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The Impact of the General Election on Japan’s Space Program

AOKIby  Setsuko AOKI

Professor, Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University, Japan

The Election of the members of the House of Representatives, held on 31 August 2009, resulted in a landslide victory for the largest Opposition Party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). It will bring about the first change of government since 1955. What will happen in the ongoing space programs carried out under the Ruling Coalition Parties of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito?

My speculation is that, other than the organizational structure of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and other important players, civil space programs will more or less stay intact in the short term. Military programs may not be changed drastically due to the fact that Japan has not started serious, concrete military satellite programs other than strengthening the Information Gathering Satellites (IGS) constellation. However, theoretically, future military programs may be held up, including the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program, if the BMD can be included in space programs.

The next Prime Minister, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, has been a space enthusiast, and was a leader of the bipartisan group of Members of Parliament (MP), “Group to Study Future Space”. There have been many space-related study groups by the MPs, but Hatoyama’s group focused on the scientific and technology aspects of space, not on the military aspects, which was led by different LDP MPs. He also led the “China-Japan Space Dialogue” and has a deep understanding of space development and use. In the DPJ, there are other members who have been deeply involved with space affairs.

A common understanding on the general direction of Japan’s space programs has been shared between the Coalition Parties and the DPJ. Japan’s first national space law, the Basic Space Law, was made based on the bipartisan Basic Space Bill submitted to the Diet, or Japan’s Parliament, on 9 May 2008 (Bill No. 17). That Bill was easily made into a full-fledged law by an overwhelming majority on 21 May 2008 (Law No.43) and became effective on 27 August 2008. The Basic Space Law is characterized by the following points: (1) the banning of the military use of space is lifted; (2) governmental obligation is stipulated to promote space commercialization; and (3) the restructuring of Japan’s space organization has to be conducted.  There is not much of a difference on the views concerning relaxing the military use of space, at least in concept between LDP and DPJ. On the second point, some DPJ members including Mr. Hososno, Mr. Naito, and Mr. Fujisue (the latter two are Members of the House of Councilors and only Mr. Hosono was reelected on 31 August) support accelerating space commercialization and it was DPJ that placed emphasis on the second point by adding some phrases in making a bipartisan bill in late April 2008.

It is on the third point that the DPJ has a different plan. It still remains to be decided, but the DPJ requires the change of the status of JAXA, which is now under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Arguably, it is believed that DPJ wants JAXA to be an independent organization like NASA, while the Ruling Coalition Parties seem to support having JAXA remain as it is with minor changes in structure, or, alternatively, to be transferred either to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) or the Ministry of Cabinet in order to promote industrialization and commercialization of space. Because restructuring JAXA involves the change of the budgetary appropriation process and affects the interests of several Ministries and related MPs, it has not proceeded as expeditiously as required by the Basic Space Law. But, such a big victory of the DPJ now makes it possible to proceed as it wants. Still, it depends on who will be selected as the leader in space activities, but the restructuring of JAXA could be more drastic.

On the military space programs, not a big difference will be brought about, for Japan does not have plans for new military programs other than IGS, which is a modest constellation of advanced remote sensing satellites operated by the civilian Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center (CSICE) of the Cabinet Secretariat, not by the Ministry of Defense. While a Committee on the Promotion of the Development and Use of Space of the Ministry of Defense released a Basic Policy Relating to the Development and Use of Space on 15 January 2009, it just underlined the importance of collecting information using space and took note of the passive nature of Japan’s defense posture and the importance of using existing civilian space capability. This is due to the tight budget, not proposing concrete plans for future military space programs.

Not in specifically military space, but defense programs in general may change under the DPJ government. On 4 August 2009, the Council of Security and Defense Capabilities submitted its report to the Prime Minister. It is supposed to be the basis of the National Defense Program Outline that will be released in December of this year, the first such Outline since December 2004. No sooner than the Report was released, than Mr. Hatoyama made a statement that a report shall be made from scratch by different members in his administration. The Report by the Council of Security and Defense Capabilities recommends maintaining the strong alliance with the U.S., promoting BMD, and relaxing the complete arms embargo known as “Three Principles on Arms Exports”.