. 19
( 71 .)


aggressive intentions in the Far East, the Anglo-Japanese alliance had
been aimed at Russo-German aggression (now defunct), and American
co-operation in the Far East was essential and would be jeopardized by an

This paragraph is based on minutes, 261st meeting CID, 9 Nov 1933, Cab 2/6.
1933“1934: parallel interests? 91

Anglo-Japanese combination. Simon also noted that a German“Japanese
grouping directed against Britain would be ˜very alarming™. This combin-
ation of solicitude for Chamberlain™s concerns, but rejection of his policy
alternatives, left the chancellor with no retort.
This did not mean that Chamberlain and the Treasury had aban-
doned the field. The argument was pursued in the DRC, the body that
MacDonald had proposed be created to examine Britain™s defence
policy. The new committee consisted of the COS, Sir Warren Fisher
and Vansittart, with Hankey acting as chairman. Thus, the DRC repre-
sented the views of the fighting services, the Treasury and the Foreign
Office.5 Taking the conclusions of the CID meeting of 9 November as its
terms of reference, the DRC first met on 14 November.6 The first two
meetings were largely taken up with matters of procedure. Not until the
third meeting, held 4 December, were substantive matters discussed. In
the meantime, Vansittart had outlined his views. On 30 November, the
PUS made his contribution to the debate over the COS™s Annual Review
for 1933. With regard to priorities, Vansittart took a stance entirely
contrary to that of both the COS and the majority of his colleagues.
His line of argument remained constant throughout the 1930s:
It seems to be generally agreed that Japan is unlikely to attack us, unless we are
engaged elsewhere. Very well then. That puts ˜elsewhere™ first. And elsewhere is
Europe and Germany. Furthermore, surely Japan is unlikely to provoke a war
with us so long as she is not on better terms with Russia. Nothing points to such
an improvement “ on the contrary. And if you are going to presuppose a Russo-
Japanese understanding or appeasement, you must by that very fact put the
Afghanistan“India risk higher. I should prefer to guard against both the Russian
and Japanese risk, as well as the German. But we obviously cannot do so. It
would cost far too much money & far too many votes “ apart from numerous
other considerations. If therefore we cannot cover the whole ground, first things
must come first, and we must begin ˜a day™s march nearer home™.

None the less, Vansittart advocated completing the Singapore naval base
as the first order of business, since so much had been invested there
already. After that, all should be concentrated in Europe. His conclusion
returned to the need to rearm. ˜But I am not prepared™, he wrote, ˜to rely

N. H. Gibbs, Grand Strategy, vol. I, Rearmament Policy (London, 1976); Wesley
Wark, The Ultimate Enemy. British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933“1939 (Ithaca,
1985), 28“34; Gaines Post, Jnr, Dilemmas of Appeasement. British Deterrence and Defense,
1934“1937 (Ithaca and London, 1993), 32“54; and G. C. Peden, British Rearmament
and the Treasury (Edinburgh, 1979). For a revisionist view, see Keith Neilson, ˜The
Defence Requirements Sub-Committee, British Strategic Foreign Policy, Neville
Chamberlain and the Path to Appeasement™, EHR, 118, 477 (2003), 651“84.
Minutes, 1st meeting DRC, 14 Nov 1933, Cab 16/109.
92 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

on pure diplomacy, on other countries, or on economics so far as
Germany is concerned.™7
At the DRC on 4 December, Vansittart reiterated and amplified his
observations. He renewed his challenge to the priorities established by
the COS, and put forward his view of the international situation gener-
ally. Japan would not cause trouble for Britain ˜if, at the same time, she
was expecting or preparing any trouble with Russia™. For Vansittart,
economic diplomacy could contain Japan, ˜so long anyhow as [Japanese]
accounts with Russia were unsettled™. He outlined his view that
Germany was arming rapidly, but declined to estimate when it might
strike: ˜to attempt to fix any such date was soothsaying™. As to the
defence of India against Soviet Russia, Vansittart concurred with the
fighting services™ estimate: ˜Russia had her difficulties with Japan on one
flank and with Germany on the other, and also suffered from internal
chaos™ and thus would be unlikely to bother India.8
Other interested parties demanded to be heard. Fisher supported the
idea that the defences at Singapore should be completed, but not out of
fear of Japan.9 His approval reflected both the Treasury™s dislike of the
United States and the Treasury™s desire to improve relations with Tokyo
by demonstrating that Britain was not the lap dog of the United States.
The citadel at Singapore, Fisher felt, would demonstrate to the Japanese
that Britain was not a ˜backboneless nation™ that needed to ˜bow down to
America™. This was dangerous ground, implying a possible break with
the United States. Vansittart and Hankey instead argued that Japan
could be dealt with in other ways. The PUS emphasized the impact that
Russo-Japanese relations had on the British position. Japan would have
˜to take into serious consideration their position vis-a-vis Russia™ before
assaulting Britain. Since Soviet Russia was ˜likely to steer clear of Euro-
pean conflicts™ “ this was evident from its ˜recently negotiated network of
non-aggression pacts™ in the West “ ˜Japan would hesitate to act against
us whilst Russia was free to act against her.™
Admiral Sir Ernle Chatfield, the First Sea Lord and chief of the Naval
Staff, seized this opportunity. Vansittart™s insistence that first priority in
planning be accorded to Germany had serious financial implications for
the RN. Chatfield had a vested interest in seeing that Japan remained the
centre of planning, since the building plans of the Admiralty would be

Vansittart™s minute, 30 Nov 1933, FO 371/17338/W11987/11987/50.
Minutes, 3rd meeting DRC, 4 Dec 1933, Cab 16/109. The quotations in the following
paragraph are also from this source.
Eunan O™Halperin, Head of the Civil Service. A Study of Sir Warren Fisher (London,
1989), 227“65.
1933“1934: parallel interests? 93

adversely affected if Japan were felt only a subsidiary foe.10 The First Sea
Lord attempted to convince the DRC that Japan posed the most imme-
diate threat to Britain and that the naval arms control conference sched-
uled for 1935 might make Japan even more dangerous. This brought
Hankey to the admiral™s side, although the chairman of the committee
was sympathetic to the idea of improving relations with Japan. This
naval bombardment did manage to deflect into the future Vansittart™s
insistence on the primacy of Germany and to keep the focus on repairing
Britain™s position in the Far East. With this, the DRC moved, during its
next five meetings, away from strategic foreign policy towards discus-
sions of the actual needs of the services. It was not until the end of
January 1934 that the wider aspects were considered again.
Events did not stand still. At the Foreign Office, the Far Eastern
Department continued to prepare its case for dealing with the British
position in the Far East, a project initiated by Vansittart in August.11 On
16 November, Roosevelt and Litvinov signed a ˜gentleman™s agreement™
by which American diplomatic recognition was extended to Soviet
Russia and an implicit blow struck against Japan.12 The British, en-
meshed in the final stages of their own trade negotiations with the
Soviets, were impressed by the concessions that the Americans had
obtained from Moscow, but were also very much aware of the strategic
impact on Japan.13 As Howe noted on 15 December, ˜there is little room
for doubt that in making their agreement for recognition the USA and
the USSR were not unmindful of the situation in the Far East™.14 In fact,
the British ambassador at Berlin, Sir Eric Phipps, reported that his
American colleague had stated that Roosevelt had deliberately delayed
Background in Orest M. Babij, ˜The Second Labour Government and British Maritime
Security, 1929“1931™, D&S, 6, 3 (1995), 645“71; Babij, ˜The Royal Navy and the
Defence of the British Empire™ and John Ferris, ˜“It is Our Business in the Navy to
Command the Seas”: The Last Decade of British Maritime Supremacy, 1919“1929™, in
G. Kennedy and K. Neilson, eds., Far-Flung Lines. Studies in Imperial Defence in Honour
of Donald Mackenzie Schurman (Portland, OR, and London, 1997), 171“89 and 124“
70 respectively; for the 1930s, see Christopher Bell, The Royal Navy, Seapower and
Strategy Between the Wars (London, 2000), 99“102.
Minutes, Randall (5 Aug) and Vansittart (11 Aug) on ˜Far East “ Changing Situation™,
Frank Ashton-Gwatkin, 3 Aug 1933, FO 371/17148/F5189/5189/61; minute, Allen, 3
Nov 1933, FO 371/17152/F6818/128/23.
Jonathan Haslam, The Soviet Union and the Threat from the East 1933“1941 (London,
1992), 30“5.
Chilston (ambassador, Moscow) to FO, disp 644, 22 Nov 1933, FO 371/17263/
N8485/1149/38; Lindsay to FO, disp 1500, 16 Nov 1933, FO 371/17263/N8492/
1149/38; Lindsay to FO, disp 1517, 23 Nov 1933, FO 371/17263/N8686/1149/38;
Andrew J. Williams, Trading with the Bolsheviks. The Politics of East“West Trade 1920“
1939 (Manchester and New York, 1992), 168“73.
Minute, Howe (15 Dec) on Snow (charge d™affaires, Tokyo) to FO, disp 621, 5 Nov
1933, FO 371/17264/N8779/1149/38.
94 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

signing of the recognition until the ports in the Far East were ice-bound,
as he ˜feared that a Russo-American “rapprochement” would be the
signal for Japan to open hostilities against Russia™.15
The British also continued to try to discover the nature of Soviet
Russia™s foreign policy. In December 1933, there were a series of
Soviet pronouncements reiterating Moscow™s desire for peace and will-
ingness to co-operate with other Powers. During his return trip to Russia
from the United States, Litvinov stopped in Italy and told the Italians of
both Moscow™s concerns about German ambitions and its desire to work
with others to limit Berlin™s actions.16 This contrasted sharply with Litvi-
nov™s subsequent stop in Berlin, where the Soviet ambassador spent only a
few hours and met no German officials.17 Lord Chilston, who had re-
placed Ovey as British ambassador at Moscow in October, reported that
Soviet Russia was planning to establish diplomatic relations with the
members of the Little Entente, a sign of its move towards the West. But,
on the other hand, the new ambassador found little Soviet willingness to
compromise in the Anglo-Soviet trade discussions.18 Still, Chilston was
convinced that ˜Soviet Russia does want and need peace™, and had aban-
doned the idea of world revolution except for domestic consumption.19
On 30 December, Chilston reported two things: the ˜growing impres-
sion™ that a Franco-Soviet agreement of some sort was imminent and a
speech by Viacheslav Molotov, the chairman of the Council of People™s
Commissars, in which the League of Nations was faintly praised, in
direct contrast to the usual Soviet vituperation towards Geneva.20 At
the Foreign Office, Shone felt this showed that ˜the Soviet Government
are really apprehensive of German designs for expansion to the east,
particularly in the event of Soviet Russia becoming embroiled in a war
with Japan™. While a pact with France would be a turnabout in Soviet
policy, ˜it must be remembered that that policy has already undergone a
marked change in 1933 “ from the “revisionist” to the “anti-revisionist”
camp™. Shone argued that one of Litvinov™s remarks to Chilston during
the trade negotiations, that it was time ˜to get “small things” out of the

Phipps to FO, tel 112, 10 Dec 1933, FO 371/17375/W14129/40/98.
Drummond (ambassador, Rome) to FO, disp 364, 5 Dec 1933, FO 371/17262/N8655/
Phipps to FO, tel 107, 5 December 1933, FO 371/17250/N8732/101/38; Phipps to
FO, tel 111, 9 Dec 1933, FO 371/17264/N8822/1149/38.
Chilston to FO, disp 665, 5 Dec 1933, FO 371/17262/N8769/748/38; Chilston to FO,
tel 517, 11 Dec 1933, FO 371/17243/N8840/5/38.
Chilston to FO, disp 694, 18 Dec 1933, FO 371/17262/N9135/748/38.
This paragraph is based on Chilston to FO, tel 521, 30 Dec 1933, FO 371/18297/N1/1/
38, and the minutes by Shone (1 Jan 1934), Howe (1 Jan), Collier (1 Jan) and Oliphant
(2 Jan); Chilston to FO, tel 524, 30 Dec 1933, FO 371/18297/N2/2/38.
1933“1934: parallel interests? 95

way and talk of “far wider and more important things”™, might ˜refer to a
desire for closer relations with us™. Both Collier and Howe agreed,
although the former doubted that the Soviets would be willing to ˜incur
the military obligations™ of a pact with France.21 Collier also contended
that Britain and Soviet Russia, ˜whether they like it or not, will find
themselves, for the next year or so at least, in the same camp, as far as
the fundamentals of foreign policy are concerned™.22 Even the always-
suspicious Oliphant agreed: ˜If the Soviet were to run straight, no harm
would arise from being in the same camp. If they feel menaced by Japan in
the East or Germany in the West, it is quite on the cards that they will run
straight with us.™
During January 1934, as the final touches were put on the Anglo-
Soviet trade agreement, Soviet policy was much discussed by British
policy makers.23 Reporting on Litvinov™s speech of 29 December,
Chilston noted that some felt that it adumbrated an understanding
between Soviet Russia, France and the Little Entente. Chilston, too,
believed that the Soviets were willing to ˜experiment™ with such a
grouping ˜to tide [themselves] over the present crisis™ caused by the
hostility of Japan and Germany. The ambassador™s interpretation was
broadly shared at the Foreign Office. In fact, Howe was optimistic that
the policy change was more far-reaching:
I think we can take it that the USSR has definitely oriented her new ˜sentimental™
policy towards France and Poland. It is a development which will undoubtedly
have far-reaching results, at any rate in Europe. We ourselves may have to take
off our gloves when shaking hands with the Bolsheviks.

Oliphant was similarly bullish, feeling that the Soviets might soon join
the League in a move to protect themselves against Germany and Japan.
Vansittart speculated about the significance for Britain of the new
Soviet policy.24 Moscow™s motive was clear to the PUS: ˜Fear “ genuine
fear and not the sham (it has) for years served out about capitalistic
attacks impending “ is most evidently a most healthy medicine in Russia.™
However, he thought, Britain should let Soviet Russia ˜make its own
running™. Changes in Soviet foreign policy, the PUS pontificated, would
likely come about as a result of Japan™s ˜increasing her [Russia™s] fear™. In

See also ˜Franco-Soviet Relations™, Collier, 5 Dec 1933, FO 371/17257/N8705/232/38.
See also; Collier™s minute (25 Jan) on Chilston to FO, disp 23, 15 Jan 1934, FO 371/
This and the following paragraphs derive from Chilston to FO, disp 5, 2 Jan 1934, FO
371/18297/N140/2/38, and minutes: Shone, Howe, Collier (all 9 Jan), Oliphant (11
Jan) and Vansittart (13 Jan).
Simon Bourette-Knowles, ˜The Global Micawber: Sir Robert Vansittart, the Treasury
and the Global Balance of Power, 1933“1935™, D&S, 6, 1 (1995), 91“121.
96 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

the meantime, Britain™s most profitable move would be to determine
˜what result in the Far East “ next to a draw “ would be the best for the
world (including us) and why™. The PUS added that he felt that it would
be ˜a positive misfortune™ if Soviet Russia joined the League ˜before she
has settled her differences with Japan™, as such a move ˜w[oul]d only lead
the League into further difficulty & discredit™. He also argued that the
French were ˜blind if they think Russia will be of any material use to


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