On 4 December 2018, Japan’s National Security Council (NSC) marks its fifth anniversary. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration established the NSC after a decades-long reform movement aimed at strengthening the prime minister’s office and addressing perceived weaknesses of previous national security institutions. Its creation was, and remains, a big deal. Leading experts on Japan’s foreign policy have deemed it ‘the most ambitious reorganization of Japan’s foreign and security policy apparatus since the end of World War II’.
Abstract: In 2013, Japan’s first-ever National Security Council (NSC) was established as the leading edge of ambitious reforms to Japan’s foreign policy-relevant institutions. Within weeks, Japan’s new national security tripod was firmly in place: the top-level, political NSC ‘control tower’, Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy, and its first-ever National Security Secretariat. In the years since, the NSC has played a central role in every major aspect of the Japanese strategic trajectory that has attracted so much global attention (and controversy) in ‘the Abe era’. This study analyzes the motivations driving Japan’s decision to establish an NSC, the institution’s key characteristics, and offers a preliminary assessment of the current and likely future implications of this historic institutional reform. Beyond NSC’s impact on policy, of potentially greater long-term significance is its effects on Japan’s foreign policy decision-making processes: in particular, expanded Kantei-centered political leadership of national security affairs and more ‘whole-of-government’ approaches specifically designed to transcend the ‘vertical hurdles’ traditionally dividing Japan’s powerful bureaucracies. The goal of these reforms is as straightforward as it is ambitious: to transform Japan’s ability to flexibly and independently cope with a rapidly changing, increasingly complex, and ever more uncertain security environment in East Asia and beyond.