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1936 - Rome-Berlin Axis
1936 - Anti-Comintern Pact
1939 - Pact of Steel
1940 - Tripartite Pact

Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 irrevocably changed the European geopolitical framework. After 1935, Mussolini would come increasingly under Hitler's influence. Hitler would also begin to free Germanyfrom the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles and Anglo-French encirclement. The advance of Italo-German interests during from 1935 to the beginning of the Second World War -- an era characterized by the Great Depression and appeasement -- also created an aura of totalitarian success and collaboration. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Rhineland (1936), Austria (1937), Czechoslovakia (1938), and Albania (1939) lent credence tothis perception. This period was also critical to Germany and Italy's efforts in building a coalition.

A most important step in the military features of the German plan was the signing on 25 and 26 October, 1936, of a treaty with protocols, between Germany and Italy, which together formed the origin of the now famous Rome-Berlin Axis. Prior to 1935, Italy had sided politically with GreatBritain and France. As late as 1934 she was hostile to German expansion in Austria. A change occurred in 1935, caused by Italy engaging in a war to conquer Ethiopia. Unexpectedly, the British at once showed great displeasure. For Italy, the alliance promised support in case of a major war, and an end to her then political isolation. For Germany it meant that her south boundary was protected. Itthereby released German troops for use in other theaters of operation.

Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact on November 25, 1936. The Anti-Comintern Pact was directed toward the activities of the Communist International. The two signatories promised to "keep each other informed concerning the activities of the Communist International," to "confer upon the necessary measures for defense," and to "carry out such measures in close cooperation." One year later Italy adhered to the Anti-Comintern Pact. This event in effect extended the already-established Rome-Berlin Axis to Tokyo, and signalized the alliance of the three totalitarian powers.

Italy's signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact on 6 November 1937 cemented the unity of Fascist and Nazi ideologies. This pact emphasized the ideological union of Germany, Italy and Japan against the spread of communism. By the end of 1937, Roosevelt concluded that the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany, Japan, and Italy was aimed at world conquest, while the Munich Agreement and the November 1938 Kristallnacht convinced Roosevelt that Hitler's aims were unlimited and that Nazi Germany could be stopped only by credibly threatened force. By late 1937 the American assumptions that had given to ORANGE planning its prime importance during the past decade and a half had become of doubtful validity. International events had created a situation that made it increasingly unlikely that a war between the United States and Japan could be limited to these two nations. Threats or direct acts of aggression were the order of the day in Europe and Asia. Great Britain and France, still suffering from the prolonged economic crisis of the early 1930's and weakened by domestic conflicts, remained passive in the face of this threat, seeking to avert armed conflict by a policy of appeasement.

Although the Anti-Comintern Pact continued to be directed nominally against the Soviet Union and the Soviet form of government, the purpose of the alliance was much broader. The situation was well summarized in a dispatch from Ambassador Joseph C. Grew to Washington dated November 13, 1937, approximately two weeks after Japan had declined to attend a Brussels Conference on the Sino-Japanese dispute. "If the present triangular combination is analyzed," the Ambassador explained, "it becomes immediately apparent that not only is the group not merely anti-communist, but that its policies and practices equally run counter to those of the so-called democratic powers. Thus it can be seen that the question resolves itself into the simple fact that it is a combination of those states which are bent upon upsetting the status quo as opposed to those states which wish to preserve the status quo, or, more simply, of the 'havenots' against the 'haves,' and that anticommunism is merely the banner under which the 'have-nots' are rallying. The threat to England is very real and immediately apparent upon reflection that with the addition of Japan to the RomeBerlin axis the life-line of the British Empire is threatened from the North Sea through the Mediterranean and beyond Singapore." To Ambassador Grew, Japan's decision to cast her lot with Germany and Italy marked the definite termination of Japan's political and moral isolation and emphasized "the abandonment of Japan's previous and almost traditional alignment with the democratic powers."

Japan's own statement came soon afterwards in the form of an attack on the U.S.S. Panay, then situated, together with various other American and British warships, on the Yangtze River. What the Japanese Army fanatics had considered it of the utmost importance to ascertain was the immediate temper of the American public-and that they presumably discovered. They concluded that the firm US Navy stand in the matter in no way typified the attitude of a soft and almost incredibly unrealistic public.

As a counter-measure to foreign armament programs which seemed to involve a threat to world peace, President Roosevelt called upon Congress in his message of January, 1938, to approve a rearmament program at home, and on February 5 the United States, Great Britain, and France inquired of Japan concerning her naval construction plans. Japan's reply, a refusal to divulge any information whatsoever, was in reality a tacit admission of her plans.

On December 31, 1938, the United States officially rejected Japan's new order in China. Stating that the plans and practices of the Japanese authorities implied an assumption of sovereignty actually not theirs, the United States refused to admit "that there is need or warrant for any one power to take upon itself to prescribe what shall be the terms and conditions of a 'new order' in areas not under its sovereignty and to constitute itself the repository of authority and the agent of destiny in regard thereto." Since it was obvious that we would not support our convictions with force, Japan remained largely indifferent to them.

Hitler, who was hardly known for his qualms of conscience or honesty, suddenly ripped up the Anti-Comintern Pact and concluded a surprise treaty with Russia. For Japan it was the worst diplomatic kick in the teeth she had experienced in her modern history. Japan's chief fear was that if Russia were relieved of anxiety in Europe, she would strengthen her East Asia front and would thus be a new and greater threat to Japan in the Orient.

On 22 May 1939, the German Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and his Italian counterpart, Count Galeazzo Ciano, signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance, more commonly known as the "Pact of Steel." The world perceived this, Pact of Steel to be an alliance bent on dominating its neighbors. This totalitarian menace saw its ultimate expression with the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1940 between Germany, Italy, and Japan -- known as the Axis powers. On the surface, the Axis appeared to be an alliance bent on world conquest.

Following the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the Axis partners were brought closer together. Japan took advantage of the preoccupation of Great Britain and the United States with affairs in Europe to push forward in her attempt to establish hegemony in the Far East. Following the German victories in Europe, in September, 1940 Japan, Germany, and Italy signed the Three Power Treaty [the Tripartite Pact], a ten year alliance pledging mutual support in the establishment of a new order in Europe and Asia. While Germany had been engaged in a titanic struggle against England for a year, Japan, up to the conclusion of the alliance, had contributed nothing.

Under the terms of this agreement Japan recognized and respected the leadership of Germany and Italy in the establishment of a new order in Europe, and Germany and Italy correspondingly recognized and respected the leadership of Japan in East Asia. According to Article 3 of the Treaty the three parties agreed "to cooperate in their efforts on the aforesaid lines," and they further undertook "to assist one another with all political, economic, and military means when one of the three Contracting Parties is attacked by a power at present not involved in the European war or in the Sino-Japanese Conflict." This clause was, of course, directed against the United States. Article 4 of the Treaty made the first formal provision for military, naval and economic collaboration. It declared: "With a view to implementing the present Pact, Joint Technical Commissions the members of which are to be appointed by the respective Governments of Japan, Germany, and Italy will meet without delay."

Hitler's decision to postpone the invasion of Great Britain coincided with the negotiation by the European Axis partners of a tripartite alliance with Japan, signed on 27 September 1940. This pact provided that a military attack on any member of the new Axis triumvirate by any nation not then engaged in either the European or the Sino-Japanese war would invoke the political, economic, and military assistance of the other two. It was aimed primarily at the United States, secondarily at the Soviet Union. By it, Germany and Italy gave a much freer hand to Japanese aggression in the western Pacific, at the same time securing at least a paper promise that Japan would attack the United States if the United States attacked German or Italian forces in the eastern Atlantic theater. By the pact the Nazis hoped to keep the United States out of the European war and away from all-out preparations for war until Germany had completed its conquest of Europe.

During 1941 Germany exerted every effort to induce Japan to enter the war against the British Empire. Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop repeatedly pointed out to General Oshima, Japan's Ambassador in Berlin, the alleged advantages of such action, declaring that Great Britain would soon collapse before German might in Europe, and that the way was open for Japan to advance into Singapore. There were, however, certain Japanese circles which viewed a conflict with America with great misgivings, since they assumed that this would involve a five or ten year war with the United States. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, is quoted as telling Prime Minister Konoe, "If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third years." Von Ribbentrop's reply was that the United States could and would do nothing.

Very few steps were taken toward cooperation between the Axis members in naval and military matters, nor were realistic plans made for the future. In the spring of 1941 Japanese naval and military inspecting groups were dispatched to Germany and Italy. The groups visited manufacturing plants, airfields, naval vessels, and fortresses in Germany, Italy, and France (at that time occupied by Germany).

Germany and Japan entered upon this alliance entirely with opportunistic motives. This was a political arrangement, negotiated without reference to naval or military considerations. Neither the leaders of Germany nor of Japan thought in terms of rendering direct assistance to the other party, or of joining together in combined operations against the common enemies. Germany, determined to conquer all of Europe and adjacent areas, wanted to get Japan into the war as a means of further weakening Great Britain (and subsequently the Soviet Union), and of diverting American attention to the Pacific. Germany did not have immediate ambitions in the Far East, so had nothing to lose by drawing Japan into the conflict. She hoped, moreover, that Japanese conquest of British and Dutch territories in the Far East would open up supplies of rubber and other raw materials, at that time denied to her.

Japan likewise had no ambitions in Europe and did not expect to participate in the war in that area, but she did wish to take advantage of Britain's plight to satisfy her own designs in East. As Ambassador Grew pointed Three Power Treaty was "a Japanese gamble on the defeat of Germany." It also was a gamble Japan and Germany that the declaration of an Axis alliance would keep the States out of the war; or that if were to enter the war, her delay in preparation would enable each of the Axis partners to secure victory in its own sphere before America's industrial potential might be brought to bear in the conflict.

Faced with two major options, termed the "Northern Question" (actions to be taken to ensure security from Russia) and the "Southern Question" (actions exercising further expansion to the south), government and military factions carefully studied and passionately debated which way to proceed. The upshot of the Russo-Japanese talks was a Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact, signed on 13 April 1941. Japan was paving the way on all sides for Pearl Harbor. On 22 June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union. On July 2, 1941 the "Outline of National Policies in View of the Changing Situation" was approved in an Imperial Conference. Japan would expand south.

After the United States became a full-fledged belligerent against the Axis, there was no alteration in the political conditions which limited the scope of Japanese-German collaboration. The principal obstacle to combined or coordinated operations was the inability of the governments of the two powers to maintain direct consultation. Certainly the success of Allied collaboration was in large measure the outcome of the personal contact established between the chiefs of state and general staffs of the United States and the United Kingdom and subsequently of the Soviet Union at Casablanca, Quebec, Teheran, and Yalta. It was impossible for the high authorities of Japan and Germany to hold similar meetings, and such contact as was maintained was limited to the activities of liaison officers. Under these circumstances there was no real chance of coordinating the war plans of the two powers, and such collaborative ventures as were attempted were subject to restriction or change by either party in the light of its own independent operations.

Japan and Germany thus very largely fought their own wars and joined forces to a minor degree.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:44:48 ZULU