Japan May Cut Funds to the UN

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Stung by its failure to secure a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Japan is signaling -- not for the first time -- that it may reduce its sizeable financial contribution to the world body.

The warning comes at a time when the Bush administration faces calls in Congress to cut American funding to the U.N. if specified reform benchmarks aren't met.

As the second-largest donor to U.N. coffers, Tokyo has long argued that it deserves a permanent seat alongside the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia.

The Sankei Shimbun newspaper reports that Japan will seek to reduce its dues to the U.N. and push for China and Russia to pay more, effective from 2007.

Countries' contributions are calculated based on assessments of their relative "capacity to pay." Of the current permanent council members, the U.S. pays the ceiling rate of 22 percent, Britain pays 6.1, France 6, China 2.1 and Russia 1.1.

Japan and Germany, though not permanent members, are assessed at the second and third-highest rates, 19.5 and 8.7 percent respectively.

Assessments are reviewed every three years, and dues for the 2007-2010 period will be decided next year.

The newspaper quoted a government official as noting that Japan's share exceeded the combined contributions of four of the five permanent members.

"We have the recognition that Japan's share is too heavy," he said, noting that if Japan dropped its contribution, those of other countries would necessarily have to rise.

In an interview with The Times of London, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura complained that Japan had been making "a disproportionately big contribution."

Many Japanese people and lawmakers were "frustrated," he said.

Another Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, said earlier Japan planned to submit a resolution in the spring about U.N. contributions, and would try to get the support of other countries paying large amounts, such as Germany.

Years of campaigning culminated this year in a joint bid by Japan, Brazil, Germany and India - the Group of Four, or G-4 - for the Security Council to be expanded by six seats, in line with Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposals for U.N. reform.

But the G-4 initiative ran into opposition from numerous countries, including most significantly the U.S. and China. The aspirants saw this month's high-level U.N. summit in New York come and go with no movement on their bid.

On the broader issue of expanding the council, all that the summit achieved was a reference in its final document to the need to make the body "more broadly representative, efficient and transparent." How that happened was left to future discussions.

While in New York, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made it clear Japan wanted the issue settled by next September.

US: Other reforms needed first

China opposed the G-4 bid, it said, because of an evident lack of consensus at the U.N. over the question of expanding the council.

But its main reason was a determination not to let regional rival Japan acquire a seat. China is suspicious of Koizumi's move away from Japan's post-war pacifist constitution and towards a more assertive foreign policy.

The U.S., by contrast, supported Japan's bid as well as "greater representation for developing countries" - but not the G-4 initiative.

"We believe Japan's role in the world, not to mention its significant contributions to U.N. operations, warrant a permanent seat on the council, and we have long supported a permanent seat for Japan," Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, reiterated Thursday.

However, fundamental reforms to the U.N. needed to be enacted before "even bigger and more complex changes" like Security Council reform could be tackled, he told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Last July, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Machimura that the U.S. planned to oppose the G-4 proposal, the foreign minister warned that it was "not difficult to imagine that [Japanese] public opinion will quickly turn in favor of slashing Japan's contribution to the U.N."

This is not the first time Japan has been reported to be mulling a cutting its contributions, although this year's U.N. reform focus had raised expectations in Japan -- as in the other G-4 countries -- that the goal of a permanent seat was finally achievable.

In January 2004, Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that a trimming of the contribution to 15 percent was being considered because Japan felt it "has not been given its due in the global community despite its huge U.N. contribution."

Twelve months earlier the New York Times also reported on Japan's plans to cut its support.

In an editorial this week reflecting regional countries' current critical view of Japan, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Koizumi's government had "inflated expectations" at home.

"Now that is backfiring, it is putting pressure on the international community to save face over its diplomatic failure," it said. "Its antics suggest it is not quite ready for any greater international role."

William J. Dobson, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, said recently that to demonstrate leadership Japan should look beyond its financial contributions, to its foreign policy in general.

Although regional rivals like China and South Korea would resist attempts by Japan to assume a larger role, "in the eyes of the rest of the world, a robust Japanese foreign policy will make its claim to positions of leadership more convincing," he argued.

"Tokyo's dispatch of naval vessels in support of the war in Afghanistan, its participation in a growing number of peacekeeping missions, and its deployment of forces to Iraq has done more for Japan's international image than any amount of checkbook diplomacy," Dobson wrote.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow