The Third Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum

Graham Allison

Let me join my two colleagues in expressing thanks to the Japan America Society of New Hampshire, to Chuck Doleac, to the Mayor of Portsmouth, for organizing this forum, and for your hospitality to us. We've enjoyed it, and we appreciate the opportunity to be part of this session.

I agree with almost every point made by my colleagues Kimura and Sarkisov, not surprisingly. And I will try to focus my remarks not on the points that they have already covered, but rather to summarize my remarks under three principal points.

First point: the major findings of this study that I mentioned earlier that we three co-authored with our colleagues, that were concluded in August of 1992 and presented to the governments of that time, continue, I believe, to capture the central truths about this issue of Japanese Russian relations and the territorial dispute, even as we look back on the issue now three years after. And I will take a few minutes to give you the essence of the findings of that report, because I know that a number of you are not familiar with it.

Second point: the report's prediction about what will happen is quite different from our prescription about what should happen. As we predicted, but contrary to our prescription for rapid resolution of these issues, basically in the interim the stalemate has persisted. The question arises why? My answer today mirrors the conclusion that we stated in the trilateral report then, namely that it is not for objective reasons, not because objectively the interest of Russia, Japan and the U.S. would not be advanced by resolution; not even because of objective facts of domestic and bureaucratic politics in Russia and Japan and the U.S., as difficult as these are; but rather, that the issue remains in stalemate for the lack of leadership and vision demonstrated in almost equal parts by all three governments.

My third point. As we look forward, in considering this issue, the most important objective conditions remain largely unchanged. I agree with the specific details of change that have occurred, that Konstantin Sarkisov mentioned, and the positive and negative factors that Hiroshi Kimura has mentioned, but the main and most important objective conditions have remained largely unchanged. In each of the governments now, in each of the countries, we have weak governments and minimalist leadership. And in the year ahead, we are likely to see a period of significant challenge and change for each of the governments, most importantly and most decisively in Russia.

So that is the summary of the three points, and under each of those headings now I'm going to make a number of more specific points.

First with respect to the findings of the report. The report addresses explicitly the question of how the dispute between Japan and Russia can be resolved to achieve fully normalized relations between these two great nations, recognizing that the principal obstacle to normalization is a group of four small islands, that stand as relics of World War II, and indeed symbols of the Cold War. The most important conclusion of the study can be stated succinctly. It is that there exist many ways to resolve this dispute, many ways, if the leaders of the government are determined to do so. As has already been mentioned, the report actually outlines sixty-six different scenarios for successfully resolving this dispute, and discusses in detail three scenarios for achieving full normalization in a period of a year; the three being first, an accelerated Yeltsin five-stage plan; secondly, a bilateral compromise; thirdly, a comprehensive trilateral agreement, in which the U.S. would play a role along with Japan and Russia.

The single most important recommendation of the report can also be stated in a one line injunction. Transform the issue. When President Yeltsin approached this question in September of 1992, the dominant question was how many islands will Yeltsin return to Japan when he goes to Tokyo? Confronting that definition of the issue back in September of 1992, Yeltsin cancelled the visit. To have allowed the issue of normalizing relations between two great nations to be reduced to the simple question of how many islands Yeltsin would return to Japan when he visited Tokyo must be judged a failure, a major failure of diplomacy. Posed in such crude, zero sum terms, the answer was obvious, and predetermined. Clearly in its current conditions, Russia will not unilaterally give up anything to anyone, nor should it be expected to. So the challenge is to transform the issue; specifically, for Russia the issue should become should Russia seek to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Japan that resolves this dispute in ways that enhance Russia's security, political standing, and economic wellbeing? Russians and Russian politicians should have to choose between a probable package that advances Russia's interests in every dimension on the one hand, and continued stalemate on the other. For Japan, the defining question should become how much does Japan really care about recovering these disputed islands, and how forthcoming is Japan prepared to be in making the advantages for Russians in any resolution outweigh the costs?

The U.S. has a role to play in this in helping these two governments get these questions clearly focused in their own minds. In technical terms, you could think of this as the question, "Can this zero sum gain be transformed into a positive sum gain?" And our report attempts to identify a number of scenarios in which all of the parties become net winners. So much for the core conclusions.

Let me mention nine other conclusions that also emerged from this report, but I will have to state them briefly.

First, as both my co-authors have already mentioned, the history of this dispute is much more complex than is recognized in the official positions of any of the three governments. One of the more important contributions of our report was to gather together the most important documents with respect to this, which we have made available to scholars, and to the governments in question. The report mentions blank spots in the histories as told by both the Japanese and the Russian governments, but since we are here for an American audience primarily, it's worth remembering that Franklin Roosevelt did play a part in this story, and not only Franklin Roosevelt. Contrary to the conspiracy theorists, who exaggerate the role given to Roosevelt, or his blame for luring Stalin into a trap of seizing these islands, it is certainly the case that American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles did deliberately frustrate resolution of the dispute in 1956, in order to solidify Japan's role as the Asian pillar of Cold War confrontation against Soviet Communism.

Point Two. The obstacles to normalization of relations between Japan and Russia are formidable, and not to be underestimated. The disputed territories have high salience in the domestic politics of both countries. The situation is very complex, and rapidly changing. Nonetheless, it was our judgment then and it remains, I think, my judgment today that failing to overcome the obstacles in the year ahead is also fraught with many dangers for Japan, Russia, the U.S. and the world. Indeed, we offer our view in the report that having assessed the balance of interests and risks, the net costs of hesitation by the governments to move boldly to a resolution, sufficient to normalize relations, is much higher than the costs and risks of seeking a bold resolution immediately.

Point Three. For Russia, the challenge in transforming the issue is to focus on Russian national interests. President Yeltsin will not give away anything, nor should he be expected to make unilateral concessions. His goal must be to defend and advance Russia's national interests in a manner consistent with the principles of law and justice that he has stated for the new democratic Russia. And that ought to be the challenge to any successor government as well.

Point Four. At this point, resolving the dispute will require both Japan and Russia to compromise. Russia should insist upon conditions that protect it against material loss, and that assure Russia significant net gains in its territorial claims to the remaining territories, to its national security, and to its economic wellbeing. Specifically, these might include, and we give a long list, guarantees that Russia will retain present rights to fish, to natural resources, and to the two-hundred mile economic zone; guarantees that Russia will retain current rights to free and safe passage through the various straits; gains in Russia's territorial terms from Japan, as Japan recognizes Russia's sovereignty over southern Sakhalin and the eighteen Kurile Islands not in dispute; gains in national security from guarantees that the islands will remain demilitarized; reciprocal reductions in American and Japanese forces in the area to match inevitable Russian reductions; and a new role for Russia as a cooperation partner with Japan and the U.S. in their security treaty; significant economic gains, from Japan paying all the costs of relocating the troops now stationed on the islands, and Japan assuming a leading role in a major program of long term G-7 aid for Russian reform, beginning with a Japanese contribution of multi-billions of dollars over a decade-long period. The question for the Yeltsin government should have to be, and for any Russian government, do we want this package of net advantages, or do we want continued stalemate?

Point Five. To transform this issue, the Japanese will also have to stretch. Japan has been uncompromising in its demand that the islands are Japanese, that they were occupied illegally by Russia in 1945, and that they must be returned. Period. But it has now begun to recognize, and I think as Kimura-san has already said, in the period since the report even more so, that continuing to repeat the demands for return alone will not be sufficient. In the past year, Japan has demonstrated more flexibility in its approach to the issue, and still more will be required. The challenge for the Japanese government, though, which I think the Japanese government has still not faced and decided, in my view, is to decide that Japan is prepared to provide net gains for Russia in all significant currencies, and to communicate these benefits with sufficient credibility to encourage Russian reconceptualization of this issue. This should include communicating Japan's willingness to be flexible on everything beyond the principle of sovereignty, including timing, modalities, and conditions. And we offered then, a plan of action, a number of pieces of which, as Professor Kimura has already said, have indeed been implemented in the successive months.

Point Six. The U.S. is not just a third party here. it was implicated in creating the impasse, and as a global partner of one of the parties, Japan, and an emerging partner of Russia, the U.S. interests will be importantly affected by the resolution, and we suggest which ones.

Point Seven. We urged then, in August of 1992, each of the governments to set ambitious objectives for the months ahead. Unfortunately, they decided not to do so. But we argued that, and I think it was correct, and here I quote: "A year or two down the road (like, say, about now), who can guarantee that Russia will be Russia? Or that democratic reformers will be seeking cooperative relations with industrial democracies?" Moreover Japan's assumption of the G-7 chair in January of 1993, and the Tokyo summit that occurred there in July of 1993, provided a special opportunity, a window of opportunity as we said at the time, for seizing, and one that would not stay forever open. We also mentioned at the time that more frank discussion about the contrast between the failure of the all or nothing approach pursued by Japan, on the one hand, and the success of more subtle strategies adopted by Germany before unification, should help drive this point home.

Point Eight. The most direct road to resolution begins with a basic formula: two plus alpha. Two equals the two smaller islands Russia promised to return to Japan in 1956, and which, as Kimura has said, President Yeltsin reaffirmed in his visit in 1993. Alpha represents the additional considerations regarding modality, timing, conditions, and compensation. And we outline in the report a large number of variations in modality, timing, conditions, and compensation, that would allow a resolution of this issue by century's end.

My ninth and final point. As we say in the report, the balance of forces within Japan and Russia today, domestic politics, governmental politics, bureaucratic politics, clearly favors continued stalemate rather than solution. We say, and here I quote: "If our study were an exercise in forecasting rather than analysis of solutions, we would predict that this unresolved dispute is likely to be around for scholars to study for several years to come." Nevertheless, if the findings of our analysis are correct, they call into question the main lines of defense offered by the governments involved for their failure to resolve the dispute. Specifically, we say in the report, the interests of the parties are not irreconcilable. The principles upon which each approaches resolution are not incompatible. The obstacles in domestic, governmental and bureaucratic politics are not insurmountable. The dispute will persist unresolved, if it does, for lack of leadership, imagination, courage, determination and follow-through.

So much for the findings of the 1992 study. I can be much briefer on Points 2 and 3. Point 2, as I said. The report predicted continued stalemate, even though it prescribed speedy resolution.

Why has stalemate persisted? As I read in the answer from the report, and which I continue to believe today, not for objective reasons of interests, not for objective facts of politics, but for lack of imagination and leadership.

It's not clear which of the governments deserves the lowest marks in this exercise. I had the opportunity, after the conclusion of the report, to participate in the U.S. Government, in the beginning of 1993 and 1994, where I made a personal but unsuccessful effort to get this issue on the agenda prior to the G-7 meeting in Tokyo in July of 1993. That effort failed.

It's very tempting to seek solace about the failure to resolve this issue in objective factors, saying, well, the interests really are irreconcilable, or that the domestic politics are too difficult, or the questions of national identity in Russia are too fundamental, or the rise of nationalism in Russia makes it almost impossible to consider giving up an inch of this or an inch of that. But I think that however attractive these siren songs, they are not correct. Ask yourself, which was more difficult, for Germany to recover one third of its country, or for Japan to recover four small islands. Indeed, if we take the period since the report, which is more difficult to imagine happening? Russian troops withdraw from the Baltics, and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia become free, as countries, or four small islands are resolved? Which is more difficult, in this period since the report? All Russian troops leave Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. For me, I think the answer is absolutely clear, that the objective factors are not the answer to the failure to resolve this problem.

Third and finally, looking to the future, as both of my colleagues have done. The objective, the most important objective conditions remain largely unchanged. The interests of the governments, and societies and countries, largely unchanged. The political circumstances, the deep political forces, in Japan, Russia, and the U.S., largely unchanged. Nonetheless, in all three countries, we are now into a period, especially as one looks to the year ahead, in which each is likely to be consumed by contemplating its own navel, its own belly button.

Japan today has a serious economic recession, problems of the bank, trade disputes, and a serious political transformation, as the political structures that govern postwar Japan are collapsing, and as new structures are being re-established.

The U.S. government today is distracted, preoccupied in entering our electoral season, in which there is clearly no advantage to any party in touching this issue.

The Russian government in the ten months ahead is entering a period of what may be decisive choice about the future and identity of Russia. The Parliamentary elections are held in December, and the Presidential elections next June, providing no prospects for any resolution of this kind. So as I try to think about the year ahead, I would imagine no resolution of this issue, given the preoccupation of the governments. But I do believe that the year ahead continues to be an opportunity for preparing the ground, and I think preparing the ground involves at least two things that have been mentioned so far.

First, the continuation of Kimura-san's, I think I wrote it down as "creeping assimilation", namely, local relations developed much more actively.

And secondly, which I think is a crucial complement, because I think the first will not succeed by itself, secondly, a serious Japanese effort to improve the political climate by determining that Japan is prepared to make this a net win for Russia, and communicating that in sufficiently credible terms. If this is done, then the question is what happens in the election. A victory for the nationalists, or for the nationalists and the communists, will postpone this issue, I think for the very long term. A victory for some combination of the democratic reformers and the party of power, if the ground is prepared, will I think present another opportunity for the leadership of Japan, Russia and the U.S. to resolve this issue, and to do so on the basis of the two plus alpha formula, with flexibility and imagination about modality, timing and compensation.

So, in conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would agree very much with my colleagues Professor Kimura and Sarkisov in hoping to return to Portsmouth before the 100th anniversary of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, in which we will celebrate not only the 1905 Portsmouth Treaty, but also the full normalization of relations between Russia and Japan.

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