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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.2 (2003) 98-101

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Hiroshi Kimura, Distant Neighbors, Vol. 1: Japanese-Russian Relations under Brezhnev and Andropov. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2000. 334 pp. $84.95.
Hiroshi Kimura, Distant Neighbors, Vol. 2: Japanese-Russian Relations under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2000. 354 pp. $84.95.

As an expert with access to the government in Tokyo, Hiroshi Kimura knows the ins and outs of bilateral relations with Moscow as well as anyone aside from a small number of diplomats. He has been a staunch supporter of Japan's demand for the return of four islands captured by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. His challenge in these two books is to convey new, detailed information while offering a balanced analysis of how and why Japanese-Russian relations have unfolded without normalization over a quarter of a century. Kimura usually meets the challenge in an analysis that offers a wealth of insight, but he does not succeed equally well on all subjects raised.

The first book makes the challenge easy. It covers the years 1976 to 1983, when ties between Japan and the Soviet Union were at their low point after the reestablishment of relations in 1956. It is not difficult to expand knowledge of this period beyond what is available in the chapter-length coverage of Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The Northern Territories Dispute and Russo-Japanese Relations, Volume 1: Between War and Peace, 1697-1985, IAS Research Series No. 97 (Berkeley: University of California at Berkeley, 1998), and also by Kimura himself in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Japan and Russia: The Tortuous Path to Normalization, 1949-1999 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000). Keeping a balanced perspective poses little problem when dealing with relations [End Page 98] that were deadlocked at a time when Moscow's foreign policy went disastrously astray. The only partial hiatus is coverage of the struggle in both the Soviet Union and Japan against the official line. Although I question below one of the arguments in Kimura's first volume before raising more serious doubts about the second volume, Volume 1 will likely endure as the definitive study of the subject.

Volume 2 tackles a much bigger challenge. In contrast to the years of general stagnation in Soviet thinking and Soviet-Japanese relations, the years from 1985 to 1999 were full of domestic struggle and transformation in Russia, wrenching changes in great-power relations, and even shifting assumptions in Japan over foreign policy. Whereas few international observers are critical of Japanese policy toward the Soviet Union in the later years of Leonid Brezhnev's reign, many have found fault with it during the years under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. The second volume of Hasegawa's study, Neither War Nor Peace, 1985-1998, as well as many of the Russian, Japanese, and American contributors to my own edited volume (cited above) advance different interpretations. Kimura's coverage adds important details omitted in the other accounts, and his perspective enriches and is a worthy addition to the overall debate. On some subjects he does justice to the twists and turns of the period. On others, however, he seems to be too oriented to finding evidence in support of the Japanese government.

Reading the second volume of Kimura's book can be rewarding. Just a quick glance at the index shows that the emphasis is on what the Japanese call the "Northern Territories" (and what the Russians call the "Southern Kuriles") more than on any other subject. Kimura purposefully relates a chronology of summits, policy debates, linkages, and alleged missed opportunities to this central theme. Although he is less thorough than Hasegawa in giving the chronology of bilateral relations, he goes to some length to offer distinct views on a number of the potential turning points. The reader can gain a deeper understanding of how elites in Japan viewed Russian diplomatic history and internal developments during this period. Above all...