MELBOURNE, Australia — The recent election of an independent candidate who opposes Japan’s effort to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in her constituency may interrupt the government’s plan. However, the election result is unlikely to stop the move.
Shizuka Terata, who was backed by the main opposition parties in Akita prefecture and had run on a platform opposing the local deployment of the Aegis Ashore system, defeated a first-term lawmaker who ran for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, in upper house elections held July 21.
The local community opposed the proposed deployment of Aegis Ashore over health concerns from radar and electromagnetic emissions, as well as fear that the system could become a target in an armed conflict.
The contest in the prefecture was seen as a de facto referendum on the proposed deployment of Aegis Ashore to a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force training area in the Araya district of the prefecture’s capital, which is located off the Sea of Japan.
However, Michael Bosack, a special adviser for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies, told Defense News that “the election of a single upper-house politician that is opposed to the deployment of Aegis Ashore does not shift the balance of power away from the LDP. The government is likely to move forward with its plan for deployment of Aegis Ashore in Akita.”
However, the election result is “likely to delay” the Aegis Ashore deployment “as the Abe government continues its deliberations with the local community,” added Bosack, who had formerly worked on alliance management and trilateral coordination between the United States, Japan and South Korea while he was the former deputy chief of government relations at the headquarters of U.S. forces in Japan.
Adding to concerns over the deployment of the ballistic missile defense system — which combines the Aegis ballistic missile defense system with its associated long-range discrimination radar and missiles — was the recent revelation that errors were found in the Defense Ministry’s geographical survey used to select Akita as a candidate site.
In June, the ministry admitted it made several mistakes when it used the virtual globe feature in the Google Earth app to check if the likely sites for locating Japan’s two Aegis Ashore systems contained obstructions that would impair radar performance, instead of carrying out on-site surveys.
In Akita’s case, the ministry reported that the angle of a mountain peak was 15 degrees when in reality it is 4 degrees. However, the ministry said the errors would not change its decision to base the Aegis Ashore in Akita as well as Yamaguchi prefecture further south, after having surveyed nearly 20 possible locations throughout Japan’s west coast facing North Korea.
Bosack said these factors undoubtedly affected the election in Akita. And errors and the poor handling of subsequent public communication efforts seen to have damaged trust in the government.
Still, said Bosack, Terata’s victory in Akita “represents a shift in local voting patterns away from LDP-backed candidates as a result of a position taken on a single issue."
"And if opposition forces continue using the Aegis Ashore to turn voters away from the LDP, there will be multiple forces influencing central government decision-making such as local LDP chapters that do not want to lose seats in municipal and prefectural elections,” potentially complicating the central government’s decision-making calculus in other defense matters.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.