The Stimson Doctrine is the policy of nonrecognition of states created as a result of a war of aggression. The policy was implemented by the United States government, enunciated in a note of January 7, 1932, to the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China, of non-recognition of international territorial changes imposed by force. The doctrine was an application of the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur. Since the entry into force of the UN Charter, international law scholars have argued that states are under a legal obligation not to recognize annexations as legitimate, but this view is controversial and not supported by consistent state practice.
Named after Henry L. Stimson, United States Secretary of State in the Hoover administration (1929–1933), the policy followed Japan's unilateral seizure of Manchuria in northeastern China following action by Japanese soldiers at Mukden (now Shenyang), on September 18, 1931. The doctrine was also invoked by US Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles in the Welles Declaration on July 23, 1940, which announced non-recognition of the Soviet annexation and incorporation of the three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This remained the official US position until the Baltic states regained independence in 1991.
It was not the first time that the US had used nonrecognition as a political tool or symbolic statement. President Woodrow Wilson had refused to recognize the Mexican Revolutionary governments in 1913 and Japan's 21 Demands upon China in 1915.
The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in late 1931 placed Stimson in a difficult position. It was evident that appeals to the spirit of the Kellogg–Briand Pact had no impact on either the Chinese or the Japanese, and Stimson was further hampered by President Herbert Hoover's clear indication that he would not support economic sanctions as a means to bring peace in the Far East.
On January 7, 1932, Stimson sent similar notes to China and Japan that incorporated a diplomatic approach that had been used by earlier secretaries facing crises in the Far East. Later known as the Stimson Doctrine or sometimes the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine the notes read in part as follows:
- [T]he American Government deems it to be its duty to notify both the Imperial Japanese Government and the Government of the Chinese Republic that it cannot admit the legality of any situation de facto nor does it intend to recognize any treaty or agreement entered into between those Governments, or agents thereof, which may impair the treaty rights of the United States or its citizens in China, including those that relate to the sovereignty, the independence, or the territorial and administrative integrity of the Republic of China, or to the international policy relative to China, commonly known as the open door policy; and that it does not intend to recognize any situation, treaty, or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the covenants and obligations of the Pact of Paris of August 27th, 1928, to which treaty both China and Japan as well as the United States are parties.
Stimson had stated that the United States would not recognize any changes made in China that would curtail American treaty rights in the area, that the "open door" must be maintained, and would refuse any legitimacy to territorial changes made in violation of the 1928 Pact. The declaration had few material effects on the Western world, which was burdened by the Great Depression, and Japan went on to establish a puppet state in Manchuria and later bomb Shanghai.
The doctrine was criticized on the grounds that its only effect was to alienate the Japanese.
The Stimson Doctrine, originally intended only as a political declaration, attracted the attention of the League of Nations, which adopted a resolution on March 11, 1932 that "it is incumbent upon members of the League of Nations not to recognize any situation, treaty or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the Covenant of the League of Nations or the Pact of Paris." It also acquired legal force for the members of the Organization of American States after it was included in the Saavedra Lamas Treaty and the Montevideo Convention of 1933, later followed by the Charter of the Organization of American States of 1948.
After the entry into force of the UN Charter, international law establishes a general prohibition on the use of force. Consequently, international legal doctrine argues that annexations are illegal, and states are under a legal obligation to comply with the Stimson Doctrine by not recognizing as legitimate territorial changes made through annexations. This view, however, is controversial and not supported by consistent state practice.
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