The Fifth International Symposium of Comparative Research on Major Regional Powers in Eurasia
“Alliances and Borders in the Making and Unmaking of Regional Powers”

Report by David Wolff (Slavic Research Center)

  On July 7-8, 2011, the Slavic Research Center hosted a Summer Symposium on “Alliances and Borders in the Making and Unmaking of Regional Powers.” With support from the New Academic Knowledge Project on “Comparative Research on Major Regional Powers in Eurasia” (Tabata Shinichiro, Head), the Global Center of Excellence on “Reshaping Japan’s Border Studies” (Iwashita Akihiro, Head) and A-level JSPS Research Project on “The Cold War in Northeast Asia” (David Wolff, Head), the Symposium brought together an international group of experts to commemorate both the 60th anniversary of the US-Japan Treaty and Alliance and the 20th anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union. One event was the most significant step in defining Cold War alliances and borders in Asia. The other was the defining event in reshaping contemporary Europe.

  The vision of two empires battling over Europe and Asia has been enshrined in the canon of the Cold War, but reality was often more complex than this simple geometry. The very process of concluding an agreement could contain within it the seeds of future disagreements. The secret clauses of the Sino-Soviet agreement of 1950 made Mao bitter forever against Stalin and other “new Tsars.” The US-Japan alliance bargain of the following year with its implicit trade of bases for security umbrella, together with the relevant clauses of the “MacArthur Constitution,” made it possible for the Japanese to avoid the costs of rearmament, although the US later complained. In the Sino-Soviet and US-Japan cases, the economic promises that accompanied security treaties also led to long-term recriminations. In hindsight, it seems apparent that intended asymmetries, the heart of the deal, could over time lead to perceived inequalities and alliance demise.

  Just as important, alliances were almost always against an enemy, creating a hidden triangle, also at the heart of the deal. Thus, any change by either ally, even the most desirable lessening of tension with the enemy, could lead to fears of betrayal, the risk of a “separate peace.” It is in these terms that American reaction to Japanese parliamentary visits to China in the 1950s and the American opening to China in the 1970s must be analyzed.

  Borders are often just as baffling. With Cold War putting the brakes on all out war, border clashes, along with partisan warfare, clandestine operations, “public diplomacy” and various other forms of “lesser war,” truly politics by other means in Clausewitz’s classic formulation, took the field. The Sino-Soviet border, the world’s longest, served briefly for friendship, but more enduringly as a great divide. Border conflicts, relatively minor bloodlettings, often reveal the hidden triangles underlying fragile alliances. Thus, the 1959 and 1962 Sino-Indian clashes soon became a factor in the death of the Sino-Soviet alliance and the weakening of Nehru’s cherished vision of non-alignment, the “anti-alliance” path. The 1969 Sino-Soviet border clashes along the Ussuri and in Xinjiang were China’s clear signal to the US that one alliance was over and another could begin.

  From Stalin to Deng, from Nixon to Nakasone, the conundrums of border and alliance were leveraged by the statesmen of our age in attempts to build or thwart regional hegemony. As often as not, strategies and plans backfired, but the basic configurations still hold, glued together by communal interests from the past and shared fears of the future. It is the very stuff of which regional powers are made. All this, and more, was presented and discussed during two exciting days in Sapporo. A forthcoming issue of the GCOE’s Eurasian Border Review will feature these papers.

Link: Symposium Program




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