â€“ apropos the Eastern Pact â€“ about refusing to accept the sanctity of
borders in eastern Europe. Maisky added that Soviet Russia refused
to contemplate anything that would serve to â€˜have the effect of under-
mining the authority of the League of Nationsâ€™.
Maiskyâ€™s remarks reflected Franco-Soviet relations. In late November,
Litvinov and the new French foreign minister, Pierre Laval, had agreed
that neither would discuss any matters with Germany pending the
outcome of the stalled Eastern Locarno talks.114 This agreement infuri-
ated Hitler, who vented his displeasure to the British ambassador, Sir
Eric Phipps, in a long â€˜tantrumâ€™, claiming that the agreement was a cover
for a secret military pact.115 At the meeting, Hitler â€˜eyedâ€™ Phipps â€˜hun-
grily like a tigerâ€™. â€˜I derived the distinct impressionâ€™, the ambassador
This paragraph, except where otherwise indicated, is based on Vansittartâ€™s record of a
conversation, 27 Dec 1934, FO 371/18306/N7155/16/38.
A point that Maisky had raised earlier; see the minutes on Vansittartâ€™s conversation with
Maisky on 19 Dec FO 371/18306/N7187/16/38; for historical parallels, see Keith
Neilson, â€˜â€śIncidentsâ€ť and Foreign Policy: A Case Studyâ€™, D&S, 9, 1 (1998), 79â€“80.
Patteson to FO, tel 72, 21 Nov 1934, FO 371/17653/C8004/85/17; Clerk to FO, tel
126, 24 Nov 1934, FO 371/17653/C7950/85/17 and minutes; Campbell (Paris) to FO,
tel 128, 26 Nov 1934, FO 371/17653/C7969/85/17; Jonathan Haslam, The Soviet
Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe 1933â€“1939 (London, 1984), 43â€“5.
Sargentâ€™s minute (28 Nov) on Phipps to FO, tel 302, 27 Nov 1934, FO 371/17696/
118 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
noted, â€˜that had my nationality and status been different I should have
formed part of his evening mealâ€™.116 The British suspected that neither
the French nor the Soviets were bargaining in good faith. The French
were thought to be pushing the idea of an Eastern Locarno only as a
â€˜cloakâ€™ to provide â€˜a very close Franco-Russian understanding, if not an
alliance, with a proper semblance of respectabilityâ€™.117 The Soviets, on
the other hand, were thought to be using the rumour of Sovietâ€“German
talks to bind the French more closely.118 In both cases, it was clear that
both Paris and Moscow were looking outside the League to ensure their
own security against a revisionist Germany.
At the end of 1934, British strategic foreign policy faced very different
circumstances than it had two years earlier. Arms control had largely
failed, and the League had proven itself incapable of checking Japan in
China. But there was no new consensus about how Britain should
guarantee its own interests. Partly, this was due to divided counsel.
While the DRC had pointed one way, Neville Chamberlain had suc-
ceeded in reducing the amounts spent and diverted money away from
the navy towards the Royal Air Force. Coupled with this, he had also
partly succeeded in subverting the DRCâ€™s priorities through his advocacy
of an arrangement with Japan. There was, however, an important new
factor. Soviet Russia had made it clear that it was abandoning its policy of
isolation and aloofness and was willing to join with other Powers, includ-
ing Britain, to check Japan and Germany. Further, the Soviets had
increased their military strength in order to give their policy teeth.
The British treated this new orientation with caution. Some of this
was due to a suspicion that the Soviet about-face was a cynical ploy and a
belief that a Soviet Union in the League of Nations would cause as many
difficulties as it solved. Others, particularly Collier, argued that Britain
and Soviet Russia, however much they might dislike each other, would
be drawn together by force of circumstances. But there was a legacy of
distrust to be overcome; continued Soviet propaganda in the British
Empire, the actions of the Comintern generally and such matters as
the Metro-Vickers incident all combined to make any improvement in
Anglo-Soviet relations difficult. Further, any arrangement with Soviet
Phipps to FO, tel 254, 28 Nov 1934, FO 371/17696/C8045/20/18.
Wigramâ€™s minute (4 Dec) on R. H. Campbell to FO, tel 328, 3 Dec 1934, FO 371/
Simonâ€™s conversation with Corbin (French ambassador), 4 Dec 1934, FO 371/17751/
C8299/247/18, minutes; Chilston to FO, disp 599, 4 Dec 1934, FO 371/17751/C8325/
1933â€“1934: parallel interests? 119
Russia would limit Britainâ€™s diplomatic options, particularly in the Far
East. However, the deteriorating situation in Europe had seen other
Powers begin to pursue new policies to ensure their security â€“ the
Eastern Locarno talks were evidence of this â€“ and Britain found itself
involved. Soviet Russia seemed to offer new possibilities for British
strategic foreign policy. The following years would see whether the
British were interested in pursuing them.
3 A clash of sensibilities: January to June 1935
At the beginning of 1935, British strategic foreign policy was changing.
While the British had not yet abandoned either arms limitation or the
League, the events of the next six months demonstrated that these were
uncertain instruments. This was especially so because Japan and Ger-
many were now absent from Geneva. Thus, the British were forced to
experiment with other ways of protecting their interests in the uncertain
â€˜period of deterrenceâ€™.
Here, Soviet Russia played an important, if awkward role. This was
due to a clash of sensibilities. Soviet Russia sought security by means of
alliances. If necessary, these alliances could be covered by the cloak of
collective security, but Moscowâ€™s real goal was the promise of military
support, something evident in the Eastern Locarno talks. This ran
counter to the British desire to manage and control Germanyâ€™s rearma-
ment, since Berlin not only was unwilling to enter the Eastern Locarno
agreements, but also was using them to fend off calls for arms limitation.
Any Franco-Soviet agreement was potentially both antithetical to
working through the League and dangerous to Britain if its Locarno
commitments were increased. However, while castigating the Soviets for
a return to pre-1914 methods, the British themselves also stepped out-
side the realm of collective action, signing the Anglo-German Naval
Agreement in 1935. With Germany squared, the British still had to deal
with Japan, a task made difficult because the collapse of naval arms
limitation talks in December 1934 had resulted from Tokyoâ€™s intransi-
gence over naval issues. Dealing with Japan also reintroduced the Soviet
At the beginning of 1935, Anglo-Soviet relations were at a potential
turning point. A Soviet desire for better relations was manifest. From
both Tokyo and Moscow, there were reports that Soviet representatives
had been ordered to â€˜cultivate good relations with Gt. Britainâ€™.1 This was
Speaightâ€™s minute (8 Jan 1935) on Clive to FO, disp 605, 23 Nov 1934, FO 371/18177/
F7563/316/23; Chilston to FO, tel 170, 22 Dec 1934, FO 371/18306/N7103/16/38;
A clash of sensibilities 121
good news, since Hitlerâ€™s Germany was increasingly dangerous in
Europe and Japanâ€™s relative power in the Far East vis-a-vis Britain was
cresting. But Anglo-Soviet relations were intertwined with more im-
portant issues: the Anglo-French discussions about how to react to
German rearmament and the attempt to bring Berlin back to the
League.3 In fact, Simon had gone to Paris in late December to discuss
this matter, and had invited the French to London for further talks in the
Thus, in January and February 1935, the Foreign Office maintained
only a watching brief on Soviet affairs. This entailed focusing on the
continued growth of the Soviet military forces.5 There was little doubt
that Soviet military growth was aimed at combating the challenge of
Japan and Germany. And there was a concern that Soviet Russia might,
if its efforts to improve relations with Britain and France bore no fruit,
turn to a policy of rapprochement with either Tokyo or Berlin. â€˜The moral
for usâ€™, Collier observed, â€˜seems to be that we should handle M. Litvinov
very carefully in the next few months.â€™6 This reflected also the Soviet
reaction to other occurrences in Europe. Franco-Italian discussions at
Rome on 4â€“8 January 1935 had yielded the so-called Danubian Pact.
Litvinov had immediately gone to Geneva to remind the French of the
protocol forbidding Moscow and Paris entering talks that might affect the
stalled Eastern Locarno (often termed the Eastern Pact) negotiations. At
the Foreign Office, there was near-unanimity that Litvinov was â€˜jealousâ€™.
But Collier noted that â€˜the important thing is to keep the Soviet Govt.
faithful to their present policy of supporting the status quoâ€™, although no
one could suggest anything that might keep Litvinov and his policy in the
ascendant.7 Not wishing to become involved, the Foreign Office decided
merely to inform Eden at Geneva about Litvinovâ€™s likely line.
Simon to Chilston, disp 612, 27 Dec 1934, FO 371/18306/N7104/16/38. For an
interpretation of Anglo-Soviet relations contrary to what follows, see Michael Jabara
Carley, â€˜â€śA Fearful Concatenation of Circumstancesâ€ť: The Anglo-Soviet Rapproche-
ment, 1934â€“1936â€™, CEH, 5, 1 (1996), 42â€“52.
Minutes, 266th and 269th meetings CID, 22 Nov 1934 and 16 Apr 1935, both Cab 2/
6; minutes, 132nd and 133rd meetings COS, 24 July 1934 and 9 Oct 1934, both Cab
53/5; Phipps to FO disp 13, 7 Jan 1935, FO 371/1882/C235/55/18.
A. R. Peters, Anthony Eden at the Foreign Office 1931â€“1938 (New York, 1986), 79â€“87.
Simon (Monte Carlo) to Phipps, tel 5, 3 Jan 1935, FO 371/19496/R96/1/67.
Keith Neilson, â€˜â€śPursued by a Bearâ€ť: British Estimates of Soviet Military Strength and
Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1922â€“1939â€™, CJH, 28, 2 (1993), 208â€“9; further in Chilston to
FO, disp 82, 11 Feb 1935, FO 371/19454/N753/49/38.
Collierâ€™s minute (31 Jan) and Vansittartâ€™s minute (8 Feb) on Clive to FO, tel 32, 29 Jan
1935, FO 371/19247/F632/13/23.
Chilston to FO, joint tels 5 and 6, 10 Jan 1935, FO 371/19496/R289/1/67, the minutes,
R. A. Gallop (Southern Department), 11 Jan; C. W. Baxter (CD, 12 Jan); Collier (12
Jan); Owen Oâ€™Malley (head, Southern Department), Sargent and Vansittart (all 16
122 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
More information soon arrived. From Rome, the British ambassador
contended that the main objection to the Danubian Pact came from
Germany, but that the Soviets feared that, if Berlin adhered to the pact,
then Germany would reject the Eastern Locarno. The Southern Depart-
ment again put this down to Soviet â€˜jealousyâ€™, but Collier was less
certain, arguing that Litvinov was â€˜genuinely afraidâ€™ of a German â€˜turn
to the Eastâ€™.8 On 19 January, Litvinov told Eden in Geneva that Ger-
many must be made to sign the Eastern Locarno and rejoin the League.
Then, and only then, would Moscow â€˜be willing to help in negotiation of
an arms conventionâ€™. The head of the Southern Department, Owen
Oâ€™Malley, maintained that this pique should be ignored. For him, nei-
ther the Eastern Locarno nor the Danubian Pact should be allowed to
stand in the way of Britainâ€™s â€˜greatest determination to reach an agree-
ment with Germany about limitations & return to the Leagueâ€™. Collier
did not agree. He contended that to follow Oâ€™Malleyâ€™s advice, â€˜would
[be to] sacrifice our friends in the vain hope of placating our enemiesâ€™.
Sargent and Vansittart concurred, and it was agreed to warn the French
not to make an acceptance of the Eastern Locarno a required precursor â€“
as Litvinov wished â€“ to any discussions about German rearmament.9
These discussions in Geneva had also been affected by the result of the
Saar plebiscite, which returned that region to Germany.10 Chilston
reported both the â€˜considerable misgivingâ€™ caused in Soviet circles by
the plebiscite and a concomitant belief that this was the beginning of
German expansion.11 Thus, the Eastern Pact took on an even greater
significance for Moscow, leading to Litvinovâ€™s insisting that any discus-
sions of arms control with Germany must be tied to its signing.12 On 19
January, Sir Eric Phipps, the British ambassador at Berlin, pointed out
that Hitler was unlikely either to return to the League or to agree to the
Jan); Chilston to FO, disp 14, 11 Jan 1935, FO 371/19497/R377/1/67. On the events,
see G. Bruce Strang, â€˜Imperial Dreams: The Mussoliniâ€“Laval Accords of January
1935â€™, HJ, 44, 3 (2001), 799â€“809; A. J. Crozier, â€˜Philippe Berthelot and the Rome
Agreements of January 1935â€™, HJ, 26, 2 (1983), 413â€“22; Charles O. Richardson, â€˜The
Rome Accords of January 1935 and the Coming of the Italianâ€“Ethiopian Warâ€™, Histor-
ian, 41 (1978), 41â€“58.
Drummond to Sargent, 12 Jan 1935, FO 371/19497/R442/1/67, minutes by Collier (31
Jan) and E. H. Carr (Southern Department), 21 Jan.
Patteson to FO, tel 31, 19 Jan 1935, FO 371/18823/C505/55/18, minutes, Baxter (21
Jan), Oâ€™Malley (21 Jan), Collier (21 Jan), Sargent (22 Jan) and Vansittart (22 Jan).
Vansittartâ€™s bitter minute (18 Jan) on Phipps to FO, tel 21, 17 Jan 1935, FO 371/
18823/C435/55/18, the minutes on Phipps to FO, tel 17, 17 Jan 1935, FO 371/18823/
C473/55/18; C. J. Hill, â€˜Great Britain and the Saar Plebiscite of 13 January 1935â€™, JCH,
9, 2 (1974), 121â€“42.
Chilston to FO, tel 8, 18 Jan 1935, FO 371/18823/C474/55/18.
Drummond to FO, disp 63, 19 Jan 1935, FO 371/18823/C582/55/18, minute, Dew
(CD), 24 Jan; Phipps to FO, disp 112, 2 Feb 1935, FO 371/19459/N614/76/38.
A clash of sensibilities 123
Eastern Locarno.13 Phipps also held that the results of the plebiscite
would make Hitler more difficult to deal with in future, leading Eden to
despair: â€˜A most important despatch, & a gloomy oneâ€™, the Lord Privy
Seal observed, â€˜Germany is now well on the way to rearmament, she is
no longer afraid of a â€śpreventative warâ€ť against her & in a few years â€“
four I am told is the popular figure in Berlin â€“ she will be strong enough
to ask, in a tone that will not brook refusal, for her desiderata.â€™14
British considerations of Soviet Russia were not confined to Europe.
The Soviets argued that the Japanese denunciation of the Washington
naval treaty in December 1934 presaged a Japanese attempt to dominate
the Far East, probably with British connivance.15 There were divided
opinions at the Foreign Office about how to allay this suspicion. Craigie,
still trying to keep the naval talks alive, dismissed any idea that Britain
should shape its policy with a Soviet concern in mind. Collier disagreed.
He viewed Far Eastern policy in a wider context. A â€˜policy of cooper-
ation with Japan in China cannot be regarded only from the Far Eastern
point of view. The Soviet Government are intensely nervous about
Japan.â€™ The Soviets, Collier felt, â€˜consider at present that they have in
the world only two enemies of real political importance, Japan and
Germanyâ€™. Should Britain be considered to be collaborating with Japan,
this would give support to those in Moscow (a group centred around
Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov, the commissar for war) who opposed
Litvinovâ€™s policy of co-operation with Britain and France and, instead,
favoured a â€˜detente in Sovietâ€“German relationsâ€™. The improvement in
Anglo-Soviet relations over the past year would be lost should Voroshi-
lovâ€™s faction win out. â€˜The coming together of Russia and Germanyâ€™,
Collier opined, â€˜is Europeâ€™s greatest danger.â€™ For this reason, the head of
the Northern Department concluded, the â€˜situation in Europe must
once again dictate our policy in the Far East. It should forbid us from
gratuitously antagonising Japan; but it also forbids us from approaching