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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #113: October 29, 2003

Japan and UN Security Council Reform: What others think

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)

Japan's nomination to represent Asia as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2005-2006, signals the launch of the country's campaign to reform the UNSC in order to secure a permanent seat. Over the past decade, the Japanese government has spoken out frequently in favor of enlarging the UNSC and the latest press reports indicate that Japan aims to put the issue of Security Council reform on the agenda in 2005. Having been nominated unanimously by 53 Asian member states to the UN, Japan's election as a non-permanent member will be secured when it manages to garner two-thirds of the votes from the 191 countries in the General Assembly next Autumn, most do not think this will be a problem.

As to the larger question of UNSC reform, a series of articles were published last week in Japan, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the U.S. The general tone, with the exception of Spain, seems to be in favor of reform and Japan's eventual selection as a permanent member.

In an October 27 article taken up on the question was posed as to why Japan, India and Brazil are not permanent members on the Council? The piece went on to argue that the developing world needed "the effective voices" of these countries to be heard on the international scene and stressed that Japan would present a fresh perspective on dealing with problems, and breaking away from what it called the "dogmatic and fossilized thinking" of the past.

Last week, the United States government came out clearly in favor of Japan's push to be admitted to this exclusive UN club. On the 25 October the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Kim R. Holmeshas, presented a seven-point proposal for reforming the UN in which Holmeshas pressed for Japan's inclusion in the UNSC as a permanent member. Interestingly, this call echoed French president Jacque Chirac's speech delivered at the UN on 23 September, which called for the same.

Riding this wave of support, Japanese experts on the issue have been debating the merits of their country's case in a number of national newspapers including the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japan Times and the Asahi Shimbun. Those in favor argue that Japan's financial contribution, which amounts to 19.5 percent of the total UN budget, or more than the sum given by four of the current permanent members combined (excluding the US), has earned it a place on the Council. These proponents want an end to the situation, which they refer to as "taxation without representation." Others arguments in favor include one posed by Ramesh Thakur who states that Japan's membership could strengthen the UN's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation as it would change the composition of the UNSC Permanent Five (P5) from an exclusively nuclear power dominated assembly. Currently, all of the P5 are nuclear powers (23 October, Yomiuri). Another factor supporting Japan's case is its massive Overseas Development Assistance program and its increasingly active peace keeping role. Those who make a case for Japan's membership emphasize that these contributions have earned Japan a seat among the Big Five.

However, there are also dissenters. These include the Spanish government, which recently contended that countries seeking a permanent post were solely motivated to increase their national prestige and power and did not care about the effort to create a Council that functioned efficiently (27 October, El Pais). A number of African countries also challenged Japan's claim that it does more than most to promote peace, development and progress. These criticisms were voiced this weekend at the Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD III). Although, African leaders remain sympathetic to Japan's UNSC bid, they made it clear last week that they want Japan to do more for Africa. Doubts about Japan's commitment to the continent include Japan's unfair trade practices, particularly in the area of agriculture, its lack of support for grass roots and NGO based HIV/AIDS projects, and questions regarding the actual effectiveness of the aid that Japan has provided.

Naysayers also exist in Japan. Asai Motofumi (a former Foreign Ministry official) gave an interview to the Daily Yomiuri on 27 October where he questioned the impact that Japan would have in the SC. Japan's "blind obedience" to the U.S., he argued, would be "tantamount to just another vote in favor of unilateral U.S. policies." He concluded by stating that Japan, and the world, would be better served if his country focused on its duties as a major global power outside of the UNSC. His contention was that Japan could maintain its independence and produce positive change in the world much more easily if it were not a member of the Council. Another worry raised by Asai was that Japanese conservatives would use Japan's permanent membership as a tool to revise the Constitution.

It is well recognized that the United Nations Security Council needs to be restructured if it is to be an effective and respected point of reference in world politics. Japan is clearly one of the leading candidates to join a reformed Council. Membership would certainly increase Japan's say in global affairs, thereby, heightening both its prestige and responsibility. There is no doubt that Japan is capable of assuming this role, the question, however, relates to whether Japan will use this new function to affect positive change or not. In order to do so, it is important that Japanese decision makers establish and implement an independent foreign policy that is founded on principles that go far beyond questions of national security and interest. Promoting international law, universal justice and fair trade need to figure just as prominently in Japan's overall objectives. Perhaps this is a utopian standard, however, the fact of the matter is that the United Nations Security Council has been made ineffective precisely because international norms and laws have been ignored by permanent members that pursue agendas of their own. If Japan assumes the established trend, the world will gain nothing by its joining the Security Council.

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