NEW YORK – Japan’s two-year stint as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council officially began Friday, marking the country’s first participation in the global organization’s top body in five years.
In 2016, which in December will see the 60th anniversary of Japan’s entry into the United Nations, Tokyo plans to push for reforms to the council that better reflect the world’s contemporary realities, which it hopes will eventually open the doors to Japan and a handful of other nations becoming a permanent members.
Tokyo will also be involved in the selection process for the successor to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires at the year’s en. Although the eral Assembly OKs the appointment, the Security Council effectively has the final say in determining the U.N. chief’s replacement.
Expectations have been growing that a woman will take over the organization’s top post for the first time as selection efforts pick up steam.
Among the front-runners are two women: Vesna Pusic, Croatia’s first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign and European affairs, has declared her candidacy, while UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has also been cited as a potential candidate for the post.
Japan joined the United Nations on Dec. 18, 1956, as its 80th member, 11 years after the body’s founding and later became one of the chief financial contributors to the U.N. budget.
Since the 1990s, Japan has dispatched Self-Defense Force personnel to places such as Cambodia and East Timor to assist in peacekeeping missions and nation-building.
“We would like to devote ourselves to demonstrating that Japan has a wealth of experience and is committed more than anyone else to tackling international issues,” Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa said shortly after the country won its seat on the council in an unopposed October election.
It was Tokyo’s 11th election as a nonpermanent member — a record for any nation.
Despite falling contributions in relative terms to the general U.N. budget, Japan is hoping to maintain its position as a leading member of the United Nations. Financial contributions are seen as a key indicator of a country’s influence in the global body.
While remaining the second-largest regular budget contributor behind the United States, Japan’s share in the 2016-2018 budget cycle is set to fall below 10 percent for the first time since 1983.
In peacekeeping operations, China will eclipse Japan as the second-largest contributor behind the United States in the period starting this year.
“In certain senses, a stronger role in peacekeeping and the stronger political leadership within the U.N. compensates for the slight reduction in financial contribution,” said Columbia University political science professor Michael Doyle, who served as assistant secretary general and special adviser to the U.N. secretary general from 2001-2003.
“Peacekeeping (missions are) especially short on things like medical (support), logistics and communications, which are well within the capacities of the SDF to provide.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government in September passed controversial national security laws in the Diet, including one that enables Japan to make a broader contribution to U.N. peacekeeping operations. After the laws come into force at the end of March, armed SDF members will be able to rescue U.N. staff or other countries’ troops under attack by militants. The law, however, is not expected to be applied until later this year.
Other nations elected as nonpermanent council members for the 2016-2017 term are Egypt, Senegal, Uruguay and Ukraine.
The council has five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — as well as five other nonpermanent members that will remain in their slots through 2016 — Angola, New Zealand, Spain, Malaysia and Venezuela.
Japan has been jointly pursuing a revamped Security Council with Germany, Brazil and India, with all four aspiring to become permanent members. Japan’s window of opportunity for attaining a permanent seat is narrowing, however, as its financial clout abates, one U.N. official said.
During its two-year stint that includes the rotating presidency of the council in July, Tokyo will need to flex its diplomatic muscle and prove that it is committed to dealing with a variety of issues such as the fight against Islamic State militants, civil war in Syria and tensions on the Korean Peninsula.