Is Japan Comfortable about Gaining a UN Security Council Seat?
Lyse Doucet (Presenter, BBC News) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Lyse Doucet: Is the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's proposals for the expansion of the UN Security Council good news for the Japanese government?
Sean Curtin: Yes, I think the proposals will be greeted warmly by Japanese diplomats as they are in line with Tokyo's long-term strategy to gain a seat on the UN Security Council and very much what was expected at this stage in the process. At the moment there are five permanent members and Kofi Annan has put forward two options for reforming the council by increasing the number of permanent members. One plan envisages adding an additional six permanent members, probably without veto powers, and creating three new nonpermanent members. The second recommendation would see nine new rotating members, eight of which would serve renewable four-year terms and one that would serve a two-year term. Japan supports the first proposal as it is the second biggest financial contributor to the UN after the US and is heavily involved in UN diplomacy. It therefore feels it should have a permanent seat. Also, it is keen to expand its role and prestige within the organization. Additionally, Japanese politicians are extremely enthusiast about enhancing their international status. However, it is important to stress that there is a long way to go and many hurdles for Japan to overcome before it can gain a much prized seat at the UN high table.
Lyse Doucet: It is very interesting that a new poll carried out by the BBC in over 20 countries shows that support for expanding the Security Council while high in Japan was still much lower than in other countries. [The BBC poll showed that 64% of Japanese backed a stronger UN and 59% backed increasing the number of permanent UNSC seats. Both figures were lower than support registered in most other countries.]
Is the Japanese public still ambivalent about the UN?
Sean Curtin: I think that the root of this sentiment can be traced to Japan's war-renouncing Constitution. This is something very important to the way a lot of Japanese people see their country and identity it in the international context. Many are very proud of the fact that their soldiers have never killed anyone in anger since the end of the Second World War. To become a permanent Security Council member requires a big military commitment. The role basically comprises three major components, a financial front, a diplomatic front and a military front. It is this final element that causes all the anxiety and is what a lot of people are against. This sentiment was most recently highlighted by the dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq, which was actually not a UN mission. This deployment has cause a lot of headaches for the politicians, especially the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. When the mandate for the dispatch came up for renewal this January Koizumi's ratings hit near rock bottom demonstrating just how sensitive this issue is.
Lyse Doucet: And yet we see a thrust by Japan to get more involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are a number of areas around the world where Japan wants to be a player.
Sean Curtin: That is indeed very true. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Japan has made a concerted effort to make a meaningful contribution and is increasingly seen as a key player. Financially it has already made a significant contribution. Additionally, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has very detailed and comprehensive plans to substantially assist the Palestinian Authority if a peace deal is actually agreed. So, yes Japan is definitely getting more involved in global dispute resolution. However, there is most definitely a public unease about whether Japan can balance its constitutional war-renouncing commitments with a high profile UN role. Politicians, especially the Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, have been working hard to reassure people by addressing this issue at public meetings and in the media. At the beginning of this month Machimura took part in a town meeting held in Tokyo between citizens and Cabinet members. During the gathering he emphasized that there would not be any conflict. The problem is, as the BBC poll illustrates, the public are still not quite convinced.
Lyse Doucet: Well, it looks like they may well have quite sometime to think about it.
The above discussion was originally broadcast on BBC World's Asia Today programme on 21st March 2005.