of command. In developed countries, there are cases where the Defense Minister or Secretary of Defense is not selected from the members of the legislature elected by the people, so my understanding is that this does not necessarily undermine the original objectives and ideals of civilian control.
Now, I have a question regarding the issue of the relocation of Futenma. We have a situation where this issue has gone unresolved for over 15 years. You are now the fourth Defense Minister since the DPJ became the ruling party. How do you intend to work on the issues on Okinawa to gain the understanding of the local people and its Governor?
It has been 15 years, or 16 years to be exact from this spring. As you mentioned, this issue has gone through numerous twists and turns over the last 16 years in coming to where we are for now. However, as you may be aware, we are still far from actually seeing the conclusion of the Futenma issue. In solving the Futenma issue, the Japanese government has traditionally viewed with grave concern the fact that 74% of the U.S. bases located in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, and has been making efforts in how to relieve the burden borne by the people of Okinawa, while at the same time making efforts in securing the deterrence in the Southwestern regions including Okinawa. In a sense, it has been making efforts on making progress on these two criteria which have conflicting elements while trying to realize the return of the highly dangerous Futenma Air Station. To put an end to this issue -- although this may not be an accurate description of the actual process -- is that in order to build some kind of replacement facility, relocate the helicopter and aircraft units currently stationed in Futenma Air Station to said facility and realize the return of Futenma Air Station, it is going to be impossible without the understanding of the prefectural Governor who will authorize the construction works, as well as the local chief executives and the local legislature that supports the governor, and the people of Okinawa prefecture. Without this understanding, this issue is never going to be resolved. As you have pointed out, there have been many Ministers who were responsible for this, but I feel that the policy of the Japanese government has never wavered from its original course. Moreover, as you may already know, both Japan and the U.S. have recently made painstaking efforts in concluding the “2+2” agreement, relocating training exercises to relieve the burden (of Okinawa) and are now making efforts to realize the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps to Guam by delinking this from the Futenma Air Station issue. Then, there are the economic stimulus measures and the budget for FY 2012, so I feel that there are certain positive elements to make progress on this issue, which we have been making efforts on. Having said that, we have not reached a stage where we will gain the full understanding of the majority of the people in the prefecture. Therefore, my job is going to be planning how to maintain close coordination with the various players involved in this issue -- which includes the U.S. government, the Okinawa Governor, the representatives in charge at the various Ministries/Agencies in Japan -- while reducing the burden and maintaining deterrence, which have been the original objectives, and to steer everything towards resolving this issue once and for all. What I should do and what kind of efforts I need to make in order to achieve this end is something that I must think about with earnest with everyone, and I hope to make some actual progress on this issue.
You have made numerous statements and descriptions in the past on tolerating the use of the right of collective self-defense. Are there any changes in your thinking on this? Also, are you going to give instructions of policies that will allow the use of the right of collective self-defense in the future?
Up until yesterday, I was just a scholar who was involved with education in a university, and conducting some research deskwork on the side. A scholar or researcher is a person encouraged to think freely with a free mind, while debating their opinions with various people, and is involved in working out the best possible solution and on contributing towards actual policy. In the meantime, as you have pointed out, it is true that I have had my personal ideas as a researcher and scholar on the issue of the right of collective self-defense, and that I must admit. However, today I have assumed my post as Minister, and have become a member of the Noda government. I fully acknowledge that on the issue of the right of collective self-defense, our government traditionally does not recognize this in its official interpretation, and I intend to fulfill my official duties as Minister under the direction of the Noda government. Therefore, for the duration of my term as Minister, I have absolutely no intention of changing this thinking regarding the right of collective self-defense.
Concerning the Osprey that is scheduled to be deployed in July, Okinawa prefecture is strongly opposing this. We understand the answer that it primarily concerns the situation of the U.S. forces, but how do you think that the Japanese government and the MOD should tackle this issue?
The Osprey is not something that the U.S. has developed specifically for the U.S. Marine Corps. To begin with, it is an integrated weapon system derived from the need to develop an aircraft that combines the functions of both a rotary wing and a fixed wing. Its development came with a heavy price and now, as you may already know, it is being used in places such as in the Middle East and the gulf coast where the U.S. has been involved in actual combat. By deploying this new type of aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps unit stationed in Okinawa, this can be considered as a form of equipment upgrade by the U.S. If the efficiency of operations of the U.S. Marine Corps is enhanced by this, and the deterrence capabilities of the U.S. Marine Corps are improved, then I feel that such a situation is not necessarily going to be detrimental for our country. On the other hand, as I have mentioned before, some serious accidents have occurred during its development process and it is true that accidents have occurred after that as well. Therefore, regarding the opposition by the people of Okinawa, we must accept this issue with utmost sincerity. We are currently thinking and considering internally ways as to how the Osprey can be deployed at Futenma Air Station while taking into account the feelings/emotions of the people of Okinawa while obtaining the most understanding of the people in the local areas, and have been discussing this with the U.S. side. We understand that a formal conclusion has not been reached, but we would like to continue with our efforts in searching for ways to gain as much understanding from the people of Okinawa as we possibly can.
I have a question concerning the Futenma issue. Before you assumed office as Defense Minister, you mentioned at a symposium conducted in Okinawa in 2010 that “The argument that ‘The U.S. Marine Corps will be unable to exercise their deterrence capabilities unless they are in Okinawa’ is broken.” However, now you have been effectively saying that “the U.S. Marine Corps will not act as deterrence unless they are in Okinawa” which sounds like a contradiction. Does this mean that you have now changed your thinking on this?
No. This is going to require an explanation with regard to the context. We need to consider from a military standpoint why the U.S. Marine Corps are in Japan. The U.S. Marine Corps does not necessarily act on its own. The Combat Element of the U.S. Marine Corps will be mainly on board an amphibious assault ship, forming part of an aircraft carrier task force and engaging in joint missions between the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. This is what constitutes a deterrent for the safety of Japan. When this is seen objectively, I feel that the logic that it will not act as a deterrent unless they are in Okinawa lacks military rationale. It is like saying, for example -- albeit not a very good one -- that it will be no use as a deterrent if they are in Kagoshima. In other words, it is irrational to completely separate the Marine Air Wing and the Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa, and thus we need everything in the so-called Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) -- which includes the Headquarters, Marine Division, Marine Air Wing and Marine Logistics Group -- that encompasses all the elements of the U.S. Marine Corps in Japan for it to function as a deterrent for Japan. However, for the last 16 years, we have been searching in earnest for a place that could politically take in everything, where the Marines can conduct training, have an airfield, logistics group and headquarters, and the end result is that both the Japanese and the U.S. governments have come to the conclusion that the current Henoko option is the one and only viable option that we have available, and in that context, I think that the current plan is the best one that we have. What I mentioned back then was an argument based on military rationale that if this best option can supposedly be moved entirely to somewhere else where the local areas are willing to accept it all, and the location is fully functional as a strategic location and as a place for training, then that place should not necessarily be Okinawa. Therefore, I have a certain degree of conviction that the best course that we should pursue under the realities of the political environment is to foster and conduct what has been agreed by the governments of both Japan and the U.S. as the best possible option that we have available to us for now.
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