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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
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Social Trends #110: May 27, 2005

Japan's Quest for a Permanent UN Security Council Seat: Part One Japan's UNSC bid builds up momentum

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, a milestone that has generated intense debate about reforming the organization. As an institution founded in the 20th Century, many now feel it needs a major overhaul to make it relevant to the challenges of the 21st Century. As part of these reforms Japan is hoping to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC), a powerful body which is charged with maintaining global peace and security. Critics argue the current composition of the UNSC reflects the immediate post-World War II era of its creation and not today's realities.

The beginnings of Japan's quest for a permanent UNSC seat can be traced back to July 1993, when the then Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, approved a letter to the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, stating, "Japan is ready to take as much responsibility as it is capable of." Today, Tokyo believes that as a major UN donor and an increasingly active international player its request should be given serious consideration. In 2004, Japan provided 19.47 percent of total UN contributions, the second-largest share after the United States, which contributed 22 percent.

Reform process builds up momentum
In November 2004, an advisory body, the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, set up by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to examine reform, released a report outlining a series of UN reform proposals. As part of these ideas, the panel offered two options to broaden the current representation of the UNSC.

In March 2005, Secretary General Annan released a report that adopted most of the High-Level Panel's recommendations, including the two options on UNSC reform. He called for major UN reforms in the areas of development, security, human rights and UN institutions. Annan also said that he wanted a decision on UN reform and UNSC expansion before September 2005, when he has invited world leaders to a summit to consider the restructuring of the UN.

The UNSC currently has five permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, all of whom have veto rights. There are 10 non-permanent members who are elected every two years on a rotational basis and do not have a veto.

Annan put forward two suggestions for reforming the body. Under model A, six new, permanent members would be added to the Security Council to make a total of 11, while model B would enlarge the council to include eight new, non-permanent seats that would be renewable. Neither proposal allows any of the new members to exercise veto powers. Japan supports model A.

To improve its chances of gaining a UNSC, Japan has teamed up with Germany, India and Brazil to form the so-called Group of Four (G-4) to mutually support each other's bids.

On 16 May 2005, the G-4 issued its own comprehensive proposals for UNSC reform which seek to increase the council's permanent members to 11 and the non-permanent members to 14. It also suggests that new permanent members should get veto rights. This plan would bring the total number of Security Council seats to 25, rather than 24, as recommended by Annan.

On the veto issue, the G-4 suggests that the UN General Assembly "decides that the new permanent members should have the same responsibilities and obligations as the current permanent members."

All the reform proposals, Annan's and the G-4's, require approval by two-thirds of the UN's 191 members to be adopted, meaning they must gain the support of at least 128 states for a resolution to be adopted by the General Assembly.

Additionally, the five permanent UNSC members must also agree to any reform because they have the power to block any proposal with their veto. This may pose the greatest obstacle to Tokyo gaining a seat as Beijing has said it opposes a permanent seat for Japan. In April some anti-Japan protests in China denounced the Japanese bid and currently Sino-Japanese relations are poor. China has also made it clear that it wants all member states to agree on any expansion plan and doesn't want to be bound by a timetable, something both Annan and the G-4 are advocating. In May 2005, it was unclear how many countries supported Japan's bid and Japanese diplomats were working hard to achieve their objective.

This series examines Japan's efforts to gain a UNSC seat and includes interviews with key people in the process.
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

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