Treaty of Portsmouth Ended Russo-Japanese War

Treaty Of Portsmouth
US President Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919, centre) introduces Russian and Japanese delegates at the Portsmouth Peace Conference, during negotiations at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, USA, August 1905. Next to Roosevelt at centre, right is Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Komura Jutaro (1855 - 1911). The conference led to the Treaty of Portsmouth and the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. Roosevelt was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the negotiations.

 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Treaty of Portsmouth was a peace agreement signed on September 5, 1905, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, United States, which officially ended the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 – 1905. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in brokering the pact.

Fast Facts: Treaty of Portsmouth

  • The Treaty of Portsmouth was a peace agreement between Russia and Japan, brokered by the United States. It put an end to the Russo-Japanese War, fought from February 8, 1904 to September 5, 1905, when the treaty was signed.
  • Negotiations focused on three key issues: access to Manchurian and Korean ports, control of Sakhalin Island, and payment of the financial costs of the war.
  • The Treaty of Portsmouth led to nearly 30 years of peace between Japan and Russia, and earned President Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

The Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904 – 1905 was fought between the Empire of Russia, a modernized world military power, and the Empire of Japan, a largely agrarian nation just starting to develop its industrial sector.

Since the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, both Russia and Japan had clashed over their competing imperialistic ambitions in areas of Manchuria and Korea. By 1904, Russia controlled Port Arthur, a strategically important warm water seaport on the southern tip of Manchuria’s Liaodong Peninsula. After Russia helped put down an attempted Japanese coup in adjacent Korea, war between the two nations seemed inevitable.

On February 8, 1904, the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet harbored at Port Arthur before sending a declaration of war to Moscow. The surprise nature of the attack helped Japan gain an early victory. Over the next year, Japanese forces won important victories in Korea and the Sea of Japan. However, casualties were high on both sides. In the bloody Battle of Mukden alone, some 60,000 Russian and 41,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. By 1905, the human and financial costs of war led both countries to seek peace.

Terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth

Japan asked U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to act as the intermediary to negotiating a peace agreement with Russia. Hoping to maintain an equal balance of power and economic opportunity in the region, Roosevelt desired a pact that would allow both Japan and Russia to maintain their influence in East Asia. Though he had publicly supported Japan at the start of the war, Roosevelt feared that America’s interests in the region could suffer if Russia was driven out completely.

Portsmouth Peace Conference
Russian and Japanese diplomats seated at the negotiating table during the Portsmouth Peace Conference. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Negotiations focused on three key issues: access to Manchurian and Korean ports, control of Sakhalin Island, and payment of the financial costs of the war. Japan’s priorities were: the division of control in Korea and South Manchuria, the sharing of war costs, and control of Sakhalin. Russia demanded continued control of Sakhalin Island, flatly refused to reimburse Japan for its war costs, and sought to maintain its Pacific fleet. Payment of war costs turned out to be the most difficult negotiation point. In fact, the war had so badly depleted Russia’s finances, it would have probably been unable to pay any war costs even if required to do so by the treaty.

Delegates agreed to declare an immediate cease-fire. Russia recognized Japan’s claim to Korea and agreed to withdraw its forces from Manchuria. Russia also agreed to return its lease of Port Arthur in southern Manchuria to China and give up its railroad and mining concessions in southern Manchuria to Japan. Russia retained control of the Chinese Eastern Railway in northern Manchuria.

When negotiations stalled over control of Sakhalin and payment of war debts, President Roosevelt suggested that Russia “buy back” the northern half of Sakhalin from Japan. Russia flatly refused to pay money its people might see as an indemnity for territory their soldiers had paid for with their lives. After a lengthy debate, Japan agreed to drop all of its claims for reparations in return for the southern half of Sakhalin Island.

Historical Significance

The Treaty of Portsmouth led to nearly 30 years of peace between Japan and Russia. Japan emerged as the main power in East Asia, as Russia was forced to drop its imperialistic aspirations in the region. However, the agreement did not sit well with the people of either country.

Russian-Japanese Peace Conference building -- Portsmouth, N.H.
Postcard shows the building at the Portsmouth Navy Yard where the peace talks were held, the Hotel Wentworth, and flags of Japan and Russia, all superimposed on an American flag. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

The Japanese people considered themselves the victors and saw the refusal of war reparations as an act of disrespect. Protests and riots broke out in Tokyo when the terms were announced. At the same time, being forced to give up half of Sakhalin Island angered the Russian people. However, neither the average Japanese nor Russian citizen was aware of how badly the war had damaged the economies of their respective countries.

During the war and the peace talks, the American people generally felt Japan was fighting a “just war” against Russian aggression in East Asia. Viewing Japan as being fully committed to the U.S. Open Door policy of preserving the territorial integrity of China, Americans were anxious to support it. However, the negative, sometimes anti-American reaction to the treaty in Japan surprised and angered many Americans.

Indeed, the Treaty of Portsmouth marked the last meaningful period of U.S.-Japanese cooperation until the post-World War II reconstruction of Japan in 1945. At the same time, however, relations between Japan and Russia warmed as a result of the treaty.

While he never actually attended the peace talks, and the actual extent of his influence on leaders in Tokyo and Moscow remained unclear, President Roosevelt was widely praised for his efforts. In 1906, he became the first of three sitting U.S. presidents to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sources and Further Reference

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Longley, Robert. "Treaty of Portsmouth Ended Russo-Japanese War." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Longley, Robert. (2021, December 6). Treaty of Portsmouth Ended Russo-Japanese War. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "Treaty of Portsmouth Ended Russo-Japanese War." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).