The Pact of Steel

The Pact of Steel was concluded between Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan (later to be joined by other countries) on November 25, 1936 and was directed against the former Entente, Britain and France.


The origins of the Pact of Steel go back to the autumn of 1935, when various German officials both within and without the Foreign Ministry were attempting to balance the competing demands upon the Reich’s foreign policy by its traditional alliance with China vs. Hitler’s desire for friendship with China’s archenemy, Japan. In October 1935, the idea was mooted that an anti-imperialist alliance might be able to tie in the Kuomintang regime, Japan and Germany. In particular, this idea appealed to Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Special Ambassador at Large and head of the Dienststelle Ribbentrop and the Japanese Military Attaché in Berlin, General Oshima Hiroshi, who hoped that such an alliance might lead to China’s subordination to Japan. Lack of Chinese interest doomed the project’s original intention, but October-November 1935, Ribbentrop and Oshima worked out a treaty directed against the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and France. The Pact was to be originally introduced in late November 1935 with invitations for Italy and China to join. However, concerns by the German Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath and War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg that the pact might damage Chinese-German relations plus political disarray in Tokyo following the failed military coup of February 26, 1936 led to the Pact’s being shelved for a year. By the summer of 1936, the increased influence of the military in the Japanese government and concerns in Berlin and Tokyo about the Franco-Polish alliance led to the idea of the Anti-Comintern Pact being revived. The Pact was initialed on October 23, 1936, and signed on November 25, 1936. In order to avoid damaging relations with the Soviet Union, the Pact was supposedly directed only against the nations of France and the United Kingdom, but in fact contained a secret agreement that in the event of either signatory power becoming involved with a war with the Soviet Union, the other signatory power would maintain a benevolent neutrality.


In case of an attack by the Soviet Union against Germany or Japan, the two countries agreed to consult on what measures to take “to safeguard their common interests”. Germany also agreed to recognize Manchukuo.

Formation of Axis Powers

On November 6, 1937, Italy also joined the pact, thereby forming the group that would later be known as the Axis Powers. Italy’s decision was more or less a reaction against the failed Stresa front, the Franco-British initiative of 1935 designed to keep Nazi Germany from extending beyond her present borders. In particular, both nations tried to block “German expansionism”, especially the annexation of Austria, which was also in Italy’s best interests to prevent. Distrustful relations and Benito Mussolini’s own expansionism furthered the distance between Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as France. Italy invaded the Ethiopian Empire in October 1935, an act of unprovoked aggression that was a breach of League of Nations policy. Nevertheless, Britain and France hashed out a secret agreement with Italy to give her two-thirds of Ethiopia, the Hoare-Laval Pact. When this information was leaked to the public in Britain and France, their governments were mired in scandal and the British Foreign Secretary, Samuel Hoare, was forced to resign. Consequently, the Hoare-Laval Pact was aborted.

Attempts to improve Anglo-German Relations

Earlier, in June 1935, the surprise Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed between the United Kingdom and Nazi Germany. This marked the beginning of a series of attempts by Adolf Hitler to improve relations between the two countries, form a pact, and split the UK from France.

Hitler also made an effort to influence the Soviet Union into joining the Pact of Steel and spoke of his intention to settle territorial disputes. However, Stalin refused Germany’s terms, hesitantly fearing the lack of a buffer between Germany and the Soviet Union.

At the time, many Japanese politicians, including Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, were shocked by the Anglo-German naval agreement, but the leaders of the military clique then in control in Tokyo concluded (correctly) that it was a ruse designed to buy the Nazis time to match the British navy. They continued to plot war against either the Soviet Union or the Western democracies, assuming Germany would occupy their potential European enemies.


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