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NEWPORT, R.I. (Dec. 10, 2012) Professor Sarah Paine discusses "Russia's Strategy: How the Strong Lose" during the U.S. Naval War College's strategy and war course. (Photo by Cmdr. Carla M. McCarthy)
NEWPORT, R.I. (Dec. 10, 2012) Professor Sarah Paine discusses "Russia's Strategy: How the Strong Lose" during the U.S. Naval War College's strategy and war course. (Photo by Cmdr. Carla M. McCarthy)
From Strategy and Policy department
Dec. 11, 2012

NEWPORT, R.I. -- This week the Strategy and War Course examines the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, a regional conflict between an established great power and a rising challenger that sought to overturn the existing balance of power.

Whereas Russia had been the dominant Eurasian land power throughout the nineteenth century, Japan started modernizing only in 1868, little more than a generation before the conflict.  Japan’s remarkably successful strategy reveals many of the key elements necessary to prosecute a regional war, notably well-thought-out coordination of the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of national power, equally well-coordinated land and sea operations, and foresight with regard to war termination.

Naval operations loomed large in determining the outcome of this conflict.  Japanese naval forces commanded by Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō neutralized the Russian navy so that the Imperial Japanese Army could land men and supplies on the Asian mainland unimpeded.  The Japanese achieved a series of notable successes at sea.  The Battle of Tsushima—at which the Russian Baltic Fleet was annihilated after steaming 18,000 miles from the Baltic Sea to Northeast Asia—is often considered a classic example of a decisive fleet engagement.

The war weariness led both sides to the negotiating table.  The termination of the war owed much to the mediation efforts played by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts.

An in-depth examination of the Russo-Japanese War, such as that carried out at the Naval War College, highlights several enduring problems in strategy and war.  

First, the Russo-Japanese War demonstrates how a weaker power can successfully wage a war for limited aims against a stronger adversary.  Second, this case study shows how difficult it can be to wage war amid rapid technological change.  Third, the engagements on land and sea raise important questions about the interactions between land and sea power and the possibilities for combining different kinds of military power to produce desired strategic outcomes.  Fourth, the war affords an opportunity to examine the influential sea power theorists Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sir Julian Corbett.  Finally, the conflict was fought in Northeast Asia, then as now an arena for regional instability and conflict.  

Examining the Russo-Japanese War thus provides a useful starting point for understanding the geopolitics, geostrategy, societies, and cultures of Northeast Asia.

Posted by Cmdr. Carla M. McCarthy