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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:58 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #138: July 27, 2004

Behind Japan's Strategy for a UN Security Council Bid

John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)

Over the past decade, Japan has been pushing hard for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Japan is the United Nation's second largest financial contributor and many in Japan feel that their country deserves a say as a decision maker in the institution's most important organ. These individuals repeat the slogan, "no taxation without representation." However, Japan's official approach is much more sophisticated than what could be interpreted as 'buying your way in'. Japan recognizes that it has to earn its way into this Western dominated body through action and intense lobbying and this is what many of its officials have been up to ever since the end of the Cold War.

It is interesting to note, however, that Japan's bid has taken a strategic shift ever since the march toward the US led war on Iraq began in 2002. Prior to this polarizing invasion, Japan went to great lengths to lobby Asian and African governments to support its bid for a permanent seat. In alliance with countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and India, Japan argued that the UNSC needed to reform due to two fundamental reasons: (a) the emergence of new global powers, and (b) the dramatic under-representation of countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America. This discourse reflects Japan's cooption of the contemporary East-West conflict and is reminiscent of the old 'color line' thesis raised by the anti-colonialist powers and later by the non-Aligned movement. It also reminds of Japan's position during the lead up to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference when Japanese officials portrayed their bid for membership at the League of Nations as one that would give voice to the oppressed colored and colonized people.

Under this mantra, Japan recently took a leadership role in promoting the establishment of a United Nations General Assembly Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council. It has also been one of the primary donors of official development assistance to Asia and Africa and has actively taken part in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction initiatives. In doing so, Japanese leaders have consciously tried to develop a reputation among Asian and African communities as a reliable, flexible, generous and friendly source of assistance and of strength in the international community. To a certain extent this has worked and Japan has managed to build up a considerable amount of good-will in the world's most needy regions. Japan's adoption of the principle of 'human security' as a modus operandi for reconsidering global security threats was particularly important and ground breaking in this respect. Up until 2002, Japan was the primary backer of the United Nations Human Security Fund and consistently linked issues impinging on an individuals/community's freedom, hope and development as a security threat. It took decades for development and human rights workers to put such concepts on the agenda of world leaders. The traditionally conservative Japan's adoption of the framework was a sign that the international community was finally listening. Conversely, by taking a leadership role Japan was hoping to convince UN members that Japan was making a contribution to global peace and security as was required by permanent UNSC members.

However, the war on Iraq changed Japan's approach. Ever since Japan's support for the invasion, the concept of human security has disappeared from the horizon of Japan's political landscape and its commitment to promoting development and combating insecurity in Africa and Asia has waned. Instead of aligning with most of Asia and Africa against the invasion of Iraq and promoting its human security based approach to conflict resolution, Japan supported belligerence. Subsequently, it has committed 550 Self-Defense Forces to the "reconstruction" of Iraq at the request of the United States despite the lack of a UN mandate. While the motives for Japan's backing of the United States in this highly unpopular occupation are complex, one of them relates to Japan's bid for a UN Security Council seat. Japan's prime minister and foreign minister have even raised the SDF presence in Iraq as a contribution warranting consideration for its bid at the Council. The point that the Japanese government is trying to stress in this instance is that its pacific constitution prohibiting the use of force serves as no encumbrance to its participation in security operations expected of UNSC members. In return for its almost unconditional support of the United States, Japan has also gained the official endorsement of the US government for its UNSC campaign. The United States would be comfortable with a supportive Japan on the council in order to combat opposition from France and potentially Germany. With a vote that could come as early as 2006, Japan seems to be of the mind that its campaign would have a better chance of succeeding with the United States on its side. Countries such as Germany have gained endorsement in Asia and Africa due to its opposition to the invasion, however, in the West Germany's bid has largely been written off due to resistance from the United States.

Japan may indeed secure a permanent UNSC seat, however, considering the increasingly insecure state of the world, one is left to wonder whether the world will be better off with Japan on or off of the council. Furthermore, now that human security is no longer a priority, while proving Japan's readiness to dispatch troops and participate in a questionable military mission is, it is clearer than ever that Japan's objective is not to rectify the under-representation of Asian, African and Latin-American countries or to reflect the emergence of new global powers. Rather, it is evident that by aligning itself with the United States, Japan is motivated to project itself as a power that will maintain the status-quo and keep Asian, African and Latin-American concerns off of the agenda.

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