Sunday, August 12, 2007

Yuriko Koike Strikes Again, This Time at the Heart of the Defense Establishment.

Yuriko Koike, the new Defense Minister and possibly the only holdover in the upcoming cabinet shuffle later this month, is a bare-knuckles political fighter who was the first to enlist with then-Prime Minister Koizumi to run as an "assassin" against the Lower House rebels who voted against the 2005 Post Office privatization bill. The fact that she abandoned her LH seat in Hyogo Prefecture to move two and a half hours by Shinkansen to run against a renegade incumbent in Tokyo made her act all the more remarkable. (She won running away.) Now, according to the Sankei, she is facing a rebellion from Takemasa Moriya, her deputy as the long-serving administrative vice minister of the Ministry of Defense, who is drawing on his political contacts to resist being retired and replaced by a Police Agency transferee.

If true, Mr. Moriya has picked the wrong fight with the wrong politician at the wrong time.

The Self-Defense Agency had since its insipience been dominated by the Ministry of Finance and the Police Agency. The two powerful bureaucracies (and to a lesser extent other ministries including) routinely seconded its career bureaucrats to monopolize the choicest JSDA offices, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs monopolized decision-making in the meatier national security issues. Thus, the desires of the JSDA were two-fold: rid top management of MOF, PA and other outsiders; and achieve full-ministry status. The JSDA made gradual but steady headway on the first objective, and it achieved the second this year under Prime Minister Abe. Mr. Moriya, born and bred as a JSDA official, appears to have been a major player in this respect, and he was rewarded with an unheard-of 4-year reign as JSDA/MOD vice minister, including a special dispensation to serve beyond the mandatory retirement age for public servants. (The normal life span of a vice minister in any ministry or agency is one to two years. Few survive deep into their third year.)

Ms. Koike must have thought that enough is enough, and, before embarking on a trip to the US, she decided to replace Mr. Moriya with Mr. Tetsuya Nishikawa. The catch? She had chosen a PA transferee, instead of someone of native stock.. Adding insult to injury, in contrast to longstanding custom, Ms. Koike had made the decision on her own, without consulting the MOD bureaucracy. According to the Sankei, Mr. Moriya has mobilized his formidable political contacts to resist this reverse coup.

The problem for Mr. Moriya is that, regardless of what he has been led to believe, Ms. Koike is the politician, and he is the bureaucrat. In the first place, the LDP is not going to sacrifice one of their own to save the neck – and if that is not possible, face - of a bureaucrat, even is Ms. Koike by all reports appears to have broken long-standing unwritten rules in not consulting the Chief Cabinet Secretary and his three deputies. (An appointment of a vice minister does require a Cabinet decision.) More importantly, if Prime Minister Abe never could have afforded to give the impression that he had caved under pressure from the bureaucracy or its LDP supporters, then to do so now would cost him what political capital he has left after the Upper House election debacle.

For Mr. Moriya's sake, I hope that the reports of his resistance are greatly exaggerated.

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