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RUSSO-JAPANESE RELATIONS IN THE NORTH PACIFIC
The Kuril Islands / Northern Territories Dispute
By Sebastian A. Baciu (S.A.B.) ABTRACT. This study aims to provide a thorough survey of the pertinent developments that have contributed to the current state of the Russo-Japanese territorial dispute in the north Pacific. Because the contemporary state of affairs is based heavily on historical claims and interpretations of early treaties, it is necessary to understand how the Kuril Islands dispute progressed historically. This study begins by illustrating how relations between Japan and Russia first developed and what role the Kuril Islands played in their early relationship. Special attention is given to the two eighteenth century treaties (the Shimoda Pact and the Treaty of St. Petersburg) which are often cited as legal precedence in the debate surrounding the islands. The next section describes how World War II contributed to the islands’ history and ultimately changed their destiny. In this context, we also depict the role played by the United States and explain how military strategy and security considerations might have ultimately contributed to the post-war status quo. Additionally, we closely examine the series of events up to and including Soviet annexation of the islands. The penultimate section analyses the post-war situation further and pays explicit heed to the 1955-56 negotiations in London, which saw both countries come to the brink of settlement. The final section summarizes the salient points on both sides of the modern argument, and by discussing legal precedence and historical claims also attempts to evaluate what value the Kuril Islands might retain in modern times. With the emergence of the Russian Federation and the end of the Cold War, the hope has emerged that a resolution to this decades-old conflict might be at hand.

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ust above the Earth’s 46th parallel lays the minor geographic obscurity known as the Kuril Islands. The Kuril Archipelago consists of roughly 56 islands and islets that stretch north from Hokkaido, Japan right up to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, a part of the administrative region known as Kamchatka Krai1. This area is commonly referred to as the pacific ‘ring of fire’, a region prone to substantial seismic instability and volcanic activity. In fact, a number of the islands are actually the peaks of stratovolcanoes which protrude from the Pacific Ocean. Overall, the region has an inhospitable sub-arctic climate with long, harsh winters and very short summers. Nonetheless, both marine and terrestrial ecology across the archipelago is extremely diverse and the islands are particularly well known for their abundance of various sea-dwelling species including several endemic types of seal. The southern islands in particular are renowned for their vast tracts of pristine and unspoiled forest, which is said to resemble what Hokkaido’s landscape looked like before overcome by human development. Yet the Kuril Islands have earned their place in history not for their natural splendour, but because they are at the core of a longstanding territorial conflict between Russia and Japan. Describing the exact chain of events that has led to the present day political situation is a veritable tightrope walk. The challenge begins with the very name one uses when describing the Kuril Archipelago.2 Russia uses the term ‘Kuril Islands’ to refer to all 56 islands that constitute the geographic entirety of the archipelago proper. On the other hand, the Japanese, when speaking of the islands, often refer to them as the ‘Northern Territories’. However, this term actually describes only the 4 southernmost islands that Japan claims as part of its sovereign territory. Thus for the Japanese, the ‘Kuril Islands’ consist only of the 52 islands to which they have no claim – or which they do not wish to claim. Although the most recent change of sovereignty occurred when the Soviet Far East Expeditionary forces annexed the islands toward the end of the Second World War, the Kuril Islands have been at the centre of the Japanese-Russian political relationship for more than a century. (Okuyama 2003, P. 37) To the uninitiated, this dispute may be seen as somewhat of an anachronism; a debate that should have ended promptly and quietly with the end War. After all, quality of life in the Northern Territories is relatively poor and the region’s economic value lies primarily in their fishing reserves. While it may be argued that the Kuril Islands were strategically valuable during the Cold War, such practical considerations do not figure in the modern argument. The contemporary territorial dispute has degenerated far enough that
A Krai is a federal subject of the Russian Federation. While Russia is contemporarily divided into 83 subjects, only 9 of these are actually ‘Krais’. Legally however, there is little or no difference between a Krai and an Oblast, which is another type of administrative region. The Kamchatka Krai was formed as a result of a merger between the Kamchatka Oblast and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. For a more exhaustive analysis of the precise nature of Russian legal states and bodies in the post-soviet era, the reader is referred to The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus by Christoph Zürcher. (NYU Press 2007, P. 27) Finally, the reader should not retain from the above account or accompanying explanation that the Kuril Islands are part of the Kamchatka Krai. They are actually part of the Sakhalin Oblast, but the northernmost islands themselves are in very close proximity to the Kamchatka Krai. 2 Readers are advised that, throughout the course of this study the author uses the term Kuril Archipelago and Kuril Islands interchangeably to refer to the geographic entirety of the island chain. The term ‘Northern Territories’ is used only with regard to the southernmost 4 islands claimed as sovereign Japanese territory. With respect to the Russian position and associated naming conventions, the term ‘Kuril Islands’ is employed apolitically in this paper and is not intended to endorse or promote any particular disputant.
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2 rational arguments and casuistic explanations can no longer sufficiently describe the behaviour of either country or their corresponding territorial claims. I. Antecedents of the Northern Territories Dispute: Japan’s Expanding Empire t would seem that the authors of history largely agree that Japan was first to set foot on what they now regard as their illegitimately occupied ‘Northern Territories’. On a map dating back to the second-half of the 17th century, the Kuril Islands are clearly depicted alongside Sakhalin, and the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula.

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“According to historical data, in 1644 the ‘central government of Tokyo asked each lord to send a map of their own lands in order to make up the complete map of Japan. Lord Matsumae sent a map including the whole Sakhalin, Kuril Islands and Kamchatka peninsula. This map, called Shoho-okuniezo is the oldest existing map that draws this part of the world.”3

While it is not precisely clear when these areas may have been surveyed initially, it is safe to assume that actual human presence on the islands would have been necessary some significant period of time before the date of publication. In many ways, the exact date of first exploration is largely trivial because the Shoho Okuni Ezo map as a document precedes any known exploration of the Kuril Islands by Russia. Russia began her legacy in the region in the early 1700s under the reign of Peter the Great. After the Russians were “[f]orced to move north of the Amur basin by the Chinese presence in Manchuria, the Russian’s approached Japan from the north through Kamchatka, and, after 1700, the Kurils.” 4 Peter the Great advised the pioneers in this region to “subject”5 Kamchatka and “collect information about Japan in preparation for commerce.” 6 Commercial interest in Japan during this period was regularly stoked by wild rumours citing a country of “unbelievable wealth” 7 in close “proximity to Russia.”8 This prompted the interest of “merchant houses in St. Petersburg to petition the Senate through General Brius for permission to trade with Japan and the East Indies.”9 Realizing that the Siberian Command did not actually have sufficient information regarding the region, the tsar was advised to send a team of geodesists to the Far East for the purpose of reconnaissance, and specifically for “finding a water route to Japan.”10 Exploration of the Kuril island chain continued after the death of Peter the Great in 1725, primarily for commercial benefit. (Jansen 1989, P. 93) The native people of the Kuril Islands are known as the Ainu. Today, there are no indigenous Ainu left on the Kuril Islands, but estimates reveal that some 24,000 Japanese report Ainu “ancestry.”11 In addition to the Kuril Islands, significant Ainu populations also resided in Sakhalin and Hokkaido. (Hudson 1999, P. 226) In contrast to the Ainu peoples of Hokkaido however, the Sakhalin and Kuril Ainu are not well understood and their ethnic and anthropological origins are still a matter of scholarly debate.
“The origins of Ainu culture in Sakhalin and the Kurils remain much more poorly understood than do those of the Ainu culture in Hokkaido. … It has long been assumed that Ainu populations from Hokkaido expanded into Sakhalin and the Kurils, replacing or pushing out the Okhotsk people. While such a migration has yet to be proven, it is the most parsimonious hypothesis. To begin with, the alternative explanation that the Okhotsk culture/people of southern Sakhalin and the Kurils transformed themselves into the Ainu culture/people of those regions seems unlikely. … The Kuril Ainu, for example, called themselves koushi (Torii 1919, 33-34), a word that may have been Russianized to form ‘Kuril.’”12

As Russia advanced from the north, Japanese trade with the indigenous Ainu began to escalate in the south. The increase in commerce during these years had “gradually brought the Ainu into substantial subjection to the daimyo of Matsumae.” 13 Japan’s encroachment effectively allowed the Edo Shogunate to moderate the Ainu’s commercial dealings which in turn isolated them to the point of subjugation.
“As on Sakhalin, moreover, the Edo shogunate, after a lengthy 1780s investigation, ultimately usurped the power to make commercial and political descisions related to the Kurils from Fukuyama Castle and enforced maritime restrictions that prohibited Ainu from trading in the Kurils beyond Iturup Island. This last move severed the Ainu from the commercial orbit of the North Pacific, where they had for a time served as middlemen in an emerging Russian trade with Matsumae officials and Japanese officials.”14

What makes this period of time particularly interesting when trying to understand the genesis of the Kuril Islands dispute is that it represents the first formation of Japanese strategic intent toward the region. The Matsumae Clan, which governed Hokkaido during this period, had established a clear “dissimilation policy”15 toward the Ainu living there in order to preserve the image of
OHENE, Judith: The Kurile Island Conflict. European University Viadriana (Frankfurt (Oder), 2004. P. 4 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 93 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 LENSEN, George Alexander: Early Russo-Japanese Relations, The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Nov., 1950), P. 5 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 The Kurile Islands Dispute, Case Number 8, American University. [http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/kurile.htm] (10.06.2010) 12 HUDSON, Mark: Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands. University of Hawaii Press, 1999. P. 226 13 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 94 14 WALKER, Brett L.: The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590 – 1800. University of California Press, 2006. P. 155f 15 HOWELL, David L.: Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan. University of California Press, 2005. P. 140, 161f
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3 their “barbarian identity”16. The reason for this was that the Clan had no formal “land in fief from the Tokugawa shogun” 17 and thus derived its existence solely from its monopoly on “trade and other contact with the Ainu.” 18 However, this policy was not carried over to the Kuril Islands, where assimilation was actively encouraged as a means of establishing and cementing Japanese sovereignty over indigenous Ainu territory.
“The principal exception to Matsumae’s dissimilation policy was the Ainu community on Etorofu, the islands in the souther Kurils that marked the border between Ezochi and Russia. Shogunal officials had promoted the assimilation of the Etorofu Ainu during the first period of direct administration as a means to secure Japanese sovereignty over the southern Kurils and the rest of the Ezochi.”19

By the 1770, the Russians had “completed their preliminary exploration and had been on almost every island in the Kuril chain.”20 Despite their rapid advance, the Russians were still not explicitly aware of Japan’s hold on the southern Kurils. They merely assumed that, based on the Ainu’s trading patterns, a major commercial power must lie somewhere to the south. (Jansen 1989, P. 94) The Hungarian nobleman Moritz von Benyowsky landed on the southern Japanese island of Awa in 1771. Von Benyowsky, an apparent escapee from exile in Kamchatka, was the first to alert the Japanese to a possible Russian presence in the north. Although some modern scholars consider certain parts of von Benyowsky’s testimony spurious (von Benyowsky is also known to have employed the pseudonyms de-Benev, Beiposk and Hanbengoro), his presence in southern Japan and his reports of uprising in Kamchatka are generally regarded as historical truth. He came to Japan bearing the news that Russia was planning a major offensive on Ezo (Hokkaido) from “fortifications in the Kurils” 21. Although there was little substance to von Benyowsky’s claims, they “became further distorted in transmission and resulted in a good deal of alarm among those who learned from them.” 22 (Lensen 1950, P. 13) On the other hand, this episode served to stimulate foreign policy thinking amongst Japanese intellectuals, who began warning about the potential of the Russian threat and started advocating for “stronger maritime defenses to the north.”23 Under Catherine the Great, the Russian advance continued unabated, and it wasn’t long until the Empire attempted to formalize relations with Japan. The first overture came as part of an expedition launched in 1802 which was intended to “extend Russian maritime contact with the Pacific Coast” 24. The captain of the expedition, Nikolai Rezanov was given a personal letter from Alexander the I “formally requesting the privilege of trade” 25 with Japan, along with a variety of tributes destined for the Japan’s ruling elite. However, he was kept waiting in Nagasaki Harbour for almost 7 months between October 1804 and April 1805, before his offer was formally rejected. Upon having been informed of this, Rezanov reportedly remarked to a Japanese official that the Russian government did not wish for Japan to extend her influence “beyond the western extremity of Matsumae.”26 The 1800s also saw a change of administrative government in Hokkaido, which subsequently brought the Northern Territories (Kunashiri and Etorofu included) further under direct command of the Shogunate. During this period, “programs of settlement and subsidization for the Ainu through the provision of clothing, food, metal, and road construction were carried out in the hope of solidifying Japanese control and erecting barriers to Russian infiltration south from Uruppu.” 27 In response to Japan’s blunt refusal to trade with the Russian Empire, two young lieutenants were encouraged to carry out a series of raids in the Japanese controlled Kurils. Although these rather paltry onslaughts were largely the work of renegade soldiers and did not represent “formal Russian policy,”28 they provoked a comparatively more serious response. Japan countered by stationing one thousand soldiers on or near the islands in anticipation of conflict. (Jansen 1989, P. 87) No conflict materialized however, and although major government figures of the Russian Command in the Far East expressed an interest in defining a more permanent boundary between both countries, their pleas did not encounter much rapport among the Japanese. This brief episode actually served to dull Russian interest in Japan for a period of time, and only the occurrence of the First Opium War prompted a serious revision of policy. (Jansen 1989, P. 266) The regional reassessment that began in the 1850s stipulated that Russia could legitimately claim “the ‘whole Amur region down to the Korean frontier as well as Sakhalien[!].”29 At this point in time, Russia still considered Japan a largely peripheral matter. Russia’s policy was designed to grant her strategic access to the region “north and south of Manchuria,”30 and in this context Japan was important, but mostly of secondary concern. It was hoped that, by spreading toward Sakhalin and pushing further into the Amur estuary, Russian trade would eventually develop with Japan and Korea which could provide useful support for her outposts in the north. (Jansen 1989, P. 267) In particular the difficulty of resupplying goods for the development of Kamchatka, most of which came through Siberia from
Ibid. P. 140 Ibid. P. 140 18 Ibid. P. 140 19 HOWELL, David L.: Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan. University of California Press, 2005. P. 144 20 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 94 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid. P. 96 25 Ibid. P. 96 26 LENSEN, George Alexander: Early Russo-Japanese Relations, The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Nov., 1950), P. 28 27 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 96 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. P. 266 30 Ibid. P. 267
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4 “across the Ural mountains”31, was a major motivator in attempting to broker a trade relationship with Japan. However by contrast, the Japanese considered Russian machinations in the north as warily as they regarded the British incursion to the south. (Jansen 1989, P. 267) These two topics would go on to dominate the debate about opening and trade in Japan for several decades. Lensen goes on explain:
“The Russian attempts to establish relations with Japan … were primarily economic in motive. Merchants and provincial governors had been the prime movers. To be sure, the central government had granted financial assistance and had even appointed an official envoy. All in all, however, threatening though Russian actions had been in Japanese eyes, the Russian government in those years had not displayed any particularly vivid interest in Japan. Only when England, America, and other Western powers began to establish themselves in China did Russia begin to view Japan from a political and military angle. The realization of Japan’s strategic position in the Pacific ushered in a new period of Russo-Japanese relations and marked the beginning of Russo-American rivalry in that area.”32

The stalled relations between Japan and Russia were resumed again the year 1855. At this point in time, Japan still harboured deep reservations about granting Western powers too much leeway in matters of commerce. But as their trade relationship intensified, the signing of a treaty and the formal establishment of relations became all but inevitable. In perhaps the most exhaustive account available of early Russian presence in Japan, G. A. Lensen proposes that Russo-Japanese relations be divided into two ‘distinct phases.’ He goes on to elaborate:
“The advance of Russia toward Japan has passed through two distinct phases: an early period of private initiative, ca. 1700 to ca. 1850, followed by a period of governmental leadership, ca. 1850 to the present. The Treaty of Shimoda, February 7, 1855, the first agreement between Russia and Japan, was already a product of the second phase. It did contain the seeds of Russo-Japanese trade, but its main provisions – delineation of boundaries, reciprocal extraterritoriality, appointment of a consul, etc. – were political in nature.”33 (Emphasis added)

The Shimoda Treaty34 is significant for many reasons, not least of all because it serves as a major pillar of Japan’s legal argument legitimizing their claim to the Northern Territories. As Mack and O’Hare point out, many (if not most) Japanese scholars begin their assessment of the ‘Northern Territories’ dispute with reference to “two nineteenth century treaties,” 35 one of them being Shimoda and the other the Treaty of St. Petersburg. From a legal standpoint, Shimoda is considered important because it is the first formal declaration of relations which establishes a clear boundary between the two countries.
“…henceforth the boundary line between Japan and Russia shall be a line drawn between ‘Etorofu’ and ‘Urup’ islands. The entire island of Etorofu belongs to Japan, while the entire island of Urup and the Kuril Islands to the north of Urup belong to Russia. In regard to Sakhalin island there shall be no boundary line and past practices shall be observed.”36

Shimoda also served to lift embargoes on trade limits (“the number of vessels and capital used in trade are not restricted” 37) and it made provisions for the establishment of a more permanent Russian commercial presence in Japan by allowing merchants to “bring wives and families to Japan.”38 For all the practical headway Shimoda engendered it is most relevant as the formal beginning of political and diplomatic relations between Japan and Russia, and as the first document signed by representatives of both countries to mention the Kuril Islands in the context of territorial delimitation. Often cited in tandem with the Shimoda Pact, and in some ways even more important, is the Treaty of St. Petersburg, which was concluded between Japan and Russia in 1875. The Meji government considered the increased intermingling of Russians and Japanese living throughout the Kuril Islands undesirable and therefore had a strong “interest in establishing a clear boundary to the north of Hokkaido.”39 Although it would have been possible to draw a boundary nearer to Hokkaido, possibly excluding some of the Japanese Kurils, this alternative was considered unacceptable because it could be misinterpreted as a potential retreat and might “damage the new regime’s domestic and external prestige.”40 On the other hand, the Japanese leaderhsip was also uncertain about the prospects offered by territorial enlargement as such. The Meji government was not convinced of the willingness of provincial governments and their citizens to divert sparse resources to adequately populate Sakhalin and the Kurils, particularly as the project to develop Hokkaido was still largely incomplete. (Jansen 1989, P. 740) Further territorial expansion on Japan’s behalf might also foment political problems abroad. Not only was there “little compelling reason that those territories [the Kurils] should belong to belong to Japan” 41 but their annexation would “complicate the question of administration and defense; it
LENSEN, George Alexander: Early Russo-Japanese Relations, The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Nov., 1950), P. 9 LENSEN, George Alexander: Russians in Japan, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1954) P. 162 33 Ibid. P. 162 34 Occasionally, albeit comparatively rarely, the ‘Shimoda Treaty’ may be also be referred to as the ‘Shimoda Pact’ and sometimes also as the ‘Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation.’ See NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 500 35 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 381 36 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 500 37 LENSEN, George Alexander: Russians in Japan, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1954) P. 162 38 Ibid. 39 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 740 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid.
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5 could give rise to further problems with Russia, as it would bring Japan closer to Russia’s territory in Siberia and the Maritime provinces.”42 In 1874, Japanese residents living on the island of Sakhalin were repatriated, intimating a future territorial agreement between the two powers. In 1875, former prisoner turned diplomatic envoy Enomoto Takeaki was dispatched to Russia to forge an agreement. (Jensen 1989, P. 740) The resulting treaty effectively called for Japan to cede her interests in Sakhalin in exchange for the entirety of the Kuril Island chain. Scholars often cite this treaty when attempting to establish legal and historical precedence for precisely which islands should be regarded as the ‘Kurils’ and which should be considered under the term ‘Northern Territories’ (i.e. historically always part of Japan and never formally considered part of the Kurils). It was also one of the first agreements Japan made with a Western power where she was treated fairly and was “not forced to make humiliating concessions.”43 However, at the time, the Japanese claim to these islands was largely intended as a political stratagem to maintain the country’s prestige. The Meji government did not want to be seen as granting territorial concessions, unless they were on a strict quid-pro-quo basis and therefore insisted on its right to the Kurils in exchange for Sakhalin. (Jansen 1989, P. 740) As the 19th century progressed, Japan became increasingly assertive and imperialistic and was soon regarded as a “key factor in world politics.”44 The origins of the first Russo-Japanese War in 1905 can be traced back to the conflicting imperial ambitions of both countries and their political entanglements in the Far East. Japans newfound power and imperial temerity was welcomed by the old guard of the global political order, and formalized by the establishment of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902. The consequences of this military pact were far-reaching and some historians even suggest that it might have played a role in fomenting the First World War. (Jansen 1989, P. 774) While there was some initial disagreement amongst influential Japanese politicians about whether a peace treaty with the British Empire would be more beneficial than signing one with Russia, the Anglo-Japanese accord was eventually determined to be more in line with national interests. At the time, these interests revolved closely around the contest for influence in East Asia and were explicitly formulated by the Diet as the “securing of national defence through the protection of Korean independence.” 45 What Japan desired from Russia was explicit recognition of her interests in Korea and China, which Russia might have granted in exchange for recognition of her interests in Manchuria. (Jansen 1989, P. 775) But despite lengthy negotiations the two sides were unable to arrive at an understanding and Japan became convinced that “her position in Korea would be vulnerable so long as Russian influence remained predominant in southern Manchuria.”46 But this realization is not what led to war, as there was still a great deal of uncertainty about “whether a war with Russia could be won or [if] Japan was economically prepared to finance it.” 47 As it turns out, the origin of first Russo-Japanese War is best attributed not to some dramatic external event, but to the slow accumulation of domestic pressure. Beginning in the early 1900s, a substantial pro-war movement initiated by the country’s intelligentsia combined with sensationalist reporting about the Russian presence in Manchuria got the war drum beating. The movement also received support from numerous middleechelon officials in the Foreign Ministry as well as seven influential Tokyo Imperial University professors, who sent a letter to Prime Minister Katsua Tarō citing the need for “’fundamental settlement’ of the Manchurian problem.”48 With very few actively speaking against the war, it was not long before patriotism, militarism and imperialism helped swelled pro-war sentiment further. Furthermore, Japan’s jingoistic lean during this period was regarded as essential for “the existence of the nation.”49 The RussoJapanese war was waged solely for the purpose of maintaining Japan’s prestige, and had little to do with any desire for territorial gain or matters of commercial trade. “The war was not produced by economic pressures but by the sentiment inside and outside the government that it was the only alternative if the country were to remain a viable entity as a modern power.” 50 Japan was scored a quick and decisive victory in the war against Russia. As a result, not only did she maintain the Kurils, but the Treaty of Portsmouth signed in 1905 also awarded her control of Sakhalin Island south of 50 N as well as the substantial rights in southern Manchuria formerly enjoyed by the Russians. Thus in the first few years of the twentieth century, a “new balance of power in northeast Asia”51 had emerged, and Japan played an essential if not “key”52 role in this new regional dynamic. However, this state of affairs would not last. The advent of World War II would bring loss and suffering that the Japanese in their newfound assertiveness could barely imagine. II. The Second World: Annexation and the Makings of a Territorial Dispute he Soviet Union became formally involved in Second World War by means of the neutrality pact concluded between Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop in August 1939. However, this agreement was not destined to last, and on 22nd of June 1941 Nazi Germany began to push beyond the previously agreed upon border. Yet while Soviet Union was pummelled hard by Germany from the West, her eastern flank remained comparatively calm despite its relative proximity to a major Axis power. The Soviet Union only entered the Pacific theatre on the 8 th of August 1945, when she declared war on Japan. Two days earlier, the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was bombed on the 9th. The Soviet Union’s

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Ibid. Ibid. P. 741 44 Ibid. P. 775 45 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 774 46 Ibid. P. 775 47 Ibid. P. 775 48 Ibid. P. 775 49 Ibid. P. 776 50 Ibid. P. 777 51 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 490 52 JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989. P. 777

6 overall involvement in the Pacific arena was short and brisk. It consisted principally of attacking Japanese occupied Manchuria and the occupation of the Kuril Islands previously ceded to Japan after the signing of the St. Petersburg treaty. (Mack & O’Hare 1990, P. 382) However, the occupation of Japan’s ‘Northern Territories’ was not a military manoeuvre intended to give the Soviets a strategic advantage over their enemy. By this point, Japan had already been so greatly weakened by its war with the U.S. that it could offer little resistance. Rather, this was a carefully choreographed annexation that came about as a result of the numerous conferences held between the Allied Powers to negotiate the terms of Soviet participation in the war against the Japan. (Elleman, Nichols & Ouimet P. 490) The saga of Soviet Union’s “diplomatic web” 53 which eventually became the political backbone of their occupation of the Kurils began with the Cairo conference held in 1943. Although the Soviet Union was not in attendance at this particular event, it was here that mention was first made with regard to “post-war territorial acquisitions.”54 Upon its conclusion was issued the following declaration:
“The three great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the Islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories that Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa and Pescadores shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence or greed.”55

The vague wording and conceptual largesse (‘expelled from all territories which she has taken by greed’) of this declaration would prove a useful argumentative framework for both sides in their future debates about the islands. At the Tehran conference held in December of 1943, “Stalin reiterated an earlier pledge to join the allies in the war against Japan once Germany was defeated.”56 However, territorial issues were not specifically discussed at this Summit and it has been reported that Stalin “asked to postpone discussion of specific territorial issues until the Soviet Union was better prepared to enter the Pacific War.”57 More importantly, Galen Perras writes in the Journal of Military History that, at this meeting, “the CCS sought Moscow’s promise it would join the Pacific conflict at some future point, provide intelligence information and base access for the American military in Siberia, and give some indication whether the Soviets would provide ‘direct or indirect assistance’ to an invasion of the northern Kuriles.”58 [Emphasis added] Perras continues, citing the Combined Staff Planners: “Their 2 nd December appraisal stated that ‘[i]n the event of the U.S.S.R. entering the war, operations in the North Pacific may assume far greater importance and may involve a major redeployment of forces.” 59 Shortly after the Tehran summit, Roosevelt is said to have reported to the Pacific War Council60 that “among other things, Stalin wanted ‘all of Sakhalin returned to Russia and to have the Kurile Islands turned over to Russia in order that they may exercise control of the straits leading to Siberia.” 61 Thus it becomes evident how U.S. involvement preceding the invasion of the Kuril chain was essential to establishing and legitimizing the Soviet occupation and ultimately determined the fate of the Islands. An altogether more important episode of U.S. involvement in the Kuril Islands dispute occurred with the advent of the Yalta conference in February of 1945. At this meeting, Stalin managed to secure from Roosevelt a guarantee that Russia would ostensibly be granted the entire Kuril Island chain as a “political condition” 62 in exchange for Soviet involvement in the Pacific War against Japan. The negotiations at Yalta produced an agreement signed by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill which stated “that ‘the Soviet Union shall enter into the war against Japan on the side of the Allies on the condition that … 2(a) The southern part of Sakhalin as well as the islands adjacent to it shall be returned to the Soviet Union … (3) The Kurile Islands shall be handed over to the Soviet Union.”63 Historians and political scientists still ponder over the relative ease with which Stalin managed to solicit a favourable agreement concerning the Kuril Islands from Roosevelt, and theories abound as to precisely how this came to be. Prior to the Yalta agreement, American officials had already begun to contemplate the eventual fate of the Kuril Islands. The PWAC (Postwar Advisory Committee), in cooperation with “academic specialists”64 from the State Department, produced a
ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 490 54 Ibid. 55 Ibid. P. 491 & NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 502 56 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 381 57 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 76 58 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 80f 59 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 81 60 The PWC consisted of ambassadors whose states were involved in the Pacific War against Japan. 61 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 76 62 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 381 63 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 491 & BRIGGS, Herbert W.: The Leaders’ Agreement of Yalta, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Apr., 1946) P. 376 64 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 72
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7 series of reports detailing how potential issues in the Asia and the Far East should be dealt with in the aftermath of the war. With regard to the Kurils, the Territorial Subcommittee (as this group of specialists was designated) foresaw an eventual conflict of interest in the juxtaposition of Soviet strategic imperative and the principal of territorial non-expansion enunciated in the Cairo Declaration. Simply ‘assigning’ sovereignty over the islands to the Soviet Union would “impose unnecessary hardship on the Japanese people”65 and “contravene the Atlantic Charter’s prohibition against territorial aggrandizement and violate the principle of self-determination.”66 These reservations were further exacerbated by the practical reality that Japan’s ownership of the islands was established by treaty rather than by force of arms and the majority of the Islands’ inhabitants were indeed Japanese. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 72) The PWAC also established that the presence of “potentially hostile … Soviet forces” 67 might serve to undermine the stability of post war Japan. According to a separate account advanced by Elleman, Nichols & Ouimet one of the academic experts on the State Department staff made the following concrete recommendations with regards to the Kuril Islands:
“(1) The southern Kuriles should be retained by Japan subject to the principles of disarmament to be applied to the entire Japanese Empire; (2) the northern and central Kuriles should be placed under the projected international organization which should designate the Soviet Union as administering authority; (3) in any case, the retention by Japan of fishing rights in the waters of the northern should be given consideration”68

These recommendations, also known as the Blakeslee Report, were not included in the Yalta Briefing Book however, which led to President Roosevelt departing for the Yalta Summit with an inadequate understanding of the problem at hand. (Elleman, Nichols & Ouimet P. 491 & Perras 1997, P. 86) As previously mentioned, there are conflicting accounts of exactly how Roosevelt came to grant Stalin the substantial territorial concession of the Kuril Islands. Some suggest that Roosevelt, while at the Tehran Conference, might have been persuaded by Stalin that the Kuril chain had been awarded to Japan in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Because of this, it is said that Roosevelt was receptive to “Stalin’s claim that to fortify the USSR’s national defence, both the Kurils and southern Sakhalin should become part of the Soviet Union.” 69 Further, it is also claimed that Roosevelt harboured certain “distrust” 70 toward the State Department, and that he often preferred back-channel negotiations to using his official diplomatic envoys. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 73) As a result, “historians have assumed that the planners’ recommendations never reached the President and that he acted on the mistaken belief that Russia had surrendered the Kuriles to Japan in the Treaty of Portsmouth.”71 In other accounts, Roosevelt is assigned an altogether more active role in ultimately deciding the Kurils’ fate, rather than brushing them off as merely “another outstanding territorial question that would have to be settled at the war’s end.”72 At yet another meeting with the Pacific War Council, Roosevelt stipulated that besides potential economic problems, “’the United Nations must [also] consider future defence and maintenance of peace and the establishment of strongpoints.’” 73 Such ‘strongpoints’ would be part of a “system” 74 by which China, Russia and the United States could “prevent future Japanese aggression” 75 in the north Pacific. While the Kuril Islands were not specifically mentioned before the Pacific War Council, Roosevelt did mention them in the private conversation with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Here, he “raised the possibility of establishing international trusteeships over key security points throughout the world”76 before eventually adding that the Kurils should “really go to Russia.”77 Additionally, there is also evidence that the British had also been contemplating potential territorial redistribution in the North Pacific. A senior British official in Washington is reported to have contacted the State Department asking specifically about “whether the Americans ‘proposed to make any offer to recognize any territorial changes in favour of the Soviet Union in the Sakhalin area or in the Kuriles.”78 This sequence of events demonstrates that the eventual Soviet occupation of the Kuril Islands was by not truly unilateral, but conducted with the implicit support of Russia’s major allies in the Second World War. Alternatively, it has also been suggested that President Roosevelt might not have known precisely which islands the term ‘Kuril’ actually encompasses. Therefore, he believed that by granting Stalin ‘the Kurils’, he was essentially assenting only to Soviet sovereignty over the Kuril Islands north of Etorofu i.e. giving Russia back the islands she lost as a result of the Russo-Japanese War and the subsequent Treaty of Portsmouth. The special status of the Southern Kurils as the ‘Northern Territories’ and the potential sovereignty dispute that could arise therefrom was suggested in the aforementioned ‘Blakeslee Report’ which FDR did not read. (Elleman, Nichols & Ouimet 1991, P. 491 & Hara 2001, P. 364) However, new evidence demonstrates that Roosevelt was actually very well aware of the significance of the four southernmost Kurils for Japan:
Ibid. Ibid. 67 Ibid. P. 73 68 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 491 69 Ibid. 70 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 73 71 Ibid. 72 Ibid. P. 74 73 Ibid. P. 74 74 Ibid. P. 75 75 Ibid. P. 75 76 Ibid. P. 75 77 Ibid. P. 75 78 Ibid. P. 75
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8
“It is significant that in paraphrasing Stalin, Roosevelt drew a distinction between south Sakhalin, which should be ‘returned to Russia,’ and the Kuriles, which should be ‘turned over to Russia’ to provide for protection of Siberia. In his earlier discussion with Cordell Hull, FDR had said that the Kuriles should ‘go to Russia,’ and not that they should be returned to Russia. The context of both discussions makes it clear that Roosevelt’s willingness to satisfy Stalin’s request was based on his appreciation of the strategic importance of the islands to the Soviet Union and not on some misunderstanding about the treaty of Portsmouth.” 79

In light of the above, it seems most likely the Roosevelt conceded the Kurils to foster a “good working relationship with Stalin that would survive the war’s end.”80 This was compounded by the President’s poor health during the Yalta Meeting and his desire to impel the USSR into war against the Japanese in the Pacific. He was also likely concerned about a “return to American isolationism”81 in the region and seeing the Soviet Union as a “nation to [be] reckon[ed] with,”82 was indeed motivated to grant “spheres of influence”83 in order to appear amenable to Soviet interests in the region. It also seems that “neither Roosevelt nor Churchill was inexorably wedded to the principal of ‘no territorial expansion,’ since at Yalta both acquiesced in Soviet territorial expansion at the expense of Poland and Germany (East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia).”84 In other words, the terms of the Atlantic Charter (and the Cairo Declaration) were explicitly violated more than once in order to provide for postwar stability and to meet political ends. There was also an important strategic component to the United States’ involvement in the Kuril Islands dispute. The Kurils had been the subject of American military planning since July 1940, when “Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner assumed command of the army in Alaska.”85 General Buckner was interested in finding a northern route to Japan in order to establish a kind of buffer zone intended to prevent serious attacks on important bases and other “installations.” 86 Buckner wanted “his jurisdiction ‘equipped as a point of departure for carrying aggressive warfare onto the Asiatic mainland, for sinking hostile ships in the Bering Sea and the North Pacific and as a base for refueling and refitting overseas expeditions on the shortest route to the Orient.’”87 Apprehensive of what the commencement of significant hostilities in the North Pacific might actually entail, Bruckner’s superior, Lieutenant General John De Witt (head of the 4th Army and commander of the Western Defense Command) did not immediately agree with his assessment. As the war began to intensify and the relations with Japan started to deteriorate, the potential for using the Kurils to stage an assault on mainland Japan, or even simply to draw Japanese resources to their northern flank was being given serious consideration. (Perras 1997, P. 70) These plans were confounded primarily by uncertainty about the Russian strategy in the Far East and Russia’s lack of cooperation in the studies conducted by the Joint Planners’ Staff (JPS) designed to predict the potential implications of an “offensive via the Aleutians and Siberia.” 88 JPS was of the opinion that any attempt to defeat Japan in absence of Soviet support would require an assault and subsequent invasion of the mainland from the south. (Peras 1997, P. 71) On July 10th 1943, shortly after the JPS made public its opinion on future hostilities with Japan, a sortie of 18 bombers was dispatched to the Kuril Islands to test bombing efficacy. This was the first time that “land-based American bombers had been used to strike Japan’s home islands. (Perras 1997, P. 71) The following quote taken from a report by the Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC) accurately summarizes U.S. strategic interests in the North Pacific:
“U.S. occupation of the Kuriles will make the U.S. more independent of Russian assistance in the Pacific War, and at the same time will facilitate the shipment of war materials to Russia were she to declare war against Japan. Continued U.S. possession of the northern Kuriles upon the close of hostilities, and their military development would close the North Pacific against any invasion mounted in the Far East with a destination in the Western Hemisphere.”89

The JWPC study “listed a base in the Kurils as ‘essential,’ the highest designation given to prospective bases.” 90 Eventually, despite extensive planning and discussion, what finally stymied the establishment of a U.S. military presence on the Kuril Archipelago was essentially the lack of resources due to the ongoing war against the European Axis. Roosevelt’s decision at Yalta to hand over the Islands to Stalin provoked a split amongst senior military officials. Secretary of War Henry Stimson approved of the Islands’ occupation as long as “the United States retained ‘permanent landing rights therein, as the islands are located in a
Ibid. P. 76 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 86 81 Ibid. 82 Ibid. 83 Ibid. 84 HARA, Kimie: 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001) P. 364f 85 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 66 86 Ibid. 87 Ibid. P. 66f 88 Ibid. P. 70 89 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 83 90 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 78
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9 great circle route to Japan from the United States” 91 and would therefore substantially reduce “mileage on air voyages following [that] route.”92 On the other hand, Colonel Charles Bonesteel voiced his fervent opposition to “disposing of the islands given their location on the Great Circle Route.” 93 He commented on Roosevelt’s decision as follows:
“Unless we kid ourselves we know damn well the only Asiatic enemy we are guarding against is Russia. Therefore why spend all the men and fortune we have to get security in the Pacific and then not make the effort to hold a base near the obvious springboard of the most possible route of attack against us.”

Bonesteel’s plea was largely in line with the aforementioned opinion of the JWPC but it had little effect on encouraging the interest of his superiors. In mid-July 1945 President Harry Truman met Stalin in Potsdam to finalize certain outstanding issues of the war. The meeting resulted in the ‘Potsdam Proclamation’ which “stipulated [that] ‘the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out, and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we [the Allied Powers] determine.”94 Japan however was not prepared to accept the Potsdam Proclamation and “while they deliberated, the full meaning of the Proclamation’s warning became apparent in the destruction of Hiroshima.”95 After the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8th, the otherwise tepid JWPC suggested that “American forces grab Paramushiro or the island of Matsuwa ‘in order to assist any negotiation for post-war airfield rights therein.’”96 Subsequently, Colonel Bonesteel was asked to draw up a draft of “General Order No. 1 detailing the surrender of the Japanese Armed Forces.” 97 (Perras 1997, P. 88) Additionally, this document would also designate the official occupation zones for the Allied Powers in postwar Japan. It is reported that Bonesteel finished writing the first important paragraphs of the document in one half-hour, and that the first draft made no mention “of the Kuriles in the areas to be occupied.” 98 This omission would later be attributed to the “haste in which the order was written”99 but taking into account Bonesteel’s view on the matter, it seems more likely the Kuril Islands were left out by design, rather than by accident. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 84 & Perras 1997, P. 88) Bonesteel was able to finish the first draft of General Order No. 1 so quickly because he built upon the provisional “operational boundaries drawn at Potsdam.” 100 These boundaries placed all but the northern-most islands within the American zone. Perras therefore opines that Bonesteel “may have deliberately omitted the Kuriles in the hope the Potsdam operational boundaries would encourage commanders to beat the Soviets to the punch.”101 Before the final version of General Order No. 1 was issued, a final attempt was made by the new Secretary of War John McCloy to elicit support for the occupation of “at least some of the islands.” 102 He encountered resistance from Secretary of State James Byrnes, who said that America had already “agreed to give the Kuriles to the Russians” 103 and was no longer in a position to retract that decision. Eventually, the navy also weighed in in support of McCloy which forced Byrnes to relent and ultimately concede the occupation of the “Kuriles south of the occupational boundary that had been agreed upon at Potsdam.”104 Following up on these developments, McCloy advised navy staff to “determine which island the U.S. wanted for an ‘airbase.’”105 Ultimately his efforts would prove futile however. On August 15th 1945 the final version of General Order No. 1 was sent to Moscow for approval. (Perras 1997, P. 88) The final revision did not “specify to whom Japanese troops on the Kuril Islands would surrender, but mentioned only Manchuria, Korea and Sakhalin.”106 The Order read as follows: “The Senior Japanese Commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within Manchuria, Korea north of 38 degrees north latitude and Karafuto [Sakhalin] shall surrender to the Commander in Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East.”107 Upon reading the final version, Stalin sent word back to Truman that, per Yalta, “’all the Kuril Islands’ must be included in the region of surrender to Soviet troops.” 108 Stalin also made an additional demand that had not
PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 86 92 Ibid. P. 87 93 Ibid. P. 87 94 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 502 95 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 83 96 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 88 97 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 492 98 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 83 99 Ibid. 100 Ibid. P. 84 101 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 88 102 Ibid. 103 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 88 104 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 84 105 Ibid. P. 85 106 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 493 107 Ibid. 108 Ibid.
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10 been previously discussed. He requested to “’include in the region of surrender of the Japanese armed forces to Soviet troops the northern part of the island of Hokkaido.” 109 Stalin reportedly considered this demand to be ‘modest’ and “warned that ‘Russian public opinion would be seriously offended if the Russian troops would not have an occupation region in some part of the Japanese proper territory.’”110 That Stalin would make such a hefty demand after having already agreed upon strictly defined provisional occupation zones at Potsdam seems odd. In fact, it is possible that Stalin might have actually had absolutely no interest in the northern part of Hokkaido. Instead, it seems this new demand could have been a ruse intended to make his other request for the entirety of the Kuril Islands seem mild in comparison. Truman, undoubtedly shocked by the enormity of Stalin’s demand, would thereby be encouraged to grant the seemingly smaller concession of the Kuril Archipelago. If this was indeed Stalin’s gambit, it worked. Truman refused outright to grant Russia a concession in Hokkaido, but he did agree to revise General Order No. 1 as follows: “The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within Manchuria, Korea north of 38 degrees north latitude, Karafuto [Sakhalin] and the Kurile Islands shall surrender to the Commander-in-Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East.”111 Stalin was still not satisfied however, and on the 22 nd of August he sent word to Truman that he was surprised that his request for the northern part of Hokkaido had been refused. In response, Truman made a further modification to General Order No. 1 that he hoped would finally satisfy Soviet demands. The document now read as follows: “The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within Manchuria, Korea north of 38 degrees north latitude, Karafuto [Sakhalin] and all the Kurile Islands shall surrender to the Commander-in-Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East.”112 (Emphasis added) The final message that was dispatched to Stalin granting him ‘all’ of the Kurils also contained a proviso intended to secure future access for the United States government to “air base rights for land and sea aircraft on some one of the Kurile Islands, preferably in the central group, for military purposes and for commercial use.” 113 Stalin responded to this request with the following:
“Demands of such a nature are usually laid before a conquered state or such an allied state which is in no position to defend with its own means certain parts of its territory…. I do not believe the Soviet Union could be included among such states,”114

This answer was anticipated by the military brass and it was generally regarded as something “not terribly important” 115 by senior policy planners as well as by the State Department. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 86) The inclusion of the word ‘all’ in General Order No. 1 essentially granted the Soviet Union the two southernmost islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu, “even though the Yalta Agreement did not actually specify that these islands were part of the Kurils.” 116 It would therefore seem poor reasoning to assign Roosevelt the blame of granting the Soviet Union the Kurils at Yalta since it was actually Truman who made the de facto concession. However, Truman did try to make it clear that he had never agreed that the “Kuriles were Soviet territory.”117 He reminded Stalin that their “transfer would not be finalized until a Japanese peace treaty had been signed.” 118 In Truman’s view, General Order No. 1 was not intended to determine the permanent cession of Japanese territory, but only its interim occupation. (Elleman, Nichols & Ouimet 1991, P. 494) By agreeing to Soviet occupation of the Kurils, Truman believed to be allowing Stalin to occupy ‘Japanese proper territory’ as he had requested. He then proceeded to clarify his view of the precise circumstance of the Kuril Islands’ in a direct message to Stalin:
“You evidently misunderstood my message [about the Kuril Islands]…. I was not speaking about any territory of the Soviet Republic. I was speaking of the Kurile Islands, Japanese territory, disposition of which must be made at a peace settlement. I was advised that my predecessor agreed to support in the peace settlement the Soviet acquisition of those islands.”119 (Emphasis in original)

The above statement is significant because it makes specific mention of the American view on de jure ownership status of the islands and clarifies that General Order No. 1 did not “hand over all the Kuril Islands to the USSR, but merely granted Soviet Forces the right to occupy Kunashiri and Etorofu temporarily.”120 A separate reappraisal of the Yalta agreement by the State Department also concludes that while the United States had agreed that the “USSR and Japan could discuss the transfer of the Kurils, Washington denied it had the power to authorize such a transfer.”121
Ibid. Ibid. 111 Ibid. 112 Ibid. 113 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 85 114 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 88 115 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 86 116 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 494 117 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 87 118 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 88 119 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 494 120 Ibid. 121 Ibid. P. 492
109 110

11 Despite Truman’s objections, Stalin pressed hard into the Kurils on the 18 th of August. The assault began at Shimushu Island located at the northern end of the chain. Despite suffering around 2,000 casualties while attempting to secure a beachhead, the Red Army wrested control of the island from the Japanese by the 21 st of August, and the remainder of the archipelago fell by the 4th of September. (Perras 1997, P. 89) Just two days earlier, Japan had signed the Instrument of Surrender, the formal capitulation of the Empire of Japan to the Allied Powers, aboard the USS Missouri. By the 20 th, Moscow “had unilaterally declared that all the Kurils, including the Habomais and Shikotan, were now Soviet territory.” 122 By 1947 the Soviet constitution had been amended to include the Kuril Islands “as an ‘integral component of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.” 123 As far as the United States was concerned, the Soviet occupation (and annexation) of the Kurils was not immediately mourned as a tactical, or indeed even a political loss. For much of the Pacific War, U.S. military interest in the Kuril Islands remained lukewarm despite their obvious strategic value as an essential stepping-stone for a northern approach to Japan proper. Planners and strategists had assigned priority to the war in Europe and many in senior military cadres were of the opinion that to embark on substantial operations in the north Pacific theatre would represent a serious misallocation of valuable military resources. (Perras 1997, P. 89f) If Germany were to remain unbeaten, “the emphasis on the North Pacific may have compelled a substantial delay in Europe”124 – a delay that Britain in particular was keen on avoiding. Further, strategic oversight of the north Pacific was in disarray. No one officer was designated as the region’s supreme commander and the responsibilities were shared by Admiral Chester Nimitz and General John DeWitt. Despite their skill and prominence as military leaders, the pair could not offer a “unified vision for the north Pacific theatre”125 which undoubtedly led to the matter of the Kuril Islands being relegated to the periphery. Even in the immediate aftermath of the War, the United States was more concerned with “maintaining control over Japan’s former mandates in the central Pacific”126 than with the “Soviet acquisition of the Kurils.” 127 Only as the Cold War intensified and the new Soviet threat started to materialize did the Kuril Islands begin to receive renewed attention from policy makers. The primary fear in this case was that control of the Kurils granted the Soviets virtually unfettered access to the North Pacific by air and sea, where they could easily assault allied shipping lanes and other valuable targets. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 88) It would not take long for U.S. to realize that its hesitation with regard to the islands might represent a strategic blunder which could eventually cost them dearly. III. Postwar: San Francisco and the Specter of the Cold War s World War II drew to a close, the great struggle for power and influence between the United States and the USSR had begun. For its part, the US was intent on molding Japan into an anti-communist outpost in the Pacific. To this end, the postwar interim authority began to emphasize strengthening the economy at the expense of social reforms. (Gllicchio 1991, P. 89) It was determined by the State Department that “American objectives would best be served by ending the state of war with Japan and replacing the military occupation with a US-Japan security treaty.”128 The establishment of a security accord between America and Japan would gain the US an important ally in the Pacific, right on the Soviet Union’s eastern flank. America’s stance on the Soviet acquisition of the Kuril Islands began to change as this security relationship started to mature. First, it was proposed that a definition of the Kuril Islands be adopted which would leave the Habomai under Japanese control, and that there would be no US opposition to Japan being returned other islands currently under Soviet control. At this point, “the occupation of all the islands north of Hokkaido” 129 was not considered a violation of “the Yalta accords, the Potsdam Proclamation or General Order Number One.” 130 Only later when the terms of a peace treaty were under consideration was it suggested by George Kennan, the director of the Policy Planning Staff, that Japan should “retain the islands closes to Hokkaido: Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai group.” 131 However their planners were having difficulties establishing a factual basis for these claims, both legally and geographically. While it was possible to establish that Shikotan and the Habomai group were not part of Kuriles, the same did not apply for Kunashiri and Etorofu. This geographic distinction received further support from the State Department’s legal advisor, who “concluded that ‘there seems to be no legal support for the wish’” 132 to demand return of even some of the Kurils to Japan. Lacking any substantive legal basis for their claims, the US resorted to different means to encourage the USSR to make at least a symbolic concession:

A

“Prior to the [San Francisco Peace Conference], the United States decided to place Okinawa and Ryukyu Islands under a ‘trusteeship with the United States as administering authority.’ Washington undoubtedly hoped that the USSR would do the same with the Kurils, but Moscow continued to claim full sovereignty not only over the Kurils, but also over Habomais and Shikotan.” 133
Ibid. P. 495 Ibid. P. 495 124 PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) P. 89 125 Ibid. 126 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 88 127 Ibid. 128 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 89 129 Ibid. P. 90 130 Ibid. P. 90 131 Ibid. P. 90 132 Ibid. P. 90 133 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 495
122 123

12 The Japanese also campaigned to have their claims to the Northern Territories formally recognized in the peace treaty with the United States. Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru petitioned Special Envoy John Foster Dulles, the official designated the task of formulating the accord, to “acknowledge Japanese sovereignty over the Southern Kurils”134 in any final settlement. Although Dulles considered the Yalta to be principally a “statement of general purposes” 135 as opposed to a legally binding agreement, he was still not prepared to confirm Japan’s claim to the islands. Dulles suggested to Yoshida that insisting on such a clause might “delay, complicate, [or] possibly prevent the conclusion of a peace treaty.” 136 The Treaty of Peace with Japan was signed at the San Francisco Opera House on the 8 th of September, 1951. In its final form, the agreement danced around the issue of de jure ownership of the Kuril Islands. This was partly a result of differing views amongst the Allies but also because of Dulles’ own personal opinion about the matter. The British Foreign Ministry had assumed the position that what was agreed upon at Yalta was final and hence would not require further confirmation, and encouraged that any peace accord be written with this in mind. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 91) However Dulles viewed Yalta as offering merely a territorial outline and simply composed the agreement in a manner which avoided language that could not be interpreted as an “open contradiction of the Yalta agreements.”137 This meant that in order to actually “assume sovereignty over the Kuriles, the Soviet Union would have to be a party to a formal peace treaty.”138 But in reality it was understood that it was unlikely the Soviet Union would participate in an American led conference, and that the Kurils might therefore very well remain an “’open point of friction between the USSR and Japan.’”139 The final treaty was signed by forty-nine countries, including the Japan. The USSR attempted to block the proceedings and subsequently withdrew from the conference when its efforts failed. During the conference, Special Envoy Dulles raised the point that “in consonance with the surrender terms, the treaty had only defined the area of Japanese sovereignty without settling the final disposition of all the territories taken from Japan.” 140 He also clarified that, as the US saw matters, the Habomais group could not be considered part of the Kuril Islands and any claims to sovereignty would have to be settled by the International Court of Justice. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 92) This position was later revised by the State Department to state “that ‘the Habomais Islands and Shikotan … are properly a part of Hokkaido and that Japan is entitled to sovereignty over them.’”141 Further, “an agreement between the United States and Great Britain specified that territorial rights would not be granted to nations that did not sign the San Francisco peace treaty.” 142 This meant that the Soviet occupation of the islands was not internationally recognized. The Kuril Islands were now officially in limbo. By signing the San Francisco peace treaty, Japan officially renounced its claim to the Kuril Islands. But as Richard deVillafranca points out, the agreement made no mention concerning precisely “which islands constituted the chain.”143 Also, the question remains open as to which nation Japan actually renounced its sovereignty over the islands to, as the de facto occupiers were not party to the same agreement. The relevant clause in the treaty, Article II(c), reads as follows: “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a result of the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905.” 144 Japan’s agreement with regard to this clause seems in direct contradiction to an address delivered by Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida at the conference concerning the Soviet occupation.
“With respect to the Kurils … the Soviet delegate spoke the other day as though Japan had grabbed them by aggression. To state the truth, Japan’s ownership of the South Kurils was never disputed by the Tsarist Government … the North and South Kurils were placed under Soviet occupation as of September 20, 1945, shortly after Japan’s surrender. Even the islands of Habomai and Shikotan, constituting part of Hokkaido, one of Japan’s four main islands, are still being occupied by Soviet forces who landed there without authorization.”145

Clearly, the term ‘Kuril Islands’ did not refer to the same geographic entities for each of the parties involved. This problem would come into even sharper relief during the 1955 to 1956 Russo-Japanese negotiations. In the early 1950s, public opinion in Japan was beginning to shift in support of normalizing relations with the Soviet Union (Mack & O’Hare 1990, P. 384) The underlying desire was to “terminate the formal state of war between the two states and to resolve the Northern Territories dispute.” 146 Additionally, there was also the matter of repatriating detained Japanese citizens and the right to catch fish in the waters of the
GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 91 135 Ibid. 136 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 230 137 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 91f 138 Ibid. 139 Ibid. P. 92 140 Ibid. P. 92 141 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 496 142 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 496 143 DEVILLAFRANCA, Richard: Japan and the Northern Territories Dispute: Past, Present and Future, Asian Survey, Vol. 33, No. 6, Japan: Redefining Its International Role (Jun., 1993) P. 611 144 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 496 145 Ibid. P. 495f 146 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 384
134

13 northern seas. The USSR reciprocated in kind. Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov called for the normalization of relations with Japan on the 12th of September, 1954. According to an article published in Pravda, “Moscow’s only precondition was an expression of willingness from the Japanese.” 147 It is during these negotiations which began in 1955 in London “that ‘four islands return’ became the core policy of the Japanese government”148 that endures to this day. At first, the Japanese negotiating position at the onset of the talks in 1955 – 1956 was that “Habomais and Shikotan were claimed unconditionally and that the historical claim to the southern Kurils did not have to be met for settlement to be reached.”149 Compared to Japan’s modern stance on the issue, this position is substantially more indulgent of the Soviet occupation of Kunashiri and Etorofu. However, conflicting accounts of these negotiations do exist in the literature. Gallicchio illustrates the same episode as follows:
“In early 1955, as part of this new approach to the Soviet Union, Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru undertook to conclude a peace treaty with Moscow that would return Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomais to Japan. Although the Japanese government desired the return of all of the Kuriles, the Foreign Ministry focused its attention on the four islands closest to Japan. The Japanese asserted their claim to the so-called Northern Territories on the grounds that Japan’s sovereignty over Etorofu and Kunashiri had invariably been recognized by Russia in earlier negotiations. Moreover, the islands had always been administered as part of Hokkaido. Thus, they were not legally considered Kurile Islands and their disposition could not have been affected by the Yalta agreements. As for the Habomais and Shikotan, the Japanese argued that these islands were not even part of the Kuriles chain.”150

In his account, DeVillafranca offers further insights which indicate that Japan’s territorial ambitions might have even stretched beyond the Kuril Archipelago:
“The Japanese strategy at the outset in London was to seek the return of all territory seized by the USSR during the war, including the Southern Sakhalin, the entire Kurile Chain, and Shikotan Islands and the Habomai group of islets that japan did not consider part of the Kurile chain. Japan’s bottom line was the return of Shikotan and the Habomais without recognition of Soviet sovereignty over any territory it relinquished in the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The Soviet strategy was to seek the military neutralization of Japan, but ultimately to return Shikotan and the Habomais as part of a total settlement including a peace treaty.”

Mack and O’Hare contend that Tokyo’s demands for the northern Kuriles and southern Sakhalin was little more than an “ambit claim”151 which ultimately had little impact on the actual turnout of the negotiations. It is likely that the differing accounts offered above are all valid interpretations of historical documents and memoranda that only appear different because the Japanese government was actually “deeply divided”152 on the issue. It is also clear that Japan was regularly receiving counsel from the United States during the negotiations which undoubtedly also influenced the extent and magnitude of their territorial claims during the course of their discussions with the Soviets. The 1955-56 talks between Japan and Russia came under close scrutiny from the United States for a multitude of reasons. Shortly after the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Dulles explained during a hearing before the US Senate that the agreement “represented the first formal act by the United States which recognizes our total freedom from any obligations that stem from Yalta.”153 This statement reflected Japan’s new status as a future ally of the United States and also set precedence for Yalta to be disregarded as the final outline of postwar territorial apportionment, as the USSR would later claim. In truth, the US was also getting nervous about the growing Soviet sphere of influence. By the time of the Russo-Japanese talks in the mid-1950s, Soviet military capabilities in the north Pacific and the Asian theatre had improved to such a degree that their presence on the Kuril Islands had become a credible threat. A reversal in the US military’s policy of indifference toward the islands started in 1947, when planners realized that in the event of hostilities, “Russian submarines [could] surge undetected through the straits separating the Kuriles and range into the Pacific to prey on allied shipping lanes.” 154 Further, American bases and other military installations in northern Japan were within easy striking distance of Soviet airfields on the islands. One US commander is noted to have remarked that “[Soviet aircraft] are so close we can see their planes on the airstrips from the air over Japan.” 155 The United States was further troubled by the direction of domestic politics in Japan at the time. Particularly distressing in this regard was a perceived “trend … toward neutralism” 156 and Prime Minister Yoshida’s “unwillingness to support a major increase in Japan’s
ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 496 148 HARA, Kimie: 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001) P. 366 149 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 384 150 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 94f 151 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 384 152 Ibid. 153 GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 92 154 Ibid. P. 88 155 Ibid. P. 93 156 Ibid. P. 93
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14 defense forces.”157 Special Envoy Dulles later claimed that “he was ‘terribly disappointed at the way things have been going in Japan…. There has not been any rebirth in moral strength as in the vase of Germany.” 158 Dulles was also burdened by concerns of what a return of the Kuril Islands to Japan might mean for American territorial interests in the region. As the Cold War in the Asia-Pacific intensified, US occupied Okinawa was becoming an increasingly valuable asset. Indeed, Dulles himself is known to have claimed that “the Ryukyus [Okinawa] were more valuable to the United States than the Kuriles were to the Soviet Union.” 159 This circumstance was made even more problematic by the realization that the US “did not have a strong basis for its retention of Okinawa”160 and if Japan actually settled its territorial problem with the USSR, “there would be considerable pressure on the U.S. to vacate Okinawa.”161 By August of 1955, Soviet Ambassador Jacob Malik, in an effort to reach and enduring settlement, had offered Japan the return of the Habomais and Shikotan, “if Japan would agree to keep the islands demilitarized and closed to foreign ships.” 162 While this offer was under consideration by the Japanese, Dulles pointed out at a meeting of the National Security Council, that “full support for the Japanese position could potentially undermine America’s rights on Okinawa.” 163 On the 20th of September, the following memorandum was forwarded by Dulles to the American Ambassador in Tokyo:
“a) we hope Japan will do nothing implying recognition of Soviet sovereignty over the Kuriles and South Sakhalin, disposition of which should be left for future international decision; b) the Soviet proposal entry to the Japan Sea violates international law and would nullify naval aspects of the U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty; and c) the Soviet proposal for demilitarization of the Habomais and Shikotan appears to be an unjust derogation of Japanese sovereignty over the islands.”164

Largely in response to the above memorandum, Japan countered the Soviet offer with “a strong reassertion of its claim to the Habomais and Shikotan, in addition to the other occupied southern Kuril Islands, and added a request for future negotiations on the status of southern Sakhalin.”165 Ambassador Malik refused to accommodate these demands. In December of 1955, the USSR vetoed Japan’s attempt to join the United Nations. Talks resumed again in January of 1956. This time, the Soviets suggested “an ‘Adenauer’-like settlement whereby resolution of territorial issues would be postponed until after a peace treaty was signed.” 166 Japan remained steadfast in its claims however and did not retreat from its four-island position. Talks broke down again on the 20th of March 1956, and the USSR subsequently announced fishing restrictions in both the Bering Sea and the north Pacific. (DeVillafranca 1993, P. 613 & Elleman, Nichols and Ouimet 1999, P. 498) This forced Japan to seek a separate agreement with the Soviet’s regarding fishing rights – something which they refused citing the still pending issue of diplomatic relations. Talks resumed again toward the end of July, 1956. Japan’s negotiator, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, was instructed to “seek, at a minimum, Soviet recognition of Japan’s residual sovereignty over Etorofu and Kunashiri.”167 However, after a meeting with Khrushchev and Bulganin in August, Shigemitsu eventually realized that any such claims would not be recognized by the Soviets. Eventually, the Soviets would somewhat soften their position and reintroduce their previous offer of a two-island compromise. This time, Shigemitsu was prepared to accept. (DeVillfranca 1993, P. 615 & Gallicchio 1991, P. 96) Shortly after this meeting, on the 19th and 24th of August, Shigemitsu and Dulles met for a tête-à-tête in London. It came as a surprise to Dulles to learn that elements within the Japanese government were actually considering the Soviet compromise as a potential solution to the dispute. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 96) During their first meeting, Shigemitsu told Dulles that “the Soviets were seeking a two-island deal, drawing a boundary line north of Shikotan and the Habomais” 168 but he did not reveal “that he had proposed that Tokyo accept this approach, and he did not say he had been instructed to break off the talks and return home.”169 In an effort to discourage the Japanese from reaching a compromise settlement, Dulles suggested that per Article 26 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (reproduced below), “if Japan made concessions to the USSR over the Northern Territories, the U.S.A. could claim Okinawa.”170 (Gallicchio 1991, P. 97) Eventually, the Dulles would come to support Japan’s ‘four-island’ position not because he felt particularly strongly about her legal or historical claim to the islands, but because this hard-line position would most likely to result in a stalemate with the Soviets. Furthermore, as long as the Russo-Japanese
Ibid. P. 94 Ibid. P. 94 159 HARA, Kimie: 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001) P. 366 160 Ibid. 161 Ibid. 162 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 496 163 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 496 164 Ibid. P. 497 165 Ibid. P. 497 166 DEVILLAFRANCA, Richard: Japan and the Northern Territories Dispute: Past, Present and Future, Asian Survey, Vol. 33, No. 6, Japan: Redefining Its International Role (Jun., 1993) P. 613 167 Ibid. 168 Ibid. P. 615 169 Ibid. P. 615 170 HARA, Kimie: 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001) P. 367
157 158

15 territorial issue remained unresolved, America’s possession of Okinawa was unprecedented and therefore more difficult to contest. A confidential poll conducted by the State Department had shown that public opinion in Japan was opposed to US military bases in the country and senior officials such as Prime Minister Hatoyama even publicly criticized the US in this regard. (Gallicchio 1991, P. 98) Although the United States insisted that it recognized Japan’s “residual sovereignty” 171 over Okinawa and had promised to hand back the island once it was “no longer needed for joint American-Japanese defense,”172 their hold on the island was tenuous and ultimately hinged on the outcome of the negotiations in London. What Dulles would later realize is that the Japanese had actually yet see what he had already come to regard as the “essential truth:” 173 any “[c]ompromise solutions to the territorial issue would only invite tougher demands from Russia and lead to further concessions.”174 Treaty of Peace with Japan - Article 26 Japan will be prepared to conclude with any State which signed or adhered to the United Nations Declaration of 1 January 1942, and which is at war with Japan, or with any State which previously formed a part of the territory of a State named in Article 23, which is not a signatory of the present Treaty, a bilateral Treaty of Peace on the same or substantially the same terms as are provided for in the present Treaty, but this obligation on the part of Japan will expire three years after the first coming into force of the present Treaty. Should Japan make a peace settlement or war claims settlement with any State granting that State greater advantages than those provided by the present Treaty, those same advantages shall be extended to the parties to the present Treaty.

US grand strategy at the beginning of the Cold War with regard to Japan was primarily to “prevent rapprochement with the communist bloc”175 and to draw her closer as an ally. Consequently, any settlement with the Soviet Union over the Kuril Islands would therefore constitute a double-blow to US interests. A territorial concession (whereby Russia would keep one or two of the occupied islands) would extend the Soviet sphere of influence and also provide the USSR a substantial strategic and military advantage in the region. But even an agreement that would see all of the islands returned to Japan could still be detrimental to US interests. It might encourage Japanese neutrality or even weaken the previously established US-Japanese Security Agreement. Additionally, any ‘normalization’ of Russo-Japanese relations would also have ramifications for the greater Asia-Pacific region:
“Conclusion of a peace treaty would put on the agenda the question of normalizing relations between Japan and communist China. That, too, was unacceptable to the United States; China’s intervention in the Korean War had made it a prime target for U.S. containment strategy. In September 1954, the year before the Japanese-Soviet peace negotiations began, the crisis over the Taiwan-controlled Chinese offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu had erupted. Dulles’ demarche over Okinawa was designed to prevent any Soviet-Japanese rapprochement – no matter which island territories were involved. The ‘four islands’ claim was a ‘wedge,’ set in place because of the cold war.”176

However, more recent scholarship bathes US involvement in the dispute, and particularly Dulles’ suggestion concerning Okinawa, in an altogether more favorable light. In their account, Elleman, Nichols and Ouimet establish that Dulles, by citing Article 26 and the corresponding matter of Okinawa’s sovereignty, was not threatening Japan but simply suggesting a possible argument for use in negotiations with the Soviets – this point is occasionally suggested, but rarely elaborated upon. (DeVillafranca 1993, P. 616) Because this position is underrepresented in most contemporary accounts, it seems appropriate to reproduce the relevant paragraphs here:
“It was during this August meeting in London that the now famous misunderstanding occurred. On 19 August 1956, Japanese Foreign Minister Shigemitsu met Secretary of State Dulles at the residence of American Ambassador Aldrich in London. In the course of the meeting, Shigemitsu inquired whether the latest Soviet offer to return the Habomais and Shikotan islands, while keeping the other two disputed islands, would be a contravention of Article 26 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. This was a legitimate concern, since the treaty read in part: ‘Should Japan make a peace settlement with any State granting that State granting that State greater advantages than those provided by the present Treaty, those same advantages shall be extended to the parties of the present Treaty.’ Dulles responded that Article 26, ‘should be of value to Japan in its negotiations with the Soviet Union.’ He suggested that ‘the Japanese might tell the Soviets that if they were forced to give up the Kuriles they would have to give up the Ryukyus as well.’ It was, then, in the spirit of strengthening the Japanese negotiating position, that Dulles proposed, ‘Japan might tell the Soviet Union of the tough
GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) P. 97 172 Ibid. 173 Ibid. P. 88 174 Ibid. P. 88 175 HARA, Kimie: 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001) P. 367 176 Ibid.
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16
line the United States was taking – that if the Soviet Union were to take all the Kurils, the United States might remain forever in Okinawa, and no Japanese Government could survive.’ The status of the Kurils and Okinawa should be the same, he continued, ‘i.e. foreign occupation with residual Japanese sovereignty.’ Meanwhile, Dulles also assured Shigemitsu ‘the Soviet contention that their claim on the Kuriles is based on wartime agreements with the US and UK is untrue, since such agreements merely embodied recommendations for peace treaty.” 177

Once knowledge of Dulles’ comments became public, they were largely misconstrued by both the Soviets and the Japanese. Commentators in Tokyo and Moscow were convinced that Dulles was seeking “to ensure the collapse of negotiations by forcing Japan to remain intransigent on the territorial issue.” 178 On the 7th of September 1956, the Japanese government, which by this point was understandably perplexed, requested from Washington a firm declaration of their opinion regarding the Northern Territories. In response, the US issued an aid-memoire that read in part as follows:
“It is the considered opinion of the United States that by virtue of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan does not have the right to transfer sovereignty over the territories renounced by it therein…. The United States has reached the conclusion after careful examination of the historical facts that the islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri (along with the Habomai Islands and Shikotan which are part of Hokkaido) have always been part of Japan proper and should in justice be acknowledged as under Japanese sovereignty. The United States would regard Soviet agreement to this effect as a positive contribution to the reduction of tension in the Far East.”

The above statement essentially repeated the State Department’s position on the matter, which had actually been in place since 1945. The aide-memoire did serve to comfort Tokyo however, and Japan soon declared its willingness to accept the ‘Adenauer formula’ “for an interim agreement with Moscow.” 179 The Russo-Japanese Joint Declaration was signed in 1956 and officially terminated the state of war between both countries. But because it was only an interim agreement, it “called for continued negotiations toward the conclusion of an official peace treaty, which would define Japanese fishing rights in Soviet waters, repatriate prisoners of war, and exchange most-favored-nation status.”180 Further, the Joint Declaration also promised the return of Shikotan and the Habomais upon the conclusion of an official peace treaty between both countries. Unfortunately, this agreement would prove to be little more than an elusive promise of peace. The specter of the Cold War and Japan’s relationship with the United States would ultimately see the agreement between Russia and Japan flounder. By 1960, Japanese and American officials were already discussing refinements to the previously agreed upon US-Japan Security Treaty, which “[undermined] Soviet hopes that its diplomatic negotiations with Japan would result in a Japanese move toward neutrality.” 181 Although provisions were made in the Joint Declaration for “collective self-defense,”182 Russia became embittered at the sight of intensified cooperation between the Japan and the U.S. and soon declared the 1956 agreement void. In fact, the only tangible benefit Japan received from its efforts to make pace in the mid-1950s was Soviet acquiescence to their bid for membership in the UN. However, DeVillafranca is of the opinion that it was not just external pressure, but also domestic politics that eventually contributed to the failure of the talks. He further suggests that the United States be absolved from any malfeasance with regard to their position or potential influence on the peace negotiations.
“Responsibility for the failure of the 1955-56 peace treaty talks rests solely in Tokyo and Moscow. It does not belong in Washington. Japan was out-negotiated by the Soviets in 1955-56, mostly because the focus of Japanese attention and energy was on the evolution of domestic politics and only secondarily on the international issues involved. The origin of the each diplomatic move by Japan over the two-year negotiation – from the government’s sudden switch to a four-island position in August 1955, to Shigemitsu’s startling change of approach in August 1956, to the LDP decision to accept an ‘Adenauer’ formula for Etorofu and Kunashiri in September 1956 – can be traced to developments in conservative party politics in Tokyo.”183

According to DeVillafranca, the “specifics of the 1955-56 negotiations are worth illustrating because the linkage between domestic politics and foreign policy has not lessened and remains today the most important element affecting the search for a resolution of the dispute.” While this may be the case, the predominant opinion seems to be that Tokyo’s decisive “volte-face”184 which occurred immediately after Shigemitsu’s meeting with Dulles in London to have been the result of a combination of “U.S. pressure, conservative party faction disputes and public opinion.” 185 To a great extent, the 1950s Joint-Declaration remains the last serious attempt to bridge the divide between both nations and to seek a lasting resolution to the Kuril Islands dispute.

ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 500 178 Ibid. P. 501 179 Ibid. P. 502 180 Ibid. P. 502 181 ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) P. 503 182 Ibid. 183 DEVILLAFRANCA, Richard: Japan and the Northern Territories Dispute: Past, Present and Future, Asian Survey, Vol. 33, No. 6, Japan: Redefining Its International Role (Jun., 1993) P. 618 184 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 385 185 Ibid.
177

17 IV. Discussion, Analysis & Recommendations Since the official failure of the Joint Declaration in 1960, “not much has changed.” 186 To facilitate a better understanding of the modern trajectory the dispute has taken, it seems appropriate to briefly sketch the relevant positions espoused by both sides. The Japanese Position The soviet declaration of war in August of 1945 was a direct violation of the neutrality pact concluded between Japan and the USSR in 1941. Further, Japan also points out that what they claim as the ‘Northern Territories’ has as a matter of fact always been under the sovereign control of Japan. This argument goes back to the first treaties signed between Japan and Russia in 1855 and 1875, which clearly designate the Northern Territories as part of Japan proper. Therefore, because the Northern Territories have always been “sovereign Japanese territory” 187 they cannot be “included as territories ‘taken by violence or greed’ as set out in the 1943 Cairo Declaration.”188 More importantly, the Cairo Declaration also stated that ‘the three great Allies … covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion.’ This statement would apparently preclude the annexation of any part of Japan, and if indeed binding, should obligate the prompt return of any territories occupied in the course of military conquest. (Mack and O’Hare 1990, P. 383) Concerning the subsequent Yalta agreement (which promised the USSR the Kuril Islands in exchange for participation in the pacific war), Japan contends that it was a “statement of objectives, not an international agreement; anyway Japan was not a party to it.” 189 According to the Japanese interpretation, Yalta simply represents possible “future policy in respect of postwar arrangements in Japan [and] it cannot be regarded in international law as the authoritative statement of final Allied views on the ultimate possession of the territories.” 190 In addition to its dubious validity, neither the Yalta Agreement nor the San Francisco Peace Treaty actually defines the geographic delimitations of the term ‘Kuril Islands’. The Potsdam Proclamation, which Japan accepted on the 14 th of August, 1945 read that ‘the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.’ No mention was made of the Yalta Agreement, which at the time was still kept secret. However unlike Yalta and Potsdam, Japan was party to the San Francisco accord which specified the renunciation of “all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands.”191 Indeed, it is a “debatable question”192 whether the Kuril Islands as defined by San Francisco actually included the ‘Northern Territories’ as the term is interpreted by Japan. However this is not merely a loophole caused by vague wording. Instead, there is reason to believe that Japan’s interpretation of the phrase Kuril Islands might have differed somewhat from how it was commonly understood in the west.
“In Japan, the phrase ‘Kuril Islands’ was commonly used to designate the islands north of Etorofu. But while this was common parlance, it was not universal. In the negotiation of the San Francisco Treaty, Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida sought to include a provision for a later negotiation to establish which islands Japan would give up; but U.S. Special Envoy John Foster Dulles prevailed upon him not to insist upon this, on grounds that it would delay, complicate, and possibly prevent the conclusion of a peace treaty. One might argue that Yoshida’s compliance constituted a relinquishment of Japan’s title to the Northern Territories. But even if this were Yoshida’s intention (or the implication of his action), Japan continues to claim that, as a non-signatory, the Soviet Union cannot rightfully be said to have gained title to the disputed islands in the San Francisco Treaty.” 193

That the USSR never signed the San Francisco pact is a further argument the Japanese claim in their favor. Any territorial concession that might have resulted from this agreement logically cannot apply to states that did not participate in the negotiations – or, as in the case of the USSR, actively boycotted them. Japan also “denies that the territories were transferred to the Soviet Union by the allied powers as war reparations or settlements in recognition of the Soviet Union’s participation in the Pacific War against Japan.”194 Any such settlement would be
“…farfetched because the Soviet Union ‘participated in the war against Japan only at its closing stage at which time Allied victory was already certain, and fought only several days [six days to be exact, i.e., from August 9 – 15, 1945]. So the Soviet Union, unlike the U.S. and Great Britain, could not justify a position to punish Japan for the war or demand compensation for its sacrifices in the Pacific War.”

However, Lawrence Njoroge points out that the extent of Japan’s involvement in the Pacific War is of little consequence. What matters is that the Soviet Union was allied with the forces which had won the war and could therefore ‘legitimately’ extract concessions from Japan. Njoroge goes on to criticize Japan’s handling of the matter as follows:
“Reflecting on Japan’s overall position, one is struck by some measure of inconsistency, if not ineptitude, on the handling of the issue. Tokyo’s position seems to have been characterized by a degree
DEVILLAFRANCA, Richard: Japan and the Northern Territories Dispute: Past, Present and Future, Asian Survey, Vol. 33, No. 6, Japan: Redefining Its International Role (Jun., 1993) P. 618 187 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 383 188 Ibid. 189 Ibid. 190 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 501 191 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 230 192 Ibid. 193 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 230 194 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 504
186

18
of fluctuation. Yoshida conceded before the Diet in 1951 that the Kuriles given up did include Etorofu and Kunashiri. Still, Japan’s position shifted during the 1956 negotiations, and a bargain was almost struck twice on a settlement that included the Habomais and Shikotan as Japanese territory. Moreover, according to Moscow, former Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko, as minister of agriculture and forestry, signed an agreement with the Soviet Union on fishing in the northwest Pacific which entailed a recognition of Soviet sovereignty over the territories.”195

Njoroge is not alone in his opinion. Welch and Kimura also remark that, given the “Soviet Union’s clearly opportunistic declaration of war in 1945, it would seem intuitive to expect Japan to feel a strong claim to the status quo ante bellum.”196 The Soviet/Russian View Lawrence Njoroge, posits that the Soviet position regarding the Kuril Islands dispute is based principally on the following five points:197 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) The Yalta Agreement of February 11, 1945 The Cairo Declaration of November 27, 1943 The Potsdam Proclamation of July 26, 1945 The San Francisco Peace Treaty of September 8, 1951 The Memorandum of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAPIN No. 677) of January 29, 1946

While Japan insists that the Yalta Agreement cannot be considered legally binding because it was kept secret, the “Soviets maintain that the Yalta Agreement and the Potsdam Proclamation are indivisible.” 198 In essence, this implies that Japan assented to the terms of Yalta via the Potsdam Proclamation as a proxy, which effectively yields control of the Kuril Islands to the USSR. Furthermore, “the Soviets consider Etorofu and Kunshiri as part of the Kuriles and argue that no distinction was made at Yalta or San Francisco between the northern and southern Kuriles.” 199 The Soviets contend that Japan knew full well at the “Peace Treaty negotiations that they were renouncing the entire Kurile chain, and indeed records of Diet committee sessions attest to this fact.”200 It does not matter that the USSR was not party to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan should nonetheless be bound by its provisions. In his assessment, deputy minister for foreign affairs Igor Rogachev surmises that the ‘renunciation of the Kurile Islands by Japan is of an absolute character, and its legal consequences go beyond the range of Parties to the San Francisco Treaty.”201 Perhaps most importantly, the Soviets contest that the 19 th century St. Petersburg and Shimoda treaties were violated by means of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and therefore cannot justly have any bearing on the premises. The SCAPIN Memorandum mentioned under point five above is also significant to the Soviet line of argument. The memorandum, bearing the title “Governmental and Administrative Separation of Certain Outlying Areas from Japan” 202 states “that ‘for the purpose of this directive, Japan is defined to include the four main islands of Japan and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands … and excluding inter alia, the Kurile (Chishima) islands, the Habomai island group and Shikotan island.” 203 However, memorandum No. 667 is administrative in nature and does not appear to address matters of sovereignty. Japan raises the following objections to it being used in support of the Soviet position:
“This directive was an expedient to facilitate the administrative functions of the occupation and had nothing to do with the final determination of the territorial issue. This is clear from the very nature of this document. In fact, the Memorandum itself confirmed this point by clearly stating that “Nothing in this directive shall be construed as an indication of Allied policy relating to the ultimate determination of the minor islands referred to in Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration.”

Japan has also refused to acknowledge any historical claim that Russia might have to the islands. However, new research is currently being conducted which “points to the fact that the territories fell under Japan’s control as ‘concessions made by warweakened Russia in 1855 and 1875.’”204 Such findings, if conclusive, would force Japan to acknowledge that Russia might legitimately have some historic title to the islands it refers to as the ‘Northern Territories’ and would thereby mitigate the potency of its own claims. Finally, it also seems fit to determine what interests both countries may still currently have in the Kuril Archipelago. With the Cold War long over and the emergence of the Russian Federation, one of the most convincing reasons for making a strong claim for the islands has vanished. Economically, the Northern Territories are of little value to Japan. While metal reserves are present on the larger islands, they are comparatively small and would only marginally complement the resources Japan already has at hand. The islands also do not have any petroleum potential and any attempt to cultivate locally available resources would be costly due to poor infrastructure. (Welch & Kimura 1998, P. 218) The greatest economic value the Northern Territories presents, lies in their
Ibid. KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 230 197 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 501 198 MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) P. 383 199 Ibid. 200 Ibid. P. 384 201 Ibid. P. 384 202 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 503 203 Ibid. 204 Ibid. P. 505
195 196

19 exclusive economic zone or EEZ. This area consists of roughly 196,000 km², most of which is prime fishing ground and but may also contain “exploitable deposits of titanium, magnetite, nickel, copper, chromium, vanadium and niobium.” 205 As for the islands’ strategic importance, this has generally been of greater concern for Russia. The Kuril Islands were indeed a valuable strategic asset to the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period in time, “the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk served as two ‘bastions’ protecting Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) submarines from American antisubmarine warfare (ASW) operations, thus helping to guarantee Soviet second-strike nuclear capability.”206 However, with the looming threat of the Cold War now gone, the need for such enhanced strike capabilities has been drastically reduced. Beyond providing a forward guard for the soviet submarine bastions in Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk however, the Islands are of relatively limited strategic use. Welch and Kimura proceed to explain:
“The Soviets’ arguments about the strategic importance of the islands were deficient on logical and empirical grounds. The islands are difficult to supply; there military infrastructure was, and remains, limited; and in wartime, the islands’ airfields and communications facilities would have been easy to interdict and difficult to repair. The islands would therefore have added little to the Soviets’ defensive perimeter at precisely the moment when it would have mattered.”

Therefore, combatting American ASW operations from the Kuril Islands would not have made much of a difference overall. Even if a foothold on the islands would allow the Soviets “to destroy one or two more Soviet submarines in wartime than it might have been able to do otherwise, this would not have significantly undermined Soviet second-strike capability, since even one surviving Soviet ballistic missile submarine would have been adequate to devastate the American homeland.”207 For Japan, “the islands would have added nothing to existing facilities in Hokkaido for surveillance and perimeter defense or as a springboard for amphibious operations against Sakhalin – not least because they are farther from the Soviet mainland than is much of Hokkaido.”208 In fact, both countries have paid a substantial opportunity cost because the dispute has remained unresolved. Japan has often tried to raise the territorial issue at meetings with Soviet Union only to hear the “old dreary refrain that ‘the territorial problem has already been settled.”209 Frustration because resulting from its diplomatic ineptitude has lead Japan to develop “a strategy of popularizing the dispute as an emotional issue among its people.” 210 As of January 6th, 1981 a cabinet decision established that February 7th is to be ‘Northern Territories Day’ in order to raise and maintain awareness about the dispute. Senior Russian political figures, including Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev have also managed to avoid talking about the territorial issue, sometimes even going as far as to cancel state visits to Japan so as to avoid confrontation. The hope that the end of the Cold War might make the Russian Federation more accommodating to Japanese demands has since also been shattered. (Welch & Kimura 1998, P. 223) Many in Japan also feel a strong antipathy to the Soviet Union, “which ranks either first or second in the list of countries most disliked by the Japanese.” 211 Japan has also put its political capital into play in an attempt to encourage Russia to reconsider the territorial issue in its favor, in particular by appealing to the G-7. This method has not produced any substantial advances however and in fact might have been detrimental to Japan’s international position:
“The second opportunity cost Japan has paid is in its relations with its G-7 partners. By no means comparable to the price Japan has paid in its bilateral relationship with the Soviet Union, Japan’s refusal to maintain G-7 solidarity on aid to Russia and its insistence on G-7 backing for its territorial claim – at a time when Western nations were seeking to defuse issues that would undercut Yeltsin at home – nonetheless generated frustration and resentment among the other members of the group. That Japan chose to call in its G-7 chips on an issue over which the group had no real influence certainly appears in retrospect to have been a squandering of political capital.”

Most disastrously, by blindly pursuing the territorial issue Japan has paid dearly in terms of “damage to its global role and reputation.”212 The end of the Cold War was an ideal opportunity for Japan to establish itself as an important regional power, and some analysts even foresaw the possibility of “reestablishing … Great Power status, if not in military terms, [then] at least as a global ‘civilian power.’”213 The New York Times assessed the situation as follows: “’[T]her broader and more troubling question was why Russia and Japan – two countries with every incentive to mend relations – could allow a minor territorial dispute [to] grow to such damaging proportions. In both countries, the triumph of nationalist sentiments over rational foreign policy suggested immaturity and insecurity.”214 Finally, the territorial dispute has most greatly affected the Kuril Islands’ current and former residents, as well as those who depend on the waters around the disputed territories for their livelihood. Since the end of the Second World War, the Soviets
KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 219 206 Ibid. P. 220 207 Ibid. P. 221 208 Ibid. P. 221 209 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 505 210 Ibid. P. 506 211 Ibid. P. 506 212 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 224 213 Ibid. P. 226 214 Ibid. P. 226
205

20 have seized 1,616 fishing vessels and over 13,000 crew members have been interned. Of the captured vessels, 1,001 were returned, 25 sank due to accidents and many still remain in Soviet custody. Of the 13,000 crew members, 37 have died in custody while two have still not be repatriated. However, these figures are from the late eighties and it is highly likely that they have risen in the meantime. (Njoroge 1985, P. 507) Moscow regards the Kuril Islands as a restricted border area and movement between Hokkaido and the islands is heavily regulated. There are still 8,000 exiles from the Kurils currently living in Japan, and they must undergo a rigorous application and admission procedure if they wish to revisit their homeland. Many millions are spent by the Japanese government to keep the issue alive, and with the community of exiles ageing, Tokyo is becoming more intent than ever on finding a solution. Throughout Hokkaido, there are museums and billboards dedicated to the territorial dispute which present Japan’s absolute right to the islands. As for the Northern Territories themselves, there is relatively little trace of the islands’ previous inhabitants. This is because when Stalin captured the archipelago many decades ago, he ordered every village on it destroyed. And yet many towns on Kunashiri and Etorofu do appear to have progressed past the 1950s. Most roads remain unpaved; apartments are often left without heat and employment can generally be found only in the most poorly paid lines of work, such as the fish processing industry. The current state of economic decrepitude is largely the result of the nonexistent trade relationship between the two countries. Lack of relations with Japan robs the islands of vital trade and tourism that could otherwise contribute to a better quality of life for the islands’ residents. For the people living on the Kuril Islands, and for former residents now exiled to Japan who wish to return home, the territorial dispute is not just an abstract exercise in foreign policy thinking, but a firm impediment to the life they might otherwise wish to live. At long last, it seems fit to speculate on how the Kuril Islands legacy might ultimately finish. In his paper, Lawrence Njoroge provides any exhaustive list of hypothetical resolutions to the conflict. We will list each one here, along with some additional comments and further analysis. 1) “This dispute may be resolved in the event that Moscow decides of its own volition to give up the islands to Japan.”215 A resolution along these lines, although unlikely, would be one of the most favorable outcomes for Tokyo. From the Russian perspective, it is imperative that any such gesture be clearly recognized by the international community as an “act of charity”216 toward Japan. If Russia is seen to be ceding to Japanese demands, even on a strictly quid pro quo basis, this could open up the door to a range of territorial claims on grounds that stretch across the spectrum, from the political to the geological. (Njoroge 1985, P. 509) Possible land claims could arise from Finland, Poland, Romania, China and even Germany. If such charitable handover of the islands were to occur, it would “require Japan to … explicitly and unconditionally recognize Moscow’s absolute sovereignty over the territories and thereby accept them as a gift, with whatever implications such a gift may entail.”217 This is necessary in order to clearly demonstrate before the international community that the islands were handed over as an act of Moscow’s goodwill toward Japan. By recognizing Russia’s absolute sovereignty over the islands, Tokyo could legitimately ask for all four islands, instead of the two currently offered by Moscow. Concessions might have to made with regards to the EEZ (certainly Russian access to the zone would have to preserved for a number of years) but the islands would be back under Japanese control. “The dispute may be resolved on the basis of a willing buyer / willing seller.” 218 As per the above example, it is important for Russia that any deal done on this basis be regarded unmistakably as a business transaction. Any link or relationship to politics must be kept discrete and any factors which might make the exchange appear to be a ‘concession’ need to be mitigated. There are certain considerations which might make Russia apprehensive of this solution however. First and foremost, “in Moscow’s consideration of international power realities Japan might end up allowing the islands to be used for U.S. military or military related purposes.” 219 This becomes particularly problematic when the close U.S.Japan security relationship is taken into consideration. The US has also voiced its support for Japan in the dispute, which Moscow will inevitably keep under consideration, irrespective of what it might receive in exchange for the islands. Even under the contemporary climate of largely reduced tensions between the Russian Federation and the United States, Moscow will tread lightly if it feels that territorial restitution with Japan might jeopardize its security. Further, “Japan should take cognizance of the fact that too strong an alliance with a third country, especially the U.S. or the PRC, is a liability to Soviet goals as a global superpower.” 220 While this point might not apply today as it might have in the 1980s, a resurgent Russia is still likely to take into account any security agreements Japan might have with other countries. To avoid displeasing Russia in this regard, it is advisable that “Japanese foreign policy should out of necessity follow some kind of middle line in the superpower rivalry, no matter how problematic and constrained this path may be as a result of Japan’s special relationship with the U.S.”221 “The dispute might be resolved through an act of war in which the Soviet Union lost to a close ally of Japan, namely the U.S.”222 With the Cold War long over, this resolution is highly unlikely. Even the original author stipulates

2)

3)

NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 509 Ibid. 217 Ibid. 218 Ibid. 219 Ibid. 220 Ibid. 221 Ibid 222 Ibid.
215 216

21 that the “whole notion of the U.S. going to war to acquire the territories for Japan is more abstract than feasible.” 223 Even during the 1980s, this could not have been feasible for Japan due to the massive power asymmetry between the two nations. Instead, it seems far more reasonable to suggest that the islands might have been placed under Japanese control by the United States in the aftermath of a larger conflagration with the Soviet Union. Given the islands’ comparatively small strategic value and the difficulty of maintaining garrisons there, it is unlikely that Russia would prioritize them in the event of a larger armed conflict. On the other hand, it remains to be explained why the US would hand over the islands to a country with “virtually nonexistent military strength.” 224 Such a move would preempt their strategic value and do little more than increase Japanese vulnerability. Instead, it is far more likely the US would have kept the islands for military rather than civilian use, in which case remission to Japan would have been left out of the picture for the foreseeable future. 4) “The dispute might be resolved if Japan abandoned its claim to owning the islands.” 225 This option is unlikely, particularly given the “emotional attitude of the Japanese toward the issue.” 226 In a different account, Kimura and Welch advance the idea that the Kuril Islands, lacking and economic or strategic value, must have some kind of intrinsic value to the Japanese people. They offer the following by means of explanation: “A useful place to begin is with the comments of analysts and observers in the nonacademic press whose perceptions are untainted by international relations theory. Here the most common theme is that, while ‘[t]he islands … are of little economic or strategic value to Japan’, nevertheless their return is and must be a priority for Japanese policy because it is a moral imperative. When elaborated, the moral argument commonly appeals to the injustice of the Soviet occupation and annexation.”227 But what contributed to Japan’s moral argument and their feelings of injustice at the Soviet occupation? Kimura and Welch reason that domestic politics might be the essential factor in trying to understand Japanese attitude toward the Northern Territories. “The LDP ruled Japan uninterruptedly until 1993. Thus the LDP claim was the official claim for thirty-seven years. Two generations of citizens and officials became socialized politically during this period, and the four-island formula gradually came to shape – and to dominate – popular and elite expectations and conceptions of entitlement. Since 1993, non-LDP coalition governments have maintained the four-island claim unaltered, notwithstanding the historical platforms of their member parties.”228 Despite these insights, it also serves to ask whether changes in domestic politics might prompt a new attitude toward the Northern Territories. For example, if the Japanese could be persuaded to accept a two-island compromise, an eventual resolution of the dispute would be much more likely. Vladimir Putin has declared his support for a “two islands plus alpha”229 Such a deal would see that Japan receives the two smallest islands (Habomais and Shikotan) and in addition, “a portion of the two larger ones.” 230 Alternatively, a Policy Study Group had already suggested in 1980 that “’the possibility remains … for Japan to shelve the question of ownership rights and seek concessions from the Soviets on substantive utilization rights (fishing and resource development rights).” 231 However, as has already been discussed, such rights would only marginally supplement the resources Japan already has at hand – and it is unlikely that any lasting settlement can be made that does not address the matter of sovereignty. Ultimately, the Northern Territories are a matter of intrinsic value for Japan – something relative rather than absolute. For this reason, “[t]here is no question of Japan insisting on more, or settling for less.” 232 Russia has also remained steadfast in her claims. She must not only weight further territorial claims that could be made against her on the basis of an agreement favorable to the Japanese, but there are also substantial domestic considerations that need to be kept in mind. In 1992, the governor of Sakhalin Oblast, Valentin Federov, “threatened … that Moscow’s return of the islands to Japan could spark secession in the Russian Far East.”233 While it is difficult to judge the credibility of such a threat, it is nonetheless certain that residents and non-residents alike harbor increasing sentiments of propriety toward the Kuril Islands. In a documentary interview, the mayor of Kunashiri, Pavel Gomilevsky, made clear that he would not consider it becoming of a true Russian government “to give or sell [any] territory.”234 With both sides thus deadlocked, the prospect of a final resolution within a reasonable time frame seems increasingly remote.

Ibid. P. 510 Ibid. P. 510 225 Ibid. P. 510 226 Ibid. P. 510 227 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 227 228 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 231 229 Creative Thinking on the Kurils, Asia Times Online, [http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/GD20Dh03.html] (15.06.2011) 230 Ibid. 231 NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985), P. 510 232 KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) P. 231 233 Russian-Japanese Impasse and ist Implications, CRS Report for Congress, [http://www.fas.org/man/crs/93-312f.htm] (15.06.2011) 234 Islands of Discontent - Russia, Journeyman Pictures [http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=DE&v=3G8-oMYHo7k] (16.06.2011)
223 224

22 V. Maps & Timeline

The Kuril Islands / Northern Territories
Image © Copyright Gallicchio 1991

The Kuril Islands / Northern Territories in Groups
Image © Copyright The International Kuril Island Project (IKIP)
[http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/ichthyology/okhotskia/ikip/Gallery/b asemap.htm] (23.11.2010)

23

1600s: First Recorded Discovery •Nominal Control of Southern Kurils Asserted by Tokugawa Shogunate •1644: Depiction of Southern Kurils on Shōhō Onkuko Ezu, a medieval Japanese map 1700s: Contact Between Nations •Vladimir Alastov, explorer of Kamchatka reports 'seeing islands beyond the Kuril strait.' •1771: Moritz von Benyowsky lands on Awa Von Benyowsky raises the point of a possible Russian presence in the north causing alaram and stimulating debate among intellectuals. 1800s: Formalizing Relations •1802: Expedition to formalize relations with Japan •1855: Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation (Shimoda Treaty) First formmal declaration of relations between Japan and Russia. Also establishes the territorial integrity of Japan as north of Etorofu, with all of Etorofu belonging to Japan. •1875: Treaty of St. Petersburg Japan cedes interest in Sakhalin in exchange for the entirety of the Kuril Islands. In this treaty, the 'Kuril Islands' are defined as 'including and north of Urup.' 1900s: War & The Dispute •1905: The Portsmouth Treaty The Portsmouth Treaty is signed formally ending the first Russo-Japanese War. This treaty granted Japan substantial rights in Manchuria along with control of Sakhalin Island south of 50 N. The Kuril Islands stayed under Japanese sovereignty and were not mentioned in the treaty. •1941: Japan and Russia sign a five year Neutrality Pact in Moscow •1943: The Cairo Declaration The Cairo Declaration is made, in which the allies agree that they 'covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion.' •February, 1945: The Yalta Agreement grants Stalin the Kuril Islands in exchange for Russia's participation in the Pacific War •July, 1945: The Potsdam Proclamation Truman and Stalin conclude in Potsdam that the 'terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out, and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.' •August 8, 1945: Stalin abrogates the Neutrality Pact, and declares war on Japan •August 18, 1945: Russian forces push into the Kurils •September 2, 1945: Japan signs the Instrument of Surrender •September 8, 1951: The Treaty of Peace with Japan is signed •1956: The Russo-Japanese Joint-Declaration is signed •1960: Joint-Declaration is abrogated by the USSR

VI. Literature I. DEVILLAFRANCA, Richard: Japan and the Northern Territories Dispute: Past, Present and Future, Asian Survey, Vol. 33, No. 6, Japan: Redefining Its International Role (Jun., 1993) II. ELLEMAN, Bruce A., NICHOLS, Michael R. & OUIMET, Matthew J. : A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998 – 1999) III. GALLICCHIO, Marc: The Kuriles Controversy: U.S. Diplomacy in the Soviet-Japan Border Dispute, 1941-1956, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1991) IV. HARA, Kimie: 50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001) V. HOWELL, David L.: Geographies of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Japan. University of California Press, 2005 VI. HUDSON, Mark: Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands. University of Hawaii Press, 1999 VII. JANSEN, Marius B.: The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 5, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY. 1989 VIII. KIMURA, Masato & WELCH, David A.: Specifying “Interests”: Japan’s Claim to the Northern Territories and Its Implications for International Relations Theory, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 1998) IX. LENSEN, George Alexander: Early Russo-Japanese Relations, The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Nov., 1950) X. MACK, Andrew and O’HARE, Martin: Moscow-Tokyo and the Northern Territories Dispute. Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Apr., 1990) XI. NJOROGE, Lawrence M.: The Japan-Soviet Union Territorial Dispute: An Appraisal, Asian Survey, Vol. 25, No. 5 (May, 1985) XII. OHENE, Judith: The Kurile Island Conflict. European University Viadriana (Frankfurt (Oder), 2004 XIII. PERRAS, Galen Roger: We have opened the door to Tokyo: United States Plans to Seize the Kurile Islands, 1943 – 1945, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1997) XIV. WALKER, Brett L.: The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590 – 1800. University of California Press, 2006

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