The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

5

The secret dimensions of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1900-1905

John Chapman1

Japan and Britain have traditionally been among the most secretive governments in the world and the thrust of this chapter contends that their collaboration as allies was attended by dimensions of secrecy considerably greater than the sum of the individual publicly admitted parts. 2 The allies agreed to restrict as far as possible information about their collaboration being passed to third parties and the official histories on both sides were confined to limited publications for internal consumption. 3 The intelligence function changed considerably over the lifetime of the Alliance: in the first treaty of January 1902, Britain acted in the role of a neutral; in the treaty of August 1905, both parties anticipated Russian revanchism; in the treaty of 1911, Britain was concerned at severing the link as 'Japan is quite likely to seek such assistance elsewhere, in a quarter least convenient for ourselves.' 4 Given that the most recent analysis of the Alliance has been conducted in breadth, a study of the intelligence function in greater depth is, arguably, best calculated to produce greater originality of explanation of the conduct of the relationship, which arguably could be likened to the proverbial curate's egg. The intelligence dimension, however, is so vast in terms of content and rationale that limited space compels restricting the focus of this essay to the period of the first Alliance and to illustrate its relevance to the roles of strategic naval and military intelligence in order to highlight the inherent tensions which were subsequently to dog the relationship.

In contemplating the problem of how to continue collecting authentic intelligence data about Russia once the diplomatic break between the two countries had occurred, the Japanese Minister at St Petersburg observed on 14 January 1904 that Britain was the most likely source of information about Russia and Sweden to supply the Chief of Intelligence in the General Staff 5 with suitable agents. 6 Minister Kurino had recognized the need for greater security precautions as a direct result of the signature of the first Alliance treaty on 30 January 1902:

Japan having entered into sphere of European politics, it seems very expedient that we should take particular care and precaution in respect of the manner of conveying our correspondence. 7

-82-

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