By Probir Kumar Sarkar.
Throughout the Cold War, Tokyo was forced to outsource its overseas spying. Japan’s external security was upheld by the United States, and the two nations banded together to keep the Soviet bloc at bay. This arrangement proved fruitful for both parties, as Japan became an important eastern ally of the United States. But the equation of international powers has shifted and Washington’s involvement in Japan’s defense affairs has diminished over time. Japan is now a major soft power and one of the world’s most successful democracies.
Recent problems, including the killing of two Japanese citizens at the hand of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have increased the demand for Japan to develop its own intelligence service. The beheading of two Japanese nationals in January of this year prompted a public outcry. Tokyo relies mostly on third party intelligence—in this case, from Jordan and Turkey—which left Japan a mute spectator to the horrors. Policymakers are now working heavily on building a spy agency that can cater to their current needs and become an integral part of the Japanese security framework.
The country’s current apparatus is fragmented into five organizations, each with its own intelligence responsibility: research, diplomacy, counterterrorism, defense, and policing. What is lacking is an institution that can pool intelligence gathering from all these branches and provide analysis to the country’s top policy makers. As it is, all these agencies report directly to the Prime Minister’s office. As a result Japanese policymakers suffer huge gaps of important intelligence and mostly react to crises rather than preempt them.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already formed the National Security Council, similar to that of the United States, but he wants more freedom to pursue enemies of the country. Abe’s conservative LDP party says new intelligence-gathering legislation could be …
To read complete articles from the Spring 2015 issue, you must subscribe to our eReader edition.