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possible to the prestige of the League™. On the other hand, E. H. Carr,
assistant adviser on League of Nations affairs and newly returned from
Geneva, was ˜convinced™ that, if the Soviets were asked to participate at
the League, ˜they will (apart perhaps from one or two speeches to the
gallery) take a reasonable and even helpful part in the proceedings™.
Besides, he believed that the Soviets ˜may conceivably give us some
trouble (not much, I think) if they are there; but that is nothing to the
trouble they will give us, if they are away™. Carr also felt that the Soviets
were now more willing to co-operate than ever before. The final word
was Vansittart™s. The PUS agreed with Carr™s analysis, and proposed
that the British accept the facts of the Lytton Report, delay discussions
of its recommendations (to avoid precipitate Japanese action) and invite
the Soviets to participate in the process.161
The rest of the year was filled with rumours and speculation about
Soviet“Japanese relations. The embassy in Tokyo continued to stress
that neither side wanted war in the short term, and a possible non-
aggression pact between the two nations continued to be bruited, but
there were also ongoing reports of border clashes between them.162 The
crux was how Japan would fare at Geneva. With Japan™s clearly being
unwilling to accept any censure, the British now had to formulate a
policy. Most favoured not taking the lead in denouncing Japan and
remaining firm in support of any action collectively decided.163 This
was complicated by Soviet actions.
In mid-December, Moscow had renewed diplomatic relations with
China.164 At the Foreign Office, this action was thought to run counter

161
Minutes, Pratt (31 Oct), Orde (1 Nov), E. H. Carr (3 Nov), Wellesley (4 Nov) and
Vansittart (4 Nov) on Drummond to Simon, personal, 24 Oct 1932, FO 371/16180/
F7681/1/10.
162
Lindley to FO, disp 516, 27 Sept 1932, FO 371/16246/F7978/369/23; Garstin (consul
general, Harbin) to FO, disp 95, 18 Oct 1932, FO 371/16181/F8021/1/10; Lindley to
FO, disp 565 confidential, 26 Oct 1932, FO 371/16182/F8275/1/10; Lindley to FO,
disp 590, 9 Nov 1932, FO 371/16246/F8435/369/23; Lindley to FO, tel 409, 8 Dec
1932, FO 371/16183/F8509/1/10.
163
Cadogan™s minute, 26 Dec 1932, FO 371/16185/F8873/1/10; ˜The Sino-Japanese
Conflict™, Pratt, 23 Dec 1932, FO 371/17073/F74/33/10.
164
Ovey to FO, tel 236 confidential, 12 Dec 1932, minute (12 Dec), V. A. L. Mallet
(FED), FO 371/16228/F8583/2173/10; Ingram (Peking) to FO, tel 424 (tour), 13 Dec
The period of persuasion 75

to earlier attempts to promote a Soviet“Japanese non-aggression pact
and to be ˜provocative™ towards Japan. No one thought that the agree-
ment presaged a Chinese turn towards communism, but it was clear
that, with the failure of the League to restrain Japan, the Chinese were
considering the possibility that Soviet Russia might prove more reliable
in checking Tokyo™s aggression.165 There were other concerns about
Soviet actions. Sir Samuel Hoare, the secretary of state for India, called
strongly for the need to establish a British consular representative at
Urumchi (modern Wulumuqi) in Sinkiang province in order to combat
the continued Soviet economic penetration of that region.166 There was
little doubt at the Foreign Office about the Soviet threat and its reper-
cussions on British policy in the Far East, but the dead hand of the
Treasury was felt unlikely to sanction the expense involved.
The new year began on an unpropitious note. On 1 January, the
Japanese expanded their campaign in China, advancing into Jehol pro-
vince. This latest adventure seemed sure to make Japan™s case at Geneva
less promising. The Foreign Office thus began to consider the possibility
that Japan might either be expelled from the League or leave on its own.
The members of the Far Eastern Department preached conciliation as
far as possible, but Cadogan contended that ˜it would be far better that
she [Japan] should go than that the League should swallow its pride and
its principles to keep her™. Vansittart looked at how this would affect
British strategic foreign policy in the region. To those who argued that if
Japan were to leave the League there would be ˜no restraint™ on her, the
PUS pointed out:
What restraint is she under now except that of her own capacities for absorption
and the fear of Russia, with whom she may anyhow eventually come to a second
round? No local expert thinks there is any prospect of Japan going Bolshevik.
There is then little chance of any lasting Russo-Japanese bloc, especially as the
decomposing or reviving mass of China will always provide them with bones of
contention.

Relying on such a policy did not make for, in Vansittart™s words, ˜an
alluring future™, but, as the British were not yet able ˜to look after [them]
selves™, it seemed all that was possible.167



1932, FO 371/16228/F8599/2173/10; Lindley to FO, disp 680, 22 Dec 1932, FO 371/
17117/F512/512/10.
165
Ingram to FO, disp 1706, 23 Dec 1932, FO 371/17117/F1159/512/10.
166
Walton (India Office) to Collier, 19 Dec 1932, FO 371/16214/F8767/340/10.
167
Minutes, Pratt (23 Dec 1932 and 5 Jan 1933), Cadogan (7 Jan 1933) and two by
Vansittart (both 1 Jan 1933), all FO 371/17073/F74/33/10; ˜Sino-Japanese dispute:
76 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

Vansittart™s latter concern was also felt elsewhere. On 18 December
1932, Lindley had advised British conciliation of Japan on the assump-
tion that ˜the British Empire is not prepared to face war™.168 But what of
Soviet strength? As the trade talks between Britain and Soviet Russia
progressed, there were continued reports of economic distress in the
latter due to famine and problems with the five-year plan. ˜Everything
seems to show™, Collier noted on these reports, ˜that the Soviet Govern-
ment are in the tightest place they have ever been in since Lenin was
forced to adopt the “New Economic Policy” more than ten years ago.™169
Ovey was confident that the Stalinist regime faced no internal political
threat, but others at the Foreign Office believed that its grip on power
might be uncertain. While the Anglo-Soviet trade talks ground on, much
time was spent considering Soviet“Japanese relations. Lindley informed
the Foreign Office that Japanese officers regarded war with Soviet Russia
as ˜inevitable™.170
At the Foreign Office, such an outcome seemed more contingent than
inevitable. Philip Broad pointed out that Japan had two possible en-
emies, the United States and Soviet Russia. He saw war with the latter as
˜less unlikely™ than with the former because the Japanese would have a
˜greater chance of a successful issue™ with Soviet Russia. But, in either
case, he saw ˜little prospect™ of war ˜for many years™. Victor Mallet,
another member of the Far Eastern Department, argued that, ˜if the
Militarists remain long enough in the saddle in Japan™, a war with Soviet
Russia might occur, despite the fact that the Soviets were ˜behaving in a
perfectly conciliatory manner over Manchuria™. Thus, the question of a
war between the two states remained a ˜hypothetical question depending
upon future circumstances which are still quite imponderable™. But, in
all cases, Wellesley concluded, the circumstances in the region made for
a ˜very dangerous combination™.171
In mid-January, the Soviets published correspondence with Japan
dealing with the effort to reach a non-aggression pact between the
two states. The Japanese response was ˜irritation™ at Moscow™s ˜tactless™
move. But Mallet argued that this reflected more its sinister intentions
than any pique: ˜Japan wants to keep her hands as free as possible



League policy and possible demand for the expulsion of them™, Pratt, 12 Jan 1933, FO
371/17074/F392/33/10, minutes, Orde (12 Jan) and Cadogan (13 Jan).
168
Lindley to FO, tel 416, 18 Dec 1932, FO 371/16184/F8687/1/10.
169
Ovey to FO, disp 726, 12 Dec 1932, FO 371/16324/N7653/39/38; Collier™s minute (30
Dec); Ovey to FO, disp 730, 19 Dec 1932, FO 371/16321/N7657/22/38.
170
Lindley to FO, disp 660, 9 Dec 1932, FO 371/17152/F154/154/23 and minutes.
171
Lindley to FO, tel 19, 13 Jan 1933, FO 371/17151/F317/116/23.
The period of persuasion 77

for dealing with the Soviet as she thinks fit later on.™172 Certainly,
such considerations seemed to be the subtext of the speech given by
Viacheslav Molotov on 23 January. The Soviet prime minister noted that
Soviet Russia must maintain its vigilance and military strength in the
light of Japan™s reaction, although he held open the possibility of a future
agreement between the two states. This led to comment from Edward
Walker, who had just returned to the Northern Department from
Moscow, where he had been first secretary at the embassy. He did not
feel that any agreement was likely: ˜I am convinced that neither Japan
nor the USSR are [sic] fundamentally pacific in their relations with each
other. Japan however is fairly frankly bellicose, while the USSR pretend
to an immaculate pacifism.™173
More evidence of each side™s preparations for possible war was soon
forthcoming. Collier found Soviet Russia™s growing strength disconcert-
ing:
A large and well-equipped army at the absolute disposal of a dictatorship which
holds all means lawful for achieving world revolution must be an uneasy factor in
the future, whatever the present (and probably quite sincere) protestations of
pacifism.

Lancelot Oliphant, the assistant undersecretary whose ambit included
the Northern Department, was less concerned: ˜Quite possibly progress
has been made in the fighting equipment of the Soviet forces to an extent
far surpassing that made in the economic and commercial spheres™, he
sniffed. ˜But so colossal [has] been the ineptitude in these latter that is
not saying much.™ The assistant undersecretary completed his dismissal
by adding that ˜while the Russian is by nature a wonderful person at
sheer physical endurance he has never been much of an organiser™.174
However, on 19 February Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov, the Soviet
commissar for war, emphasized Soviet Russia™s ability and readiness to



172
Broad™s two minutes (20 Jan and 19 Jan) on Ovey to FO, disp 35, 17 Jan 1933, FO 371/
17151/F468/116/23, and Lindley to FO, tel 25, 19 Jan 1933, FO 371/17151/F446/116/
23; Mallet™s quoted remarks from his minute (20 Jan) on the former; for the context,
see Jonathan Haslam, The Soviet Union and the Threat from the East 1933“1941
(London, 1992), 8“9.
173
Ovey to FO, tel 6, 25 Jan 1933, FO 371/17151/F599/116/23, Walker™s minute (30 Jan);
Ovey to FO, disp 71, 31 Jan 1933, FO 371/17261/N748/748/38.
174
´
E. A. H. James (military attache, Tokyo) to Lindley, disp 33, 28 Dec 1932, FO 371/
17149/F747/11/23; Ovey to FO, disp 67, 30 Jan 1933, minutes by Oliphant and Collier
(both 7 Feb), FO 371/17256/N745/207/38; Samuelson, Plans for Stalin™s War Machine,
136“7, 154“7; R. W. Davies, ˜Soviet Military Expenditure and the Armaments Indus-
try, 1929“33™, 583“9.
78 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

resist Japan. By March, the Foreign Office noted that ˜both sides regard
a war as inevitable in the not very distant future™.175
Hitler™s accession to power at the end of January had introduced
complications in Europe. The official Soviet response to Hitler was
muted. Nor did the British anticipate an immediate worsening in rela-
tions between Germany and Soviet Russia. Faced with famine at home
and Japan in the Far East, ˜the Soviet Govt.™, Collier wrote, ˜are clearly
in no condition to quarrel with anyone at the moment™,176 and reports
from Berlin suggested that the Germans were adopting a line similar to
that of Moscow.177 Even the signing of a Franco-Soviet pact of non-
aggression on 15 February was not thought to adumbrate any break
between Hitler and Stalin.178 This belief was due to the difficult state of
Anglo-Soviet trade discussions. The British believed that Moscow was
attempting to use the German connection as a bargaining tool in the
ongoing negotiations with London.
These trade talks revealed the diversity of British departmental views
about Soviet Russia.179 The Foreign Office saw the talks in their political
context. Collier and Vansittart contended that no trade concessions be
given unless the Soviets were willing to deal with a variety of other
political matters, including the continued harassment of the Soviet
personnel employed at the British embassy. The Board of Trade, the
Department of Overseas Trade and the Export Credit Guarantee De-
partment, concerned about unemployment, exports and the balance of
trade, wanted an agreement concluded as soon as possible, if necessary
ignoring the political concerns of the Foreign Office. The Treasury saw
the matter in connection with the forthcoming World Economic Con-
ference, scheduled for June.180 They wanted an orderly international
trading scene, and wished only to see Anglo-Soviet trade reach an
acceptable equilibrium; they were quite oblivious to the Foreign Office™s
political concerns.



175
Ovey to FO, disp 123, 27 Feb 1933, FO 371/17256/N1411/207/38; R. Allen minute
(13 Mar) on Lindley to FO, disp 59 confidential, FO 371/17151/F1634/116/23;
Haslam, Threat from the East, 8“9.
176
Ovey to FO, tel 26, 5 Mar 1933, FO 371/17249/N1432/101/38, and the minute by
Collier (6 Mar); Jonathan Haslam, The Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective
Security in Europe 1933“1939 (London, 1984), 6“11.
177
Rumbold (ambassador, Berlin) to FO, disp 271, 22 Mar 1933, FO 371/17249/N2048/
101/38.
178
Tyrrell (ambassador, Paris) to FO, disp 434, 25 Mar 1933, FO 371/17256/N2223/232/
38.
179
Neilson, ˜Cautionary Tale™.
180
Ibid.; Clavin, Failure of Economic Diplomacy, 37“59.
The period of persuasion 79

Anglo-Soviet relations exploded on 12 March. The arrest, on charges
of espionage and sabotage, of six British engineers working in Soviet
Russia for Metro-Vickers created a firestorm.181 All the dislike of Soviet
Russia that had existed since the Bolshevik revolution was brought to the
fore. Indeed, as one official at the Foreign Office remarked, for public
reaction ˜there has been nothing like it since Jenkin™s [sic] Ear™.182 Ovey
was recalled at the end of March, and he warned the Cabinet a few days
later of the impossibility of dealing with the Soviet regime.183 Pushed
by Ovey, the Foreign Office and public and parliamentary opinion,
the Cabinet submerged the differing views of the departments, and
passed legislation permitting an embargo to be placed on Soviet goods
in retaliation for the arrests.
Despite this furore, the Metro-Vickers incident turned out to be a
tempest in a teapot. In June, two months after the passing of sen-
tences upon the engineers, there were negotiations in London between
Litvinov, in the British capital for the World Economic Conference, and
the economic adviser to the British government, Sir Horace Wilson.
Further discussions between Litvinov and Simon ensued on 26 and
28 June. All was resolved.184 The British prisoners were released on 1
July, and, simultaneously, the British embargo was lifted. The Anglo-
Soviet trade discussions were renewed, and seven months of hard
negotiations followed, with the departmental differences in the British
government re-emerging along the same lines as before the Metro-Vick-

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