TOKYO -- Japan's Foreign Minister Yohei Kono goes before the U.N. General Assembly today to state Japan's wish to become part of the Security Council, the United Nations' most powerful body, whose members hold veto power over all significant action.
The appearance will provide many here with a deeply desired revision of Japan's place in the world. Yet it will also place new demands on Japan and, some Japanese fear, rekindle old problems.
Surveys by newspapers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicate that more Japanese favor admittance than oppose it. Japan's financial contribution to the United Nations will soon exceed the combined total of four of the five permanent members on the Security Council.
But the surveys also show that a huge percentage of the population remains uncertain, and even Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama has not clearly stated his desire for Japan to be a permanent member.
For some Japanese, a place on the leadership council of the United Nations resonates with lost opportunities. In the early 1930s, Japan held an equivalent seat in the League of Nations, the United Nations' predecessor.
Using adroit diplomacy through the League of Nations, Japan became an important mediator in European disputes. At the same time, it launched a ruthless military strategy to gain control of Asia.
Inevitably, the militancy and diplomacy clashed. Complaints by China over Japanese conduct led to a League investigation, and Japan was found to be an aggressor. Rather than change policies, Japan walked out of the international organization.
After its defeat in World War II, Japan was classified by the United Nations as an "enemy state." When admittance to the new world body came in 1956, said Professor Tatsuro Kunugi of International Christian University in Tokyo, there was widespread elation. This time is different.
"Many Japanese people are status-seekers, and for these people it would mean a great deal," he said. But others "feel that if you join the Security Council . . . you may have to act like . . . [other members] in a political and military way."
Both would be a challenge for Japan. Article 9 of its U.S.-authored, postwar constitution states: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."
The country has steadily diluted its rigid adherence to the document, but any prospect of involvement in military action rekindles fears of a Japan once again on the march. Politically, Japan rarely takes a firm stand. Most recently, it avoided deciding if Taiwan's president could attend the forthcoming Asian Olympics in Hiroshima out of concern that China, a growing trading partner, might be upset.
To alleviate doubts, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was in Japan last week and adamantly supported Japan's bid. He also assured Japan that it need not participate in military activities. Yet questions remain about whether that is feasible. What if a military issue comes before the council? Could Japan vote?
Within the government, quiet discussions have taken place about whether an application should be filed for a Security Council membership lacking a veto. That idea is now officially off the table.
Instead, the government has concluded that its representative should obey the Japanese Constitution in regard to Japan's actions, while potentially endorsing military activities permissible under the U.N. charter when they are undertaken by others.