Why Japan Will Never Be a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council

The Buzz

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent tour of South America, Central America and the Caribbean has been characterized by the international media as an attempt to match—if not outdo—Chinese President Xi Xinping’s own attempts to build economic relations in Latin America.  Yet Abe’s trip was not solely about spheres of economic influence: diplomatic and security issues were never far from the agenda, particularly regarding Japanese membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Next year, Japan hopes to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC.  First elected to the council in 1958 and last a member in 2010, Japan (along with Brazil) has spent more years on the UNSC than any other state, testament to the value that Japanese leaders have for generations placed upon membership of the UN’s chief security forum.  Obtaining the prize of representation has always required some expenditure of diplomatic—and economic—capital.  It is nothing new, then, for Abe to use his meetings with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to shore up votes for next October’s elections, which will take place within the UN General Assembly where every country has an equal vote.

Japan’s ambitions go far beyond recurrent non-permanent membership of the council, however.  Instead, Japan has long argued that the permanent membership of the UNSC—currently the Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States—should be expanded to include itself, Brazil, India and Germany, the so-called “Group of Four”.  Last week, Abe and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff restated their joint case for reform (a March 2011 pamphlet from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo gives further details on the Japanese position).

Although the objective of permanent membership is longstanding, Abe’s diplomatic push ahead of October 2015 inevitably will be seen abroad in the same light as his other foreign policies, several of which have been criticized as hawkish by neighboring governments—not least of all the Chinese, which bitterly opposes the Japanese bid.  Far beyond the unwanted symbolism of a fully rehabilitated and “normal” Japan on the UN Security Council, the very real powers that permanent membership would afford Tokyo are simply anathema to Beijing’s interests.

Unlike Abe’s others attempts to bolster Japan’s international security posture, however, the bid for permanent membership of the UNSC is something that China is able to block with relative ease. As an existing permanent member of the council, China wields a veto over any proposals to alter its composition.  Japan’s permanent membership is therefore not possible without Chinese consent.

As such, Japan’s membership of the P5 is a non-starter, but Japanese ambitions on the world stage will nevertheless redound to the fraught Sino-Japanese relationship.  During previous discussions about reform of the UN in April 2005, “tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the streets of major Chinese cities, throwing stones and other objects at the Japanese Council’s Office and vandalizing Japanese stores and restaurants.”  A decade on, domestic disgust at perceptions of Japanese hawkishness—stoked by state-controlled media—have hardly abated in China.

For years, Japan has proceeded cautiously and relatively successfully when it comes to pressing its case for reform of the UNSC.  Tokyo has the support of many nations large and small, and has made common cause with both Brazil and India (and Russia, for that matter)—China’s supposed allies in the BRICS bloc.  But Japan’s efforts never will be enough.  There is only one vote that matters when it comes to determining Japan’s future as a prospective permanent member of the Security Council and it is to be found in Beijing, not anywhere in Latin America.  Another round of non-permanent membership is thus the best that any number of Abe’s diplomatic offensives can buy.

Image: Flickr/CC 2.0 License. 

TopicsUnited Nations RegionsJapan

Forget the South China Sea: China's Great Game in the Arctic Draws Near

The Buzz

Twenty years from now China’s gaze will not focus upon the South China Sea or the Central Asian steppes to fuel economic growth. Instead, Beijing will look to a far more inhospitable place to satiate its appetite for natural resources. The vast, barren northern part of the planet called the Arctic Circle holds about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas. Greenland, sitting on the rim of the Arctic Circle, boasts of one of the world’s most abundant supplies of rare earths. By September of 2030, when many scientists believe the polar ice cap will have melted, the region may offer a bonanza for natural resources. By that time a new Great Game will have already enveloped the world’s most northernmost region. We can be sure that China will be eager to play.

Although it is the world’s second biggest economy, China depends on imports for many of the raw goods it needs to fuel its relentless pace of economic growth. In the coming decades, it will have to look for natural resources farther and farther away from the mainland if it is to continue on its current pace of development. This explains China’s recent moves into the South China Sea (SCS) and its interest in resource-rich Africa. But China still risks a catastrophic supply shock if war were ever to break out in the SCS since most of its trade passes through the Straits of Malacca. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) that passes through the Arctic Circle thus offers China an unprecedented opportunity to diversify its trade routes and tap into untouched natural resources. Furthermore, trade between China and Europe via the NSR will be faster and cheaper: the NSR shortens the distance between Rotterdam and Shanghai by some 3,000 miles and saves thousands of dollars on fuel. Some scenarios suggest that 5-15% of Chinese trade could pass through Arctic waters by 2020. It is no wonder that China has been making great efforts to improve its relationships with Arctic Circle states.

Yet despite all its advances into the region China is not an Arctic Circle state and it does not sit on the Arctic Council, which currently consists solely of Arctic Circle states. So far this has been to China’s benefit. As a neutral observer of the Arctic Council, China has avoided the kinds of disputes Russia has had with member states—like one that erupted when Russia planted its flag at the North Pole in 2007—that have hurt its influence on the council. China has stuck to its scientific and environmental projects to build credibility.

In fact, China is going to spend $60 million dollars a year on polar research at its new China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai. A commitment to conducting rescue missions in the Arctic has also helped improve its image. But for all its efforts in science it is clear why China is in the Arctic: natural resources and trade. Strengthening bilateral relationships with Arctic Council members is, therefore, of paramount importance to Beijing. China prefers these types of relationships because it can bring its economic might to bear on smaller states separately. A new free-trade deal with Iceland and $500 million dollar currency-exchange support program for Icelandic banks are just the beginnings of this strategy. The more economically dependent these smaller states are on China the more likely they are to give Beijing a permanent seat on the Arctic Council, even if it is not an Arctic border state.

Recent world events also point in China’s favor as the Great Game in the Arctic becomes an ever more real phenomenon. It looks as if Russia will become isolated from the West as a result of the Ukraine crisis. This will have major implications for Russia’s position in the Arctic. As the new Sino-Russian gas deal shows, China is Russia’s most natural partner in the East when it comes to energy and large-scale trade. Russian companies, isolated from western partners, will have to turn to Beijing for money and assistance in the Arctic. Indeed, China National Petroleum Corporation already has made a deal with Rosneft, the Russian energy giant, for Arctic oil exploration. Joint deals like this one will be crucial if China is to access the region’s untapped oil reserves because most of the oil along the NSR is within Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. These trends will only continue as China’s energy needs grow.

The Great Game in the Arctic Circle is just beginning. For now, it will continue to be shaped by events far away from the polar ice cap. Soon that may change. The West should recognize China’s ambitions; the Far North may not remain cold forever.

TopicsChina RegionsArctic Ocean

Ghosts of 1914: The West Risks Creating a "Central Powers 2.0"

The Buzz

One hundred years ago last Wednesday, an aide informed German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg that Russia's Tsar Nicholas II had mobilized 1.3 million soldiers against Germany.

This was not how the July Crisis was supposed to end: for weeks Berlin had wholeheartedly supported its Austro-Hungarian ally in the belief that a conflict, if it came, could be confined to the Balkans. Now a general European war between the Central Powers and Russia and France was unavoidable. On August 4, the British Empire's 400 million subjects joined them.

The reasons for the division of Europe into opposing armed camps were many.

But, as the best new research on the war's origins - and in a sea of timely publications, Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers and Margaret MacMillan's The War that Ended Peace stand out - shows, one of the most striking features of European diplomacy in the lead-up to the First World War was the declining ability of other powers to credit the strategic interests of the great power - Austria-Hungary - that would eventually plunge the continent into war.

This collapse of sympathy for the Habsburg Dual Monarchy - the “corpse on the Danube,” as its detractors called it - was especially pronounced on the part of Britain, a power that had otherwise few reasons to fall out with Vienna and many to maintain its traditionally friendly posture: with a strategic location in central Europe, Austria had been a useful lever against France; and the Habsburgs shared London's overriding interest in forestalling Russian designs on the Straits and their Balkan approaches.

France, too, until Bismarck's German empire dragged its attention back to Europe, worried about Russian designs on Ottoman Turkey. In the Crimean War, Britain, France and Austria worked together to prevent its destruction.

By 1900, however, France, infatuated with its Russian ally, was increasingly deaf to Austria's interests, most fatefully in the Balkans, where French armaments firms were increasingly out-competing Austrian ones - and where, during the July Crisis, Paris gave St. Petersburg unfailing (if not recklessly provocative) diplomatic support.

Between 1900 and 1914, German industrial and military power grew with leaps and bounds. And both liberal Britain and Republican France might have found in an aristocratic, but far from autocratic, Austria a useful counterweight - if not as an ally, then at least in preserving Vienna as an independent pole in the European state system.

They didn't.

Instead, a certain closure of Anglo-French imagination pushed Austria-Hungary into a growing reliance - indeed, dependence - on neighbouring Germany, a power that had humiliated it on the battlefield in 1866, and destroyed, for the sake of its own unification, Vienna's centuries-old leadership of the German states.

Despite the differences that remained between them (Austrian diplomats often found German diplomacy provocative and ham-fisted), the marriage of convenience proved surprisingly strong and effective: inferiority in manpower and industrial production notwithstanding, the Central Powers came close to winning the war (see now Alexander Watson's Ring of Steel).

Today, as China's growing power draws America ever deeper into a great-power standoff in East Asia, the West's tone deaf policies in Western Eurasia risk midwifing a Sino-Russian alliance of the contained and sanctioned - a 'Central Powers 2.0' on a hemispheric scale.

For the more the West isolates Russia, the more Moscow's "axis of convenience" with Beijing will become one of substance, if not dependence. As Ali Wyne, arguing from the other side of the table in The Strategist, has put it:

By further isolating itself from the West, Russia has given China even more leverage in their already asymmetric relationship. China increasingly regards Russia as a declining power, not a strategic partner. To stay in its good graces, Russia will feel compelled to supply China with energy, weapons systems, and other vital commodities at discounted prices. Add diplomatic subservience, and this won't be great for Russia.

But whether you blame the West or Russia for their estrangement, it nonetheless represents an opportunity for a huge increase in potential Chinese power. The geopolitical fallout from the EU's courtship of Ukraine could deliver the world's most destructive nuclear arsenal and the hydrocarbons and minerals beneath one sixth of the earth's land surface into the lap of the Chinese Communist Party.

From competition for power and influence in Central Asia (already becoming a Sino-Russian condominium) to the worrying demographic imbalance on either side of their long Siberian border, there's plenty to pull Moscow and Beijing apart.

But if pushed together, on almost every measure of potential power, Russia and China would be a formidable combination.

As Chinese power grows, therefore, it makes sense for the West to ensure that a cooperative relationship with Russia remains possible. Yet the enactment of sanctions could sour relations for decades to come.

In four centuries, Russia hasn't yet reached the view that Ukraine is peripheral to its interests.

During the July Crisis a century ago, Austria-Hungary and its powerful ally ultimately decided that, despite the risks, the defense of interests that other powers discounted justified the actions they adopted. The Central Powers lost. But the price the Allies paid for victory was high.

The Second World War was about many things, but one of them was the nigh impossible decisions the Allied peacemakers had made when, faced with maddening historical, ethnic, linguistic and folkloristic arguments, they dissected the Austro-Hungarian corpse.

Even in defeat, Austria-Hungary is a powerful warning of why the West should avoid pushing too gleefully on the Russian door. From Grozny to Vladivostok, via Muslim Tatarstan, Buddhist Tuva and neo-animist Yakutsk, a Russian implosion would create an even greater nightmare.

Whether as an ally of an increasingly assertive, authoritarian China, as a source of Chinese energy and resources, or as a failed state, therefore, Russia and its 21st century geopolitical disposition is of critical interest to every Western government - especially if, in the same way Ottoman Turkey threw its lot in with last century's Central Powers, an isolated and embittered Iran joins them.

A course of action that sets out to contain or sanction the better part of Eurasia is likely to fail.

Let's return to 1914.

When Vienna's sternly-worded ultimatum to Serbia came, London couldn't understand the political and strategic considerations that had shaped it - to Churchill, "the most insolent document of its kind ever devised." In its humiliating conditions, London saw a thinly veiled declaration of war on Belgrade - though, as Clark notes, Vienna demanded a less substantial surrender of Serbian sovereignty than NATO's 1999 ultimatum over Kosovo.

Fostered by years of indifference to Austrian interests, London's incomprehension was largely hypocritical, of course. For centuries, the British Empire had grown as a result of colonial infractions far lesser than the assassination of an archduke.

Our perspective on events is rarely neutral, but its consequences far-reaching.

After a more than decade of war against "rogue states" in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West might better appreciate today Vienna's determination to crush the state-sponsored terror that, modern research now shows, had slipped its fingers about the levers of power in Belgrade.

Of course, today's Ukraine is not the quasi terrorist state Austria-Hungary faced. But, to Moscow, its creeping admission to a hostile Western bloc is probably far worse.

On the threshold of a century that will test the West's 500-year global dominance, Western diplomacy would score a massive own-goal if its blindness to Russia's interests in western Eurasia gave rise to a Central-Powers-style bloc at the heart of Mackinder's famous "world-island".

The warning from 1914 is that if we pick our enemies blithely, even in victory, the future can always be worse.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia. This article first appeared in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The Drum here

Image: Office of the President, Russian Federation. 

TopicsHistory RegionsEurasia

Chinese Assertiveness Has Asia on Edge: How to Respond

The Buzz

A recent Pew Research Poll made clear that publics in East Asia are increasingly uneasy about the destabilizing effects of China’s maritime assertiveness. Among the eight countries surveyed—including China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam—majorities in each country said they were concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighboring countries could lead to a military conflict.

Rather than “China threat theory,” an oft-used phrase in Beijing to deride anxieties about China’s rise, it appears we’re now seeing “China threat reality.” 

Though difficult to poll with similar fidelity, there is little question that governments in the region are at least as concerned as their publics and have already begun taking measures to prepare for, and if necessary defend against, further Chinese attempts at economic, military and diplomatic coercion.

Strategies for responding to Chinese assertiveness certainly differ from capital to capital, but all can be characterized as portfolio strategies that simultaneously pursue multiple avenues to deal with a country that has overwhelming advantages in size and wealth. 

The principal elements of these portfolio strategies include the following:

1. Military modernization: Countries throughout the region are stepping up efforts to develop their militaries in ways that reflect growing concerns about Chinese assertiveness, as underscored by the Pew survey. Given rapid military modernization in China, a number of countries are garnering asymmetric capabilities to deal with China’s overall military advantage, as exemplified by Vietnam’s acquisition of six Kilo-class submarines from Russia. Japan is meanwhile developing greater amphibious capabilities to defend “remote islands” like the Senkakus. 

2. Enhanced cooperation with the United States: U.S. allies and partners are moving to deepen security cooperation with the United States in order to supplement weaker, and in some instances nonexistent, capabilities. Countries on the frontlines of China’s territorial disputes—including Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—have all reached out to Washington in recent years for stronger military ties. 

3. Intra-Asian security partnerships: A critical trend in the Asian security landscape is the rise of bilateral security ties within the region. Given combined concerns about the rise of China and the durability of the U.S. commitment to the region, countries are increasingly working together on building capacity and developing joint strategies to manage the China challenge. Such efforts include Japan’s outreach to the Philippines, Australia and Vietnam, as well as among the South China Sea claimants—particularly Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam—meeting more frequently to coordinate and devise joint responses. CNAS research has described how these intra-Asian cooperative arrangements are on balance beneficial to U.S. interests and regional stability.

4. Regional institutions and international law: Smaller ASEAN countries have at times appeared to internalize the mantra of “hang together or hang alone.” The point being that only as a collective can Southeast Asian states have sufficient economic and political heft to deal on equal terms with Beijing. Similarly, the Philippines has sought multilateral arbitration mechanisms in an attempt to move its maritime disputes with China from a deeply asymmetric bilateral dynamic to one that implicates international law and the international community. 

5. Engagement with China: Despite deep concerns about the potential for China to use coercive measures to settle political disputes, it is also the case that countries in the region, largely for economic reasons, are striving for stable, if not positive, relations with Beijing. This reflects the reality that, unlike the United States who can come and go as it pleases, China will remain a geographic reality in Asia. The result is that engagement with China has been a key feature of most Asian countries’ efforts to manage their concerns about China’s rise. 

While none of these approaches is, in and of itself, likely sufficient to shape China’s behavior, multifaceted portfolio strategies may harbor the potential to contribute to a more stable and peaceful region.

Ely Ratner (@elyratner) is senior fellow and deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (@CNASdc). The following article first appeared on the CNAS Blog: The Agenda here

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Dedication, Destruction and Hamas

Paul Pillar

Applying a familiar label or phrase can be a substitute for good analysis, or for any analysis at all. The application activates a set of presumptions associated with the label or phrase while brushing aside any other relevant facts that may contradict those presumptions. The current conflict in Gaza has stimulated a surge in application of such rote phrases to one of the belligerents: Hamas. Besides the familiar label of “terrorist group,” which ignores other dimensions of Hamas as well as ignoring who is applying most lethal force against civilians, there also is the catchphrase that Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” It is not just the Israeli government that keeps uttering that phrase, or even commentators seeking to justify Israel actions; one sees it in mainstream press in what are supposed to be objectively reported articles.

In assessing the validity of the phrase, let us set aside some related issues that also are very important in assessing what is going on today in the Gaza Strip. One concerns the origin of this conflagration, which began when the Netanyahu government seized upon a kidnapping and murder in the West Bank, blamed it (falsely, we now know) on Hamas, launched large-scale raids and arrests, including detentions that reneged on a previous agreement with Hamas, and applied lethal force both in the West Bank and along the Gaza Strip that killed at least nine Palestinians—all before Hamas fired a single rocket or sent a single fighter through a tunnel in this round of fighting. A second concerns how the slaughter of innocent civilians has reached wholesale proportions far beyond what can be justified by even the most nefarious intentions imputed to the adversary or by excuses about difficulties of targeting in close quarters. A third involves how given the misery that had already been inflicted on Gazans in their open-air prison, it would be astounding if many did not hold intensely hostile attitudes toward Israel; if somehow Hamas could be made to go away it would just open space for groups more radical and unyielding than it.

Hamas does not have anything close to a capability to destroy Israel, and never will. The imbalance of strength is so lopsided as to make any talk of destruction of Israel, which has one of the most able military forces in the world, ludicrous. This is reflected in the results of the current fighting—and especially in the killing of innocent civilians, which is supposedly the chief focus of worries about Hamas. Hamas is probably giving everything it has got to the military effort, but the latest tally of civilians killed is three in Israel and probably more than a thousand in the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, Hamas leaders are certainly smart enough to realize their group will never have anything close to a capability to destroy Israel, even if they wanted to do so. Remember, these are the same leaders who currently are being given much credit for cleverness with regard to use of the tunnels. Hamas is not dedicated to something it knows it could never do anyway.

Most important, Hamas now has a substantial track record that contradicts the catchphrase. A recent article by John Judis reviews some of the relevant history. Hamas has repeatedly made it clear it will accept a long-term (meaning decades) hudna or truce with Israel, and who knows how much can change in decades, especially if there were such an agreed-upon peace. Hamas has repeatedly made it clear it would accept a comprehensive peace accord with Israel if approved by a majority of Palestinians in a referendum. In its recent pact with Fatah (destruction of that pact evidently being the main purpose of the Netanyahu government's aggressive moves leading to the current fighting), Hamas agreed to surrender power to, and to support, a Palestinian government in which Hamas was given no portfolios and which explicitly accepts all the usual Western demands about recognizing Israel, adhering to all previous agreements, and adhering to non-violence. If this is the record of a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, then the term dedicated has some new and unknown meaning. Hamas certainly does have a longer term goal, more attractive to it; that goal is to wield power over Palestinians in a Palestinian state.

Reference keeps getting made to extreme language in a party's charter (just as it was for years to the PLO's charter) and to Hamas leaders not uttering explicitly some phrase such as “I recognize Israel's right to exist”. Why should they, when Israel clearly does not recognize any right of Hamas to exist, and has given no hints that it ever would? Rather than saying Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, it would be closer to the truth to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas—although even that statement is not entirely true, because the current Israeli government implicitly relies on Hamas to police the Gaza Strip and explicitly relies on it as a bugbear and excuse for not negotiating seriously about Palestinian statehood.

Acceptance of statehood on the other side is indeed the critical comparison. In contrast to Hamas making it clear it would accept a two-state solution, the current Israeli government has not. Some members of the ruling coalition have been explicit in rejecting it and talking about their objective of an Eretz Israel from sea to river. Netanyahu, who in many respects is one of the most moderate members of his own coalition, has given lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state but more recently, and evidently more honestly, has talked about Israel continuing a military occupation of the West Bank permanently. In assessing barriers to a complete peace settlement, let alone to a truce to end the current hostilities, one question to ask is: which side's ambitions, or dedication to objectives, is the larger impediment? A second question is: which matters more, words (even if they are either empty promises to the other side, or high-flown rhetoric to one's own side) or deeds?

It will be hard enough to obtain even a short-term ceasing of the ongoing bloodshed, without feeding the fire with familiar but false phrases about who supposedly is dedicated to the destruction of whom. One of the main reasons it is hard is that Israel appears dedicated to giving Hamas no reason to stop fighting. Part of the background to this problem, which Nathan Thrall summarizes in a new article, is the last Hamas-Israeli ceasefire agreement in November 2012, which Hamas did its best to observe but Israel did not. Violent acts in the first few months after the agreement, including gunfire at farmers and fishermen, were almost all committed by Israel, which also did not fulfill a commitment to end the blockade of Gaza and to initiate indirect talks with Hamas about implementation of the agreement. As Thrall observes, “The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to honor it.”

TopicsIsrael Palestinian Territories RegionsMiddle East