The Four Northern Islands and the San Francisco Peace Treaty

Japan claims territorial sovereignty over four islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, the Habomais and Shikotan which have been under Russian control since the end of WW II. One of the disputed points involves Article 2(c) of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) in which Japan renounced the Kurile Islands. While Russia argues that the four islands are included in the Kurile Islands, Japan contends that they are not.
 The drafting of a peace treaty began in March 1947 within the US Department of State. State Department’s drafts went through revisions up to the end of 1949. Subsequently, John Foster Dulles, as a consultant to the Secretary of State, prepared a short version of draft treaty in Summer 1950 and started the coordination with countries concerned. Finally, “Revised United State–United Kingdom Draft of a Japanese Peace Treaty” was completed in June 1951, and it was adopted as “Treaty of Peace with Japan” in San Francisco in September the same year.
 In the drafting process of the peace treaty, many provisions were planned: the four islands were to be retained by Japan, to be detached from Japan, or two islands to be retained and two detached, and so on. Various comments were also recorded in the commentaries attached to the draft treaties, such as “…we [US] should propose this disposition [retention of four islands by Japan] on the slight chance that the Soviets would give them up, and for the good will we would gain and the ill will that the Soviets would incur among the Japanese if they did not do so.”, and “US assumption of control over the Ryukyus places the US in a poor position to suggest the renunciation by the Soviets [of the four islands].”
 To conclude, the preparatory work to the Peace Treaty would not contradict the interpretation of the word “Kurile Islands” in Article 2(c) that it does not include the four islands which have never been territory of any foreign country.

Russia’s Claim to Sovereignty over the Four Northern Islands

 Japan and Russia have long disputed with each other on the issue of the attribution of four islands located to the northeast of Hokkaido.
While Japan’s position is that the Four Northern Islands are an inherent part of the territory of Japan, which have never been held by foreign countries, and which were confirmed as Japanese under the first treaty between the two countries (1855), Russia argues that Japan lost the right to refer to early treaties because it seized the southern Sakhalin by Russo-Japanese War (1905). Russia also insists that the starting point of the discussions ought to be the outcome of World War II, and contends that Japan surrendered and accepted all the terms arising from the Allies’ agreements, including the Yalta Agreement which stipulates the handover of the Kurile islands to the Soviet Union. Russia further contends that Japan’s renouncement of the Kurile Islands under the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) has an absolute character and the Kurile Islands include the four islands Japan claims. Lastly, Russia contends that the both countries signed the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration (1956), in which the Soviet Union agreed to hand over Shikotan and the Habomais (two of the Four Northern Islands) upon conclusion of a peace treaty, on the understanding that no more territorial claim would be made.
 Many questions arise when we examine the Russian arguments in detail. Claiming sovereignty over the Four Northern Islands as the outcome of WW II—the islands which have never been part of Russia—is especially problematic in light of the “principle of non-territorial expansion” that the Allied themselves proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter (1941) and the Cairo Declaration (1943).

Stalin's Definition of the Kurile Islands

Japan has a territorial dispute with Russia on Northern Territories such as Etorofu Island, the Habomai Islands, Kunashiri Island, and Shikotan Island. The issue of the Northern Territories is largely one of interpretation. It stems in large part to a lack of consensus between Japan and Russia over the wording and legitimacy of views presented in the wide-ranging international agreements and declarations composed during and in the wake of WWII, when Japan’s renunciation of territory was a subject of much debate. This article focuses Stalin’s definition of the Kurile Island.

International Law and Japan's Territorial Disputes

Although Japan renounced its claims to these lands, the San Francisco Peace Treaty(SFPT)failed to declare a successor State. Thus, five of the highly contentious territorial disputes that plague Asia-Pacific today have their roots in the SFPT, three of which involve Japan—Kurile Islands/Northern Territories, Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima) and Pinnacle Islands (Diaoyu/Senkakus). Over the years, these disputes have intensified as a result of rising nationalism and a growing demand for living and non-living ocean resources. In particular, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which were designed to accommodate the interests of the developing States in exercising exclusive resource rights out to two hundred nautical miles (nm), have had the unintended consequence of intensifying resource competition and rekindling these longstanding territorial disputes.