Hisashi Owada, former ambassador to the United Nations and now president of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, emphasized in a recent interview with this writer that Japan should play a larger role in the 188-member world body, saying: “Japan should contribute to the resolution of global issues, such as peacekeeping, economic development, environmental protection, refugee relief, international terrorism and transnational organized crime. This is the social responsibility of Japan as a key player in the global village.”

Owada discussed these and other issues in connection with the three-day U.N. millennium summit that opens Sept. 6. The main theme will be the role of the U.N. in the 21st century. The meeting will be attended by leaders of some 160 nations, including Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

Asked how he sees today’s world, Owada said: “With the Cold War over, it is no longer possible for sovereign states to maintain international order through the balance of power. We are living in the most turbulent period since the formation of the modern international society as we know it. What is driving this transformation is globalization, which is typified by global environmental problems.”

On the formation of a new world order, Owada stressed the need for “major nations to build a harmonious order based on common ideas and principles. The question,” he said, “is how to bolster the United Nations as the center of such an order.” In this regard, he asserted that “the importance of the United Nations will increase tremendously in the 21st century.”

Referring to the spread of regional conflicts in the 1990s, Owada said: “At the heart of these conflicts is poverty and other social inequities. To help resolve these problems Japan should cooperate in the area of social and economic development, which will contribute to peace and stability.”

The former U.N. ambassador also said: “Peacekeeping operations are one area in which the U.N. must demonstrate greater leadership.” In this context, he called for Japan to participate more actively in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

In an opinion poll conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office in October 1999, 47 percent of Japanese said Japan should help resolve global issues like environmental destruction. The figure represented a gain of about 4 percent from the previous poll taken two years earlier. By contrast, 42 percent gave contributions to international peacekeeping as Japan’s chief role in the world (up 8 percent from the 1997 survey). Humanitarian support to refugees came in third, with 31 percent (up 4 percent).

On the issue of nuclear disarmament, Owada said that as steps to achieve the eventual aim of creating a nuclear-free world Japan should pursue a two-pronged policy aimed at preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons and reducing the nuclear arsenals of the nuclear-weapons states. “We should make these efforts in parallel,” he emphasized.

An international meeting held in May to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty adopted a statement incorporating nuclear nations’ explicit commitments to total nuclear disarmament. The meeting threatened to break down because of a face-off between nuclear nations and nonnuclear ones demanding immediate action. Japan played a mediating role in defusing the crisis.

Owada stressed that Japan is in a unique position to conduct nonnuclear diplomacy, not only because the nation is the world’s first and only nation to suffer atomic bombings, but also because it has the technological potential to make the bomb. “There is great persuasion in our nonnuclear commitment,” he said. “And we have a very large role in promoting nuclear disarmament.”

Prime Minister Mori, speaking in the Diet this month, emphasized that Japan will make further efforts toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons and will introduce a new nuclear disarmament resolution at the U.N. General Assembly marking the millennium summit.

Japan’s U.N. dues make up 20.57 percent of the U.N. budget — the second largest after the United States, which pays 25 percent. Japanese taxpayers are unhappy that, despite such large financial contributions Japan is not a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. In this connection, the G8 communique of the Okinawa summit held in July says, “we remain convinced that the reforms of the United Nations, including the Security Council, are indispensable.”

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a report he submitted in April, says: “One critical area is reform of the Security Council. The council must work effectively, but it must also enjoy unquestioned legitimacy . . . I urge member states to tackle this challenge without delay.” As things stand, however, key members are split over a new makeup of the council.

Asked why Japan should have a permanent seat on the Security Council, Owada said: “The Security Council is a pivotal organ for building a future order in the international community. Japan needs to be in a position to impact policy decisions at the council if it is to help move the world order in the direction it desires. Only then we will be able to make our own contributions to keeping world order.

“It is of great importance for Japan to have a permanent seat if it is to fulfill its responsibilities in the international society,” said Owada, who advocated a policy of “creative engagement” for Japan during his 40-odd years in the diplomatic service. While in the Foreign Ministry Owada also served as foreign vice minister.

“We are still groping for a new world order. These are uncertain times in which the whole world is sailing into unchartered seas,” he said. The question for Japan is what kind of map it is going to draw. The important thing is that we have a positive sense of participation.”

Owada cited Japan’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations as a typical example of creative engagement. His message is that Japan should participate actively in such activities under its own initiative, instead of getting involved under international pressure. It is likely that creative engagement will indeed become the keyword of Japan’s international diplomacy in the 21st century.

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