No Change in Japan's Missile Defense Under Fukuda

Although newspaper profiles of Yasuo Fukuda contrast rather than compare the new prime minister of Japan to his predecessor Shinzo Abe, there is one critical point on which the two appear to be on the same page:  that their country will proceed with long-standing plans to develop a missile defense system.

“There will be no change in the missile defense [plan] under Fukuda,” a source close to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo told me this afternoon, shortly after the 71-year-old Fukuda finished forming his Cabinet (and retained most members of the Abe Cabinet).  “This is something [Fukuda] is fully committed to, as he is to extending the refueling of American and other ships participating in the war on terror.”  With the law permitting the refueling — Japan’s major contribution to the War on Terror — set to expire on November 1, a major showdown in the Diet is expected between Fukuda’s LDP and the opposition Democratic Party, which is trying to force a national election by blocking extension of the refueling.

To be sure, newspaper characterizations of Fukuda, the son of the late Prime Minister (1976-79) Takeo Fukuda and himself a former oil executive and chief Cabinet secretary to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, as “not as right wing” as predecessors Abe or Koizumi did cause pundits and pols in this country to wonder how committed he was to the missile defense program.  “A mild-mannered moderate” and “foreign policy dove who has long emphasized the importance of building strong ties with China” were some of the descriptions the New York Times used to describe Fukuda.

But Fukuda was also a player in the birth of the missile shield four years ago.  When Japan’s Defence Agency said it would allocate $6.5 billion over the next five years toward installing two American made anti-missile systems, it was Fukuda — then chief cabinet secretary (essentially a combination of the positions of White House chief of staff and press secretary) to Koiziumi — who made the announcement.

“It is a purely defensive system and should not threaten our neighbors,” Fukuda told reporters in December of ’03. “We will do our utmost to defend our nation and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.” 

The concept of a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system began after North Korea test-fired its own ballistic missile over Japan in the late 1990’s.  The Japanese BMD is expected to be deployed no later than 2011.

Underscoring Fukuda’s pro-missile defense stand, my source said, is his choice of Nobutaka Machimura as chief cabinet secretary.  Machimura’s faction of lawmakers in the Diet weighed in for Fukuda early and was key to his decisive election as LDP leader earlier this week.  Machimura is a former foreign secretary under Abe as well as a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut,  and gets high marks from Americans who know him as a friend of the United States. 

The same source said that Fukuda would visit the United States before the end of the year and his visit would be “sooner rather than later.”