The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > International



"Faceless" Japan at the United Nations

- Increasing Japanese and Asian Staff Acting Globally -

Yasushi Katsuma
Professor, Graduate School of Asia - Pacific Studies, Waseda University

Profound interest in a career at the United Nations

In the evening of March 6th, 2009, Waseda University and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs co-hosted a "United Nations Career Guidance" event featuring three personnel officials from the U.N. Headquarters in New York. The university encouraged participation of not only its students, faculty, and staff but also students at other universities and the general public who were interested in international cooperation. This reflected a hope that as many people as possible, including those who already had a job, would consider the U.N. as an alternative in building their own career.

In spite of concerns that the spring break and heavy rain would hinder student attendance, the site was filled with over 500 participants, and the event was simultaneously broadcast in an additional room. This plainly showed that there are many, particularly young people, who are keenly interested in a career at the U.N.

Japanese staff in the United Nations system

In addition to these young people, members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries and agencies of the Japanese government are also very interested in a career at the U.N. One of the major reasons for this is that the number of Japanese U.N. staff members is currently below the "desirable range."

The U.N. staff is broadly divided into "professional staff," normally recruited via international open competition, and "general staff," hired locally for the most part. There are approximately 25,000 professional staff members in the entire U.N. system, about 700 of whom are Japanese, less than 3% of the total current staff. Given the great expectations that the international society has for Japan, intuition suggests that more Japanese could work for the U.N.

The U.N. system is composed of various parts including: the United Nations Secretariat, an arena for multilateral diplomacy; Funds and Programmes such as UNICEF; and Specialized Agencies such as UNESCO. Today, more and more Japanese are working for Funds and Programmes, such as UNICEF, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. Development Programme, and the U.N. World Food Programme. Japanese also maintain a certain amount of presence in some Specialized Agencies, including UNESCO, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. On the other hand, the problem is that Japan is underrepresented at the U.N. Secretariat.

Challenges at the U.N. Secretariat

Roughly speaking, personnel at the U.N. Secretariat comprise institutions such as internal subdivisions and the Regional Economic Commissions, as well as the U.N. Peace Operations, whose human resources are managed independently from these institutions. The internal subdivisions at the U.N. Secretariat employ about 2,800 professional officials, among whom the number of Japanese only slightly exceeds 110. While Japan contributes 16.6% of the U.N. Secretariat budget, the second highest after the United States, it only provides 4% of the staff, a feeble contribution to personnel. Since the "desirable range" for Japan is between 249 and 337, it is reasonable to assert that the Japanese staff could be double the current level.

However, considering Japan's historical background-losing World War II and becoming a U.N. member relatively late (December 18th, 1956), as well as the limited number of posts at the U.N. Secretariat-it may be hard to substantially improve the situation in the short term. Italy and Germany, on the other hand, attained their "desirable ranges" in spite of their similar historical backgrounds, which implies that Japan should develop and implement better strategies. Going forward, a large number of officials are expected to retire at the same time when they reach the retirement age for the U.N. Secretariat. To take advantage of this opportunity, it is important to assist the career plans of the people who are interested in a career at the U.N., as I mentioned above, so that they can develop their own competencies.

Next, let's discuss the U.N. Peace Operations, which supports the peacekeeping missions deployed by the U.N. around the world. Again, Japan is underrepresented by 24 Japanese staff members comprising less than 1% among over 6,000 mission officials. This is a major challenge for Japan as an advocator for contribution to the international society. However, there is ample room for improvement, because unlike the internal subdivisions in the same U.N. Secretariat, the U.N. Peace Operations often recruit new staff. Due to limited training opportunities and places for acquiring the experience necessary for civilians to participate in the mission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a training course for developing human resources in the area of peace building. Nevertheless, another problem remains: the U.N. Peace Operations is a mission whose contract period is short in contrast to the relatively long-term employment at the internal subdivisions, and Japanese organizations in general still prefer permanent employment. This prevents employees of these organizations from leaving for only the few years that the mission contract requires. Japanese organizations should devise a flexible mechanism so that their human resources can be temporarily available for international contribution.

Of course, the number of people is not the only issue. I hope that more Japanese occupy the senior positions and other executives at international organizations to exercise their leadership. In order to facilitate the participation of Japanese who have managerial experience in Japanese organizations, effective solutions must be implemented to eliminate issues that may arise at their organizations, such as establishing a leave of absence policy.

Careers at the U.N. and Asian countries

Now let us move on to personnel challenges from the perspective of the U.N. and other international organizations. The United Nations is an arena for reconciling interests among member states through multilateral diplomacy, as well as deploying specific activities for the international society to address global issues. The U.N. staff comprises international civil servants working for the international society on neutral ground removed from individual national interests. It is important, therefore, to carefully consider equal geographical distribution in recruiting the staff. In addition, a "desirable range" is clearly defined for each member state depending on its budget share. These are important personnel considerations which should also help enhance the legitimacy of the U.N. Secretariat.

However, in fact, U.S., German, French, Italian, and U.K. nationals account for 30% of the U.N. Secretariat staff today. Given the historical background of the establishment of the U.N. and their sizable budget shares, the high presence of European countries and the U.S. is partly justifiable. On the other hand, Asia needs to be more equally represented. While China, India, and the Philippines have achieved their "desirable ranges," Japan and South Korea have not. There are also many Asian countries lacking internationally active human resources, such as Cambodia, which is undergoing reconstruction from a conflict.

Roles of Japanese universities in Asian regional cooperation

Considering the low presence of Asian personnel at the U.N., I always feel that Japanese universities can play some significant roles in improving it. The Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University, which I belong to, has a graduate level program in international studies and its students may study in either Japanese or English. As Japanese language is not required, 70 percent of the 500 graduate students are non-Japanese international students. Many of them are from Asian and other developing countries and are deeply interested in international cooperation or development assistance. One of our goals is to offer students from nearby Asian countries a research and education environment for cultivating their ability to engage in international public service. Further, Japanese students are likewise inspired to engage actively in this multicultural setting.

Due to the limitations of what we can do on campus, we are recommending internships at international organizations as an opportunity for practical training before graduation. Waseda University exchanged a memorandum with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to send nearly five graduate students to its headquarters in Paris as interns every year. My department also dispatches several graduate students to the Asian Development Bank as interns according to an agreement with the institution. Moreover, many students experience internships at organizations such as the U.N. Secretariat, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, and the World Bank.

In order for Japanese universities to become significant higher education bases in Asia, they need to develop human resources for regional cooperation in Asia, as well as act as an Asian platform for addressing global issues. Waseda University is developing doctoral level human resources through the Global COE program "Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration," and master's degree level human resources through the Support Program for Improving Graduate School Education "East Asia Advanced Human Resources Development Sharing Program," both assisted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. I hope that these activities will lead to Asian regional cooperation towards resolving global issues.

Reference URL

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs International Recruitment Center

Global COE Program "Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration"

Program for Enhancing Systematic Education in Graduate Schools "East Asia Joint Program on Advanced Human Resources Development "

Yasushi KATSUMA, Ph.D.
Professor, Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Waseda University

At Waseda University, Mr. Katsuma is Professor and Director of the International Studies Program at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, as well as Director of the Waseda Institute for Global Health. He also serves the Japan Association for United Nations Studies as the Secretary-General; the Japan Society for International Development as Executive Director (Public Relations); and the Peace Studies Association of Japan as the Editor-in-Chief of its journal. Prior to joining the faculty of Waseda University, Prof. Katsuma worked for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), stationed in Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tokyo. Previously he was consultant for the Japanese ODA, conducting development research in Asia and Latin America. Prof. Katsuma received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; LL.M. & LL.B. from Osaka University; and B.A. from International Christian University, after working as a volunteer in Honduras and studying at the University of California-San Diego. His current research interests include a human rights-based approach to development, life skills-based health education, and the public-private partnerships to fight malaria and HIV/AIDS. His major publications in English include "Global Health Governance and Japan's Contributions: Infectious Diseases as a Threat to Human Security," Korean Journal of International Organizations, Vol.3, No.1 (2008); "Human security approach for global health," The Lancet, Vol.371 (2008: co-authored); "Education as an approach to human security: A case of Afghanistan," in Shinoda & Jeong (Eds). Conflict and Human Security: A Search for New Approaches of Peace-building (2004); "Combating the globalization of child sexual exploitation," Journal of Asian Women's Studies, Vol. 10 (2001); and "Transforming an NGO into a commercial bank to expand financial services for the microenterprises of low-income people," Technology & Development, No. 10 (1997).