Japan's Place on the Security Council

In a dangerous world, Japan seeks to turn the United Nations into a shrine of peace and stability. The country seeks the UN's assistance in the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the prevention of any recurrence of the tragedy of Hiroshima.

HIROSHIMA - Myoko Watanabe remembers the bright skies of August 6, 1945, that "gorgeous summer day." She has a map showing the spot where the atomic bomb struck, in the center of Hiroshima. She points to the location of her house, "exactly 2.2 kilometers from our ground zero."

Watanabe was 15 at the time. She remembers how at 8:15 A.M., when the bomb was dropped, the sky was suddenly painted in vivid yellow-orange-purple hues. She remembers how she protected herself in a corner of the house, "the way we had air raid exercises in school," how a whole wing of the building collapsed immediately.

She remembers the blood-covered face of her mother, the expressions of the terrified burned people on the street, their hair which stood straight up, contrary to the laws of nature. The tiny baby that tried to suckle her dead mother's breast. The horrific smell, which she still senses.

Her father, who arrived home injured and half naked, survived for only 10 days. Leukemia tortured her brother for years, until he died of the disease in 1963.

As Watanabe was telling her story, the prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, was about to address the U. N. General Assembly. He urged that his country be made a permanent member of the Security Council.

Watanabe is disappointed in her prime minister. She is afraid that his "arrogant conception" will lead the forgoing of a cornerstone of postwar Japanese policy; that becoming a member of the Security Council will oblige Japan to change its pacifist constitution and compel it to take an active part in war zones.

Koizumi promised the public that Japan will not have to pay the price of amending its constitution if it joins the Security Council. He declared that Article 9, which bars Japan from using force to settle international conflicts, will not be annulled.

His initiative is based on three central arguments. The first relates to the anachronistic structure of the United Nations, which is harmful to the world body's legitimacy.

The UN was founded by 51 countries after the Second World War; now, almost 60 years later, there are 191 members, but the organization continues to be dominated, distortingly, by the spirit of the Yalta Conference, which accorded supreme status to the "victors" in the war and enables them to go on determining the world order even though the world has changed dramatically.

Koizumi's second argument is based on the tremendous disparity between Japan's financial contribution to the UN and its international status. In 2003 Japan donated $263 million, which is 19.5 percent of the UN's annual budget and is more than was donated by Russia, China, Britain and France combined. Only the contribution of the United States (22 percent) is larger.

According to the American thinker Robert Kagan, in the new world order "the United States cooks the dinner and Europe washes the dishes." Japan's role, cynics say, is to underwrite the culinary event. But Japan is tired of being the "world's patsy." It wants recognition and honor.

The Japanese spent $13 billion to help finance the Gulf War in 1991. The contemptuous criticism of the international community, according to which they weren't partners to the "true effort" - the effort of the battlefield - echoes to this day in the political corridors of Tokyo. The Japanese learned the lesson. It is being manifested in the large-scale humanitarian effort they are making since then in peacekeeping missions around the world.Most striking of all is the rehabilitation missions assigned to the 550 Japanese troops in Iraq.

Japanese officials believe that the country's efforts should be enough to get it the coveted ticket to the Security Council. They are pinning their hopes on the momentum that may be generated in 2005, when the UN will mark the 60th anniversary of its founding. They are making light of the high obstacles that lie along the way: the opposition of Japan's neighbors, Korea, and especially China, with its veto power; the signals from Washington that Japan's inclusion in the Security Council will require a constitutional reform; and the regional rivals, which are liable to torpedo any project to expand the Security Council in favor of the permanent members, which want to maintain their dominance.

There are those who view Tokyo's quest for status and honor as a sign of the regeneration of the Japanese nationalist spirit. Others think that antimilitarism remains deeply implanted in the Japanese society. It is precisely the fact that Japan is not a nuclear power, and that it is the world's only victim of an atomic bomb, that accords it the distinctive voice that is so lacking today in the international community.

In a dangerous world, Japan seeks to turn the United Nations into a shrine of peace and stability, an institution that doesn't address only military threats but also the struggle against poverty, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the prevention of any recurrence of the tragedy of Hiroshima. Japan wants to make it possible for Watanabe to sleep quietly.