On Dec. 18, 1956, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu stood before the General Assembly of the United Nations to make a speech marking Japan’s admission to the organization. In this address he stated that as the only nation to suffer the ordeal of atomic bombing, Japan hoped with all its heart that humanity would be able to escape this dreadful fate and free itself from the unbearable sense of fear that nuclear weapons engendered.
He stated that Japan and Asia were joined in an inseparable relationship, both politically and economically, and shared the same indivisible destiny. He closed with a proclamation that the very substance of Japan’s politics, its economy and its culture was the product of a fusion between the Occident and Orient over the course of the past century — that Japan was, in a sense, a bridge between the East and West.
In the half-century since Japan joined the United Nations, it has used this forum to deliver many important messages and to take part in numerous constructive activities. I would like to take a look at the 50 years of Japanese membership in the U.N., focusing in particular on the content of speeches given before the General Assembly, to illustrate what our country has sought — and still seeks — to achieve through this world body.
One argument that the Japanese have made consistently at the U.N. throughout their membership in the organization is the need for nuclear arms reduction, an end to the testing of these arms and, ultimately, the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. Shigemitsu’s 1956 address to the General Assembly was a clear call for placing the reduction of international tensions and the eradication of weapons of mass destruction in the central agenda of the U.N.
This Japanese stance was also evident in Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi’s Sept. 18, 1970, speech to the General Assembly, in which he stressed that the permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council should not be decided solely on the basis of nuclear capability.
I should note that Japan’s desire to rid the world of the nuclear threat is not rooted in a perception of itself as a victim in World War II, despite its status as the only nation to suffer atomic attacks. The nation’s consistent opposition to violence of all kinds is clear from another U.N. speech, given Dec. 4, 1964, by Foreign Minister Etsusaburo Shiina. In this address to the General Assembly, he sternly warned against relying on force as a means of conflict resolution.
On numerous occasions Japan has reiterated its promise never again to tread the path of militarism. And Japan’s belief in the importance of maintaining the U.N.’s supervisory role to prevent excessive transfers of conventional arms technology is firmly grounded in its own adherence to the principle of exporting no weapons.
All of these stances are solid evidence of the nation’s recognition of the mistakes in its past and its firm intention not to repeat them. Through its words and deeds, Japan has clearly shown its desire to live as a peaceful, democratic state.
But efforts for peace cannot by themselves bring security and prosperity to all the peoples of the world. They must be coupled with hard work to eradicate poverty. This is another area where Japan has been active for many years, working through the U.N. to spark international debate on poverty in Asia and moves to alleviate it.
From the second half of the 1960s through the 1980s, Japan expanded its economic aid programs, offering assistance to South Korea, the nations of Southeast Asia and to China.
Many of these nations are today enjoying stunning economic growth. But this does not mean that Japan has been absolved of its duty to work for international prosperity. Rather, with the valuable experience of having worked so hard to overcome its own poverty and join the ranks of the modern economies, Japan now has a duty to work together with the other nations of Asia — which have become relatively affluent over time — to make similar efforts for the sake of still other peoples. These efforts and the fruits they bring will echo around the world, reaching impoverished countries in regions like Africa. Japan, along with the rest of Asia, must continue to carry part of the burden of this responsibility.
For years, Japan has used the U.N. platform to make the case for Asia’s importance in world affairs. This has, however, not only been out of an interest in seeing the region boom economically. In its presentations to the world body, Japan has sought to focus international attention on key issues like the conflict in Cambodia and the tension on the Korean Peninsula, stressing its own willingness to contribute to tackling these issues.
Japan has long been almost the only world power to stress the importance of keeping Asian concerns in mind when global tasks are dealt with — such as in negotiations for the 1988 INF (Intermediate-Range and Short-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union — in order to achieve peace and reduce tensions on a truly worldwide scale.
What drove Japan to argue these points so tenaciously? The answer here goes beyond the nation’s geographical location in Asia. It is related to Japan’s concern that the formation of global political and economic frameworks tends to be guided by the nations of the “West,” a process that does not necessarily take into account the wishes and concerns of people in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Japan has constantly made the appeal to the international community that sufficient attention should be paid to the impact that global decisions have on those people outside the “Western” world.
In today’s world, the shocks of globalization and issues that affect all of humanity are increasingly coming to the fore. This makes Japan’s stance even more significant. Lessening the poverty of sub-Saharan Africa, eradicating drug trafficking, checking the threat of terrorism, reducing global carbon dioxide emissions, and battling AIDS and other communicable diseases are all urgent tasks, and they require a coordinated approach involving the whole world, not just the efforts of the nations of the West.
In tackling the problems that face the world today, Japan has always sought to maintain a balance between its responsibilities as a major economic power and the need to promote global-scale efforts involving the nations of the South as well. Japan’s emphasis on the importance of South-South cooperation over the years has stemmed from an understanding of how critical this balance is.
It was in 1995 that Japan first unveiled the concept of “human security” to the U.N. General Assembly. In order to combat the problems facing the world as a whole, the nation judged that humankind needed a new, broadly shared fundamental idea, and this was it. Since then the Japanese have worked to make “human security” a key term underpinning U.N. operations and defining the role of the organization in the contemporary world.
In order for the U.N. to continue to carry out that role, it needs to undergo reform and to strengthen its abilities in various spheres. This, too, is an area where Japan has been active over the years, pressing for needed changes to the organization.
As early as 1959, just three years after the nation had joined the body, Foreign Minister Aiichiro Fujiyama made the case for prompt revision of the U.N. Charter, specifically the deletion of the “enemy states clauses” differentiating the defeated nations in World War II from the rest of the members. Around a decade later, in 1970, Foreign Minister Aichi addressed the General Assembly, presenting a clear, concrete proposal for reform of the Security Council structure.
As these examples show, Japan’s deep interest in the topic of U.N. reform is no recent development. It has stressed this need to change the organization for many long years, precisely because of its strong belief that strengthening the activities and functions of the organization is an absolute necessity if Japan is to continue to contribute to the international community through U.N. channels.
On Sept. 21, 1987, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone addressed the world body, quoting from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Psalm of Life”:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
The spirit of this verse lives on in the heart of the Japanese today. But it has been nearly two decades since Nakasone spoke these words to the world, and we must ask how long Japan — and the rest of the world’s people — must continue their waiting.
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