National Security Council Must Not Become a Meta-Executive
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
March 3, 2014
Summary: The basic principle of democracy is "powers must be consistent with
responsibilities." Our constitutional framework is often criticized for
unclear assignment of responsibilities. But direct presidential
elections offer public accountability. The premier is the nation's
highest executive. He is responsible to the president. He is also
subject to Legislative Yuan oversight. The constitutional relationship
still imposes constraints. But if the NSC were to become a
"Meta-Executive Yuan," the ability of the framework to restrict its
powers would vanish. President Ma has never given up the hope of leaving
behind a legacy. Presumably he would not want to be remembered as
"destroyer of the constitutional framework." The result depends on his
last two years in office.
Full text below:
The constitutional framework limits the powers of the National Security Council (NSC). It has far less power than the U.S. National Security Council. Its power is limited. It is akin to the president's cabinet. But its role is not clearly defined. Therefore in practice its authority can be interpreted very broadly. President Ma has long relied on political aide King Pu-tsung, who recently returned home to serve as Secretary General of the NSC. Will the role of the NSC change? Will it become an outside the system decision-making body with immense powers but zero responsibility? Will it be able to override even the constitutional powers of the Executive Yuan? This is a matter that warrants concern.
The status of the NSC is not clearly defined. The proximate cause is the Additional Articles of the Constitution, which give the president the right to formulate national security policy. It divides executive power. In 1993, the Organic Law of the National Security Council was passed. It legally defined the president's national security authority as one, national defense; two, diplomacy; and three, cross-strait relations. It gave the NSC the same status as a presidential cabinet. During the Chen Shui-bian era, the organizational structure of the NSC was further expanded. The NSC was still nominally a cabinet level entity. But in fact it wielded considerable decision-making power.
The powers and responsibilities of the NSC are basically defined. Nevertheless the real powers of the NSC are highly extent dependent upon the president's whims. The Secretary-General of the NSC plays a real role. During the Lee Teng-hui era, the NSC Secretary-General was drawn mostly from military and diplomatic personnel. During the Chen Shui-bian era, he became the most important member of his political cabinet. Chiou I-jen served as Chen Shui-bian's Secretary-General of the NSC for four years. He even served as the DPP's election strategist. This provoked KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou to criticize the "confusion of roles."
We are now in the President Ma era. The role of the NSC is still a closely guarded secret. It is still not transparent. Recently the government announced that King Pu-tsung would become Secretary General of the NSC. The Presidential Office and King Pu-tsung both declared that their main purpose was to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Such regional economic integration measures have nothing to do with elections. But consider the past history of the NSC. How can we ensure that the role of the NSC is limited to matters of national security? That is a difficult question.
From the legal perspective, the Organic Law of the National Security Council defines the role of the NSC. It says, "The president may consult the National Security authorities on major policies." It says the Secretary-General's powers are limited to "dealing with National Security Council resolutions and commanding and supervising staff." But consider the composition of the NSC. The President is Chairman. The Vice President, Executive Yuan Vice President, MInister of the Interior, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, Minister of Finance, Minister of Economic Affairs, Chief of the Mainland Affairs Council Chief, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary-General of the National Security Council, Chief of the NSB, will all of course be in attendance. Clearly it will be a president led "mini cabinet meeting."
King Pu-tsung is a long time member of the Ma government. His role has always been "under one man, but over 10,000 others." He likes to stress that he believes in confining himself to his official role and never exceeding his authority. But his central role is the leader of President Ma's political cabinet. Therefore no matter what position he accepts, that position becomes the power center. That is inevitable. Tha twas the case when King Pu-tsung was News Director of Taipei City. That was the case when he was Deputy Mayor. That was the case when he was KMT secretary-General. That was even more the case when he was ROC Representative to the US. During future "small cabinet meetings," King Pu-tsung will remain one of the president's key cabinet members. He will also be in a position to influence decision-making through the NSC. Under President Ma, King Pu-tsung will be "the most powerful Secretary-General of the NSC." Of that we can have no doubt.
Consider in particular the upcoming seven in one local elections, presidential election, and legislative elections. Electoral victory or defeat hinges on job performance. This includes regional integration and any other significant policy. None of these can be divorced from elections. Let us back up. Let us declare that the future task of the NSC will be to enable us to join the TPP and RCEP. Therefore the CEPD, MInistry of Transportation and Communication, Ministry of Agriculture and other cabinet members who did not attend NSC meetings, will now become essential attendees at NSC meetings. If so, this is cause for concern. The NSC meeting was the president's small cabinet meeting. Will it be transformed into the Secretary-General's Meta-Executive meeting?
The basic principle of democracy is "powers must be consistent with responsibilities." Our constitutional framework is often criticized for unclear assignment of responsibilities. But direct presidential elections offer public accountability. The premier is the nation's highest executive. He is responsible to the president. He is also subject to Legislative Yuan oversight. The constitutional relationship still imposes constraints. But if the NSC were to become a "Meta-Executive Yuan," the ability of the framework to restrict its powers would vanish. President Ma has never given up the hope of leaving behind a legacy. Presumably he would not want to be remembered as "destroyer of the constitutional framework." The result depends on his last two years in office.
2014.03.03 03:04 am