THE present United Nations Security Council system, with its five veto-wielding permanent members outnumbered by rotating, non-veto members, was established 46 years ago. World War II was not even over and already the allies, confident of victory, were trying to design the "new world order" that would follow.The Security Council and the broader UN system that the allies put in place proved remarkably durable. But the world has changed a lot since 1945. Wouldn't now, with the end of the stultifying global cold war, be a good time to discuss reforming the Security Council's makeup? Many Japanese would like to see the creation of a new class of Security Council members, who would be permanent members without a veto. Not surprisingly, they would like one of these seats for themselves - though they also talk about the new seats going to Germany and third-world states like India, Egypt, or Brazil. If implemented, such a proposal would mark a real irony in world history. Germany and Japan, the powers defeated in 1945, would be taking their place at the head of the world system alongside those who defeated them - the present Permanent Five. To many Japanese, such a development seems natural, given their country's remarkable economic vitality. At a recent symposium in Tokyo, parliamentarian Taku Yamasaki noted that Japan is the second largest contributor to the UN budget, and was one of the main financial backers of the recent UN coalition campaign to liberate Kuwait. "But we learned about the start of the war only from press reports," he said. Many Japanese resent being treated as an "automatic teller machine" by the existing great powers. "It is not right that we be asked to pay, but are not even kept informed," Mr. Yamasaki lamented. At the Tokyo symposium, Francois Heisbourg, the youthful French-born director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, had some tough questions for his Japanese co-panelists. "Is Japan ready to consider itself a real actor in international affairs?" he asked. "Not just in economic terms, but also by taking part in peace-keeping operations?" Yamasaki, a former defense minister still well-connected in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, stressed that Japan would like to take part in peacekeeping activities, though he noted that it might still be criticized by others if it did. SOME Japanese officials have discussed the idea of sending non-combatant participants into overseas peace-keeping operations before or after any period of hostilities. It is unclear how that would work. In most places where the UN has peacekeepers, there is a continuing possibility that hostilities might start, or resume, with little notice. (That's why they are there.) Could any Japanese government ask its people to keep sons and daughters there, in the midst of a battle - unarmed? Yes, there might be problems associated with bringing Japan or other potential candidates into a new class of non-veto permanent members. In the case of Germany, that country is busy building a leadership role in Europe. Within years, the European Community might have a nearly unified foreign policy. Could it expect to have three permanent seats on the Security Council (Germany, France, and Britain)? I doubt it. Nevertheless, Heisbourg was right when he judged that the present system of Security Council membership will not seem acceptable over the long term. And if new, non-veto permanent seats are established, Japan should be among the first chosen. This choice would be important. It would reward the Japanese for 46 years of application to democracy and industry. In addition, it would strengthen the Security Council itself. For Japan, unlike the present Permanent Five, is not a large-scale exporter of weapons to the third world. Nor is it a nuclear power. (Indeed, it is the only nation that has been the target of nuclear attack.) So Japan's inclusion in "Club Perm" would send a powerful signal that economic leadership, and not just military leadership, will help guide the world in the decades ahead.