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The Need for Japan-US Cooperation in Dealing with Russia

Tags: Energy , Eurasia , Nuclear Weapons , United States , Russia

Watanabe, Tsuneo ( –2017.3)

February 27, 2010

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The Eurasia Information Network project invited a group of Russia experts from the United States to come to Japan from November 10 through 13, 2009, for discussions with Japanese experts about Russia and the international environment pertaining to Russia.

The group was formed, with assistance from the Japan Foundation, at the initiative of Paul Saunders, who served in the George W. Bush administration as senior advisor to the undersecretary of state for global affairs and is now the executive director of the Nixon Center, a think tank located in Washington, DC, as well as director of the center’s US-Russia Relations Program. The group included Andrew Kuchins, formerly director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another think tank located in Washington, DC, as well as Mark Medish, a senior adviser at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who served in the administration of Bill Clinton as deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for international affairs, special assistant to the president, and senior director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs on the National Security Council. All three are among Washington’s most influential Russia and Eurasia experts.

On November 11 the visiting group engaged in lively discussions with Japanese experts in a conference room on the second floor of the Nippon Foundation Building in Tokyo. The following day, the three visiting American experts convened in the same room for an exchange of views, attended by businesspeople and representatives of the Japanese media, which took the form of an Overview Meeting of the Tokyo Foundation Eurasia Information Network project. The November 11 discussions were conducted in accordance with the Chatham House Rule, whereby the details of the discussion may be made public but the identities of the speakers must be withheld.

In the first panel discussion the respective participants from Japan and the United States presented and exchanged views on the topic “US-Russian Relations: Impact on Asia.” The discussion focused on whether or not the Barack Obama administration, which took power in 2009, was succeeding with a diplomatic experiment designed to “reset,” and thereby improve, relations with Russia. The American participants shared the view that the United States and Russia remain in a state of mutual mistrust, and they were doubtful that the relationship would actually be “reset.” The mistrust and hostility regarding the absence of democracy in Russia openly seen among the neocons in the Bush administration were cited as a form of “DNA” that commonly pervades American diplomatic policy and was also evident in the actions of the Clinton administration. The existence of this diplomatic DNA was reconfirmed on the occasion of Russia’s invasion of the Republic of Georgia in the summer of 2008. In addition, the American participants expressed the view that while the United States hopes to enlist Russia’s cooperation in the effort to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear capability, Russia seems amenable to having Iran maintain its current state of development and is thus viewed as taking a position contrary to that of the United States. The panelists cited several key factors governing future relations between the United States and Russia: President Obama’s cancelling of the deployment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, negotiations on a treaty to succeed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START1), and progress in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear capability.

The above discussion took place in the aftermath of the publication of an interview in the October 14 issue of the Russian newspaper Izvestia in which Nikolai Petrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, indicated that a new military doctrine to be submitted to Russia’s president later in the year would broaden the criteria permitting a preemptive nuclear attack to include a response to a regional conflict. The panelists discussed Russia’s intentions in this regard. The existing doctrine permits the use of nuclear weapons in the event that Russia or one of its allies is attacked with nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction or in the event of a large-scale invasion involving the deployment of conventional weapons. This new move would result in greater military pressure on Georgia and other neighboring countries. The United States is greatly concerned about this. On December 17, well after this panel discussion took place, the news service Interfax reported a statement by a high-ranking official of Russia’s Security Council indicating that the new military doctrine was expected to permit the use of nuclear weapons in the event of circumstances threatening the state’s continued existence. This, combined with Russia’s intention to revise its provisions concerning “adversaries” against whom the use of nuclear weapons would be permitted, has heightened concern that the new doctrine will go beyond “preemptive use” to permit “preventive use” of nuclear weapons. With negotiations on arms reductions having been held over until the new year as well, the concern about Russia expressed by the Americans in November is apt to have increased.

The second panel discussion was devoted to the topic “The Changing East Asian Security Environment: China and Russia.” The American panelists noted that a wave of so-called color revolutions beginning around 2000 has helped democratize countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, and that China and Russia, feeling increasingly threatened by these developments, have strengthened their relationship. The Sino-Russian honeymoon extended to activities such as the holding of large-scale military exercises under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Japanese panelists pointed out, however, that Russia has recently become very wary of China’s rising influence and that, among other things, the 2009 SCO exercises were conducted in a relatively low-key manner. Asked whether China and Russia are rivals or partners, the American experts asserted that they are both. They also suggested that there is little likelihood of China and Russia forming the sort of alliance that exists between Japan and the United States. On the contrary, they asserted, Japan and the United States should not underestimate Russian anxiety regarding China and should be mindful of tensions between those nations.

The third panel discussed the topic “Russia and Energy Security,” addressing the question of whether Russia will become a major supplier of fossil fuels to Asia in the future or merely continue to be a supplier to Europe, as well as the future prospects for nuclear energy in Russia. More detailed information may be found in the report by Eurasia Information Network Research Fellow Taisuke Abiru. The panelists noted that, in light of interruptions in the supply of natural gas to Europe by Russia and other such factors, it would be risky for Japan and the rest of Asia to become more dependent on Russia. Citing the latent demand in Japan and Japanese needs for greater diversification of energy suppliers, the panelists discussed the issue of whether such diversification is a realistic option. It was also pointed out that Russia has the potential to be a powerful partner to Japan and the United States in cooperating on nuclear energy.

The fourth panel summarized the three previous discussions and reached a common understanding in a session entitled “Policy Options for the US and Japan in Dealing with Russia.” The American panelists asserted that with respect to Russia, the Sino-Russian relationship, and conditions in the surrounding region, in such areas as security concerns and potential benefits in the area of energy policy, there are many mutual benefits and few mutually incompatible benefits for Japan and the United States; the Japanese panelists concurred. This consensus was reconfirmed at an overview meeting held the following day. As these matters are seldom addressed in the main arenas of diplomatic policy in both nations, continued discussion is needed. It was noted, however, that issues such as Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear capability may bring complications for both Japan and the United States. (Translated from a report in Japanese )

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