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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Comment (April 4, 2005)

Comment on Kuniko Inoguchi's Article "How Japan Can Help Build a World Without War"

Kae NOMURA (Waseda University, GLOCOM Platform)

In a world riddled with conflicts, the missions of the United Nations, as laid out in its Charter, are noble and worthy. The UN, however, is largely based upon the blueprint that was formulated almost six decades ago which leads to serious concerns regarding the role and value of the UN in the 21st century. At the core of these concerns lies the UN Security Council, which has experienced numerous setbacks in its authority in the last few decades. The Security Council, comprised of five permanent members and ten short-term members, stands as the leading group of the UN. The veto power granted to the five permanent seats (China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States) clearly demonstrates the authority that the Council holds. At the founding of the UN Charter, it was believed that bequeathing this veto power to the five world powers would be an essential step in maintaining world peace. However, as Professor Kuniko Inoguchi comments in her article, "How Japan Can Help Build a World Without War," there have been numerous occasions where the Council has failed to operate as originally intended. Is this an indication that the UN Security Council is losing relevance and value in today's world? Or is it simply in need of revision?

When U.S. President, George W. Bush announced the onset of the Iraqi War on March 19, 2003, the credibility of the Security Council was undermined. Clearly going against the wishes of most member nations and directly against the decision of the Council, the U.S. deployed forces (in a joint effort with coalition forces) to disarm Iraq. This was not supposed to happen. The decision of the Council was supposed to stand strong, continuing its efforts in dealing with Iraq through non-violent weapons inspections.

UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, later called this bold move by the U.S. illegal, but there was little that could be done other than to condemn U.S. actions. As the supreme superpower and the largest contributor to UN funds, the U.S. had little to lose by acting unilaterally. Having pleaded its case to the UN and failing, President Bush simply circumvented the Council by ignoring its decisions. The Security Council was left in the wake of the U.S. forces, trying to exert authority but being cast aside by the dominant superpower nation.

Such failures of the Security Council are not new. As Professor Inoguchi mentioned the tension between the former Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War nearly incapacitated the Council. Exercising their veto powers back and forth, they were unable to make decisions. Furthermore, realpolitik often takes the front seat, leading to biased decisions, such as the Russia predisposition regarding the Kosovo issue. Such cases simply lead to stalemate, leading to an indecisive Council. With this in mind, one must ask, what, then, is the role and value of the UN Security Council?

To say that the Council and the greater UN do not have a place in today's world would be a rash and false statement. The UN has undoubtedly made mistakes but it has also done a considerable amount of good, but most importantly, the UN is needed; needed in both an ideological and practical sense. At 191 members strong, its membership includes most of the nations of the world, literally making it a platform where all voices can be heard. The UN will not die away like its former League of Nations. Reform, then, is what the UN needs.

Of the many possible reforms that are being considered, one of the hottest topics is that of Security Council expansion. It is regarding this issue that Japan is directly concerned. In its quest to gain a permanent Council seat, Japan has been trying to demonstrate to the world its important role in promoting world peace. Economically, Japan is certainly a leading figure on the world stage; not only is it one of the wealthiest nations, it is also the second largest contributor to the UN coffer. Economic power alone, however, has only minor leverage in gaining the much coveted permanent seat.

Professor Inoguchi lays out the major agenda steps that she recommends Japan try to meet in order to optimize its chances: demonstrate leadership, utilize its experiences as a small island nation, seek the support of the U.S., further its relations with the European Union, secure nods of approval from its two large neighbors, China and Russia, and demonstrate flexibility with changing circumstances. These steps are certainly vital in Japan's pursuit of permanent Council membership, but not only are any amendments to the UN Charter hard to come by, Japan also has a large obstacle in its path.

This obstacle stems from Article 9 of the Japanese constitution which concedes the use of force to resolve international disputes. As demonstrated by the work of the Self-Defense Forces in Iraq, Japan plays an important, but largely passive role. In fact, it has fallen to the responsibility of foreign troops, until recently the Dutch, to protect the Japanese SDF from harm. In this role, the Dutch troops even experienced casualties. Although the goal of the UN is to promote worldwide peace through non-violent negotiations, the inability of Japan to utilize its armed forces is a notable weakness because all too often, it is force and not merely diplomacy that settles international conflicts. It is not a weakness in the sense of resolve or as a people, but a weakness in the sense that Japan will always take a back row position in times of military combat. History shows us that military intervention, even if it starts as a peaceful presence, can quickly turn violent. In such cases, Japan can certainly play a meaningful role, as in the Iraq War, but not on the front lines. Some may argue that fighting on the front lines is not important as a Council member (and looking at the current members, this would be true), but nevertheless, Article 9 continues to be a weakness because military might is a sign of strength and superpower status.

Article 9, however, is by no means the only obstacle between Japan and a permanent Council membership. In order for any changes to be made to the structure of the Council, the UN charter must be amended, which can be thwarted by a single veto from one of the existing permanent members. With China and Russia expressing negativity towards Japan's campaign, it is likely that one or both of these superpowers will block the way. Even despite Japan, Brazil, Germany, and India (collectively known as the G4 nations) supporting each other in their bids, it will be a long and trying road. However, with Kofi Annan's proposal to expand the Security Council to 24 members with 3 non-permanent seats and 6 permanent seats with no veto rights, Japan's bid seems to be in the realm of possibility. Of course, this expansion can be vetoed by the current Council members, but by not granting veto rights to new permanent members, it keeps them subordinate to the current members. Such a reform probably has a better chance of getting passed than a similar expansion reform giving new Council members the same authority as the current five permanent members.

What Professor Inoguchi expresses is true; there are practical steps that Japan can take in order to attain permanent Council membership, and if a place is earned, there is much that this island nation can contribute. However, Article 9 will continue to be an unavoidable weakness for Japan, and even if reforms, such as Kofi Annan's proposal stated previously, are made to the structure of the Council, it will be difficult for Japan to gain a permanent seat. Of course, this does not mean that the role Japan plays is any less significant. Rather, it should continue to be active in not only promoting domestic agenda but also in furthering worldly causes. Regardless of whether Japan is granted a permanent seat or not, there is and will continue to be a meaningful place for Japan in the world.

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