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The Tripartite Pact was the
diplomatic alliance between
Axis Powers: Germany,
Japan's involvement with
the Axis went back to November 25, 1936, when Japan signed a
note with Germany agreeing to cooperate against Communist Russia.
joined this Anti-Comintern Pact on November 6, 1937.
Germany had extended considerable military aid to China during the 1930s, which
arms and military advisors. Considering themselves the friends of
Japan and China, the Germans declared their neutrality in the
Sino-Japanese conflict and attempted without success to mediate a
settlement. The Japanese in turn pressured Berlin to remove its
advisors from China and cancel its arms contracts. Chiang did everything
possible to cultivate German friendship, including endorsing the
Anschluss with Austria,
the end Japan proved too valuable an ally for Germany and, in
1938, Hitler ceased all military aid to China.
Debate raged in Tokyo
1939 over the terms of a formal alliance to be negotiated with
The Army minister, Itagaki
Seishiro, wanted a comprehensive alliance that would
go into effect. The Navy minister, Yonai Mitsumasa, wanted
scope of the alliance restricted to Russia and invoked at the
discretion of the signatories. The ambassadors to Germany and
Oshima and Shiratori, were in the ultranationalist camp and
exceeded their instructions in an effort to push through a
comprehensive alliance. The Cabinet deadlocked after a compromise
proposal communicated to Germany and Italy on 3 May 1939 was
by both Hitler and Mussolini.
Relations between Japan and Germany suffered a severe blow when
signed a non-aggression pact with Russia in August 1939. This was
direct violation of a secret protocol in the 1937 Anti-Comintern
that bound the signatories to "conclude no political treaties with
U.S.S.R. contrary to the spirit of this agreement without mutual
The interests of the powers were increasingly at odds: Germany
military pact directed specifically at the Western democracies
Japan wanted a pact directed specifically at Russia.
between the United States
and Britain on 2
1940 renewed interest in Germany for a military alliance with
The Japanese Navy demurred, still fearing the likely outcome of a
with the United States, but a compromise was negotiated that left
with enough freedom of action to win the support of the Navy.
The Tripartite Pact itself was signed on September 27, 1940. This pact recognized the German-Italian “new order” in Europe and the Japanese “new order” in greater East Asia. The three nations pledged themselves to make war on each other’s behalf against any intervening “power at present not involved in the European war or in the Chinese-Japanese conflict”, a clear reference to the United States, since the Pact specifically excluded Russia. Unsurprisingly, Japan's signing of the Tripartite Pact became a major point of contention with the United States leading to the Pacific War.
It seems clear that both Japan and Germany hoped the Tripartite
would act as a deterrent to the United States. However, Japan had
occupied northern French
Indochina just a few days before the pact was signed, and
combination of events was viewed in the United States as a
producing the opposite effect from what was likely intended.
On 13 April 1941 Japan signed a non-aggression pact with Russia, which cleared the way for a move against Southeast Asia. Less than three months later, Germany launched its massive invasion of Russia, on 21 June 1941. Once again Japan found its policy towards Russia at odds with the actions of its principal ally. Japan chose to honor the nonaggression pact throughout the Pacific War, until it was renounced by Russia in August 1945.
Tripartite Pact never became an effective alliance.
Though there was considerable cooperation between Italy and
was too distant for effective military cooperation with the other
nations. A few
German and Italian submarines operated
was some exchange of technology and strategic raw materials, but
of running the Allied blockade, even with submarines, prevented
from achieving decisive results. It also seems likely that
the Axis never
really trusted each other, and their policy towards Russia was
completely uncoordinated in spite of the obvious value of
policy towards the central Eurasian power.
Racism likely played a role. While Italian fascism was
notably racist, both German and Japanese fascism were deeply
Although Himmler convinced himself that the Japanese had "Aryan"
he could not convince Hitler, who received Oshima twice shortly
Pearl Harbor but then not
again for over a year. A Japanese proposal to
attack Madagascar in 1942 was strongly opposed by the Germans as
infringement on the German sphere of operations (the dividing line
at 70 degrees east longitude.) Hitler is reported to have stated
March 1942 that he would enjoy lending Britain twenty divisions with which to drive
the Japanese in the Far East. Allied prisoners of war
working at the docks at Singapore
later reported that a U-boat crew had come to attention and
saluted them as they were marched past by their Japanese captors.
Some idea of how artificial the alliance was can be
from a communication on 26 July 1941 from the Thai prime minister to
minister (Prange 1988):
The primer minister of Thailand advised the American minister that the German military attaché had warned him against "going too far" with Japan because "you cannot trust Japan." The attaché added ominously that Germany would "settle with Japan after she has won the war in Europe."
Curiously, Thailand did not immediately sign the Tripartite Pact
even after she
was pressured into entering an alliance with Japan and declaring
Britain and the United States.
It is difficult to disagree with Gaddis Smith (1985) that "Axis
diplomacy was one of the greatest assets enjoyed by the Allies."
Text of the
Tripartite Pact (Yale Avalon Project; accessed 2010-9-24)
Hsiung and Levine (1992)
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