Monday, July 18, 2005

"A Painful Diplomatic Debacle"

Tokyo badly miscalculated if it thought that its loyal support for Washington in sending troops to Iraq or allowing itself be drawn more closely to the defense of Taiwan would pay off in support for its own desire to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

When Japan’s plan to increase the membership of the Security Council from 15 to 25, with permanent membership for itself and five other countries, comes to a vote, probably sometime this coming week, it will likely fall short of the two-thirds majority, thanks in part to opposition from the United States.

Wrote the Asahi Shimbun: “Japan’s miscalculation was believing that the United States would support its reform proposal on the grounds that Tokyo is a loyal U.S. ally who would be welcomed into the elite club to help serve Washington’s interests. This is a painful diplomatic debacle for Tokyo.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura by phone that Washington could not support Tokyo’s plan to expand the Security Council, which involves granting permanent membership to Japan plus Germany, Brazil, India and two African countries.

Earlier in the year Rice had rather off-handedly announced that the U.S. would support Japan’s having a permanent seat and perhaps a couple others. This was disingenuous, since giving status to Japan alone was sure to be defeated by China. Tokyo’s wanted to neutralize China’s opposition by wrapping its ambition in the larger expansion.

But that strategy depended on America’s support, which was not forthcoming. Now Washington has, in effect, let China off the hook by taking on the onus of opposition to Japan’s membership by itself. You have to wonder why Japan doesn’t just pull out of the U.N. in pique, taking a fifth of the organization’s budget with it.

TigerHawk (www.tigerhawk.blogspot.com) speculates that Washington may have opposed Japan’s bid at this time to reward for Beijing for pressuring North Korea to return to the six-party talks, scheduled to begin in July 25. This is certainly plausible, since the timing seems to fit, although there were other inducements and pressures to get Pyongyang to return to the talks.

Neutralizing Pyongyang’s ambition to be a nuclear power is probably Washington’s highest foreign policy objective in Asia. It must have seemed important enough to stiff a key ally. Japan has hurt itself too by seeming to be more interested in the parochial issue of getting an accounting of its citizens abducted by North Korea than in ending a nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula.

Japan tabled its proposal, backed by 26 other U.N. members, on July 6. It adds 10 more seats to the 15-member Security Council, six of them permanent. Four of the permanent seats would go to Japan, Germany, India and Brazil and two others to as yet unnamed African countries, probably Nigeria and South Africa.

Changing the UN Charter requires approval of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly (128 of the 191 members) and ratification by two-thirds of the membership including all five permanent members.

Since its inception in 1945, the permanent five council members have been Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. The permanent members have a power to veto any Council decision, which guarantees leadership status in the international community.

On the face of it, Japan has a strong case. For one thing, currently provides 19.5% of the U.N.’s total budget, second only to the United States which, provides 22%. In other words, aside from the U.S., Japan contributes more than all of the other permanent members combined. It actively and constructively participates in U.N. peacekeeping actions (see list below).

Contributions of permanent members toward UN operating budget

U.S. 22%
Britain 6%
France 6%
China 2%
Russia 1%

Japan 19.5%

Japan’s recent contributions to U.N. operations

Afghanistan Refugee Relief
Angola Election monitoring
Bosnia Election monitoring
Cambodia Peacekeeping
El Salvador Election monitoring
East Timor Peacekeeping
Iraq Reconstruction
Rwanda Refugee Relief
Syria Peacekeeping (on Golan Heights)
Yugoslavia Election monitoring

China is still treated for budget purposes as a developing nation, even as it races toward becoming an economic powerhouse. One might think it would be required to pay as much as Britain or France do now or what Taiwan used to contribute – about 6% -- when the Republic of China held the China seat in the U.N.

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