• The United States had rejected joining the League of Nations, leaving the growing conflicts of Anglo-American naval rivalry and worsening American-Japanese relations in the Pacific to be dealt in other ways.
  • By 1919, the USA became alarmed at the rise of Japanese power in the Pacific. By this time, the Japanese had the 3rd largest navy in the world and had begun a major naval reconstruction program.
    • Japan, like Britain, was almost entirely dependent on foreign resources to supply its economy. To achieve Japan’s expansionist policies, the Imperial Japanese Navy had to secure and protect distant sources of raw material (especially Southeast Asian oil and raw materials), controlled by foreign countries (Britain, France, and the Netherlands).
    • To achieve this goal, Japan built large warships capable of long range.
  • In response, the Americans also embarked on their own naval reconstruction program, when completed, would make the US navy the largest in the world.
  • When both the US and Japan competed to build up their naval capacity….surprise surprise…  Britain, also announced their own naval program in 1921.
    • Britain’s actions were obviously meant to save their face since they were the most powerful navy in the world – they wanted to remain the most powerful navy.
    • However, Britain privately informed Washington that it desired a negotiated settlement as it could not afford the naval race.
  • The USA agreed to be in such a conference only if Britain renounced the 20 year old Anglo-Japanese alliance, which could make Britain ally with Japan in a war against the US. Britain agreed.

The First Naval Convention

Date: November 11th 1921 – February 1922

Significance: Signed for duration of 14 years. It halted the building of capital ships for 10 years, established a ratio of capital ships build in each nation. It was a ratio of 3 for Japan, 1.67 each for Italy and France for every 5 ships built in Britain and America.

Five power naval limitation treaty: February 6 1922. The leading naval powers — Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States — pledged adherence to limitations on the tonnage of capital ships and accepted a moratorium on new naval construction.

Capital ship: A warship of the largest class, such as an air craft carrier or battleship

Key people: The US delegation was led by Charles Evans Hughes (the secretary of state), Elihu Roots, and Henry Cabot Lodge.harles Evans Hughes: Became the governor of New York in 1906 with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt. Strong supporter of naval disarmament, even so far as calling for the scrapping of nearly 2 million tons of warships and delay the construction of new ships. “The power to wage war is the power to wage war successfully.” – Hughes.

The Treaties signed at the Washington naval convention

  • Four-Power Pact (December 13, 1921).
    • Britain, France, Japan and the United States — agreed to negotiate disputes over the Pacific to a conference for resolution rather than military action.
    • Pledged mutual respect for the possessions and mandates of each other in the Pacific.
  • Shantung Treaty (February 4, 1922).
    • The territory of Shandong province was returned by Japan to China.
  • Nine-Power Treaty (February 6, 1922).
    • The Open Door policy was endorsed among the 9 signatories (the Big Four, plus Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and China)
    • Pledged mutual respect for Chinese territorial integrity and independence.
  • Nine-Power Treaty (February 6, 1922).
    • The same Allied powers agreed to extend Chinese control over trade matters within Chinese borders.
  • Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty (February 6, 1922).
    • Implemented the sweeping proposals of Hughes in somewhat modified terms. The leading naval powers — Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States — pledged to adhere to the limitations on tonnage of capital ships.
    • Accepted a moratorium on new naval construction.
  • Five-Power supplemental treaty.
    • Agreed on a series of rules for the use of submarines in future warfare and also outlawed the use of poisonous gases as a military weapon.
  • Six-Power Pact.
    • The Big Five Nations plus China agreed to the allocation among themselves of former German cable routes in the Pacific.
  • Yap Island agreement.
    • The United States and Japan agreed on provisions for U.S. use of the Pacific island as a distribution point for the transpacific cable.

The Washington naval conference was a compromise, not a victory for any of the participating nations. The Four Power Pacts, although they were intended to calm the tensions in the Pacific, however there was no real enforcement to enforce these ideals, thus dooming them to be what they were; ideals. The major gain was the isolation of Japan due to the termination of the Anglo-Japanese Alliances, thus now the US and Britain developed closer, trusting relations with each other. The Naval Pacts did cut the costs for the participating nations since they didn`t have to be in a naval race anymore- however, a loop hole in the pact was found and the fund went to build the smaller vessels that were not covered under the agreement.  The post war disarmament conferences came to an end in 1936, when Japan ended its participation.

Britain: had been the world`s largest naval power but after WWI`s deathblows to their economy, they had to be receptive to the limitations on their power.

The U.S.: Had the most powerful navy by the end of the war. The Harding administration received criticism when they accepted the naval treaties since people felt that the US was surrendering their naval superiority and opportunities to strengthen its Pacific bases.

Japan: Was offended when asked to accept lesser ratios under the Five Power Pact

France: Their navy was decimated and knew that most of their funds would be devoted to rebuilding and developing a strong army to resist future German threats. But they still didn`t like the smaller ratio so they insisted and succeeded in limiting the ratio to only capital ships.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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