relations between London and Moscow in the inter-war period is that
they were so limited. An analysis dealing only with Anglo-Soviet relations
narrowly defined would largely be a study in silence, punctuated by
the raucous outbursts surrounding such incidents as the Zinoviev letter,
the Arcos raid, the Metro-Vickers affair, Munich and the Anglo-Soviet
negotiations of 1939.
Such an approach would fail to see the significance of Anglo-Soviet
relations in their larger context. Thus, the second goal of this book is to
W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That (London, 1930), 115.
General studies include W. P. and Z. K. Coates, A History of Anglo-Soviet Relations
(London, 1943); F. S. Northedge and Audrey Wells, Britain and Soviet Communism.
The Impact of a Revolution (London, 1982); and Sir Curtis Keeble, Britain, the Soviet
Union and Russia (new edn, Basingstoke and London, 2000).
2 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
show how Soviet Russia affected British strategic foreign-policy making
generally. Thus, it provides a new perspective on and explanation
of Londonâ€™s policy in the inter-war period. It also determines just what
matters are dealt with in this study. Soviet Russia was important not
just for what it did with respect to Britain, but also for what it did
in international relations generally. As the major threats to British
interests came from Germany and Japan, how Soviet Russia affected
Anglo-Japanese and Anglo-German relations is of central importance.
There are a number of reasons for proceeding in this fashion. One
derives from the general observation that to look comprehensively in
detail at British strategic foreign policy in the inter-war period is daunting,
if not impossible. The topicâ€™s sprawling nature makes any exhaustive
attempt at analysis difficult.3 To get round this obstacle, this book drills
an Anglo-Soviet â€˜bore-holeâ€™ into the sediment of British strategic foreign
policy in order to obtain a â€˜core-sampleâ€™ that will reveal much about the
entire topic. Thus, Anglo-Soviet affairs provide the organizing theme for
the larger topic. In this way, a clear focus can be provided for a look at the
The choice of which â€˜core-sampleâ€™ to look at is arbitrary, but not
entirely whimsical. Soviet Russia affected British policy in unique and
valuable ways. The first obtains from geography. Britain and Soviet
Russia were the final barriers against any German attempt to establish
hegemony on the continent. The degree of collaboration between them
in the inter-war period played a major role in European stability just as it
had in the nineteenth century.4 But Britain and Soviet Russia both also
had growing extra-European concerns. In the Far East, both states faced
imperial Japan. The fact that Britain and Soviet Russia were each
threatened by German and Japanese aggrandizement means that an
examination of Anglo-Soviet matters enables us to see British policy in
This is not to disparage some very good studies, only to indicate the problems involved.
See W. N. Medlicott, British Foreign Policy Since Versailles, 1919â€“1963 (London, 1968);
C. J. Barlett, British Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century (London, 1989); Paul W.
Doerr, British Foreign Policy 1919â€“1939 (Manchester, 1998); David Reynolds, Britannia
Overruled. British Policy and World Power in the Twentieth Century (London, 1991);
and Andrew J. Crozier, The Causes of the Second World War (Oxford, 1997). Useful
specific studies are Anne Orde, Great Britain and International Security 1920â€“1926
(London, 1978), G. H. Bennett, British Foreign Policy During the Curzon Period, 1919â€“
1924 (London, 1995), Richard S. Grayson, Austen Chamberlain and the Commitment to
Europe. British Foreign Policy 1924â€“1929 (London and Portland, OR, 1997), and
Donald Cameron Watt, How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World
War 1938â€“1939 (London, 1989).
See Paul Schroeder, â€˜The Nineteenth Century System: Balance of Power or Political
Equilibrium?â€™, RIS, 15 (1989), 135â€“53, and his â€˜Did the Vienna System Rest upon a
Balance of Power?â€™, AHR, 97 (1992), 683â€“706.
its broader, global context and to avoid the narrower focus imposed by
considering it only in either its European or its East Asian context. Such
an approach necessarily makes a consideration of British imperial defence,
and how Soviet Russia affected it, one of the central themes of this study.
The Anglo-Soviet â€˜core-sampleâ€™ is also a useful means of assaying the
impact of ideology on British policy. The inter-war period was a time of
ideological tension.5 For many, the First World War had proved the
bankruptcy of the existing international order, and even those regimes
that were not overthrown as a result of the conflict itself found them-
selves challenged domestically by the dynamic revolutionary creeds that
emerged after 1917.6 Communism (or Bolshevism as it was generally
termed), fascism and Naziism all asserted that they were the future and
that liberal democracy was shopworn.
Of the three revolutionary ideologies, Bolshevism had the greatest
impact on Britain and British strategic foreign policy. Naziism was too
racialist and too German to have much domestic appeal in Britain.7
Fascism had more, but it never attracted more than a tiny minority
of Britons.8 Communism was a different matter. Its tenets, if not its
practice, were universalist. This meant that it could act (or could be
perceived as acting) as a revolutionary force domestically in Britain.9 At
least as importantly, Leninâ€™s concept of imperialism as the highest stage
Alan Cassels, Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World (London and New
York, 1996), 139â€“80; Cassels, â€˜Ideologyâ€™, in Robert Boyce and Joseph A. Maiolo, The
Origins of World War II. The Debate Continues (Basingstoke and New York, 2003),
227â€“48; and Michael Howard, â€˜Ideology and International Relationsâ€™, RIS, 15
Generally, see H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society. The Reorientation of
European Social Thought 1890â€“1930 (New York, 1958), 392â€“431, and Modris Eksteins,
Rites of Spring. The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Toronto and New York,
1989). For the pre-1914 background, see Stephen Kern, The Culture of Space and Time
1880â€“1918 (Cambridge, MA, 1983).
N. J. Crowson, Facing Fascism. The Conservative Party and the European Dictators, 1935â€“
1940 (London and New York, 1997), which also introduces the literature.
For an overview, see Thomas Linehan, British Fascism 1918â€“1939. Parties, Ideology and
Culture (Manchester and New York, 2000). For specific aspects, see G. C. Webber,
â€˜Patterns of Membership and Support for the BUFâ€™, JCH, 19, 4 (1984); Richard C.
Thurlow, â€˜British Fascism and State Surveillance, 1934â€“1935â€™, INS, 3, 1 (1988), 77â€“
99; Thurlow, Fascism in Britain. A History 1918â€“1985 (Oxford, 1987), 122â€“5; Stephen
Cullen, â€˜The Development of the Ideas and Policy of the British Union of Fascistsâ€™,
JCH, 22 (1987), 115â€“36; Cullen, â€˜Political Violence: The Case of the British Union of
Fascistsâ€™, JCH, 28 (1993), 245â€“67; and the debate between M. Pugh, â€˜The British
Union of Fascists and the Olympia Debateâ€™, HJ, 41 (1991), 529â€“42, and Jon Lawrence,
â€˜Fascist Violence and the Politics of Public Order in Inter-war Britain: The Olympia
Debate Revisitedâ€™, HR, 76, 192 (2003), 238â€“67. For the FOâ€™s response, see P. G.
Edwards, â€˜The Foreign Office and Fascism 1924â€“1929â€™, JCH, 5, 2 (1970), 153â€“61.
Discussed more fully in chapter 1.
4 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
of capitalism led the Bolsheviks, through the agency of the Communist
International (the Comintern, set up in Moscow in 1919 as a co-ordi-
nating body for ideologically pure socialists and as an arm of Soviet
policy), to attempt to subvert European colonial empires.10 This made
Bolshevism a threat to the British Empire and a prime consideration in
questions of imperial defence.11 Thus, an examination of Anglo-Soviet
strategic matters forces us to look at how ideology affected the formula-
tion of British policy.12 This is of interest generally and of particular
significance with respect to the crucial events preceding the outbreak of
the Second World War.
This is not to argue that Anglo-Soviet affairs were the most important
bilateral relationship in British strategic foreign policy. Much stronger
arguments could be made for Britainâ€™s relations with France, Germany,
Japan and the United States. Anglo-Soviet issues, except in a few cases,
were matters of secondary importance. However, it is an argument for
the importance of Soviet Russia in the formulation and understanding
of British strategic foreign policy in general. Soviet Russia affected more
issues of significance for Britain than did any other major Power. For
this reason, the study of it â€“ the taking of its â€˜core-sampleâ€™ â€“ provides a
more comprehensive view of British policy than does an examination of
Britainâ€™s dealings with any other Power.
And there is yet another way in which Britainâ€™s relations with Soviet
Russia are particularly valuable and revealing. If we place the Great
Powers into two categories: those status quo Powers who wished to
defend (or at least to manage changes to) the settlements reached at
Paris in 1919 and those who wished to change them by force of arms if
necessary (the so-called revisionist Powers), then Britain and France
were firmly in the former category, while Germany, Italy and Japan were
in the latter. But Soviet Russia is difficult to categorize. Moscow had
millennialist goals, making it a revolutionary, but not necessarily a revi-
sionist Power. This fact had repercussions. Britain could scarcely align
itself with any of the revisionist Powers, unless it could persuade them to
For the Cominternâ€™s origins, see Jon Jacobson, When the Soviet Union Entered World
Politics (Berkeley and London, 1994), 32â€“9.
Keith Jeffery, The British Army and the Crisis of Empire 1918â€“1922 (Manchester, 1984),
44â€“9; Richard J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence. British Intelligence and the
Defence of the Indian Empire 1904â€“1924 (London and Portland, OR, 1995), 306â€“20,
324â€“5; Antony Best, British Intelligence and the Japanese Challenge in Asia, 1914â€“1941
(Basingstoke and New York, 2002), 49â€“70; Orest Babij, â€˜The Making of Imperial
Defence Policy in Britain, 1926â€“1934â€™, unpublished DPhil. thesis, Oxford 2003, 25â€“
66. I would like to thank Dr Babij for putting his work at my disposal.
Donald Lammers, â€˜Fascism, Communism, and the Foreign Office, 1937â€“1939â€™, JCH,
6, 3 (1971), 66â€“86.
pursue their aims peacefully.13 Thus, for London, all the â€˜revisionistsâ€™
were potential enemies, although the British were loath to see this as
inevitable. On the other hand, France was a near-inevitable British ally
(though the British also were reluctant to accept the military ramifications
of a tightly defined Anglo-French relationship).14 And France, faced with
revisionist Italy and Germany, had little option but to throw its lot in
with Britain.15 The United States was in a similar position, although
Washington had an option â€“ isolationism â€“ denied Paris by geography.
Soviet Russiaâ€™s position was ambivalent. Regarding all other states with a
suspicion derived from ideology, Soviet leaders could as easily align
themselves with a status quo Power such as France (the Franco-Soviet
Pact of 1935) as with a revisionist Power such as Nazi Germany (the
Naziâ€“Soviet Pact of 1939). Soviet Russia itself could also be the target
of the revisionist nations, something underlined by the Anti-Comintern
Pact. In all circumstances, however, the security of Soviet Russia, not
necessarily general peace (which, according to Marxist dogma, the
inevitable crisis of capitalism made impossible), was Moscowâ€™s goal.
The ambiguity of Soviet Russiaâ€™s position makes the Anglo-Soviet
â€˜core-sampleâ€™ particularly rich. Not only does it permit an examination
of actual British policy, but it also allows a consideration of the different
possible British policies. Could Soviet Russia be persuaded to help con-
tain the revisionist Powers? If so, what was the price and was it worth the
cost? Was Soviet Russia a potential enemy? If so, would one of the
revisionist Powers have to be conceded its goals in order to prevent
Britainâ€™s having to face not just three but perhaps four possible enemies?
Would Moscow remain aloof from any possible conflict involving Britain
in order to fish in troubled waters? These questions were entangled with
British considerations of power, ideology and personality. It is not sur-
prising that as early as 1933 the Foreign Office contended that Soviet
See Sargentâ€™s minute, 9 Dec 1931, on â€˜Note as Regards Anglo-German Relationsâ€™,
Selby (Simonâ€™s private secretary), 6 Dec 1931: â€˜As regards Germany, there can of
course be no question of direct and open co-operation, for any such combination
would needs take the revolutionary form of a concerted attack on the status-quo of
Europe as laid down by the Peace Treatiesâ€™ (Simon Papers, FO 800/285).
Martin S. Alexander and William J. Philpott, â€˜The Entente Cordiale and the Next War:
Anglo-French Views on Future Military Co-operation, 1928â€“1939â€™, in Martin S.
Alexander, ed., Knowing Your Friends. Intelligence Inside Alliances and Coalitions from
1914 to the Cold War (London and Portland, OR, 1998), 53â€“84.
French attempts to come to terms with Italy foundered on the conflicting goals of the
two states; see William I. Shorrock, From Ally to Enemy. The Enigma of Fascist Italy in
French Diplomacy, 1920â€“1940 (Kent, OH, and London, 1988).
6 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
Russia was â€˜the great enigmaâ€™ in the determination of British strategic
Soviet Russiaâ€™s indeterminate position also causes some difficulties for
any study of its influence on British policy. Because the British were
never certain what Soviet Russiaâ€™s security policy was (or even what they
wanted it to be), much of what is discussed below never became policy.
In fact, often it never became more than speculation among the members
of the strategic foreign-policy making elite, particularly those civil ser-
vants within the Foreign Office whose job it was to provide analysis and
options.17 However, if the goal is to understand why certain policy options
were adopted, then the devil is in the detail, and it is vital to know what
other options existed and why they were rejected. It is also essential to
understand just how that winnowing process worked.
This need for comprehensive detail also explains the focus on the
Foreign Office. Only in exceptional cases were policy alternatives dis-
cussed on a regular basis elsewhere. The Foreign Officeâ€™s central occu-
pation was to shape British strategic foreign policy, and all information
from other departments flowed through it. Therefore, it is only logical
that the Foreign Office files should provide the bulk of the material in
this book.18 Nor should it be surprising that many lesser-known figures
in the Foreign Office have been allowed to speak for themselves rather
than have their ideas paraphrased. Only by working in this fashion can
the complexity and the personal nature of the debates over policy alter-
natives become clear. However, the Foreign Office was not the only voice
in the discussion of policy. Thus, as the use of the term â€˜strategic foreign
policyâ€™ suggests, the influence of other departments, particularly of the
Treasury and the fighting services, is a central part of what follows.19
The intended end result of this consideration of the Anglo-Soviet â€˜core-
sampleâ€™ is to revise the existing explanatory frameworks for British stra-
tegic foreign policy in the inter-war period. Analysis of this subject has
centred around the concept of appeasement.20 Soviet Russia is central in
â€˜Memorandum respecting Manchukuoâ€™, DRC 20, W. R. Connor Green (FED, FO),
21 Nov 1933, Cab 16/109.
For the concept, see D. C. Watt, â€˜The Nature of the Foreign-Policy Making Elite in
Britainâ€™, in D. C. Watt, Personalities and Politics. Studies in the Formulation of British
Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century (London and South Bend, IN, 1965), 1â€“15.
Best, British Intelligence, 5â€“10. His remarks on intelligence apply generally.
The term â€˜strategic foreign policyâ€™ encompasses more than what is usually meant by
foreign policy. It involves the stateâ€™s utilization of all the means â€“ economic, financial,