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A clash of interests among major U.N. member states is clouding the prospects for reform of the Security Council. While Japan, Brazil, Germany and India, known as the Group of Four (G4), seek permanent membership on the council, the Uniting for Consensus coalition, including Italy, South Korea and Pakistan, is pushing its own proposal. The United States favors minimal expansion of the council.

In his report in March, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended reaching an agreement before a special U.N. summit in September. Expanding the Security Council requires a U.N. Charter revision that must be approved by two-thirds of all member states. Ironing out differences among 191 members in just three months will be difficult.

As things stand now, it looks as though Annan’s recommendations for U.N. reform will end up as “pie in the sky.” If no substantive agreement is reached, hopes for a revamped U.N. will be dashed for the time being, creating more mistrust in the world body.

The Annan report focuses on enlarging the Security Council as a way to strengthen the United Nations. Enlargement is essential, he said, to more widely reflect the realities of power in today’s world. To that end, he added, the U.N. should increase its involvement in the policymaking of member countries that contribute to it financially, militarily and/or diplomatically.

The world situation surrounding the U.N. has vastly changed since its creation in 1945. The number of member states has increased from 51 to 191. Yet political power is concentrated in the five permanent members (P-5): the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China. These veto-wielding powers — the victors of World War II — continue to exercise significant political influence on issues of international peace.

In terms of U.N. membership dues, Japan — which pays 19 percent of the U.N. budget — ranks second after the U.S. (22 percent). Germany comes in third (9 percent), followed by France and Britain (6 percent each). China and Russia pay only 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Yet Japan and Germany, which between them account for 28 percent, are not permanent members.

Japan is also the second-largest donor of development aid after the U.S. Japan is followed by France, Germany and Britain. The five countries combined make up 66 percent of the official development assistance (ODA) provided by the Development Assistance Committee, a Paris-based club of developed countries.

Although economic power is not the only measure of national strength, it is indispensable for U.N. activities such as peacekeeping operations and support for postconflict reconstruction. Economic contributions from Japan and Germany cannot be ignored.

Initially, the G4 proposed that the council add six new permanent members and that they be granted veto power. The group also called for increasing the number of nonpermanent members (now fixed at 10) by four. That would have raised total council membership to 25 from 15.

The G4’s bid for permanent membership is an open challenge to the P-5 setup that has continued unchanged for six decades. No wonder the five veto-holding members feel “threatened.” In a compromise move, the G4 countries have offered to freeze their would-be veto right for 15 years. France has promised to support that proposal, and Britain appears willing to go along.

On the other hand, the “Uniting for Consensus” group calls for doubling the number of nonpermanent members to 20 while keeping the permanent membership intact. Nonpermanent members would be eligible for re-election. This plan, along with the G4 proposal, has prompted aggressive vote-getting campaigns that have sown new seeds of division in the community of nations.

Compounding the situation is China, which reportedly has issued a document that would base Security Council reform on the “interests of developing countries” and “agreement in the region involved” (implying Asia). The P-5, including China, are World War II victors, but not regional representatives. The document indicates that China, concerned that its international influence might be weakened if Japan became a permanent member, is trying to undercut this nation’s candidacy.

The U.S. plan is extremely limited in scope. It would add two permanent members, including Japan, and two or three nonpermanent ones. For the U.S., Security Council reform remains a relatively low priority. The House of Representatives has passed a measure to cut U.S. financial contributions to the U.N. (now $440 million a year) by 50 percent unless it carries out reforms to eradicate corruption and make itself more transparent.

The cloudy outlook for Security Council reform indicates that intensive maneuvers are under way globally to create a new world order. The question for the G4 is whether it can secure the support of the majority of U.N. members. For Japan in particular, the question is what it should do to get it.

Having made a bid for permanent membership, Japan must clarify roles it can play to promote world peace and security. More specifically, it must improve its capacity for policy planning and formulation regarding security in the world, including the Middle East and Africa, which are beset by civil wars, regional conflicts, refugee problems and chronic poverty. At the same time, Japan must develop a negotiating ability to iron out differences among nations of the world.

All this demands that Japan map out a broad-gauge diplomatic vision and establish a legislative framework, supported by the public, that enables the Self-Defense Forces to carry out peacekeeping activities at an international level. It is also vital to boost ODA, which has continued to decline for the past six years.

The challenge for the Japanese government is to present, both at home and abroad, a clearly defined image of Japan as a permanent Security Council member that is both willing and able to perform all functions required of it — political, economic and military.

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