Join the Club: Japan's Security Council Bid

By Bruemmer, Emily | Harvard International Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Join the Club: Japan's Security Council Bid

Bruemmer, Emily, Harvard International Review

Will Japan finally attain a permanent spot on the Security Council? The nation obtained a rotating seat for the 2005 to 2006 term, and now it wants to stay. Permanent membership has become a priority for Japan. Its leaders have certainly presented a convincing case. In fact, many countries arc demanding a reform of the UN's most influential organ. Until January 2006, Japan united with a number of these nations, namely Germany, India, and Brazil, into an unlikely bloc referred to as the "Group of Four" (G4) and demanded a Security Council reform to establish them as permanent members, with veto rights. Yet Japan has now set off on a new course: rather than oppose an alternative plan offered by the African Union, it will consult with the United States while forming an individual case for membership.


The demands for reform have gained widespread support--many countries feel that the five permanent members, the P5, represent the power structure of 1945 that is no longer relevant. Among these calls for inclusion is Japan's claim that its contributions to the United Nations and its increased role in peacekeeping operations merit recognition. Japan's bid is supported by many South Asian nations, but it has drawn sharp criticism from its closest neighbors, China and the Koreas. Although the United States seems to approve of Japanese inclusion, US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton's statements indicate a conservative stance on Security Council reform. The ultimate outcome of this diplomatic reshuffling could have dramatic implications for Japan, Asia, and the United Nations' hope to be an effective international organization.

A restructured Security Council with a more accurate representation of the world order is not impossible. Japan, for all the controversy surrounding its bid, must be at the center of any effort. It has one of the strongest cases of any aspiring member and has been lobbying for the longest amount of time. Now, with fellow nation-states becoming serious about reform, Japan may finally have its chance to instigate change.

Reform: Past and Present

The topic of Security Council reform is hardly novel. The P5 nations--the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China--are the product of a post-World War II power configuration that is no longer relevant in the modern world. Many of the challenges faced by today's United Nations originate in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. With nearly all veto power concentrated in the West, the legitimacy of the Security Council's decisions is questionable. The Security Council, as it currently stands, is not properly configured for the 21st century.

It is no longer politically acceptable for veto power to be so asymmetrically apportioned, on either the East-West or the North-South axis. To date, the only precedents for Security Council membership change reflect differences in regime. There was a switch in 1971 when the People's Republic of China was recognized as China and another in 1991 when the USSR was replaced with the Russian Federation. However, besides these changes, the Council essentially remains as it was in 1946.

As the United Nations approaches reform on an unprecedented scale, fundamental questions arise. What type of Security Council does the world need? Should it reflect economic, diplomatic, or military influence? And even if this issue is settled, and a Council reflecting the general balance of power is instituted, who should be included? A seat to represent the interests of the Islamic world has also been discussed, but this is even more controversial, and it is doubtful that current veto holders will approve. Various proposals for the Security Council's reconstruction have been introduced, even by countries that are not seeking permanent membership. Italy, Mexico, Australia, and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) have each submitted plans. …

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