Sunday, October 12, 2014

Japan Should Explore UNSC Reform rather than Permanent Membership

Japan has not abandoned the aspiration for the permanent membership in the UN Security Council, despite a failed bid for this seat during the Koizumi era. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made it clear that Japan would continue to bid for the permanent membership, in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 26. I appreciate such “Never give up” attitude, but is it a worthy quest for Japan? The fundamental problem of the Security Council is not liberating Japan and Germany from the yoke of defeat in World War II, but the veto that precludes the Council from making decisions and acting against threats to global security. Therefore, Japan should propose something fundamental to resolve malfunction of the UNSC, instead of reconfirming its position of the 6th or 7th greatest power in the global pecking order, following established P5.

As a matter of fact, I was in the midst of patriotic fervor when the Koizumi administration bid for the permanent membership, which resulted in a failure. I believed so naïvely that Japan step up to a political great power, in addition to its status as the second largest economy in those days. But time has passed since then, and it is necessary to reconsider whether continual bidding will be real Japanese interest or not. Outrageous lobbying will consume a considerable amount of money and energy. Should Japan give pork barrel aid to Asia and Africa, just in order to placate them to vote for itself? To win the bid, Japan asked regional powers such as Brazil and India to make a joint application for the permanent membership. So called G4 applicants, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and India, included emerging powers, in order to charm BRICS nations (“Why Japan Will Never Be a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council”; National Interest; August 4, 2014). However, it is quite doubtful whether regional powers like Brazil and India are prepared to assume global responsibility.

If regional balance is so important, then, the African Union has the right to claim their seat in the Security Council. There is no wonder why both the United States and China, supposed to be at odds each other, vetoed G4’s bid (“Editorial: Abe should clarify objective in seeking permanent UN Security Council seat”; Mainichi Shimbun; September 27, 2014). Moreover, Japan’s enduring aspiration for the permanent seat simply gives a good chance for Chinese propaganda. Shortly after Abe’s speech, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reminded all attendants at the General assembly of the fact that it would be the 70th anniversary of Chinese victory over Japanese fascism, next year(“China admonishes Japan in U.N. speech, warning history should not be falsified”; Japan Times; September 28, 2014). If Japan can override the Chinese veto, it is worthy of bidding. Unfortunately, China would block every Japanese endeavor for honorary and prestigious seat, in quest of geopolitical balance in favor of them, and degrade Japan as that target of negative campaigns regarding wartime history, for this objective. In addition, Mainichi Shimbun comments critically that there is no momentum to change the UN Charter, just to accommodate Japan as a new permanent member of the Security Council.

Therefore, I argue that Japan propose something that urges fundamental change of currently indecisive and inactive UNSC, instead of lobbying to satisfy its vanity. I am not in flat denial of benefits to be a permanent member. Prior to the Scottish referendum, former British Prime Minister John Major raised a critical concern, "We would lose our seat at the top table in the UN," if Scotland voted for independence (“What would Scottish independence mean at the UN?”; BBC News; 10 September, 2014). However, Japan’s position is starkly different from those of existing P5 nations, as it must consume so much energy to overcome tough hurdles to win the top seat. Above all, what can Japan do, if it were granted for the permanent membership? Does Japan dare to use veto power at the UNSC to turn the entire world against itself in the worst case? Will Japanese promotion to the honorary seat change the world? Rationally speaking, these are utterly not.

Remember Saudi Arabia stepped down the nonpermanent seat at the Security Council on October 17 last year, because it is so indecisive and so inactive in critical Middle East security issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and the crisis of ISIS. Saudis see current UNSC useless, helpless, and valueless ("Sit on the UN Security Council?"; Weelky Standard; November 4, 2013). Considering burden, benefits, and campaign effort, UNSC membership does not necessarily serve Japan’s national interest. As far as this issue is concerned, I agree with the government of Saudi Arabia completely. We have to keep in mind that the current status of P5 was endowed from the beginning. Therefore, Major’s anxiety on the eve of the Scotland vote makes sense for Britain. But the nations of the rest of the world other than P5 need to struggle to bid for the membership in the Security Council even if it is a nonpermanent one, and not to mention a permanent seat. Japan’s struggle will be vetoed by China in the end. Should Japan repeat such a fruitless attempt?

An initiative for fundamental and universal agenda can create a momentum for change. It is commonly known that the United States is more inclined to the coalition of the willing rather than UN resolutions, because it is the most annoyed with Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council that have been precluding urgent actions even after the Cold War era. This is typically illustrated in the appointment of John Bolton to the Ambassador to the United Nations by the Bush administration, even though he is a vocal critic to this organization. Whether Democrat or Republican rule, such distrust to current UN decision making system is widespread among American policymakers. It is a deadlocked UNSC that really matters to the global community, rather than the pecking order of the nations.

If Japan really were to change the Security Council, focus on fundamental and structural problem. That will draw more support from the world. Regarding the veto problem, I would suggest a change from a single vote veto system to a two or three vote veto system by permanent members. Even if the permanent seat were granted, Japan cannot act alone. A single veto system will not be of much help for Tokyo. Whoever the prime minister is, Japan’s money and diplomatic labor must be spent properly for the right objective. Any action, simply based on patriotic passion and vanity, isuseless and valueless.