Global Policy Forum

India, Japan Still Shooting for Security Council


By Alan Boyd

Asia Times
February 26, 2004

Japan and India are likely to be rewarded only second-tier status at best in an expanded United Nations Security Council, with historic rivals China and the United States looming large in shaping a pending reforms process. And it's likely to be a long wait.

A review panel assembled in November has come under intense pressure to give Asia a bigger voice in global affairs, and diplomats believe Tokyo and Delhi have done enough to sway three of the five permanent council members - Russia, France and the United Kingdom - but not China and the US. The five hold veto power on the 15-member council and the other 10 "revolving" members are chosen by regional groupings.

China, resentful of Japan's wartime occupation and suspicious of India's regional ambitions, is still holding out for the status quo, as is the US - despite the fact that Tokyo is the UN's second-largest contributor after Washington. Beijing has enough Third World clout to influence voting trends in the General Assembly. "In essence there has been no shift in what you would call the core position of the US and China since the debate kicked off a decade or more ago. This position is that additional council seats should only be awarded if they do not enjoy the same veto rights as the Perm 5," said a European diplomat.

Indonesia, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and possibly Nigeria, Egypt or South Africa are also viewed as candidates for membership, if the UN can finally agree to break with its post-World War II focus on the industrialized world. The most popular concept, originally put forward by Japan, is for the council's membership to be expanded from 15 to 24, with 10 permanent seats and 14 revolving seats that don't carry veto power.

Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked the 16-member Threats, Challenges and Change panel, headed by former Thai prime minister and diplomat Anand Panyarachun, to determine how the UN can reinvent itself to meet emerging security threats. It is meeting every two months and will report back in August.

Mounting concern that US has sidelined UN

Annan's intervention reflects mounting concern in diplomatic circles over the UN's impotency since the US broke with protocol - and most of world public opinion - last year and elected to pursue regime change in Iraq without a mandate from the Security Council, charged with ultimate authority for maintaining international peace and security in the UN Charter. Other than humanitarian aspects, the forum has virtually ceased to deal with security at any level. Although the UN will assume a belated role in Iraq's political transfer of power and reconstruction, its effectiveness as a mediator has been severely undermined by US unilateralism.

Fewer than half of the 191 General Assembly members have met a requirement to file progress reports on their countermeasures against terrorism, and one-third of these states complained that the process was too demanding. "Once you devalue the UN's standing on an issue like terrorism, it becomes difficult to get compliance and the credibility problem is accentuated," said a second diplomat. "The UN has valuable operational functions as a coordinator of relief efforts, in reconstruction and as a facilitator of democratic institutions. It is vital, for those who believe in the value of multilateralism, that these roles be restated and protected through internal reform."

There is a general consensus that it will not be easy to make the Security Council work more effectively, or with greater impartiality, while the same five power brokers stay in control. None is ready to give up its elite status, despite the dramatic global shifts that have occurred since 1945, when the UN's mandate was drawn up. But they might accept a diminished veto if pressed by the main body of UN representation, the General Assembly, according to diplomatic observers. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they carry considerable moral weight.

The 191-member General Assembly too needs overhaul

An overhaul of the assembly itself, aimed at overcoming a polarization between the industrialized and developing worlds, could lead to a compromise on council representation if the disfranchised regions - Asia, Africa and South America - are given seats. However, the only formula likely to win broad support from both bodies is for a multi-tier Security Council that retains the Permanent Five bias. Newcomers would be able to submit and debate motions, but would not have the same veto power.

A diminished role for Japan and India might also earn grudging acceptance from Asian UN members. While much of Asia would welcome any reform that neutralized China's strategic and economic ascendancy, elevating Tokyo and Delhi to the same level might compound the problem.

India has strong backing from the UK and France, but faces a concerted Muslim campaign led by bitter foe Pakistan and Islamabad's mentor, Beijing. Japan must overcome East Asian fears of a military resurgence, while Indonesia's patchy human-rights record hinders its chances.

"Ultimately it will be a question of how we define eligibility. The Japanese have the stronger economic claims, but India can point to its population base and historic leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement," said another diplomat. "Do we use political power as the determinate? Or should seats be allocated on a regional quota system? These are questions for the assembly to resolve, if it indeed can."

Japan reportedly has been dangling oil contracts and expanded economic ties in exchange for China's vote, and lobbying Secretary General Annan directly. This week Annan became the first UN chief to address the Japanese Diet (parliament), but did not publicly endorse Japan's bid.

Japan's Iraq deployment helps, hurts council bid

Tokyo's decision to commit troops from its Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, in their first overseas deployment since World War II, has boosted its Security Council membership credentials in Europe and North America, but in Asia Japan's troop dispatch has only served to stiffen the opposition of Tokyo's wartime victims, such as South Korea and China.

In a move lacking diplomatic adroitness, Japan has threatened to reduce its UN financial contribution, now comprising almost 20 percent of collective payments to the general budget, in an effort to force the issue. This demonstrates a crude brinkmanship that could cost votes among the UN's Third World aid recipients, who would be hurt by a Japanese cutback, diplomats say. Even moderate Southeast Asian states are torn between an altruistic need to nurture the close economic relationship with Japan and a private desire to see Indonesia triumph. Only Malaysia has openly sided with the Indonesians.

One obstacle may be a perceived lack of enthusiasm for Japan's candidacy at home. Recent opinion polls have suggested that as few as 20 percent of Japanese strongly support the push for a Security Council seat, while 70 percent want a smaller financial burden. Permanent membership also carries added financial responsibilities to the world organization.

For its part, India has courted Pakistan with peace talks on Jammu and Kashmir, while pursuing warmer ties with the United States and its allies in East Asia and the security forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Yet the key to reform of the Security Council will lie with the less powerful but more representative General Assembly, which is in even greater need of an overhaul and presents a less sensitive target.

Panel member Sadako Ogata, a former UN high commissioner for refugees and current president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), warned in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that the Security Council debate was being overplayed.

Veto may not be so important anymore

"One thing to avoid is get side-tracked by what I might call 'quantitative issues' such as how many nations should be allowed permanent seats in the Security Council - and mistake such issues for more legitimate issues of UN reform. There were times when the Security Council proved effective, just as there were times when it didn't," Ogata said. "As for the veto power, there have been much fewer cases of anyone invoking it irresponsibly or arbitrarily since the end of the Cold War. We need to go over past records to examine who have invoked it, and under what circumstances," she said.

Two-thirds of the 191 General Assembly votes will be needed to secure a Security Council seat, and as many as 30-40 percent of members, mostly smaller non-aligned states, are believed to be still undecided on how to vote.

Another option favored by some assembly members is a formula that would award seats to regional security bodies rather than individual countries, thus satisfying demands for more representation without inciting bilateral tensions. Prominent candidates would include the European Union, the League of Arab States, the African Union and either ASEAN or its security offshoot, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

This might invite further polarization on regional or ideological lines, with the Third World routinely allying itself against the superpowers, though some observers believe that even this would be an improvement on the current state of paralysis.

But Ogata gave a hint of the mindset that has gripped the UN in response to Washington's unilateral move against Iraq. "No matter how cooperative the United States may become with the United Nations, the Americans will always draw a line somewhere. They would not accept any and all resolutions just because they bear the UN imprint," she said. "My understanding of the basic American approach to the United Nations and other international bodies is that however important these bodies' decisions may be, the United States will always make up its own mind."

More information on the Security Council
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