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This webpage reproduces an article in
Naval Institute Proceedings
Vol. 48 No. 9 (Sep. 1922), pp1479‑86

The text is in the public domain.

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 p1479  The New Far East Doctrine

By Commander C. C. Gill, U. S. Navy

The Washington Conference, 1921‑22, met to stop the race in naval armaments and to compose difficulties in the Far East. Few people will deny the history-making significance of the treaties which were evolved. A common understanding has been arrived at as to general procedure in the development of Eastern Asia; dangerous competition has been curbed; the menace of unfriendly rivalry has, for the time being at least, subsided; and the naval race in building costly capital ships has been temporarily and perhaps definitely stopped. These are indeed great achievements. Similar conferences for similar purposes have been held at various times in the past, but never before has one been crowned with such spectacular results. This fact in itself is food for thought.

In order to understand the treaties and the new Far East doctrine enunciated, it is necessary to comprehend the naval strategy of the Far East. The aim of strategy is control of the sea, and the influence of this principle of sea power in national growth and prosperity is now universally recognized. It operates, both in time of peace and in time of war. The pages of past history testify the influence of sea power; and events of more recent years add striking illustration. In the World War it was control of the sea that made possible America's decisive blow, launched 3,000 miles across the Atlantic at the critical time, at the critical point; and again, both at the Peace Table and at subsequent international conferences, witness the power of arguments backed by potential naval strength.

This was particularly true of the Washington Conference. The undeveloped treasure-house of Asia bids fair to make the Far East a future center of great commercial activity. Control  p1480 of the ocean routes leading to the Orient has become a vital question. The strategy involved has received close attention and here we find the cause of the race in naval armaments. Sea power, therefore, was the main theme of the Washington treaties and considerations of strategy were in high control.

When the United States assumed a moral leadership and called this conference, the most dangerous menace to peace in the Far East was the prospective clash of policy between America and Japan. The latter country had taken advantage of conditions created by the World War to push forward a plan of aggrandizement in continental Asia. During the last twenty years Japan has brought under more or less effective control about 1,500,000 square miles of Eastern Continental Asia, peopled by about 50,000,000 non‑Japanese — exclusive of Shantung. This Japanese problem has conflicted with the open-door policy of the United States. Great Britain and France are also interested parties in the Far East, but their hands have been, and still are, full of more pressing business in other quarters. Russia, for the time being, is only a passive factor. This leaves the United States and Japan the chief actors in the Far East.

To assist the comprehension of Far East strategy, the case of the United States and Japan may be taken as an example. For the purpose of discussion, we might assume that the Washington Conference had not taken place, and that rivalry between these two countries had been allowed to develop. Under such circumstances, the first step in strategy would be to determine the political objectives of the rival powers, and the kind of war likely to result, if resort should be made to armed force. It might be reasoned that the aim of Japan would be to gain a free hand in her scheme of aggrandizement in the Far East, and the aim of the United States would be to maintain the open-door policy and thwart unlawful aggression, inimical to American interests. A war arising over these objectives would not be unlimited, as was the 1914‑18 struggle between France and Germany, but would be what is technically known as a limited war — more like the Russo-Japanese conflict fought in the early part of this century. It will be recalled that in that war there was very little fighting in either Russia proper or in Japan proper; activities were confined to the sea and to the disputed area in East  p1481 Asia. So in the war of our assumed case between the United States and Japan, the latter would have no idea of invading United States continental territory; such a step would involve a hazardous and expensive campaign unnecessary to the attainment of her purpose. On the other hand, the United States, to gain her war objective, would be compelled to go to the Far East and forcibly stop Japanese aggression. The objectives being entirely in the Far East, the issue would have to be decided there. Such minor questions as discrimination in California against Japanese would play a part in arousing sentiment for war, and might be the spark to set it going, but could hardly assume importance enough to comprise a political objective for which alone the two nations would engage in active hostilities.

Assuming now that active war has ensued, what would be the preliminary strategic moves respectively of Japan and the United States? In the principal theater of this limited Far East war, Japan would be at great advantage as to position. In her own country, both the army and the navy would be centrally placed; her main fleet could be conveniently based secure in the Inland Sea, and operating from there, could successfully control home waters and dispute control with any hostile fleet advancing within a radius of 1,500 miles or more. The most probable strategy of Japan against the superior naval strength of the United States would be an offensive-defensive, similar to that used by Germany in the recent war against Great Britain. Japan would not at once risk a capital ship encounter to a finish, but would harass the approaching enemy with torpedo, mine and bomb, would give battle only on terms of advantage, and would try to wear down the superiority of the United States Fleet, until a general engagement could be fought with a fair prospect of victory. In this strategy her chances of ultimate success would be more favorable than were those of Germany against Great Britain in the World War, because the United States would be at the disadvantage of operating in waters 6,000 miles from home bases.

Under the assumed conditions, with tension between the two countries increasing, it may reasonably be supposed that before the breaking point were reached, the United States would take steps to protect her Far East possessions. It is interesting to recall that last year the Senate passed a bill to fortify Guam,  p1482 but this measure was held up in the House because of public sentiment for a reduction of armaments. With Guam impregnable, it is doubtful whether Japan would try to occupy the Philippines, and if she did, she could later be made to relinquish them by means of combined land and sea operations launched from Guam. On the other hand, with these islands in their present vulnerable status, Japan could and undoubtedly would, capture them before our fleet could arrive to protect them. This would give the United States a much more difficult nut to crack.

In any event, a sine qua non for the United States to bring naval pressure against Japan would be an adequate base within striking distance of the main theater of the war. With our fleet based no farther west than Hawaii, Japan could seize the Philippines and Guam, and generally speaking, work her will in the Far East. To win our war objective, we would have to advance to the Far East and establish there an adequate base from which to carry on offensive operations against the enemy. Japan in her home bases would be as secure as Germany was behind Heligoland; and, in order to conduct a successful campaign against Japan, the United States would have to establish a Far East base like "Scappaº Flow," with protected communications, adequate docks, arsenals, repair facilities, fuel supplies and other resources. With the navy securely based there, we would then be in position to get ready expeditionary forces and consolidate our strength preparatory to the next offensive steps.

It is not wise to project strategy too far into the future. Successive moves depend largely upon contingent developments. The aim of the United States would be to draw closer the cordon around Japan. As soon as Japan's communications could be effectively interrupted, the pressure of the blockade would begin to be felt. A stage would eventually be reached when the Japanese fleet would be forced to come out and fight our main fleet, and the issue of the war would hang on the result of the battle. It should be added that Japanese strategy would hope by attrition to overcome American superiority before this battle.

But it is not necessary to go into details of strategy to understand its relation to the peace treaties. It is enough to note that the exercise of naval power depends upon position; that the needs of a modern fleet tie it to naval bases; that to control  p1484 any given area a navy must have an adequate naval base within striking distance of that area. For our present purposes it suffices to grasp this fundamental principle in its application in the strategy of the Far East.

Draw a circle with Manila Bay as center, with an assumed radius of 1,500 miles. This gives a fair approximation of the area which would be influenced by a superior fleet based in the Philippines. In case of a Far East war, it is obvious that Manila Bay would prove an admirable location for a main naval base from which to radiate subsidiary advance bases and exert control over the principal trade routes to China and Japan. It is at once seen that with a superior fleet and an impregnable Guam-Philippine base, the United States would control, potentially in peace and actively in war, the door to the treasure-house of Asia. But, by the agreements of the Washington treaties, the United States has given up her right to take advantage of this strategic position. (See chart p1483.)

From a strategic point of view, the most noteworthy provision in the Washington treaties is the agreement by which the status quo as regards fortifications and naval bases in the Pacific is to be preserved. Japan has agreed not to strengthen her outlying possessions; of these the most important islands, Formosa, the Loo Choos, the Bonins, and the Kuriles, are all within the radius of protection of her battle fleet based in home waters; the mandatory small islands north of the equator, acquired by the Versailles Treaty, fall outside this radius, but they have little economic value: Japan does not give up control of important possessions or of important interests. Great Britain has agreed not to strengthen Hong Kong, but has retained the right to establish fortified naval bases at Singapore (by another agreement Wei‑Hei‑Wei on the Yellow Sea is returned to China); Great Britain's interests and Great Britain's possessions are safeguarded in accordance with the principle of sea power. The United States has agreed not to strengthen her Island Possessions west of Hawaii; these include the Aleutian Islands, Guam, and the Philippines; the Aleutians are within the protecting radius of a fleet operating from United States continental ports, but  p1485 the valuable Philippine Archipelago and the strategically important island of Guam, both of which are at present inadequately fortified, fall far outside the protecting the radius of a fleet operating from Hawaii: unlike Great Britain and Japan, the United States has abdicated the right to exercise potential control over important possessions and important interests.

The most far‑reaching result of the Washington Conference seems to be that taking the naval treaties in conjunction with the Four-Power Treaty and the Nine-Power Treaty they enunciate a new Far East Doctrine. This doctrine is one of non‑interference, which leaves Japan in potential control of the North West Pacific and Great Britain in potential control of the South West Pacific, while the potential control of the United States extends only about 1,500 miles west of the Hawaiian Islands. (See chart p1483.) To be sure, the agreement is only for ten years, but a doctrine that stands for ten years is likely to become permanent. This new Far East Doctrine, as it bears upon Japan and the provinces of East Asia in their relation to other powers, has points of resemblance to the Monroe Doctrine in its bearing upon the United States and other American republics in their relationship to trans-oceanic countries. There is, however, one important difference — the Monroe Doctrine although tacitly recognized, is not formally conceded, and we must stand ready to fight for it, whereas the new Far East Doctrine is guaranteed by formal international agreement. Japan has struggled long for domination in the Far East and now, through diplomacy backed by her powerful navy, she has achieved her ambition.​1

It is thus seen that our statesmen at Washington did not achieve great ends without making concessions. The United States has set an example. The question is, will other nations follow it? There is a danger that we may be misunderstood. Our hand is weakened in the Far East by this abdication of potential strategic position. With the right to exert the pressure of armed force thus lessened, we must watch closely to note the efficacy of arbitration and conference to safeguard our Philippine possessions, to protect our commerce, and to insure right dealing in China  p1486 and Siberia. If there are nations still inclined to unscrupulous aggression, it would be harmful, not helpful, to the cause of peace to lead them to believe that to avoid war the United States is ready to take successive steps of withdrawal in the Pacific. Such a course would only serve to pile up trouble for future generations. Hence, forward-seeing statesmen vigorously oppose drastic slashing of our army and navy. The United States has given substantial evidence of good-will in settling international differences. Common prudence demands that we halt here and observe results before initiating a second step in disarmament by example.


The Author's Note:

1 It is significant that Admiral Kato, Chief of Staff to Admiral Togo in the Russo-Japanese War, Minister of Marine 1916‑22, and astute negotiator at the Washington Conference 1921‑22, has now been promoted to the post of Prime Minister for Japan.


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