Essays of varying interest and lucidity by international authorities who provide varying perspectives on the enduring inability of Japan and Russia to resolve a territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands.
Resembling a string of pearls, the Kuriles lie between northern Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula. Though considered part of Japan by the Japanese, the islands remain in the control of Russia, whose forces occupied them during the final days of WWII and whose leaders throughout the postwar period have consistently refused to return them. This dispute, according to editor Rozman (Sociology/Princeton Univ.) is the principal reason that Russo-Japanese relations “rank poorest among the great powers.” Rozman has assembled an impressive cast of contributors to this project and has succeeded in presenting a balanced (if sometimes repetitive) discussion of the issues. Divided into three major sections, the volume first examines the background of Russo-Japanese relations (1949–84), moves to very recent events (1985–99), and concludes with five essays (including one by Rozman that is the best in the collection) that in various ways present the case that both sides share “the experience of fallen powers” and must readjust their thinking if progress is to occur. Although this territorial bone of contention has been perhaps too well-gnawed by the end, a number of the essayists make arresting points. Ambassador Sumio Edamura, for example, observes that Boris Yeltsin’s “authoritarian and unpredictable” personality hampered negotiations. Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Kunadze notes that it would have been easier to negotiate a settlement during the Soviet period when the Kremlin could have safely ignored contrary public opinion. And Tsuyoshi Hasogawa claims the problem is “largely a creation of the United States,” whose Cold War, anti-Soviet policies made the USSR less willing to accommodate America’s principal Pacific ally.
Scholarly and often dense—but shows clearly how collisions of culture and history impede international relations.