Japan to serve as a UNSC nonpermanent member for 2023-24

REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz,File
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya speaks during the U.N. Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security in Ukraine, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S., December 9, 2022.

Japan will serve as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council for two years starting in January 2023. It is Japan’s first time to be elected to the role in six years and its 12th time overall, more than any other nonpermanent member.

Japan aims to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by promoting the “rule of law” and expanding an international coalition against Russia, while also intending to lead discussions on U.N. reforms.

The U.N. Security Council is the most powerful body in the U.N. system. Only 15 out of 193 member states can belong to the council at once. Five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — enjoy the special position of always having seats on the council. They also each hold veto power. The remaining 10 nonpermanent members do not have veto power and their tenure is for two years.

For the month of January, Japan will chair the Security Council. On Jan. 12, Japan plans to convene an open ministerial debate on the theme of the “rule of law,” in which Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi will participate.

Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some countries voted against a resolution condemning Russia while others abstained, because countries traditionally close to Russia avoided directly criticizing it. The Japanese government believes that, if the theme is the “rule of law,” such countries might hesitate to express opposition, making it easier for Tokyo to obtain support from a wide range of countries and building an international coalition against Moscow, according to a senior official at the Foreign Ministry.

As for reform of the U.N. Security Council, Japan hopes to take advantage of its position as the chair of the Summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations to be held in 2023.

At a press conference Tuesday, Hayashi pointed out that abuse of the veto power by China and Russia has led to the dysfunction and impotence of the council. He expressed enthusiasm toward reform of the council, saying, “Japan will contribute to having the Security Council fulfill its own responsibilities.”

The Security Council has failed to pass not only the resolution against Russia’s invasion but also another resolution to strengthen sanctions against North Korea, which has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles, due to the vetoes exercised by China and Russia. Tokyo hopes to promote the reform of the council in order to deter Pyongyang from further developing its nuclear and missile capabilities.

However, restricting the use of the veto power would require the revision of the U.N. Charter. Prof. Thomas Weiss of the City University of New York Graduate Center, who is familiar with U.N. reform issues, points out that revision requires approval from China and Russia, which is extremely difficult to obtain.

For that reason, Japan will not rush to revise the charter but it will prioritize building an international consensus to isolate Russia.

Japan plans to focus on a new system regarding the exercise of the veto power by the Security Council’s permanent members. The new system, created in April, aims to hold the five permanent members accountable for their use of veto to the General Assembly. In June, the assembly held a meeting to call on China and Russia to explain their vetoes. “This highlighted the isolation of the two countries from the rest of the international community,” a source close to the Japanese government said.