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Japan seeking U.S. understanding on “demilitarization” of Northern Territories

In light of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to expedite negotiations for a bilateral peace treaty, the Japanese government has begun vigorous efforts to obtain the Trump administration’s understanding. Since Russia is concerned about the deployment of U.S. forces on the returned Northern Territories, there has emerged a plan to present a proposal to the U.S. and Russia on the “demilitarization” of the four Northern Islands. The government will determine the extent of the explanation to be made at the Japan-U.S. summit expected to take place toward the end of the month based on prior intergovernmental negotiations.


A Japanese government source reckons that U.S. forces will not be stationed on the islands of Habomai and Shikotan after their return. He points out that “the U.S. could have had a military base in Hokkaido even now if it had wanted to, so it is unlikely for a U.S. base to be located in the Northern Territories.” He also explains that “basically, Japan would be able to refuse even if the U.S. wants to build a military base.”


However, Putin once toughened his position when Japan did not rule out the possibility of stationing U.S. forces after the Northern Territories’ return in November 2016. Therefore, in the forthcoming negotiations on the return of two islands, it is very likely that Russia may demand a firm pledge that there will be no deployment of U.S. forces on the basis of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.


On the other hand, Russia is strengthening its military capabilities in the Northern Territories and Chishima Islands as a strategic stronghold. Therefore, the above source says: “In consideration of the alliance with the U.S., the Prime Minister will not tell Putin that ‘stationing of U.S. forces will not be allowed.’ It is better for him to suggest that ‘since the U.S. forces will not be placed there, let’s not deploy the Self-Defense Forces or the Russian armed forces and demilitarize this area.”

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