TOKYO — Japan on Tuesday upgraded the Defense Agency to a full-fledged ministry for the first time since World War II, when the US stripped Japan of its right to a military.
The move is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to raise the military’s profile, reflecting the military’s growing role at home and abroad.
At a ceremony celebrating the upgrade, Abe appointed Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma as the first defense minister.
“This is a significant step for us to end the post-war regime and lay the groundwork for building a new nation,” Abe said in a speech to senior ministry officials and Self-Defense Forces, adding that the national security situation facing Japan has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War.
“I am truly proud to be prime minister at the time we were able to produce the Defense Ministry today,” he noted.
The premier also said Tokyo will clarify its intention to contribute to global peace.
Concerning the controversial subject of the right to collective self-defense, which the government currently interprets as being unconstitutional, Abe said the government “will study on a case-by-case basis when such rights can be exercised.” The new defense minister is given the same powers as other Cabinet ministers, including ability to directly seek holding of Cabinet meetings and new legislation over major issues involving defense of the nation.
The prime minister retains the authority of supreme commander to reinforce civilian control of the military.
Established in 1954, the Defense Agency is under the direct control of the prime minister as an affiliate of the Cabinet Office, and it has kept a low-profile position given Japan’s pacifist Constitution.
Defense Minister Kyuma said in his speech, “The launch of the ministry is not a goal but a start for setting a new policy. We must make changes, including organizational reform and enhancing discipline, to deal with security threats surrounding Japan such as North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.” Along with the upgrade, overseas operations for international disaster relief, UN-led peacekeeping and logistical support in case of a regional contingency, as well as its special missions in Iraq and in the vicinity of Afghanistan, are now designated as part of the Self-Defense Forces’ primary duties.
The birth of the ministry marks the first change in the makeup of central government ministries and agencies since their realignment in January 2001.
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