Soviet Russia â€“ are central to any understanding of how Soviet Russia
affected British strategic foreign policy.
Henderson was replaced at the Foreign Office by Sir John Simon.
Simon had no particular credentials for the office other than the fact that
he had spent 1929â€“30 as the chairman of a commission set up to report
Minutes, FO 371/16278/N5891/713/97; minutes, Cab 50(32), 11 Oct 1932, Cab 23/
72; â€˜Question of the Reply to be given . . . if the Soviet attacked Afghanistanâ€™, CP 300
(32), Hoare and Simon, 3 Oct 1932, Cab 24/232.
David J. Wrench, â€˜â€śCashing Inâ€ť: The Parties and the National Government, August
1931â€“September 1932â€™, JBS, 23, 2 (1984), 135â€“53; Stuart Ball, â€˜The Conservative
Party and the Formation of the National Government: August 1931â€™, HJ, 29, 1 (1985),
159â€“82; Andrew Thorpe, â€˜Arthur Henderson and the British Political Crisis of 1931â€™,
HJ, 31, 1 (1988), 117â€“39; Philip Williamson, National Crisis and National Government.
British Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926â€“1932 (Cambridge, 1992); and Stuart Ball,
Baldwin and the Conservative Party. The Crisis of 1929â€“1931 (New Haven, 1988).
64 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
on the political future of India.115 Of much greater import was the fact
that he was the leader of the faction of the Liberals that had agreed to
support the idea of a National Government.116 When he took office in
November, Simon had no discernible views on Soviet Russia, although it
is likely that he shared the pre-1914 Liberal antipathy towards tsarist
Russia. A member of the last Liberal government, he had threatened
resignation (but had not carried through) over declaring war in 1914,
but had left the government over conscription in 1915, displaying a lack
of firm purpose that was to characterize his time as foreign secretary.
Indeed, Simon was not held in high regard either by his subordinates
at the Foreign Office, in the civil service generally or by his Cabinet
colleagues. This was particularly true with respect to British disarma-
ment policy. Cadogan felt that Simon was the only person in the Cabinet
â€˜boredâ€™ with disarmament, while Sir John Pratt, the Foreign Officeâ€™s
leading expert on China who worked closely with Simon at Geneva in
1932, believed that the foreign secretaryâ€™s â€˜main trouble is inordinate
vanity and [that] he cannot do anything unless half a dozen people are
standing and applaudingâ€™.117 E. H. Carr, a member of the Foreign
Officeâ€™s Geneva contingent, believed that Simon, â€˜this completely a-
moral S. of S.â€™, was largely to blame for not overcoming the inertia at
the Disarmament Conference.118
Such attitudes were not just confined to the Foreign Office. In Sep-
tember 1932, one of the secretaries to the CID, E. J. Hodsoll, believed
that the foreign secretary, â€˜in his heart of heartsâ€™, would have preferred
that the Disarmament Conference at Geneva come to an end.119
Hodsoll also found it difficult to get Simon to settle down to work, a
trait that Hankey, too, had observed. Simonâ€™s Cabinet colleagues were
unimpressed by his efforts. MacDonald thought that â€˜Simonâ€™s lack of
wide & systematised outlook lost him the initiative & placed him under
the influence of every currentâ€™ at Geneva, while Neville Chamberlain
found Simon in â€˜despairâ€™ and lacking in ideas.120 While some held
David Dutton, Simon. A Political Biography of Sir John Simon (London, 1992); for
Simonâ€™s Indian efforts, see 82â€“100.
Williamson, National Crisis and National Government, 354â€“5, 394, 434â€“5, 486.
Cadogan to Eden, 14 Jan 1932, Avon Papers 14/1/153; Pratt to his wife, 5 Mar 1932,
Pratt Papers, PPMS 5/53; diary entry, 10 Jun 1932, Leeper Papers, LEEP 1/15; David
Dutton, â€˜Simon and Eden at the Foreign Officeâ€™, RIS, 20 (1995), 35â€“52; Michael
Hughes, â€˜The Foreign Secretary Goes to Court: John Simon and His Criticsâ€™, TCBH,
14, 4 (2003), 339â€“59.
E. H. Carr to Strang, 23 Sept 1932, Strang Papers, STRN 4/6.
E. J. Hodsoll to Hankey, 19 Sept 1932, Cab 21/354, and Hankeyâ€™s marginalia.
Diary entry, 30 Oct 1932, MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/69/1753/1; N. Chamberlain to
Hilda, his sister, 30 Oct 1932, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/803.
The period of persuasion 65
MacDonald responsible for this state of affairs, it was evident that the
foreign secretary was not viewed as an effective force with respect to
A potentially even greater problem for British strategic foreign policy
and Soviet Russia was Simonâ€™s approach to the Far East. During
Simonâ€™s tenure in office, there was constant tension between Tokyo
and Moscow. A key element in determining British policy in the region
was the United States. This meant that all policy decisions were embed-
ded in a complicated matrix consisting of London, Moscow, Tokyo and
Washington. On 7 January 1932, the American secretary of state, Henry
L. Stimson, issued the so-called Stimson Doctrine of â€˜non-recognitionâ€™.
In it, the United States refused to recognize any changes in the status
quo in China resulting from Japanâ€™s aggression and called on the British
to do likewise.122 Simon was unwilling. He was trying to walk a fine
line.123 He believed that Japan was pursuing an aggressive, â€˜ambitiousâ€™
plan and wanted to check it, but did not wish to give the Chinese carte
blanche to instigate trouble between London and Tokyo. Equally, he
wanted to act in concert with the League, a complication that the
Americans did not need to consider. He thus preferred to make repre-
sentations to both the Japanese and the Chinese in an attempt to end the
crisis. American policy complicated matters, and Simon had no faith
that the Stimson Doctrine had any teeth. â€˜The Japs will no doubt regard
us as opposing their plansâ€™, Simon told MacDonald on 29 January 1932,
â€˜and we have to remember that though America expresses great surprise
if we do not act with them on these occasions, if we do, they will leave us
with the brunt of the work and of the blame.â€™ While this assessment may
have been true, Simonâ€™s refusal to join with the Americans was badly
received in Washington.124 As Robert Cecil wrote to Stanley Baldwin,
now Lord President of the Council, late in 1932, Simon â€˜seems to have
given everybody the idea that he was a thick and thin supporter of Japan
. . . The only explanation which any foreigner will accept of it [British
policy in the Far East] is either that we have some corrupt bargain with
Japan, or else that we are so afraid of her that we dare not say anything
she dislikes.â€™125 This was unfortunate. American suspicions of Simon
(and, indeed, of British policy generally in the Far East even after he left
Diary entry, 31 Oct 1932, Leeper Papers, LEEP 1/15.
Christopher Thorne, The Limits of Foreign Policy. The West, the League and the Far
Eastern Crisis of 1931â€“1933 (New York, 1972), 192â€“9, 210â€“11.
Simon to MacDonald, 29 Jan 1932, Prem 1/116.
Minutes, 2nd meeting Cabinet Committee on the Far East, CJC(32), 15 Feb 1932,
Cab 27/482; Thorne, Limits of Foreign Policy, 247â€“69.
Cecil to Baldwin, 12 Dec 1932, Baldwin Papers 118.
66 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
office) affected what Britain could do in that region. Of particular
importance was the fact that uncertain Anglo-American relations
reacted upon British policy with respect to Soviet Russia in the Far East.
Simon was not the only newcomer who made strategic foreign policy
in the National Government. Neville Chamberlain, the chancellor of the
Exchequer, proved highly influential, despite his relative lack of experi-
ence in foreign affairs. Chamberlainâ€™s ministerial career had been
limited. During the war, he served as director of National Service for
almost exactly a year, but incurred the wrath of Lloyd George and was
forced to resign in 1917, regarded as a failure.126 He was briefly chan-
cellor of the Exchequer in Baldwinâ€™s first government and a success as
minister of health in Baldwinâ€™s second term. While Austen Chamberlain
may have been somewhat flippant when he told his brother that â€˜Neville,
you must remember you donâ€™t know anything about foreign affairsâ€™,
there was more than a kernel of truth in that statement. When Neville
became chancellor, he had a chance to confirm it.127
Chamberlain got his baptism in foreign affairs while chancellor in
two ways. The first was in the inter-departmental discussions over
budgets, particularly those with respect to the Admiraltyâ€™s building
programmes. The second was in the complex economic diplomacy that
was such a feature of post-1918 international affairs.128 In both of these
arenas, Chamberlain developed ideas (and prejudices) that were to
determine his views on foreign affairs subsequently. The two influences
on Chamberlain require some examination, as each played on British
strategic foreign policy and Soviet Russia.
As noted above, the RNâ€™s building programmes in the 1920s
were constantly challenged by the Treasury. As chancellor, Neville
Chamberlain was quick to pick up on this theme, and he became an
ardent advocate of improving relations with Japan to solve Britainâ€™s
Robert Self, ed., The Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters, I, The Making of a Politician,
1915â€“1920 (3 vols.; Aldershot, 2000), 1â€“92; David Dilks, Neville Chamberlain, vol. I,
Pioneering and Reform, 1869â€“1929 (Cambridge, 1984); Dilks, â€˜ â€śWe Must Hope for
the Best and Prepare for the Worstâ€ť: The Prime Minister, the Cabinet and Hitlerâ€™s
Germany, 1937â€“1939â€™, Proceedings of the British Academy, 78 (1987), 309â€“52; Keith
Grieves, The Politics of Manpower, 1914â€“1918 (Manchester, 1988), 134â€“7; and
Keith Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain (London, 1946).
Self, Austen Chamberlain Diary Letters, 27â€“8.
Orde, British Policy and European Reconstruction; Robert W. D. Boyce, British Capitalism
at the Crossroads. A Study in Politics, Economics and International Relations (Cambridge,
1987); Bruce Kent, The Spoils of War. The Politics, Economics and Diplomacy of Repar-
ations, 1918â€“1922 (Oxford, 1989); Arthur Turner, The Cost of War. British Policy
on French War Debts, 1918â€“1932 (Brighton and Portland, OR, 1998); and Andrew
Williams, â€˜Sir John Bradbury and the Reparations Commission, 1920â€“1925â€™, D&S,
13, 3 (2002), 81â€“102.
The period of persuasion 67
strategic difficulties in the Far East. Since Soviet Russia was Japanâ€™s
mortal enemy in the Far East, Anglo-Japanese relations were intimately
tied to Anglo-Soviet relations. Chamberlainâ€™s advocacy of improved
Anglo-Japanese relations put him at odds with the Foreign Office, which
came to believe, particularly by the end of 1932, that Japan could
not be propitiated in any fashion commensurate with British interests.
Chamberlainâ€™s contentions had consequences for Britainâ€™s relations with
other states. Close Anglo-Japanese relations might encourage Japan to
encroach upon Soviet Russiaâ€™s position in the Far East, preoccupying
Moscow and preventing it from being able to respond to any German
aggression in Europe. Equally, it made close Anglo-American relations
more difficult, since the United States, as Stimson had made clear, op-
posed Japanâ€™s aggressive actions in China. This latter complication played
into the second influence on Chamberlainâ€™s views on foreign policy:
Here, too, the attitude of the United States was significant. War debts
affected all attempts to stabilize the international economy, and the
Americans were the determining factor in this matter.129 In the early
summer of 1932, Chamberlain received his baptism of fire in inter-
national gatherings at the Lausanne economic conference. There he
discovered â€“ â€˜this has been an education for me in the ways of the
foreignerâ€™ â€“ that not everyone was like him.130 He also found that
the Americans were unlikely to agree to a cancellation of payments on
the British war debt.131 By late 1932, he was completely antagonistic
towards Washington; the American attitude was â€˜hopelessly unrespon-
siveâ€™, and that country had â€˜let us down as usualâ€™ in the negotiations.132
Chamberlain shared a belief, widespread in the Treasury, that the
Americans, due to domestic considerations, would avoid the issue of
war debts as much as possible, without considering the international
implications.133 Chamberlain also blamed the collapse of the World
Economic Conference in July 1933 on the Americans, arguing that
the new American president, Franklin Roosevelt, had â€˜torpedoedâ€™ the
proceedings.134 Chamberlain was contemptuous towards Roosevelt.
Patricia Clavin, The Failure of Economic Diplomacy. Britain, Germany, France and the
United States, 1931â€“1936 (London, 1996).
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 26 Jun 1932, Chamberlain Papers, NC 1/18/789.
Ibid.; his letter to his sister Ida, 20 Jun 1932, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/788.
N. Chamberlain to his sister Ida, 19 Nov 1932, and to his sister, Hilda, 10 Dec 1932,
both Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/806, 809.
Leith-Ross to Warren Fisher and N. Chamberlain, 30 Dec 1932, Leith Ross Papers, T
188/58; Vansittart to Warren Fisher, 16 Dec 1932, ibid.
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 10 Jul 1933, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/835;
Hankey to his wife, 4 and 5 Jul 1933, Hankey Papers, HNKY 3/40, and diary entry, 10
Jul 1933, MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/69/1753/1.
68 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
The chancellor dismissed the Americanâ€™s economic innovations,
telling the Cabinet that Roosevelt was a sort of â€˜medicine manâ€™ who
produced various kinds of â€˜Mumbo Jumboâ€™ to satisfy his constituents.135
Chamberlainâ€™s belief that Roosevelt was flighty in his approach to affairs
coloured the chancellorâ€™s relations with the president. All of this was
highly significant for Anglo-Soviet matters. Chamberlainâ€™s dislike of the
United States, combined with his belief in the need for an Anglo-Japanese
settlement in the Far East, meant that British policy in that region would
hover uneasily between co-operation with Tokyo and co-operation with
Washington. This gave greater weight to considerations of Soviet Russia
than would otherwise have been the case.
As to Soviet Russia itself, Chamberlain had no fixed views when
he took office, although he shared the general antipathy towards the
Bolshevik regime within the Conservative Party. As a member of
Baldwinâ€™s second government, Chamberlain had experienced his broth-
erâ€™s difficulties with Moscow, complaining in February 1927 about
Soviet Russiaâ€™s â€˜burrowing and underminingâ€™.136 In fact, Neville had
helped Austen draft the latterâ€™s protest note to Soviet Russia of 23
February. But this was second-hand dealing with Moscow. When he
became chancellor, events soon gave Neville ample opportunity to form
first-hand opinions. This was due to the Temporary Commercial Agree-
ment with Soviet Russia.137 This proved no more satisfactory than the
earlier trade agreement, with the Soviets running a large trade surplus.
In January 1932, the Cabinet created a committee to deal with this issue,
with Chamberlain as chairman.138 No inter-departmental consensus
could be reached, and the entire matter became entangled in the Ottawa
Conference, held in the summer of 1932 to establish a system of imperial
The British decided to abrogate the Temporary Commercial Agree-
ment. The Soviets responded by harassing the British embassy. This
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Ida, 28 Oct 1933, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/848.
Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 19 Feb 1927, in Self, Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters,
vol. II, The Reform Years, 1921â€“1927, 394.
Keith Neilson, â€˜A Cautionary Tale: The Metro-Vickers Incident of 1933â€™, in Greg
Kennedy and Keith Neilson, eds., Incidents and International Relations. People, Power and
Personalities (Westport, CT, 2002), 87â€“112.
Minutes, Cab 9(32), 27 Jan 1932, Cab 23/70. The minutes of the Cabinet Committee
on Trade with Russia are in Cab 27/480.