Japan lags behind S. Korea, US in missile notification

North Korea's failed missile launch Friday has once again exposed various problems in the government's system of relaying vital information.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda strongly expressed his frustration--which is quite rare for him--to his aides in a meeting room at the Prime Minister's Office.

"We need to be more clear! We weren't slow [in obtaining the information]!" he told his aides.

The Defense Ministry received information on the missile launch from a US military early warning satellite at 7:40 a.m.

Two minutes later, the information was relayed to Noda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who were waiting at the Prime Minister's Office.

This effectively marked the beginning of the test of the Noda administration's management of the missile launch.

South Korean and US media began reporting the launch shortly after 7:50 a.m. But it was only at 8:03 a.m. that the government finally transmitted the first notice via the Em-Net system, which only read: "The launch has yet to be confirmed."

The Em-Net is a system the central government uses to send emergency information simultaneously to local governments over dedicated lines.

Toshiro Yonemura, deputy chief cabinet secretary for crisis management, was the one who decided to send the message and its content.

With confusion between domestic and international information, Yonemura made the decision in an attempt to prevent further disarray. But he did not coordinate with Fujimura beforehand.

At a press conference later, Fujimura said, "We have to rectify this," indicating his intention to review decision-making procedures.

Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka only ended up adding to the confusion. The government had decided in advance that all official announcements would be made by Fujimura.

But at 8:23 a.m., Tanaka suddenly appeared in a press room at the Defense Ministry and told reporters that the missile was launched, becoming the first government official to make an announcement.

But Tanaka only read a short statement and left the room without taking any questions.

The government had also decided in advance to double-check information before making any statements, but this also led to confusion.

Officials in charge of the North's missile launch at the crisis management centre in the basement of the Prime Minister's Office were upset with the long delay in receiving radar information from the Self-Defense Forces.

They shouted at each other, saying things like, "Check more carefully!" and "What's going on?"

The process was designed so that the centre would be notified only when all necessary pieces of information became available. As a result, the government missed the opportunity to use the J-Alert system, which instantly transmits emergency warnings across the country, as the system cannot be activated until the information is received by the centre.

Though the J-Alert was considered an important tool for the government to quickly warn the public, the utilisation of the system was hampered.

It was 8:16 a.m., more than 30 minutes after the launch, when the Defense Ministry reported the launch to the crisis management centre.

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