This suggestion was linked to another aspect of British strategic for-
eign policy, the forthcoming London naval conference. In June, the
Soviets had asserted that there was a â€˜firm Anglo-Japanese blocâ€™ in all
naval disarmament discussions.90 Because of this political dimension,
Soviet Russia wished to be included in the naval talks. Vansittart used an
interview with Maisky on 3 July to attempt to disabuse the ambassador
of the idea of any Anglo-Japanese arrangement. As the PUS minuted on
20 July, â€˜no sane person dreams of renewing the Anglo-Japanese alli-
anceâ€™.91 However, that was written before a Japanese ballon dâ€™essai sug-
gesting an Anglo-Japanese non-aggression pact arrived in London.92 On
20 August, Simon seized on the Japanese overture, no doubt seeing in it
a means to deal with both Chamberlainâ€™s continued insistence on an
arrangement with Japan and the related issues to be considered at the
naval talks. The foreign secretary asked Vansittart to have the Foreign
Office consider two issues: first, a proposal to Japan that it make a
â€˜voluntary declarationâ€™ as to what naval limits would be acceptable to it;
second, the Japanese suggestion of a non-aggression pact.
The first issue was dealt with quickly. While Craigie believed that this
was the best way forward in theory, no one was optimistic that Japan
would be willing. The non-aggression pact raised wider issues, particu-
larly as Chamberlain had written Vansittart a â€˜letter of very strong
advocacyâ€™ in favour. The clearest opposition came from Orde. The head
of the Far Eastern Department pointed out that the issue was a compli-
cated one. To treat bilaterally with Japan would â€˜shockâ€™ the United
States and make Britain â€˜seem to be ostentatiously divorcing ourselves
from America and following in the Japanese wakeâ€™. Further, since
Japanâ€™s actions in China continued to be immoderate, any support for
Tokyo would offend the Chinese and create â€˜horrorâ€™ at the League of
Nations. The effect on Soviet Russia would be profound and this spoke
to the fears of a Russo-Japanese war. Moscow â€˜would, no doubt, take the
pact amiss, and if, as might conceivably happen, the result of a pact were
Chilston to FO, disp 286, 16 Jun 1934, FO 371/17598/A5055/1938/45, minutes,
Craigie (3 Jul) and Vansittart (4 Jul).
Vansittartâ€™s minute (20 Jul) on conversation between Eden and Hugh Wilson, 19 Jul
1934, FO 371/17599/A6404/1938/45.
Reported Clive (ambassador, Tokyo) to FO, disp 369, 5 Jul 1934, FO 371/17599/
A7695/1938/45, and minutes (17 Aug to 2 Sept), esp. Vansittart (22, 25 and 29 Aug),
Craigie (23 Sept), Orde (28 Aug) and Eden (2 Sept).
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 113
to encourage Japan to fight Russia, we should see the Russian counter-
poise to Germany seriously weakenedâ€™. For these same reasons, Orde
also dismissed any idea of tripartite pact in the region.
This was enough for Vansittart, but Eden was not deterred. The Lord
Privy Seal argued that, if an agreement that satisfied China could be
reached, an Anglo-Japanese pact might be acceptable. He was dismissive
about the impact of such a move on Soviet Russia. â€˜I certainly would not
give it [such a pact] upâ€™, Eden concluded in a remark that was prophetic
of his later position, â€˜for a contingent fear of the loss of Russia as a
makeweight to Germany in Europe. I do not believe that Russia is a
weight, only a mass, in Europe.â€™ Despite this, on 29 August, Vansittart
advised Simon that the idea of a voluntary declaration by Japan be
referred to the Admiralty, but opposed the idea of any pact with Japan.
A few days later, on 5 September, Vansittart suggested to Simon that the
foreign secretary should bring the matter to the Cabinet.
Simon agreed. He noted that to offer advice to Japan at the present
moment would be â€˜either ineffective or redundantâ€™. Chamberlain
accepted Simonâ€™s argument, although the acting prime minister empha-
sized that the Japanese might in future be more likely to listen to British
advice â€˜if they had special reasons for desiring to maintain the friendliest
relations with usâ€™.93 The tension went out of Russo-Japanese relations in
late September due to Soviet Russiaâ€™s entry into the League and an
interim agreement between the two over the CER.94 From a â€˜cynical
point of viewâ€™, it was noted at the Foreign Office, this change in Russo-
Japanese relations did not â€˜particularly suit our bookâ€™, but the improve-
ment was believed merely temporary.95 Even by late October, when a
Russo-Japanese detente seemed likely, Harcourt-Smith dismissed the
idea that â€˜the pendulum of Russo-Japanese relationsâ€™ could â€˜remain
suspended there for longâ€™.96 The War Office was even more cynical,
arguing that Tokyoâ€™s entire initiative towards Britain resulted only from
the Japanese uneasiness about Soviet Russiaâ€™s joining the League and
recognition by the United States.97
Simonâ€™s minute (7 Sept) on Clive to FO, tel 213, 4 Sept 1934, FO 371/18177/F5371/
316/23; Chamberlain to Simon, 10 Sept 1934, Simon Papers, FO 800/291.
Clive to FO, tel 216, 19 Sept 1934, FO 371/18177/F5636/316/23; Clive to FO, disp
491, 13 Sept 1934, FO 371/18177/F5979/316/23.
Minute (30 Oct 1934) by R. H. S. Allen (FED) on Clive to FO, disp 519, 19 Sept
1934, FO 371/18177/F6388/316/23.
His minute (30 Oct) on Clive to FO, disp 519, 28 Sept 1934, FO 371/18177/F6388/
316/23 and widely supported, minutes by Pratt (1 Nov), Orde (5 Nov) and Wellesley
MI2 to DMO&I, 27 Sept 1934 and the latterâ€™s minute (1 Oct), WO 106/5501. The
Adm believed Japanese policy was aimed at Britain; see Dickens (DNI) to Dill
(DMO&I, WO), 28 Sept 1934, and reply (26 Oct), WO 106/5502.
114 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
None the less, the improvement provided Neville Chamberlain with
another opportunity to lobby for an Anglo-Japanese rapprochement.98
The chancellor lunched with Simon on 17 September and again on the
24th to argue his case. As a result, on 25 September, Simon broached
the matter at the Cabinet, where Chamberlain suggested that he and the
foreign secretary would prepare a joint paper on the subject.99 In the
interim, Clive was instructed to make enquiries in Tokyo. The Treasury
and Foreign Officeâ€™s memorandum argued Chamberlainâ€™s favourite
point, that an Anglo-Japanese agreement in the Far East would reduce
Britainâ€™s possible enemies, but it was hedged about by the difficulties the
Foreign Office had often mentioned concerning British relations with
China, the United States and Soviet Russia.100 In fact, Simon had told
MacDonald, even before the joint memorandum was presented to Cab-
inet, that â€˜the reaction both in America and in Soviet Russia would be
pronouncedâ€™ should Britain appear to cosy up to Japan.101 The initiative
collapsed by late autumn, despite an initial warm response from Tokyo.
This resulted from two things. The first was a determined campaign
opposing it launched by Sir George Sansom, the influential commercial
counsellor at the British Embassy in Tokyo. He argued that the Japanese
had no intention of sharing their position in the Far East with Britain
and that keeping British policy towards Japan fluid was the only way to
influence Tokyo.102 The second was the fact that the entire issue became
subsumed within the naval talks, at which the Japanese indicated that
there could be no limitations placed on their naval building. The result
was that the Cabinet decided to leave the matter of future relations with
Japan until after the naval conference.103
With this Anglo-Japanese impediment avoided, the way was clear for
other possibilities. On 6 November, one emerged: a Soviet initiative for
improved Anglo-Soviet relations. This was doubly important, since
This paragraph, except where indicated, is based on David Dutton, Simon. A Political
Biography of Sir John Simon (London, 1992), 190â€“3; see N. Chamberlainâ€™s retrospect-
ive diary entry, 9 Oct 1934, Chamberlain Papers, NC 2/23A.
Minutes, Cab 32(34), 25 Sept 1934, Cab 23/79.
â€˜Memorandum by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for
Foreign Affairsâ€™, CP 223(34), 16 Oct 1934, Cab 24/250.
Simon to MacDonald, 3 Oct 1934, Simon Papers, FO 800/291.
Clive to Wellesley, 12 Oct 1934, FO 371/18115/F6533/164/10; Sansom to Sir E.
Crowe (comptroller-general, DOT), private, 12 Oct 1934, FO 371/18184/F6544/
591/23. For Sansom, see Gordon Daniels, â€˜Sir George Sansom (1883â€“1965): Historian
and Diplomatâ€™, in Sir Hugh Cortazzi and Gordon Daniels, eds., Britain and Japan
1859â€“1991. Themes and Personalities (London and New York, 1991), 277â€“88.
Minutes, Cab 36(34), 24 Oct 1934, Cab 23/79; Craigieâ€™s minute, â€˜Non-Aggression
Pact With Japanâ€™, secret, 29 Oct 1934, FO 371/17602/A9844/1938/45.
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 115
during the summer fears had been raised that, if the Eastern Locarno
were to fail, then a Sovietâ€“German rapprochement might occur.104
Hence, any Soviet suggestions needed to be listened to with care. Maisky
made the Soviet opening by means of a conversation with one of Edenâ€™s
friends.105 The Soviet ambassador stressed that British and Soviet inter-
ests were no longer opposed. The Foreign Office was convinced that this
initiative stemmed from â€˜alarming rumours, from Tokyo, of possibilities
of an Anglo-Japanese rapprochementâ€™, an assumption given more weight
later in the month when Litvinov enquired whether an Anglo-Japanese
agreement had been signed as part of the naval discussions.106 The
British were quick to see an opportunity to resolve their minor outstand-
ing issues with Soviet Russia. J. L. Dodds assessed clearly both what had
caused this initiative and the possible advantages: â€˜It is becoming in-
creasingly evidentâ€™, he noted, â€˜that the Russian fears of Japan and Ger-
many can be worked to our advantage.â€™ Wellesley was cautious â€“
â€˜unfortunately Russia has always proved herself to be a very unreliable
partnerâ€™ â€“ and suggested a watching brief. Collier shared Maiskyâ€™s pos-
ition. But, the head of the Northern Department feared that the Soviets
might assume that Britain needed Soviet aid to counter Japan more than
Soviet Russia needed British support. Thus, the Soviets might be un-
likely to make any concessions to the British. Collier also noted that the
Soviets might place a political construction (and hence fear some sort of
Anglo-Japanese rapprochement) on a recent British initiative â€“ the mission
to the Far East headed by Lord Barnaby of the Federation of British
Maiskyâ€™s initiative was not an isolated event. On 9 November, the
Soviet ambassador spoke to Simon.108 While there were rumours
R. H. Campbell (envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, charge dâ€™affaires,
Paris) to Vansittart, 26 Jul 1934, FO 371/17749/C5219/247/18, Vansittartâ€™s minute (28
Jul); Clerk (ambassador, Paris) to FO, tel 220, 2 Aug 1934, FO 371/17749/C5284/247/
18, Wigramâ€™s minute (3 Aug); minute, Vansittart (4 Aug) on Chilston to FO, tel 107, 3
Aug 1934, FO 371/17749/C5214/247/18; Sargentâ€™s minute (15 Sept) on an untitled
German memo, 8 Sept 1934, FO 371/17750/C6076/247/18; Chilston to FO, tel 160,
28 Nov 1934, FO 371/17751/C8033/247/18; Patteson to FO, tel 72, 21 Nov 1934, FO
The remainder of this paragraph, except where indicated, is based on Boothby to Eden, 6
Nov 1934, FO 371/18305/N6328/16/38, minutes by Speaight (12 Nov), Dodd (13
Nov), Collier (13 Nov) and Wellesley (14 Nov).
Patteson (Geneva) to FO, tel 70, 21 Nov 1934, FO 371/17601/A9305/1938/45.
Collier disliked the FBI mission: his minutes, 21 Sept on Chilston to FO, disp 449, 11
Sept 1934, FO 371/18177/F5507/316/23; 13 Nov on Boothby to Eden, 6 Nov 1934,
FO 371/18305/N6328/16/38; 28 Dec on Vansittartâ€™s conversation with Maisky, 19 Dec
1934, FO 371/18306/N7104/16/38.
Simon to Charles, disp 544, 9 Nov 1934, FO 371/18305/N6462/16/38.
116 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
that Litvinovâ€™s position was becoming less secure due to his policies
having antagonized Germany, the flow of Soviet policy still seemed to
run towards Britain.109 This was underscored when Maisky spoke to
Vansittart on 13 December. Maisky reiterated what he had told Simon,
and then raised his concerns about the course of Anglo-Soviet relations.
The PUS quickly countered Maiskyâ€™s fears. When the latter spoke of
those of the â€˜extreme Rightâ€™ in Britain who favoured a Russo-Japanese
conflict, Vansittart â€˜disabused his mind emphatically of any such sugges-
tionâ€™. Vansittart also emphasized the British desire for peace, down-
played any political implications of the FBI mission and assured
Maisky that Simon had not forgotten the earlier interview.110 Three days
later, Maisky again spoke with Vansittart.111 The ambassador returned
to the FBI mission and rumours of a possible British loan to Japan,
wondered about the anti-Soviet ventilations of several MPs, expressed
concern about the anti-Soviet nature of both British newspapers and
films and, finally, suggested that an official British visit to Soviet
Russia would be â€˜welcomedâ€™ as a harbinger of improved relations. For
Vansittart, the interview was a â€˜further and strikingâ€™ indication of the
new Soviet desire to improve Anglo-Soviet relations, a desire kindled by
a fear of â€˜Japan and Germanyâ€™.
There were many interpretations of this interview. Collier sympa-
thized with some of Maiskyâ€™s concerns about the direction of British
policy. The former pointed out the informal connections between the
FBI mission and the British government (including the Foreign Officeâ€™s
Department of Overseas Trade â€“ DOT). In a backhanded slap at Fisher
and Chamberlain, Collier noted that â€˜the pro-Japanese policy advocated
by members of the mission and their friends is supported in high official
circles in London, particularly in the Treasuryâ€™. On the other hand,
Collier was dismissive of some of Maiskyâ€™s points: if the Soviets did
not like the tone of British press â€˜comment on mass terrorism, they have
only to abandon such methodsâ€™. Finally, Collier advocated a strong
statement that Britain was â€˜opposed to any Power seeking exclusive
political or commercial predominance in any specific part of the world
outside its own territoriesâ€™. This was part and parcel of his objection to
Charles to FO, disp 568, 19 Nov 1934, FO 371/18297/N6525/1/38; Charles to Collier,
20 Nov 1934, FO 371/18318/N6534/120/38; Charles to Collier, 4 Dec 1934, FO 371/
Vansittartâ€™s record of a conversation, 13 Dec 1934, FO 371/18306/N6953/16/38,
minutes and marginalia.
The remainder of this paragraph and the following one are based on Vansittartâ€™s memo,
19 December 1934, FO 371/18306/N7104/16/38, minutes, Collier (28 Dec), Orde (29
Dec), and Mounsey (31 Dec).
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 117
the Anglo-Japanese flirtation, a policy that he termed â€˜â€śdoing a dealâ€ť
with Japan at the expense of China and other countries in Asia (includ-
ing Soviet Russia) and â€śsharing the swagâ€ťâ€™. Orde was less fierce. He
refused to criticize the DOT, but agreed that a statement decrying any
Russo-Japanese conflict would be of value. Mounsey ruminated on the
suspicious nature of the Soviets, but favoured both a visit and, if it could
be done carefully, a statement outlining the British desire for peace in the
Far East. This advice was accepted by Vansittart.
Vansittart met with Maisky again on 27 December.112 The meeting
was a mixture of conciliation and plain speaking. The PUS told the
Soviet ambassador that the MPsâ€™ fulminations did not reflect policy.
Further, Vansittart stated that he had â€˜unimpeachableâ€™ knowledge of
the Cominternâ€™s interference in British â€˜domestic affairsâ€™. If Soviet
Russia wished for better relations â€“ if it had â€˜more important fish to
fryâ€™ â€“ then such interference should cease. He promised to look into the
rumours of a British loan to Japan, but observed that censorship of films
was a difficult matter.113 For his part, Maisky raised a matter that
touched tangentially on Anglo-Soviet relations, noting that the German