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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #380: January 25, 2007

Japan's Kyuma Says Bush's Iraq War Decision a Mistake

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan's Kyuma Says Bush's Iraq War Decision a Mistake


Japan's Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma is reported to have said at the Japan Press club in Tokyo effectively criticizing President Bush that "He (Mr Bush) went to war on the presumption that there might be nuclear weapons," and that "that decision was wrong."

The issue here is in three folds.

The first is that it was the Defense Minister who said it. The Ministry of Defense headed by Mr Kyuma has been promoted from the status of an Agency to a Ministry just last month. The change may seem to be only a matter of formality. And indeed it is so in term of budget and equipment of the Self Defense Forces (SDF) - there has been no record or any plan of increasing the budget allocated or enhancing the guns "because of" the promotion. But in statutory terms, whereas "the minister in charge of SDF" had no right in the Cabinet meeting to speak for the sake of the SDF or for the defense policy of the country (he had to ask the Prime Minister to speak up on his behalf), the new "Defense Minister" has acquired the powers to push for his defense agenda on his own in the Cabinet.

Accordingly, the minister may hinting to seek for withdrawal of the unit of air-SDF still bearing the roll of transporting United Nations workers and U.S.-led coalition forces between Iraq and Kuwait. After the withdrawal of the ground troops last year, the air support was symbolic as well as real in supporting the U.S. and its allies.

The second issue involves the possibility of conflict among Cabinet members. Japan has the parliamentary cabinet system, where, the Constitution states, "The Cabinet shall... be collectively responsible to the Diet." The stipulation of this clause is construed to require that the policy objective of the cabinet is shared among all the ministers, and thus statements on a certain policy matter should be the same for all the members - at least so long as the person holds the position of a minister. If a minister expresses a view different from what has been said by other ministers, some claim that it can be considered as a conflict within the Cabinet, by thus unfulfilling the requirement of the Constitution.

It has been reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Mr Kyuma was expressing a personal opinion, and that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that his cabinet members were united in their support for the government's stance on Iraq.

Ministers so long as acting as politicians, elected by the people, are considered to be allowed to express their political beliefs, but obviously there is a fine line between the political beliefs as individual politicians and as the ministers seeking to perform the task of the chiefs of various ministries and agencies in the executive branch - the Cabinet - to realize a concerted objective. If political beliefs are expressed too liberally during the tenure of being ministers, it could give a confusing message to the diet and the people. Minister thus needs be careful.

The Third issue is that Mr Kyuma as a highly regarded politician in the ruling LDP has criticized Mr Bush. There will be an Upper House election in summer this year, and the political arena is already filled with battles to win it below the surface, from individuals seeking to be elected to the political parties hoping to gain support of the people, embraced with various interest groups from virtually every sector in the country.

Mr Kyuma may have wanted to appeal to those condemning Mr Bush's Iraq policies, as there are many among the supporters of the LDP who feel the same way. He may win his personal support from such groups of people, but he may also be undermining the support for the LDP by contradicting with Prime Minister Abe, who is, after all, also the president of the LDP.

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