The Indian strategic community ~ by which is meant domain specialists and not the ‘generalist’ bureaucrats thrown up by an outdated Union Public Service Commission examination who have limited value in policymaking ~ could learn a thing or two from their counterparts in Japan. In the evolution of Japan’s security policy, proposals and working papers from non-government institutions including academic institutions and think-tanks have not only been welcomed by government, unlike in India where a moribund civil service is busy protecting its turf, but their acceptance and implementation have proven instrumental in the development of a cohesive strategic vision for that country. Over the past 25-odd years, the slow but steady progress of Tokyo’s defence and security policy in a pragmatic and proactive direction towards becoming a “normal country” through “passive realism,” writes Tsuneo Watanabe, Senior Fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, in a recent article, is in large part due to think-tanks’ policy recommendations and the government’s realisation of them since 1995.
The revitalisation of the Japan-USA alliance to deal with contingencies on the Korean Peninsula, for example, came after an expert committee’s policy suggestions were adopted by Tokyo and it passed a related law agreed upon in the 1997 Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation with Washington. In terms of involving those with domain knowledge in the business of formulating policy, leaving it to career bureaucrats to implement it, the Abe Shinzo Cabinets stand out in terms of taking forward numerous policies emanating from think-tank research and recommendations. These include permitting the exercise of the right of collective defence, creating the National Security Council, and establishing the National Security Strategy.
All these issues were initially seen to be at odds with Japan’s post-World War II pacifist Constitution but were widely accepted eventually as the interactions between experts and government laid bare the changed dynamics of 21st century geopolitics and how best the country could negotiate them. Currently, adds Tsuneo Watanabe, the Japanese government is conducting a series of conversations with security experts to revise the National Security Strategy and the ruling party has announced a general policy proposal based on these interactions which recommends that the government initiate the development of an indigenous counterstrike capability and increase the defence budget to two per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Of utmost significance in the policy recommendations made by various expert committees given the specialisations of those staffing them, is that the changes suggested are usually incremental and gradual. There is no question of the political leadership signing off on a policy it may think is needed ~ which a pliant bureaucracy is very good at generating because their political masters desire it ~ without gaming multiple outcomes including the negative. India too can hopefully move to a policy matrix in the coming years wherein policy inputs must be welcomed from non-government sources. The political executive will, as it ought to, take the final call on policy adoption but the bureaucracy needs to be confined to implementing it. There is no substitute to listening to the experts.