15 OCTOBER 2008


Japan's quest for a seat on the Security Council is not new. While waiting for a Permanent one, the second highest contributor to U.N. Budget had already occupied it before. Its competition with Iran for 2009-2010 will only add to its rotating membership one more time. But the pitch with which Japan is pursuing that as well as other U.N. initiatives, reflects a practical approach to highlight its international presence, and to play a role at least equal to its financial commitment.

Whether intended or not, the appointment of Ambassador Yukio Takasu in August of last year as its Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York made a marked difference, both in approach and substance. Perhaps a limited group of officials in Tokyo exclusively take the main decisions in U.N. affairs. From a distance, you couldn't see the tree from the forest. But when there is an active, knowledgeable person on the spot, results are quicker and more tangible. To have someone like Ambassador Yukio Takasu close to decision makers in New York means keeping in close touch with what is really going on and choosing the right time to make a required move. After all, he had worked within the U.N. Secretariat during a very difficult period, caught between many internal forces at play. As Controller in the mid-nineties, while commemorating the 50th anniversary, he managed a precarious shortage of governmental payment of dues, persistent request for staff cuts, and an unprecedented decrease in resources with an unprecedented increase in requested tasks. He got through with flying colours and, most important, his dignity intact and his popularity amongst his staff undiminished. Although he comes back under an exclusively Japanese hat, his approach to Secretariat senior officials give them the reassuring feeling that he does understand. He also helps in explaining to his diplomatic colleagues seemingly intricate questions in clear concise terms.

With the new ambassador's experienced and discreet role, after a decade of almost negligible, though correct, presence, Japan seems to be lifting its diplomatic pitch and effectively raising its international profile. The new appointment of a U.N. Controller from Japan was a practical step to justify further financial commitments. Already, the presence of Under-Secretary General Akasaka at the head of DPI gave Japan a leading role within the Secretariat leadership.

And as Koichiro Matsura prepares to leave UNESCO, another Japanese is proposed to head another key post: the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Mohammed El-Baradei will be leaving next year and Yukiya Amano, who chaired IEAE Board in 2005-2006 is campaigning to replace him. The 35 member Board will have to cast a 2/3 vote to elect the new chief -- by June 2009. There is no other serious competitor yet, though the Ambassador of South Africa in Vienna, Abdul Minly is sometimes mentioned. Yet, if there is any U.N. agency that would fit Japan's interest most, it would be the IAEA. For historic reasons -- even sentimental popular feelings -- Japan would have the greatest stake in strengthening the non-proliferation monitoring system. Another capable Japanese, our former colleague Nobuo Tanaka, is the Executive Director of another International Energy Agency. More active involvement in ensuring peaceful uses of unclear energy is not just a quest for a few senior posts, but it is an integral part of Japan's popular sentiment.

Particularly as former Foreign Minister Taro Aso took over as Prime Minister, it is hoped that Japan will continue to field the right individuals for relevant senior posts. Their active participation is important not only to qualify for their country's high share in the budget, but, more important, as in the case of IAEA, to inject their cultural political heritage more genuinely into the mainstream of U.N. policy.