Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902-23)

Figure 1.-- This 1912 postcard shows a Japanese boy wearing a sailor suit and cap sitting beneath the Japanese and British flag. The boy holds a block, though it could also be a book. It is unclear what the complete word on his hat is with only the letters "hima" shown. The back is written on, and has been posted, with postmark. On the back, the sender has written of the day the card was mailed: "Today, seven years ago, in sea battle, so-called 'Battle in Japan Sea' was fought and Admiral Togo was given the name 'Nelson of the East'". Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

The Anglo-Japanese Treaty was actually a series of three treaties signed before World War I. Anglo-Japanese naval cooperation played an important role in the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy. There was extensive cooperation before a formal agreement was signed. Japan first acquired modern naval vessels from British shipyards. Royal Navy officers helped train Japanese officers. With the rise of a modern German Navy, Britain saw Japan as a useful ally in the Pacific. The major rationale for the treaty in 1902, however, was a mutual concern with Russia. Japan saw its relationship with the Royal Navy as helpful in building a modern navy. The first Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaty was signed in 1902. The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) changed the strategic situation in the Pacific. Britin and Japan rennewed the Treaty, but the terns were substantially different, extending its scope (1905). Britin and Japan renewed the Treaty a third time, again with an expanded scope (1911). This was the Treaty in force at the time of World War I. Japan joined Britain in World War I and in the post-War settlement received several former German island colonies in the Pacific that were to play a role in World War II. The Anglo-Japanse Treaty finally lapsed (1923), primarily because of American concerns at the Washington Naval Conference (1921).

Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation

Japan after the Menji Restoration set about building a modern army and navy. They were initially unsure on what country to model the Imperial Army, but after the Franco-Prussian War chose the Prussian Army. There was no doubt on the model for the Imperial Navy--it was the British Royal Navy. Anglo-Japanese naval cooperation played an important role in the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy. There was extensive cooperation before a formal agreement was signed. Japan first acquired modern naval vessels from British shipyards. Royal Navy officers helped train Japanese officers.

International Situation

British diplomacy in the Far East was in part motivated by concern over Russian expanionism and to counter this, Japan was a useful potenial ally. Unlike Britain, Japan at the turn of the 20th century was not a world power. It was, however, a potent an growing regional power. While Japan at the time had no interest in Europeam affairs, the situation in Europe and the competition among the European powers, both in Europe and more importantly in China did affect Japanese interests.


Neither China or Europe at the beginning of the 19th century were aware of the etent to which China had eclined as a world power. Europeans at the turn of the 20th century were laregly convinced that a hallmark of a powerful country was its colonies. They were also believed to be essential to a great industrial economy, providing both needed raw materials and a ready market. And no other country provided the potential market offered by China and its huge population. The European powers beginning with the Opium Wars (1840-42) had begun to carve up China into spheres of influence and established treaty ports. The Japanese with an expanding industry and new navy joined the Europeans, seizing Formosa (Taiwan) and the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). The supression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900) demonsrated the powerlessness of the Manchu imperal regime and the extent to which Europeans had come to dominate China. The European involvement in China, despite their cooperation in suppressing the Boxers, were involved in a competiition. This was moderated, to a degree by the dominance of the Royal Navy. No European country could threaten the British position in China because in the end the Royal Navy controlled the sea lanes over which trade dlowed and military forces could be transported to China. The one exception here was Russia which had a land border with China. And Britain also faced Russian expansion on India's northwest frontier. Russian expansion into Manchuria and Korea also threatened the Japanese. Thus the logic of events brought Britain and Japan together.



Britain after te defeat of Napoleon (1815) was the greatest world power. The Congress of Vienna had estanlished a new conservative order and the balance pf power which supported it was policed in large measure by the Tsar's Army in the east and the British in the west. The Royal Navy commanded the world sea lanes. The Industrial Revolution beginnng in the 18th century had remade Britain, creating the the world's most productive economy. And its colonies covered the globe. This situation changed radically in the late 19th century. The Russians competed with the British both on the Indian frontier and in China. Germany united (1870) and its inustrial prowess soon exceeded that of Britain in many areas. This allowed Germany to build a powerful army and to begin a naval rivalry. American industrial expansion also posed a threat and America also begn building a powerful navy. Queen Victoria held her Diamond Jubilee (1897), but beneath the pomp and ceremony, thoughtful Britions realized that Britain could not for ever play the role of the dominant world power. America, Germany, and Russia all had larger populations and industrial trends at the turn of the century meant that each would outpace British industry. Some like Kipling began to talk about the decline in Britain's imperial role. Britain had held herself apart from the continent in "splendid isolation". It was clear that would not be possible in the 20th century. Britain would need allies. Traditionally this had meant the Germans. The British royal family was a German family. Kaiser Wilhem's beligerant policies, the growing dominance of Germny in Europe, and the Kaiser's decession to build a High Seas Fleet, meant this would no longer be possible. A potential ally that Brirain settled on in Asia was Japan which was also threatened by the Russians could make common cause. Brion';s first alliance of the 20th century would be with Japan.


Russia had played a majoe role in the defeat of Napoleon. It was in Russia that Napoleon's Grand Army was destroyed (1812). Russia also helped police the conservative order created at the Congress of Vienna (1815). It was the Russian Army tht defeated liberal revolutions in central Europe during the 1848 Revolutions. Russia was intent on liberating fellow Slav co-religionts in the Balkans by destroying the Ottoman Empire. This would have given the Russian control of the Dardanelles and posed a new threat to the Royal Navy. So the British and French came to te aid of the Turks. Russians were shocked at the deteroriation in military power that had occurred since the Napoleonic Wars. The Industrial Revolution had significantly shifted the balance of power. Further conflicts innthe Balkans followed. The Russians also expanded into Central Asia. Russian activities in Afghanistan caused trouble on the Indian Northwest Frontier--the fabeled Great Game. The Russians also increased activities in China. The Russians played a major role in putting down the Boxer Rebellion (1900). Russian troops moved into Manchuria, establishing what amounted to a protectorate. This was a greater degree of control than the other Europeans had exerted outside of the treaty ports. The Russian concern was not only commercial, but in part to secure the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Russians consudered the Railway critical to national defense. Without the railway there was no connection betweem European Russia and Siberia. Sea connections with Vladisvostock could be severed by the Royal Navy. The Trans-Siberian Railway was for substantial ditance laid very close to the Chinese border. Russian penetration of Manchuria as well as the naval base at Port Arthur in Jpanese eyes threatened Korea. Beginning with the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese had been pursuing a policy of shifting Kora from a Chinese protectorate to a Japanese colony. Japanese officials saw control over Korea as vital for Japanese security.

First Treaty (1902)

The major rationale for the treaty in 1902, however, was a mutual concern with Russia. Japan saw its relationship with the Royal Navy as helpful in building a modern navy. A possible alliance was first proposed by the Japanese and diplomats began discussing a possible treary (October 1901). There were also discussiins by both goverments with the Russians. Russian dipllomats were, however, unwilling to address the concerns of either country. The Royal Navy saw many advantages to an alliance. The Bohr War had been very expensive and the cost of naval contruction were escalating. A alliance with Japan would allow the British to reduce its Far East fleet and concetate forces in European waters. The Japanese military also favored the alliance. The first Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaty was signed in 1902. It was signed in London on by (British Foreign Secretary Lord Lansdowne and Japanese Minister Hayashi Tadasu (January 30, 1902). It was presented to the world as a defensive alliance. Britain's interest in the Treaty was primarily their concern over Russia. The Japanese provided a useful ally in the Far East who could offset Russian influence and safeguard British commercial interests in China. Tere were benefits for the Royal Navy which received coaling stations. This was important at the time before navies had convered from coal to oil. The Royal Navy also was granted repair facilities. Japan received the formalization of its very important naval cooperation with Britain as well as its emergence as an important naval power. The treaty also provide a degree of security to Japan. The Russians had just signed a treaty wth France. While the treary was primarily aimed at Germany, it meant that France might aid Russia in event of a war with Japan. The Treary with Britain virtually guaranted that France would not intervene.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

War with Russia was a direct result of the earlier war with China. The first European power with which Japan came into contact was Tsarist Russia. The two countries both had interests in Korea and Manchuria. The Japanese without declaring war staged a surpride attack on the Russia Pacific fleet at Port Arthur (February 9, 1904). Torpedo boats damaged several Russian vessels, but it was not the decisive blow the Japanese sought. It was when the Russian vessels attempted to run to the safer port at Vladisvostok that the faster Japanese fleet scoired a decisive victory. With its Pacific fleet destroyed, the Russians assembled their Baltic fleet and dispacted it to the Pavific. The Russian fleet consisted if some modern vessels and other slow, largely obsolete ships. The Russian fleet consisted of 10 battleships and three armpred cruisers. Admiral Togo intercepted the Russians in the Straits of Tsushima (May 27, 1905). Togo sqadron consisted of five modern battleships an eight aromored cruisers. The Japanese force was smaller, but more modern and much better trained. Togo raised the Z banner, meaning "The fate of the Empire depends on this battle. Every man will do his upmost. The Russian fleet was poorly commanded. The Russians has some modern vessels which could have possibly given a good account of themselves, but they were slowed down by several slow, largely obsolete vessels. Togo executed a daring turn that brought his squadron parallel ewith the Russians. The Japanese turrets allowed him to bring his fire power fully to bare on the Russians. It was one of the desive battles in naval warfare. The Japanese sank 19 Russians ships and captured five more. The Japanese liost only three torpedo boats. The Japanese victory shocked the world. The Russians were forced to sue for peace. Japan gaining the southern Sakhalin (Karafuto) Island and Russia's port and rail rights in Manchuria. The Battle of Tsushima Straits cemented the Japanese commitment to a single descisive battle as tennant in naval warfare. The battle had another major impact. First Lord of the Admiralty Jackey Fisher recognized that the only ships that had any impact on the outcome of the battle were those with big guns. Battle ships at tne tkme bristled with a large array of smalle guns. Fisher proposed the all big-gun battleship. The first one built was HMS Dreadnought which helped to fuel the European naval race.

Second Treaty (1905)

Britain and Japan renewed the Treaty, but the terms were substantially different, extending its scope (1905). The Russo-Japanese War had materially changed the naval ballance in the Far East. The Japanese destruction of the Russian fleet had significantly reduced Russian military power. Expanding Russian power had been te rationel for the 1902 Trearty. Thus there were substantial changes in the revised Treaty.

Third Treaty (1911)

Britin and Japan renewed the Treaty a third time, again (1911). This was not just a renewal. The treaty had a significantly xpanded scope. This was the Treaty in force at the time of World War I. The Anglo-Japanese relationship had begun primarily with concerns that the two countries had over Russia. The situation had changed considerablly by 1911. The Anglo-German naval race was in full force and the British saw the Japanese as a valuable ally in the Pacific. I'm not entirely sure what the thought process was on the part of the Japanese Government. Surely an allience with the world's premier naval power was seen as having considerable advantages. There were, however, complications because of another rising Pacific power with a newly acquired colonial possession in the Pacific--the United States. Not only were the Americans becoming comcerned with rising Japanese naval power, but there was a continuing historical rivalry with the British which only a few years earlier had become acrimonious over a dispute btween Guyana (a British colony) and Venezuela. The British were anxious to allay American misgivings. TeBritish insisted on a clause that would exempt Britain from declaring war on a country with which Britain had an arbitration treaty. Even so, the United States declined to take the anticipated step of agreeing to an arbitration traety with Britain.

World War I (1914-18)

Japan joined the Allies almost at the onset of the War (August 23, 1914). It seems surprising that Japan would have entered the War so quickly when the German Army was marching through Belgium and seemed likely to reach Paris. Japan had signed an Alliance with Britain (1902), but it was not aimed at Germany nor did it require Japan to join the Allies when war broke out in Europe. The British fearing that the German Far Eastern Squadron would disrupt trade, asked the Japanese for assistance. The Japanese Government for largely domestic reasons quickly agreed to the British request. Japan saw the opportunity to seize Germany’s Pacific colonies and obrin control over its Chinese concessions. [Strachan] Germany had acquired several colonial possessions, including concessions in China and Pacific islands. The Germans build a major naval base at Tsingtao. It was hear that the only major engagement in the Far East was fought. The Japanese supported by the British succeeded in seizing Tsingtao a very little cost in a combined land sea operation (November 1914). More importantly for the future, the Japanese seized control of the formerly German owned Shantung Railway. Japan seized German Pacific islands without resistance, includung Palau and the Marshall, Caroline, and Marianas islands. This gave them the naval bases at Yap, Ponape, and Jaluit. Japanese naval surveyors subsequently discovered the potential fleet base of Truk, and after the war built a major naval base there. As agreed by the Allies, the Japanese seized German colonies north of the Equator while those to the south were seized by British and Dominion forces. A New Zealand force escorted by British, French and Australian warships seized German Samoa (August 28, 1914). A British ship seized the guano-mining island of Nauru. The Australian Navy seized the Bismarck Islands (September 1914). The German forces surrendered German New Guinea and the Bismarck, Admiralty, and Solomon Islands. After seizing the German bases, the Japanese Navy assisted the Allies in convoy protection from German raiders. There were small German military units in these colonies as well as civilians. We do not notice any attrocities by the Japanese during World War I like they committed during World War II. After the War, the Treaty of Versailles awarded Japan a mandate over the islands.

Washington Naval Conference (1921-22)

The major naval powers (America, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan) agreed to substantial limitations on their naval strength which at the time was measured in battleships. American Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes organized a conference to address the problem of spiraling naval expendidutres as a result of the naval arms race. Senator William E. Borah, Republican of Idaho, who had led the fight againstvAmerican ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and participation in the League of Nations, strongly advocated efforts to limit the arms race. His efforts were not at first favored by the new Harding administration, but was eventually adopted as the Republican alternative to the Democrat's (Wilson's) policy of collective security through the League of Nations. The Confrence opened on Armistice Day 1921--a very meaningful date so close to World War I. The American delegation was led by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes shocked the other delegates by proposing a major reduction in naval fleets and not just limitations on new construction. This was far beyond what the other countries had anticipated. Some have called this one of the most dramatic moments in American diplomatic history. The American proposals entailed scrapping almost 2 million tons of warships as well as alengthy “holiday” on new building. The consequences of the Washington Treaties went far beyond this.

Treaty Lapses (1923)

Britain had since Trafalgur been the world's principal naval power. The Royal Navy blockade of Germany had been a principal cause of the country's defeat in World War I. Britain because of the War, however, could no longer afford to mainain the world's most powerful fleet. While Britain had emerged victorious in World War I, it had dome so at enormous cost. This Britain was particularly interested in naval spending limits. British diplomats understood that the country could just not afford another arms race. Britain was much less concerned with the Pacific than America. With Germany no longer an naval threat after the War, Britain's foicus was on America. Britain thus accepted navy parity with the U.S. Navy as the best available outcome. This was, however, a largely face saving jesture. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Britain had insisted on naval supremecy. The acceptance of parity with the United States was a major deviation from long standing British naval doctrine. In essence Britain because of its inability to afford massive naval spending was conceding power to the United States Navy. [Alexander] Britain made a major concession to America by agreeing to end its alliance with Japan. The Anglo-Japanse Treaty finally lapsed (August 17, 1923.)


Alexander, Bevin. How America Got It Right.

Kipling, Rudyard. "Recessional", The Times (1897).


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Created: 7:30 PM 8/18/2006
Last updated: 8:10 PM 11/6/2008