Russia and Japan’s Kuril Islands Territorial Dispute: How Likely is a Resolution?

By Ilya Akdemir

Billboard in Japan demanding the return of the four Kuril Islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai off the coast of Japan’s northern Hokkaido Prefecture. The legal status of these four islands has been a cause of controversy between Russia and Japan for over 71 years.
Billboard in Japan demanding the return of the four Kuril Islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai off the coast of Japan’s northern Hokkaido Prefecture. The legal status of these four islands has been a cause of controversy between Russia and Japan for over 71 years.

On December 15th, 2016, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will pay a visit to Japan. The discussions between President Putin and Prime Minister Abe will primarily concern trade and other issues of bilateral relations. But in recent weeks, there have been indicators from both Japanese and the Russian sources that new steps are being taken to resolve the longstanding territorial dispute between the two countries over the Kuril Islands.

Situated north of Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture, the Kuril Islands are a chain of volcanic islands that extend 1200 km from Japan’s northern Hokkaido Prefecture to Russia’s Kamchatka Region. Although a part of Russia’s Sakhalin Oblast, the four southernmost islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai off the coast of Hokkaido Prefecture – known as the four South Kuril Islands – are claimed by both Russia and Japan. Apart from being rich in resources, the islands form a strategically important gateway to Russia’s resource-rich Far Eastern regions and the Sea of Okhotsk.

The origins of the territorial dispute can be traced all the way back to the end of the Second World War. Although the war ended in 1945 with the victory of the Allied forces, the USSR refused to sign the 1951 Peace Treaty of San Francisco, which meant that, legally, the Soviet Union has had no formal peace treaty with Japan.

To restore relations, in 1956 USSR and Japan signed a Joint Declaration, which ended the state of war between the two states. However, it’s important to note that under international law this Joint Declaration did not necessarily constitute a formal peace treaty – indeed, Article 9 of the Joint Declaration specifically states that “the USSR and Japan agree to continue, after the restoration of normal diplomatic relations between the USSR and Japan, negotiations for the conclusion of a Peace Treaty.” Considering the Russian Federation is the legal successor to USSR under the Alma-Ata Protocol and Belavezha Accords of 1991, this lack of formal peace has remained a part of Russia-Japan relations to this day.

 

The Kuril Islands were an important element in the Soviet Union’s decision to refuse to sign the 1951 Peace Treaty. This is best demonstrated by then Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko’s statement, which outlined USSR’s key objections to the Peace Treaty, one of which was the issue of sovereignty over Kuril Islands and the nearby South Sakhalin. Gromyko stated that “the draft confines itself to a mere mention of the renunciation by Japan of rights, title and claims to these territories and makes no mention of the historic appurtenance of these territories and the indisputable obligation on the part of Japan to recognize the sovereignty of the Soviet Union over these parts of the territory of the USSR.”

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Promoting Infrastructure Development in Central Asia Through Public-Private Partnerships

By Maribeth Hunsinger, JD Candidate 2019

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Image Credit: PowderPhotography 

 

The relatively young nations of Central Asia have been slowly opening their economies to foreign investment over the past twenty years. However, infrastructure shortfalls in the region, including failing transportation and utility networks, are hampering continued economic growth and development.

The World Bank estimates that over $1 trillion a year in additional infrastructure investment will be required to meet the current demand shortfall in emerging markets and developing economies. The gap in global infrastructure investment has a tangible impact on quality of life worldwide: 2.6 billion people have no access to electricity, while 800 million people have no access to clean water. Infrastructure spending differs not only across regions, but also across countries within the same region, depending on factors such as government funding, legal frameworks, and security issues.

Inadequate infrastructure can reduce output, lower productivity, impede the flow of people and goods within and between countries, and impose higher transaction costs. However, the governments of most Central Asian states have relatively limited financial capacity to rehabilitate existing infrastructure or fund new infrastructure. These nations are facing declining growth projections and budgets following the 2014-15 drop in global oil prices, and they will likely need to find different methods of financing their widening infrastructure gaps. Continue reading Promoting Infrastructure Development in Central Asia Through Public-Private Partnerships

This Day in International Law: December 2

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By Gina Choi

On December 2, 1954, the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty (“Treaty”) was signed between the U.S. and the Republic of China, Taiwan, which formed the basis of close security alliance between the U.S. and Taiwan. Some of the terms and conditions of the Treaty remained effective in the Taiwan Relations Act passed by the U.S. Congress, which became a new legal basis for U.S.-Taiwan relations after the U.S. formalized diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and terminated the Treaty in 1979.

President Jimmy Carter’s termination of the Treaty without the approval of Senate was challenged by a few members of Congress including Senator Barry Goldwater and became the subject matter of the U.S. Supreme Court case Goldwater v. Carter. A majority of six Justices of the Supreme Court ruled that the case was not justiciable given the political nature of the dispute, and consequently, the termination was maintained. Three dissenting Justices opined that the case pertained to a question of whether the Constitution commits the President to certain political decision-making authority and should have been resolved by the Court as a matter of constitutional law.