Cairo Declaration Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As the American military began to turn back Japanese advances in the Pacific, the leaders of the “Three Great Allies”—the United States, Great Britain, and China—met at the Cairo Conference in Cairo, Egypt, in November 1943, to discuss their postwar plans for Japan. No Soviet leaders attended, as the Soviet Union—also a major Allied power—was not yet at war with Japan and still abiding by the terms of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 1941. The Cairo Declaration outlined the Allies' intentions to reduce Japan to its pre-1914 holdings and to ensure an independent Korea, which Japan had seized in 1910. Through the Cairo Declaration, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek announced objectives containing both immediate tactical and military goals as well as larger goals relating to politics and the postwar balance of international power in the Pacific and East Asia.

Summary Overview

As the American military began to turn back Japanese advances in the Pacific, the leaders of the “Three Great Allies”—the United States, Great Britain, and China—met at the Cairo Conference in Cairo, Egypt, in November 1943, to discuss their postwar plans for Japan. No Soviet leaders attended, as the Soviet Union—also a major Allied power—was not yet at war with Japan and still abiding by the terms of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 1941. The Cairo Declaration outlined the Allies' intentions to reduce Japan to its pre-1914 holdings and to ensure an independent Korea, which Japan had seized in 1910. Through the Cairo Declaration, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek announced objectives containing both immediate tactical and military goals as well as larger goals relating to politics and the postwar balance of international power in the Pacific and East Asia.

Defining Moment

The leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and China met at the Cairo Conference from November 22 to 26, 1943, as Roosevelt and Churchill were on their way to visit Joseph Stalin in Tehran in late November 1943. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese forces and the man whom Western leaders hoped would lead China after the war, was also in Cairo.

The topic of the meeting reflected the changing power relationships among the Allies by late 1943. For instance, they primarily discussed how the Allies could help China and Chiang's forces and did not focus on the Allied strategy regarding the continuing war in Europe. The British, while still important, were exhausted by years of intense warfare against the Axis powers and were increasingly reduced to a tertiary role by late 1943 compared to the American and Russian military juggernauts.

While American forces advanced in the Pacific, Roosevelt wanted to keep China in the war and offered continued US support to the Chinese military. Keeping one million Japanese soldiers engaged in China and other parts of Southeast Asia meant American troops would not face them in their island-hopping campaign. China remained important to the United States for the role it could play in locking up a significant amount of Japanese military power and thus helping to end the war more quickly.

Chiang himself was eager to gain more help from the United States to launch counteroffensives against the Japanese in Burma, which they had occupied since 1942, and on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. At the same time, some US officials saw Chiang as corrupt and believed he was more committed to defeating the Chinese communist forces under Mao Zedong than the Japanese. Churchill remained focused on the war in Europe and considered China's concerns in the war secondary to the problems facing Great Britain.

Author Biography

President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the United States from 1933 until his death in the spring of 1945. He presided over some of the biggest challenges in the nation's history, including the Great Depression and World War II. British prime minister Winston Churchill led Britain between the spring of 1940 and the summer of 1945, but those were some of the darkest years for his nation as well. He developed a close relationship with Roosevelt and the two men consistently worked closely to achieve global victory against the Axis forces. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government in China had been focused on fighting the communist forces under Mao Zedong until the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. While this conflict was put aside to focus on the foreign invader, Chiang went on to lose the postwar battle for mainland China and was forced to relocate the remainder of his Nationalist forces to Taiwan (Formosa) in 1949 to form a noncommunist Chinese stronghold.

Historical Document

The several military missions have agreed upon future military operations against Japan. The Three Great Allies expressed their resolve to bring unrelenting pressure against their brutal enemies by sea, land, and air. This pressure is already mounting.

The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion.

It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.

Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed. The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.

With these objects in view the three Allies, in harmony with those of the United Nations at war with Japan, will continue to persevere in the serious and prolonged operations necessary to procure the unconditional surrender of Japan.

Document Analysis

The Japanese surely did not welcome the news of the Allied commitment to reduce their holdings in East Asia, but some of the wording in the declaration may also have unnerved Churchill. The language that the Allies “covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion” need not have applied directly to Great Britain, which already controlled such places as India. Many historians, however, have noted Roosevelt's antagonism toward continued European colonial empires and his desire that they fade away after the end of the war. The US-held Philippines could already expect postwar independence, and, as David M. Kennedy noted in his 2005 book Freedom from Fear, “Roosevelt frequently badgered Churchill to do the same for India, Burma, Malaya, and Hong Kong.” While Roosevelt would not live to push this agenda after the war and President Harry S. Truman reduced US calls for immediate decolonization due to the onset of the Cold War, this document reflects Roosevelt's commitment to decolonization in Southeast Asia.

The middle section of the document also reflects the American desire to dismantle what had become a Japanese empire in East Asia. Even though Japan and the United States had been allies during World War I, the Cairo Declaration announces the United States' intention to roll back Japanese territorial gains from World War I, as well as the 1931 seizure of Manchuria, the 1937 invasion of China, and the rapid, albeit eventually brief, expansion of Japanese control across the Pacific in 1941. Even ending Japanese control of Korea, which had begun in 1910, was a noted objective, extending American goals to combating even Japan's pre–World War I actions. The United States had been wary of Japanese power in the Pacific arguably ever since Japanese victory in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and definitely since Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5). Not only did the United States want to end the immediate war, but also Roosevelt and US officials sought to prevent a resurgent Japanese threat in the Pacific. Allowing such power to grow unchecked for four decades had dealt the United States a harsh lesson when the Japanese attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, which informed the Allied commitment to securing an unconditional Japanese surrender at the end of World War II.

Essential Themes

As noted in the section above, Roosevelt's long-term goals were more than just the immediate defeat of Japan. He also sought to prevent a similar hemispheric or global war in the future. Unfortunately in Europe, while he was certainly wary of growing Russian power, there was little he could do about it. Regarding Japan, however, at the time of the Cairo Conference, the United States was the sole large power effectively rolling back Japanese gains and, in fact, US forces would occupy and reshape Japan in the postwar period. Therefore, the Cairo Declaration showed Roosevelt was thinking about both short-term military objectives and the postwar settlement after Allied victory.

Likewise, the ending statement regarding the “unconditional surrender of Japan” also related to postwar objectives, although in a different way. Roosevelt first used this phrase in the Casablanca Declaration of January 1943, ten months earlier. While US power had grown significantly throughout 1943 and while the United States was likely to be the only major non-Asian nation involved in any postwar settlement in Japan, Roosevelt was still wary of Russia's growing strength and Britain's increasing weakness. Postponing discussions over territory until after the fighting ended remained Roosevelt's goal, when perhaps American strength and territorial possession could provide stronger bargaining chips in influencing postwar policies. Roosevelt was once again thinking of both the short-term military defeat of the Japanese enemy and the long-term political and territorial settlement that, due to the vast scope of World War II, would necessarily have to follow the defeat of the Axis powers.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
  • Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
  • Schaller, Michael. The US Crusade in China, 1939–1945. New York: Columbia UP, 1979. Print.
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