Japan still too isolationist for UN Security Council

In terms of it’s size, economic strength and… whisper it… military strength, Japan has to be a prime contender for a seat on an expanded UN Security Council.

But does Japan really deserve a seat?

Not just yet, if this report from TCS Daily is true – Japan is still an isolationist country at heart:

According to the Foreign Ministry, 82 countries have never been visited by a Japanese cabinet minister as of last month.

That’s almost half the countries in the world that have never been visited by someone as lowly as a Japanese cabinet minster, let alone someone senior, like the Foreign Minister or Prime Minister, in over 50 years.

If Japan can change it’s image, though, and engage more deeply with the world, it will have an indisputable claim for a seat.

It’s heartening, therefore, to see that Japan is beginning to take a few tottering steps onto the global security scene – sending the odd small, non-combat, force to support UN peacekeeping missions, or the international presence in Iraq. And it’s decision this week to dispatch emissaries far and wide can’t hurt either:

The Cabinet Secretariat therefore picked about 20 of those countries and allocated them to ministers for visits over the summer.

The lucky countries include Estonia, Latvia and Uganda.

Update: Registan.net has more on Japanese diplomacy in Central Asia.  Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan each get the privilege of a visit from the Japanese Prime Minister himself.  Probably because they’re more important than places like Estonia, Latvia and Uganda in the grand scheme of things…

And the sky is blue award goes to…

This week’s sky is blue award goes to the Associated Press for their blinding observation that:

A passenger’s stick of dynamite on a flight from Argentina to Houston exposed a weak link in aviation security: International airports are not always as secure as those in the United States.

I suppose there’s a lesson in there somewhere for the observant terrorist about not trying to launch an attack from a British airport…

The best in British blogging

Nosemonkey has spent far too many hours than can be good for him compiling a list of the best new British blogs. Never one to knowlingly over-state something he warns:

…all of them are, however, in some way promising.

I’ve found a few more additions for my blogroll, but I am imost mpressed by the number of professional journalists that have taken to blogging and – most importantly – sticking to it after the initial buzz has worn off.

Walking among Kiev’s tent camps

A year or two ago, back in my siberianlight days, Robert Mayer of Publius Pundit and I briefly discussed the idea of going to Belarus, to provide independent blog coverage of the Presidential election from on the ground.

I never got around to it, because I was too poor (and, let’s face it, too lazy).  But Robert is made of sterner stuff than I and, this summer, has spent several weeks travelling around Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, taking a long hard look at how democracy is faring.

Today, Robert has posted the first of a series of articles based on his travels – Walking Among the Tent Camps – which explores the mixture of disillusion and hope that is felt today by many of those who worked so hard to bring about Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

Sergei is his name, a 23 year old student of political science who has been an activist for a few years now. He is one of the main coordinators of the camp, making sure that the little village of 52 volunteers, most between the ages of 20 and 30, runs smoothly. And it does. PORA’s base is well-regimented. Political leaflets are handed out as leaders try to persuade passersby to support their cause, the camp is kept clean, intruders are kept out, and volunteers are sent on missions to bring food and drinks for those staying in the tents.

He explained to me that he and the rest had been out on Maidan for nearly a month and would be out there until August 24th, Ukraine’s independence day, because they don’t like the coalition that was formed in parliament and believe that their country needs change. They know longer want to be part of Russia’s sphere of influence and because of it consider themselves true patriots of their country.

Robert has plans to visit more newly emerging democracies and totalitarian countries around the globe – but blog journalism like this doesn’t come cheap.  He’s looking for donations and, if you value quality independent journalism, I’d urge you to contribute a few dollars if you can.

Russia to send peacekeepers to Lebanon?

It looks like a debate is going on in Russia at the moment about whether to send peacekeepers to Lebanon. A couple of politicians are sounding quite enthusiastic, but Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov is talking the idea down a little:

“We are examining the situation, so far we are not clear on the peacekeepers’ status and rights, what they will do there, what mandate they will have,” Ivanov said as quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency. However, “giving such humanitarian aid would fully answer our country’s interests,” Ivanov added.

Personally, I’d quite like to see Russia become more involved in multi-national UN peacekeeping missions, rather than their usual unilateral missions, which serve only prop up tin-pot dictators on their borders.

I wouldn’t mind seeing China kitting out a few more of its troops with blue helmets, either.

These are two of the world’s major powers, two of the five permanent security council members, and can field two of the world’s best equipped and trained armies. It’s about time they started pulling their weight on the international scene.

And I think the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon might be just the place to do it. It’s high profile mission but one that is, frankly, not really expected to achieve all that much. The involvement of Russia and China would balance out claims that the UN force is too pro-Israel (because, whatever some people think about France, the man on the Arab street still views them as a ‘Western’ country). And their presence would go some way to appeasing Hizbullah, which isn’t going to be thrilled to see a peacekeeping force made up almost entirely of European Union member states.

Carnival of the Polly-kicking:4

Someone out there doesn’t like Polly Toynbee.  Actually, lots of people don’t like her:

Polly Toynbee is, far and away and without a shadow of a doubt, cyberspace’s premiere Fiskee. Some of us are grossly rude about her; others more polite, relatively. But on days such as this, when she returns to her favourite theme – we must be more like Sweden, and only one man from Fife can deliver this Utopia – a veritable peasant’s army comes crawling from every shack and hovel to take arms against this dowager Empress of the left-liberal media Establishment.

Ladies and Gentlement, the Carnival of the Polly-kicking, brought to you by the one and only, the ever-Swedish… Mr Eugenides.

The death of Russian democracy

The Kremlin backed United Russia Party has begun to open stores across the country, exchanging cheap goods for votes:

“Social” shops selling cheap furniture, clothes and shoes are being opened by United Russia in poor regions across the country. A clothes store opened by the party in Kirov offers pairs of jeans for 100 roubles (£2) to 400 roubles, and T-shirts for 30 roubles. War veterans and the disabled get a discount.

I don’t really think we need argue any further about whether Russian democracy remains alive.  The life support machine has now been officially unplugged.

“What the hell is the International Community”?

I dare you to find anyone who comments on international politics who hasn’t, at some stage, mentioned the “international community”.  I know I’ve been guilty of it.

So I was quite pleased to see this article by Martin Jacques on CiF today, asking: What the hell is the international community? 

Martin, quite rightly, criticises people who trot out the “international community” cliche for being lazy.  It’s too bad that he then goes on to trot out the laziest, most hackneyed response I’ve ever seen:

We all know what is meant by the term “international community”, don’t we? It’s the west, of course, nothing more, nothing less. Using the term “international community” is a way of dignifying the west, of globalising it, of making it sound more respectable, more neutral and high-faluting.

Which begs the question – “What the hell is the west”?