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Japan as global civilian power

Dag Hammarskjold, the second U.N. secretary-general and the man who fathered U.N. peacekeeping operations, used to describe the role of the world body in this way: ``The United Nations was not created to take humanity to heaven but to save it from hell.''

On many occasions, the United Nations saved human society from hell. With few exceptions, it has successfully prevented states from invading other countries. Decolonization and democratization also advanced. The United Nations may not have been directly responsible for these changes in the international environment, but it doubtlessly encouraged such trends.

At the same time, there are many cases in which we saw hell. In particular, the United Nations failed to prevent ethnic cleansing and genocides after the Cold War. Bosnia and Rwanda are typical examples. Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and failed states emerged as new threats, but the United Nations has yet to devise sufficient ways to cope with them. In the face of the Iraqi crisis, it could not present an effective alternative to the U.S. unilateristic first-strike argument. As a result, both the United Nations and the United States lost prestige.

A high-level advisory panel commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently released a report listing ways to reform the United Nations. It points out how various threats the world now faces are interrelated and stresses the need for ``a comprehensive strategy'' to deal with them that not only involves military operations but economic measures as well.

U.N. Security Council reform is a necessary reform to that end. Japan has entered a bid for permanent membership in the exclusive council and is campaigning along with Germany, India and Brazil.

But if these countries become permanent members, what changes and differences will they bring?

A German expert on U.N. diplomacy I met in New York stressed how the reflection of interests and perspectives of ``small countries'' and ``non-nuclear powers'' in the Security Council can make a difference.

The following is the gist of what the diplomat said:

Many small countries are skeptical that reform is no more than a reshuffling of privileges and power. We need to improve the accountability of the Security Council to show that is not the case. Currently, 95 percent of the discussions in the Security Council is closed. It needs to be more transparent.

Currently, all of the permanent members of the Security Council are nuclear powers. That makes it difficult to reflect the interests and viewpoints of non-nuclear powers. We want toadvance disarmament from the standpoint of a non-nuclear state.

Therefore, the inclusion of such countries as Japan and Germany as permanent members can be justified and can help the United Nations recover its ``legitimacy,'' according to the German diplomat.

Viewpoints on disarmament, in particular nuclear disarmament, are important. But it is not easy to have them reflected in the Security Council since most of the current permanent members are poisoned by their absolute faith in nuclear weapons, which they see as an ultimate symbol of their power and status in international politics.

In this regard, Japan can play a major role. The only way to break their faith in nuclear weapons is to pursue nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament at the same time. Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United Nations will also celebrate its 60th anniversary. Japan should take advantage of the occasion to speak out.

As a vanquished nation that rapidly recovered from the devastation of World War II, Japan can also share its experiences of rebuilding itself as a peaceful nation and rejoining international society with the rest of the world as it faces new challenges. Japan may not be able to intervene in the middle of a conflict and take part in military action to contain it. But it can contribute to post-conflict efforts to have peace take root and build a peaceful environment to prevent conflicts.

Japan has proven its ability as a global civilian power in Cambodia (removal of landmines), East Timor (building of infrastructure) and Afghanistan (collection of weapons).

Japan must refrain from being complacent and arrogant with arguments that it should be given a permanent seat because of its national power and the amount of funds it shoulders to run the United Nations.

Currently, Japan has 45 peacekeepers in Golan Heights, which makes it the 59th country in the world in terms of the size of contingents. Its budget for official development assistance has declined for five straight years. Its relations with neighboring countries are shaky over the history problem. Japan keeps toeing the U.S. line. This image of Japan is also ingrained in international society.

Mark Brown, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, told me how international society finds it difficult to understand why Japan wants to become a permanent member of the Security Council while it keeps cutting its ODA budget.

Japan should make a larger effort to speak out and inform the world about its ideas and accomplishments. For example, Japan has been digging wells in Ethiopia and providing training to local workers on how to dig wells since 1998. The initiative is supported by Japan's postwar experience of providing running water in farming villages across Japan, thereby drastically cutting the time spent by women to draw water.

In Africa, too, the Japanese project has dramatically reduced the workload of women, who spend an average of six hours a day to secure water.

It is important to solicit Japan's mission and role in helping countries rebuild themselves.

Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council is none other than a test to show how much it has won the understanding and support of people over the world. It is also an opportunity for Japan to show its self-portrait as a global civilian power, the significance of its postwar experiences and how it intends to pass them down. (2004/12/21)








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