Japan’s military is one of the best-equipped in Asia and its economy is the world’s second largest. It spreads its wealth around the world generously with foreign aid.
The government now says there’s a perfect way to acknowledge that clout — by giving it a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to personally make his case for joining the ranks of five veto-wielding powers when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
Japan has long campaigned for a seat on the council next to the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France. But Koizumi took the campaign to a new level when he adopted it as his pet project this year, ahead of a report by a U.N. panel set up by Secretary General Kofi Annan to study recommendations for reform, including possibly expanding the Security Council.
Critics, however, say Koizumi has been vague about what Japan would do with a permanent seat. Some say Japan would be unable to fulfill such responsibilities as authorizing a war because the pacifist Constitution bars it from sending its own troops into battle.
“It is untenable to imagine how Japan could vote to deploy troops to take part in collective security contingencies without sending its own,” said Weston Konishi, a senior researcher at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation in Washington. “It would lead to real resentment.”
He said it is unlikely Japan will win a permanent seat, at least within the next five to 10 years.
Still, Japan is expanding its global presence in other ways, such as the unprecedented dispatch of troops to provide humanitarian support for the U.S.-led operation in Iraq.
“The political animal in the prime minister understands it’s an ideal time to try for a permanent seat,” lawmaker Ichita Yamamoto said. “It is in Japan’s national interests, and it will also be in the interests of the United Nations.”
Yamamoto, a member of Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, plans to keep up the momentum by uniting dozens of ruling and opposition lawmakers next month in a group dedicated to winning a permanent seat.
Tokyo is already a major backer of the United Nations. Its contribution of $263 million was nearly a fifth of the 2003 general budget in 2003, second only to the U.S. outlay of $300 million. Japan also pays hundreds of millions more for peacekeeping, development and other U.N. programs.
Now it wants some payback — “more respect, position, and prestige,” said Takashi Inoguchi, a professor at Tokyo University.
Annan has supported enlarging the council to command greater respect, especially in the developing world, and to make it more effective.
Brazil and India are also vying for seats, arguing they could better represent the interests of developing countries. Germany is also a contender.
Some in Japan argue that Tokyo is a strong candidate because, as both a nonnuclear power and as the world’s only victim of atomic bombing, its voice is unique. All five current permanent members possess nuclear weapons. So does India.
Japan’s biggest handicap may be its Constitution, adopted during the American Occupation, because it bans using force to resolve disputes.
The government reads the Constitution to mean Japan can’t send soldiers to war unless it is directly attacked.
Richard Armitage, U.S. deputy secretary of state, reportedly told senior Japanese lawmakers in July that permanent members must use military force at times, suggesting Japan needs to revise its Constitution if it wants to join the club.
Though Armitage and Secretary of State Colin Powell have since said the Bush administration supports Japan’s bid, many analysts believe the constitutional restrictions could impede the campaign regardless.