New Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said June 4 that relocating the sprawling U.S. Futenma airfield to the Henoko district of Nago in Okinawa offered the best solution to a thorny issue that has inflamed the southernmost prefecture.
Morimoto, 71, qualified his remark by saying, "I have been involved in this issue for a long time, so I have special feelings about it."
Morimoto, previously an academic, made the remark after becoming the first non-politician to be given the defense portfolio.
He said the agreement with the United States to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko offered the "best resolution that can be thought up today."
"I will make every effort to make sure the best solution is found," he added.
Morimoto made clear that his lack of Diet experience should not be seen as putting him at a disadvantage in drawing up policy on weighty defense issues.
He said the prime minister had told him that the most important objective was to strengthen Japan's relationship with the United States and make every effort to ensure the Futenma issue does not blow up in the administration's face.
Morimoto said Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has been pushing a U.S.-oriented foreign policy, told him to try to "reduce the burden on Okinawa while maintaining a deterrent force."
Morimoto cited three other areas in which Noda had sought his input:
* Cementing civilian control over the Self-Defense Forces, based on the principle of an exclusively defensive posture, while maintaining Japan's peace and security;
* Promoting international peace cooperation activities by the SDF; and
* Getting the best available intelligence on any provocation, such as an imminent missile launch by North Korea, and making sure the information reaches the public swiftly.
Asked about his elevation to a Cabinet post even though he is not a lawmaker, Morimoto said, "I may not be as successful in lobbying political parties and the Diet because I do not have experience as a Diet member, but I hope to cover that disadvantage by making every effort to carry out my responsibilities related to defense."
Opposition parties were already making noises about having a non-politician appointed to such a key post.
Under the Constitution, state ministers have to be civilians. However, there is no legal restriction against having a non-politician appointed as defense minister.
However, Toshimitsu Motegi, policy chief for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, asked, "Is it appropriate to have an individual who has not been voted into office to be responsible for national security?"
New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi also was uncomfortable with Noda's choice.
Atsushi Koketsu, a political science professor at Yamaguchi University who is knowledgeable about civilian control over military affairs, said, "The only way to reflect the public will is to have an elected official become the Cabinet member who handles national security issues, which are matters close to the hearts of the public."
Morimoto served as a special aide to the defense minister during the Aso administration, which ties him closely to the LDP, which first began grappling with the contentious Futenma issue back in the mid-1990s.
Shigeru Ishiba, a former LDP defense minister, said of Morimoto's background, "He was always critical of the DPJ's policies."
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