The Russian military has continued to argue that the “Northern Territories” claimed by Japan in the Kuril island chain are vital to the defence of the Russian Far East. However, the islands were strategically unimportant until the mid-1970s and current developments are again making them less important. The islands were militarized in the 1970s and 1980s in response to new developments in strategic deterrence, as the Sea of Okhotsk became a bastion for Soviet missile-firing nuclear-powered submarines based at Petropavlovsk and targeted on the western USA, and associated airfields, storage facilities and radar and sonar protective networks were established along the Kuril-Kamchatka line. Russian military writers have based their arguments on the need to retain these facilities. The paper refutes their claim that retention of the most southerly islands is necessary in order to ensure access to ice-free passages, and suggests measures to meet other concerns obstructing a settlement.