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The past decade has exposed cracks in the various systems that have run this country for the 55 years since its defeat in World War II. These cracks appear to be expanding, ranging from rampant corruption and declining ethics among lawmakers, bureaucrats and businessmen to the collapse of family ties and order in school classrooms.

These problems are not, of course, unique to Japan. The United States saw an incumbent president snared in a sex scandal, while the European Union witnessed the resignation of its executive team earlier this year under allegations of fraud, nepotism and mismanagement.

But the various systems of international finance and trade will also have to be reviewed. The functions of three pillars of postwar global order — United Nations, the International Monetary Fund/World Bank, and the World Trade Organization — are on the decline.

In the United Nations, India and Pakistan effectively joined the nuclear club by conducting nuclear explosions in 1998, while imbalances in the political power and financial burden of its members remain uncorrected.

Meanwhile, the IMF regime has undergone fundamental changes (see Japanese Perspectives, Nov. 29), while the WTO ministers failed in Seattle about a month ago to launch the first round of multinational trade talks since it took over from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The past decade has also observed major changes on the world political scene. The Soviet Union collapsed, and the European Union appears to be groping for a “third way” that is neither capitalism nor socialism. All these are happening because the systems created right after the end of WWII no longer fit the rapidly changing realities of the world.

Then what must Japan do? Naturally, it will need to resuscitate its economy and rebuild the moral values of its people. But today’s Japan is not the same as the Japan of 55 years ago, which lay buried in the ashes of the war’s devastation. Now the world’s largest creditor nation, Japan must seek a due role for itself in the global community.

We Japanese tend to accept global systems as given facts. But this is because the nation joined them after they were established by the winners of WWII.

A typical example of this way of thinking is the widely held belief that the United Nations is the supreme authority of global order. However, major world powers have militarily intervened in Kosovo without a U.N. resolution, and North Korea last year launched a missile (that it says was a rocket used to launch a satellite) over Japanese territory. What will we do if an emergency happens close to Japan? Do we refrain from taking action until the Security Council adopts a resolution? Of course we have to recognize what we have done to our neighbors in the past. But can we call ourselves a sovereign state if past history prevents us from taking action to secure the safety of our own people? As campaigning begins for the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, some of the candidates are going as far as suggesting that the United Nations is meant to serve the interests of Americans, and that it is stupid for the U.S. to be bound by the decisions of the world body. Japan has to fully realize the risks in relying on the United Nations for its own security. Likewise, the IMF should not be considered the absolute authority on currency matters, nor the WTO the king of trade and investment. We need to determine what institution is best suited to deal with each issue under the changing circumstances.

As we welcome the New Year, we need to realize that we have long avoided confronting critical issues and have relied too often on the decisions of others. For Japan to make due contributions to the world as a responsible nation, we need to give up our latecomer mentality and actively take part in building a new framework. I believe that to be Japan’s priority as we enter this landmark year.

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