Japan's eyes still on UN seat

Posted in Japan | 05-Jan-07 | Author: Suvendrini Kakuchi| Source: Asia Times

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
TOKYO - Half a century ago, Japan, defeated by Western Allied forces at the end of World War II in 1945, was admitted to the United Nations, marking an end to its violent past and beginning anew in world politics with a clean slate.

Since then, Japan has not disappointed the world. The country now boasts a record of working hard to rise from the ashes of war to become the world's second-largest economy and international aid donor.

But in December, as Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary of its admission to the United Nations, top policymakers and politicians were reiterating a deep-rooted national desire to gain a permanent place in the UN Security Council with the coveted veto power.

"Japan, for its part, is determined to take up its full responsibilities through gaining membership in the Security Council," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a solemn ceremony at United Nations University in Tokyo, attended by the Japanese emperor and empress as well as international diplomats and top academics.

Analysts contend that the resumption of the drive for Security Council reform this year, which follows the disastrous rejection in 2005, reflects several important developments in Japanese diplomacy after the election of former leader Junichiro Koizumi and Abe, both conservatives.

"Abe and Koizumi represent a generation of postwar politicians in Japan who want an active role in global politics. They believe this position is long overdue for Japan that is now rich and confident and totally different to country that was defeated in World War II," explained Professor Akihiko Tanaka, an expert on UN diplomacy.

Indeed, Abe, along with conservative policymakers, argue that Japanese contributions to the UN are almost 20% of the annual budget, second only to the United States, which should make a permanent seat in the Security Council along with the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, which pay lower fees, totally natural.

In addition, wrote the Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's largest daily, Japan has also contributed in the way of calling for arms reduction, improvement of the UN Secretariat's functioning, and a fair calculation of contribution of ratios for member fees.

"But," noted the newspaper pointedly, "such sensible recommendations have never been implemented. The Security Council's special privilege, the UN's unique structure and the difficulty of multinational diplomacy are behind Japan's inability to get its voice heard."

The statement also refers to Japan's failed Security Council aspirations, a hurdle the government has called as difficult as "getting a camel through the eye of a needle".

Japan forged an alliance with aspirants India, Brazil and Germany in 2005 to gain a permanent position in the Security Council, but was unsuccessful. Yet other experts do not agree with the stance that Japan is not influential in the UN.

Professor Ichiro Kawabe, a UN expert at Aichi University, based in Nagoya, points out that Japan's economic clout has certainly allowed the country to yield strong influence in the UN, such as in last July when the Security Council adopted a resolution under the direction of Tokyo protesting North Korea's missile launches.

"Moreover, Japan has won the position in the Security Council on a revolving basis nine times in the past, allowing its participation and vote in several crucial debates," Kawabe said. He added that such chances were never seized by Japanese diplomats to spotlight a unique global vision.

One reason for the inability of Japan to achieve its Security Council aspirations is the complexity of developing a multilateral diplomacy that demands dealing with issues such as human rights and racism along with the organization's 109 members.

Those intricacies are not easy for Japan, the experts say, explaining that Tokyo has been content to develop its postwar foreign relations under the umbrella of the US-Japan Security Pact that has only gotten stronger these past few years.

Under Koizumi and Abe, this pro-US foreign policy has gained a stronger standing, with beefed-up new agreements such as a joint missile-defense plan last July.

"While Japan remains a trusted UN member and a leader in development issues, there is still the notion of the country bowing to US interests rather than having its own world vision," said Professor Monzurul Huq, a Bangladeshi national teaching international relations at Yokohama University.

Yet another trend of thought among some academics is the use of a permanent position in the Security Council by Abe to foster narrow domestic interests.

"Under the new thrust of promoting human security in the world, the UN peacekeeping forces, for example, and with its image of building peace in conflict zones, Abe is promoting the changing of Japan's peace constitution to have a military," said Kawabe.

(Inter Press Service)

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