Japan's Quest for a Permanent UN Security Council Seat: Part Five - US Policy May Hurt Japan's UN Dream
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
As the battle over United Nations reform intensifies, Japan's carefully crafted strategy for gaining a permanent UN Security Council (UNSC) seat has been thrown into disarray by new US proposals, making Tokyo suspicious of Washington's motives. Last Thursday, the George W Bush administration announced its vision for UNSC reform, which included a new permanent seat for Japan and another for an unspecified country.
The problem with this seemingly Tokyo-friendly proposal is that it may harm Japan's chances and directly conflicts with the country's own policy of obtaining a seat through mutual cooperation with Germany, India and Brazil in the so-called Group of Four (G-4) of other contenders.
Tokyo believes the G-4 offers it the only viable way to overcome increasingly strong Chinese opposition to its candidacy and sees little hope of US proposals actually being implemented. It calculates that only the combined efforts of the G-4 have any chance of gaining the support of more than 128 UN member states, the two-thirds of the organization necessary for a resolution to be adopted.
Since Washington's plan, which envisages only two new permanent UNSC members, basically amounts to a rejection of the G-4 proposals, which demand six new permanent seats, Tokyo now sees its own prospects of success as being drastically diminished. Immensely complicating the matter is the fact that Japan is also dependent on resolute US support to fend off Beijing from wielding its veto.
Additionally, Japan now worries that it may become the target of criticism within the G-4 because of overt US backing, which could also damage its image with developing countries.
A Japanese diplomat, who did not wish to be identified, summed up Tokyo's predicament: "For the moment, the US has derailed our [UNSC] strategy. We face three formidable hurdles. First, highly organized Chinese opposition to our bid. Second, the favoritism of the United States, and third, tensions within the G-4." He added, "Superficially, the US recommendation looks good for Japan, but in reality it's less-than-subtle approach is harming us and strengthens China and other countries who oppose the G-4 resolution."
Straight-talking Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, "Japan can't buy this [US] proposal. We must stick to cooperation among the G-4, and the four countries must stand together."
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura was more diplomatic. "I don't consider it as a choice we must make between the two. There could be another idea acceptable for each nation involved." However, he acknowledged that US plans created a dilemma and were "a sudden proposal" that was "so unexpected".
The main problem is the gulf between the US and G-4 positions is so wide it will be extremely difficult to find a compromise formula. Washington's primary objective is the effectiveness of the UNSC not its expansion, a move it believes would make the council more unwieldy.
On Monday, the G-4 agreed to submit their resolution within a week calling for six more permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The exact date of submission to the UN General Assembly will be decided by G-4 foreign ministers when they meet on 22 June in Brussels. However, G-4 diplomats indicated that they might postpone submission if the 53-member African Union, the largest regional bloc, asks them to do so.
Even though US support is a prerequisite for success, Tokyo is barely disguising its unhappiness with the less-than-subtle way Washington has handled the matter. There is a growing suspicion that the US is actually trying to kill off the G-4 resolution by sapping its momentum with prolonged debate. The US plan also has virtually no chance of gaining the 128 UN votes required for approval as most of the developing countries are likely to oppose it. An editorial in the influential, pro-government Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said, "It is unclear whether the United States will seriously seek to have its plan implemented."
A US diplomatic source said that these criticisms were unfair and the US was genuinely committed to UN reform and permanent UNSC membership for Japan. "It is hard to understand how the proposals could be described as unexpected," he said. "They are exactly in line with what we have been saying in public over the last few months. Enlargement must not impede the council's efficiency, and we support Japan's bid."
Even if Washington is sincere, the differences between its plans and those of the G-4, as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's original proposals, will almost definitely extend the reform debate, strengthening those countries that openly oppose the G-4. This is why many Japanese experts are so skeptical of the US plan and believe Washington actually wants to scrap the reform idea altogether.
One Japanese diplomat commented, "With the United States publicly opposing the G-4's plan, it will be extremely difficult for the resolution to succeed." But not everyone in Tokyo is so disappointed - a fair number in the governing Liberal Democratic Party are UN-skeptics. Taro Aso, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, speaking in a private capacity, said, "I personally ask myself whether we actually need to be a permanent member of the Security Council."
However, UN insiders say the US announcement changes very little as most countries are still undecided about how to approach UNSC reform and everything is still to play for. One factor behind this seeming indecisiveness is the UN's own proposals, which put forward two possible enlargement options: model A, under which six new permanent members would be added, and model B, which would enlarge the council to include eight new non-permanent seats that would be renewable.
Another factor fueling hesitation is the fierce lobbying from the rival camps, which is making many countries cautious about openly supporting one side until the situation becomes clearer. Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's UN ambassador, summed up the atmosphere: "We will have to wait until the resolution is on the table. It is only then that we will have a clear idea what countries think."
Lord David Hannay, a former UN ambassador and one of the people who drafted Annan's reform plan, takes a philosophical approach to UNSC expansion: "Neither does enlargement assure credibility, nor does failure to enlarge deprive it totally of credibility. I think these arguments suffer from too many absolutes."
He added, "We did put forward two proposals and in one of them, the second, we did not put forward the creation of any new permanent members."
Thus, while Japan may not gain a permanent UNSC seat, it could still obtain a renewable non-permanent one, unless Beijing vetoes both options or the reform agenda gets nowhere. The next few months will see intense global diplomacy.
Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. A shorter version of this article first appeared in Asia Times Online on 21 June 2005,
http://www.atimes.com, and is republished with permission.