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Remembering Hon. Nobutaka Machimura

Hon. Machimura, former Chief Cabinet Secretary (No.2 of the government) and foreign minister, was the single most important architect of recent Japanese legislations on intelligence and national security. His sudden passing in June 2015 was a huge loss for Japan.

Sitting together with me in his office in Tokyo in July 2014, Mr. Machimura, with a lot of enthusiasm, discussed his decade-long efforts to strengthen Japanese intelligence capabilities.

“Intelligence is a topic that many fellow policymakers even within my party tend to stay away from. It's a hot button issue, you know,” said Mr. Machimura.

His political fight for better intelligence capabilities for Japan began immediately after the September 11th in 2001. As Japan's foreign minister in 2005, he assembled a group of academics and other strategic thinkers outside the government to discuss ways to upgrade Japanese intelligence capabilities. Mr. Machimura also led a policy research committee of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which issued a "Proposal on the Strengthening of National Intelligence Capabilities" -- a call for an effective intelligence cycle in which regular ministerial intelligence meetings issue intelligence requests, to which the intelligence community responds with intelligence estimates. Sometimes in this campaign toward intelligence reforms, he didn't get political endorsement from prime ministers he worked with, but he tenaciously pushed through various obstacles in order to make a new legislation on information security a top priority on the legislative agenda at the Japanese Diet. His fight ultimately bore fruit in 2014.

Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets

A hostage incident in Algeria in January 2013 created momentum for a new intelligence reform. The Japanese government's inability to save the lives of Japanese hostages brought many of Mr. Machimura's LDP colleagues to a painful realization that past intelligence reforms were far from enough. Mr. Machimura swiftly created a project team on intelligence reforms within the LDP in August 2013, paving the way toward an Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS) that passed the National Diet in December 2013.

The SDS Act is very controversial. I know this because I interviewed its prominent opponents including politicians and lawyers and do acknowledge that it has some shortcomings such as weak legislative oversight and a lack of enforcement mechanisms. And more importantly, what can be "specially designated secrets" remains unclear. But I believe that Mr. Machimura exemplified a forward-looking statesman's job: rally support to work on something unpopular but necessary for the future of the country. It is not easy to find somebody like him in the Japanese Diet.


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