Change in Ichigaya

With the Fukuda cabinet reshuffle, Hayashi Yoshimasa becomes Japan’s fourth defense minister in the past twelve months.

Of all the changes in the reshuffle, the ousting of Ishiba Shigeru is perplexing.

The prime minister had given Mr. Ishiba his vote of confidence in the midst of calls for his resignation in the wake of the Atago incident, ensuring that Mr. Ishiba would stay in place and that defense ministry reform would go forward.

If Mr. Fukuda’s remarks announcing the new cabinet are to be taken seriously, he still feels that defense ministry reform is a priority for his government. But if so, why replace the man whose defense policy expertise — and whose zeal for defense ministry reform — is unmatched within the LDP? Yamamoto Ichita asks the same question, and can only speculate that his departure could be the result of fears that the DPJ would target Mr. Ishiba with a censure motion in the forthcoming session.

Mr. Ishiba’s departure probably guarantees that implementation of the defense ministry reform council’s recommendations will be stymied, not because Mr. Hayashi opposes defense ministry reform — he shares Mr. Ishiba’s zeal for accountability — but because he lacks Mr. Ishiba’s long experience with the workings of the defense establishment. More of a foreign policy wonk than a boei zoku giin, Mr. Hayashi will have learn his way around the defense ministry at the same time that he has to try to foist structural reforms upon the ministry’s civilians and JSDF officers. He will be harried from day one, and with the government distracted by more pressing issues (at least from the public’s perspective), it is unlikely that he will get adequate support from the prime minister from his fight with his own ministry.

That said, his foreign policy perspective mirrors Mr. Fukuda’s: he is without question a staunch supporter of the alliance, but he also recognizes that Japan cannot afford antagonistic relations with China. But his affinity for the US is what’s most important: with the arrival of the USS George Washington delayed and the realignment process in danger of stalling, perhaps Mr. Hayashi will be able to some good in the job.

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