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Japan Says the UN Security Council Is Struggling ‘Day by Day’ to Be Useful

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Secretary-General António Guterres, left, and Kazuyuki Yamazaki, permanent representative of Japan and president of the Security Council for March, before a recent meeting on Sudan and South Sudan. Only three months in the UN post, Yamakazi leads the Council on a range of crises this month, from the wars in Gaza and Ukraine to conflicts in parts of Africa, as Japan also highlights its own two signature debates: building peace and nuclear disarmament. ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO

One of Japan’s foreign policy pillars is to secure world peace and stability, but with wars and diverse conflicts raging in almost all regions of the globe, Japan, known for its decades of pacifism since World War II, said the United Nations Security Council is struggling with its primary job of building peace and preventing violent disputes.

The inadequacies are hardly new but they have become more intractable in the last few years, given Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza, where violations of international law are repeatedly carried out in full public view. In January, the International Court of Justice found claims by South Africa that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza “plausible.”

Japan is an elected member of the Council through December and holds the rotating presidency in March.

“Day by day, we are struggling to find the way forward or to improve the situation,” Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japan’s permanent representative to the UN, told PassBlue in an interview on March 8.

One focus of Japan this month is on “peacebuilding, sustaining conflict prevention and empowering all actors including women youth,” Yamazaki said. Rosemary DiCarlo, head of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, is expected to brief during the open debate on this topic on March 13.

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Japan will also be taking on the issue of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation on March 18. Yamazaki, who assumed the ambassadorship only three months ago, said the ministerial-level debate is not just about one country — North Korea — but aligns with Japan’s commitment to promote a world free of nuclear weapons. [On March 15, Japan confirmed that its foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, will preside at the meeting]

All five permanent Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States — are nuclear powers and signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the only binding commitment to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear states. It came into effect in 1970, and 191 countries are parties to it, except for the nuclear weapons outliers: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

It’s important, Yamazaki said, to highlight the Council’s role in preventing the use and spread of nuclear weapons and the technology behind them.

“We are very much concerned with the nuclear development of DPRK,” Yamazaki said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “It’s a very serious threat to us and also to our region, the province and the entire world. We would like to make sure that appropriate discussion be made in the Security Council in that context.”

For more than two decades, the country has been part of six-party talks with the US, Russia, South Korea and China to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. A year ago, Yamazaki’s immediate predecessor, Kimihiro Ishikane, blamed the Council in January 2023 for not being “successful in speaking in one voice on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) files.”

In fact, little has been done in the Council in the last year regarding North Korea’s threats. In November 2023, members held an open briefing on the matter, with a senior UN specialist saying that North Korea “is intent on continuing to pursue its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Mira Rapp-Hooper, special assistant and senior director for Indo-Pacific Affairs in the White House National Security Council, hinted at a US planto take “interim steps” in nuclear negotiations with North Korea. At a recent event in Washington, she also said that the US, Japan, and South Korea, all Council members, will be part “of our trilateral work” to continue to highlight “the need for the international community to address the DPRK’s repeated violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

North Korea media have reported that Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader, has continued to ramp up its nuclear arsenal, which now includes a range of intercontinental ballistic missile technologies. In mid-December, North Korea launched its first long-range ballistic missile test in five months; Japan and South Korea warned the world that the missile was capable of reaching anywhere in the US.

A month before the missile test, North Korea successfully launched a surveillance satellite into orbit. These actions are now threatening to undo the postwar military balance in northeast Asia, said Sheila Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy with the Council on Foreign Relations. Japan, she said, endures the constant fear of accidental misfiring by North Korea in Japanese civilian territory.

“The problem is the lack of transparency of North Korea,” Yamazaki said. “We know they made nuclear experiments. We know that they are developing missiles, including ballistic missiles, but there is no transparency on the side of North Korea.”

Smith said the two thematic debates of Japan for its Council presidency — preventing conflicts and building peace as well as nuclear disarmament — match its foreign policy and history of nuclear disasters. Approximately 210,000 people were killed by atomic bombs dropped by the US in Hiroshima City and Nagasaki City during World War II, according to the Japanese mission to the UN. The attack remains the only use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict.

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution staunchly renounces war and the use of force to settle international disputes. Smith told PassBlue that North Korea’s accrual of “fissile material and missiles” has made the commitment to that part of Japan’s constitution challenging. Despite the country’s reputation as pacifist, the Japanese military is one of the largest and most financed in the world. Although the country is not a nuclear power, its allyship with the US has extended the nuclear umbrella to the country to deter aggression by neighbors.

“The Japanese people, in addition to its political and diplomatic leadership, have a very strong position that Japan has the obligation to speak out about the consequences of war, in particular about the use of atomic weapons on civilian populations,” Smith said.

The Council will also concentrate in March on conflicts in various parts of Africa and Ukraine. The war in Gaza, between Israel and the Hamas militia, will remain on the agenda. On March 11, an afternoon meeting, requested by Israel through the US, is scheduled to draw attention to the recent UN report on sexual violence committed during the Oct. 7 massacre.

Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as their countries assume the rotating Council presidency. The column also regularly features an original podcast episode in our UNSCripted series. Although Yamazaki declined to be interviewed for the podcast, Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations participated.

Yamazaki’s interview by Zoom has been edited and condensed for clarity.

PassBlue: One of Japan’s signature events this month is on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Last year, in an interview with PassBlue, your predecessor, Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane, criticized the Security Council for not speaking in unison against North Korea. Is the situation still the same? Is that why Japan is leading an event on March 18 on nuclear weapons?

Yamazaki: We are very much concerned with the nuclear development of DPRK. It’s a very serious threat to us, our region and the entire world. We would like to make sure that appropriate discussion is made in the Security Council, but this signature event is not focusing on DPRK but on a broader context. Japan has been consistently advocating for a world without nuclear weapons. This position is underpinned by our historical experience; Japan is the only country that has experienced nuclear attacks. We have been advocating this issue for a long time. This time we perceived that this discussion should be multifaceted and we’d like to particularly have the Council [consider what role] it can play on this issue.

PassBlue: What are the latest concerns of Japan with the nuclear weapons accumulation of North Korea?

Yamazaki: The problem is the lack of transparency in North Korea. We know they make nuclear experiments. We know that they are developing missiles, including ballistic missiles. But there is no transparency on the side of North Korea.

PassBlue: Your other signature event is on peace-building and conflict prevention. Do you think the UN, and the Security Council, in particular, is living up to that responsibility?

Yamazaki: I can say that we are struggling to deal with the situation. The Security Council is one of the important fora of the United Nations. Day by day, we try to seek solutions to real issues that we face in the world, and sometimes we come up with decisions and sometimes we cannot. But day by day, we are struggling to find a way forward or to improve the situation.

PassBlue: Some UN independent experts called for an importation embargo on Israel in its war on Gaza. Do you support the call by these experts to achieve de-escalation amid your calls for a humanitarian ceasefire?

Yamazaki: We are listening to the views of the experts, but Japan’s position at this moment is still under consideration.

PassBlue: Japan and other countries withdrew funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), based on the allegation that 12 agency staffers helped Hamas on the dastardly Oct. 7 assault on Israel. Did Japan see any evidence of Israel’s claim before pausing funding and does freezing aid not worsen the humanitarian situation in Gaza?

Yamazaki: Japan takes the allegations very seriously. At the same time, we perceive that UNRWA has been playing an indispensable role for the people in the region for decades. UNRWA provides vital services in basic human well-being, such as health care and education. So we have been urging UNRWA to take appropriate action, including enhancing its governance to restore trust, so that it can fulfill its critical role. Japan hopes that the investigation by OIOS [UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services] is underway and a review group is doing its work, studying the agency to recommend ways for strengthening its governance. [The review, led by Catherine Colonna, an ex-foreign minister of France, is scheduled to release its study on March 20]

This is a multilateral engagement, so Israel needs to provide evidence to the UN, not only to Japan but to the member states. What we are hearing [about the allegations] is through the UN. [Israel has not provided any evidence to the OIOS in its investigation]

PassBlue: Is pausing funding for UNRWA counterintuitive to Japan’s demand for a humanitarian ceasefire?

Yamazaki: I will answer this in the capacity of Japan’s permanent representative and not the Council chair. That’s why we are urging UNRWA and the United Nations to improve the governance of UNRWA. Recently, the Japanese government decided to provide $32 million to other multilateral humanitarian agencies to support the Palestinian people.

PassBlue: In dealing with the Myanmar military’s loss of legitimacy, your country says it abides by the ASEAN five-point agenda for dialogue. Without China’s full support, can your call for de-escalation in Myanmar be achieved?

Yamazaki: We call on the Myanmar government to work towards a peaceful resolution. We are urging Myanmar on three points: first, immediately stop the violence; second, release those who are detained; third, swiftly restore Myanmar’s democratic political system. To do so, we provided the maximum support for ASEAN to improve the situation. But so far, we have not seen concrete progress over the past three years [since the Myanmar junta coup].

PassBlue: The situation in Haiti has worsened considerably since the Council’s endorsement last fall for a security support mission — a police force — to be sent to the country to restore government control from the armed gangs. Kenya agreed to lead the mission, but national legal hurdles are stalling the operation. What do you say to the armed gang threatening to overthrow the Haitian government?

Yamazaki: The Security Council is paying substantive attention to this issue. From Japan’s viewpoint, any attempt to overthrow the government through violence is unacceptable. Japan is calling for the stakeholders to return to dialogue and democratic transition. The rapid, effective dispatching of a mission is very important. We want to continue to cooperate with other countries, both inside and outside the Security Council, including Kenya, to find a way forward. At the same time, Japan is assisting to improve the police abilities of Haiti.

Japan’s ambassador to the UN: Kazuyuki Yamazaki
Ambassador since: December 2023
Languages: Japanese and English
Education: Diplomatic training program, Swarthmore College, Penn. Bachelor’s degree in economics, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo.

His story, briefly: Yamazaki has held various positions within the ministry of foreign affairs and diplomatic missions, including, most recently, as ambassador to International Organizations in Geneva. In other government roles, he has served as senior deputy minister for foreign affairs, deputy minister (budget, personnel, parliamentary relations) and deputy director-general of the Foreign Policy Bureau at foreign affairs ministry. He was a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University from 2009 to 2010. He is married and has two children.

Country Profile

Prime Minister: Fumio Kishida
Minister of External Affairs: Yoko Kamikawa
Type of Government: Bicameral parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Year Japan Joined the UN: 1956
Number of terms in the Security Council: 12, more than any other elected member
Population (2024): 123 million
Per capita CO2 emission figures (in metric tons): 8.6 (2021); by comparison, US: 14.5 (2021)

This article was corrected to reflect the approximate number of people who were killed in the atomic bombing in World War II by the US on Japan.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on Japan's disarmament agenda?

Damilola Banjo

Damilola Banjo is a reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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Japan Says the UN Security Council Is Struggling ‘Day by Day’ to Be Useful
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Dr Bilali Camara
Dr Bilali Camara
3 months ago

UN Security Council Struggles ‘Day by Day’ to Stop Wars and Find Peace, Japan Says–I says that is not a correct assessment of the UN Security Council as Day by Day we are witnessing UN Security Council failures with lots of long meetings and many gestures BUT zero success in finding peace in Palestina, Irak, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, CAR, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Mali, Yemen, DRC, Ukraine, etc…We need a new UN and not the UN of the ‘5’ which has failed the world, today there is no hope for peace as we are all looking like living in GAZA and without peace there is NO human development, NO human rights and NO social justice.

Ilona Torraca
Ilona Torraca
3 months ago

Hello Dr. Camara,
How are you and your family? I understand your response to this article from PassBlue, but I have a different view. I believe that peace begins with us as an individual human being. We all have this power within us to resolve our own inner conflicts through many different ways of conflict resolution. I see the layers of this concept: individual, family, community (local government), state government, national government, and international government. So, we need to start working on ourselves before we are battleing in a war. And a war can be resolved to bring peace at times. This is currently the layer of wars – between two countries.
Right now, the American education system is going through a transformation of more mental-emotional services for students. These services are: Peace Corners in our elementary classrooms and Peace Rooms in our middle and high schools across America. And the numbers are growing. Now, some of the educators have started to write a curriculum for the students that will receive peace building skills in these Peace Corners and Peace Rooms. These are called restorative practices vs. schools using zero-tolerance discipline policies. We need more states to welcome the change towards restorative practices implemented into our education system. My doctoral research is about tweaking the school-to-prison pipeline. There are many forces out there that want to see this totally disrupted. Educators and administrators and boards of education are learning the differences of these policies and how the change can be applied. Yes, change will happen but it must be seeded in the minds of these work positions.who have the initial responsibility of how to educate our students thus causing community improvements, such as decreased crime statistics. We need more social workers and behavior analysts and educators who have the skills to teach the restorative practices in our classrooms. The course of Classroom Management is mandatory in our student-teacher training programs – we learn a little bit here, but I think we should have another mandatory course about these two different policies and how, as a new educator, can apply the more successful one. What we are hoping will happen is that the students who receive the peace building skills – will bring these lessons home and into the surrounding communities to promote understanding and change of thought. Yes, let’s talk about it more at PTA meetings. And teacher-parent conferences.
Perhaps some of these lessons may change their family life and this is good. One restorative practice that is common is using a talking stick in a talking circle. Then we bring the layer of community leadership to be aware of these changes happening in their schools. And this added knowledge can only go to higher layers of government to resume policy making for the benefit of our students everywhere. And when these students become older adults – they have these skills and can be applied in the environments that they live in and work at. And if these same peace building skills from these new curriculums being taught in the Peace Rooms – why not implement this successful program within other countries in their education systems? America has the template.
We have come a long, long way from WWII. If we had the conflict resolution skill knowledge back then what we know now – personally, I would have started a positive dialogue with Japan upon the damage that was done in Hawaii. Who knows what the knowledge was back then? Now, we start with the concepts from Dr. William Glasser and also using the foundational principles from Dr. Morton Deutsch.
I could write more, But, I think you can understand what we are doing now in our society and how we can help others throughout our planet.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my knowledge.
Sincerely,
Ilona J. Torraca, Ph.D. Candidate in Public Policy & Administration
Walden University
New York politician

Ilona Torraca
Ilona Torraca
3 months ago

Hello…can you please add to my closing that I am with Kappa Delta Pi – the International Honor Society in Education. And that my father, Vincent, served in Japan during the Korean War.

Ilona Torraca
Ilona Torraca
3 months ago

My father was a history teacher.

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