TCS Daily

Give Japan a Seat

By Jason Miks - August 28, 2006 12:00 AM

TOKYO -- What do Estonia, Latvia and Uganda all have in common? They all received their first ministerial level visits from a Japanese official last month.

The visits mark the beginning of a new charm offensive aimed at improving links with General Assembly members, in order to secure support for Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

According to the Foreign Ministry, 82 countries have never been visited by a Japanese cabinet minister as of last month. The Cabinet Secretariat therefore picked about 20 of those countries and allocated them to ministers for visits over the summer.

The trips are a response to the failure last year for Japan to secure adequate support for its joint proposal on UNSC expansion to reach a General Assembly vote.

Initially it looked like Japan could be making progress as it linked up with Brazil, Germany and India to form the so-called G4. They put forward a joint proposal to enlarge the Security Council from the current 15 members to 25, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Their suggestion was that they each receive permanent, but non-veto wielding seats along with two yet to be decided African countries. However the bid stumbled as the African Union rather short-sightedly insisted on having veto power. Introducing so many new veto wielding countries in one go was never likely to go very far and the bid petered out.

However, last month saw a renewed commitment to change with Japan's ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, calling at a General Assembly meeting for early reform and expansion. He also insisted that he is still working within the G4 framework, though the emphasis in the months following last year's failed effort seems to have been on courting U.S. support. Indeed this culminated in a joint statement during Koizumi's recent trip to Washington in which the U.S. declared its strong support for Japan's candidacy.

That Japan is worthy of a permanent seat is unquestionable. It is the second largest contributor to the UN regular budget paying over 19 percent, and its regular budget assessment far exceeds the combined contributions of China, France, Russia and the UK who together pay about a 15 percent share.

As the world's second largest economy and a democratic nation, Japan craves -- and deserves -- recognition for its contributions to world affairs. And after being stung by accusations of chequebook diplomacy during the Gulf War, it has moved to become a more active participant in peacekeeping operations. For those that question the motivations for such involvements, and worry about Japan's Self Defence Forces playing an increasing role in the combat theatre, they can probably take at least some comfort from the fact that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has himself expressed a desire for Japan to become more active in peacekeeping operations.

The sticking points to gaining a seat are twofold. As Michael Meserve, political counsel at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, said to me in a conversation earlier this year, the United States supports Japan's candidacy, but it also doesn't want the Council to expand so much that it becomes unwieldy. America's support is therefore qualified.

Japan also has to contend with veto-wielding China, which is unlikely to support its efforts any time soon, especially with relations between the two countries at a low point. Indeed in large part because of Koizumi's insistence on visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, the two leaders have not held summit talks in 5 years, a strange state of affairs for the regions' two great powers.

If Japan is to gain the support it requires for a permanent seat it will therefore have to do more than woo smaller nations, and this should probably begin with other Asian countries. It was noticeable that while Germany received strong backing from 11 European nations, the only three Asian countries which swung behind India and Japan's efforts were Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives.

That the Security Council needs to undergo reform to increase its effectiveness and relevance is not in question -- even its strongest supporters understand this. The problem is how best to carry this out without adding to the paralysis that has sometimes marked its decision making.

But what should not be in doubt is that Japan, after its contributions to the international community over the last 60 years, is deserving of a central role in these reforms. That concerns remain come down partly to Koizumi's more combative diplomacy, a style that he sometimes seems to relish a little too much.

So it will be up to the next Japanese leader to persuade other nations that they should pull up a chair for the country at the Security Council table. And whoever it turns out to be, he would be well advised to start with the neighbours.

Jason Miks is a Tokyo-based writer and Senior Editor at the Center for International Relations.


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