Ibid., 90â€“2, 97â€“9. MI2 dealt with intelligence matters at the WO; Carmen Blacker,
â€˜Two Piggotts: Sir Francis Taylor Piggott (1852â€“1925) and Major General F. S. G.
Piggottâ€™, in Sir Hugh Cortazzi and Gordon Daniels, eds., Britain and Japan 1859â€“1991.
Themes and Personalities (London and New York, 1991), 118â€“27.
Keith Neilson, â€˜Unbroken Thread: Japan and Britain and Imperial Defence, 1920â€“
1932â€™, in Greg Kennedy, ed., British Naval Strategy East of Suez 1900â€“2000. Influences
and Actions (London and Portland, OR, 2005), 62â€“89.
Untitled memo, Barstow, 26 Feb 1924, T 161/800/S18917/1.
Tadashi Kuramatsu, â€˜Viscount Cecil, Winston Churchill and the Geneva Naval Con-
ference of 1927: si vis pacem para pacem versus si vis pacem para bellumâ€™, in T. G. Otte
and Constantine A. Pagedas, eds., Personalities, War and Diplomacy. Essays in Inter-
national History (London, 1997), 105â€“26; Kuramatsu, â€˜The Geneva Naval Conference
of 1927: The British Preparation for the Conference, December 1926 to June 1927â€™,
JSS, 19, 1 (1996), 104â€“21; David MacGregor, â€˜Former Naval Cheapskate: Chancellor
of the Exchequer Winston Churchill and the Royal Navy, 1924â€“1929â€™, Armed Forces
and Society, 19, 3 (1993), 319â€“34; Ian Hamil, â€˜Winston Churchill and the Singapore
Naval Base, 1924â€“1929â€™, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 11, 2 (1980), 277â€“86.
Robert J. Young, â€˜Spokesmen for Economic Warfare: The Industrial Intelligence
Centre in the 1930sâ€™, ESR, 6 (1976), 473â€“89.
The period of persuasion 59
the CID in 1930, Soviet Russia was chosen as its â€˜test caseâ€™.87 By
December 1930, the IIC had produced its first report. Its focus was
the impact of the First Five-Year Plan on the Soviet capacity to make
war. This report reflected the state of knowledge about both Soviet
Russiaâ€™s intentions and its military capabilities:
Recent events in and reports from the USSR make it clear that the Soviets look
on war as inevitable, and regard it as possible in the not distant future . . . The 5
Yearsâ€™ Plan aims at making the USSR industrially self-supporting, not only in
peace, but also in time of war.88
Here, the IIC had already proved its worth as an intelligence agency, and
its conclusions have been echoed by modern scholarship.89
These were concerns for the future. In early 1931, the British were
more concerned about disarmament. Here, the Soviets appeared to be
taking a greater interest than previously.90 This was significant, because,
as was noted on 18 February at a meeting of the cross-bench Three-
Party Disarmament Committee (set up to establish an united British
position for the 1932 Disarmament Conference), Soviet Russia was an
essential element in arms control. States bordering Soviet Russia were
loath to enter into any arms limitation discussions that did not permit
them to expand their forces, as they were â€˜very suspicious of Russiaâ€™.91
And Soviet Russia justified its position by professing similar fears for its
own security. Lord Robert Cecil, Britainâ€™s chief delegate at the arms
control talks at Geneva, was still optimistic. Arguing that â€˜nobody but a
lunaticâ€™ in the West now contemplated invading Soviet Russia, he con-
tended that it â€˜might be worthwhile to try to convince the Russians, if they
are honestly afraid, that fears of this kind are groundlessâ€™.92 Others were
Minutes, 1st meeting sub-committee on Industrial Intelligence, 20 Mar 1930, Cab
â€˜Report by the War Office on the trial scheme for the study of Industrial Intelligence in
the USSR, carried out during the 6 months July-December, 1930â€™, ns (but MI 3(c)),
nd, but discussed at 3rd meeting IIC, 11 Mar 1931, Cab 48/2.
Walter C. Clemens, Jnr, â€˜The Burden of Defence: Soviet Russia in the 1920sâ€™, JSMS, 9,
4 (1996), 786â€“99; Simonov, â€˜â€śStrengthen the Defence of the Land of Sovietsâ€ťâ€™;
Slepyan, â€˜Limits of Mobilisationâ€™; R. W. Davies, â€˜Soviet Military Expenditure and the
Armaments Industry, 1929â€“1933: A Reconsiderationâ€™, Eâ€“AS, 45, 4 (1993), 577â€“608;
David R. Stone, â€˜Tukhachevsky in Leningrad: Military Politics and Exile, 1928â€“1931â€™,
Eâ€“AS, 48, 8 (1996), 1365â€“86; and Lennart Samuelson, Plans for Stalinâ€™s War Machine.
Tukhachevskii and Militaryâ€“Economic Planning, 1925â€“1941 (Basingstoke and New York,
Untitled memo, Hugh Daltonâ€™s (parliamentary undersecretary, FO) conversation with
Bogomoloff (Soviet charge dâ€™affaires), 15 Jan 1931, FO 371/15701/W589/47/98.
DPC(31), minutes 2nd meeting, 18 Feb 1931, Cab 21/347; Carolyn J. Kitching,
Britain and the Problem of International Disarmament 1919â€“1934 (London, 1999), 132â€“4.
â€˜Note on the International Position of Disarmamentâ€™, R. Cecil, Mar 1931, FO 371/
15703/W2845/47/98, minutes, Cadogan (17 Mar) and Collier (19 Mar).
60 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
more doubtful. Cadogan contended that â€˜means will never be found of
convincingâ€™ Soviet Russiaâ€™s neighbours of the countryâ€™s sincerity. Collier
agreed, and pointed out that the states bordering Soviet Russia worried
not only about defending themselves against direct Soviet aggression, but
also about dealing with communist-inspired fifth columns. However,
Cecilâ€™s memorandum, combined with the concerns found in Cadoganâ€™s
and Collierâ€™s minutes, became the official Foreign Office position for the
cross-bench Three-Party Disarmament Committee.93
Austen Chamberlain raised the issue of Soviet Russia in the latter.94
He wished to know the â€˜anticipated attitudeâ€™ of Moscow at the forth-
coming Disarmament Conference and whether Germany and Soviet
Russia were collaborating on manufacturing arms. The answers re-
flected beliefs about Soviet Russia. The CIGS replied that the â€˜suspicion
of the Soviet leaders towards capitalist States and the belief that the
latterâ€™s intentions are to intervene by force in the USSR . . . [have]
recently caused the Soviet leaders to concentrate first and foremost on
military industriesâ€™.95 The CIGS, in fact, termed Soviet Russia â€˜the great
enigma and the great obstacle to any general scheme for the limitation
and reduction of armamentsâ€™.96 This dovetailed with the views of
Vansittart, who outlined Soviet Russiaâ€™s threat to disarmament in the
second of his so-called Old Adam memoranda. Having been brain-
washed by propaganda as to the threatening attitude of the external
Soon no Russian will have heard anything else. He believes in ogres, magic
formulae, si vis pacem para bellum, and the whole outfit of wicked-fairy stories.
The consequence of perpetually howling wolf is not indifference among neigh-
bours but lycanthropy at home. On such a mentality pacific professions would be
wasted, even if they got there: the Soviets never doubt what Europe says, they
just donâ€™t believe a word of it.97
Very similar views were provided by the Foreign Office in June.98 As a
result, when that committee ceased deliberating in the summer of 1931,
â€˜The Soviet Union and Disarmamentâ€™, FO, 7 Apr 1931 and correspondence, Cab 21/
DC(P), minutes 2nd meeting, 23 Apr 1931, Cab 16/102.
DC(P), minutes 3rd meeting, 7 May 1931, Cab 16/102; â€˜Note by the Chief of the
Imperial General Staff in Answer to Sir Austen Chamberlainâ€™s Question on the Military
Character of the Soviet Five Year Planâ€™, Milne (CIGS), 5 May 1931, Cab 16/102.
â€˜Military Appreciation of the Situation in Europe, March, 1931â€™, CID B-1046, Sir G.
Milne, 31 Mar 1931, Cab 4/21.
â€˜An Aspect of International Relations in 1931â€™, Vansittart, 14 May 1931, CP 125(31),
Cab 24/221; the original is in FO 371/15205/C3217/3217/62. â€˜Old Adamâ€™ refers to
â€˜The Foreign Policy of His Majestyâ€™s Government in the United Kingdomâ€™, DC(P) 35,
FO, 2 Jun 1931, confidential, Cab 16/102.
The period of persuasion 61
it had been fully apprised of the opinion held of Soviet Russia by both
the Foreign Office and the service ministries.
In fact, while the committee sat, the service ministries had been
considering possible actions against Russian incursions in the Perso-Iraq
region.99 In March, the COS decided that the JPC should undertake
further study of this matter.100 When that was done, however, the RN
found its views â€˜so divergentâ€™ from those of the other two services that a
full examination of the topic was requested.101 The RNâ€™s objections had
a historical bent; it saw in these disputed plans the roots of a campaign
that â€˜bear[s] an unfortunate resemblance to the Mesopotamia campaign
of the late warâ€™.102 The director of plans at the Admiralty argued at
length against the JPCâ€™s ideas, but the entire matter was deferred until
late November. At that time, the chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Sir John
Salmond, insisted that the issue be resolved.103 The result was a meeting
of the JPC on 10 December.104 At it, the RN objected to the plans of the
other two services, plans based on seizing an advanced base in Persia.
The RN preferred a more limited defence of the Persian oil fields. A
deadlock ensued. Nothing further was done until March 1933, when it
was decided that an entirely new examination of the matter should be
In the interim, a close eye was kept on Soviet Russia. The focus was on
Soviet industrialization for war.106 Despite Soviet attempts to import
technology from abroad and clear evidence of progress in the Soviet
munitions industries, there was scepticism at the IIC that this would lead
to immediate results. The War Office contended â€˜that this does not mean
that in a few yearsâ€™ time, and increasingly as the years go on, the
preparedness of the USSR for unlimited war provided by these prepar-
ations will constitute a gigantic menace to the peace of mind of Europe
and of Asiaâ€™. The Admiralty was blunt as to Soviet intentions: â€˜The
Minutes, 99th meeting COS, 19 Mar 1931, Cab 53/3.
Admiral F. L. Field (CNS) to Hankey, 23 Jul 1931, Cab 21/370; â€˜Plan for Subsidiary
Operations Against Russia in the Perso-Iraq Areaâ€™, DMO&I (WO) and DOI (Air
Ministry), 11 Dec 1930, Cab 53/22.
J. H. D. Cunningham (director of plans, Adm) to secretary Joint Planning Sub-
Committee, 18 Jul 1931, Cab 21/370.
Salmond to Hankey, 26 Nov 1931, and correspondence, all Cab 21/370.
Minutes, 48th meeting JPC, 10 Dec 1931, Cab 55/1.
Commander C. C. Allen (RN, secretary to the CID) to Capt. H. R. Moore (Adm), 1
March 1933, and correspondence, Cab 21/370.
â€˜Industrial Mobilisation in the USSRâ€™, FCI 14, secret, IIC, 13 Jan 1932; â€˜Secret Task of
Engineer Smirnov in Germanyâ€™, FCI 15, IIC, 8 Feb 1932; untitled comments on FCI
14 and 15 by the service departments, 20 Apr 1932, all Cab 48/3; discussed at 7th
meeting FCI, 27 Apr 1932, Cab 48/2.
62 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
constant [Soviet] talk of organisation for defence is ridiculous and is only
used to hoodwink their own nationals, it is unlikely to take in anybody
else.â€™ As a result, it was decided to ask the CID to consider how to deal
with any Soviet attempts to obtain technical aid from British firms.107 At
the CID on 9 June and again on 8 November, it was agreed that no
Soviet technicians should be allowed to work in Britain anywhere they
would have access to sensitive material and that British firms should
inform the government of any technical exchanges with the USSR.108
Just what were Soviet intentions and capabilities was considered care-
fully in 1932. This resulted from an inquiry by the Afghan govern-
ment.109 Vansittart contended that the Afghans could be assured that
the Soviet â€˜internal situationâ€™ and â€˜preoccupation in the Far Eastâ€™ pre-
cluded any immediate threat to Kabul, but felt that only â€˜soothing syrupâ€™
could be given as to what the likely British response would be. The
British minister to Afghanistan, Sir Richard Maconachie, came to
London on leave in June, and was given a fuller, if similar answer. The
CIDâ€™s conclusion of January 1928 that, if Soviet Russia were to attack
Afghanistan, such an action would constitute a casus belli remained
officially British policy; however, â€˜in view of changed conditions since
that decision was taken, our policy in this respect may have alteredâ€™.110
This needed clarification. No one at the Foreign Office felt it wise to
inform the Afghans that Britain would defend them, as to do so would be
â€˜almost a definite commitmentâ€™ to Kabul.111 Instead, the India Office
and the government of India were consulted. The reply underlined the
awkward nature of the Afghan request. Kabul needed an answer to
encourage it to resist the â€˜bullying methodsâ€™ of Soviet Russia, but a
definite promise of military support could not be given without a com-
plete re-examination of regional defence matters, something which was
not to occur until 1933.112
â€˜Proposals Regarding Technical Aid Contracts with the USSRâ€™, CID 1092-B, E. F.
Crowe (chairman, Sub-Committee on Industrial Intelligence in Foreign Countries), 7
Jun 1932, Cab 4/21.
Minutes, 256th meeting CID, 9 Jun 1932 and minutes, 257th meeting CID, 8 Nov
1932, both Cab 2/5.
R. Maconachie (envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, Kabul) to FO, disp
48, 31 Mar 1932, FO 371/16277/713/N2579/73/97.
â€˜Memorandum Respecting Russo-Afghan Relationsâ€™, Greenway (nd), 10 Jun 1932, FO
371/16277/N3544/713/97; â€˜Memorandumâ€™, Greenway, 8 Jun 1932, FO 371/16323/
Minutes, Collier (11 Jul 1932), Seymour (12 Jul 1932), Oliphant (14 Jul 1932) and
Vansittart (14 Jul 1932), all FO 371/16277/N3923/713/97.
The minutes, FO 371/16278/N5252/713/97, esp. Collier (21 Sept 1932) and Simon
(20 Sept 1932); quotation from J. C. Walton (assistant secretary, IO), minute, 15 Sept
The period of persuasion 63
In the meantime, an anodyne draft reply suggested that Afghanistan
join the League as part of its means to deal with Soviet Russia. Sir John
Simon, the foreign secretary, noted that suggesting Afghanistan join the
League, while warning that the League was unlikely to be able to give
effective assistance, would probably lead only to the Afghans coming to
terms with Soviet Russia. This was characteristically clever, but provided
no practical solution. Simon added nothing about Britainâ€™s own willing-
ness to defend Afghanistan. The matter went to the Cabinet. After some
careful modifications, Afghanistan was promised support, but the nature
of what Soviet action would trigger assistance was left vague.113 How-
ever, the debate about Afghanistan had revealed several assumptions
that underpinned British policy towards Soviet Russia in late 1932:
Soviet Russia could attack Afghanistan with relative impunity, but was
unlikely to do so due to both its domestic situation and the situation in
the Far East. However, any definitive determination of British strategic
defence policy with respect to Soviet Russia generally would have to
await fuller examination.
Before considering this, the changes in the policy making elite that
occurred in 1931 need examination. The collapse of the Labour govern-
ment and the coming to power of a National Government brought new
men to power.114 While Ramsay MacDonald remained prime minister,
other key positions had fresh occupants. These new men were particu-
larly important, for their views helped determine British strategic foreign
policy. And it was not only their views of Soviet Russia that were
significant. Because the major British concern when these men came
to office was the Far East, their views regarding Japan and the United