Japan to accelerate push for permanent UNSC seat


When United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan met with Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura in Egypt’s Sharm el Sheikh last week, he playfully asked whether the so-called G4 nations’ campaigning for U.N. Security Council reform stands for the “Gang of Four.”

“No, it’s the ‘Gentlemen’s Four,’ ” Machimura replied.

Annan seemed impressed that Japan is serious in pushing for U.N. reform, an agenda that has been discussed for more than a decade without progress, said a senior Foreign Ministry official, who asked not to be named. The G4 nations are Japan, Brazil, India and Germany.

Japan will gear up its campaign to obtain a permanent seat on the Security Council now that a U.N. panel has presented recommendations to Annan on reforming the world body.

The report made two proposals on Security Council reforms. One is to create six new permanent members, but without veto power, while the other is to create eight new seats whose occupants will serve four years, instead of the current two, and can be elected for another term.

Annan is expected to wrap up his own report by the end of March, and leaders of U.N. member states will gather in September to discuss and possibly decide on specific reform steps.

“Negotiations will intensify as the U.N. September summit nears,” said another Foreign Ministry official in charge of U.N. reform.

Japan’s campaign to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council gained momentum after the world body authorized military action by multinational forces against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

The Gulf Crisis and the subsequent war were an event in which Japan began to face heavy pressure to contribute to international security efforts.

But Japan, which was not a council member then, had been slow in following the council’s moves against Iraq, Foreign Ministry officials said. Resentment grew that Japan, which would be bound by resolutions adopted by the Security Council, was unable to participate in its decision-making process, they said.

Frustration also increased that Japan was not given a due say, even though it is the second-largest financial contributor to the U.N. after the United States.

Japan provided $279 million, or about 20 percent of the U.N. budget, in 2004, exceeding the total amount provided by four permanent members other than the U.S. — Britain, France, China and Russia.

While seeking to obtain a permanent seat, Japan has also seized every opportunity to sit on the council as a nonpermanent member.

In October, Japan was elected to a two-year rotating membership of the Security Council beginning in 2005. It was the ninth time Japan was chosen as a nonpermanent member of the council since the nation became a U.N. member in 1956.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said that one of the reasons Japan wants to be a permanent member is to make sure that Tokyo can take part in the U.N. decision-making process when it deliberates on security threats concerning Northeast Asia, particularly North Korea.

There is speculation that Washington might take the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to the Security Council as early as next year.

“Japan has a crucial interest in issues surrounding North Korea, but when the matter is referred to the Security Council, it would be a problem if Japan cannot be involved in its decision-making,” said the Foreign Ministry official in charge of U.N. reform.

But while the government is upbeat about the campaign, public enthusiasm appears weak, partly due to concerns that Japan’s military role in the global arena could expand if it becomes a permanent UNSC member, said Ichita Yamamoto, a House of Councilors member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

“There is not enough discussion on what role Japan should play” as a permanent member, said Yamamoto, a core member of a nonpartisan group of lawmakers on U.N. reform. “We need to encourage public debate on the matter.”

Such concern possibly increased after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in August that the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution “would have to be examined” if Japan wants a permanent seat on the Security Council.

Although Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said revising the pacifist Constitution is not a prerequisite for Japan to have a permanent seat on the Security Council, some politicians in Koizumi’s ruling LDP say he is too optimistic.

“When the Security Council decides to resort to military action, it would not be right for a core member of the council to be unable to send troops” because of its war-renouncing Constitution, said the LDP’s Yoichi Masuzoe, an Upper House member and an expert on international relations.

He urged the government to revise the Constitution so that Japan can exercise its right of collective defense. Japan has said that it has the right of collective defense but is prohibited from exercising that right.

“There is no meaning for Japan to seek a permanent seat merely as honorary status,” he said.

However, Yasuhiko Yoshida, a professor of international relations at Osaka University of Economics and Law, stressed that Japan can play a different role from other Security Council members because of its Constitution.

“Japan can place more importance on diplomacy to uproot regional conflicts instead of resorting to the use of force,” said Yoshida, who formerly worked for a Geneva-based U.N. organization.

Experts are concerned that Japan, a key U.S. ally that steadfastly supported the United States in the war on Iraq despite the divisions this caused among key U.N. members, might do nothing more than represent Washington’s interests if it is given a permanent seat.

But Yoshida said revamping the U.N. organization gives Japan the opportunity to “grow out of its tendency to blindly follow the U.S.”

“Becoming a (permanent) Security Council member might enable Japan to stop the U.S. from acting unilaterally and persuade the nation into better coordinating with the international society,” he said.

To increase the number of Security Council members, Article 23 of the U.N. Charter, which stipulates that the U.S., China, Russia, France and Britain are permanent members, needs to be revised.

The revision needs to be approved by more than two-thirds of U.N. member states — or 128 nations — at the General Assembly. It then needs to be ratified by two-thirds of member states and all of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the so-called P5.

The whole procedure is believed to take about three years.

“That means the P5 cannot exercise their right of veto in the first procedure,” said the Foreign Ministry official in charge of U.N. reform. “If (the expansion of Security Council members) is approved in the General Assembly, we think (those in) the P5 that are against the move would find it difficult to veto it in the ratification process.”

Among the current P5 powers, the U.S. and China are reluctant about expanding the Security Council.

While the U.S. tells Japan it supports Tokyo’s bid, it is opposed to the expansion of the council out of fears that more members would mean greater trouble in building a consensus for decisions.

Beijing says Japan first needs to properly recognize its history of wartime aggression before it can qualify as a candidate for a permanent UNSC seat.