Deciphering a world
by gaining knowledge
about the region

Yoko Hirose



Faculty of Policy Management

Today, the world is rocked by problems concerning the concept of “state,” such as the Ukraine crisis and the annexation (Russia and some actors use “incorporation” or “reunion” for it) of Crimea into Russia.
The dilemma of the two principles of international law, “respect for the sovereign rights of sovereign states” and “preservation of territorial integrity” and “rights to self-determination by ethnic groups” lies at the root of such problems. Placing our judgements and making decisions on regional conflicts that are taking place around the world, based on the limited volume of information that we hold, carries the serious risk of misinterpreting the true essence of the problem.
The research conducted by Professor Yoko Hirose moves beyond the boundaries of conventional area studies to capture and examine the turbulence in contemporary society from the perspective of international politics.

 The “epicenter” of global issues in recent years Studying the Caucasus region

I specialize in the study of international politics in the former Soviet Union, and particularly, in the Caucasus countries. The“ Caucasus countries” refers to the three countries located in the South Caucasus region adjoining Russia, Turkey, and Iran, and sandwiched between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea̶Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Although these countries used to belong to the former Soviet Union, they became independent states in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many diverse ethnic groups have entered the Caucasus region and lived alongside one another in a complex manner. Furthermore, as it is located in a geopolitically important position connecting Europe, Asia, Russia, and the Middle East, the region has also come to be known as the “Heartland.”

After the 20th century, the production of oil and natural gas began to thrive along the coastal parts of the Caspian Sea, and the South Caucasus region began to draw global attention as a production region for oil and natural gas, as well as a “transportation corridor” through which oil and gas from the coastal regions of the Caspian Sea was delivered to Europe. Due to this geopolitical importance, Russia, Europe, and the United States are currently working to maintain their inuence in the region by intervening strongly in local conicts (problems surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and in the politics and economics of the region.

The degree of chaos and confusion has become extremely severe. In actual fact, many of the “epicenters” of international politics in recent years can be found in this region. Such forms of “regional importance” also provide great incentive for me to conduct research in this eld.

  • Caucasus

  Coming to grips with a Russia that is “as large as life,” based on objective information

In Japan, a negative image of Russia has become deeply entrenched among the people as a result of images of the former Soviet Union during the time of the Cold War, as well as images of the authoritarian political style of President Putin. One of the major causes for this is the “information bias” that is carried through from media reports and other sources.

Particularly for problems that are related to the opposing relationship between Russia and Europe/United States, such as the Ukraine crisis, it is natural that differences will arise between information originating from Russia, and information originating from Europe/United States. In such cases, there is a tendency for Japanese audiences to perceive information originating from Europe/United States as having greater credibility. In truth, however, there are also cases where Europe/United States are intentionally disseminating propaganda.

To avoid the misinterpretation of information in such cases, it is necessary for us to learn about and understand the former Soviet Union. The greater our prejudice, the stronger will be the sense of victimization held by Russia. Consequently, Russia’s actions in the international community will intensify, making it increasingly difficult to resolve issues between Japan and Russia. It is important for the international community, including Japan, to discard our prejudice against Russia, and come to grips with a Russia that is “as large as life,” based on accurate information.

Fostering the ability to assess information (intelligence assessment) is not something that can be achieved in a short period of time. That is all the more reason why I believe that researchers like myself have to conduct an accurate analysis of the current situation and disseminate this information.

 Deciphering a “world of confusion” through the problem of “unrecognized states”

Today, the world is rocked by problems concerning the concept of “state,” such as the Ukraine crisis and the annexation (Russia and some actors use “incorporation” or “reunion” for it) of Crimea into Russia. To the Japanese people, who are faced with the problems of Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands, this is certainly not “somebody else’s problem” that does not concern us. In order to decipher this increasingly unstable world, an important key lies in the presence of “unrecognized states” such as Kosovo, North Cyprus, South Ossetia and so on.

Unrecognized states, explained simply, are states that have not received international recognition as countries despite having declared themselves as sovereign states, and having put in place the corresponding forms to appear as a sovereign state. In an attempt to explore the origins to global issues through this problem of unrecognized states, I published Mishonin-kokka to haken naki sekai (“Unrecognized States and a World Without Hegemony”) (NHK Books) in August 2014.

There is a tendency for unrecognized states to be created in cases such as the situation that arose immediately after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, when a relatively large number of unrecognized states was created, with some falling a state of chaos and confusion, and others becoming what is known as “failed states.” Hence, the neighboring countries have to put effort into fostering peace and stability in the region, as well as to guide it toward a state of neutral peace by acting as a mediator that has in-depth knowledge of the region. Furthermore, my view is that the large powers should embark on a course of mediation aimed at achieving a state of neutral peace, rather than make use of these unrecognized states to serve the interests of their own countries.

  • Unrecognized State

    Prof. Hirose conducts research on unrecognized states, which are states that have not received international recognition as countries despite having declared themselves as sovereign states. Azerbaijan is one of the important bases and it also frequently participats in such research cooperation and international conferences.

  Positioning the results of area studies in an academic context

Area studies are now the thriving field of study in all parts of the world. There are several reasons for this. To name a few, the end of the Cold War made it possible for researchers to enter regions that they could not previously get access to easily and conduct studies in these regions, while a decline in ideological bias (*) made it possible to engage in “genuine area studies.”
However, it is undeniable that area studies are still positioned as a somewhat “floating” or unsettled field in the academic world. This is because when scholars in the field of area studies overly assert the “uniqueness of the region” that they are studying, they tend to be seen as merely disseminating one-sided information. To be sure, when we study a certain region in greater detail, the unique characteristics of that region become even more prominent, so it is perhaps natural for such tendencies to become even more pronounced. However, that generates only a sense of self-satisfaction for the researcher, and is not desirable for the development of the research field in the academic world.
In light of that, my research laboratory engages in area studies research that can be applied to an academic context, through the exploration of “the dialogue and fusion of area studies with academic disciplines.” In short, rather than completing area studies research simply through the review of issues in a certain region, we apply it to an academic context and enable dialogue with specialists of other regions as well as theoretical researchers, and in doing so, aim to contribute to the academic field. *Bias or prejudice in political and social thought.

 Tackling the issues in the Arctic region by probing further in the research on unrecognized states

Going forward, I would like to probe further into the research on the problem of “unrecognized states” that I have been engaged in for about 15 years. In addition to expanding this research globally through international collaborative research, I would also like to disseminate the results of the research widely across the world by reporting at international academic conferences and publishing papers in the English language.

I was fortunate to have been among the first batch of researchers selected for the Fund for the Promotion of Joint International Research, a newly established Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research that aims to further strengthen international collaborative research and overseas networks. This has given me the opportunity to conduct research overseas at the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki in Finland, for a one-year period beginning at the end of March 2017. My research theme, of course, is “unrecognized states.” Through collaboration with local researchers, I aim to engage in even more in-depth research, expand my research network internationally, and disseminate the results of my research globally.

In addition, I have also recently begun work on a project concerning the Arctic region. Issues in the Arctic region are recent and new, and are drawing attention due to increasing strategic significance as a result of global warming. As this is a new issue in international politics that concerns the interests of many countries, including Russia, I feel that it is a very rewarding field of study. In addition to spreading the information within academic circles, I would also like to disseminate the information in an easy-to-understand manner to the general public in order to contribute toward raising international awareness and interest toward these Arctic issues.

As a researcher, an educator, an academic, and a mother, I aim to focus all my energies on all my research work going forward.

  • The Arctic

    Prof. Hirose has commenced work on a project about issues in the Arctic region, which are new issues in international politics that concern the interests of many countries. She aims to disseminate information widely about these issues, which Russia is deeply involved in, and to heighten international awareness and interest toward this area.


Yoko Hirose

Biography of Researcher

Professor, Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University. Completed the Master’s program at the University of Tokyo Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, and withdrawal after completion of doctoral course requirements. Conducted research in Azerbaijan in 2000 under the Akino Memorial Research Fellowship of the United Nations University. Specializes in international politics, area studies of the former Soviet Union, conflict and peace studies. Ph.D. in Media and Governance.


2016.Aug ISSUE

Share this article