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September 21, 2004

Japan to Re-Launch Security Council Bid

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - Having been cold-shouldered by the international community for more than a decade over its claims for a permanent seat on the 15-member UN Security Council, Japan is expected to launch an aggressive campaign to re-ignite its long-standing demand for an expansion of the Organization's most powerful political body.

"The composition of the Security Council should reflect the geopolitical reality of the 21st century," the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations said in a five-page report released Monday.

Although membership of the United Nations has increased from 45, at inception in 1945, to 191 today, the Security Council has been expanded only once: from 11 to 15 members in the 1960s.

"The majority of UN member states supports expansion of the Security Council both in permanent and non-permanent membership," the report said.

During the September 2000 UN Millennium Summit in New York, 98 countries made explicit statements supporting the expansion of both categories of members in the Council, it added.

The current membership includes the five veto-wielding permanent members – the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia – and 10 non-permanent members who are elected for two-year terms on a geographical rotation.

The four strong contenders for permanent seats – Japan, Germany, India and Brazil – are expected to make a joint statement later this week appealing to the international community for reform and expansion of the Security Council.

In his address to the General Assembly this week, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will make a strong case for his country's bid for a permanent seat.

An increasingly large number of developing nations, most of them recipients of Japanese development aid, are also due to publicly support Japan, when their heads of state address the General Assembly during the two-week plenary sessions ending Oct. 1.

A UN committee has spent over 10 years discussing "equitable representation" in an expanded Security Council, but has made little or no headway. While none of the five permanent members of the Council openly opposes an expansion, neither have they seemed eager to share power with any of the contenders.

Conscious of the fact that there is strength in numbers, the Japanese government has joined hands with the other three candidates, namely Germany, Brazil and India, to bolster its claims.

As industrial nations and major economic powers, Japan and Germany have strong claims for permanent seats in the Council. But while Germany's claims have been challenged by Italy, Japan has had no serious opposition, except mild rebukes from North Korea.

Of the three geographical regions in the developing world – Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean – only Africa has failed to come up with a consensus candidate.

Besides Brazil, two other Latin American countries, Argentina and Mexico, have also indicated their interest in permanent seats. But Brazil has bulldozed its way to the top of the list because it wields more political and economic clout than the other two.

In Africa, there are three strong contenders: South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. And the continent remains split over the three competing claims. India, on the other hand, has had little or no opposition in the Asian region.

The final decision on the expansion of the Council, however, has to be taken both by the Security Council and the 191-member General Assembly.

Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies told IPS that real Council reform will require ending, not expanding, the perquisites of permanent membership and the veto.

"Until that happens, if simple expansion of the Council's veto-holders is aimed at broadening its representation, that goal can only be accomplished through bringing on board important regional powers from the global South – countries such as South Africa, Brazil, or India," said Bennis, the author of over 14 books, including Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN and Global Dreams.

She said that "it does not appear that real Council reform is on anyone's agenda in the current environment of such unbalanced global power relations."

In the meantime, she said, democratization of the United Nations can more immediately be addressed through re-empowerment of the General Assembly, "the most democratic (however chaotic) organ of the UN system."

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman told IPS that despite Japan's increasing contributions to the UN's regular and peacekeeping budgets, it has been virtually shut out of the political decision-making process. "There should be no taxation without representation," he said.

While the United States, the largest single contributor, pays 22 percent of the UN's regular budget, Japan is the second largest contributor accounting for 19.5 percent.

However, the total contributions by the other four permanent members of the Council – France (6.5 percent), Britain (5.5 percent), China (1.5 percent) and Russia (1.2 percent) – only add up to 14.7 percent.

Japan also claims it has participated in eight UN peacekeeping operations, dispatching over 4,600 civilian and military personnel. Additionally, it bears about one-fifth of the cost of UN peacekeeping operations.

Bennis argued that Japan's payment of dues do not entitle it to "buy" a Security Council seat.

She said that UN dues structures are based on the size of a country's economy – so that the actual economic impact of the 20 percent payment to the UN on Japan's economy is no different from the effect of the few tens of thousands of dollars paid by the poorest countries of south Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

"The legitimacy of the undemocratic and discredited Council will not be served by adding Japan, another wealthy northern country to its list of already over-represented wealthy northern countries," she added.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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