THE inevitability and the imminence of an armed conflict between Japan and the Soviet Union are both of them matters open to doubt; and this writer is among the most skeptical. But if such a war comes, its initial course can be predicted with considerable confidence. Three underlying factors would in particular condition its character.
First of all, the initial blow would be struck by Japan. From the Russian point of view, delay is most advantageous. Each day that the stroke can be averted means a stronger, more efficient Red army at the front and a more solid industrial organization at the rear. In addition, the Soviet leaders know perfectly well the domestic advantages of a defensive war, as well as the international value of establishing a clear-cut case of aggression against their opponents. It is obvious Russian policy to postpone and await the shock.
Secondly, a Russo-Japanese war would have few naval implications. Japan's fleet is dominant in the Far East; and Russian activity at sea would be limited to minor submarine operations out of Vladivostok. Under-sea craft are reported at that port, and their forays would have considerable value in keeping Japanese war vessels at a distance, particularly aircraft carriers, and in raiding the water communications between Japan and the mainland. On the other hand, Russia's European coasts are plainly beyond Japan's reach. The two countries are alike invulnerable by sea. Thus, in the broadest sense, neither antagonist can apply military-economic pressure on the other, and any blockage of imports must be achieved through political, not armed action.
The third point requires more elaboration. It turns about the fact that the potential theatre of war is dominated by what is called the Baikal region. Lake Baikal is nested in a complex of mountains stemming out of the mid-Asiatic ranges, which in turn have to their east the dry moat of the Central Asian deserts. The Baikal mass is prolonged to the north-east by the Vitim plateau. Parallel to this
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