PHILADELPHIA – You couldn’t ask for better timing. As President-elect Donald Trump sets up his administration, and as Tokyo marks its six-decade-long membership in the United Nations, Japan should press its case for a permanent seat on a reformed Security Council it envisions, a former U.S. official has said.
“Japan would have to take a lead and make a real concerted private, as well as public, effort to engage early and strongly and kind of become the spokesman for the expansion group,” Shirin Tahir-Kheli said in a recent interview at her Philadelphia home.
She was referring to efforts by Japan, Brazil, India and Germany, collectively known as the Group of Four. They have been pushing for additional permanent and nonpermanent council seats in the body, which currently has 15 members.
Their expansion plan collides with other groups, such as Uniting for Consensus, which counts Italy, Pakistan and South Korea among its members, and advocates only for increasing the number of nonpermanent seats.
Despite a broad consensus in the international body that reform is needed to better reflect the reality of today’s world, and an apparent boost in 2005 when global leaders supported an “early reform” of the Security Council, intergovernmental negotiations have continued year after year with little notable change.
The five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — hold veto powers on issues related to maintaining international peace and security.
Ten nonpermanent members also comprise the council for two-year terms. Japan was elected last year for a record 11th time, with its present term set to expire at the end of 2017.
As the former senior adviser to the secretary of state for U.N. reform, a position she held under Condoleezza Rice from 2005 to 2006, Tahir-Kheli was instrumental in crafting past policy on reform issues.
In her view, Japan should “become more active in making its case” for Security Council reform, including a need for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to prioritize the matter in his discussions with Trump.
Under the Trump administration, it remains to be seen what role the United Nations will have or the stance that will be taken on Security Council reform efforts.
“If those (countries) like Japan who want a (permanent) seat at the table make it a priority, the beginning of an administration is probably a better time because soon they will get overwhelmed with all the other challenges,” Tahir-Kheli said.
Also describing the six-decade anniversary that fell on Sunday as “an important time,” she further stressed how Tokyo could use the occasion to clearly state its interest in securing a permanent seat.
“If I were the government or the people of Japan, I would assume that if I am willing to play a responsible role in the region and internationally, that I have a duty and a need to be at the big table,” she added.
Reflecting on her earlier U.N. career from 1990 to 1993 when she was a New York ambassador, Tahir-Kheli recalled the important role Japan played in the key issues of the day, especially related to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein when Tokyo became recognized as an important and responsible global player.
“The U.S. committed to supporting — it doesn’t necessarily mean (permanent membership) would have resulted — but it committed to Japan as being a country that had good credentials to be a permanent member of the Security Council,” she said.
However, when Japan later joined forces with Brazil, India and Germany, it suffered from the consequences of becoming caught in the group’s internal politics, which complicated the picture, she said.
With the addition of Brazil, objections were voiced from other regional players, such as Mexico and Argentina. In considering Germany as a possible seat holder, questions were raised about the fairness of having three European nations represented when there was no representation from Africa. With India’s bid came objections from neighboring Pakistan. She admitted, however, that over the last 10 years dynamics with Russia and China have created new challenges.
“Everyone seemed to agree on Japan and that is why I go back to saying that Japan’s case is stronger out of the G-4, my personal opinion, than it is in the G-4,” she said.
Despite the uncertainty going forward in the new administration, Tahir-Kheli believes the key lies in engagement with the United States.
“The onus falls to the members of the council, especially those aspiring to be new full-time members, to come up with a way that they could convince the United States that it would be in the U.S.’s interest to have a bigger Security Council,” she said.
“The people who want the expansion will have to demonstrate that this is going to be done very carefully now with America and it is worth American support because it will help America.”
Even if the Trump administration decides to downgrade the importance of the United Nations, she emphasized that it may work in favor of countries like Japan. They can take advantage of becoming more active and fill a vacuum, which in turn could provide legitimacy for leveraging their permanent seat bid.
Those aspirants can “build up a big role and then as part of that you get some kind of expansion stamp of approval,” she suggested.
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