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Hostage crisis highlights need to raise Japan's crisis management

Publication Date : 22-01-2013


In light of recent difficulties in obtaining information on the Algerian hostage crisis, the Japanese government will boost its intelligence-gathering capabilities and bolster the chain of command during emergencies, according to government sources.

To enhance Japan's crisis-management abilities, the government must also review ways to protect Japanese nationals affected by an overseas crisis, the sources said.

At a meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again instructed Cabinet members to do their utmost to obtain accurate information on the unfolding crisis, including the safety of Japanese hostages, the sources said.

The government has been desperate to obtain information, and even dispatched Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi, who has experience as a diplomat, to Algeria.

Information-gathering, however, has run into several obstacles, especially in regard to the Algerian military's moves, according to the sources.

"In some cases, the information we received from the Algerian government later proved untrue," one source said.

Considering the damage that could be caused by releasing false information to the public, the government must scrutinise everything more than usual, the source said.

The hostages were seized in the Sahara desert, more than 1,000 kilometres from the capital of Algiers. The Algerian military also barred access to the attacked natural gas complex and its vicinity.

Even officials from countries affected by the incident need permission from Algerian authorities to access locations near the gas complex, making it extremely difficult to get information, according to the government sources.

The Japanese government has repeatedly asked the governments of countries with close ties to Algeria, such as the United States and Britain, for information. During his trip to Washington last week, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reportedly received confidential information from the United States about the Algerian military's standoff with extremists.

The incident has also brought to the fore the importance of command functions in emergencies, the sources said.

Shortly after the attack on the natural gas complex, the government established a headquarters to analyse the unfolding situation.

Abe has also expressed his intention to create a Japanese version of the US National Security Council (NSC).

Echoing Abe's idea, his close aides have pointed out the need for consolidating the government's chain-of-command structure for emergencies through the creation of a Japanese version of the NSC.

"This time, the government's poor capability in gathering information has been blatantly clear," said Aomori Chuo University Professor Koichi Oizumi, an expert in international terrorism studies.

"During the hostage crisis, the government has been almost entirely dependent on the United States and other countries, as well as overseas media, for information," he added.

Oizumi noted the awkwardness of the Prime Minister's Office when making announcements regarding the crisis was "primarily due to its inability to ascertain the accuracy of varied and often conflicting pieces of information."

"There's no time to waste in fostering personnel and organisations well versed in information-gathering from all over the world," he said.

Ishiba: Revise SDF Law

Commenting on the Algeria's hostage crisis, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said Sunday, "Studies should be done about the wisdom of revising the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) Law to enable the SDF to engage in rescue and transport operations for Japanese nationals in the event of overseas emergencies."

At a news conference, Ishiba said SDF personnel cannot be sent overseas under the current law "even in the event of Japanese nationals arriving at airports or harbours in the wake of a tumultuous situation overseas."

"The SDF can't participate in overseas rescue operations because of provisions in the law that say SDF personnel cannot be sent abroad so long as there's no guarantee of their safety," he said. "In-depth discussions are needed on this issue."


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