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The UN Security Council Is Struggling ‘Day by Day,’ Japan Says

todayMarch 13, 2024 7

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Secretary-General António Guterres, left, and Kazuyuki Yamazaki, permanent representative of Japan and president of the Security Council for March, before a recent meeting on Sudan and South Sudan. Only three months in the UN post, Yamakazi leads the Council on a range of crises this month, from the wars in Gaza and Ukraine to conflicts in parts of Africa, as Japan also highlights its own two signature debates: building peace and nuclear disarmament. ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO


One of Japan’s foreign policy pillars is to secure world peace and stability, but with wars and diverse conflicts raging in almost all regions of the globe, Japan, known for its decades of pacifism since World War II, said the United Nations Security Council is struggling with its primary job of building peace and preventing violent disputes.

The inadequacies are hardly new but they have become more intractable in the last few years, given Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza, where violations of international law are repeatedly carried out in full public view. In January, the International Court of Justice found claims by South Africa that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza “plausible.”

Japan is an elected member of the Council through December and holds the rotating presidency in March.

“Day by day, we are struggling to find the way forward or to improve the situation,” Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japan’s permanent representative to the UN, told PassBlue in an interview on March 8.

One focus of Japan this month is on “peacebuilding, sustaining conflict prevention and empowering all actors including women youth,” Yamazaki said. Rosemary DiCarlo, head of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, is expected to brief during the open debate on this topic on March 13.

Japan will also be taking on the issue of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation on March 18. Yamazaki, who assumed the ambassadorship only three months ago, said the ministerial-level debate is not just about one country — North Korea — but aligns with Japan’s commitment to promote a world free of nuclear weapons. Japan has not confirmed whether its foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, will preside at the meeting.

All five permanent Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States — are nuclear powers and signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the only binding commitment to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear states. It came into effect in 1970, and 191 countries are parties to it, except for the nuclear weapons outliers: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

It’s important, Yamazaki said, to highlight the Council’s role in preventing the use and spread of nuclear weapons and the technology behind them.

“We are very much concerned with the nuclear development of DPRK,” Yamazaki said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “It’s a very serious threat to us and also to our region, the province and the entire world. We would like to make sure that appropriate discussion be made in the Security Council in that context.”

For more than two decades, the country has been part of six-party talks with the US, Russia, South Korea and China to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. A year ago, Yamazaki’s immediate predecessor, Kimihiro Ishikane, blamed the Council in January 2023 for not being “successful in speaking in one voice on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) files.”

In fact, little has been done in the Council in the last year regarding North Korea’s threats. In November 2023, members held an open briefing on the matter, with a senior UN specialist saying that North Korea “is intent on continuing to pursue its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Mira Rapp-Hooper, special assistant and senior director for Indo-Pacific Affairs in the White House National Security Council, hinted at a US planto take “interim steps” in nuclear negotiations with North Korea. At a recent event in Washington, she also said that the US, Japan, and South Korea, all Council members, will be part “of our trilateral work” to continue to highlight “the need for the international community to address the DPRK’s repeated violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

North Korea media have reported that Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader, has continued to ramp up its nuclear arsenal, which now includes a range of intercontinental ballistic missile technologies. In mid-December, North Korea launched its first long-range ballistic missile test in five months; Japan and South Korea warned the world that the missile was capable of reaching anywhere in the US.

A month before the missile test, North Korea successfully launched a surveillance satellite into orbit. These actions are now threatening to undo the postwar military balance in northeast Asia, said Sheila Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy with the Council on Foreign Relations. Japan, she said, endures the constant fear of accidental misfiring by North Korea in Japanese civilian territory.

“The problem is the lack of transparency of North Korea,” Yamazaki said. “We know they made nuclear experiments. We know that they are developing missiles, including ballistic missiles, but there is no transparency on the side of North Korea.”

Smith said the two thematic debates of Japan for its Council presidency — preventing conflicts and building peace as well as nuclear disarmament — match its foreign policy and history of nuclear disasters. More than 350,000 people were killed by atomic bombs dropped by the US in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. It remains the only use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict.

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution staunchly renounces war and the use of force to settle international disputes. Smith told PassBlue that North Korea’s accrual of “fissile material and missiles” has made the commitment to that part of Japan’s constitution challenging. Despite the country’s reputation as pacifist, the Japanese military is one of the largest and most financed in the world. Although the country is not a nuclear power, its allyship with the US has extended the nuclear umbrella to the country to deter aggression by neighbors.

“The Japanese people, in addition to its political and diplomatic leadership, have a very strong position that Japan has the obligation to speak out about the consequences of war, in particular about the use of atomic weapons on civilian populations,” Smith said.

The Council will also concentrate in March on conflicts in various parts of Africa and Ukraine. The war in Gaza, between Israel and the Hamas militia, will remain on the agenda. On March 11, an afternoon meeting, requested by Israel through the US, is scheduled to draw attention to the recent UN report on sexual violence committed during the Oct. 7 massacre.

Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as their countries assume the rotating Council presidency. The column also regularly features an original podcast episode in our UNSCripted series. Although Yamazaki declined to be interviewed for the podcast, Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations participated.

Yamazaki’s interview by Zoom has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Written by: Contributed

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