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Moves to reform the U.N. Security Council, which plays a major role in United Nations decision-making, are approaching a crucial phase. The so-called Group of Four countries (Japan, Germany, India and Brazil) — which are bidding for permanent seats on the council — have issued a framework draft resolution on enlarging the council.

The number of U.N. member countries has increased from the initial 51 at the end of World War II to 191 countries at present. The world still faces various new threats, such as ethnic conflicts, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism. Reform of the Security Council is essential if the U.N. is to respond effectively to the changing times and to restore its legitimacy and reliability.

In these circumstances, it is appropriate that Japan, which has appealed consistently for peace from the standpoint of the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, should be given a status and role commensurate with its national strength. In addition, Japan has provided about 20 percent of the U.N. budget.

In March, agreeing to an enlargement of the Security Council by six countries, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan named Japan as one of two Asian countries that should be given a permanent seat. We took it to be an indication of his true feelings.

The draft resolution issued by the G4 states, among other things, that the number of Security Council members should increase from the current 15 countries to 25, that the number of permanent members should rise to six, and that the new permanent members should come from Asia (two), Africa (two), Latin America (one), and Western Europe or other countries (one).

The G4 plans to solicit support for this formula; get a joint resolution approved in June; have the new permanent members selected by the middle of July; and then submit a draft revision of the U.N. Charter within a couple of weeks after that. If things develop as smoothly as hoped, Japan could be named a candidate for permanent membership in a draft revision at the beginning of August, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi could attend the 60th Anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly in September as the leader of a country that has gained permanent council member status.

However, Japanese government officials’ honest reaction is to sigh at the size of the hurdles that lie ahead. First of all, approval of the resolution and revision of the charter require the consent of two-thirds of all U.N. members — 128 countries. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 88 countries have announced support for Japan’s permanent membership, but only 60 to 70 countries can be counted on to offer definite support at the the moment.

Even if Japan strengthens its efforts to win over countries that have not yet clearly indicated their support, the so-called Consensus Group says reform of the Security Council should have the consent of all General Assembly members and categorically opposes the G4 draft. The Consensus Group consists of South Korea, Italy, Argentina and others that want to prevent neighboring rivals from becoming permanent members on the Security Council and thus wielding greater influence. This confrontation looks likely to intensify.

The problem of veto rights is also an awkward one. India insists that the G4 draft should include giving veto power to new permanent members, but the United States and others are absolutely opposed to this idea. The Japanese government is not insisting on the veto right and says the draft resolution could be amended, although coordination with India on such an amendment would be tricky.

Moreover, even if support is successfully gained from 128 countries, revision of the charter will require ratification by all five present permanent members on the Security Council. And they have the right to veto any revision. The biggest difficulty is China. Because of history textbook and other issues, China opposes Japan’s bid for a permanent seat, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine have not made the situation any easier.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry is said to have remarked, hopefully, that it would be difficult for China to exercise its veto if Japan gained the support of an overwhelming majority of members. Still, there are many uncertain factors.

Japan should recognize the fact that to become a permanent member on the Security Council as a representative of Asia, and simply to win the backing from as many countries around the world as possible, it will have to consolidate its foothold in Asia by bolstering relations with China and South Korea.

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