Captain William R. Hall, Director, Intelligence Division, to Imperial War Cabinet
Unofficial copies of the Anglo-Japanese treaties are attached for reference.1
Each of the three Treaties has a clause safeguarding the Alliance against outside Treaties which might compromise the amount of support our Ally is entitled to expect from us.
The existing Treaty and the proposed Treaty are both “defensive” treaties which is probably the ground of Mr. Balfour’s2 claim that there is no logical incompatibility but it leaves us on the fence when any question arises between America and Japan to judge which is the aggressor and which the aggrieved.
During the first fortnight of June America sent a Note to China giving advice on her internal affairs which was strongly resented by Japan as poaching on her preserves: Japan could interpret this as aggressive action touching her interests in China and so claim our support under the treaty.3
Japan is now going to be consulted and she will see what is the real underlying reason for any Agreement. This will be most inopportune at a moment when we are trying to get her to help us with requisitioned tonnage, quoting as an argument the spirit of our Treaty with her, the case not being covered by the letter.4
Source Note: TDS, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1436.
Footnote 1: The Japanese treaties referenced were not attached to this copy.
Footnote 2: British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour.
Footnote 3: On 4 June 1917, Secretary of State Robert Lansing sent a message to China urging it to focus its energies on internal problems rather than join the alliance against Germany. Japan-which had significant interests in China and hoped to dominate the country’s affairs-took offense at what it perceived to be American meddling. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909-1922: 329-330.
Footnote 4: Japan was a constant source of friction between Britain and the United States during this period. Many officers in the Royal Navy were well-disposed towards their Japanese counterparts, and Japan had been a contributing member of the Allied Powers since the early days of the war. Britain even assented to Japan occupying numerous previously German-held islands in the Pacific, as well as Tsingtau and the Kiaochow Leasehold, Germany’s colony in China. The United States, however, was increasing its influence in the Pacific at this time and was committed to Chinese independence. Many American naval officers foresaw the strong possibility of a war with Japan in the near future, and were troubled by Japan’s growing power as the war progressed. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was a major reason the British rejected a proposal by President Woodrow Wilson’s advisor, Col. Edward M. House that British warships be lent to the United States. Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909-1922: 190; 194; and 296-297.