Stimson Doctrine

The Stimson Doctrine is the policy of nonrecognition of states created as a result of aggression.[1][2][3] The policy was implemented by the United States federal 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 that were executed by force. The doctrine was an application of the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur.[4] While some analysts have applied the doctrine in opposition to governments established by revolution, this usage is not widespread, and its invocation usually involves treaty violations.[4]


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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8]

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:

...the 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....[9]

Stimson had stated that the United States would not recognize any changes made in China that would curtail American treaty rights in the area and that the "open door" must be maintained. 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.[8]

The doctrine was criticized on the grounds that its only effect was to alienate the Japanese.[10]


  1. ^ States in international law, by Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ^ O’Mahoney, Joseph (2018). Denying the Spoils of War: The Politics of Invasion and Non-recognition. Edinburgh University Press. doi:10.3366/j.ctt1tqx9nb. ISBN 978-1-4744-3443-0.
  3. ^ O’Mahoney, Joseph (2014-09-01). "Rule tensions and the dynamics of institutional change: From 'to the victor go the spoils' to the Stimson Doctrine". European Journal of International Relations. 20 (3): 834–857. doi:10.1177/1354066113483781. ISSN 1354-0661.
  4. ^ a b Bin Cheng, Georg (FRW) Schwarzenberger (2006). General principles of law as applied by international courts and tribunals. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-03000-7.
  5. ^ "Stimson Doctrine, 1932". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  6. ^ John Hiden; Vahur Made; David J. Smith (2008). The Baltic question during the Cold War. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-37100-1.
  7. ^ Securing Japan: Tokyo's Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia, Author=Richard J. Samuels[full citation needed]
  8. ^ a b George C. Herring (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 978-0-19-507822-0.
  9. ^ Reginald G. Bassett (1968). Democracy and Foreign Policy. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-2209-5.
  10. ^ Marc S. Gallicchio (1988). The Cold War Begins in Asia. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-06502-3.


  • Clauss, Errol MacGregor. "The Roosevelt Administration and Manchukuo, 1933–1941," Historian (Aug. 1970) Volume 32, Issue 4, pages 595–611 online
  • Current, Richard N. "The Stimson Doctrine and the Hoover Doctrine," American Historical Review Vol. 59, No. 3 (Apr., 1954), pp. 513–542 in JSTOR
  • Findling, J. E. (1980). Dictionary of American Diplomatic History, Westport: Greenwood Press, pp. 457–458.
  • Meiertöns, Heiko (2010): The Doctrines of US Security Policy - An Evaluation under International Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-76648-7.
  • Wright, Quincy. "The Legal Foundation of the Stimson Doctrine," Pacific Affairs Vol. 8, No. 4 (Dec., 1935), pp. 439–446 in JSTOR