Strategic Underpinnings of the Russo-Japanese War

There were many reasons for the Russo-Japanese War, not all of them strategic, but these were some of the historic underpinnings of the war that changed the geopolitical balance in the world





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Russo-Japanese War

An Overview of the Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War had a lot of potential areas where it started. Perhaps the biggest items that really contributed to the rise of this kind of conflict was due to the desire to control Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. Primarily, the Russians wanted to have access to further port cities that were going to be operational more often and sought to move themselves downwards into areas that the Japanese typically considered to be under their sphere of influence.

The Russian Tsar thought they could win if they remained in war. However, as it drug on, the war became a losing proposition. This lead to the Treaty of Portsmouth, that was mediated by the US. The fact that the Japanese won a war against a European power surprised many individuals in the world and started to solidify the power that the Japanese sought to create within East Asia.


What partly set the background of the war was due to the fact that several of the Western power sought to bring Japan out of it’s period of isolation. As a result, this allowed them to become a modern state. Throughout the next several years, the Japanese wanted to show that they were equals to many of the nations that are found in the West.

The Russians, on the other hand, were seeking to start consolidating many of the areas within their sphere. Central Asia, Poland, and many other areas were becoming a part of Russia and often considered to be additional provinces for the tsar.

Sino-Japanese War

Before this particular war started, there was a war that the Japanese undertook with the Chinese Qing dynasty. This conflict led up to the Russo-Japanese War, because the Chinese undertook a war with the Japanese (which was developed in part due to the fact that the Japanese installed a puppet government in Seoul). The Chinese leased Port Arthur to the Russians for extra cash to fund their campaign against the Japanese. Eventually, the Chinese lost, and several of the European nations built up fortresses in China to base their Pacific fleets in the region.

Russian Encroachment and the Boxer Rebellion

The Russians started working on their Trans-Siberian Railway and also took projects that went further and further in the Korean peninsula. The building of these stations and railways systems caused the Boxers to start their revolt. The Qing Empire and the Boxers could not expel the Russians, who later built up their troop count within the Manchurian region.

Negotiations and a Declaration of War

At first, the Japanese wanted to negotiate with the Russians. This would allow the Russians to have Manchuria while the Japanese could control Northern Korea. Within a couple of years, the Japanese entered into an Alliance with the British, which discouraged the Russians from attacking since the British would be dragged into the conflict as well.

There were several rounds of negotiations but the Japanese soon learned that the Russians were not interested in settling for any of the issues that were presented. In regards, this was in part due to government mismanagement and the building up of a military to engage in war. What the Russians did is make a lot of errors when it came to estimating it’s strength to that of the Japanese.

The Japanese sent a declaration of war, but had already sent the navy to Port Arthur before the declaration was received by the Russians. Pretty soon both sides were engaged in a conflict-both of which were using the Manchurians within their ranks.

The Campaigns of 1904/1905

There were several battles, blockades and sieges during this war. The emphasis early on was on the issue of Port Arthur, which was blockaded initially by the Russians and were besieged by the Japanese. The result was that the Japanese were able to get the Russians to retreat back to Shenyang (then known as Mukden).

The war took a turn towards the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea. The primary concerns here were the focus on trying to delay the actions of the Japanese while the troops received supplies and backup via the newly constructed railway. The conflicts further drove the Russians to retreat.

The next year led the Japanese and Russians to have several other battles that led to the Russians to sue for peace. This was especially received after the Japanese fleet attacked one of the fleets returning home under the cover of night to avoid as much detection as possible.

Treaty of Portsmouth

As mentioned before, this was the ending result of the war. There was peace, though it was uneasy. The Russians started to turn inwards to internal affairs of the Russian state as the war caused a great deal of stress with the Russian people themselves. Additionally the Japanese started to become aware of how interested in Asia that the US had become (especially after Roosevelt supported the Russians decision to not repay the damages of war to Japan).

My Thoughts

This is an important thing to remember as we are moving away from some of these events. I feel that this was a turning point for the Japanese in the global scene. It perhaps encouraged them to take on bigger projects later on and was a way for them to show the world that Asian nations could be just as influential in the world as many of the European ones. This could have helped them to be daring with things such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and taking over many areas of Asia in the coming century.


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