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1921-1936: Diplomacy of Isolationism

(This page currently under development)


Categories:
Allied Loans and War Reparations
Disarmament Efforts
Rogers Act of 1924
Stimson Doctrine
Smoot-Hawley Tariff
Good Neighbor Policy


Disarmament Efforts

Despite its lack of participation in the League of Nations, the United States was at the forefront of extensive efforts at disarmament during the 1920s and 1930s to restrict the growth of naval tonnage, considered to be an approximate measure of military strength. The major naval powers - Britain, the United States, and Japan - were forced to recognize the crushing costs of a naval arms race. Organized and hosted by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, the first naval disarmament conference was held in Washington the winter of 1921-1922 with eight nations in attendance. Hughes proposed that a large proportion of the world’s battleships and heavy cruisers simply be scrapped. The agreements reached included the Five Power Treaty, which established a "holiday" on the building of new warships for ten years and set a tonnage ratio of 10:10:6:3½ :3½ for Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy, respectively and bound the signatories to scrap 66 capital ships. Other treaties signed at Washington abolished the two decade old Anglo-Japanese Alliance, endorsed the Open Door policy in China, compelled Japanese withdrawal from Siberia, and allowed the United States access to the Island of Yap. Unfortunately, a naval race in classes of vessels not covered under the provisions, especially light cruisers, continued over the balance of the decade. The major naval powers attempted to rectify the situation at the London Conference of 1930, where Japanese parity in the other vessel classes of ships was recognized. Tensions in the Pacific preceding World War II caused a second conference held in London in 1935-1936, but it failed when Japan abrogated the earlier pacts. In addition to naval disarmament, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand engineered a pact at the 1927 Geneva conference to outlawed war entirely. This was the high point of interwar disarmament. in the true "Spirit of Locarno." The Kellogg-Briand Pact, like the Washington and London conferences, failed to prevent the outbreak of another general war. American support for these conferences, though, was evidence of a new American internationalism, one that unfortunately would not overcome the forces leading to World War II.

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Stimson and the Manchurian Crisis

The policy of expansionism in Chine pursued by the autonomous Kwangtung Army of Japan accelerated in the late 1920s and early 1930s and became a major concern of the U.S. government.  On September 18, 1931, Japanese soldiers guarding the South Manchurian Railway blew up part of the track in order to manufacture an excuse to seize Manchuria proper. Secretary of StStimsonate Henry L. Stimson reacted to what he regarded as a violation of international law as well as treaties that the Japanese Government had signed. Since calls for a cessation of hostilities between China and Japan failed and President Herbert Hoover had rejected economic sanctions in principle, Stimson declared in January 1932 that the U.S. Government would not recognize any territorial or administrative changes the Japanese might impose upon China. The Stimson Doctrine was echoed in March 1932 by the Assembly of the League of Nations, which unanimously adopted an anti-Japanese resolution incorporating virtually verbatim the Stimson Doctrine of nonrecognition.  However, as the Secretary of State later realized, he had at his disposal only "spears of straws and swords of ice."   In short order, Japanese representatives simply walked out of the League, and the Kwangtung Army formalized its conquest of Manchuria by establishing the puppet state of Manchukuo under former Chinese emperor Pu-Yi.  When war between Japan and China broke out following a minor clash between military units at the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937, the impotence of the "Stimson Doctrine" became even more apparent.

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