The U.S.-Japan relationship is at one of its post-World War II high-water marks. Last year’s update of the Bilateral Defense Guidelines, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s successful address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, the Diet’s passage of legislation to allow greater military cooperation with the United States in some circumstances, and the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership were all historic steps forward.
However, as in any complex relationship between major countries, there are potential points of difference. Part of our mission at Sasakawa USA is to identify these differences and help find ways to address them. Russia presents a fascinating opportunity to do just that.
The U.S. view of Russia is currently dominated by Russian aggression in Crimea, the Ukraine, and Syria. Japan’s view is quite different. Despite a recent increase in violations of Japanese air space by Russia, it is a relatively weak player in Asia; China poses a greater threat to Japanese interests. Although Russia still occupies the Northern Territories it seized from Japan at the end of World War II, Russia is a potential source of energy at a time when most of Japan’s nuclear power plants remain closed.
As Princeton University’s Dr. Gil Rozman states in his excellent and comprehensive introduction:
The recent relationship between Japan and Russia has defied conventional stereotypes. It has also irritated U.S. officials at a time when the United States wants a united front with Japan to confront Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its non-cooperative approach to intervention in Syria, and signs that Moscow has revived Cold War thinking in its military posture.
Last year, in partnership with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Sasakawa USA convened a conference to explore the triangular relationship among the United States, Japan, and Russia. Economic and security experts, along with experienced diplomats from all three countries, discussed the history of key issues and the prospects for progress.
This volume, edited by Dr. Rozman, is a result of that conference. It brings together the analyses of conference participants, who describe an underdeveloped Japan-Russia economic relationship, a series of ingenious but unsuccessful diplomatic and cartographic attempts to divide the Northern Territories in a way that both countries could claim as a win, and very subtle signaling by Russia and Japan that their concerns about China may present a margin for better relations with one another.
The conference highlighted differing assessments, objectives, and priorities about Russia between the United States and Japan, which now are reflected in this comprehensive publication.