The Third Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum

Konstantin Sarkisov

Ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased and honored to be here today with you, with my old friends, and new friends from Portsmouth. First of all, let me address my special thanks to Mayor Foley, because having met me for the first time, she kissed me. I regarded that as a purely Russian habit, but I am very touched by that!

I have come from Russia, where the name of your beautiful city evokes very controversial feelings and reminiscences. Some regard it as a symbol of Russia's bitter defeat in the war. Russia never was so beaten in its history. But some regard the Portsmouth Treaty as a symbol of a great skill and flexibility of Russian diplomacy, to gain much diplomatically, being in a very difficult war position. But for me personally, Portsmouth is a symbol of an eventual ability and flexibility of two great countries to get to a compromise to conclude a peace treaty to end their bitter war.

Ninety years ago, your city did a great job, providing the Russians and Japanese with hospitality, and the agreement reached by both sides here in Portsmouth became a strong peace framework that survived 45 years. Even after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, in 1917, the treaty had been still in power. In 1925, its power and legitimacy were acknowledged by the Soviet government, though in a special political declaration it stated that it didn't bear responsibility for the Czarist government's policy.

And ironically, one can argue if Japan didn't enter the world war, the treaty would be safe even now. But it is a law of history that it does not permit the word "if". All further historical developments after Portsmouth, step by step began to destroy the Portsmouth treaty system. Although we had a good period of our relationship after the Russo-Japanese war until 1911, something like that - we had concluded with Japan many treaties, conventions, which shaped the Russo-Japanese alliance, and -- a kind of alliance, not a true alliance, but a kind of alliance. So the most drastic changes occurred when the Bolshevik revolution in Russia occurred, and let me say, the collapse of the Taisho democracy in Japan. The totalitarian regimes in both countries, while having big differences between the two systems (I mean the totalitarian regime in Russia and the totalitarian regime in Japan), but they created the ground for hostility and animosity between the two countries.

The next factor which undermined the Portsmouth treaty was an old one: the geopolitical rivalry of the expansionist states.

The results of the Pacific war are well known. Japan surrendered, and just fifty years ago, a treaty named after another American city was signed by the majority of countries involved in the war. Stalin refused to sign the San Francisco peace treaty, and that's why we now don't have any treaty with Japan at all.

I think that the absence of the peace treaty is not a matter of formality. I think it is a serious political problem, which has lasted fifty years. I think, and I believe, that it is a main cause of mutual distrust, which we cannot eliminate despite all our efforts to do so these last fifty years. It is a painful psychological issue, complicating and even spoiling bilateral relations. A peace treaty between Japan and Russia is needed, is badly needed; and sooner or later, will be concluded, of course, but the sooner the better.

No doubt the new treaty would be worked out on the basis of new realities. In this sense, the Portsmouth treaty cannot be reproduced. But it doesn't mean that the treaty signed here in your lovely city is gone forever, or cannot be used at all. I deeply believe that the history related to this Portsmouth treaty is very important, and may become instrumental, and some very useful lessons can be drawn by those who are now engaged in the peace treaty-preparing process.

So let me touch upon several points which are the lessons of the Russo-Japanese war, and the Portsmouth Peace treaty system.

First of all I should say - it's a general remark - that wars stem not only from the collision of national interests of respective countries and nations, but also to a great extent from human and societal sins, like territorial greed, ignorance, ambitions, self-delusion, corruption, low-key profile of leadership, the lack of democracy in the process of decision-making, miscalculation of the power and ability of neighboring countries and nations.

But the main subject to be blamed is the system, the political order. In this regard, I think it will be interesting to quote the part of Theodore Roosevelt's letter, addressed in May, 1905, just before the Portsmouth talks took place, to Cecil Spring Rice. I quote, Roosevelt wrote: "I like the Russian people, and earnestly hope for their future. But I agree with all you say as to the Russian system of government. I loathe it."

I should say that territorial greed was exerted from both sides, and one should not forget that the Portsmouth Treaty had been the final stage of the drama which began long before the Russo-Japanese war. At the end of the nineteenth century, the weak, frustrated, though still huge Chinese Empire, with its colonies all around the Chinese borders, including Indochina and Burma in the south, and Korea and Manchuria in the north, had become a tidbit for all imperialistic powers - for Russia, for European powers, and for a newcomer, for Japan.

The policy of territorial expansion was endemic not only to Czarist imperialism, but I should admit that the Russian case was particularly dramatic, because all human and societal sins I mentioned above were there in this country, to the greatest extent. It is obvious, when one reads the memoirs of Sergei Witte, who headed the Russians here in Portsmouth.

The Russo-Japanese war could be avoided if Russian leadership, if the Czar, could show a proper flexibility in the political sphere. When the greatest Japanese politician, Ito Hirogumi, went to St. Petersburg in 1901, on November 15, there was a good chance to avoid the war. He brought with him a plan which might become a compromise between the two sides. Unfortunately it was neglected by Russian diplomacy.

The Russo-Japanese war and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty have been a drama with different actors. Some very able, capable, and those who were absolutely ignorant and incapable of doing anything.

Miscalculation and underestimation of the power and ability of Japan had been one of the causes which led Russia to their bitter defeat. Sergei Witte recalls that the overwhelming majority of Russian politicians and diplomats were quite ignorant of what Japan was, what the Far East was. And they couldn't even find on the map where China or Japan were.

So, let me say what may be the Portsmouth message to those who are now trying to keep bilateral relations on track, and to push them to full normalization and the signing of the eventual peace treaty.

The first is that territorial gain is a kind of trap. The priority must be given to other values. The national borders must be fixed by full respect of international law and historical justice. The parties involved in the dispute have to be respectful, flexible and constructive. Of course, the geostrategic concerns must be taken into consideration. Each side has to feel itself safe. The security of one side cannot be achieved at the cost of the partner. The best personnel, reflecting the best intellectual and moral forces of the respective nations must be mobilized for the process of negotiation. Like it was during the Portsmouth Treaty. Sergei Witte was the best - he wasn't a diplomat, but he was the best intellectual, he represented the best intellectual and moral forces of Russia in those days.

Just in conclusion, let me explore how remote are the prospects of signing a new Russian Japanese treaty.

I think that the first point is very important. The fundamental elements in Russo-Japanese relations had been changed after the collapse of Communism in my country. The system has been eliminated. And let me recall that once in early 1992, Yeltsin, probably it was in February, Yeltsin wrote a letter to the former Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa, claiming a potential alliance relationship between the two countries. But unfortunately, since that time, and Professor Kimura mentioned that, the dramatic changes took place in my country, and the internal situation in Russia from this period transformed into a chaotic and drastic stage of so-called transitional period, with a great deal of uncertainty.

I should say that we now in Russia are facing elections that will be in December, the general elections in the state Duma, and next year there will be the presidential elections in my country. I personally am very scared about that, and my personal feelings are that if this election will be in a pure democratic way, without any falsifications, I think that the opposition will come to power. Not constructive opposition. There is a great deal of possibility of the coming to power of the Communist parties and the party headed by this guy Zhirinovsky, who is of course, crazy. You could have seen him this morning on CNN, when he battled the woman; he is a crazy, of course. But the general situation in my country, especially the psychological feature of these situations is so complicated that even such a crazy man as Zhirinovsky has a good chance for victory in the forthcoming elections.

Of course, one can see in Russia many significant fundamental changes in our economy. I should say that we have - me personally, sometimes I am treated to cultural shock, seeing the beautiful shops, like in Tokyo, like in Ginza, and many things have changed in a positive way in Russia. But I should say that we are now in the midst of the reform, and that's why the results of economic reforms are absolutely controversial. On the one hand we have positive changes; on the other hand we have very drastic, very negative changes. The economic and social situation is destabilized. I don't think that it is a strange thing, because reforms like the reforms in Russia, and particularly in Russia, should take time, and would be a very painful process which requires many sacrifices. My point is that - Russia is now facing very crucial and decisive days.

But I don't touch upon the situation in Japan, in Japanese politics, because I believe that the political situation in Japan is not so relevant to the prospects of the Russian Japanese peace treaty, because whether it will be Muriyama or another person at the head of the Japanese state, I do not think that the Japanese attitude towards the peace treaty with Russia would change drastically.

And let me say some words about the present strategic situation, comparing it with the 1905 Portsmouth Treaty days. The Chinese factor is now absolutely of a different character than it used to be in the Portsmouth Treaty days. In contrast to the situation at the end of the nineteenth century, China now is a strong country, with a rapidly developing economy, as promising as to enable the World Bank to argue that at the beginning of the next century, by the calculation of purchasing power of the national currency, China, big China would be the number one world economy. It is a country with a comparatively strong and expanding military and nuclear power. One of the five members of the nuclear country club. But however the democratic changes in China, which seem to be inevitable in the course of its getting into a market economy, would bring China to the point where it would become chaotic and something may happen in China too.

But let me put this question in the following way. I regard the Chinese factor as a positive one for Russo-Japanese relations. Because in the period of Mao, and even after his death, China played the territorial issue card against Russia and against Japan, trying not to let them become closer or to reconciliate. But now the Chinese factor is not negative. It is rather neutral or even positive.

The American factor is much more important, as it used to be ninety years ago. Let me remind you that the genesis of the territorial questions which still remains as the main obstacle, stumbling block for a peace treaty, is directly linked to another President Roosevelt.

So let me say that the two President Roosevelts had two different roles in the history of Russo-Japanese relations. Franklin Roosevelt's agreement with Stalin provided Russia with the Kurile Islands. There was a good deal of reasons for both leaders to do that, but consequently, it resulted in Russian Japanese animosity for a long period.

Now, after the collapse of the USSR and the world communism, which used to be the principal force to America, the American factor in Russo-Japanese relations might be very positive. And I think that this positive role of America in a sense is a moral obligation of America, since it is also responsible for the Stalin-Roosevelt deal on the territorial question.

But let me say that unfortunately the current Russian American relations are far from ideal. We have a kind of tension between our two countries regarding the situation in Bosnia, which is absolutely nonsense to me, because we didn't ever have good relations with the Serbians. It is a problem only of cultural identity. But given the fact that now, for Russia, the problem of territorial integrity, the problem of national identity, so called Russian idea, and so on, is very acute for the Russian people, and these factors may influence the outcomes of forthcoming elections. I can predict that, for a while, we would have many problems in our relations with America, and I should say that just because of that I am not so optimistic about the short run perspectives in the eventual solution of territorial problems between our two countries. And frankly speaking, I don't see in our Minister of Foreign Affairs or Presidential Administration a single person who is in favor of solving these problems now. All of them are waiting for better times. I'm in favor of solving this problem during this century, and I hope that it would happen. But frankly speaking, for short run perspectives, I don't see any positive signs for that.

My hope is that in ten years, in this hall, there probably would be a session, devoted to the 100 year anniversary of the Russo-Japanese Peace Treaty, and my hopes are twofold. First, I hope that the Russian delegation will be here, probably the delegation of the city where Sergei Witte was born - but I'm afraid that he was born in such part of Russia which has gone, and now is not part of Russia! And my second hope is that at that time we can say that it is great that the new Russo-Japanese treaty was signed. I mean during that period, I hope that this treaty will be signed.

President Theodore Roosevelt initiated the Russo-Japanese reconciliation. It was his idea to convene a peace treaty negotiation in the United States. I should say that Russian diplomacy agreed to that after a period of reluctance. Some of the Russian policy-makers considered it would be better to take, to have these negotiations in Europe. But finally this great event happened here, and the Czar decided, and agreed with the idea to hold the negotiations here in Portsmouth. And having been in your city for the first time, I should say that a better place couldn't be chosen. Thank you very much.

© Copyright 2005 Japan-America Society of New Hampshire
NH Web Design  |  Content Management  |  Web Hosting