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Why did the Anglo-Japanese Alliance Fail? (Short Animated Documentary)

3 minutes 51 seconds

Speaker 1

00:00:00 - 00:00:21

In the early 20th century, Britain and Japan had a lot in common. They were both island nations which had poor relations with their closest neighbours. They were both naval imperial powers who preferred to fight their wars in other people's countries. And importantly, they both hated Russia. None of these things changed over the course of the early 20th century, yet in 1921, Britain and Japan's alliance fell apart.

Speaker 1

00:00:21 - 00:00:40

Which raises the question, why? Why did the Anglo-Japanese alliance fail? So for context, back in the late 19th century, Britain was, well, suspicious of basically every other major power. Germany was a rising threat, Russia was eyeing up India and Central Asia, the USA was asserting itself across the Americas, and France was... France.

Speaker 1

00:00:40 - 00:01:05

Britain was enjoying a period of self-imposed geopolitical isolation, but these outside threats could no longer be ignored. As such, it was time for an ally. There was always trusty Portugal, but this wasn't the 18th century anymore and it no longer held the same authority. Britain at the time didn't want to side with any of its European rivals because the risk of getting dragged into a major conflict was too great. And The United States was also happily isolated at this time and was mostly seen as a threat to Britain's Caribbean territories.

Speaker 1

00:01:05 - 00:01:31

Thus another ally was necessary and only Japan fit the bill. Britain and Japan both had concerns about Russian expansion into what they saw as their rightful spheres of influence. Both were worried about the growth of the US Navy and both wanted to force China to buy their stuff. As such, the 2 formed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902. This stated that Japan recognised Britain's dominion in India and in return Britain recognised Japan's interests in Korea and China, but it notably forbid Japan from annexing them.

Speaker 1

00:01:31 - 00:01:58

And importantly, both agreed to support each other in the event of a war with 2 or more powers. For Britain, this treaty was seen as more of a statement of intent that it was no longer isolated. In Japan, the treaty was a big deal, because Japanese politicians saw it as Britain agreeing to help them fight against Russia and also it was an equal treaty, unlike all of the previous ones it had to sign. So, as you'll know, Japan and Russia went to war in 1904 and Britain didn't get involved. Now Japan had hoped that Britain would stay neutral as a counter to France, whom Russia had an alliance with.

Speaker 1

00:01:58 - 00:02:20

France couldn't help because fighting Japan would mean that Britain would be dragged into the conflict which France didn't want. Russia was soon unvictorious and Japan's status as a great power was cemented. And as a result, Britain was keen to renew the alliance but this time Japan had more leverage. As such, to maintain the alliance, Britain agreed that Korea was doomed to annexation. And later on, when both Austria-Hungary and Germany declared war on Britain, Japan was obliged to help.

Speaker 1

00:02:20 - 00:02:40

Which it did, seizing a bunch of German territory in Asia which Britain was grateful for. So why did the alliance collapse despite it being so beneficial to both? Well, the crack started to show at the Versailles Conference. As part of the proposed peace, Japan wanted a racial equality clause in the treaty. Britain refused, since many nations within its empire, particularly South Africa and Australia, very much didn't want it.

Speaker 1

00:02:40 - 00:03:20

This upset the Japanese, because nobody wants an ally that refuses to accept you as being as human as they are. The treaty wasn't renewed in 1921 because of the deep divisions within the British Empire about foreign policy. The British government wanted to renew the alliance as a safeguard against Soviet, French or American aggression, whereas Canada and Australia saw Japan as an untrustworthy ally and a threat to their trade. There was also a push by the United States to get Britain to ditch the alliance for the potential of closer relations with Washington, and when the Washington Naval Treaty was concluded the potential of French or American expansion in the region was deemed unlikely. And so renewing the alliance wouldn't provide much benefit to Britain, which is why it chose to let it die and in 1923 both nations acknowledged its end, thereby forcing Japan to find new friends.

Speaker 1

00:03:21 - 00:03:20

I hope you enjoyed this episode with a special thanks to my patrons James Bizonette, Kelly Moneymaker, Korsha Wolf, Sky Chappell, Kartoitska, Adam Stalter, Alex Schwin, Jerry Lambdin, Marcus Arsner, Rod D. Martin, AF Firefly, Wyan Hockey, Captain Psydog, Boogalewoogalee, Marvin Casal, Winston K. Wood, Kamoon Yoon, Miss Izette, Maggie Patskowski, Gustav Swan, The McWhopper, Anthony Beckett, Copper Tone, Shwenin, Spinning 3 Plates, Words About Books Podcast, Jim Strumberg, Spencer Lightfoot, and Charles I.