Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Lead Up and Consequences of the Russo – Japanese War

The following essay will attempt to explain some key elements to the Russo – Japanese War.  We will not be looking that closely at the war itself but rather events and players leading up to, and following the war itself.  Some of the questions that need to be addressed is who was involved and why, what the end result was for all parties involved, and how it affected regional and global relations between parties involved as a whole.

Why was the Russo – Japanese War relevant?  The Russo – Japanese War had lasting effects on Russia, Japan, and the Far East region as a whole.  The Sino – Japanese War knocked one of the three regional powers, China, out of the picture a decade earlier so the fight for regional supremacy at this point in time was between Japan and Russia.  One could even make the argument that one of the lasting effects of this war is that in some way it played an effect on what side the Japanese entered the First and Second World War on.  If the Japanese would have been soundly defeated in the Russo – Japanese War would Japan’s imperial drive still have been there?  It is hard to say but I think the Japanese would have played a much smaller role in both World Wars if any at all.

The Russo – Japanese War also showed the weakness of the Tsar as a leader.  By most estimates the Russians should have been able to win this war fairly easily and the people of Russia were crushed when a victory was not attained.  The defeat of the Russian army as well as the growing unrest at home made the Tsar look weak and helped cause his ultimate downfall.  Again, this is just conjecture and there is no way of proving this but if the Russian’s would have had solid victories in this conflict would the communist revolution even have occurred?  The Russo – Japanese War also killed the expansion of the Russian Empire as well and eliminated Russia as a contender for regional superpower.

After the Treaty of Portsmouth which formally ended the Russo – Japanese War the Japanese people ended up paying more in taxes to offset the cost of the war.  In the formal treaty there was no payment of reparation from either side and very little territory was gained by the Japanese.  Many of the Japanese people saw this as a waste because the ends were not justified by the means in their opinion.  After peoples revolts this caused the government to become more militaristic after the death of the Meiji Emperor.  The very militaristic government that came into power is the very government that ended up aggressively pursuing Japanese interests through both World Wars.

Focusing more on the Russo – Japanese War itself; the war took place from February 8th 1904 till the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth on September 5th 1905 and was called by some historians the first great war of the 20th century.  The result of this war came was that Japan surged on after this to become a regional imperial power and Russia played a lesser role in the region till the late 1930’s, early 1940’s.  Russia and Japan were obviously involved in this war but to a lesser known extent there was one other nation that also declared was on the Japanese and that was the Principality of Montenegro.  Montenegro was puppet state of Russia and an ally of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War.  Volunteers from Montenegro were fighting in the Russian Army.  In 2006 Japan recognized Montenegrin independence and declared the war being over and after 101 years a peace treaty was signed between Russia and Japan.(1)  

So what was the Russo – Japanese War really about?  Both Russia and Japan wanted to exert themselves as superpowers in the Far East and the only way that would be possible is for one to defeat the other.  Although the Japanese didn’t technically vanquish the Russians, the victories made by the Japanese as well as the implosion of Russian society in the early 20th century established Japan as the regional power. 

Russia wished to gain power in the Far East and also to gain a warm weather port on the Pacific Ocean so they would not be frozen in during the bitter Russian winters.  Russia also sought to attain its position as a global power; if the Russians were to be defeated by Japan how serious would the rest of the Western powers take Russia, the answer to that is very little.  Japan wished to gain more territory and resources that surrounded the tiny island nation all throughout the mainland around them.  For Japan this also an opportunity for them to even is considered a world power, something they were striving for and had been for half a century before this.

So now that we have looked over the events leading up to the war the next thing to look at would be the treaty that ended the war, the Treaty of Portsmouth.  The Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the Russo-Japanese War and was brokered by the United States.  

The formal result of the Treaty of Portsmouth brought peace between Japan and Russia, acknowledged that 

“The Imperial Russian Government, acknowledging that Japan possesses in Korea paramount political, military and economical interests engages neither to obstruct nor interfere with measures for guidance, protection and control which the Imperial Government of Japan may find necessary to take in Korea.”(2)

The treaty also stated that Russia must yield all claims in Manchuria and brought Port Arthur was under Japanese control.

With the details of the treaty being stated the next logical question is why the United States was chosen to mediate.  The United States did it partially for prestige but the main reason behind this was that the United States as well as many other Western nations was invested heavily in the region.  The United States acquired the Philippines after the Spanish – American War at the end of the 19th century and it did not want to see one of its new prize possessions become independent or fall under someone else’s control.  Negotiating this peace treaty for the United States would give them an opportunity to help secure some of their interests.

The United States had already worked privately on The Taft–Katsura Agreement so the Japanese and the United States both new where each side stood on certain issues like Korea and the Philippines.  The Taft–Katsura Agreement was a set of notes taken during conversations between United States Secretary of War William Howard Taft and Prime Minister of Japan Katsura Taro on July 29th 1905.  The notes were discovered in 1924; there was never a signed agreement or secret treaty, only a memorandum of a conversation regarding Japanese-American relations.  With all these aims of the United States being stated, one can see their goals or intentions were not completely wholesome.

The United States as well as the rest of the West consequently didn’t want to see either side come out too strong either.  Although Russia is considered part of the West, it has always been considered an outsider.  The traditional western powers were not fond of either Russia or Japan growing too strong in the region; if this was to happen traditional western powers would not be able to then take advantage of weaker states like China and those in South-East Asia.        

So in closing, how did these two super powers fare after the war?  Both Russia and Japan suffered from social unrest, but Japan was able to reform and reinvent causing it to become more powerful whereas Russia fell into eventual chaos before rising as a world power in the 1930’s and 40’s.  Although the direct results of this war in world history are hard to see, the indirect consequences of this war affected the world today as we know it.   

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