An Era of Naval Disarmament: the 1922 Five Power Treaty

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An Era of Naval Disarmament:
The 1922 Five Power Treaty

The Five Power Treaty of 1922 ended the race of naval armament when it was signed on 6 February 1922. The fundamentals of the treaty were an agreement to get rid of a large number of battleships and cruisers as well as to create a ten-year period in which the signatory powers would build no new capital ships. President Warren G. Harding sent a formal invitation on 11 August 1921 to Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and France which had objectives for an international naval conference. The two main objectives were distinct, including limiting armament and answering Pacific and Far Eastern questions, namely an increasingly militant Japan. There were also economic concerns, as delegates had to please the legislators who were unwilling to spend more on shipbuilding. The ideology adhered to the American policy of negotiating at conferences, which would have worldwide repercussions. President Harding had faith in the long lasting effects of the treaty. “This conference has wrought a truly great achievement…[it] will mark the beginning of a new and better epoch in human progress.” His faith was warranted at the time, but due to the all-encompassing nature of the treaty there were a few unpredictable consequences. In actuality, the treaty not only affected the naval doctrine of U.S. forces over the next few decades, but also strategy in World War II. In 1917, disposing of Germany’s Pacific empire was a major source of friction between the countries involved in World War I. As the countries contemplated a German loss, covert agreements were made that only amplified the pressure. “Britain secretly agreed in 1917 to support Japan’s claims to German islands…in return for Japanese support of the British empire’s acquisition of Germany’s much smaller south Pacific holdings.” The agreement was not a secret as time passed, but it was not intensely publicized. Nevertheless, it increased international tensions and there was no certain solution. It was clear, however, that the roles of international navies would increase with the expansion to islands in the Far East and elsewhere. After World War I, the U.S. sought a new postwar balance of power in the Middle East. America helped to turn the tide in the first World War, and as a result U.S. international influence changed completely. “Whereas the end of the war saw decreased American interest and influence in Europe, after the Armistice the United States found itself the leading Western power in the Far East.” With power came responsibility and a new era in American international affairs. Something had to be done as tensions grew and the United States was looked upon as an international presence. The growing worldwide influence of the U.S. mandated that Far Eastern questions be answered. This was not easy, as there were many interests at stake and many delegates to please. “American Far Eastern policy in the decade of the 1920’s was a program complicated by the many conflicting interests it was designed to serve, and further tangled by the nature of the area with which it dealt.” Foremost of these problems was the rift between Japan and China, the two superpowers of the Far East. If stability was going to be brought to the region, the two countries would have to settle their differences. In order to expedite this process, the U.S. began to realize that sustaining forces in the region would be crucial. The differences between Japan and China were varied, as an economic disparity existed between the two countries. “By the 1920’s Japan was a modern industrial nation possessing fairly modern machinery and blessed with enough surplus population to make cheap labor possible.” This was not the case in China and as a result there was a sharp contrast between the two economies. While Japan had the stronger of the two economies, the United States saw great potential in China due to its enormous population. Thus,...
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