The United Nations General Assembly’s general debate headed into its second day Tuesday. After speeches by U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday, it was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s turn today. In his speech, Abe presented Japan’s vision for the United Nations, ending with a plea for Tokyo to take up a seat on the Security Council (UNSC).
“Japan seeks to become a permanent member of the Security Council and make a contribution commensurate with that stature,” Abe declared.
Indeed, much of Abe’s speech read like a cover letter for Japan’s bid to gain permanent membership in the UNSC. “Japan has a history of supporting nation-building in a variety of places,” Abe said. “Now more than ever, Japan wishes to offer that wealth of experience, unstintingly.”
Abe noted that Japan had been an active donor of humanitarian assistance. He also pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support assistance projects across the world, from helping Serbia and Macedonia deal with the current refugee crisis in Europe to building water and sewage systems in Iraq. As a specific example of Japan’s impact on the personal level, Abe cited the case of a mother who, when fleeing the violence in Syria, brought with her a notebook provided by Japan for recording her infant’s health information.
Abe presented a rosy picture of the United Nations, despite recent crises. “This body does impotently despond of the future,” he declared. Yet Abe, in his speech, mostly avoided discussing the thorny problems that have defied UN attempts at solutions, from the Syrian civil war (and the ensuring refugee crisis) to the rise of Islamic State. Abe even steered clear of emphasizing the importance of international law, a common theme for his speeches abroad but one that has undertones of criticism against Russia and China for their actions in Ukraine and the South China Sea (respectively).
The only international flashpoint that was referenced in Abe’s speech was North Korea. “Japan will work in coordination with relevant countries towards the comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues including abduction, nuclear and missile issues,” Abe said.
Rather than courting controversy by broaching issues that have divided the UN, Abe kept his focus on the humanitarian consequences of those crises, and what Japan is willing to do to address those issues. He used those promises to argue that Japan would be a valuable addition to the UN’s most exclusive club.
For one thing, Abe said, “Japan has strictly maintained itself as a peace-loving nation” since the end of World War II. He pointed to Japan’s contributions to peacekeeping operations and its willingness to do more to bridge the gap between planning and on-the-ground operations. Abe made his only reference to Japan’s controversial new security laws in this context, saying the reforms will allow Japan “to contribute to Peacekeeping Operations in a broader manner going forward.”
Abe also stressed that Japan’s preferred strategy for tackling international issues is empowering locals to take “ownership” to “determine the path of their own lives.” Japan “always makes efforts to be a country that listens actively to the voices of the parties concerned,” Abe said, pointing to recent dialogues with African and Pacific Island countries.
Abe concluded with his final pitch:
Holding aloft the flag of “Proactive Contributor to Peace based on the principle of international cooperation,” Japan is determined to undertake Security Council reform in order to transform the United Nations into a body appropriate for the 21st century, and then, as a permanent member of the Security Council, carry out its responsibilities in making still greater contributions towards world peace and prosperity.
Abe isn’t be alone in arguing for an expansion of the UNSC. As my colleague Ankit Panda noted last week, the leaders of the so-called G4 – Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan, all four of whom want permanent UNSC membership – met in New York on Saturday.
The four leaders agreed that now is the time to renew their push for UNSC reform. “Since the 2004 meeting of the G4, the situation in the world has changed. There is a mounting momentum for change,” Abe said, according to the Times of India.
Still, the G4 will find pushing for membership every bit as difficult as it has been in the past. A number of countries – including Pakistan, China, South Korea – are just as opposed to the G4 gaining permanent UNSC membership as Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan are determined to join.