Would permanent UNSC seat beget more responsible Japan?


OSAKA — Becoming a permanent member of an expanded United Nations Security Council could force Japan to become a more responsible international player.

And in light of Japan’s record of strong support for the U.N., especially financial, the country would probably be a responsible member.

Or, becoming a permanent member could simply mean a de facto vote on the Security Council for the United States, and lead to less international pressure on Tokyo to abide by various U.N. agreements on domestic human rights. And given Japan’s perceived failure to atone for it’s past history, the country may not be a responsible Security Council member.

Such are some of the arguments for and against Japan obtaining a permanent seat being made by non-Japanese scholars, politicians and human rights activists who are closely following Tokyo’s bid.

Many supporters, not surprisingly, stress Japan’s huge financial contributions to the United Nations, nearly 20 percent of its budget, and its budding peacekeeping efforts.

“Given Japan’s economic strength, Japanese people are naturally asking why Japan is not a permanent member of the Security Council. Japan has made substantial contributions through its generous official development assistance programs and has utilized ODA to build peace in Cambodia, East Timor and Afghanistan,” said Rabinder N. Malik, a retired executive officer of United Nations University.

Meanwhile, Alan D. Romberg, senior associate and director of the East Asia Program at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, said: “There is no question that it is anomalous for a body of the world’s leading nations dedicated to enhancing global security not to include Japan among its permanent members.

“I also believe that for Japan to assume the level of global responsibility suited to its comprehensive power, it must take on the responsibilities associated with permanent member status.”

Reinhard Drifte, a German scholar at the London School of Economics and author of “Japan’s Quest for a Permanent Security Council Seat,” supports the country’s bid largely for humanitarian reasons.

“As a permanent Security Council member, Japan would be obliged to express its opinions on international issues and contribute to strengthening international values, which would hopefully reduce the inward-looking nature of the Japanese public and its elected representatives. It would also lead to more young Japanese becoming involved in U.N.-sponsored international organizations and other international NGOs,” Drifte said.

And nongovernmental organizations in Japan, especially human rights NGOs, wonder if becoming a permanent member might create an impetus for change domestically. In areas like human-trafficking, where Japan has come under heavy international criticism of late for failing to crack down on the practice, there are efforts afoot to make it illegal and to heavily punish Japanese involved in the trade.

However, Song Jung Ji, a lawyer with the Osaka-based Multi-Ethnic Human Rights Education Center, is skeptical that permanent membership would lead to major changes in attitudes in Japan.

She noted that, despite the rhetoric of the Japanese government at the United Nations about the importance of human rights issues, the reality is that Japan lags behind most advanced nations when it comes to legal protections.

“For example, while Japan supports various U.N. treaties outlawing racial discrimination, it is the only advanced industrial country that does not have specific domestic legislation outlawing such discrimination,” Soon said. “Given the lack of such basic legislation, can we really say that Japan is qualified to become a responsible permanent member of a revised U.N. Security Council?”

Others outside of Japan note that Japan’s failure to atone for its past and present human rights abuses abroad, especially in Asia, have left many convinced that Japan cannot be trusted to be a responsible permanent member.

“Japan as a nation has never sincerely expressed regret or remorse to its victims of World War II. This makes it hard for those countries (that) were victimized to now trust Japan to (take) care of the world or regional security,” said Tian Chua, a Malaysian politician and human rights worker who spent two years in prison for protesting the arrest of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Chua also reckoned that having Japan as a permanent member would simply mean an additional voice for the United States on the council.

“Japan’s joining the Security Council as a permanent member will not change the balance of power, where the U.S. dominance is pivotal. The effect will be that world security will be further dominated by U.S. interests, with Japan (as) a loyal ally of the U.S. Weaker nations will continue to be marginalized in U.N. matters,” he added.

Paul Scott, an American professor at Kansai University of Foreign Studies and a founding member of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, a network of academics and politicians, agreed that permanent membership for Japan could be problematic when it comes to voting on issues.

“How will Japan vote on resolutions that may put its relationship with the U.S. at risk? Could Japan act as a mediator in international affairs if it were seen as only representing superpower interests?” Scott asked.

For his part, Romberg said: “There would obviously be times when Japan and the United States would disagree. But the realistic imperative would be to work ever more closely together to achieve our broadly shared goals of promoting freedom and preserving and consolidating world peace and stability.”

However, Scott said there are other questions of a more immediate nature that the U.N. will have to think about when considering Japan’s bid.

“Japan has still not formally signed a (World War II) peace treaty with Russia. Can two permanent members of the Security Council be in a state of nonpeace?” he asked.

Finally, there is the balance of power question. By becoming a permanent member, China would no longer be the sole East Asian representative.

“While I don’t think the U.N. Security Council would intervene directly in areas like Taiwan, with Japan as a permanent member, it could put additional pressure on China to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully if Japan decided to raise the problem in the council,” Drifte said.