By Motohide Yoshikawa, former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations
Japan’s diplomacy may still be in the “training” phase. We first encountered modern diplomacy at the end of the Edo period. Our debut in multilateral diplomacy took place at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. When a new world order was established after World War I, we were unprepared and inexperienced in spite of being one of the victors. Other nations used to call us a “silent partner.”
Because of this experience, Japan’s Foreign Ministry initiated a reform movement that resulted in the creation of the foundation of our diplomatic training system, including study abroad programs.
Notwithstanding the training programs, Japan still lacks experts in multilateral diplomacy. In the Foreign Ministry, the majority of diplomats aspire to be involved in building bilateral relationships. That path is regarded as the “elite” course in the ministry that allows diplomats to move up to higher-level positions. This is because multilateral negotiations are more difficult and present more challenges in achieving concrete results than bilateral diplomacy with nations such as the U.S. and China.
Diplomacy is the art of persuasion through words. But in Japan, not many diplomats can speak multiple languages fluently.
Some say becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council is Japan’s long cherished desire, but I think it is Japan’s duty.
People stress the merits of obtaining the status of a world power and gaining access to valuable information. As a former Japanese ambassador to the UN who served until last year, I feel these are not the only benefits of membership. Personally, I believe merits such as the veto right are only of secondary importance.
Becoming a permanent member of the Security Council means taking part in multilateral diplomacy in which we are required to make decisions on all kinds of global issues, putting us in a position to be hated by other parties at times. We must decide on our basic stance.
I think it is most important to make sure that Japan is always present at the Security Council rather than trying to achieve the same status as other permanent members. Japan should lead efforts to maintain the international political order that has persisted for more than 70 years by rebuilding within the order instead of waging war.
The United Nations is neither incapable nor almighty. We need to better understand its reality and cooperate with the organization as well as utilize its functions accordingly. We tend to talk about monetary contributions and peace-keeping operations (PKO), but Japan is capable of making contributions in various other ways. I would like Japan to find other PKO missions for the Self-Defense Forces. Japan should aim to perform balanced activities that achieve the goals of peace and security, development, and human rights. (Abridged)
Motohide Yoshikawa was born in 1951 and studied in the U.S. during high school. He entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974, where he served as a director of the United Nations Policy Division and ambassador to Spain. Starting next month, he will be a professor by special appointment at International Christian University (ICU).