Japan and Russia: The Tortuous Path to Normalization, 1949-1999

Japan and Russia: The Tortuous Path to Normalization, 1949-1999

Bone, Jonathan

Japan and Russia: The Tortuous Path to Normalization, 1949-1999. Gilbert Rozman, editor. New York.: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. $39.95.

When the hapless Chicago Cubs last won baseball’s World Series in 1908, Nicholas II was tsar, the Meiji emperor held the throne in Japan, and their countries were seeking normal relations following an exhausting war. Ninety-three years later, Russia and Japan remain estranged in the distant aftermath of an even more cataclysmic conflict. The long litany of Cub failure is not germane to this journal. However books on why Russia still hasn’t signed a World War II-ending peace treaty with Japan are. Superbly edited by Princeton University’s Gilbert Rozman, Japan and Russia: The Tortuous Path to Normalization, 1949-1999 is a collection of eighteen essays on the protracted geopolitical disassociation. Offering a variety of views by sixteen experts (two have made multiple contributions), it may be the best single volume on the subject yet published.

The central difficulty addressed by the book is what Japan calls its “Northern Territories problem”: the four southernmost island clusters in what we normally think of as the Kurile archipelago, overrun by the Red Army in the last moments of World War II and occupied by Soviet or Russian forces ever since. For readers who don’t already know, Tokyo-or at least the Japanese Foreign Ministry– has sought to recover this presumptively integral territory before tackling the practical details of a postwar settlement. Moscow, for its part, has tended to make real diplomatic and/or economic rapprochement the precondition for treaty negotiations, including territorial concessions. Overt tension between them has waxed and waned over the years according to such factors as the state of the cold war (while it lasted), relative macroeconomic trends, personnel changes in both capitals, and not least, the 1991 collapse of the USSR. However. the cognitive disconnection underlying it has been far less susceptible to change. Although the late 1990s brought some reasons for cautious hope, as several of the contributors to the volume detail, resolution seems unlikely anytime soon.

A capable editor, Rozman is aware that pundits as well as principals from opposite shores of the Sea of Okhotsk tend to talk past each other, when they can be induced to talk to each other. His adroit solution is to structure things around opposition. At the core of his book are several well-chosen sets of papers addressing key aspects of the story from both national perspectives, augmented where warranted by third-party commentary. The multidimension lends the volume rare depth and balance. Japan and Russia is divided into three sections, two chronological and the last thematic. Part 1 surveys relations from 1949 through 1984, from the start of the substantive peace negotiations after World War II through the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev. In it, Haruki Wada’s “The San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Redef inition of the Kurile Islands” is matched against Boris Slavinsky’s “The Soviet– Japanese Postwar Peace Settlement in Retrospect” and a longer Alexei Zagorsky piece entitled “Reconciliation in the Fifties.” The initial triad is followed by Peter Berton’s “Two Decades of Soviet Diplomacy and Andrei Gromyko” and Hiroshi Kimura’s “Japan-Soviet Political Relations from 1976-1983.” Both of the last address the increasing friction of the Brezhnev years.

Part 2 takes the story through 1999, concentrating on post-Soviet events. Nobuo Shimotomai leads with “Japanese-Soviet Relations under Perestroika: Perceptions and Interactions between Two Capitals,” a study of foreign policy as process, paired with Lizbeth L. Tarlow’s “Russian Decision Making on Japan in the Gorbachev Era.” The book’s most fascinating dyad follows: career Japanese diplomat Sumio Edamura’s “A Japanese View of Japanese-Russian Relations,” neatly mirrored by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Kunadze’s “A Russian View of Russian-Japanese Relations” This editorial coup is followed by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s “Why Did Russia and Japan Fail to achieve Rapprochement in 1991-1996?” and Rozman’s own “Cross-Border Relations and RussoJapanese Bilateral Ties in the 1990s,” linking articles serving to set up Konstantin Sarkisov’s “Russo-Japanese Relations after Yeltsin’s Reelection in 1996” and Shigeki Hakamada’s answering “Japanese-Russian Relations in 1997-1999: The Struggle against Illusions.”

Part 3 breaks with chronology by examining the conceptual differences that have hindered normalization for so long. Its five papers concern themselves with might be called geopolitical culture: how Japan and Russia see themselves, each other, and their respective places in world order. Semyon Verbitsky leads with “Factors Shaping the Formation of Views on Japan in the USSR in the Postwar Period,” mirrored by a second, extremely informative contribution by Hasegawa entitled “Japanese Perceptions of the Soviet Union and Russia in the Postwar Period.” Akio Kawato comes next with “Overcoming the Legacy of History: Japanese Public Relations in Russia, 1990-1994,” followed by an intellectual history offering by Tadashi Anno called “Nihonjinron and Russkaia ideia: Transformation of Japanese and Russian Nationalism in the Postwar Era and Beyond.” Finally Rozman winds up with “Japan and Russia: Great Power Ambitions and Domestic Capacities,” his third-party take on what the dispute has meant over the years and where it might now be going. Offered with guarded optimism by one of our very best experts on the subject, it makes a fitting epilogue to this extremely fine collection.

JONATHAN BONE University of Chicago

Copyright HELDREF PUBLICATIONS Summer 2001

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