Monday, February 19, 2007

The Not So Great Game: Japan's Hunt for a Security Council Seat

It must be a great relief to the impoverished nations of Inner Asia and the South Pacific to know that, in addition to the profitable competition between the PRC and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition, there is another cash cow dangling its teat over the region—Japan.

Winning one of the non-permanent two-year elected seats on the Security Council allocated to Asia in 2008 is important enough to Japan that it has made winning regional support for its bid a focus of its financial diplomacy.

A Korean news outlet reported on January 26, 2007:

Prime Minister Abe had just received a long-awaited present from the Mongolian president: during the telephone conversation, President Enkhbayar said his nation would withdraw its candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. He had reportedly urged Japan to run for the spot instead...

Junichiro Koizumi, then Japanese prime minister, visited Mongolia last summer to pledge assistance of US$350 million. Japan's last term on the council was made possible when Papua New Guinea withdrew its candidacy in 2004 due to financial problems.

This $350 million was on top of a big chunk of change handed out in May 2006 to the South Pacific, albeit as part of an initiative to support Australia and New Zealand’s ham-handed efforts in the region to counter Chinese influence.

As reported by the AP :

Japan lavished Yen 45 billion (US$410 million) in fresh aid to Pacific Island nations at a leaders' summit yesterday and walked away with unified support for Tokyo's bid to join the UN Security Council [as a permanent member-ed.]. (Japan Lavishes Aid on Pacific Islands, Taipei Times, May 28, 2006)

The beneficiaries of this largess were Scrabble powerhouses Fiji, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, Cook Islands ,the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, and Tuvalu.

Japan, of course, yearns for a permanent Security Council seat, together with the rest of the G-4 group of aspirants—Germany, India, and Brazil—to which it has linked its candidacy.

It views occupying a non-permanent seat as an important part of this effort, allowing it to demonstrate a deep involvement in Security Council affairs that, together with its significant financial support of UN operations, justifies a permanent position on the council.

As the withdrawal of Papua New Guinea in 2004 implies, wading through mountains of Security Council paper work requires a commitment of personnel, time, and money that smaller nations are not necessarily eager to make.

Holding a non-veto wielding seat does have some practical advantages that are not immediately apparent. All 15 members of the Security Council serve on the various sanctions committees set up in support of UN resolutions against Iran and North Korea, which are tasked both with monitoring the sanctions regime and permitting exemptions.

Not unexpectedly, Iran is trying to get elected to a non-permanent seat, presumably so it can have a say in the sanctions regime imposed upon it, but its chances of success are considered slim.

By serving on the council as a non-permanent member and participating in the sanctions committees, Japan has an additional leverage over Teheran, an important but troublesome energy partner, and Pyongyang, the bugbear of North Asia.

Traditionally, campaigning for an elected seat has been a biennial circus of pleading, bribery, threats, and cajoling starring the various national representatives stationed in New York.

David Malone’s Eyes on the Prize in Global Governance, provides a brisk overview and a witty insider’s perspective on the frenetic campaigning circa 2000.

Malone reports that at that time upward of 25% of U.N. New York representatives either received no instructions from their capitals or received instructions but chose to ignore them. Aegean cruises, tickets to Circ du Soleil, and dinners too numerous to count were deployed in order to sway these discriminating voters.

The line between diplomacy and deception was a fine one, and was easily crossed.

Many others - fearing to indispose often more powerful states or simply hoping to get credit for a vote they will not cast - actively mislead others on their voting intentions. This factor seems to have badly tripped up Australia in 1996. In a press conference after that vote, Richard Butler referred to "rotten lying bastards" as the explanation for Canberra's loss. The recognized master of the electoral game at the UN, Italy's Permanent Representative Paolo Fulci, has developed a formula many believe foolproof: 10 percent of those commitments received in writing and 20 percent of those conveyed orally must be discounted. Failure to factor this formula into projections can lead to disaster.

The abrasiveness of Australia’s representative to the U.N. was a byword, according to Malone, and Australia’s defeat was attributed to “the Butler factor”.

Judging from Malone’s account, a pre-9/11 campaign for an elected seat on the UN would require, in addition to a fine understanding of human cupidity and duplicity, a budget of a perhaps a million dollars for staffing up and funding an intensive vote-winning effort.

Today, on the other hand, it appears to be a much bigger deal, involving not only national ego but national interests and, in the case of Iran, perhaps even national survival.

The 2006 election saw an epic contest between the United States’ champion, Guatemala, and Hector Chavez’s Venezuela, which had promoted its candidacy throughout the developing world with oil aid incentives, for the Latin American and Caribbean seat.

The vote went through 47 ballots before everybody threw in the towel and gave the nod to Panama as a compromise candidate.

Japan should be master of the game by now, having served as 9 terms as an elected member.

But however successfully it fairs in the 2008 elections for a two-year seat, Tokyo’s ambitions for a permanent seat may be doomed.

China, of course, wants no part of Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council and, given Japan’s close adherence to the U.S. line in international affairs, there doesn’t seem to be very strong support for a) offending China and b) giving the U.S. a second veto.

So it appears prudent of Mongolia’s Enkhbayar to support Japan’s election to two-year membership on the council and skirting support for a permanent seat that would have antagonized the dragon on his southern border.

One would think that Washington would encourage Japan’s use of yen diplomacy to buy influence in Asia at China’s expense, ostensibly for support of its UN ambitions.

However, in another example of the bewildering disconnect between the United States and its closest ally in the region, the U.S. is allowing UN reform—and expansion of the Security Council—to languish.

On February 18, 2007 the Daily Yomiuri reported Japan still far from permanent UNSC seat:

While pressing for Security Council reform as part of the G-4, Japan has been seeking strong U.S. support for its own plan for council reform, but the United States has shown little interest in the topic. The United States was the only permanent member of the Security Council that did not make a speech in the OEWG [Open Ended Working Group—as its name implies, a UN group founded in 1993 whose discussions on UN reform will apparently last for the rest of eternity—ed] meeting.

With South Korea, Italy, and Pakistan formally opposed to expansion, China hostile, and the U.S. disengaged, prospects for Japan successfully driving the process to obtain a permanent Security Council seat are grim.

And that makes the price of $350 million for Mongolia’s support of a non-permanent seat—and Abe’s reported joy and relief at Enhkbayars’s nod—almost inexplicable.