UNSC Discusses Long-Standing Kuril Islands Dispute

United Nations Security Council

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has raised the long-unresolved issue regarding the Kuril Islands. This issue has been a cause of conflict between the State of Japan and the Russian Federation for many decades.

The delegate for the State of Japan made the case that the 4 Kuril islands, Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai islands, were an integral part of Japan. Russia, the legal successor of the USSR, was required to observe all their past obligations and return the Kuril Islands to Japan. He was quoted saying, “Russia has absolutely no regard for the UN or the international law as seen in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.” and “Russia has violated Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which states that members of the UN should refrain from the use threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

The Russian Federation delegate’s arguments were based on previous agreements such as the Yalta Agreement(1945) and the San Francisco Peace Treaty(1951). The Russian delegate stated that the San Francisco Peace Treaty required Japan to renounce the sovereignty of the Kuril Islands. The delegate also noted that Russia had inherited the Kuril Islands from its predecessor state, the Soviet Union and that Japan’s claims that the four islands are not part of the Kuril Islands were not based on history or geography. Countries such as Sri Lanka and Belarus made similar arguments based on these treaties.

The United States of America supported the claims of Japan over the Kuril Islands, though with a humanitarian angle. The delegate raised the issue of discrimination against the Ainu people in Japan because of their origin. The representative for the USA stated that they have had to change their names to Japanese names, and women have been disproportionately affected. Norway also made a similar argument regarding the Ainu people, stating that the Japanese were not the predecessors before the Russian occupation, but rather the settling of the Japanese in the islands was imperialist. However, Norway supported the Japanese claim to the islands, stating that Russia did not have any common link with the actual inhabitants. They, by now, have been integrated into the Japanese community.

When countries such as China, Pakistan and India were arguing this issue, parallels were drawn from the situation to the crises faced by these countries. The delegate for the People’s Republic of China supported Russia’s claims. They said,” China believes that a new treaty must be put into force to ensure a peaceful resolution to the problem.” They also stated that treaties like the Yalta Agreement had become irrelevant today. However, when questioned about the similarities to the Taiwan situation, the delegate failed to substantiate.

Similar parallels were drawn to the issue of Kashmir when the delegates of India and Pakistan were putting forward their arguments. The Indian delegate stated that the international community had to take a tough stance regarding the Kashmir issue, an interesting deviation from India’s earlier stance that it was an internal matter. On the other hand, Pakistan maintained that Kashmir belonged to Pakistan and was illegitimately occupied during the partition.

Countries such as the United Kingdom, the Gabonese Republic, France, Germany and Canada supported Japan’s claims providing arguments on legal, economic and ethnic bases.

There was a great deal of overlap in the arguments made by the delegates regarding the economic front. It was noted that the Kuril Islands were economically significant due to the mining and fishing operations on the islands. Japan and its allies continued to claim that economic development would take place substantially if the islands were handed over to Japan. This would be better than the current situation under Russian rule. They also claimed that the economic operations would solely belong to Japan.

However, some countries refused to comment on this issue, namely the United Mexican States, the Republic of Ghana, the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Ireland. The UNSC has decided to continue discussions regarding the legality of Japanese and Russian claims during the next session. The council has also indicated the possibility of drafting a resolution in the next session.