Michael Penn (Foreign Instructor, Department of Policy Studies, Faculty of Law at Kitakyushu University) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Michael Penn: The possible conflict between Japan and the US over UNSC expansion is a potentially serious issue. During a press conference on the 17th June, a Foreign Ministry spokesman asserted that "UN reform is currently the number one foreign affairs issue so far as Japan is concerned." If that is true, I can't help but wonder whether US policymakers are underestimating Japan's sensitivity on this issue.
Mainstream media reports have noted Japan's negative reaction to the latest US proposals and their open skepticism over US motives. They suspect that the latest US proposal is nothing less than a ploy to disrupt UNSC expansion in any form.
Sean Curtin: This view is certainly found amongst a number of Japanese diplomats and in the Japanese media and is reflected in the article. However, the UN and US perspectives on the issue are quite different.
UN officials say nothing much has changed since the US announcement, there is still everything to play for in the reform debate, and it is important to remember that there are actually two UNSC reform options on the table from the UN as well as the G-4 proposal. US diplomats say their policies are exactly in line with what they have been saying for months and certainly not unexpected as Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura claims.
You make an important point about the true nature of US motives and certainly from a Japanese perspective it does seem like the superficially Japan-friendly policy is doing their UNSC prospects more harm than good. However, having closely followed the UN reform debate, the US proposals are pretty much an accurate reflection of what they have been saying and certainly not unexpected.
Michael Penn: It's probably true that the overall process will not be strongly affected by the latest US proposal. This is especially true because basically no one supports it.
As for the US diplomat you cite in the article who believes that the criticism is unfair, I'm more skeptical. Maybe he/she really believes what they told you. I don't know. I sense, however, that the negative Japanese reaction was fully warranted. The tactic of trying to lure out the Japanese with US support, with the real goal of dividing and killing off the G-4 proposals, sounds precisely like the kind of "too clever by half" strategies of the leading US neo-cons. On the other hand, if the Americans are actually sincere about this latest proposal, then they are dumber than I think. Their proposal is a non-starter and they should fully realize it.
Japan's best chance is indeed the G-4. I don't know if they can succeed, but I know that some of them are really getting their hopes up. This is precisely the kind of "prestige issue" that Japanese politicians can get emotional about.
The US ought to be careful. The more assertive and nationalist Japan, that the US has helped to create, may not take kindly to backhanded treatment from Washington. They probably believe that Japan's loyalty over the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars has earned them the support of the Bush administration on the UNSC issue.
Nations that are so quick to demand absolute loyalty ought not to be so stingy in rewarding it.