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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:04 03/09/2007
February 7, 2005

How Japan Can Help Build a World Without War

Kuniko INOGUCHI (Professor, Sophia University)

How can we permanently avoid a repeat of military conflicts like World War II? It was in response to this question that the United Nations was established. The UN Security Council in particular was intended to act as the focal point dealing with fundamental issues of war and peace. The UN Charter calls on all UN member states to refrain from the use of military force (Article 2, Paragraph 4), and it gives the Security Council the authority to identify and deal with violations of this provision (Chapter VII).

In designing the Security Council, the architects of the United Nations had in mind the fact that World War II was a military clash between great powers and believed that in order to maintain global peace in the future it was essential to avoid future differences among the powers; they thus set up the council to include the five major military powers as of the end of the war, namely, Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States, as permanent, veto-wielding members, meaning that no resolution could be adopted if rejected by any of the five. The plan was for these countries to deal with major issues of war and peace on a unanimous basis. In addition to the five permanent members, the council also included six nonpermanent members elected by the UN General Assembly for two-year terms. In 1965, in response to the growth of the UN's total membership, the number of nonpermanent members of the council was increased to 10. The composition of the council has not changed since then.

Unfortunately, the architects' design failed to work as intended. As soon as World War II ended, the five countries that had allied in the fight against fascism parted ways and embarked on a new conflict, the Cold War (1945-89). This East-West confrontation led to an exchange of Security Council vetoes in exceedingly large numbers between the United States and the Soviet Union. Over the course of this period, a total of 229 vetoes were exercised in the Security Council, including 116 by the Soviet Union and 63 by the United States. As a result, the Security Council became virtually paralyzed and could not play the role originally envisaged for it in preventing and promptly settling military conflicts. It is estimated that as many as 20 million people died in such conflicts around the world during the Cold War years.

When the fruits of US-Soviet summit diplomacy and the democratization and ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union brought the Cold War to a close, the exchange of vetoes in the Security Council also ended, and hopes rose for the council to be able to start playing an effective role. Since then, however, the nature of wars and threats has shifted, and the council has found itself unable to agree on creative initiatives to deal with this shift. If the council is unable to prevent wars even now that we have put the age of big-power conflicts behind us, then the functioning of the United Nations needs to be strengthened; in particular, the Security Council must be given new qualities and capabilities so as to equip it to deal with conflicts more effectively. This need is fueling the lively debate over Security Council reform, including the possibility of expanding the council's membership.

Of course another factor is the development of countries like Japan and Germany into major powers over the half century since the end of the war. The recognition has emerged that the United Nations must seriously respond to this phenomenon. Security Council membership, however, is not some sort of label attached to countries as a mark of big-power status. The members of the council have the grave responsibility to act on behalf of the international community to prevent or stop aggression, and any discussion of reform of the council should focus on ways of enhancing its ability to perform this role. If Japan hopes to win a permanent seat for itself, it needs to demonstrate logically that it can bring some valuable new qualities to the council and thereby contribute to its success ratio in preventing wars.

If Japan does gain the permanent membership it is seeking, what sorts of approaches should it take in seeking to strengthen the Security Council and promote the cause of world peace?

A Vision of Peace Through Arms Reduction and Nonproliferation

The first approach should involve the promotion of Japan's view of peace, specifically, the idea that the best way to control terrorism and prevent the recurrence of major conflicts in the twenty-first century is through the rigorous implementation of arms reduction and nonproliferation measures on a global scale. Japan should seek to have this view reflected in the resolutions and recommendations that the Security Council adopts.

The direct impetus for the current debate in the UN about reforming the Security Council came from the recognition of the new threats posed by the globalization of terrorist groups and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- threats that related both to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and to the war in Iraq. It was based on a sense of the need to strengthen the Security Council in response to these new types of threats that Secretary General Kofi Annan established the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change as an advisory body.

In order to deal preventively with the new threats, we need to stop the illegal proliferation of all sorts of weapons, from WMDs to small arms, so as to keep both terrorist groups and the countries that harbor them from getting their hands on the means with which to conduct terrorism. Nonproliferation should be implemented in tandem with quantitative arms reduction inasmuch as the two efforts are related: Even if arms are legal, excessively large stockpiles of them heighten the danger that some will slip through cracks in the system. Reducing the absolute quantity of arms thus helps prevent proliferation.

As the only country against which atomic bombs have been used, Japan has built up a record of consistent efforts at arms reduction and nonproliferation. One example of these efforts in the context of the UN is the resolution that Japan has submitted every year to the General Assembly calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. This has been approved repeatedly by large majorities, and last year, when I was serving in Japan's UN delegation as the representative responsible for this resolution, a record-high 164 countries voted in favor of it. The initiative of the Japanese government in this area has given rise to a decisive and urgent call by the international community for the abolition of these weapons. Japan is also capable of making an exceptionally great contribution in the monitoring of compliance with WMD-related agreements and the development and supply of inspection technologies. In other words, Japan can serve both as an advocate of its view of peace and as an active participant in concrete efforts, working alongside the United States, which is leading the Proliferation Security Initiative, in making arms reduction and nonproliferation part of the mainstream of international politics in the twenty-first century.

In today's world, where concerns about WMD threats due to failures in the nonproliferation regime can lead to wars, as in the case of Iraq, it is the responsibility of each country's government to maintain transparency in its own compliance with international agreements and nonproliferation norms. The tragedy in Iraq was that its government underestimated the gravity of this responsibility, despite its having a history that caused the world to view it with special concern. In addition to preventing illicit proliferation, we must destroy the networks of money laundering and illegal trafficking in drugs and precious metals that help power terrorist groups. Here too, Japan has the national strength and administrative capabilities to support the capacity building that may be required in countries that are earnestly tackling this agenda as part of a comprehensive program of nonproliferation.

Another crucial aspect is the enhancement of knowledge and information relating to nonproliferation. To avert the occurrence of preventive wars resulting from uncertainties and misconceptions, it is essential for the members of the international community to act with solidarity in strengthening their information infrastructure for this purpose. As a country that has won global trust through its advocacy of the arms control and nonproliferation causes, Japan can play a central role in this connection as well.

A Role in Conflict Resolution

The second approach that Japan should take if it becomes a permanent member of the Security Council is that of emphasizing the need to resolve conflicts in such a way as to prevent their recurrence through the building of post-conflict societies that embrace all levels of the affected nations. This means working to position the process of conflict resolution as a key component of the council's strategy for global peace.

Inasmuch as the Security Council is responsible for preventing aggression and halting conflicts, it must consider why it is that wars keep breaking out. Clearly one major reason is that previous wars have not been adequately brought to an end. In the past, wars were generally waged by countries acting as proxies of great powers or at the instigation of governing elites seeking to achieve particular political or economic objectives or to solidify their own hold on power. In such cases, peace would return after the conclusion of a peace treaty or cease-fire agreement. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the wars that break out have tended to be of a different sort. These are deep-rooted conflicts involving every level of society, such as religious or ethnic clashes. And even if the war is officially ended with a peace treaty or a cease-fire concluded between the political elites of the two sides, the killing is liable to continue at the grass-roots level. Furthermore, the festering feelings of anger and antagonism can foster the growth of terrorist groups. Wars recur because peace has not been established on a solid foundation; this reflects a lack of emphasis in the conflict-resolution process on the need to achieve a settlement that reaches to the community level and embraces every part of the national society.

A key part of effective conflict resolution is the broad implementation of measures to reduce the stockpiles of small arms so as to ensure that the tools for slaughter are no longer at hand. This must be accompanied by the democratization and reform of local security forces. Recently attention has focused on the successful precedent of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and people have been suggesting the adoption of "TRC-like" methods as part of the conflict-resolution process. Solid support for economic recovery can also help induce people in war-ravaged societies to lay down their arms. It is not possible to give a uniform answer to the question of what sorts of political resources are effective in bringing people to lasting peace. Therefore, the Security Council should aim to enhance its ability to promote the settlement of conflicts on a case-by-case basis, securing a variety of capabilities and political resources and applying them in flexible combinations. This suggests that the council should increase its membership in both the permanent and nonpermanent categories, and that the permanent members should not be limited exclusively to great military powers.

Japan's own post-World War II record is a beacon of hope to peoples whose societies have been devastated by conflict. During my own term in Geneva as Japan's disarmament ambassador, I heard countless remarks from representatives of conflict-stricken regions referring to our country as the model they hoped to emulate. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Japan should maintain its own national image as a model of hope, and it should seek to add its own positive input to the council's conflict-resolving activities.

If Japan becomes a permanent member of the council, it should of course continue to build on its accomplishments to date. These include the current involvement of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in Iraq's reconstruction, Japan's cumulative record of participation in UN peacekeeping operations, the leading role that Japan, as a major contributor to the UN budget, has played in the administrative and financial reform of the UN and its specialized organs, and the record of support for the consolidation of peace in post-conflict societies.

Agenda for Diplomatic Success

Inasmuch as the existing structure of five permanent members on the Security Council is one of the basic templates of the post-World War II international order, we cannot be overly optimistic about Japan's receiving its own permanent seat. But Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro broke new ground with his speech to the General Assembly last September, in which he explicitly pushed Japan's case for permanent membership, and our country should follow up on this with a multifaceted examination of its strategies and methods, along with an all-out diplomatic campaign toward this end. Allow me to offer some personal ideas about the major agenda items in this connection based on my experience in multilateral forums as Japan's disarmament ambassador.

First, Japan needs to demonstrate leadership not just in advancing its own diplomatic interests but also in the broader context of UN reform as a whole. For the UN now, General Assembly reform ranks alongside Security Council reform as an important issue, and it is one that concerns the entire membership. Japan should therefore step up its involvement in this matter and win recognition for itself as a country helping to lead the drive for vitalization of the whole UN community. In doing so, it can demonstrate that it has the breadth of vision and driving power befitting a permanent council member.

Second, Japan should contribute to the prospect for positive reform of the UN through diplomatic efforts focused on the world's smaller and war-devastated countries, making use of its own instructive experience as a small, war-ravaged country that has developed into an economic superpower. Last year, when I chaired the UN biennial meeting on small arms, this sort of positioning was the key to success. (Note: the session was formally called the "First Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.") Efforts to win global trust in Japan as an international actor that can speak up in the Security Council and other multilateral forums on behalf of smaller countries and the victims of war will broaden and enliven our country's diplomacy.

The third point involves the United States, which is seeking to establish a solid system of international security so as never again to repeat the tragic experience of 9/11. Japan needs to understand and sympathize with this American concern, making it clear that we share America's interest in preventing terrorism and aggression and that our efforts at UN reform will contribute to this cause.

Fourth, the European Union, which has grown to encompass 25 countries, has an especially weighty presence in today's international politics, and it is also a knowledge-intensive organization, working to achieve common positions among its members on all the issues of UN conference diplomacy. Japan should therefore pay special attention to its own negotiations with EU members and the EU president, and it must avoid letting intra-EU complications have an excessive impact on Japan-EU relations.

Fifth, Japan has two superpower neighbors, China and Russia, and securing their cooperation is crucial in advancing any sort of international agenda that our country may have. Not only that, both of these neighbors show deep consideration and offer great assistance of a sort that only superpowers can provide when they see Japan seriously pushing fair causes. I saw this any number of times myself while serving as disarmament ambassador and chairing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Much the same goes for our relations with South Korea. If we want our country to play a central role in the international politics of the twenty-first century, then we must seriously endeavor to win the approval and support of these neighbors.

And finally, while it should go without saying that managing the complex and multifaceted interrelationships of multilateral diplomacy with continuity requires both concentration and agility, it is also necessary to be able to adjust diplomatic operations flexibly on the basis of ongoing analysis of the overall situation. Excessive insistence on the original ideas or plans may result in unproductive effort. It is in conducting the lead-up process, including the making of necessary adjustments, that a country shows the power and philosophy of its diplomacy. The world is now watching with renewed interest to see what sort of country Japan will show itself to be.

(Originally appeared in February edition of Japan Echo, as translated from "Senso naki sekai e no koken," Chuo Koron, November 2004, pp. 140-45. (Courtesy of Chuo Koron Shinsha))


Received her PhD in politics from Yale University. Has been a visiting fellow at Harvard University, a visiting professor at Australian National University, and Japanese ambassador and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament. Is now a professor at Sophia University. Author of Senso to heiwa (War and Peace) and other works.

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