Setback for Japan's UN ambitions

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JAPAN will not get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council by next year, as it had hoped, according to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali. Its campaign for greater recognition in the world body has been thrown into confusion by the reluctance of the new Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, and his Socialist Party, to support the bid.

Mr Boutros-Ghali is due to arrive in Tokyo on 11 September for a three-day visit that will focus on 'more involvement, more assistance and more participation by Japan in international affairs,' he told Japanese reporters in New York.

Japan's uncertainty over what role it should play in the world was illustrated by a front-page headline in the Asahi newspaper this week: 'The Prime Minister remains firmly on the fence regarding a permanent seat for Japan on the UN Security Council.' This came after Mr Murayama was unable to tell his hosts on a South-East Asian tour whether he thought Japan should raise its profile in the world body or not.

There are five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, Britain, France and China - representing the victors of the Second World War. Diplomats from Japan and Germany, which are both still described as 'enemy nations' in the UN charter, had hoped for a major revision of the UN's structure next year, the 50th anniversary of the body's founding. But a special commission investigating reform of the UN and expansion of the Security Council failed to come up with any concrete proposals this week. 'We are overloaded with daily problems,' Mr Boutros-Ghali told Japanese reporters in New York. 'It will take a long time, long discussions.'

A cabal of internationalists - mostly from the Foreign Ministry and the opposition Japan Renewal Party (JRP) - has been pushing for Japan to play a more active role in the world. Where was Japan in Rwanda, they ask. Or Somalia, or Bosnia? Or - the greatest humiliation yet - in the Gulf war?

The most vocal champion of the internationalists is Ichiro Ozawa, the JRP's de facto leader, who maintains that Japan cannot become a 'normal country' until it pulls its weight overseas. Among other things, he says, this would mean contributing troops to UN peace-keeping missions.

But opposing the internationalists is 50 years of state-sponsored pacifism, grounded in the clause of the post-war Constitution which renounces war and the use of force to settle international disputes.

This clause was originally intended to prevent any resurgence of militarism in Japan, but over the years it has been parlayed into a comfortable excuse for shunning any international conflict.