essential that she should again appear there as a counter weight to
The final words belonged to Vansittart and Simon. The PUS accepted
the view that the optimal result for Britain would be a â€˜drawâ€™, but,
bowing to the arguments outlined above, noted that â€˜the choice w[oul]d
be between the two evilsâ€™ of either a Soviet or a Japanese victory. In fact,
as â€˜tension [between the two] produces good, or better, behaviour . . . it
is in our interest that there should be tension but no blows as long as
possibleâ€™.49 Simonâ€™s view was contrary. The foreign secretary accepted
â€˜muchâ€™ of the Far Eastern Departmentâ€™s analysis. However, he worried
that Japan would â€˜digestâ€™ Manchuria more quickly than the Far Eastern
Department anticipated and â€˜be ready for another mealâ€™ in three to four
The remainder of this and the following two paragraphs, except where indicated, are
based on sources in n. 46.
This remained Vansittartâ€™s view; see his minute (25 May) on Cadogan (ambassador,
China) to FO, disp 27 TS, 23 Mar 1934, FO 371/18147/F2899/2899/10; Mounsey to
Cadogan, 31 May 1934, Cadogan Papers, FO 800/293.
102 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
years. He also felt that Japan would defeat Soviet Russia in any war and
that â€˜the rapidity with which that victory is achieved may well startle
many peopleâ€™. And, harkening back to the fears that were current during
1904 and 1905, he suggested that Soviet Russia might â€˜try to regain
casteâ€™ after a defeat by turning â€˜southwards towards Afghanistan &
Persia . . . not a very pleasant prospect for usâ€™.50
But was a Sovietâ€“Japanese war likely and what did other departments
think? In early 1934, there was substantial discussion at both the War
Office and Admiralty. The British naval attache at Tokyo believed that,
both from the political and military points of view, Japan â€˜is in no
position to go to war nowâ€™. Unless the â€˜young military officersâ€™, who
â€˜are undoubtedly in favour of striking nowâ€™, could exert a decisive
influence, he believed that war would not occur â€˜for three or four yearsâ€™.
The director of military operations and intelligence (DMO&I) at the
War Office, Major General J. G. Dill, agreed, and noted that Soviet
Russia was â€˜even less ready to start an aggressive war than Japan, though,
like the latter, she will fight hard if attackedâ€™. As to which country
would emerge victorious in a future war, the Admiralty had no doubts.
â€˜The moment the best combination of circumstances shows itself â€“ it
may be this year or in 2 or 3â€™, the director of naval intelligence (DNI)
opined, â€˜they [the Japanese] will act quickly & God help the Bolos.
The Foreign Office settled down to observe events. One complication
in Anglo-Soviet relations was solved on 16 February with the signing of a
new Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement.52 This was accompanied by hints
from Soviet Russia that the agreement might usher in an Anglo-Soviet
non-aggression pact or that Britain might now sponsor the entry of
Soviet Russia into the League.53 The latter was unlikely, but there was
a feeling that Soviet Russia would utilize third parties in an attempt to
secure British support for Moscowâ€™s entry into the League. Vansittart
noted resignedly that â€˜if these three powers [France, Poland and Italy]
are going to put Russia up, we sh[oul]d not oppose it, & must even feign
For background, see Keith Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar. British Policy and Russia,
1894â€“1917 (Oxford, 1995), 106. For Simonâ€™s fears, see Cab 5(34), minutes, 14 Feb
1934; Cab 23/78, and â€˜Policy in regard to Afghanistan. Joint Memorandum by Sir J.
Simon . . . and Sir S. Hoare . . .â€™, CP 33(34), 2 Feb 1934, Cab 24/247; â€˜Policy in
Regard to Afghanistan. Memorandum by Lord Hailsham (Secretary of State for War)â€™,
CP 36(34), 8 Feb 1934, Cab 24/247.
J. P. Vivian (naval attache, Tokyo) to Rear Adm. G. C. Dickens (DNI, Adm), 19 Jan
1934, Dickens to Maj.-Gen. J. G. Dill (DMO&I, WO), 20 Feb 1934, Dillsâ€™s reply, 28
Feb 1934, and Dickens to Dill, 1 Mar 1934, all WO 106/5499.
Approved at Cabinet, 31 Jan 1934, Cab 3(34), Cab 23/78.
Chilston to FO, tel 19, 17 Feb 1934, FO 371/18303/N1069/16/38.
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 103
pleasure, though I still think that it will do no good to the League & only
be an embarrassment vis a vis of Japan certainly & Germany possiblyâ€™.54
But, certainly there was no doubt at the Foreign Office that the various
Soviet actions meant that â€˜1934 thus sees the Soviet Government bent
on securing admission to the councils of the Great Powers.â€™ There also
was little doubt as to Soviet motive: â€˜their main incentive, however, is not
prestige, but self-protection. Faced with the possibility of war in the Far
East, they must do their utmost to insure themselves against the risk of
attack in Europe.â€™55 The Soviets were also thought to oppose any im-
provement of relations among the other Powers, including any accept-
ance of the disarmament proposals involving Japan and Germany. As
Shone put it:
They dislike the prospect of any rapprochement between Germany and the West-
ern Powers, not only because they feel that Germanyâ€™s gaze would then be fixed
more firmly than ever on the east, but because their fear and hatred of Germany
is such that if she were friends with the Western Powers, they could not be; they
would then be isolated again and unable to count on the support of the Powers
against German aggression â€“ the only support which is of use to them until they
are strong enough to deal with Germany (and perhaps simultaneously with
Japan) by themselves.56
Rumours and reports of an imminent Soviet application to the League
continued throughout the spring, with Britainâ€™s refusing to be drawn
on the subject.57 Vansittart was suspicious of Soviet motives: â€˜I have
always considered that it would be a dubious advantage to the League if
Russia joined, before she had liquidated her troubles with Japan. It
might end with positive disadvantage to the League. Russia w[oul]d be
Loraine (ambassador, Angora) to FO, 22 Feb 1934, FO 371/18303/N1316/16/38;
Loraine to Simon, 22 Feb 1934, FO 371/18303/N1617/16/38, minute. An opposing
interpretation to what follows is Michael Jabara Carley, â€˜â€śA Fearful Concatenation of
Circumstancesâ€ť: The Anglo-Soviet Rapprochement, 1934â€“1936â€™, CEH, 5, 1 (1996),
Quotations from â€˜Memorandum on the Pacts of Non-Aggression and the Conventions
for the Definition of Aggression negotiated by the USSR during 1933â€™, T. Shone and
P. F. Grey (both ND), 14 Feb 1934, FO 371/18080/N1215/224/63.
Chilston to FO, disp 122, 13 March 1934, FO 371/185211/W2617/1/98 and Shoneâ€™s
minute (28 Mar).
Tyrrell (ambassador, Paris) to FO, disp 90, 20 Mar 1934, FO 371/18298/N1741/2/38;
Gilbert Murray (LNU) to Simon, 15 Mar 1934, FO 371/18298/N1754/2/38; Walters
(undersecretary general, L of N) to Strang, 16 Mar 1934, FO 371/18298/N1823/2/38;
Cecil to Simon, 29 Mar 1934, Simon Papers, FO 800/289; Chilston to FO, tel 48, 31
Mar 1934, FO 371/18298/N1935/2/38; Walters to Strang, 29 Mar 1934, FO 371/
18298/N2114/2/38; Loraine to FO, tel 25, 4 Apr 1934, FO 371/18298/N2159/2/38;
British Delegation (Geneva) to FO, 12 Apr 1934, disp 34, FO 371/18298/N2235/2/38;
FO minute, 12 April 1934, FO 371/18298/N2393/2/38.
104 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
joining not for love of the League, but for what she might be able to get
out of it.â€™58
But all considerations of Soviet Russia were entangled with both the
Cabinetâ€™s reception of the DRC Report (with its implications for Anglo-
Japanese relations) and the ongoing disarmament talks (with their impli-
cations for Anglo-German relations).59 On 14 March and again on 19
March, the Cabinet had considered the DRC Report, and Chamberlain
had made another pitch for rapprochement with Japan as a means of
sharply cutting back the defence estimates.60 The chancellor continued
to push this line in various committees, including the one set up to
establish the British position for the forthcoming naval disarmament
conference.61 Two weeks later, at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee
on Disarmament, Chamberlain reiterated this argument.62 However, he
faced a barrage of caveats ranging from Japanâ€™s appetite in China to the
legalities of abrogating the Nine-Power Treaty if negotiations with Japan
were undertaken. This attack was repeated a few days later.63 Given this
high-level attempt to advocate a pro-Japanese policy contrary to the
Foreign Officeâ€™s best advice, Collier was annoyed by any emissions
from the British Embassy in Tokyo that encouraged such efforts. â€˜I
do not share the assumptionâ€™, he minuted sharply, â€˜on which the Tokyo
Embassy seem habitually to proceed in all matters â€“ viz. that our â€śtrue
interestsâ€ť must always be pro-Japanese.â€™64 And, on another dispatch
contending that Soviet strength was largely a mirage, he concluded
that: â€˜I venture to think that this bears out my view that Japan is
Minute, Vansittart, 26 March 1934, FO 371/18298/N1977/2/38.
Dick Richardson, â€˜The Geneva Disarmament Conference, 1932â€“1934â€™, in D. Richard-
son and G. Stone, eds., Decisions and Diplomacy. Essays in Twentieth-Century Inter-
national History (London and New York, 1995), 60â€“82; Dick Richardson and
Carolyn Kitching, â€˜Britain and the World Disarmament Conferenceâ€™, in P. Catterall
with C. J. Morris, eds., Britain and the Threat to Stability in Europe, 1918â€“1945 (London
and New York, 1993), 35â€“56; Carolyn J. Kitching, Britain and the Problem of Inter-
national Disarmament 1919â€“1934 (London, 1999), 164â€“73; and Kitching, Britain and
the Geneva Disarmament Conference (Basingstoke and New York, 2003).
Minutes, Cab 9(34), 14 Mar 1934 and Cab 10(34), 19 March 1934, both Cab 23/78.
NCM (35), minutes 1st meeting, 16 Apr 1934, Cab 29/147; N. Chamberlain diary
entry, 20 Apr 1934, Chamberlain Papers, NC 2/23A.
DC(M) 32, minutes 40th meeting, 1 May 1934, Cab 27/506.
DC(M) 32, minutes 41st meeting, 3 May 1934, Cab 27/506; rebuttal by the Adm of
Chamberlainâ€™s arguments, â€˜The Naval Conference, 1935. Note by the First Lord of the
Admiraltyâ€™, NCM(35) 10, most secret, Eyres Monsell, 18 May 1935; the FOâ€™s objec-
tions, â€˜Anglo-Japanese Relations and the Question of Naval Parityâ€™, NCM(35) 8, most
secret, FO, 23 May 1934: both Cab 29/148.
Minute, Collier (26 May) on Dodd (Tokyo) to FO, tel 127, 25 May 1934, FO 371/
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 105
more dangerous to us in Asia than Russia can be for many years to
At this same time, the situation regarding Soviet Russia and the
League became more complicated. Litvinov arrived in Geneva on 18
May. The next day Eden reported that the Soviet minister had not come
to make soundings about joining the League or about disarmament;
rather, he wished to negotiate a pact of mutual assistance with France
and its eastern European allies â€“ an â€˜Eastern Locarnoâ€™.66 This triggered a
discussion of the very underpinnings of British strategic defence policy.
These deliberations were only marginally about Soviet Russia, but are
essential to consider, as they make evident the contending currents of
thought and considerations about the future direction of British policy,
including towards Moscow.
Allen Leeper, the head of the League of Nations and Western Depart-
ment, argued that the French policy of alliances would lead to a division
of Europe into power blocs as before 1914. This would push Britain into
a â€˜policy of isolationismâ€™, and would â€˜eventually force us to revive the
unpopular policy of an entente not only with France but with Russiaâ€™.
Leeper, who shared his brother Rexâ€™s dislike of the Bolsheviks, worried
about what he saw as Britainâ€™s â€˜insularâ€™ tendencies.67 â€˜We in this country
are drifting further and further away from collective actionâ€™, he wrote.
â€˜The immediate result will be the diminution of the power of the
League of Nations which Russiaâ€™s adhesion (what a member!) will not
There were divided opinions. Collier felt Leeperâ€™s vision â€˜too tragic a
view of the situationâ€™. He contended that an â€˜Eastern Locarnoâ€™ would
Minute, Collier (17 May) on Charles (charge dâ€™affaires, Moscow) to FO, disp 220, 8
May 1934, FO 371/18098/F2797/107/10.
This paragraph and four following ones, except where indicated, based on Patteson
(consul, Geneva) for Eden to FO, tel 19, FO 371/18298/N2973/2/38; Collierâ€™s minute
(22 May) and untitled memo by Allen Leeper (head, L of N and Western Department,
FO), 23 May 1934, FO 371/18527/W5693/1/98; minutes, Collier (23 May), Craigie
(24 May), Wigram (24 May), E. H. Carr (25 May), Sargent (29 May), Mounsey (6
Jun) and Simon (7 Jun). For earlier Franco-Soviet talks, see Lisanne Radice, â€˜The
Eastern Pact, 1933â€“1935: A Last Attempt at European Co-operationâ€™, SEER, 55, 1
(1977), 47â€“9; Donald N. Lammers, â€˜Britain, Russia, and the Revival of â€śEntente
Diplomacyâ€ť: 1934â€™, JBS, 6, 2 (1967), 99â€“123; and Rolf Ahmann, â€˜â€śLocalization of
Conflictsâ€ť or â€śIndivisibility of Peaceâ€ť: The German and the Soviet Approaches To-
wards Collective Security and East Central Europe 1925â€“1939â€™, in R. Ahmann, A. M.
Birke, and M. Howard, eds., The Quest for Stability. Problems of West European Security
1918â€“1957 (Oxford, 1993), 201â€“47.
See Keith Neilson, â€˜â€śThat elusive entity British policy in Russiaâ€ť: The Impact of Russia
on British Policy at the Paris Peace Conferenceâ€™, in M. Dockrill and J. Fisher, eds., The
Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Peace Without Victory? (Basingstoke and New York, 2001),
106 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
not come about unless Germany were willing to join, as, without Berlinâ€™s
consent, none of the east European nations would dare enter a grouping
so manifestly anti-German. Hence, Collier suggested that Litvinovâ€™s
proposal was simply designed to force Germany into rejecting such a
pact, thus revealing â€˜German [aggressive] intentionsâ€™. Nor did he think
that Leeperâ€™s â€˜alternative to a policy of isolation and drift â€“ viz. an
alliance with France and Belgiumâ€™ â€“ would be acceptable to â€˜public
opinion in this country . . . until the danger from Germany had become
much more apparent than it is nowâ€™. Craigie argued that isolationism,
â€˜provided that the country is prepared to foot an adequate defence billâ€™,
was not a bad policy, since he felt that the attempts at building blocs
were â€˜temporaryâ€™. As someone deeply immersed in the naval limitations
discussions with the United States and Japan, he saw the issue in another
context. He advocated â€˜cultivating the best possible relations with
the US and Japanâ€™ as a means of â€˜preventing Japan from drifting
into the German orbit â€“ a serious possibility if there is to be a real
Wigramâ€™s position was simple. â€˜I do not believe in any heroic solu-
tion on policyâ€™, he offered, â€˜but simply in the quiet and methodical
building up of our own armed strength.â€™ Only such force would make
Germany â€˜reflectâ€™ on its policy, â€˜discourageâ€™ the Italians from joining the
Germans and â€˜encourageâ€™ the French to continue their policy of main-
taining sufficient armed force and alliances to contain Berlin. Wigram
Do not let us discourage France in the pursuit of that policy. It may well be an
essential makeshift pending the building up of our own strength. Once that task
is well in hand, France will be able to see if the British alliance is better than that
of Russia. At that time too (if Germany is still in her present temper) the time will
have come to talk about guarantees; for when we are in a position to fulfil a
guarantee, we shall be able to enact our own terms for its giving.
Orme Sargent took a broader view. He argued that the post-war Anglo-
French hegemony in Europe was â€˜coming to an endâ€™ and was being
replaced by â€˜some system of balance founded on direct Franco-German