Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

United Nations Becoming a Fossilized Coalition of the Willing
WATANABE Akio / President of Research Institute for Peace and Security

December 22, 2003
The latest war in Iraq has given rise to claims of obsolescence directed at the United Nations. That the U.N. is helpless in cases where the interests of the five vetoing member nations collide was a foregone conclusion from the very beginning, considering the system of the Security Council. This was common knowledge during the Cold War period, when the United States and Soviet Union were adversaries. The end of such hostilities removed this obstacle, raising people’s hopes for the United Nations. The Iraq War demonstrated that such hopes had been misplaced.

The United Nations was created by a coalition formed by nations bonded by their common hostility and fear against the Axis nations of Japan, Germany and Italy, whose original intention was to provide a security system for a world in the aftermath of an Axis defeat. In other words, the five major nations that created the United Nations and positioned themselves at its center were members of a "coalition of the willing" that fought the Axis. A coalition of the willing is a cooperative system formed by uniting the powers of member nations with common interests. However, to borrow the terminology of Constructivism – which has lately come into vogue – “common interests" are inherently "inter-subjective," and are by no means permanent or unshakable. To put it in even more extreme terms, they fluctuate with the circumstance and undergo constant change depending on the issue and perceived adversary. As such, a "coalition of the willing" mechanism based on a bond generated by the sharing of such common interests is destined to waver. This is evident in the fact that over the years minimum coalitions of the willing that most often consist of two or three countries have been formed and dissolved, only to be re-formed again.

The United Nations is built on the premise of comprising every nation on earth, and is a unique coalition of the willing in the sense that it is one with the maximum possible scope. However, a return to its origin reveals that it retains the characteristics of such a coalition. And so it was that, as soon as enemies immediately at hand such as Japan and Germany disappeared it split in two, marking the beginning of the Cold War between East and West. Subsequent reconciliation between the United States and the Soviet Union gave the appearance that the coalition had been resurrected, while the advent of a new common threat in the shape of "international terrorism" and "rogue nations" – representing a new Axis – seemed to have strengthened the unity of the United Nations. Though such an assessment had apparently been somewhat premature. Today's United Nations, organized and managed as if the international situation had remained unchanged over the past five decades, risks becoming fossilized unless something is done.

Over the years the United Nations has certainly responded to new developments by introducing measures that transcend its Charter, such as the Peace Keeping Operations. However, it remains riddled by fossilized aspects such as the "former enemy clause" against Japan and Germany and a Security Council where veto power is monopolized by nations who received "merit" for winning the war against the Axis. If the "new war" in which non-national entities such as terrorist organizations pose the main threat is indeed the future issue facing us, as is manifest in recent popular opinion, this process of fossilization may accelerate unless appropriate measures are implemented. Japan should perhaps present a reform proposal that would unseat those permanent members of the Security Council who refuse to make a certain level of financial contribution to the United Nations.

The writer is President of the Research Institute for Peace and Security. He is also Professor Emeritus at University of Tokyo.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渡邉昭夫 / 平和・安全保障研究所理事長

2003年 12月 22日




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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > United Nations Becoming a Fossilized Coalition of the Willing