International talks on how to reform the United Nations are entering crucial stages as nations stake out their positions. Last month, the nations involved, including Japan, attended a special session to discuss a report published in December by a high-level advisory body to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The report calls for a strengthening of the U.N.’s functions as well as an expansion of the Security Council.

Speaking at the session, Mr. Kenzo Oshima, Japan’s ambassador to the U.N., emphasized that the Security Council should be “reformed in ways that reflect the realities of the 21st-century international community and strengthen the council’s effectiveness and reliability.” He supported the panel’s plan to increase the number of both permanent and nonpermanent members, and renewed Japan’s bid for permanent membership.

As things now stand, the debate on U.N. reform appears headed for a major milestone in the middle of March when Mr. Annan is due to issue his recommendations. Diplomatic maneuvering, meanwhile, is expected to accelerate in September when the U.N. holds a General Assembly session marking the 60th anniversary of its founding.

There is a strong case for Japan’s quest for permanent membership, given its contributions to the international community as well as its national strength. The complexity of international politics, however, is deterring reform efforts. For one thing, the current five permanent members — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — appear determined to preserve their privileges, including veto power.

There is no “quick fix” for Japan to become a permanent member on the council. The only and the best way to win a permanent seat is to secure, by dint of broad-gauge diplomacy, the support and confidence of as many nations as possible, particularly Asian nations with which Japan still has problems of history.

The report proposes two plans to expand the membership. Plan A calls for increasing the number of permanent members by six and that of nonpermanent members by three. Plan B would create eight “semipermanent” seats, capable of re-election every four years, and one nonpermanent seat. In both cases, the total number of members would increase by nine to 24. Veto power would not be granted to the new members.

According to the report, a country seeking permanent or semipermanent membership will be favorably considered if it ranks among the top three countries in its region in terms of (1) apportioned contributions to the U.N. budget, (2) voluntary contributions to U.N. agencies, and (3) U.N.-mandated peacekeeping operations. By these standards, Japan should be given top priority. The nation’s share in the U.N. budget, at 19.5 percent, is the second largest after that of the U.S. Moreover, Japanese troops have participated in various U.N. peacekeeping missions during the past decade.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in his recent policy speech in the Diet, declared that Japan’s record on international contributions makes it a “fitting” candidate to become a permanent member. No doubt he wants to accomplish the feat before his tenure as president of the Liberal Democratic Party ends in September 2006.

Still, gaining permanent status on the Security Council — a long-standing goal of Japan’s postwar diplomacy — is a historic challenge that transcends a prime minister’s political calculations or achievements. Whether the goal will be achieved depends not so much on what he says or does as on how other nations see Japan.

It is essential, therefore, that Japan steadily continue its contributions to the international community. The latest examples include relief efforts for the victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and aid commitments at the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe. It is also essential to pursue a peace-oriented diplomatic agenda, including the promotion of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation as well as “human security,” a doctrine that respects human dignity.

Japan is not the only nation aspiring to permanent Security Council membership. Germany, Brazil and India are also making a similar bid. But all four — which are putting up a common front — face high hurdles. Pakistan, for example, is opposing an expansion that includes India.

Furthermore, expanding the membership requires a revision of the U.N. Charter, a change that must be supported by at least two-thirds, or 128, of U.N. members. For Japan in particular, Chinese support would be indispensable. That is one reason why Tokyo should improve its chilly relations with Beijing.

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