Washington Conference on Naval Limitations 1921-22

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Washington Conference on Naval Limitations (1921-22)


a conference that fixed the correlation of forces that took shape after World War I between the imperialist powers in the Far East. It was held in Washington from Nov. 12, 1921, to Feb. 6, 1922. The USA, Great Britain, China, Japan, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal participated in the work of the conference; delegates from British dominions and a delegate speaking for India also attended. The conference was convened on the initiative of the USA, which counted on attaining a resolution of the naval armaments question favorable to itself and consolidating the new correlation of forces among the imperialist powers in China and the basin of the Pacific Ocean. The conference was directed against the national liberation movement of the peoples of the colonial and dependent countries and against the Soviet state. The Soviet government did not receive an invitation to the Washington Conference, and on July 19, 1921, and Nov. 2, 1921, it announced its protest against the elimination of the RSFSR—one of the chief Pacific powers—from participation in the work of the conference. On Dec. 8, 1921, the Soviet government sent a protest against the discussion of the issue of the Chinese Eastern Railway—a question “that concerned China and Russia exclusively”—at the conference. A delegation from the Far Eastern Republic arrived in Washington in December 1921, but it was not admitted to the conference. The following basic documents were worked out and signed at the Washington Conference: the Four-Power Treaty, the Five-Power Treaty, the Nine-Power Treaty, and a treaty concerning China.

The Four-Power Treaty (the USA, Great Britain, France, and Japan) provided for joint defense of the territorial “rights” of the contracting countries in the Pacific Ocean. Signed on Dec. 13, 1921, this agreement had the object of uniting the imperialist forces against the national liberation movement of the peoples of the basin of the Pacific Ocean and the Far East. The agreement also provided (under pressure of American diplomacy) for the liquidation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance (1902), which at that time was directed against the plans of the USA in the Far East and Pacific basin. The Anglo-Japanese alliance was also opposed by some British dominions (first of all, Canada), which feared the strengthening of Japan at the expense of China and the other countries of the Far East.

The Five-Power Treaty (the USA, Great Britain, Japan, France, and Italy) limited naval armaments and changed the correlation of these armaments in favor of the USA. It was signed on Feb. 6, 1922. In signing this treaty, Great Britain affirmed its forced consent to the renunciation of unconditional predominance on the seas. The treaty established the following fixed ratio for the maximum tonnage of the battle fleets of the signatories: the USA, 5; Great Britain, 5; Japan, 3; France, 1.75; and Italy, 1.75. The total tonnage of battleships subject to replacement was not to exceed the following figures: for the USA and Great Britain, 525,000 tons each; for Japan, 315,000 tons; and for Italy and France, 175,000 tons each. The tonnage of aircraft carriers was also established: for the USA and Great Britain, 135,000 tons; for Japan, 81,000 tons; and for Italy and France, 60,000 tons each. However, the total tonnage of the navies of the powers was not restricted, and the superiority of the fleet of Great Britain was thus actually preserved. Japan obtained the commitments of the American and English governments not to build new bases on the islands of the Pacific Ocean east of 110° E long, (with the exception of islands off the coast of the USA, Canada, Alaska, the Panama Canal Zone, Australia, New Zealand, and the Hawaiian Islands); thus it was ensured serious strategical advantages in this region.

The Nine-Power Treaty (the USA, Great Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and China), signed Feb. 6, 1922, granted the signatory states “equal opportunities” in China in the sphere of commercial and entrepreneurial activity, and it obligated them not to have recourse to the exploitation of internal circumstances in China in order to obtain special rights and privileges that could damage the rights and interests of the other signatories. The parties to the treaty viewed China as a common object of exploitation. The treaty was directed against Japan’s claims to monopolistic predominance in China. It corresponded to the American “open door” policy, by means of which the USA expected to drive its rivals out of China. Still earlier, on Feb. 4, 1922, Japan had been forced to sign the so-called Washington Agreement—a Sino-Japanese agreement that provided for the evacuation of Japanese troops from the Chinese province of Shantung and for the return to China of the Tsingtao-Chinan railroad and the territory of Kiaochow. The head of the Japanese delegation pledged that the Japanese government would not demand that the Chinese government fulfill the fifth group of Japan’s Twenty-one Demands (on appointing Japanese advisers to the Chinese government and so on). However, Japan refused China’s demand that Japanese troops be withdrawn from Southern Manchuria.

Simultaneous with the Nine-Power Treaty, the treaty on the Chinese customs tariff, which consolidated China’s unequal trade rights, was signed on Feb. 6, 1922.

The Washington Conference did not alter the existing situation on the Chinese Eastern Railway. As a result of the firm protests of the governments of the RSFSR and China, as well as the differences among the states that participated in the conference, the American plan of seizing the dominant positions on the railway under the guise of its “internationalization” was not adopted. The decisions reached at the Washington Conference concluded the process of redivision of colonial possessions and spheres of influence of the imperialist states in the Pacific Ocean and Far East, a process that began after World War I. American imperialism obtained a number of important concessions from Great Britain and Japan. At the same time, the equilibrium that took shape as a result of the Washington Conference was an unstable one. Even at the conference itself, the USA declared that Japanese concessions in China were insufficient. Japan, in turn, embarked on the path of revision of the decisions of the Washington Conference immediately after its conclusion.


Vashingtonskaia konferentsiia po ogranicheniiu vooruzhenii i tikhooke ans kim i dal’ nevostochnym voprosam 1921-1922 gg. Complete translation of acts and documents by A. V. Sabanin. Moscow, 1924.
Sovetsko-amerikanskie otnosheniia 1919-1933: Sb. dokumentov po mezhdunarodnoi politike i mezhdunarodnomu pravu, no. 9. Moscow, 1934.


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Sullivan, M. The Great Adventure at Washington: The Story of theConference. London, 1922.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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