I n New York this week, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has focused his diplomatic efforts on Japan’s bid for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council. At the Japan-U.S. summit meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Koizumi sought President George W. Bush’s active support for this quest. What he received in response, however, was a matter-of-fact remark of endorsement. In his speech before the General Assembly on the same day, Mr. Koizumi stressed Japan’s peace efforts and called for international support of its quest for permanent membership, but did not receive any enthusiastic response. Mr. Koizumi also conferred with leaders from Germany, Brazil and India, which are seeking permanent UNSC membership as well.

Winning a permanent seat on the Security Council is a long-standing goal of Japanese diplomacy. Mr. Koizumi, who was once cautious about Japan’s joining the ranks of permanent members, is now taking a positive stand. Considering the size of the nation’s global political and economic presence, there is little doubt that Japan is fit to play a major role in the U.N. And many Japanese believe this country deserves a status befitting its contributions to the U.N. budget — which account for 19.5 percent of the total amount, the second largest share after the United States’ 22 percent. The key question that must be asked, however, is this: What is Japan specifically prepared to do to promote international peace and stability.

The current five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — all possess nuclear weapons. They do not rule out the use of force as a means of resolving international problems. This contradicts Japan’s basic position that peace should be achieved by nonmilitary means — a position that is underscored by the Constitution, which renounces “the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Japan’s bid for permanent membership will have positive meaning if the nation is committed to play a role consistent with its constitutional principles of peace. Mr. Koizumi, however, is somewhat vague on this score. In his U.N. speech he said peace cannot be achieved by military force alone, while citing humanitarian and reconstruction support activities by the Self-Defense Forces in places such as Iraq.

The fact is that SDF dispatches abroad, starting with a mine-sweeping mission following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, have been expanded without a full examination of how they related to constitutional constraints on the use of force. The question gained urgency as the Koizumi administration provided full cooperation in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and supported U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In siding with the U.S., however, the Koizumi administration seemed to place less emphasis on broad international diplomatic cooperation. Indeed, the heavy “tilt” toward the U.S. makes one wonder whether the government is seeking permanent UNSC membership with SDF dispatches as the lever, or whether Tokyo is looking at the U.N. not so much in the context of multilateral cooperation as an extension of Japan-U.S. cooperation.

U.N. reform, particularly the issue of expanding Security Council membership, is attracting fresh attention largely because the world body was unable to function effectively in the runup to the Iraq war. But blaming only the U.N. is unfair. The main reason for the confusion that paralyzed the council was that the U.S. invaded Iraq over the heads of many nations, including some of its key allies.

The primary justification given by the U.S. for striking Iraq was that the regime of President Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction, thus posing a serious threat to international security. But those weapons have not been found and, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged, will likely not be found in the future. The claim of the war’s legitimacy is beginning to collapse like a house of cards, yet Mr. Koizumi keeps silent on his decision to support the war. A candid explanation should help strengthen, not weaken, his case for Japan-U.S. cooperation.

Despite a general concurrence on the need to reform the Security Council, considerable disagreement exists over the details. Deep divisions persist over such basic questions as how the council should be expanded to include more permanent and nonpermanent members; and whether veto power should be granted to new permanent members as well. To Japan, support from Asian nations, particularly China, will be crucial. But the Koizumi government has not made specific efforts in that direction. Moreover, Mr. Koizumi has not explained to the Japanese public what kind of role Japan can and will play as a permanent member of the UNSC.

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