Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Germany and Japan signed a largely symbolic agreement out of mutual self-interest, signaling a proto-Axis alliance that was conceived as a means of confronting the Soviet Union with a two-front war. Hitler ignored and abrogated the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1939 with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but Japan showed little interest in being drawn into a European conflict.

Summary of Event

On November 25, 1936, Adolf Hitler announced that he had signed an anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. Foreign correspondent William L. Shirer, then in Berlin, recalled that Hitler claimed that the two countries had banded together to defend Western civilization. Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin’s Comintern Comintern (Communist International) was aiding Communist activities throughout the world, especially in those countries that seemed on the brink of revolution. Exploiting Western fears of Communist subversion, Hitler deflected attention away from his own aggressive actions at home and abroad, and by suggesting that he was helping to isolate the Soviet Union as a rogue nation, Hitler sought to obscure his efforts to promulgate German hegemony in Europe. The success of his efforts was at least partly dependent on whether he could convince the British that it was in their best interests to cooperate with Germany. [kw]Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact (Nov. 25, 1936) [kw]Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany and (Nov. 25, 1936) [kw]Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany and Japan Sign the (Nov. 25, 1936)[Anti Comintern Pact, Germany and Japan Sign the (Nov. 25, 1936)] [kw]Pact, Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern (Nov. 25, 1936) Anti-Comintern Pact (1936)[Anticomintern Pact] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];prewar period Japan;Anti-Comintern Pact[Anticomintern Pact] Germany;Anti-Comintern Pact[Anticomintern Pact] [g]East Asia;Nov. 25, 1936: Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact[09300] [g]Germany;Nov. 25, 1936: Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact[09300] [g]Japan;Nov. 25, 1936: Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact[09300] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 25, 1936: Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact[09300] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 25, 1936: Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact[09300] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Nov. 25, 1936: Germany and Japan Sign the Anti-Comintern Pact[09300] Hitler, Adolf Hitler, Adolf;Anti-Comintern Pact Chamberlain, Neville Ribbentrop, Joachim von Molotov, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Stalin, Joseph

The treaty with Japan also had a secret protocol: In the event of a Soviet attack on either country, Germany and Japan would work together to preserve their common interests and do nothing to support Soviet policies, including signing any agreements with the Soviet Union that did not have the approval of both Germany and Japan. Hitler consolidated his alliance of fascist countries when he persuaded Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, Mussolini, Benito Mussolini, Benito;Anti-Comintern Pact to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact on November 6, 1937.

Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 demonstrated that his rationale for promoting the Anti-Comintern Pact was sound. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain rejected a Soviet request for a conference of nations that would seek to check any further German expansion. Not only was Chamberlain unwilling to use force against Hitler, he was not even willing to exert concerted diplomatic action against Germany’s growing power. Hitler correctly calculated that the West’s suspicion of Stalin would prevent any significant effort to halt German efforts to dominate Europe. That Hitler already had in hand an axis of powers on his side—Italy and Japan—did not seem to trouble Chamberlain.

As 1938 wore on, Hitler continued to use the Anti-Comintern Pact as a kind of cover for his territorial designs. In the events leading up to his takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1939, he demanded that the Czechs sign the pact, which served as a pretext for his claim that Czechoslovakia was somehow pursuing a foreign policy inimical to both German and Western interests.

By the end of October of 1938, Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had been advancing the German claim to the Polish city of Danzig, requested that Poland also sign the Anti-Comintern Pact, which had become a kind of German test of any European country’s determination to resist the Third Reich’s foreign policy (masked, as always, as an anti-Soviet program). In other words, if the Poles wished to show their good faith and demonstrate their anti-Communist credentials, they had to be willing to join the Anti-Comintern Pact. In return for acceding to an alliance with Germany, the Poles would receive a renewed guarantee that Germany would respect Poland’s borders. Poland had fought a war against the Soviet Union in 1920 and was traditionally anti-Russian, and so Hitler could present his demands in the guise of an effort to protect the very country he would soon invade. The Poles, however, refused to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact, which to them would mean acknowledging Germany’s preeminence in central Europe.

The more Hitler emphasized the importance of the Anti-Comintern Pact, the harder it was for Western leaders like Chamberlain to include the Soviet Union in any effort to check belligerent German foreign policy. At any rate, for Chamberlain any act in concert with the Soviet Union meant that he would simply be strengthening the ties of the countries that had already signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. That the pact itself was not much more than Hitler’s ruse never seems to have occurred to Chamberlain. Indeed, by April of 1939, Hitler’s speeches no longer contained his customary anti-Soviet language, although fascist Spain signed the Anti-Comintern Pact on April 5. In fact, in October of 1938, Stalin had opened secret negotiations with Hitler in a reaction against Chamberlain’s continued refusal to include the Soviet Union in efforts to check German expansionism.

The minor importance Hitler actually placed on the Anti-Comintern Pact was made apparent when German diplomats did not object to the demands of Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov that the German government offer concrete proof of its intention to fundamentally alter its hostile policy toward the Soviet Union. Hitler acceded to the Soviet demand that he sign a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, and he signaled this major policy shift by sending Ribbentrop to the Soviet Union to meet with Molotov, a sign of respect that the British had never accorded the Soviets.

Ribbentrop explained to Molotov that the Anti-Comintern Pact had never really been directed against the Soviet Union but rather against the Western democracies. At this meeting of foreign ministers, Stalin seemed to agree with Ribbentrop and with German foreign policy: The Soviet leader said that the pact had in fact intimidated British financiers and shopkeepers, presumably because it showed the weight Germany could bring to world affairs and, more important, foreshadowed the diminution of the British Empire. Ribbentrop then told Stalin that the joke in Berlin was that soon Stalin himself would join the Anti-Comintern Pact. [p]Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939)[Nazi Soviet Pact] Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939)[Molotov Ribbentrop Pact] With the signing of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact (known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in 1939, the Anti-Comintern Pact was effectively abrogated, but the Soviet Union abolished the Comintern in 1943 in an attempt to placate its Western allies.

Significance

As historian John Lukacs has argued, before the beginning of World War II, Hitler had created an astoundingly successful foreign policy record. Virtually all of his major objectives had been achieved: rearmament, the reoccupation of the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria, and the takeover of Czechoslovakia. The Anti-Comintern Pact was part of Hitler’s clever effort to mask his anti-Western foreign policy with a seemingly aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union. In particular, he aimed to dupe Britain into believing that the two countries both opposed Stalin. In fact, to some extent, the two countries did share concerns about the threat of Communist subversion, and Hitler wanted to maintain an alliance with Britain as long as Chamberlain continued to appease him. After a British alliance failed to materialize, however, and after Stalin agreed to the nonaggression pact, the need for the Anti-Comintern Pact evaporated. In the meantime, the Anti-Comintern Pact had served its purpose: It had allowed Hitler to give the impression of being a friend to Western democracy while simultaneously forcing the unification of Germany, Japan, and the fascist powers in Italy and Spain. Anti-Comintern Pact (1936)[Anticomintern Pact] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];prewar period Japan;Anti-Comintern Pact[Anticomintern Pact] Germany;Anti-Comintern Pact[Anticomintern Pact]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. The second volume of Kershaw’s acclaimed biography of Hitler (the first was Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris). Accords Ribbentrop a central role in strengthening Germany’s alliance with Japan, a role that the professionals in the German Foreign Office belittled because they considered Japan a sideshow. In effect, Ribbentrop was establishing an alternative foreign policy that found favor with Hitler.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lukacs, John. The Hitler of History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Although this book does not specifically deal with the Anti-Comintern Pact, it is an indispensable and concise explanation of why Hitler’s foreign policy was so successful until the beginning of World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Ballantine, 1991. Classic work is still one of the most readable and informative histories of the Third Reich. Although Shirer’s research has been superseded in some respects, this remains one of the best introductions to the Nazi era, especially given that the author witnessed many of Hitler’s actions while serving as a foreign correspondent in Berlin.

Lenin Establishes the Comintern

Hitler Comes to Power in Germany

Great Blood Purge

German Troops March into the Rhineland

The Anschluss

Munich Conference

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