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The Kuril Balance: A Balance Paper on the Potential Conflict Between Japan and Russia

The Kuril Balance: A Balance Paper on the Potential Conflict Between Japan and Russia

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Published by PotomacFoundation
http://www.asianarmscontrol.org/
http://www.asianarmscontrol.org/

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Published by: PotomacFoundation on Apr 23, 2013
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07/06/2014

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TheKurilBalance:ABalancePaperonthePotentialConflictBetweenJapanandRussiaBySergeyAlexashenkoGeorgetownUniversityforGOVT-45111/27/12
 
2
IntroductiontotheConflict
HistoryofRusso-JapaneseRelationshipandtheKurilIslands
AstheRussianEmpireextendeditsreachintotheFarEastinthe19
th
century,itwasconfrontedwiththepresenceofitsnewneighbor,theEmpireofJapan.ThefirstformaltreatybetweenthetwocountriesthatmarkedthebeginningoftheirdiplomaticrelationshipwastheTreatyofShimoda,signedon7February1855
1
.TheTreatywassignedingoodfaithanditsgoalwastodevelopeconomiccooperationbetweenthetwocountries.Amongotheritems,ArticleIIoftheTreatyaddressedtheissueofterritorialdisputes.ItstipulatedthattheborderbetweenthetwocountrieswouldliebetweentheislandsofEtorofu(Iturup)andUruppu(Urup).JapaneseterritoriesweretoincludeEtorofuandalloftheislandstotheSouthofit,whileUruppuandthenorthernKurilsweretobeplacedunderRussiancontrol
2
.Fromthenon,theownershipoftheislandswouldalwaysbeasubjectofdisputeandnegotiationsbetweenthetwocountries.Numeroustreatiesandmilitaryoperationschangedtheownershipoftheislandsinthe20
th
century.TheTreatyofStPetersburg(1875)grantedRussiacontroloftheSakhalinIslandinexchangeforKurilIslandsuptoandincludingShimushu
3
.AfewdecadeslaterJapandefeatedRussiaintheRusso-JapaneseWarandacquiredsouthernSakhalinundertheTreatyofPortsmouth,whichmarkedtheendofthewarin1905
4
.ThenextmajorchangeofownershiphappenedattheendofWorldWarII.AspartoftheSovietInvasionofManchuria,knownas“OperationAugustStorm”,USSR’sFifthAreaArmyseizedcontrolofSakhalinandtheKurils,includingShikotanandtheHabomaiislands
5
.Alegalframeworkforthenewborderfollowedinafewyears–undertheTreatyofSanFrancisco(1951)Japanrenouncedallclaimstothe
1
WolfMendl,“Japan'sNorthernTerritories:AnAsianFalklands?”,
TheWorldToday 
,Vol.43,No.6(Jun.,1987),p.99;
2
Ibid.Also,seemapinAppendix1.
3
Ibid.
4
Ibid.
5
Ibid.
 
3KurilIslands
6
.However,theSovietUnionrefusedtosignthattreaty,mainlybecauseitwasunclear,whatislandsweretobeincludedintothe“KurilIslands”group.ThecurrentJapanesepositionisthatislandsuptoandincludingIturupare“NorthernTerritories”andthattheirownershipshouldbeJapanese,asperTreatyofShimoda
7
.However,theSovietUnionand,later,RussianFederationneveractuallyrelievedcontroloftheislands.
ImportanceoftheKurils
Onemightwonderwhydotwogreatnationshaveaconflictthatspansoveracenturyoveragroupofverysmallislandsthatarebarelypopulatedandhavenoindustrialvalueofanyimportance.Thereisnoconsensusonthisissue,butseveralviewpointsareexpressedinthemodernsociety.OneofthemarguesthattheKurilsareofstrategicimportancetoRussia.EkaterinaKoldunovafromtheMoscowStateUniversitysaysthattheSouthernKurilsofferstrategicaccesstothePacificforRussia.Thatmayseemplausible,buttheevidencedoesnotsupportit–lateroninthispaperwewillseethattherearenostrategicforcesontheSouthernKurils
8
.AsecondviewpointisthattheimportanceoftheNorthernTerritoriestobothcountriesliesintheirExclusiveEconomicZones
9
.ThewatersaroundtheSouthernKurilsarerichinmarinelife–infact,theyhavebeenreferredtoassomeoftherichestfishinggroundsintheworld
10
.SincefishingisamajorsourceoffoodinJapan,itisreasonabletoassumethatthisviewpointholdssomemerit.
6
Ibid.
7
Ibid.,p.100
8
EkaterinaKoldunova,“TheKurilIslandsareofstrategicimportancetoRussia,”RussiaToday,(12May2009),<http://rt.com/politics/the-kuril-islands-are-of-strategic-importance-to-russia/>[accessed12November2012].
9
DmitryGorenburg,“TheSouthernKurilIslandsDispute”(PONARSEurasiaPolicyMemoNo.226,September2012),<http://www.gwu.edu/~ieresgwu/assets/docs/ponars/pepm_226_Gorenburg_Sept2012.pdf>[accessed12November2012].
10
StephenKotkin,“TheNorthernTerritoriesDisputeandRusso-JapaneseRelations:Volume1,betweenWarandPeace,1697-1985;Volume2,NeitherWarNorPeace,1985-1998byTsuyoshiHasegawa”JournalofJapaneseStudies,Vol.26,No.1(Winter,2000),pp.270-274;

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