Sunday, July 6, 2008

Japan's "Militarization of Space" Lost in Translation

Daily Yomiuri Online + AP

Keiko Chino / Yomiuri Shimbun
Senior Writers

"Space development needs room for manuver"

Following the passage of a basic space law, a space development strategy headquarters to be chaired by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is set to be established by the end of August. The headquarters' responsibilities are quite heavy.

With the space development system undergoing significant changes, the government, bureaucrats and the private sector also have jumped on the bandwagon.

On Tuesday, a council of lawmakers of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan, which jointly proposed the law, held a meeting on the follow-up to the basic space law.

The meeting was held to hear a briefing by the Cabinet Secretariat, which is tasked with laying the groundwork for establishing the space development strategy headquarters.

The lawmakers stressed the need to reflect the wishes of those who passed the law, saying nothing could be accomplished if the task was entrusted to bureaucrats. The law serves as a national strategy to develop space, lift the ban on the military use of space, and use space development as a driving force in the promotion of industry.

The industrial sector has high hopes for the development project, as it was generally held that the conventional format in which research and technology development was conducted was incapable of expanding the industry.

The basic space plan to be mapped out by the headquarters is the key factor in realizing this expansion.

As the plan will be designed to carry out space development in a comprehensive and systematic way, the government, bureaucrats and the space industry are all attempting to ensure the measures are as favorable to them as possible.

The Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies--comprising space-related firms such as space machinery makers--has not only requested that its measures be included in the basic space plans, but also demanded that its proposals be incorporated in a space activity law, which must be passed as stipulated in the basic space law.

The society's major demand is that the government guarantees it a stable space market, replete with a long-term plan backed up with an about 10-year budget.

This reflects the fact that space companies will be able to invest systematically if the government indicates when its plans will be implemented, and what the plans will consist of.

A spokesman for the society said the government's previous long-term plans had never outlined budgets or explained when its plans would be carried out.

"The government's plans never mentioned a specific time frame for any projects, nor the amount of public funds to be invested," he said.

The society has suggested many other recommendations, such as a drastic increase in space development budgets and the promotion of domestic satellites and rockets. It also proposed the establishment of a think tank in the space development strategy headquarters.

The appointment of an office director tasked with running day-to-day business also is a major issue.

Lawmakers and space companies would have preferred a director drawn from the private sector, but since this raised concerns about conflicts of interest, lawmakers and space firms backpedaled, saying anyone who understands security issues and the promotion of the space industry from a broad perspective would be suitable--even if his or her career has not been confined to the private sector.

Against this backdrop, space-related companies are trying to dispatch employees to the office so they can sway policies once they are mapped out.

However, the high number of requests from the society has caused concern, prompting some companies to call for self-restraint.

Some observers say the requests indicate that space-related companies still rely too much on the government. Others have said the reasoning behind the establishment of the think tank should be spelled out, otherwise the entity might be seen as a front for certain quarters to do whatever they wish.

From the viewpoint of international competition, an official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said the space industry's frank demands would help the ministry understand problems related to space policies.

However, it would be difficult for the government to accept all of the society's proposals in light of the need for fiscal reconstruction.

There also are fears that high hopes for space development could mean that other factors are left unaddressed. For example, sections of the defense establishment and industry have a tendency to establish opaque modes of operation, citing confidentiality as a reason for their lack of transparency.

As such, it is crucial that the headquarters, which will have unprecedented power to devise space development policies, shows a sense of restraint, and be transparent and accountable.

The space industry's system also must meet the same stringent standards.

During May deliberations on the basic space bill at the House of Councillors Cabinet Committee, a DPJ lawmaker said the duties and responsibilities of space-related industries had not been included in the bill.

As taxpayers' money is used for space development, the government must not only promise a stable cash flow for space companies, but also establish a mechanism that would allow it to hold the industry responsible for space projects.

For example, if a company cannot complete a project as planned, the government should have the power to suspend the project or clarify the company's responsibility without allowing the firm to continue the project indefinitely.

The government has hitherto turned a blind eye to such companies, but correcting this kind of bad practice is crucial in improving international competitiveness.

The headquarters' abilities will be tested with its first job.