The next logical step in the Asian quadrille is Japanese-Soviet rapprochement.

To state the obvious, by its détente with China in 1971 the United States finally recognized the Sino-Soviet rift and ended the bipolar cold war. Partly in response, the Soviet Union restrained its own rivalry with the United States by signing in May 1972 a treaty limiting missile buildups. China then preempted any possible Soviet-Japanese entente by ending her hostility toward Japan and in September opening diplomatic relations with Tokyo for the first time in a generation.

In historic terms, all these major shifts came rapidly. It seemed obvious that the Russians must then move to seek closer ties with Japan, to preëmpt in their turn any Chinese entente with this third-largest economy in the world. So far, however, the inevitable is occurring at a notably slow pace. In January 1972, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko did indeed come smiling to Tokyo just before President Nixon's visit to Peking. The visit clearly signaled a new Soviet interest in Japan, for ever since 1968 Gromyko had postponed the return engagement for what were to have been "annual" ministerial talks. And on his 1972 visit he deliberately did not repeat Moscow's harsh stock phrase about the disputed islands the Soviet Union took from Japan at the end of World War II: that all territorial questions had been settled by wartime and postwar agreements.

Budding Soviet cordiality toward Japan froze, however, with the swift Sino-Japanese normalization. Last October, on the eve of Foreign Minister Ohira's trip to Moscow to reopen peace treaty negotiations stalled since 1956, Red Star and Pravda attacked Japan's current rearmament and revived the issue of her half-century-old intervention in the Russian civil war. Ohira conspicuously did not get to meet General Secretary Brezhnev and had to spend most of his time in Moscow parrying suspicions that Sino-Japanese rapprochement was directed against the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Russians again took a tough line on the disputed islands.

The political freeze, however, did not cool Soviet interest in greatly enlarged Japanese participation in Siberian development. At year's end the Russians were pressing the Japanese hard to give their basic approval to credits for the largest such project, the Tyumen oil pipeline. According to Japanese diplomats, in the period of Russian hints of flexibility on the contested territory and under the previous, more conservative Sato government, Tokyo had "psychologically" linked Siberian development and settlement of the territorial question. Now, however, the new government of Prime Minister Tanaka and Foreign Minister Ohira took a major decision to separate the two, which Ohira made clear in a speech in Tokyo in mid-January 1973.

Tanaka followed up with a letter to Brezhnev in early March asking for a further round of peace treaty negotiations and setting forth a positive Japanese attitude on Siberian development. Soviet cordiality returned, temporarily. Brezhnev received the Japanese ambassador personally-his first meeting with any Japanese official since he took over leadership of the Communist Party in 1964-and in late March invited the Japanese prime minister to visit Moscow.

To the puzzlement of the Japanese, however, the Russians again pulled back shortly thereafter. For a long time they delayed fixing a date for the summit. Then, after a tentative date of late August had already leaked in Tokyo, the Russians indicated that this time would be inconvenient and put off the summit until October. Meanwhile, in a coincidence not lost on the Japanese, the Russians invited a group of Japanese legislators to visit Moscow in late August. More surprisingly, perhaps, the Russians now stalled on Siberian development, repeatedly postponing a trip to Moscow by a Japanese delegation (including government officials) that the Russians themselves had originally requested.


So for nearly a year the Japanese have been quietly forthcoming while the Russians have played the hand very cautiously. As Japanese see it, there are several reasons for Soviet caution. The predominant view at the Japanese Foreign Ministry is that conditions have changed so much in the past two or three years-with the sudden oil crisis balanced against the new weight of Japan in a multipolar world-that Moscow's Japan policy cannot now be decided at the working level. It must instead await the imprimatur of Brezhnev himself. And Brezhnev, until now, has been occupied by both détente with the West and domestic power struggles.

There is no guarantee that Brezhnev, just because he supports détente with the West, will necessarily promote cordiality with Japan as he now addresses himself to this question. There has not yet been a sufficient shock-comparable to the threat of mutual annihilation from any showdown with America or the threat of a two-front war in any showdown with China-to restructure the old Soviet outlook on Japan. And in the international balance, despite Marxist dialectics, Moscow does not really accept the thesis of the new preëminence of economic power and the declining value of military power, and may therefore discount Japan's importance. The Chinese, one Japanese source suggests, have a much more subtle appreciation of power.

On the other hand, Moscow's Japan policy, until now, has been directed largely by inflexible, suspicious KGB types. Characteristically, perhaps, the Russian presumed to be in charge of Japanese affairs, I. I. Kovalenko of the CPSU Central Committee Secretariat, was the official responsible for the interrogation of Japanese prisoners from Manchuria after World War II. But some modest signs are beginning to appear that the old guard (including Kovalenko) is now in disfavor in the Kremlin. This augurs some thaw in Soviet policy toward Japan.

Whatever Moscow's strategic decision on Japan is or will be, there is an additional element of plain tough bargaining between the two countries for the best possible business deal on Siberian development. The Soviet Union apparently thinks it has Japan over a barrel because of Tokyo's acute need for oil, and the Russians may wish to see how much political pressure they can generate from the obvious eagerness of Japanese businessmen for Siberian oil and for construction contracts. (If so, this could be a serious miscalculation. Businessmen's lobbying to separate Tyumen and territorial issues was no doubt useful to Foreign Minister Ohira in neutralizing hawks within the Foreign Ministry, but the final policy decision appears to have been made as much for diplomatic as economic reasons. Businessmen are not in control of Japan's foreign policy, at least not when it comes to this kind of big-power decision.)

On the Japanese side the approach to Soviet relations is basically pragmatic. There is some residue of ideological anti-communism in the right wing of the Liberal Democratic Party, but this is offset to some extent by a desire in the same circles to use Soviet relations to keep Japanese-Chinese relations in check. Japanese as a whole, of course, tend to mistrust the Russians; the Soviet Union always ranks highest in any opinion poll of most disliked nations. Japanese remember the Soviet Union as the country that broke its neutrality pact with Japan to join in the kill during the last eight days of World War II, then captured half a million Japanese soldiers in Manchuria and kept them in concentration camps for ten years.

Additionally, there is a strong nationalist urge in some quarters to get back the disputed "Northern territories." Nonetheless, foreign policy as directed by Ohira is professional diplomacy, not emotionalism, and the consensus of the Japanese elite supports what he has done.


Let us explore separately the key issues in Soviet-Japanese relations: (1) a peace treaty; (2) the territorial dispute; (3) Siberian development; (4) fishing; and (5) security and the Asian quadrilateral.

The first is hardly a burning issue in itself. The two countries have lived for the 28 years following World War II with no formal peace treaty, and have now had diplomatic relations for 17 years. Soviet-Japanese trade is running ahead of U.S.-Soviet trade, at over $1 billion annually, and coöperation in limited projects to develop Siberian timber and the port of Wrangel has proceeded without hindrance since 1968.

Yet both Japan and the Soviet Union like to have their diplomacy in good order. The Russians have a penchant for formal signed declarations. And the Japanese, while not legalistically inclined, dislike uncertainty. So both sides want to conclude a peace treaty, as long as it doesn't cost too much. This, of course, is the rub. Essentially, that cost now entails resolution of the territorial issue.

Initially, the Soviet Union refused to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 because that treaty did not recognize the People's Republic of China or compel Japanese neutrality. When Tokyo and Moscow began bilateral peace treaty negotiations three years later (after Stalin's death), the discussions foundered on the territorial question. Instead of a formal peace treaty, in 1956 the two countries finally exchanged diplomatic recognition, ended their state of war, and agreed on return of Japanese prisoners still held by the Russians. Since that time the Japanese government has consistently held that only the territorial issue stands in the way of a peace treaty.

Formally, Japan and the U.S.S.R. agreed to resume peace treaty negotiations during the Gromyko visit of January 1972, and Ohira's visit to Moscow in October constituted the first round of the reopened treaty talks. Presumably Ohira will conduct a second round of negotiations during the summit meeting now scheduled for this October. In practice, however, the territorial dispute still determines whether any progress is likely.

The "Northern territories" comprise four islands (Shikotan, the Habomai group, Etorofu and Kunashiri) located north of Hokkaido and south of the Soviet Kuriles, with a combined land area of 5,000 square kilometers. All four became frontier outposts of the Japanese in the early nineteenth century, and the Russians recognized them as Japanese territory in the Treaty of Shimoda of 1855. In 1875, Russia traded the adjoining Kurile Islands to Japan by treaty. Then, at the close of World War II, the Yalta Agreement awarded the "Kurile Islands" (undefined) to the Soviet Union, which promptly interpreted the award to include the four islands as well, and took them over as part of its last-minute entry into the Japanese war.1

In 1951 a further distinction was created. Geographically, Shikotan and the Habomai group are very near Hokkaido, while the northern pair nestle close to the acknowledged Soviet Kuriles. This difference, possibly with some sense of pressure felt by the weak Japanese government of the time, led Prime Minister Yoshida, in the San Francisco negotiations that led to the Peace Treaty, to specify (in Article 2 of the Treaty) a Japanese claim only to the southern pair. The distinction carried over into the subsequent Soviet-Japanese negotiations, so that Article 9 of the 1956 Joint Declaration stipulated that the Russians would return the southern two islands on the future conclusion of a peace treaty, but was silent on the northern two.

The four islands are not especially important militarily, but the two larger northern islands are fortified with airfields, and Etorofu has an excellent winter harbor-the port from which the attack on Pearl Harbor was launched. No Japanese live on the islands, as the 16,500 Japanese inhabitants were expelled to Hokkaido after the Soviet occupation. The nearby waters are rich with fish, however, and Japanese fishermen still go to these traditional grounds-and still get seized by the Russians for violating territorial waters.

After 1956, many Japanese were probably ready to settle for Shikotan and Habomai. But factional politics within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo suddenly burst into a demand for return of the two northern islands as well. The eventual compromise, of course, was to leave the issue hanging.

In 1960 (under Premier Nikita Khrushchev) the Russians added a condition to their willingness to give back even the two southern islands; in a note verbale they said they would do so only if American troops withdrew from Japan. The Japanese government protested that this was a violation of the 1956 declaration, and the matter has been tacitly dropped by Khrushchev's successors. For a time in the late 1960s, the Soviets appeared to be dangling the hope of return of the islands as a means of pressure against the American position in Okinawa. When President Nixon agreed to the reversion of the Ryukyus in 1969, however, and as the Chinese border dispute intensified, the Soviet position visibly hardened. It now appears to be dominated by a belief that any concession on real estate anywhere would open a Pandora's box of Chinese and other border claims against Moscow.

And the Japanese side appears as adamant as the Soviets. The issue may have assumed importance two decades ago only by a political accident, and it may have been deliberately fanned by the Japanese government to counter left-wing demands for immediate reversion of Okinawa in the late 1960s. Nonetheless, return of the four islands has in the process become an article of faith, not only within the LDP but among opposition parties as well. (The Communist Party is an exception. It supports signing a peace treaty with return of only two islands, followed by the scrapping of Article 2 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, followed by negotiations with Moscow for return of the other two islands.) Japanese academicians float possible compromises on the Northern territories, but Japanese officials have never endorsed any compromise beyond periodic offers to keep the islands nonmilitarized if they are returned.

With both sides unwilling to yield, the big question now is: just how much priority are Tokyo and Moscow going to place on the territorial issue? Will they let it block good relations in other areas, notably in Siberian development? Probably not, but here the record is mixed. The Soviet government apparently wants at least to test the possibility of using Siberian oil to extract from Japan a renunciation of claims to the two northern islands. For its part, the Japanese government has retreated to a position of ambiguity until the Soviet stance becomes clearer. And Tokyo is gearing up a domestic publicity campaign for return of all the islands that could develop an unintended momentum.


Siberian development is at once the most promising and the most complex of the various bilateral issues. Although coöperation stands to benefit both sides, prolonged hard bargaining has delayed final agreement. The idea of Japanese financing of this development was first broached seriously in 1966, then languished for lack of sufficient Russian interest and sufficient Japanese funds. Only limited projects were agreed to: a $360 million, five-year timber development in 1968 and an $80 million Wrangel port development in 1970.

By 1972, however, the changes in multipolar diplomacy, the oil crisis and Japan's embarrassing surplus of foreign reserves all combined to revive interest in a much larger scheme: joint development of the Soviet Union's largest oil fields in Tyumen Province. In this Tyumen project, Japan would provide the Soviet Union with $1.5 billion or more in credits (with some 70 to 80 percent of this coming from the Japanese Export-Import Bank) and sell steel pipe to the Russians to build a 4,300-kilometer oil pipeline from Irkutsk to the Pacific Ocean. In return, Japan would get an estimated 25 to 40 million tons of low-sulphur crude oil per year for 20 years. (These are rough figures, as they are all under negotiation.)

The natural gas fields of Yakutsk are the second major Siberian project under discussion, while a third, currently much vaguer than the other two, involves natural gas in the continental shelf off Sakhalin. Perhaps in part because natural gas involves no security factors comparable to oil supply, vis-à-vis China, the Yakutsk project has moved rapidly to the fore, and this July agreement was reached for a two-year survey by the Soviet Union, Japan and the United States, quickly followed by a deal for 50-50 shares between Japanese interests and the ubiquitous Armand Hammer of Occidental Oil. If survey results are favorable, sources say, Japan would be able to finance $1.7 billion in credits for Yakutsk (matched by American funds) as well as undertake the Tyumen project. American companies and the American government have displayed much more enthusiasm for Yakutsk than for Tyumen (though two American firms are reportedly considering participation in Tyumen).

For all pending Siberian projects, the Russians reportedly are now seeking Japanese financing of close to $5 billion. This is distinct from any additional American financing.

In Japanese thinking, U.S. participation in the two major projects is of vital importance, and the assurance of substantial interest voiced by Secretary Rogers during the Tokyo Cabinet meetings of July has been warmly received. The decisions, of course, still rest with American private interests, as indeed they do in Japan itself. But the importance of American government approval and support is such that at some point there may be pressure, from both Japan and the Soviet Union, for some sort of government imprimatur. In any event, American participation represents for the Japanese an absolutely essential degree of assurance, both against any Soviet cutoff of oil deliveries in the future and against sharp Chinese reactions to any appearance that Japan is in bilateral collusion with the Soviet Union.

As to the Tyumen project at least, Chinese displeasure is already apparent, and understandable-for the proposed oil pipeline would run near the Sino-Soviet border, help greatly to industrialize the Soviet Far East, and provide assured fuel supplies for the Soviet Pacific fleet and also for Soviet conventional forces stationed along the Chinese border. Various Chinese officials have expressed their unhappiness informally to the Japanese, and Chinese offers to Japan this year of small amounts of Chinese oil were widely interpreted as efforts to forestall a Japanese turn to Siberian oil. Japanese diplomats seem to be persuaded, however, that Peking regards this as a matter for Japan's own decision and would not carry its dislike to the point of retaliating against Japan for participating, at least if the United States were also involved.

As seen from Tokyo, the bargaining strength of the two sides in negotiating Siberian development is probably just about equal. Japan's thirst for oil is well known; with virtually no resources of her own, she is the largest petroleum importer in the world, and currently about 85 percent dependent on the Middle East.

For its part, the Soviet Union wants to colonize and industrialize Siberia to prevent any Chinese military incursions or Chinese politicking with local Siberian ethnic minorities. To do so, the Soviet Union needs to get oil to eastern Siberia. But with severe agricultural shortfalls and other economic difficulties-including, last year, a failure to fulfill planned gas and oil production-the Russians do not themselves have enough capital to develop Siberia fast. They must therefore depend on American, West German or Japanese money. With the Germans showing no strong interest, Siberian development could use all of the money that both Japan and the United States would be prepared to invest there. So Moscow's need for Japanese capital appears fully as great as Tokyo's need for Siberian oil.

One big drawback to joint Siberian development, as far as the Russians are concerned, is the risk of letting capitalist influences loose on such a big scale in the Soviet economy and society. However, the Japanese believe the Russians are basically ready to take this plunge.

Moreover, there has been speculation-apparently emanating from Moscow-that the Soviet Union might now be reconsidering its whole energy policy with the aim of conserving its oil and gas for its own future use or for future exports at higher prices. This is largely dismissed by the Japanese as a bargaining tactic to press for an early deal. Yet there remains the risk that the Russians might turn off the spigot once the pipeline is installed. Some Japanese point out that the Russians recently held up contracted log deliveries to Japan, when lumber prices soared worldwide, in order to get a higher price themselves. But fears that were commonly voiced by conservatives even a year ago about the political dangers of becoming dependent on Soviet oil have largely died out-provided there is American participation. And Japan, with her dependence on worldwide import lifelines, is already so vulnerable that getting eight percent of her oil from the Soviet Union (as semi-official 1980 projections suggest) would hardly make her more so. If there is a risk, Japanese believe, it is one that must be accepted.

Nor is Japan very concerned about strengthened Soviet military might in the Pacific. The disparity between Soviet and Japanese military forces is already so great that a little more imbalance would not change the situation much. Japan's defense against any Soviet attack still rests on American nuclear deterrence and now to some degree on Chinese deterrence, and this situation would not be greatly affected by better-supplied or even increased Soviet conventional forces in the Soviet Far East.

The Japanese do have one large misgiving about Siberian development, however-the dearth of technical data to back up Soviet energy claims and plans. The Japanese are persuaded that there is enough oil in Tyumen to justify the expense (if they can get guaranteed deliveries at a good price). But they find Soviet information vague on amounts of oil and gas reserves, and costs and time needed for exploitation. The Soviet answer to Japanese requests for more data or for permission to let Japanese experts conduct surveys on Tyumen is that Japan is simply selling pipe to the Soviet Union. Detailed technical data, Moscow says, are none of Japan's business. At least for the Tyumen project it appears that the Japanese may have to settle for going ahead without the detailed information they would like.


Although a lesser issue, fishing disputes with Russia are a perennial problem that could become urgent for Japan as pollution poisons more and more marine life in this fish-eating nation's own coastal waters. Basically, in the past 17 years of negotiations Japan has had to curtail her fishing progressively in the Northwest Pacific and the Sea of Okhotsk. This pattern is expected to continue, especially with the international trend toward expansion of territorial waters and national rights on the continental shelf.

In 1973, after an initially tough Soviet stand, Moscow and Tokyo agreed on just about the same Japanese fishing rights as last year in tonnage of salmon, trout and herring (though in reduced zones) and in gathering of sea tangle off northeast Hokkaido. But Japanese king crab hauls were cut 43 percent from the previous year, and the Russians announced that next year they will bar altogether Japanese crab fishing west of the Kamchatka peninsula.

A companion issue is Soviet seizure of Japanese fishing vessels when they venture into Soviet waters. In the past quarter of a century more than 1,300 Japanese boats have been captured, of which 800-odd have been released. At present some 70 Japanese fishermen are being held by the Russians. Presumably-if the pattern of Gromyko's 1972 visit and the visit of a Soviet vice premier to Expo 70 is followed-some or all of these Japanese might be released as a goodwill gesture on the occasion of the Tanaka-Brezhnev summit. But, as Japanese see it, their bilateral fishing agreements with Russia will surely get worse, constituting a continuing and substantial irritant in the overall relationship.


There remains the broader question of the security roles of Japan and the Soviet Union in the new Asian quadrilateral of power. In military terms the Soviet Union is at present the one potential threat to Japan. Its air and naval power are overwhelmingly greater than Japan's territorial forces, as Soviet planes periodically remind Tokyo in feints toward Japanese air space. The Soviet Pacific fleet is powerful and expanding, and most recently exhibited its tendency to fill any vacuum by sailing into the Taiwan Straits for the first time in two decades.

Chinese air and naval capacity, by contrast, is small, and its nuclear missiles few and dispersed. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has nuclear submarines in the Japan Sea and enough missiles in the Far East to be able to point some of them at Japan.

In northeast Asia, as elsewhere in the world, however, the threat of nuclear annihilation is seen by Tokyo as making war between major powers unlikely. And the Russians are seen as sufficiently deterred by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, by Sino-Soviet hostility, and now by American-Chinese détente not to try military blackmail on Japan. The Japanese do not expect Moscow to indulge in saber-rattling of the sort it did in 1952 in violating Japanese air space, or in 1958 in threatening missile attack against revision of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

Another basic assumption the Japanese make-apparently reflecting Washington's views-is that Sino-Soviet hostility will continue for a long time, even after new leadership takes over in China. One Japanese source finds the two countries "hysterical" on the subject of each other. This gives Japan, as it does the United States, some room for maneuver. And as long as the hostility does not erupt into shooting, it makes for greater stability and deterrence all around in Asia.

Japan continues to keep the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty as the cornerstone of her security arrangements. And this is fine with Moscow. Soviet warnings about Japanese "militarism" are only spasmodic and mild these days; privately (to Japanese colleagues) Russian diplomats and scholars see the treaty as forestalling both Chinese expansion and any unilateral Japanese military buildup.

As for Moscow's on-again, off-again proposal of an Asian collective security system, the Russians have signaled the Japanese that they want to put this topic high on the summit agenda. But the concept is ill-defined. Presumably the Russians want to keep the idea alive and use it to probe attitudes.

On their side, the Japanese say collective security would be good as long as the U.S.-Japan alliance is maintained and as long as all Asian countries, including China, join in the system. Recently the Japanese have told the Russians that they could discuss collective security only after territorial issues are settled; the clear implication is that if collective security is just a fancy name for Soviet-sponsored containment of China, Japan is not interested.


Essentially, in both economic and security matters, the Japanese are playing the new game of great-power politics in a very careful and measured way. They have their areas of sensitivity-notably Korea vis-à-vis both China and the Soviet Union-though for the present these do not appear significant or troublesome. And they could become seriously worried if either China or the Soviet Union were to embark on a large-scale effort to expand its influence in East Asia generally.

But for the time being the Japanese are limiting themselves to a deliberate program of balancing their relations with China and the Soviet Union. They do not hope or expect that economic ties with either will assume large proportions relative to Japan's steadily expanding links to the United States and the rest of the world. Thus, this October's summit may see limited progress between Tokyo and Moscow, possibly even a significant announcement on the Siberian development front. A territorial solution, and with it a formal peace treaty, still seem some distance away-unless it is Moscow that takes some new and special initiative for its own wider reasons.


1 President Roosevelt at Yalta operated on the mistaken assumption that the Kuriles as a whole had been taken from Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History 1929-1969, New York: Norton, 1973, p. 196. A pre-Conference staff paper had accurately recalled both the 1855 and 1875 treaties, but the question of defining the Kuriles was overlooked completely.

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