Ironically, Togo became ambassador to Germany in 1937, but his tenure was short because of his views, and in 1938, pro-Nazi Oshima Hiroshi replaced him. That same year, Togo became ambassador to the Soviet Union, where he played a major role in settling a long-standing dispute over fishing rights in the northern Pacific. He also helped to prevent the Soviet-Japanese border clash at Nomonhan from becoming a full-scale war in the summer of 1939. Togo then launched an initiative to conclude a nonaggression pact with the Soviets. Although unsuccessful at the time, those negotiations helped to lay the groundwork for the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact of April 1941.
In November 1940, two months after the government concluded the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, Togo was recalled to Japan. Despite his opposition to the pact, Togo became foreign minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Tojo Hideki in October 1941. As Japan prepared for war with the United States and other Western powers in Asia and the Pacific, he continued to conduct last-minute negotiations with Washington through Japanese Ambassador Nomura Kichisaburo and Special Envoy Kurusu Saburo.
Following the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific on 7 December 1941, Togo and the Foreign Ministry were increasingly marginalized within the Japanese government. In the summer of 1942, the Tojo cabinet established the Greater East Asia Ministry, an umbrella organization charged with coordinating Japanese policy in occupied areas of China and Southeast Asia. Togo opposed the creation of the new ministry, not only because it took over part of the conduct of Japan's foreign relations but also because it drew personnel away from the Foreign Ministry. He resigned from his post in protest on 1 September 1942, when Tojo himself took over the Foreign Ministry portfolio.
After resigning, Togo was appointed to the House of Peers, where he remained throughout most of the war. In April 1945, he became foreign minister in the cabinet of Suzuki Kantaro. An advocate of pursuing an early peace before Japan lost all diplomatic leverage, Togo hoped at least to be able to preserve the Imperial throne. He continued an ultimately abortive effort to secure Soviet mediation with the United States during the summer of 1945. With Japan facing imminent destruction by August 1945, the Suzuki cabinet remained deadlocked over the issue of accepting unconditional surrender or fighting to the finish. By that time, Togo had emerged as the cabinet's most forceful opponent of the military's plans for a last-ditch defense of the home islands. Following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August and the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria on 9 August, Emperor Hirohito himself broke the deadlock in favor of peace. On 15 August 1945, Hirohito announced Japan's surrender.
After the war, Togo was tried for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo. He was accused of conspiring with the militarists to wage aggressive war by conducting bad-faith negotiations with the United States in order to give the military time to complete its final preparations. Togo acknowledged that he was aware of the plans for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but he claimed that he was forced by the military into continuing negotiations with the United States even after the decision for war had been made. Nevertheless, Togo was convicted on the charge of conspiracy to wage aggressive war and received a 20-year sentence. He died in Sugamo Prison, in Tokyo, on 23 July 1950. John M. Jennings
Butow, Robert. Japan's Decision to Surrender. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1954.; Iriye, Akira. The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific. New York: Longman, 1987.; Morley, James William, ed. Deterrent Diplomacy: Japan, Germany, and the USSR, 1935–1940. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.; Togo Shigenori. The Cause of Japan. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.
John M. Jennings