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Memorandum of the Division of Territorial Studies1

CAC–306b Preliminary secret


Territorial Problems:

Japanese Karafuto (Southern Sakhalin)

I. The Problem

The problem is the future disposition of Japanese Karafuto or Southern Sakhalin.

II. Basic Factors

The problem arises from the probable presentation of Soviet claims to re-annex this territory. Factors which favor the transfer of Japanese Karafuto to the Soviet Union are 1) the probability that the Soviet Union will enter the war against Japan and that it will have occupied Japanese Karafuto and hence will be in a strong position to press demands for acquisition of that territory, 2) the strategic location of Japanese Karafuto in relation to the Siberian Maritime provinces and 3) its comparatively recent acquisition by Japan. On the other hand, the completely Japanese character of the population of Japanese Karafuto, its close economic integration with Japan proper, and its questionable strategic value if Japan is disarmed would seem to be logical reasons for its retention by Japan, but political factors may make such a solution impossible.

Sovereignty over Sakhalin has long been a cause of friction between Russia and Japan. In 1875 Japan gave up all claims to Sakhalin in exchange for full title to the Kuriles, but by the Treaty of Portsmouth (1905)2 Japan was granted that portion of Sakhalin south of the 50 degree parallel, known as Japanese Karafuto. The Treaty also provided that both Russia and Japan engaged not to take any military measures which might impede the free navigation of the Straits of La Perouse and Tartary. Since that time Japan has been active in the colonization and exploitation of Japanese Karafuto. After November 1942 Japanese Karafuto ceased to be considered as a colony and was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Japanese interest in Sakhalin in recent times has not been restricted to the southern portion of the island. In 1920, Japan occupied Russian Sakhalin and held it until 1925. By the convention signed at [Page 386]Peking on January 20, 1925,3 Japan agreed to withdraw from Russian Sakhalin in return for Soviet recognition of the validity of the Portsmouth Treaty and for the right to limited oil and coal concessions in that area. Japanese fishing rights, originally provided for in an annex to the Portsmouth Treaty, were clearly defined in 1928.4 On March 30, 1944, however, Japan and the Soviet Union signed a pact5 whereby Japanese operations of its concessions in northern Sakhalin ceased and Japanese fishing rights were restricted.

The population of Japanese Karafuto totalled 415,000 in 1940 and was almost exclusively Japanese (99.4 percent). This total, while substantial, equals less than one percent of the population of Japan proper. The area of Japanese Karafuto of nearly 14,000 square miles is equal to 9 percent of the homeland.

Economically, Japanese Karafuto is closely integrated with Japan and practically all trade is with the homeland. By 1937 coal production amounted to seven percent and pulp and paper accounted for 16 percent of the total Japanese production, and the output of timber reached 14 percent of that of the main islands of Japan. About ten percent of the arable land in Japanese Karafuto has been under cultivation, but if the remaining portion were developed, it might sustain an increased population of nearly half a million persons.

From the point of view of the future security of the Soviet Union, Japanese Karafuto is of strategic importance. It lies athwart the most direct airline to Shanghai and Singapore from San Francisco via Dutch Harbor, Petropavlovsk and Vladivostok. It commands the approaches from the northeast to the Japan Sea, the Maritime Province of the Soviet Union and Vladivostok.

The Cairo Declaration of December 1, 19436 makes no specific mention of Japanese Karafuto. It states, however, that “Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed”. If Japanese Karafuto is considered to be a territory taken by violence and greed, such an interpretation would call for the abrogation of the provisions of the Portsmouth Treaty of 1905 which granted Southern Sakhalin to Japan.7

If Japan were expelled from Japanese Karafuto, the half million Japanese inhabitants now living there would either have to be repatriated, which would increase the population pressure within Japan [Page 387]proper, or they would remain as a real threat of future irredentism. However, if all military installations in Japanese Karafuto are dismantled and it continues to be demilitarized, it would not seem likely to become a serious threat to security even though it remained as part of Japan. Furthermore, it could supply Japan with important though limited amounts of products necessary for a peacetime economy and would provide future homesteads for possibly an additional half million Japanese settlers.

However, a claim of the Soviet Union for Japanese Karafuto will make a strong appeal. It may claim, though doubtless incorrectly, that voiding the Treaty of Portsmouth would automatically restore southern Sakhalin to the Soviet Union. Furthermore, as this territory was part of the Russian Empire prior to 1905, its transfer to the Soviet Union would not necessarily fall within the usual category of conquest and annexation.8 In this situation, the application of the general principle on the one hand of “no annexation” and on the other of the “return of territories acquired by aggression” is not clear.

In view of these circumstances,9 consideration should10 be given to the advisability of designating Southern Sakhalin as a trust area to be placed under the authority of the proposed international organization with the Soviet Union as administrator. Such a course of action would be advantageous because 1) it would abide by the principle of no annexation of territory, 2) it would give the Soviet Union control over an area which might be a danger to the security of the North Pacific if left with Japan, 3) it would assure the inhabitants of the territory the economic and social advantages envisaged for all trust areas, and 4) it would probably be less objectionable to Japan than outright cession of Japanese Karafuto to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, this alternative would have the following disadvantages: 1) The Soviet Union would doubtless prefer outright annexation;11 1)Japan would resent the loss of this territory and would be deprived of a region which would be of real value to its peacetime economy; 2) The great majority of the populace of nearly half a million Japanese would doubtless resent Soviet administration of Japanese Karafuto and many of them would seek repatriation.

III. Recommendations

It is recommended that:

If the Soviet Union demands the retrocession of Karafuto either (a) as a prerequisite to the Soviet Union’s entering the war against [Page 388]Japan or (b), having entered the war against Japan, as a recompense for the Soviet Union’s military contribution, the United States endeavor to satisfy the Soviet Union with the promise of United States support at the peace table in a proposal whereby Karafuto would be designated as a trust area and placed under the authority of the projected international organization which would appoint the Soviet Union as administering authority.
If the Soviet Union in circumstances outlined under 1) is not satisfied with the proposed disposition in paragraph 1) or if the Soviet Union makes demands for the retrocession of Karafuto without having entered the war against Japan or without having offered commitments in regard thereto the position of the United States should depend upon circumstances existing at that time.
If the Soviet Union does not press demands for the retrocession of Japanese Karafuto, whether or not it enters the war against Japan, Japanese Karafuto should be retained by Japan subject to the principles of disarmament to be applied to the whole Japanese Empire and to the following provisions:
The United Nations to be given facilities for civil aviation;
La Perouse Strait should continue to be open to international shipping at all times.

  1. Prepared by Hugh Borton. This memorandum was not included in the Yalta Briefing Book and no evidence has been found to indicate that it was brought to the attention of Roosevelt or Stettinius.
  2. Treaty of Peace between Japan and Russia signed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, September 5, 1905. For the text, see Foreign Relations, 1905, pp. 824828.
  3. Convention of Friendship and Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Soviet Union. For the text in English translation, see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxii, pp. 894–905.
  4. By the Fisheries Convention between the Soviet Union and Japan signed at Moscow January 23, 1928. For the English official text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. lxxx, pp. 341–399.
  5. For the text in English translation, see Andrew Rothstein, Soviet Foreign Policy During the Patriotic War (London, etc., 1945–1946), vol. ii, pp. 59–61.
  6. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, December 4, 1943, vol. ix, p. 393; or Decade, p. 22.
  7. This sentence is indicated in pencil for possible deletion or alteration.
  8. Several verbal changes for the second and third sentences of this paragraph are written in pencil in the margin. Their connection with the text is not clear enough to be indicated.
  9. This phrase is indicated in pencil for possible deletion.
  10. The word “also” is inserted in pencil.
  11. A marginal notation at this point reads: “difficult see how trusteeship works”.