PRESIDENT Clinton has announced his support of including Germany and Japan as permanent members of the UN Security Council. This initiative may appear wise. After all, the two nations have attained the status of economic superpowers. It would be difficult to launch an international peacekeeping operation absent their economic support. A closer examination of their domestic politics, however, suggests that, while the American position may be correct in principle, its timing is precipitate. Pressing ahead could undermine the Security Council's credibility.
The fundamental problem with Japan's and Germany's inclusion at this time derives from the two nations' constitutions. In the aftermath of their disastrous World War II experiences, both nations wished to distance themselves from becoming involved in overseas military adventurism. In Germany, this isolationist tendency was mitigated by the Federal Republic's accession to NATO in 1954. Nevertheless, while Germany discharged the responsibilities incumbent upon it under the NATO Charter (including a respons e to an attack on a NATO member), it also asserted that German troops could only be deployed off German soil in fulfillment of NATO obligations.
Japanese hostility to overseas military involvement is even more entrenched, largely due to the absence of a regional security alliance like NATO. American drafters of Japan's post-war constitution held that it in no way undermined that nation's ability to participate in regional security or United Nations activities. However, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida and his successors constructed an elaborate set of policies to buttress their assertion that the constitution did prevent Japan's involvement in over seas security.
Happily, both the German and Japanese governments appear to have realized that these isolationist policies cannot continue. Germany, as a loyal NATO member, has been caught up in the UN decision to have the alliance enforce a "no fly" zone over Bosnia and, more recently, its troops have joined the relief operation in Somalia. Japan, beset by international criticism for its nonparticipation in Operation Desert Storm, has passed legislation to allow its Self-Defense Forces to participate in UN peacekeeping
So if German and Japanese isolationism is being resolved why now proffered permanent Security Council membership to them? Because it is not known how, and on what terms, these issues will be resolved. Politicians in both countries argue that participation in peacekeeping can be finessed rather than confronted. When the Diet passed legislation enabling Japan to participate in UN operations, it did so feebly.
Japan can only participate in "blue helmet" peacekeeping operations, and only after a ceasefire is in place. Similarly, many members of the German Bundestag wish to restrict German overseas involvement.
Such restrictions are out of touch with post-cold-war realities. Noncombat, blue-helmet operations were useful during the cold war when Washington and Moscow could halt warfare between respective allies. But as recent conflicts in Cambodia, Angola, and Bosnia demonstrate, aggressors can wage fierce conflict absent Washington or Moscow. To deal with such conflict, "peacekeeping" will have to become more muscular.
If Germany and Japan address these problems on the same terms as other Security Council members their candidacy should be welcomed. But Germany and Japan can't cast votes for UN operations that endanger United States, British, and French troops - but in which their own troops play no part. This would tear the Security Council apart.