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Japan’s influence in UN waning after term as non-permanent UNSC member ended

NEW YORK, Kyodo – Japan ended its term as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) by the end of 2017 amid rising tension in the North Korea situation. Due to its economic downturn, Japan’s contribution to the UN regular budget is also expected to be overtaken by China in 2019, and Japan also withdrew from UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) in 2017. With its waning influence, Japan is facing difficulties in its UN diplomacy.


Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters at the UN headquarters on Dec. 15 as Japan ended its two-year term as non-permanent UNSC member in December: “Things will be a bit different, but we should be able to make Japan’s opinions reflected through the member states remaining in the UNSC.”


When Japan assumed the UNSC chairmanship in December, the first thing on its mind was North Korea, according to Ambassador to the UN Koro Bessho. Kono traveled to the U.S. to host a ministerial meeting. A meeting to discuss North Korea’s human rights issues was also held. A resolution on imposing stronger sanctions after the ICBM launch in late November was also passed.


UN member states cannot serve as non-permanent UNSC members for two consecutive terms. While Kono has announced that Japan intends to stand for election in 2022, for now, Japan is outside the UNSC.


A Japanese Foreign Ministry official is concerned that it will become difficult to convey “the Japanese people’s immediate sense of the North Korea threat” to the UNSC members. If North Korea embarks on further provocations, Japan’s only option is to rely on the U.S., a permanent UNSC member, to covey its views.


Discussions on UNSC reform, which will enable Japan to become a permanent UNSC member, will start in January. Japan has served the most number of terms, 11 times, on the UNSC among the UN member states. Therefore, if UNSC reforms are implemented, it will be a strong candidate to become a permanent member. However, UNSC reform has not gained much momentum so far.


The ratio of contributions to the UN’s regular budget is revised every three years. The next allotment will be finalized within this year to be reflected in the budgets for 2019-2021. Japan, which is currently the no. 2 provider of UN funds after the U.S., is expected to be overtaken by the no. 3 provider, China. Since permanent UNSC members make an extra contribution for PKO, in reality, China has already overtaken Japan.


In terms of human resources contribution, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) withdrew its PKO contingent in South Sudan last May, resulting in zero SDF personnel dispatched for PKO at present. Another longstanding problem is the small number of Japanese officials working for the UN despite the amount of contribution it provides, but the Foreign Ministry’s efforts have not produced any significant results.

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