According to Wikipedia the Japanese were the de facto leaders of the foreign anti-Bolshevik intervention in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. The other foreign powers pulled out by 1920, presumably having decided it was a hopeless cause. The Japanese kept 70,000 troops there through the spring of 1922, during which time they fought off more than one Bolshevik assault. And then by October 1922, they unilaterally withdrew, apparently with many bitter recriminations at home.

This is a stark contrast (to put it mildly) to the approach Imperial Japan later took to military intervention on the mainland. So what was going on? Was there strong domestic opposition to the intervention in Siberia? If so, why?

  • 3
    Doesn't the info in the Effects on Japanese politics section of the page, coupled with this info in the paragragh prior answer the question? (cont'd)
    – Kerry L
    Sep 27, 2018 at 13:11
  • (cont'd) "After the international coalition withdrew its forces, the Japanese Army stayed on. However, political opposition prevented the Army from annexing the resource-rich region. Japan continued to support White Movement leader Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak until his defeat and capture in 1920, and also supported the regime of Ataman Semenov, who should take control under the buffer state in the future and whose unstable government collapsed by 1922."
    – Kerry L
    Sep 27, 2018 at 13:11

2 Answers 2


Yes, strong diplomatic and domestic opposition was the reason the intervention was abandoned.

The Siberian Intervention was not a profitable venture; it is remote, with a hostile populace, neighbours USSR, a large hostile nation, and whose resource riches could not be readily extracted. With no clear end in sight, domestic opposition grew.

And yet, while the people were greatly cheered by the victories of the nation’s soldiers and sailors in acquiring overseas possessions, the experience was inevitably soured by the fact that they were required to pay for the increased defense establishment necessary to hold the new gains. The Siberian Intervention brought the Japanese people no victories to celebrate, no apparent opportunities for profit, and no hope of a rapid conclusion. It should not surprise us it was unpopular.

Why would being unpopular force a withdrawal? This can be surprising given what we know about how militaristic and expansionist Imperial Japan was, especially from the 1930's on. This is where the time period matters; although Imperial Japan has always had the fatal problem of military factionalism, the 1920's represented a brief resurgence in democracy and civilian government - sometimes called the "Taisho Democracy".

Things really became worse during the 1930's, with the Great Depression and economic troubles, a series of political assassinations, the annexation of Manchuria, leaving the League of Nations, all happened within this decade.

By contrast, the early 1920's saw Japan greatly affected by the victory of western democratic nations in WWI, chiefly Britain and USA, and there was a sense that Japan should embrace their values of democracy and international cooperation in order to achieve greatness, in stark contrast to the militaristic autarky of the defeated Central Powers, chiefly Germany, whose military was the model for Japan's.

Yet the immediate aftermath of World War I provided Japanese dissatisfied with the imperial experience a new lexicon to criticize the imperial adventure in Siberia and, indeed, a new paradigm by which to define the basic characteristics of a “modern state.” The victorious “allied and associated” powers shared a commitment to democracy, constitutionalism, and a more cooperative style of foreign relations, rejecting the outright conquest and drive for autarchy that had failed the central powers. To truly rank itself among the rekkoku, or great powers, meant Japan too must embrace the ideas, social institutions, and approaches to foreign relations that had seemingly propelled Britain and the United States into the very front ranks of international power. “The defeat of Germany,” said Hamaguchi Osachi of the Kenseikai, “has deeply implanted the idea that bureaucratism and militarism have declined and that politics must be modeled entirely upon democracy. The great tide of democracy is overwhelming the entire world at this moment.”

Thus the intervention lacked legitimacy, both international and domestic. The intervention began as a multi-national venture to bring Russia back into WWI. The armistice rendered that moot, so the mission became the rescue of the Czechoslovak Legion. Once that was completed in 1920, everyone except Japan withdrew, isolating Japan, whose continued presence could not be seen as anything but expansionism. In later years, although Japan became isolated internationally, domestic legitimacy in their military adventures was still considered important, justified with reasons such as mutual prosperity and defense.

Reference: “A Great Disobedience Against the People”: Popular Press Criticism of Japan’s Siberian Intervention, 1918–22 by Paul E. Dunscomb

  • 3
    Good answer. To add to the point about expenses, the military was eating up 49% of Japan's national budget by 1921, excluding the costs of the intervention. Rising taxes in a period of soaring inflation cumulated in massive domestic discontent.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 27, 2018 at 13:24

WP: Siberian Intervention, emphasis mine:

The Japanese army provided military support to the Japanese-backed Provisional Priamur Government based in Vladivostok against the Moscow-backed Far Eastern Republic. The continued Japanese presence concerned the United States, which suspected that Japan had territorial designs on Siberia and the Russian Far East. Subjected to intense diplomatic pressure by the United States and the United Kingdom, and facing increasing domestic opposition due to the economic and human cost, the administration of Prime Minister Kato Tomosaburo withdrew the Japanese forces in October 1922.

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