Collusion for Confrontation
Op-Ed, Financial Times (London)
July 27, 1992
Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
On the global canvas of international politics today, what is the most striking anomaly? Of all the leading powers, two alone remain mired in a cold-war confrontation, without a peace treaty to conclude the second world war that ended 47 years ago, without normal relations.
The contrast between Russia's new relationship with its main European adversary in the second world war, and its relationship with Japan, is instructive. Only on the Asian front, and most singularly in Russian-Japanese relations, is the cold war essentially frozen in time. Oddest of all is the obstacle to full normalisation of Russia-Japan relations: the issue is one of four, small, disputed islands which remain as second world war relics and cold war symbols.
In the past year, a group of independent scholars from the US, Russia and Japan have collaborated in an effort to view this old dispute impartially and with fresh eyes. In reviewing the entire record of the dispute in all three languages, we have juxtaposed official documents from the three governments and unearthed new materials. What we discovered is a 'collaboration for confrontation'. The evidence reveals a pattern by all three governments that set Russia and Japan in fierce enmity.
The culprit in this drama was Stalin. By seizing and holding four small islands of no military or economic significance, he provided powerful incentives for Japan to become the closest ally of the US in confronting the Soviet Union in Asia. In 1951, Stalin compounded his error by refusing to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty concluding the second world war. By not signing, Stalin not only missed an opportunity to stake claim to the disputed four islands. He also left clouded in international law the Soviet Union's claim to 18 undisputed Kuril Islands and southern Sakhalin. Today, Russia occupies them, but without established sovereignty in international law.
Stalin's mistakes were aided and abetted by US President Franklin Roosevelt. But conspiracy theorists who seek to give Roosevelt credit, or blame, for tricking Stalin into these moves exaggerate. Stalin sought territorial concessions. As the price for enlisting Russia in the Asian war against Japan, Roosevelt was prepared to concede.
John Foster Dulles, secretary of state, was more deliberate. In the period leading to the 1956 Joint Declaration between Japan and Russia, the Japanese contemplated sacrificing two larger disputed islands to secure control of the two smaller islands and sign a peace treaty. At several crucial junctures, Dulles frustrated such a resolution. As the state department's memorandum of the conversation between Dulles and Japanese foreign minister Shigemitsu in August 1956 shows clearly: Dulles warned the Japanese government that, if it relinquished its claim to the larger islands to normalise relations with Russia, it would jeopardise its claim to Okinawa, occupied by US troops. As the state department cable records, Dulles's warning stated: 'No Japanese government could survive.
' In preparation of the 1960 Mutual Security Treaty between the US and Japan, US diplomacy solidified Japan's position as the pillar of Asian confrontation with the Soviet Union. In recognising Japan's 'residual sovereignty' over Okinawa in 1961, and returning Okinawa to Japan in 1971, the US bolstered Japan's position as a partner by accenting the contrast with the Soviet Union's recalcitrance.
The conclusion of the cold war now presents the challenge: can the western allies, in partnership with a new Russia, win the peace? Our American-Russian-Japanese trilateral report sketches 66 scenarios for resolution. Our preferred resolution calls for the US to become active as catalyst, honest broker and guarantor. A comprehensive agreement defining new trilateral relations in security, economic and political dimensions could provide important net advantages for both Russia and Japan. The essential terms in this multi-dimensional compromise are these. Russia would reaffirm the 1956 Joint Declaration agreeing to return to Japan the two smaller islands at the signing of a peace treaty; recognise Japan's 'residual sovereignty' over the two larger islands; and begin negotiations, terms and timing of their phased return. Japan would agree to demilitarise the islands permanently; guarantee that Russia suffers no material loss in rights to fish or export other resources and accept the role of lead donor and the substantially enlarged, decade-long G7 programme of economic assistance for Russia's economic reform.
The question today is whether Messrs Yeltsin, Miyazawa and Bush can overcome the legacy of Stalin, Roosevelt, Dulles and Shigemitsu.
The author directs Harvard's Strengthening Democratic Institutions project and chairs the US/Russian/Japanese group.
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