But despite its nervousness about getting involved in any military conflict, the government is continuing its campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, arguing that its financial contributions to the UN are bigger and more promptly paid than current Security Council members. Permanent membership has come to symbolise for many Japanese their acceptance as a leading world power.
The apparent contradiction between the government's desire to play a larger role in the world and its inability to make difficult decisions over individual foreign policy issues is a hangover from the comfortable days of the Cold War when Japan relied on the United States for diplomatic leadership while concentrating exclusively on economic growth.
It is precisely this state of affairs that the new government of Morihiro Hosokawa set out to alter. The political reform bill, voted down by the Upper House of the Diet (parliament) last Friday, was just one part of the grand strategy to make Japan a 'normal country', as Ichiro Ozawa, the architect of the reform plan, put it. A joint committee of the upper and lower houses of the Diet is to convene today to seek a compromise on political reform.
Until recently, Japan had kept a very low profile over the break-up of Yugoslavia, just sending money for humanitarian relief. But in early January a fact-finding mission from the Foreign Ministry was sent to tour the region. It was led by Shunji Yanai, chief of the ministry's foreign policy bureau. Mr Yanai was asked by the UN for unarmed peace-keepers to join the 300 US troops and 22 unarmed observers currently in Macedonia.
Mr Yanai said that, because there was no fighting in Macedonia, the request was 'worth examining'. When his comments reached Tokyo the government took fright. The Foreign Minister, Tsutomu Hata, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Masayoshi Takemura, emphasised that no Japanese personnel would be sent.