MOFA Must Strengthen its Diplomatic Structure According to Japan’s National Interests

Seiji Fuji

The diplomatic mission policy should be based on changing circumstances

 Sentaku magazine publishes a column called “Society and Culture: Information Capsule.” The June edition was titled, “Increasing Numbers of Wasteless Diplomatic Missions: MOFA Ignores Local Circumstances for its Own Interests.” It read:

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is continually opening more embassies, consulates, and permanent missions in foreign countries, despite the decreasing number of Japanese nationals residing abroad.” “As of October 2023, it was estimated that 720,000 Japanese citizens are long-term residents of other countries, a 170,000-person decrease compared to the pre-COVID era. Despite this, MOFA is establishing three or four new diplomatic missions each year.” “There are Japanese embassies in nations with no Japanese expatriates, such as Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic in Africa, as well as Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Kitts and Nevis in Central America. An embassy is opening this year in Eritrea, home to just eight Japanese nationals. Due to the worsening relationship with Russia, only three Japanese civilians reside in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and two in Khabarovsk, cities in the Russian Far East. However, each consulate-general has 10 Japanese staff members.” “MOFA plans to expand its diplomatic staff to 8,000 people – a 20% increase – as a response to globalization. If a change of government were to take place, it seems likely that these missions could be singled out for criticism during the secondary budget screening.”

 MOFA released its Diplomatic Bluebook 2024 in April. Under the section “Enhancing the diplomatic structure,” it reads, “Japan is facing the most difficult and complex security environment of the postwar era. The diplomatic structure must be significantly strengthened for strong diplomatic power to maintain and develop international order based on universal value. Accordingly, MOFA will increase the number and quality of its diplomatic missions, and build organizational and personnel structures for this ministry that is in charge of foreign affairs.” This is why MOFA opened a Seychelles embassy in January 2024, as well as a Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Rome, Italy. The Seychelles Islands are in the Indian Ocean, making it an essential country for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific plan. Rome is the location of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an important international organization. Sentaku states that MOFA is acting wastefully, but we should examine whether this is really the case or not.
 There used to be few air routes from Japan to overseas countries, and it took a great deal of time to travel abroad. Some regions only had railways or cars. Today we can remain in constant contact using the Internet and other means of communication, and we can travel anywhere in dozens of hours by transferring planes and taking cars from airports. Based on these circumstances, I think we should re-examine whether these embassies, consulates, and other missions are truly necessary. If not, this topic will certainly be made an example of in the budget screening after a change of government.

Economic collaboration with the Global South will be essential

 However, we should not focus solely on eliminating wastefulness; we must have a broad perspective based on maximizing Japan’s national interests. The Diplomatic Bluebook 2024 compares major countries’ diplomatic missions as of January 2023. Japan had 231, around the same number as the United Kingdom at 232. The United States, the leader of the world, had 272. France, a former colonial power, had the large number of 278 missions. I was astounded to see that China had 282 diplomatic missions, more than either the U.S. or France. According to “US Narrows Gap With China on Diplomatic Posts, Report Says,” published on the Japanese Bloomberg website on February 26, China is stepping up its presence by opening offices in Africa, East Asia, Pacific island nations, and Central Asia. This clearly demonstrates that China is attempting to strengthen collaboration with the Global South.
 Japan is also working to solidify relationships with Global South countries. The NHK news website ran an article on April 26, titled, “MOFA Stations Regional Economic Officers at Missions in South Africa, Etc.”

“MOFA decided to station ‘regional economic officers’ at diplomatic missions in South Africa and other nations to help Japanese companies expand into Africa, which is part of the Global South. They will assist companies thinking of setting up operations in Africa, including information provision.” “MOFA determined a policy of creating this new post at diplomatic missions to help Japanese companies expand into Africa, which is drawing attention as an enormous market with a rapidly growing population.” “Regional economic officers will be stationed at the embassy in South Africa, a prominent industrialized nation.” “Officers will also be assigned to embassies in the UK, India, and Turkey – which major companies use as bases for doing business in Africa – as well as the consulate-general in Dubai.” “Economic growth is expected in Africa, but there are many issues including public safety. Regional economic officers will provide information about business environments and other topics to corporations, and will reach out to government officials in the nations where companies are hoping to expand.” “Through these initiatives, MOFA is working to strengthen economic collaboration with emerging and developing nations in Africa and other parts of the Global South.”

 As this article describes, it is important for Japan to engage in economic collaboration with the Global South, a region that will certainly experience economic growth in the future. We must not let China monopolize this collaboration. Going forward, MOFA should continue focusing efforts on a stronger diplomatic structure, which is also connected to enhanced economic collaboration as described in the NHK article. I think MOFA will have to consider this while dispatching officers and opening up diplomatic missions overseas.
 Security is another aspect of enhancing Japan’s diplomatic structure in line with national interests. A Cabinet decision was made in December 2022 on the National Security Strategy of Japan. Under “Strengthening Intelligence Capacities for Japan’s National Security,” it reads:

“Japan will reinforce its arrangements and capabilities in the field of intelligence, which is closely related to the maintenance of a sound democracy, smooth decision-making by the Government, and effective external communications. Specifically, in order to strengthen Japan’s ability to analyze global trends from a broad, accurate, and multifaceted perspective across diplomatic, military, and economic spheres, Japan will significantly enhance its information-gathering capabilities from various information sources, including human intelligence, open source intelligence, signals intelligence, and imagery intelligence. In particular, with regard to human intelligence, the structure for collecting information will be enhanced and strengthened.”

 For instance, “human intelligence” (HUMINT) refers to intelligence gathered by sending MOFA and other officials on long-term assignments to Japanese diplomatic missions, including staff members from the Ministry of Defense, National Police Agency, Public Security Intelligence Agency, and Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office. We should consider the significance of MOFA officials and diplomatic missions based on the concept of HUMINT.

Using AI against disinformation, including secret IAEA donations

 MOFA announced on May 8 that it will strengthen information warfare measures in its release, “The responses to information manipulation, including spread of disinformation.” One topic of particular mention is incorrect information about Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water, which has been released into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station since August 2023. According to totally false reports, a MOFA senior official said Japan gave political donations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and that a MOFA diplomatic cable stated that ALPS treated water would be diluted to meet the standard. MOFA responded by immediately refuting this via its press release. The Nikkei published a detailed article on December 29, 2023 about online information manipulation of this type, titled, “MOFA Uses AI to Detect Disinformation and Analyze International Circumstances.”

“MOFA is utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance its measures against disinformation spread in foreign countries. It will be able to use AI to promptly detect malicious, inaccurate information and analyze the routes where it is spread. MOFA is also researching generative AI models to predict changes in international circumstances.” “Disinformation can lead to diplomatic issues, including incorrect information about Japanese territories like Okinawa Prefecture and the Senkaku Islands, or false rumors about treated water from the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Major nations are taking steps to cope with this, because information is spread in the blink of an eye via social media and other methods.” “It is expected that AI-powered technologies can quickly discover false information. Models will be built to immediately detect disinformation shared on websites or social media, and to predict the intentions of the information source and impacts on its readers.” “These technologies will also be used to safeguard important intelligence in the economic security field. Regarding confidential intelligence that could have military applications – such as semiconductors and defense-related technologies – AI will assess the estimated risk that intelligence will be stolen by specific countries.” “Research is being started on using generative AI to analyze scenarios in the international situation, utilizing big data from social media, satellite location information, and the like.” “For example, research will be conducted on how generative AI can predict what will happen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the aim of utilizing it in future intelligence functions.” “On December 20, Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamikawa Yoko spoke to the press corps about the FY2024 draft budget, stating, ‘As rivalries between states intensify, their competition is expanding beyond the scope of traditional military capabilities to information warfare […], including the spread of disinformation and the like.’ She also said, ‘we need to strengthen our information gathering, analysis and dissemination capabilities in an integrated manner.’”

 MOFA has set forth a policy for using AI to analyze information as a measure against information manipulation by other countries, but this will not be enough to strengthen intelligence capacities as stated in the National Security Strategy of Japan. Japan’s first step should be to establish an intelligence agency specialized in external intelligence. Military journalist Kuroi Buntaro published Maneuvers and Schemes in Global Politics: Intelligence Agencies and Intelligence Warfare Around the World (WANI BOOKS). According to this book, public backlash was the reason why Japan did not create an external intelligence agency after World War II, leading to the structure in which the police are exclusively in charge of domestic counterintelligence efforts.
 However, Kuroi writes that progress has been made with the 2015 establishment of the MOFA’s Counter-Terrorism Unit – Japan and the Cabinet Secretariat’s International Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Gathering Office. Kuroi recommends that the Counter-Terrorism Unit’s staff be doubled to 200 people, that the unit’s authority be strengthened to make it a de facto external intelligence organization, and that the Public Security Intelligence Agency be turned into an organization dedicated to analyzing foreign intelligence.

Enhancing military and intelligence capabilities for deterrence

 This April, Ezaki Michio and Shigeta Tadayoshi published a book titled, SIGINT: The Most Powerful Intelligence (WANI BOOKS). They write that Japan should establish a national signals intelligence (SIGINT) agency like the American National Security Agency (NSA) or the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

“The U.S. and foreign countries – in other words, most nations other than Japan – have national SIGINT agencies that monitor and analyze foreign and international telephone calls, online communications, credit card transactions, and other information from inside and outside the country, based on the standpoint of security. They collect information from foreign countries (including allies and partners) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” “Japan is a strange country because it has no regular defense forces according to Article 9 of the current constitution. Another bizarre quality is its lack of a SIGINT agency to monitor and track activities by enemy nations, even in cyberspace.”

 Ezaki states that Japan’s peace and safety – as well as the civil liberties and property of Japanese citizens – are in danger because there is no SIGINT agency in this country.
 Rather than indiscriminately establishing diplomatic missions, Japan should make decisions about embassies and consulate-generals based on the standpoint of national interests. This includes using them to collect security information, and economic development through strengthened collaboration with the Global South and other countries undergoing remarkable economic growth. A particularly pressing issue is creating new external intelligence and SIGINT agencies to enhance our efforts for security-related intelligence. Japan must gain deterrence in the unstable East Asian region through intelligence and military capabilities alike.

June 18 (Tuesday), 5:00 p.m.