Japan & the United Nations in a Turbulent World

May 29, 2013

His Excellency Tsuneo Nishida
, Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations

Roger Blissett
, Board of Directors, Foreign Policy Association

On May 29, 2013, His Excellency Tsuneo Nishida, Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations, visited Japan Society to discuss Japan's engagement with the United Nations.

Ambassador Nishida began by speaking about the tragic topic of abduction. "North Korea has abducted so many Japanese citizens, including one only 13 years old, a junior high school girl." This wasn't the work of "a yakuza or mafia group," but of North Korea. It's actually "an act of terrorism."

"The United Nations lives and works in a turbulent world with huge challenges," he said.

"Not a day goes by in which we don't hear news of the growing death toll in Syria. Nor do the provocative actions by North Korea seem to have any end. Suicide bombs, acts of terrorism, have become almost routine in many countries and in many regions."

"We're getting accustomed to it. Even we say 'Oh, only a hundred people killed.' That's the reaction," Ambassador Nishida said.

The very nature of conflicts has changed, as "conflicts within states, including ones involving non-state actors, have increased dramatically" since the UN's founding in 1945. "The recent uproars witnessed in North Africa and the Middle East are all good examples."

Globalization's advance brings "new and pressing challenges requiring a holistic and comprehensive approach. Terrorism, piracy, violation of human rights, issues related to women and youth, and migration—these are only some of the tasks the United Nations and its member states including Japan need to address."

"Shifts in the balance of political and economic power among member states are another very important aspect." The economic and financial crisis "has become a heavy drag on the influence of developed countries in the United Nations," while "emerging and developing countries are gaining an even more significant voice."

"I think it is very fair to say the world has become more and more fragmented and multi-polar—or to be more exact, I have to say, non-polar."

Since joining the UN in 1956, Japan "has consistently supported the work of the United Nations even in the face of our own hard times," both financially and in terms of leadership on the issues.

Maintenance of Peace and Security
Japan has taken part in UN peacekeeping operations for 20 years, Ambassador Nishida said. It's a main partner in the Peacebuilding Fund, contributing some $32.5 million. In one of many efforts to support the work of the UN in this area, Japan recently hosted a UN seminar on the evolving roles of engineering units in UN peacekeeping operations.

"Needless to mention the tragic memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan is strongly committed to disarmament and non-proliferation," and "has been leading negotiations for adopting resolutions on this topic at the UN General Assembly on an annual basis since 1994. Last year, the resolution proposed by Japan gathered 99 co-sponsors and support by 174 member states."

Japan is one of seven co-authors of the Arms Trade Treaty, adopted in April after seven long years of negotiation. To address loopholes in national regulations on disarmament and nonproliferation, the Japanese, Polish and Turkish missions get together regularly for conferences known as the Turtle Bay Security Roundtable [a session was held at Japan Society on June 10, 2013].

"The DPRK's nuclear and missile development programs pose serious threat to the entire international community and must not be treated as a regional problem," the ambassador said.

And "terrorism continues to be one of the most serious threats to international peace and security." In response to the recent attacks in Algeria that killed 10 Japanese citizens and to the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, "Japan has announced plans to further strengthen international counter-terrorism measures, support stabilizing the regions of the Sahel, North Africa and the Middle East and promote dialogue and exchanges with Islamic and Arab states."

Social and Economic Development
With less than a thousand days to go before the target date of the Millennium Development Goals, Japan has been working hard on education and health in particular. Looking ahead, Japan has organized an informal policy dialogue group called the Post-MDGs Contact Group, and will be working with the UN Development Group to conduct a series of thematic and regional consultations, with participants from civil society, the private sector, and women and youth.

"We cannot achieve poverty eradication, which is our ultimate goal in the post-2015 development agenda, without ensuring sustainability," he added. Thus the Rio+20 conference in 2012 focused on green economy and sustainable development, with Japan announcing its own "Green Future Initiatives" to explore sustainable growth.

The Fifth Tokyo International Conference for African Development, or TICAD V, will be held in Yokohama starting June 1. TICAD I was organized in 1993 as "the first high-level policy dialogue framework between African leaders and development partners including the United Nations, on issues facing Africa. Since then, it has evolved into a major framework for the promotion of development in Africa, under the principles of 'ownership' and 'partnership,'" the ambassador noted.

Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Japan, which serves on the UN's Human Rights Council for the 2013-2015 term, believes that "enduring peace and prosperity is not achievable if such a universal value as human rights is undermined," he said.

Thus Japan has supported and co-sponsored General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions on human rights in Syria; has contributed $80.5 million in humanitarian aid for Syria; and "will continue to support diplomatic efforts by Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States." Japan "strongly hopes that the upcoming International Conference on Syria, or the so-called Geneva II Conference, will be held successfully with a view to finding a political solution for this crisis."

Ambassador Nishida noted Japan's efforts over the course of many years towards an end to the all-pervasive human rights problems in North Korea. Japan has joined with the EU in introducing resolutions on the subject at the General Assembly, and "will cooperate in every way" to achieve success for the Commission of Inquiry on DPRK human rights abuses established last year by the Human Rights Council.

UN Reform

"The different issues I have touched upon are in fact all inter-connected and therefore a holistic and coordinated approach is required to resolve them," Ambassador Nishida commented. UN reform, and in particular Security Council reform, is "long overdue, and it is high time for all member states to start real negotiations with a sense of urgency and in a spirit of trust and flexibility."

Before concluding, Ambassador referred to "the rule of law" and "human security," concepts that "are of great importance to today's world."

Japan believes that "the rule of law is a core principle of governance," essential in ensuring "justice, stability and predictability," Ambassador Nishida said. This deep conviction is reflected in Japan's support for the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Likewise, Japan is devoted to the concept of human security, "which focuses on individuals instead of states and pursues ways to provide better conditions for them to live healthy, dignified, fulfilling lives they are entitled to." The concept aims to help "vulnerable people suffering in countries where government often dysfunctions, by empowering them and their communities, 'free from fear, free from want,' and [able to] 'live with dignity.'"


Presider Roger Blissett, a member of the Board of Directors at the Foreign Policy Association, asked the first question:

What are the guiding principles that direct Japan's relationship with China, South Korea and Russia?

Ambassador Nishida replied: "Japanese diplomats have been working in a very energetic way on how to establish a healthy and well-balanced relationship with all neighbors," which "have traditionally, historically, not only economically and politically been wonderful partners. And we have shared a long history, and I hope we will have a common future that will be really beneficial for all the neighbors."

"You don't have to be an economist: It's very clear. Korea, China, India and the others, they have been really booming." Japan wishes to reach out not just to governments in those countries—governments "are only a small part of the societies"—but "to the people, to the private sector, NGOs."

"The last 20 years, China has been emerging, and Japan has been suffering in a long tunnel. And therefore both sides, the people as a whole society, are not necessarily prepared [on] how to work together, how to see each other, and by doing so how to create new common opportunities. We can say that we are in a transitional phase."

Audience members joined in:

Do you see UN reform, Security Council reform, involving an expansion in the number of permanent members, and if so, do you see Japan as being one of those?

Ambassador Nishida drew an analogy to the renovations of the United Nations building, which are nearly complete. Why did the building need renovation? "Because it's old—it's obvious. Because you can see: The building is dirty; the building is not modern; the building is so shabby."

So with the structure of the United Nations as an organization: It's "the construction of an organization [that is] getting obsolete."

"What is a concrete plan? Of course it's different among member states. It's OK. We are always diversified. We are always different. Therefore we get together. Therefore we are diplomats.... So that is the task. And then, we need a process getting started."

When Japan recently sent an "envoy" to the DPRK, is the goal to encourage more discussion and political efforts with the DPRK?

"Member states like the United States, like China, and others," have long worked to "send some unified message to the people who govern this country. That is sometimes in the form of sanctions, sometimes in the form of a call for dialogue." So it's a "mixed approach."

Why isn't Japan more aggressive in addressing the nuclear nonproliferation issue? And regarding Security Council reform and expansion, I believe, it is necessary to make it more democratic, including the issue of the veto, how do you see it?

"First of all, when Japan decided to enter this then new regime, namely NPT [the Non-Proliferation Treaty], there was a heated discussion," the ambassador replied.

Japan and 10 other countries launched NPDI, the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative. These countries "share the same kind of middle of the road approach." It's a "feasible and realistic approach, so that we can create compromise and we can create a concrete result in the foreseeable future. That is our choice."

Second, on Security Council reform, "You're completely right," he said. Both permanent and nonpermanent seats need to be expanded, and the Council's "working methods must be more transparent [and] accountable."

—Katherine Hyde

Topics:  Policy

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