Japan Wooing the US to Gain Security Council Seat

TOKYO – Brushing aside its failure to win a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last year, Tokyo is betting on backing the United States and its policies as a means of achieving a goal viewed as key to playing a more active role in global affairs.

"A role in the prestigious UN Security Council is important for Japan that is now expanding its position in world politics. The UN is viewed as an appropriate platform from which Japan can exercise more active diplomacy," explains Professor Takashi Inoguchi, a veteran international relations expert at Chuo University.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Japan has embarked on a high-profile international role such as the dispatch of its "Self-Defense Forces" to support U.S. troops in Iraq – directed at planned amendment of its pacifist constitution that restricts military activities overseas.

Japan has enthusiastically supported several UN peacekeeping operations, committing more than 4,500 troops in places like Cambodia and the Golan Heights.

And now, there is a new plan to invite Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for talks in the hope of persuading Iran to cease its nuclear program and thereby earn credit.

Accordingly, while Japan supports referring Iran’s case to the UN, it believes that there is a role for diplomacy in resolving the crisis. "Our goal is to get Iran to stop its nuclear development, and that requires further diplomatic efforts," foreign minister Taro Aso said last week.

At another level, finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, currently touring the U.S., warned UN chief, Kofi Annan, in a meeting last week, about a cut in Japanese dues.

Contributions by Japan are now at around 19.5 percent or $346 million of the total UN budget, close behind that of the U.S. which contributes 22 percent or $439 million. Japan is also the world’s second-largest provider of development aid – again after the U.S.

Japanese politicians argue that their country’s high payments and contributions must be accompanied by a permanent place in the UNSC and point out that the position is long overdue.

According to a new framework discussed in the foreign ministry, Japan is taking a stance that is slightly different from last year’s approach that was based on a resolution by the Group of Four (G4), which is made up of the other three UNSC aspirants – India, Germany, and Brazil.

"Japan’s policy of restricting its UNSC seat strategy to only the G-4 was not successful. Our focus has shifted to move more closely with the U.S. because Washington plays a key role in UNSC reform," said Toshihiro Katamura, deputy director at the Foreign Ministry’s UN policy division.

Katamura explained that this approach is important given the priority Japan places to win this coveted position, which would ensure the world’s second-richest country a decision-making role.

"The focus is not whether we get a veto role or not in the UNSC because Japan realizes this aspect is not easily gained. The main goal is to expand the [number of] permanent members," said Katamura.

"Tokyo hopes Washington will back Japan’s renewed bid to become a permanent member by leaving room for the United States to wield its influence on the UN members concerning who should be given seats on the council," said an article in the influential Asahi newspaper published on Jan. 6.

For example, Japan and the U.S. are opposed to approving the UN budget as presented last October.

Indeed, analysts here blamed Japan’s dismal failure last year on its policy of siding with the G-4 and ignoring the U.S. that supported Japan’s bid but not that of the other countries.

On Jan. 5, Brazil, Germany, and India submitted their own resolutions, without Japan, to the UN secretariat calling for expansion of the UNSC.

Reforming the UNSC – which now has five permanent members with veto powers, the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China – has been a major Japanese diplomatic goal for more than a decade now.

Last July, Japan and the other three G-4 countries failed to win seats because they lacked sufficient support from the other 128 UN members, leading to a growing call by politicians here to reduce payments to the UN

Critics of Koizumi and his overtly pro-U.S. stance have warned that Japan has been paying insufficient heed to the sensitivities of powerful countries like China by repeatedly paying visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine and paying homage to war criminals convicted for atrocities committed in Asia during World War II.

China was a major opponent of Japan’s bid, and Katamura said: "while Japan is working closely with the U.S., Tokyo has also started talks with China to gain its support."

Reforming the UN is now the subject of much heated discussion in Japan, as the world body works on changes to be incorporated this fall, 60 years after its establishment.