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France, with a provision that Germany and Poland could join later;
second, could Eden invite Soviet representatives to London for bilateral
talks about naval armaments in the same fashion as had been done with
Germany? The replies were straightforward; there could be no objection
to the modified pact ˜provided that the accession to Poland and Ger-
many was kept open, and provided that it operated under the auspices of
the League™. However, Simon hoped that any such agreement could be
delayed until after Stresa in order to keep ˜the whole situation . . . as fluid
as possible™. Simon favoured the naval suggestion, although he wished to
keep the Anglo-German discussions secret if possible ˜in view of Japan-
ese susceptibilities™.67
On 28 and 29 March, Eden spoke with Litvinov. With Strang (who
had accompanied Eden) and Chilston present, Litvinov outlined his
concerns and uncertainties about the future of eastern Europe and
Soviet policy. He was, however, convinced that the Powers must con-
tinue to adhere to the collective system. This would thwart Hitler who
˜was building his policy upon the assumption of continued antagonism
between Great Britain and the Soviet Union™.68 The Soviet foreign
minister made it plain that such a policy also extended beyond Europe.
If the Powers stood firm, then Germany might have to change its policy
in the same way that Japan had done because of Soviet Russia™s increas-
ing power in the Far East. Litvinov concluded by asserting that, while
the two revisionist states ˜had the same mentality™, Soviet Russia desired
˜mutual assistance™ against threats from Germany and was improving its
relations with Japan in order to obtain it. Eden accepted this, and noted
that, in the Far East, ˜there was no idea of [Britain™s] doing a deal with

66
Chilston (for Eden) to FO, tel 45, 28 Mar 1935, FO 371/18832/C2593/55/18.
67
Chilston (for Eden) to FO, tel 44, 28 Mar 1935, FO 371/19468/N1581/1167/38,
minutes, Vansittart, Sargent and Simon (all 28 Mar); Simon™s reply to Chilston, tel
62, 28 Mar 1935; untitled secret minute, Craigie, 5 Apr 1935, FO 371/18733/A3755/
22/45.
68
˜Records of Anglo-Soviet Conversations held at the Peoples™ Commissariat for Foreign
Affairs Moscow, on March 28, 1935 . . . [and] March 29™, with Chilston to FO, disp
139, 30 Mar 1935, FO 371/18833/C2726/55/18.
A clash of sensibilities 135

Japan at the expense of either China or the Soviet Union™. After a
somewhat comic discussion of British objections to Soviet propaganda “
a propaganda hotly denied by Litvinov “ the two sides agreed that more
communication in future between the two states was the best way of
improving Anglo-Soviet relations.69
In the afternoon of 29 March, Eden spoke with Stalin and Molotov.
Eden found Stalin a man of ˜remarkable knowledge and understanding
of international affairs™. The Soviet dictator stated that things were
˜fundamentally worse™ than in 1913 because of two threats: Japan and
Germany. The former, he argued, wanted to overthrow the Chinese
government, while the Germans wanted revenge for the humiliations
of Versailles. Britain, Stalin contended, had an important role to play
due to its ˜power and influence [and] . . . it would be fatal to drift since
there was no time to lose if a check were to be placed on a potential
aggressor™. For his part, Eden told Stalin not to think that Britain,
despite its ˜active and impressionable public opinion™, might be afraid
to act. He also attempted to allay Stalin™s mistrust of British motives. ˜It
might be that at times we seemed vacillating or hesitant™, the Lord Privy
Seal remarked, ˜but I begged him to believe that what appeared to him as
weakness on our part did not conceal sinister designs at the expense of
others.™ Eden departed with an accurate picture of Stalin. The ˜[i]mpres-
sion left upon us™, he concluded, ˜was of a man of strong oriental traits of
character with unshakeable assurance and control whose courtesy in no
way hid from us an implacable ruthlessness™.70
The Berlin and Moscow trips redounded on British preparations for
Stresa. Sargent argued strongly against a Franco-Russian alliance. Such
an agreement would stir memories of 1914 and remind the British public
that France had been drawn into the war because it was an ally of Russia.
Parliament would be ˜far more chary of implementing our Locarno
obligations than they are at present, when France™s foreign policy is
supposed to be entirely independent™. Second, the Berlin talks had made
it clear that, even if rebuffed in his demand for an unmodified Eastern
Pact, Litvinov had no likelihood of being able to conclude a German
alliance, despite his threats. Third, France™s security would not be
enhanced by an agreement with Moscow both because of Soviet military
weakness and because Hitler™s aims were to expand eastward. In that
case, ˜[i]t must be fairly obvious to the French themselves that Russia™s
idea of an alliance with France is that it is France who is to pull the

69
The FED agreed: minute (4 Apr), Allen on Chilston to FO, tel 46, 28 Mar 1935, FO
371/18832/C2608/55/18.
70
Chilston to FO, tels 48 and 49, 29 Mar 1935, FO 371/18833/C2689 and C2690/55/18.
136 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

chestnuts out of the fire for Russia™. Fourth, ˜an undisguised Franco-
Russian military alliance would bring about a German“Japanese alliance,
which would be bound to have immediate and disagreeable reactions on
British policy both in Europe and the Far East™. Finally, if a Franco-Soviet
alliance were to block German expansion in the East, it would look to the
Balkans, which would lead to Italy™s ˜clamouring for a Franco-Italian
alliance™ to check Germany. If France were to grant the latter, then once
more Paris would have incurred large obligations. If France were not to
grant it, then Italy might ˜veer round and rush back into the arms of
Germany™. Given all this, Sargent hoped that, ˜for France™s sake as well
as our own, we will at Stresa do all we can to prevent the conclusion of a
direct Franco-Russian military alliance directed against Germany™. Van-
sittart accepted most of these arguments, but he urged Sargent to be
˜careful how far we push this affirmation [that Germany would expand
in the East]™. The PUS was convinced that Germany would refuse to
contribute to collective security. In that case, to prevent a Franco-Soviet
alliance, Britain needed to show ˜our own solidarity at Stresa and by
urging that collective security, under the League and with or without
Germany, is the real answer™.71 But, in any case, a Franco-Soviet alliance
would block any discussion of arms control at Stresa.72
´
When the final German reply to the Anglo-French communique “
rejecting a concrete Eastern Pact embodying any form of mutual assist-
ance, but agreeing to vague consultation and bilateral non-aggression
and arbitration treaties “ arrived on 3 April, the British found themselves
˜in the realm of stern reality™. Sargent noted that Britain ˜face[d] three
alternatives™. The first was to accept the German reply; the second was
to pursue the idea of an Eastern Locarno without Germany and Poland
(leaving the door open for their later accession); the third was to accept a
˜Franco-Russian military alliance, to which Czechoslovakia might be a
party, specifically directed against Germany™. As always, Sargent
rejected the third possibility out of hand. For him, the choice was
between the first and second. Sargent felt that the first alternative main-
tained collective security and that to reject it would lead to German
accusations that ˜this eminently reasonable offer™ had been rejected ˜at
the bidding of Russia™. For this reason, he suggested discovering whether
the French had ˜definitely made up their minds, or rather pledged

71
Based on minute, Sargent (1 Apr) on Clerk to FO, disp 493, 28 Mar 1935, FO 371/
18833/C2656/55/18, and Vansittart™s undated marginalia and minute; also M. L. Roi,
˜From the Stresa Front to the Triple Entente: Sir Robert Vansittart, the Abyssinian
Crisis and the Containment of Germany™, D&S, 6, 1 (1995), 61“7.
72
˜Memorandum. The attainment by Germany of air parity with France and ourselves™,
Creswell, 1 Apr 1935, minutes, FO 371/18835/C3087/G.
A clash of sensibilities 137

themselves to the Russians on the subject™. Vansittart preferred to do this
at Stresa, where ˜the personal touch will give it a better chance of
consideration [by the French]™.73 This decision likely reflected the un-
willingness of the French ambassador to Britain, Charles Corbin, to be
˜drawn too far™ on the subject.74
There were other currents of thought about Stresa. E. H. Carr, the
assistant adviser on League of Nations affairs, felt that Britain had to
define its position clearly and cease the policy of ˜issuing declarations,
´
resolutions, joint communiques, protests and demands which we have
not, when it came to the point, been willing or able to enforce™.75 Robert
Cecil, the long-time advocate of disarmament and former member of the
government, argued that Stresa would increase both German conten-
tions that the Reich was being ˜encircled™ and Soviet ˜anxiety and suspi-
cion™ about the intentions of the Western Powers.76 Certainly, there was
some thinking that, no doubt, would have raised such Soviet anxieties
and suspicions. In Berlin, Phipps pointed out that ˜if we erect too much
barbed wire, whether along Hitler™s southern or eastern frontier, we will
head the beast back to the west, or start him on some new venture, say
overseas™. Since the French preferred the ˜shadow™ of the Eastern Pact to
the ˜substance™ of arms control, the ambassador went on: ˜I suppose we
shall have to choose between a policy of disinterest in Europe and a fresh
policy of isolating or encircling Germany.™ Sargent™s response reflected
his doubts about the utility of dealing with the Soviets. ˜I have never
quite been able to accept the truth of M. Litvinov™s dictum about the
“indivisibility of peace”; nor can I bring myself to believe in either the
willingness or the ability of the Bolshevik Government to maintain peace
if it ever came to be threatened in the west.™ He reiterated his opinion
that the French, as a result of ˜momentary panic™, had committed
themselves to Soviet Russia and now stood ˜pledged to raise the eastern
“wire fence” every bit as high as that in the west and south™.77
Many of these points were discussed in Cabinet on 8 April.78 The
British representatives were instructed to take a position in line with

73
Wigram, minute, 3 Apr 1935, Sargent™s (3 Apr) and Vansittart™s (4 April) minutes, all
FO 371/18833/C2794/55/18.
74
FO to Clerk, disp 742, 8 Apr 1935, FO 371/18834/C2960/55/18 outlining Vansittart™s
conversation with Corbin.
75
˜Stresa Conference: Austria™, Carr, 30 Mar 1935, FO 371/19498/R2201/1/67.
76
Cecil to Baldwin, 29 Mar 1935, Avon Papers, AP 14/1/411A.
77
Phipps to Sargent, 4 Apr 1935, FO 371/18834/C2922/55/18, minutes, Creswell (10
Apr) and Sargent (12 Apr).
78
The remainder of this paragraph, except where indicated, is based on Minutes, Cab 20
(35) and Cab 21(35), both 8 Apr 1935, Cab 23/81; ˜Memorandum on Questions for
Discussion at Stresa Conference™, CP 79(35), FO, 4 Apr 1935, Cab 24/254.
138 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

Sargent™s minutes and Simon™s own proclivities, despite Eden™s call from
his sick bed for a more forceful policy.79 No break with Germany would
be made; instead Germany was to be told, ˜with friendliness . . . so that
the German people may be impressed morally and spiritually™, only that
its refusal to join in such projects as the Eastern Pact did not lessen the
likelihood of war. But Britain should ˜on no account™ discourage France
and Italy from ˜making such security arrangements as they deemed
necessary by way of mutual assurances™. The French were to be encour-
aged to consider the alternative form of the Eastern Pact put forward by
Germany, and the idea that Germany and Soviet Russia might jointly
guarantee Poland™s borders should be bruited. Finally, Britain should
take on no commitments beyond its responsibilities under Locarno.
While their representatives were physically absent, Soviet Russia™s spirit
would clearly hover over Stresa.
British policy at Stresa was confined to maintaining a semblance of
solidarity with France and Italy, while not antagonizing Germany.80 The
French, warned by the Soviets beforehand that any ˜indiscretion™ might
result in the collapse of the Franco-Soviet front, did not pick up on the
British suggestions about the Eastern Pact, but instead promised only to
keep the British informed of negotiations between Paris and Moscow.81
In Moscow, the Soviet press took a predictable position, contrasting the
˜firm attitude of France and surprisingly emphatic manifestation of Italo-
French solidarity with [the] hesitant and temporising attitude™ of Britain.
There was ˜a distinctly anti-British tone in this™, Creswell noted at the
Foreign Office, but in London the interest lay more in what the French
were doing than in what was the Soviet attitude.82
This was because of the impact that any Franco-Soviet agreement
might have on Britain™s commitments under Locarno and to the League.
Laval™s unwillingness to outline to the British the nature of the Franco-
Soviet discussions likely indicated, Sargent felt, that the French foreign
minister was ˜preparing for the possibility of having to yield to M.
Litvinov™s blandishments and pressure™. In such circumstances, Laval
would not want the British to be able to raise the Locarno issue

79
Peters, Eden, 95“7.
80
Ibid., 98“9; Dutton, Eden, 42“3; Dutton, Simon, 202“4; Michael L. Roi, Alternative to
Appeasement. Sir Robert Vansittart and Alliance Diplomacy, 1934“1937 (Westport, CT,
1997), 77“82.
81
Jonathan Haslam, The Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe
1933“1939 (London, 1984), 49; ˜Eastern Pact™, Sargent, 18 Apr 1935, FO 371/
18837/C3333/55/18; Loraine to Oliphant, private and confidential, 18 May 1935,
Loraine Papers, FO 1011/37.
82
Chilston to FO, tel 2 saving, 16 Apr 1935, FO 371/18837/C3336/55/18, minute,
Creswell (23 Apr).
A clash of sensibilities 139

beforehand and complicate French diplomacy.83 Vansittart shared
Sargent™s fears. This was in his mind when, on 26 April, he spoke to
Maisky on the issue of Locarno. In response to Maisky™s question as to
what would be Britain™s Locarno responsibilities if Germany attacked
Soviet Russia and France went to its assistance, Vansittart replied that, if
France were to attack Germany under any but the carefully defined
conditions of Locarno, then Britain would have to come to Germany™s
aid, a move that he hoped would ˜help the French™ curb the Soviet
demands for a pure military alliance.84
The PUS had also made other attempts to ensure that the Franco-
Soviet discussions were kept within the bounds of existing agreements
and did not snub the Germans. At Geneva, after the Stresa meetings,
Vansittart had insisted to the French that the German proposal for a
modified Eastern Pact could not be ˜ignore[d] or reject[ed] . . . out of
hand™.85 Also, he had instructed the British ambassador at Paris to make it
clear that the Franco-Soviet arrangement had to be compatible with both
Locarno and the League Covenant.86 As the Franco-Soviet negotiations
ground on, the Foreign Office hoped that the French might not be willing
to ˜throw themselves unreservedly into the arms of the Soviets™, and
instead might try to move Poland out of the ˜German orbit™.87 However,
there was concern that Hitler might use the signing of a Franco-Soviet
agreement as ˜a pretext for denouncing the Treaty of Locarno™.88
Thus, when the Franco-Soviet treaty was signed on 2 May, it was
dissected carefully at the Foreign Office.89 Its form was satisfactory and
compatible with both Locarno and the League Covenant. Despite this,
however, Wigram noted: ˜who can, in the bottom of his heart, suppose
that the Franco-Russian agreement is not directed against Germany?™90


83
Minutes, Malkin (legal adviser, FO) and Sargent (both 24 Apr) on Clerk to FO, tel 78,
19 Apr 1935, FO 371/18837/C3328/55/18.
84

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