|Soviet troops on the march in Korea, October 1945|
What follows is a review of a book, The Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact, from the pen of the Russian diplomatic historian Boris Slavinsky. The book is a little dry at times, but that is to be expected considering the source material it tasks itself with bringing to light is mainly made up by reports from diplomats. Despite that there are pieces of very important information in there, some of which may not be found anywhere else. Here are some of the things I learned reading it:
- The Tripartite Pact was presented by Ribbentrop as a treaty aimed at deterring Americans from entering the German and Italian war in Europe and the Japanese war in the Far East. Moreover it was sold to the Japanese as a treaty the Soviet Union would be encouraged to join herself so as to boost the capacity of the alliance to deter the Americans. Specifically to address the concerns of the Japanese the text of the treaty included an article which spelled out that the pact was not aimed at the Soviet Union.
- Albeit the opposite is widely believed, Stalin was actually receptive of the idea of joining the Tripartite Pact under certain conditions. It was actually the case that when the USSR stated its conditions, which included the end of German presence in Finland and German assistance in securing a Soviet presence on the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, that it was rebuked by Hitler and nothing came of it.*
- The Japanese were for the main part taken aback by the German invasion of the Soviet Union and did not regard it as a welcome course of action, but as a severe breach of trust by the Germans. Nonetheless the Japanese continued to see Germany, which after all was at war with the British Empire and on a collision course with the United States, as a key ally.
- Despite the initial shock, the Japanese nonetheless saw the German invasion of the Soviet Union as a likely opportunity for their own territorial aggrandizement and had every intention of eventually breaking the freshly-signed Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact of April 1941. They planned to attack the Soviet Union to take a large chunk of the Russian Far East for themselves, but only once the USSR would be all but beaten by the Germans. Appropriately they undertook a covert mobilization in July-August 1941 as a result of which their army in Manchuria doubled in size. Initially the Japanese figured their own invasion may come in 1941, had by September 1941 moved its projected date to spring of 1942, then again postponed it for the third time to 1943, and finally moved it back indefinitely.