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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/24/11

U.S. Backs Japan In Looming Confrontation With Russia

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After the meeting, the U.S. embassy released a statement reiterating Washington's support for Japan's territorial claims on the South Kurils, echoing comments made by State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore among others that precipitated the summoning of the U.S. envoy. Moore had insisted "that the US government supports Japan and recognizes its sovereignty over the Islands."

In the words of a recent Russian commentary, "current statements of the US State Department amid growing threats from Japanese radicals look like outright instigation." [10]

The State Department spokeswoman's affirmation of the American - which is to say the Japanese - position vis-a-vis the islands was reminiscent of that of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley on November 1 in which he supported Japanese territorial contentions and referred to the Kurils as the Northern Territories. His pronouncement followed by four days a pledge by Secretary State Hillary Clinton - in the presence of Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara in Hawaii - relating to an analogous territorial dispute between Japan and China over what the first calls the Senkaku and the second the Diaoyu islands:

"The Senkakus fall within the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This is part of the larger commitment that the United States has made to Japan's security. We consider the Japanese-U.S. alliance one of the most important alliance partnerships we have anywhere in the world and we are committed to our obligations to protect the Japanese." [11] Earlier in the same month Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa asserted "that their countries will jointly respond in line with a bilateral security pact toward stability in areas in the East China Sea covering the Senkaku Islands that came into the spotlight in disputes between Japan and China." [12]
Though State Department spokesman Crowley made a distinction between the Senkaku/Diaoyu and Kuril islands in regards to honoring military commitments to Japan, as the former are currently administered by Japan and the latter are not, the door is left open for Washington to invoke Article 5 on behalf of Japan should an armed confrontation between it and Russia occur.

In the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed in 1951 to officially end World War Two, the U.S. recognized that Japan had lost any rights to reclaim the South Kurils as well as Sakhalin Island, although it did not recognize then-Soviet claims either. The treaty, to which the U.S. is one of 48 signatories, unequivocally states that "Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kuril islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it" acquired after the Russo-Japanese War.

The current American position on the Kurils, then, is what it is in relation to the South Caucasus nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: That they are "Russian-occupied territories" belonging to other sovereign nations. Japan in the first case and Georgia in the other two.

Washington's role in exacerbating the conflict over the Kurils is a dangerous throwback to Cold War-era politicking.

Valery Kistanov, head of the Center for Japanese Studies at Russia's Far East Institute, was quoted earlier this week as recalling:

"This is not the first time that the US has tried to drive a wedge between Russia and Japan....In 1955-1956, the USSR and Japan held talks on a peace treaty which resulted in the adoption of a Soviet-Japanese declaration. This declaration envisaged the restoration of diplomatic ties and the end of military action but did not resolve the territorial issue.

"At that stage Japan was considering abandoning its claims to the four South Kuril Islands. But Washington threatened Tokyo that if it did so, the US would not return Okinawa to Japan, the country's southernmost island, which was occupied by the US at that time." [13]

A Chinese analysis of the same date as the above appeared, February 22, illuminated the geostrategic significance of what might otherwise strike outsiders as an obscure island dispute. It disclosed that:

"Analysts say Russia will never make concessions to Japan on the islands, which it calls the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories, as they are the crux of Russia's strategy for its Far East and beyond that to the Asia-Pacific region."

"The islands are located in a key geographic position where they secure the entrance into the Pacific Ocean for Russia's Pacific Fleet.

"If the four islands were regained by Japan and used as a natural barrier by Japan and the United States, Russia's Pacific Fleet would be cut off from the Pacific and may face direct military threats from the two.

"Analysts said a 'butterfly effect' could mean the neighbouring Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin region, both strategic to Russia's ability to respond to attacks, would also be exposed.

"Local media held that the fairly sudden renewed interest in the Southern Kurils was a major move in Russia's east-oriented strategy against the backdrop of the ongoing global readjustment in a new era."

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Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. Is the manager of the Stop NATO international email list at:
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