740.0011 European War 1939/13723

Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Adams)

Assuming that the hostilities between Germany and Russia may be of some duration, certain further assumptions are permissible:

The outbreak of war between Germany and Russia pushes forward into a position of immediate urgency for Japan the chronic problem of Soviet Vladivostok, situated approximately in the geographical center of the Japanese Empire.
If the Germans were to succeed, through their military activities and through the occurrence of a revolution in Russia, in establishing a government for all of Russia under German influence, that accomplishment or the imminence of that accomplishment would be an impellent to Japan to move against Siberia. Soviet Russia as at present constituted offers at Vladivostok and at other points on the Asian coast of Russia less threat to Japan than would a German-controlled government of Russia, Germany being an expanding aggressive force. If, on the other hand, German military activities should be aimed at and should accomplish merely the pushing of Soviet Russia out of Europe so that Germany would be able to utilize the resources of the Ukraine and of Transcaucasia, Soviet Russia would be shut off from access to water in Europe and would of necessity turn its eyes toward the shores of the seas of Japan and of Okhotsk. Such a development would bring the center of Soviet Russia appreciably nearer Japan and increase the communist menace to Japan, With these considerations [Page 279] in mind it seems within the realm of probability that developments will in the near future (following a period of confused thought in Japan) tend to influence Japan toward attack upon Soviet Russia in Siberia.
An attack by Japan upon Soviet Russia in Siberia would, despite the existence of a theoretically self-sufficient Far Eastern Soviet army, tend to divide the efforts of the Soviet Government and to shorten the period of Russian resistance to Germany.
It is to the interest of the United States that Russia continue to resist Germany as long and as successfully as possible.

The foregoing assumptions naturally lead to consideration of what the attitude of the United States toward Japan should be in the light of the new situation.

From the short point of view, having in mind our very considerable interest in the maintenance of peace in the South Pacific, there would seem, at least superficially, to be some merit in the idea of allowing Japan to attack Soviet Siberia and thus to expend its military resources in that direction. From the long point of view, however, having in mind our interest in defeating the forces of aggression as a whole, it is believed that the United States should now endeavor to immobilize Japan both as regards an attack upon Siberia and as regards an attack against Singapore or the Dutch East Indies. Moves or gestures by the United States which would render Japan uncertain in regard to the intentions of the United States in the South Pacific would operate in the direction of preventing Japan from becoming involved in Siberia.

In the field of negative action this might be accomplished (along lines recently outlined as our policy toward the Soviet Union): (a) by making no approach to the Japanese Government; (b) by treating any approach to the United States by Japan with reserve; (c) by making no sacrifice in principle in order to improve relations with Japan and, in general, by giving Japan to understand that we consider an improvement in the relations between our two countries to be more important to Japan than to the United States; (d) by basing our day to day relations with Japan upon the principle of reciprocity so far as may be practicable.

In the field of positive action the Government of the United States has already taken some steps which should tend to discourage action by Japan against Russia.46 These include the President’s statement on June 2447 that the United States would give all aid possible to Russia, the Acting Secretary’s statement on the same subject on June 2348 and the action of the Treasury Department on June 24 in freeing $40,000,000 in frozen Russian credits in the United States as a token [Page 280] of active American sympathy with the U. S. S. R. in its war with Germany.

There are suggested below certain possible further steps which should, if taken, tend to discourage military action by Japan against Russia: (a) the immediate freezing of Japanese assets in this country would increase Japanese uncertainty as to the intentions of this Government; (b) increased restrictions upon the export of petroleum products to Japan from the United States would further increase Japanese uncertainty; (c) there should be made during the next two or three months increased efforts to strengthen the position of American, British and Dutch defenses in the Far East; (d) there might be permitted to leak out hints of a cooperative defensive arrangement between the American and British and Dutch armed forces in the Far East; (e) finally the United States might present to Japan in response to any overtures that Japan might make, suggestions in regard to the restoration in the Pacific of the status quo at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese hostilities. For example, it could be suggested that the Japanese withdraw entirely from French Indochina and from the islands of the South Pacific which Japan has recently occupied, etc.

It is submitted that the paramount importance to Japan of the present situation at Vladivostok and of possible developments in relation to that situation would, so long as there remained the possibility of a turn of events that would enable Japan to solve the problem presented by that situation, operate to prevent Japan from accepting any challenge which might be construed to be contained in acts or gestures by the United States, Great Britain and the Dutch in regard to the South Seas.

  1. See telegram No. 124, June 25, 8 p.m., to the Ambassador in China, infra.
  2. Statement made to the press.
  3. Department of State Bulletin, June 28, 1941, p. 755.