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Ian Williams is Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus and columnist for the Tribune, and who recently completed a new edition of The U.N. for Beginners
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2015 (IPS) - Will Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council be frustrated by its Foreign Ministry’s undiplomatic and uncalled for attack on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon?
Japan’s attempt certainly will not be helped by the Japanese Foreign Ministry official who complained sniffily that the world body “should take a neutral position on events that focus mostly on the past” and expressed “strong displeasure” at Ban’s attendance in Beijing for the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
The churlish rebuff, with overtones of anti-Korean sentiment came just as the issue of reforming the Security Council is having a periodic upsurge of interest in this 70th session of the United Nations. It is of course no accident that the 70th Anniversary of the U.N. coincides with the 70th Anniversary of the end of the War. It was World War Two that gave birth to and shaped the United Nations, which is why China is on the Security Council and Japan is not.
But the U.N. Charter is about controlling inter-state aggression of the kind that the defeated nations in the Second World War indisputably started. Japan invaded its neighbors, not the other way round, and in general its occupations were brutal, despite the rhetoric about co-prosperity.
The U.N. is not neutral, it was an organization founded to defeat the Axis powers, particularly Germany and Japan and that is explicit in the U.N. Charter still. Although Poland moved a pious resolution in the General Assembly after the reunification of Germany declaring that the “enemy states” clause in the U.N. Charter no longer applies, the clause is still in the Charter – and the unrepentant attitude from the Abe administration is calculated to remind the Chinese, and indeed the Russians that because of the war they have a veto on all reform proposals.
Certainly, Poland realized that the reunified Germany was not the same country as in 1939 and was expediently magnanimous in its declaration. One can hardly imagine either of the Koreas emulating that with Japan, which had to be pressured by the other members of the Council to vote in the end for the Korean Secretary General to make it unanimous.
There is no end of skeptical comments one can make about the seventieth anniversary of Axis defeats. Historically, maybe Ban should have gone to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial in Taiwan – or the Republic of China as Beijing prefers they call themselves! It was after all the ROC not the PRC that was the official combatant and final victor in the war and which was accordingly granted a seat on the Security Council.
But then it was the USSR and not Russia that won a permanent seat and did so much to defeat the Nazis that we, as much as Moscow, tend to overlook the Stalin Hitler pact just before. Each of the victors has skeletons in their cupboards, from the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn Wood to Dresden and Hiroshima.
After 70 years, it is indisputably time to reform the Security Council, but it is also indisputable that the permanent five have a veto on that process and that many other members have mutually contradictory plans for how to reform it. It is highly likely that the Japanese comments have given ammunition to those hostile to its bid for a permanent seat.
There are in fact very good reasons, for justice and efficiency, not to expand the number of permanent seats on the council. Many countries have braved the displeasure of big neighbors who are candidates to say so, and to demand that at best the contestants be eligible for re-election or to have a longer mandate. The likely result is a stalemate in the reform process and Tokyo’s intemperate response has made that outcome even more likely. Chinese hostility and potential veto make the other reform proposals.
Speaking before the Beijing parade, Ban’s office said he “believes that it is important to reflect on the past, look at the lessons we have learned and how we can move ahead to a brighter future based on these lessons.” Shinzo Abe should have drawn some lessons. He would have been better accompanying his former colleague Tomiichi Murayama to Beijing and reinforcing his historic apology for the war in 1995 in Beijing.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.
Published: September 27, 2015 Last modified: September 22, 2015
As Robin Cook said, foreign policy must have an ethical dimension. He was cannily aware that nations have interests and that rules are, shall we say, guidelines. If Jeremy Corbyn is in Number 10 in the future, he too will have to confront real life ethical conundrums – and dare one commit thoughtcrime in this new age? Tony Blair was sometimes right. His action outside the United Nations chain of command in Sierra Leone was beneficial and effective in relieving the misery. He was also right over Kosovo where faced with unreasonable vetoes in the UN Security Council, it was right for Nato to threaten to invade – and if Bill Clinton had not disclaimed that option early, Slobodan Milosevic would have folded without the messy diversion of high level bombing designed to minimise American casualties. Without Blair’s efforts, the ethnically cleansed Kosovars would probably still be in refugee camps across the Balkans.
Iraq was different. The last invasion was disastrous for Iraq, the region – and for international law. As the Chilcot Inquiry should show, even through the layers of whitewash it has been accumulating over the years, it was an unnecessary and illegal war. Blair did serious damage to the growing concept of Responsibility to Protect by invoking humanitarian intervention as an excuse for Iraq, when he realised that the nebulous weapons of mass destruction were not going to solidify.
As an MP with an internationalist outlook, who has show deep concern for human rights and violations of international law, one would hope that a Corbyn administration would actively support moves to implement R2P, perhaps Kofi Annan’s greatest achievement, which is actively supported by Ban Ki-moon.
Annan got the 2005 summit of world leaders to declare that the UN’s enforcement clause, Chapter VII, is not restricted to conflicts between states, but also applies to mass violations of humanitarian law within states. That creates obligations on all members of the UN, and even more so on permanent members, to be able and ready to answer such calls for assistance. That should be taken into consideration as we correctly question the size, cost and purpose of the armed forces.
There might be pragmatic limits, but the United States veto on behalf of Israel in the Security Council should not inhibit a Labour government from taking action to deal with trade and aid for illegal settlements to implement existing resolutions.
Fulfilling Britain’s full potential in the United Nations might also involve a much more active role in the European Union. For a start, a joint declaration by Britain and France renouncing or limiting the conditions under which they use the veto could send an ethical signal to other existing or potential permanent members. On many issues, especially in the Middle East, the EU members collectively return resounding abstentions, and one reason cited has been Britain’s deference to American positions of unconditional support for Israel. More active British diplomacy would actually have a leveraged result in the general assembly and send the clear signals that Benjamin Netanyahu is currently not getting.
Which brings us to relations with the US. Pragmatically, when people talk about the special relationship in Washington it is the one with Israel, not with Britain. There is no British lobby in Congress to threaten electoral defeats.
However, it is also true that US administrations do genuinely want to have Britain onside for parlous initiatives. It is likely that British resistance to Iraq would have headed off the war instead of egging it on as Blair did.
The fervent ineptitude of Washington against Cuba and Venezuela, or indeed Putin’s Russia, should not blind us to the genuine authoritarian cast of those regimes. The 1945 Labour Government’s attitude to Russia was moulded by Moscow’s treatment of socialists in Eastern Europe and none of these icons of the far left have shown much more tolerance for dissent. A Labour prime minister has to steer between fostering delusions of grandeur of Britain’s reflected power from the so-called special relationship, and a Chomskyite world view that not a sparrow falls without the CIA targeting it. Geopolitics calls for nuance, not slogans.