From Wikipedia's Dutch East Indies Campaign:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order on 26 July 1941 which froze all of Japan's U.S. assets and embargoed all oil exports to Japan. In addition, the Dutch government in exile, at the urging of the Allies and with the support of Queen Wilhelmina, broke its economic treaty with Japan and joined the embargo in August.

But...from Wikipedia's Events Leading to Pearl Harbor:

Responding to Japanese occupation of key airfields in Indochina (July 24) following an agreement between Japan and Vichy France, the U.S. froze Japanese assets on July 26, 1941, and on August 1 established an embargo on oil and gasoline exports to Japan.

Both of those articles have citations. So now I'm left wondering exactly when the oil embargo happened. Jly 26? Aug 01? Some other date? And did the Netherlands really join late?

That really piques my curiosity. Why would the Netherlands government join such an embargo late? Surely they were informed and requested to join it in the first place. Otherwise the oil embargo from America wouldn't have accomplished much. Indonesia had more than enough oil for Japan's needs (indeed, that's why they invaded).

  • a delay of a week or so might not be such a big deal back then? It could just be because some discussions or meetings needed to be had before making the decision
    – user69715
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 4:57
  • @user69715 If so then I don't see why the US would make the embargo before doing those discussions. Why not wait to make sure the Dutch will enact it, and then why not do it "with one voice" to show strength?
    – DrZ214
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 4:57
  • 1
    Wiki overgeneralised. The decision to impose a freeze on exports was announced on 26 July. Administrative procedures were established in 1 August. Dean Acheson turned it into an embargo on 5 August by blocking the release of Japanese funds. This meant Japan could not pay for most oil, including from the Dutch, who were willing to export but only on a cash and carry basis. Thus the freeze effectively became an embargo. The Dutch and the British also froze Japanese assets, but weren't told what had happened until 13 September, or how it happened until Acheson explained his actions on the 26th.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 8:26
  • @Semaphore This would make a great answer.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


According to this article, the U.S. was the key player. Bringing in the Netherlands was almost an afterthought.

Japan obtained 80 percent of its oil at the time from the U.S., then (by far), the world's largest oil producer. Japan asked for 3.2 million barrels from the Dutch East Indies, which could only supply 1.4 million barrels, less than half of the Japanese request. Shortly before the oil embargo, the U.S. also froze Japanese credit, severely curtailing its ability to pay, meaning that even the import of 1.4 million barrels was a "one time" thing.

So the "main squeeze" had been put on by the U.S. Getting the Netherlands' cooperation only tightened the squeeze. In such a situation, the thing to do is to squeeze first and tighten later. Every day you wait for "ratification" takes that much pressure off Japan.

  • This brings up an interesting point, how exactly did Japan pay for the imported oil before the embargo? In fact I opened a new question for it: history.stackexchange.com/questions/43659/…
    – DrZ214
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 1:34
  • @DrZ214: With trade financing, from banks like J.P. Morgan. Like they still do to this day.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 3:07

The Netherlands had far better relations with Japan before the Pacific War. They played a key role in assisting the Tokugawa Shogunate to address uprisings in Southern Japan in the 1630s. In exchange, they had special access to the Japanese trading post of Dejima (which had been used by the Portuguese until that point) during a period of otherwise almost total isolation. In contrast, trade between the United States and Japan only opened reluctantly in the 1850s with the overt threat of force. Suffice to say they were not on such good terms with other western powers.

This special trading relationship remained between the Dutch and Japanese for centuries and can still be seen in modern day Nagasaki prefecture. Local specialty foods have a distinctly European influence and Dejima is being restored as a tourist destination and museum. There’s also a Dutch theme park “Huis ten Bosch” for Japanese people interested in Dutch culture being supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands. This relationship includes education with many developments in technology and medical science being introduced to Japan in Dutch or German languages via the Dutch trading post. These languages are viewed as important in medical science and some doctors in Japan today were educated in medical school in German or Dutch rather than English. Some loanwords in Japanese from this period actually originated in these languages, although they’re often mistaken for English cognates. Diplomats from Britain and The United States had to use Dutch translators at time to communicate with the Japanese who had learned the language they associated with a technologically advanced society. It is still far easier for Japanese citizens to immigrate to and start a business in The Netherlands than most other non-EU nationalities.

Thus the relationship between the Dutch and Japanese was far closer than with the Americans. It was only due to strong international pressure that the Netherlands would have joined a trade embargo of what had been of their most profitable trading partners for centuries. They would have done so only very reluctantly in response to Japanese aggression in Asia-Pacific region.

This did not end well for the Dutch (who were already not faring well in the European theatre of WW2). The Japanese then seized direct control over their colonial holdings in modern day Indonesia that they had wished to trade with for oil. The two nations then severed long established ties and efforts to restore their historically close relationships continue to this day.

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