“There Must be Something I Can Contribute.” Security Expert Who Has Worked Around the World, Jumps into Space Startup.
This is the 19th interview with Ms.Yanai. She specializes in security and international relations and has served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Maldives, joining WARPSPACE in May 2022 as Policy Counselor.
Reuniting with a student and encountering a startup
－Did you already know about WARPSPACE before?
While working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I used to teach a class on international law as a part-time lecturer at Tsukuba University every Saturday. At that time, Mr. Tsunemachi, the CEO, who was still a student at the time, supported me. He was an excellent student, so I am sure he was appointed by the professor to “take care of Yanai”.
After serving as a part-time lecturer for three years, I was transferred to an overseas post and didn’t have a chance to meet him for a while, but shortly before I retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he contacted me for the first time in many years. At that time, I heard that he was working on a venture company called WARPSPACE, and I thought it was interesting, so I promised to meet him when I returned to Japan, and finally, I did.
-What was it that led you to join WARPSPACE?
I visited the International Space Industry Exhibition held at Tokyo Big Sight in March 2022, and when I asked Mr. Tsunemachi about his vision for WARPSPACE again, I knew it would be interesting!
And the team is fantastic. With 6,000 people working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is impossible to say that the right person for the job is in the right position, and we desperately need a generalist. Of course, some people specialize in particular fields, but it is not always possible to place them in positions where they can make the most of their skills.
In this respect, WARPSPACE is a real elite team of people with specialized fields who have come together because they share the same vision. I was surprised when I heard that everyone is excellent and can communicate in English and that meetings are held in English. Even at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meetings are held in Japanese. It is also a new way of working for me that staff members overseas participate in meetings online. It is also good that the organization is flat. I had read about startups in newspapers and other media, but I had never met the people who work there, so I didn’t know how the whole thing worked.
A little after I visited the International Space Industry Exhibition, I was asked if I wanted to join WARPSPACE, and I said, “With pleasure!”
-I heard that your dream as a child was to become an astronaut. Were you interested in space development and space business?
Oh yes, that’s nothing but the influence of the Apollo 11 manned moon landing!
I was already glued to the TV. At that time, all the children yearned to be astronauts or simultaneous interpreters. I used to look at the moon and wonder where we would land, thinking that we would be the next ones to go to the moon’s surface. Being an astronaut ended up being a cute childhood dream, but I still have a longing for space. The images from the James Webb Space Telescope were amazing.
But I knew nothing about space development or the space business, so I asked Mr. Azuma, the COO, to give me a period of assistance. Frankly speaking, I would like to contribute something based on my experience, even if I don’t know anything about space development or the space business.
The view I saw at the United Nations
-What made you decide to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
First of all, I had no intention of working for a corporation. A private company is a place where profit is pursued, right? Then, I also had no intention of working for a national or government agency to pursue national interests. It sounds like a dream, but I wanted to work for humanity. I was so inspired by “human rights diplomacy” that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was advocating. I thought that I would work for the United Nations and do something related to human rights, so I went ahead and did it.
-So you are working for the United Nations, not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…?
No, I did not work for the United Nations. I worked backward from the career path I needed to take to get into the UN and earned a master’s degree in international relations in the United States. I took the competitive exam for UN staff recruitment and was accepted, but the UN required me to wait until a post became available. This period took quite a long time, so I started working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the meantime, and ended up working there until retirement.
I started in Singapore and was stationed in The Hague in the Netherlands and Geneva in Switzerland, where there are many international organizations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rotates between overseas and home ministry posts. After returning to the home ministry and worked there for several years, I served at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, USA, then as a Consul General of Japan in Brisbane, Australia, and finally as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Maldives before retiring from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
-What jobs have left a lasting impression on you?
There are too many. I guess the most impressive one was the first time I went to the UN headquarters in New York.
I saw the flags of all the countries of the world standing out in a bar. When I saw that, I thought, “This is the New York headquarters of the UN I’ve been trying to get to! I finally made it here!”
My specialty is international security and arms control. While protecting our national interests through negotiations for nuclear disarmament and other measures, we must also consider world peace at the same time. There was a time when I thought I would have to quit my job if the time came when I had to do something contrary to my beliefs for the sake of national interests — I must admit I was naive back then. That is why when I saw the UN headquarters, I was so fired up and ready to work hard again.
At the UN, representatives from about 160 countries meet together to discuss various issues while protecting national interest. Now people say that the UN is dysfunctional, but at that time, everyone was hopeful and made documents, passed resolutions, and achieved results.
Security is non-negotiable, but if we do that, nothing will come of it. Therefore, we will compromise where we can but take what we should. We work this way with representatives from all over the world.
There were meetings where we spent five years preparing but could not reach a consensus, and there were meetings that broke down at the last minute. It was such a shock that we were unable to recover for a week or so! The sense of accomplishment and fulfillment we got when we finalized the outcome documents and treaty negotiations was incredible, it was so rewarding! I thought I could quit my job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at any time, but I stayed there for more than 30 years and served until the end.
Sharing Perspectives on International Affairs
-What do you think your specialties, national security, and international relations, relate to space development and the space business?
Space is the common property of mankind today, isn’t it? But clearly, military expansion is progressing, and some countries have more than 100 military satellites. Space is becoming a battleground for supremacy. If that happens, if we don’t take national security and international relations into account, I think our civilian activities will be greatly affected. From that perspective, it is important to have someone on the team who can share the perspective of international affairs.
－What do you hope to do at WARPSPACE?
Having been in a government agency, I guess I am still expected to be a government relations person. I am looking forward to building contacts with domestic and foreign government agencies and liaising and coordinating with embassies and consulates-general as necessary. Also, although my specialty is national security, I would like to participate in discussions rather than give advice. However, I sometimes feel that everyone at WARPSPACE has a good overview of international affairs and that there is no need for me to come all the way out here. But I am sure there is something I can do to help!
-What is your enthusiasm as a policy advisor?
My enthusiasm is not to be too enthusiastic. And don’t be enthusiastic in the wrong direction. The way we work in government is ingrained in us, and I want to find out what we can do here to help achieve our vision and work together to make it happen.
Compass of Behavior
-Finally, I would like to ask you about the most essential Compass of Behavior for you.
This is a really good selection. This is the kind of thing I love about WARPSPACE! I believe that these 9 things interact with each other to achieve the vision that you all have. So they are all important.
But if I had to choose one, it would be “05. Resilient spirit”. We must overcome uncertain times, and in a new field like space, failure is inevitable. Even if we make one failure, it will be a great event if we can learn three lessons from it. I would choose a resilient spirit that does not get discouraged.