The Northern Expansion Doctrine was the idea that Japan should pursue its imperialist objectives through Siberia, which was diametrically opposed by the Southern Expansion Doctrine which was the idea that Japan should pursue its imperialist objectives in the Pacific.

I know that the Southern Expansion Doctrine was supported by the navy and became the controlling doctrine for Japan's military actions after failure of the Northern Expansion Doctrine epitomized by the defeat of the Japanese army by the Soviet Union at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, but I cannot find any information about the formation of the Northern Expansion Doctrine. There is information out there about the genesis of the Southern Expansion Doctrine, but not the Northern Expansion Doctrine.

My question is what was the genesis of the Northern Expansion Doctrine within the Japanese military, and government?

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    I think we underestimate the power of ignorance and power/fame hunger of military leaders that created several conflicts between Navy and Army, and often praised heroic war efforts even if it brings destruction to Japan. I think part of the answer is very much along the famous quote, "because it is there".
    – Greg
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 5:29

2 Answers 2


The argument for the northern expansion doctrine, was that Japan had beaten Russia in 1905, and perhaps could do so again, whereas Japan never had a history of beating the United States. Also, Germany was attacking the Soviet Union (and not the U.S.), meaning that even if Japan lost a fight against the Soviet Union, it might weaken the Soviets enough to allow the Germans to win.

There were two arguments against the northern doctrine. The first was that Japan had lost recent "trial heats" to the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. The second was that the Japanese navy was much stronger relative to the U.S. navy (in 1941) than the Japanese army would be to the Russian army. Absent help from Germany, Japan would actually have a better chance against the United States.

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    OP asked for the origin for northern expansion doctrine, meaning long before WWII. I don't think he meant 1941-1942.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 8:12
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    kubanczyk: OP asked for the argument, not the origin, of the northern expansion doctrine. And he specifically said "during world war II."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 14:59

Think about the global power balance at the time. Imperial Japan was a rising power that wants to expand against older, more entrenched alliances. Towards the south, it faced the maritime power of the United States which has a strong interest in keeping the Pacific and SE-Asia under her control. Towards the north, it faced the USSR. The Japanese leadership at the time had the confidence to either defeat USSR on land or the USA at sea - but not both. Hence the birth of the "Northern" and "Southern" doctrines.

For most of the time until 1936, the "Northern" doctrine was the leading doctrine in the military. This was primarily because of two reasons. First, Japan had just recently conquered Northeastern China (Manchuria), which it sought to build as a new homeland for the Japanese people. In fact, immigrants had already began arriving, and the risk of losing Manchuria was becoming unacceptable. Second, the Army believed itself to be the creator of Japanese destiny and thus supported the Northern doctrine fervently - just as the Navy supported the Southern doctrine. At the time, the Army had more influence at the top echelons of Japanese decision-makers (in particular the Imperial General Headquarters). Finally, Japan was forming rather close ties with Germany which was (nominally at least) very hostile to the USSR; and at the same time Japan benefited from its trade relationship with the USA. This made USSR the natural enemy.

A few things changed during 1936-1939. First, the London Naval Treaty of 1930 ended, and the Imperial Navy began a period of drastic expansion. And - as anyone familiar with history surely knows - the more military capacity you have, the more you begin to look for enemies. In addition, as Germany began to take over Europe, there was a power vacuum in Southeast Asia - particularly Indonesia, with its rich natural resources. To make a compromise between the Army and the Navy, the Japanese leadership ultimately decided to appease both sides - by pursuing a strategy of expanding in both directions.

By the time 1939 arrived, however, the Northern doctrine had already lost most of its appeal. The army lost a lot of credibility with its drastic over-expectations of "conquering China in three months". With much of the Army trapped in China, creating a second front against USSR become infeasible. The Imperial Army apparently did not see this, however, and decided to launch a major offensive (without the Emperor's permission) against the USSR after some casual harassment from Mongolian troops. This resulted in the disaster in the Battles of Khalkhin Gol, and the Army lost its credibility completely. And while Japanese troops were being slaughtered, Hitler signed a non-Aggression Pact with Stalin - and thus the Northern Doctrine fell apart.

Main source: http://big5.ifeng.com/gate/big5/news.ifeng.com/history/shijieshi/detail_2010_09/25/2618652_1.shtml (in Chinese)

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