As we greet the new millennium, we should ask ourselves what Japan should do to contribution to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, establish military and nonmilitary security, help solve global problems and prevent conflicts.

Ten years after the end of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry of the Cold War, a new international order has yet to be established. Around the world, religious and ethnic conflicts are rampant, giving rise to serious refugee problems. Japan needs to develop a multitiered approach to promote regional stability, make more contributions to international security and push preventive diplomacy.

Asia is plagued by two points of instability — North Korea and Indonesia. Last November, there was a major development to stabilize the region. The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan, China and South Korea agreed at a summit in Manila to “promote dialogue and to deepen and consolidate collective efforts” to advance peace, stability and prosperity in East Asia and the world, according to a joint statement. The conferees agreed to enhance “self-help and support mechanisms in East Asia through the ASEAN-plus-three framework” in order to prevent a recurrence of the Asian currency turmoil. These agreements could lead to a comprehensive framework for cooperation in East Asia.

The foreign ministers of the ASEAN plus three are expected to meet this year in Bangkok to discuss the implementation of agreements listed in the joint statement. This group has become a body for dialogue on issues in East Asia.

In Manila, a summit between the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea, held at the suggestion of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, focused on economic issues and agreed to support China’s membership in the World Trade Organization. The summit, however, failed to discuss political and security issues, apparently opting to avoid the sensitive issues of Taiwan and North Korea. This was significant for the trilateral summit, which could become a future forum for discussing security issues.

North Korea has not been ignored, however Japan, the United States and South Korea have established a system for cooperation on this question. Russia, a major presence in the region, should not be ignored in regard to this. Japan should try to realize its proposal for a six-nation conference — involving Japan, the U.S., China, Russia and South and North Korea — as a forum on security in Northeast Asia. There is no doubt that the results of preparatory talks that started in December 1999 on Tokyo-Pyongyang diplomatic normalization will have a profound impact on the Northeast Asian situation.

At the same time, the East Asian situation is likely to be influenced a great deal by relations among China, Japan and the U.S. Should problems develop between China and Japan over interpretations of war-related history, or between China and the U.S. over the Taiwan and Tibet issues, the Asian situation could become tense and destabilized. Therefore, China’s active participation in regional security issues should be encouraged.

Asia has no organization comparable to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, although the ASEAN Regional Forum could emerge as a group for intergovernmental dialogue on security. ARF has already agreed to take confidence-building measures in the first stage, discuss preventive diplomacy in the second stage and try to solve conflicts in the third. It is now in the stage of building trust. A senior Foreign Ministry official said ARF’s major task was to involve China in international dialogue. China is now actively taking part in international dialogue on security issues; in this sense, ARF has succeeded.

North Korea, which is not a member of ARF, is taking part in some activities of the private-level Conference on Security and Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific. As ARF moves toward preventive diplomacy, progress will be slow, especially given the principle of noninterference in domestic affairs. In this regard, Track II activities, in which government officials are allowed to take part as individual experts, are important. Ambassador Mitsuro Donowaki, special assistant to the minister for foreign affairs and an expert on preventive diplomacy, says Track II activities should be stepped up. Through these and other activities, Japan should take a multitiered approach to play a leading role in building regional security.

The Japan-U.S. security system was strengthened last year, when the Diet passed a legislative package covering the updated guidelines for bilateral security cooperation. However, Japan still has no laws authorizing the Self-Defense Forces to repel a military attack by foreign forces. The government, while acknowledging that the Defense Agency is conducting research on such legislation, has held the position that the agency’s research is not premised on actual legislation. I believe that the government should consider seeking Diet passage of the measure.

A big question for Japan, as far as international security is concerned, is how the SDF can take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations. The present PKO cooperation law bars the SDF from taking part in the monitoring of a ceasefire and other major peacekeeping activities. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its two coalition partners — the Liberal Party and New Komeito — agreed last year to lift the restrictions but failed to submit related legislation to the Diet, fearing it would prompt divisive debate on revising Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution.

The lifting of the freeze would force a change in Japan’s five principles regarding participation in PKO, which restrict the use of arms by SDF troops to self-defense. New Komeito contends that the five principles should be preserved, while the LP insists that they be changed. Differences between the two parties remain unsettled.

The basic problem is that the government’s constitutional interpretation regarding the right of collective self-defense prevents the SDF from playing a new role in peacekeeping operations. The government holds that Japan has the right of collective self-defense under international law, but is unable to exercise this right under war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. Some legal experts have said that the Constitution does not bar Japan from exercising the right. The Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), a top business lobby, last year asked the government to reconsider its interpretation of the Constitution.

It should be realized that Japan can protect its own security only by actively contributing to international security. The Diet will establish a council to consider constitutional problems in the next ordinary session. The government must tackle constitutional debate head-on, including the right of collective self-defense. Now is the time for such a debate, for there is growing interest in preventive diplomacy, which is aimed at preventing military conflicts, stopping the spread of fighting and heading off new conflicts.

The Group of Eight foreign ministers agreed in Berlin last month that their nations lacked “long-term, concrete and sustainable strategies of prevention.” In a joint statement, they also called for “encompassing political, security, economic, financial, environmental, social and development policies.”

Preventive diplomacy will be the main topic of discussion at the G8 summit Japan will host next July in Kyushu and Okinawa. It was the main theme at a symposium jointly hosted in December by the Japan Institute of International Affairs and U.N. University. Hisashi Owada, president of the institute and former ambassador to the U.N., said that governments as well as “new actors” such as civil society and nongovernmental organizations should work together to develop comprehensive strategies for preventive diplomacy. In late 1998, the Japanese government hosted an international conference in Tokyo on preventive diplomacy to discuss ways of preventing conflicts in Africa. Japan is also playing a leading role in restricting the use of small arms at the U.N.

The Japan Forum on International Relations, a private think tank, last summer established the Japan Center for Preventive Diplomacy to nurture experts in preventive diplomacy. Japan will make more international contributions by playing more active roles in preventive diplomacy.

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