A breakthrough between Japan and Russia is being vigorously pursued in 2016. Sixty years after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Moscow, there is a prospect of a peace treaty and final resolution of their territorial dispute. Yet few have taken notice or considered the ramifications. This volume takes the prospect seriously, while recognizing the hurdles that stand in the way. It presents the insights of former diplomats and specialists from Japan and Russia, adding a U.S. perspective on geopolitics, and, in this introduction, draws together arguments in the volume while assessing the prospects for a breakthrough. We seek to inform readers about what has taken place over the past three years, and, even more, about the forces impacting this ongoing quest, whose strategic impact in the wider great power context could be notable.
This diplomatic effort has drawn scant attention for at least three reasons: (1) listener fatigue, after earlier Japanese media sensationalism about a breakthrough just around the corner; (2) dearth of news on any progress over three years of talks; and (3) absence of obvious preconditions, since impressions of Abe and Putin do not suggest that they would be compromisers on territorial integrity and national identity, particularly as geopolitics and geo-economics seem to be pulling them apart. By pointing to factors different from those operating when hopes were dashed before, and conveying new information about Russo-Japanese exchanges and expectations, we make the case for why it is time to pay close attention, but with a sober outlook on conditions that complicate efforts to find an outcome welcome to both sides.