Japan scrambled several jets on Thursday after two Russian fighters entered Japanese airspace over Rishiri Island near the tip of Japan’s northernmost Hokkaido Island, according to reports by the country’s Defense Ministry.
Although the Russian jets left Japan’s airspace without incident after a little over a minute, the incursion was significant in both its location and its timing. It happened near the Kuril Islands (called Northern Territories in Japan) which have been disputed by Moscow and Tokyo since the end of World War ii, when Russia took them from Japan. The incident occurred on Japan’s “Northern Territories Day,” when Japanese nationals traditionally rally to call for Tokyo to wrest the islands from Russian control, or for Russia to simply give them back.
Russia’s provocative incursion into Japanese airspace follows a string of breaches by Chinese forces into separate territories that both Tokyo and Washington recognize as being administered by Japan.
Defense and security agreements between the U.S. and Japan would require Washington to back Tokyo in the event of a military confrontation with either Russia or China. But the Obama administration has shown that it is eager to be known as the government that brought America’s troops home. The idea of being drawn into a conflict with China and/or Russia is nearly too unbearable for the war-weary U.S. to contemplate. Understanding this reality has fueled these provocations first from Beijing, and now from Moscow.
Many of the policymakers steering these Asian giants view the outcome of any potential confrontation a question of will more than of military might—and rightly so. On this front, the bloated U.S. is at an overwhelming disadvantage, so the Eastern powers may use the situation as an opportunity to expose America as an unreliable ally to Japan, and to show the world that the U.S. military is a force that can be countered. Such an exposure would send profound geopolitical reverberations across the world.
To understand the long-term significance of the increasing power, belligerence and cooperation of Moscow and Beijing, read Russia and China in Prophecy. ▪