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Britain, Soviet Russia and the Collapse of the
Versailles Order, 1919“1939

This book is a reinterpretation of international relations in the period
from 1919 to 1939. Avoiding simplistic explanations such as appease-
ment and British decline, Keith Neilson demonstrates that the under-
lying cause of the Second World War was the intellectual failure to ¬nd
an effective means of maintaining the new world order created in 1919.
With secret diplomacy, alliances and the balance of power seen as
having caused the First World War, the makers of British policy after
1919 were forced to rely on instruments of liberal internationalism such
as arms control, the League of Nations and global public opinion to
preserve peace. Using Britain™s relations with Soviet Russia as a focus
for a re-examination of Britain™s dealings with Germany and Japan, this
book shows that these tools were inadequate to deal with the physical
and ideological threats posed by Bolshevism, fascism, Naziism and
Japanese militarism.

is Professor of History at the Royal Military College
of Canada, Ontario. His previous publications include Britain and the
Last Tsar: British Policy and Russia 1894“1917 (1995) and, with Zara
Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War (2003).
Britain, Soviet Russia and the
Collapse of the Versailles
Order, 1919“1939

Keith Neilson
cambridge university press
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb2 2ru, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521857130

© Keith Neilson 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2005

isbn-13 978-0-511-14643-5 eBook (EBL)
isbn-10 0-511-14643-4 eBook (EBL)

isbn-13 978-0-521-85713-0 hardback
isbn-10 0-521-85713-9 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

page vi
List of abbreviations

Introduction 1
1 The period of persuasion: British strategic foreign policy
and Soviet Russia, 1919“1933 43
2 1933“1934: parallel interests? 88
3 A clash of sensibilities: January to June 1935 120
4 Complications and choices: July 1935“February 1936 144
5 Soviet Russian assertiveness: February 1936“July 1937 166
6 Chamberlain™s interlude: May 1937“September 1938 212
7 Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass:
October 1938“September 1939 254
Conclusion 318

Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III


While writing this book I have incurred many debts of gratitude, and it
my pleasure to acknowledge them. A number of people “ Arnd Bohm,
John Ferris, David French, Greg Kennedy, Ian Nish, Thomas Otte and
Zara Steiner “ have given me valuable advice along the way. John, David,
Greg and Zara made time in their busy schedules to read the entire
manuscript and to make valuable suggestions for its improvement, while
Arnd and Thomas clari¬ed several matters for me. While the faults in the
book remain mine alone, much of whatever is worthwhile in it results
from their assistance. I want to thank Greg Kennedy, in particular, for
sharing with me his knowledge of Anglo-American relations in the Far
East and for insisting that I should deal with a number of issues that I
otherwise would have ignored.
Research costs money. I have received funding from the Canadian
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council that made it
possible for me both to spend a good deal of time doing research
in Britain and to purchase micro¬lm. The Academic Research Pro-
gramme of the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) also funded
trips to Britain, and provided support for my attendance at various
conferences where my ideas could be tested. This support, along with
that provided by RMC™s Department of History and the College™s
Massey Library, has made it possible for me to carry out this project,
for which I am grateful.
The following have graciously given me permission to quote from the
material to which they own the copyright: the Master and Fellows of
Churchill College in the University of Cambridge; the Syndics of
Cambridge University Library; the British Library; the School of Orien-
tal and African Studies; the University Library, the University of
Birmingham; the National Maritime Museum; and the Borthwick Insti-
tute, the University of York. Crown copyright material is reproduced
by permission of the Controller of Her Majesty™s Stationery Of¬ce.

Acknowledgements vii
My sincere apologies are due to anyone whose copyright I may have
infringed unwittingly.
My greatest debt is to my family. My wife, Joan, makes all things
possible; without her love and support this book would not have been
written, and it is dedicated to her.

Adm Admiralty
AHR American Historical Review
AJPH Australian Journal of Politics and History
ATB Advisory Committee on Trade Questions in Time of
B of T Board of Trade
BIHR Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research
BJIS British Journal of International Studies
BMD British Military Delegation
Cab Cabinet
CAS chief of the Air Staff
CBH Contemporary British History
CD Central Department, FO
CEH Contemporary European History
CER Chinese Eastern Railway
CHR Canadian Historical Review
CID Committee of Imperial Defence
CIGS chief of the Imperial General Staff
CJH Canadian Journal of History
CMRS Cahiers du Monde Russe et Sovietique
COS Chiefs of Staff Committee
D&S Diplomacy and Statecraft
DCOS Deputy Chiefs of Staff Committee
DDMO&I deputy director of military operations and intelligence
disp dispatch
DMO&I director of military operations and intelligence
DNI director of naval intelligence
DOT Department of Overseas Trade
DPR Defence Policy and Requirements Committee
DPR (DR) Defence Policy and Requirements (Defence
DRC Defence Requirements Committee
List of abbreviations ix
E“AS Europe“Asia Studies
ECGD Export Credit Guarantee Department
EHQ European History Quarterly
EHR English Historical Review
eJIH electronic Journal of International History
ESR European Studies Review
FBI Federation of British Industries
FED Far Eastern Department, FO
FHS French Historical Studies
FO Foreign Of¬ce
FPC Committee on Foreign Policy
GC&CS Government Code and Cypher School
HJ Historical Journal
HR Historical Research
IA International Affairs
IDCEU Inter-Departmental Committee on Eastern Unrest
IHR International History Review
IIC Industrial Intelligence Committee
INS Intelligence and National Security
¨cher fu Geschichte Osteuropas
JbfGOE Jahrbu
JBS Journal of British Studies
JCH Journal of Contemporary History
JIC Joint Intelligence Committee
JMH Journal of Modern History
JMilH Journal of Military History
JPC Joint Planning Committee
JSMS Journal of Slavic (formerly Soviet) Military Studies
JSS Journal of Strategic Studies
L of N League of Nations
LNU League of Nations Union
MAS Modern Asian Studies
MES Middle Eastern Studies
ND Northern Department, FO
nd no date
ns no signature
PID Political Intelligence Department
PP Past and Present
PSOC Principal Supply Of¬cers™ Committee
PUS Permanent undersecretary
RAF Royal Air Force
RIIA Royal Institute of International Affairs
x List of abbreviations

RIS Review of International Studies
RN Royal Navy
RR Russian Review
SAC Strategical Appreciation Sub-Committee
SD Southern Department, FO
SEER Slavonic and East European Review
SIS Secret Intelligence Service
SR Slavic Review
SS Soviet Studies
SU/US Soviet Union/Union Sovietique
T Treasury
TCBH Twentieth Century British History
tel telegram
W&S War and Society
WH War in History
WO War Of¬ce

Contrary to Sellar and Yeatman™s famous concluding quip in 1066 and
All That, the end of the Great War did not mean that ˜History came to a
full.™1 Given that Great Britain was a sated Power even before 1914, this
was perhaps unfortunate, for any change to the status quo was likely to
threaten Britain™s global position. To deal with this, British policy
makers in the inter-war period concerned themselves with maintaining
the settlements reached in the years from 1919 to 1923 and ensuring
that any changes to policy were achieved by negotiation rather than by
force. However, British policy experienced a failure of great expect-
ations, and war broke out again a generation later. This study is an
attempt to explain why this failure happened.
The method employed here is to make a detailed examination of
Britain™s policy towards Soviet Russia in the period from 1919 to
1939. This approach needs clarification and amplification. This book is
designed to do two things. First, it aims to fill a gap in the existing
literature concerning Britain™s relations with Soviet Russia.2 However, it
is intended to be more than that, for if it dealt with only purely Anglo-

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