Japan's Quest for a Permanent UN Security Council Seat: Part Four - Does Japan Need a UN Security Council Seat?
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
As the debate about reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) enters a critical stage, Tokyo is investing huge amounts of diplomatic capital in a concerted effort to persuade other countries that the Security Council needs to be expanded and that Japan deserves to gain a permanent seat on the enlarged body. Yet, at the same time as diplomats are putting all their energy into achieving this objective, a new opinion survey shows that the Japanese public is evenly split about whether the country actually needs a UNSC seat.
On the 13 June, NHK news broadcast the results of a poll that showed 43% of respondents supported the idea, while 43% opposed it.
There are a wide and complex variety of reasons why people either oppose or feel unhappy about Japan acquiring a UNSC seat. For instance, some believe that a UNSC seat would conflict with the country's war-renouncing constitution, pointing out the difficulty Japanese troops face in Iraq. Others are less enthusiastic about the UN itself while some question whether the country actually needs or really desires a UNSC seat. It is certainly not too hard to find people who are less than positive about the prospect of gaining a permanent seat.
Recently, Taro Aso, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, gave a presentation at St Antony's College, Oxford University, entitled "Japan's role in efforts to create a stable and peaceful world." In it he talked about a wide range of international issues from a personal perspective. During the question and answer session after the presentation, he responded to a wide-range of questions on international topics, including some about Tokyo's bid for a Security Council seat.
The essence of these exchanges is reproduced below, His thoughts on the issue offer some interesting insights into the debate about the UNSC issue.
Sean Curtin: Japan is hoping to gain a permanent United Nations Security Council seat if certain reform plans are implemented. There are two proposals, Plan A, which would see the creation of six new permanent Security Council members, and Plan B, which envisages creating a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats. Neither option would allow the new members veto powers. In the light of the recent tensions with China, which has a veto, are you still optimistic that Tokyo will be able to achieve its objective?
Taro Aso: According to the United Nations charter, we Japan, are still considered an enemy. This is under the enemy clause. We are labeled an enemy, even though we are paying 19.5% of the United Nations' total expenditure. How much is Ireland paying? How much is the United Kingdom paying? Anyway, we are paying an enormous amount of money and yet we are still branded an enemy. This is an unfair situation.
When the United Nations begun in 1945, the war had not ended in Japan. It was still going on and we were not there. Today we are paying this enormous amount of money in contributions and ODA, but we are still [designated] the enemy. It is coming up to the sixtieth anniversary. It is just not fair. We should have an ordinary status.
Sean Curtin: Are you saying Japan's enormous monetary contribution should earn it a permanent Security Council seat?
Taro Aso: Should we have a permanent Security Council seat? We have been treated unfairly for the last 60 years. We are paying a lot of money, but nobody is paying any attention to us.
Sean Curtin: It is not just Japan. Germany was also named as an enemy state by the UN following their defeat in World War II. Interestingly, Germany like Japan says it deserves a permanent UN Security Council seat. Both say they should get a seat because they are leading economic powers and big contributors to UN coffers.
I would like to go back to my original question, are you optimistic about Japan's chances of getting a permanent Security Council seat?
Taro Aso: Well, I personally ask myself whether we actually need to be a permanent member of the Security Council? Quite a lot of Japanese people say we should be, especially Japanese diplomats. But, if people also don't like us making enormous contributions to the UN without getting anything in return, we don't have to do it. We don't have to pay. Instead, we could channel the money into our own ODA, do it by ourselves and make the whole process more efficient. We would probably be thanked more by the individual nation if we did it this way.
Minister Taro Aso's comments were made at St Antony's College, Oxford University on 6 May 2005. It should be noted that these comments are not formally reconciled or authenticated by the minister or his aids and that Mr. Aso was primarily speaking in his capacity as a private citizen and not as a minister.