relations; see John Robert Ferris, Men, Money, and Diplomacy. The Evolution of British
Strategic Foreign Policy, 1919â€“1926 (Ithaca, 1989), 179â€“89.
My discussion is informed by D. C. Watt, â€˜Appeasement: The Rise of a Revisionist
School?â€™, PQ, 36, 2 (1965), 191â€“213; Watt, â€˜The Historiography of Appeasementâ€™, in
this argument. Those who have accepted the appeasement model have
blamed the British for not recognizing that Germany was a rogue state
that could be resisted only by means of force or by the threat of force.21
And, it is often contended, force, or the threat of force, could best have
been provided by means of an Anglo-Soviet alliance. From this it is
concluded that the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe was
the fault of British decision makers â€“ the â€˜guilty menâ€™ â€“ who refused to
countenance a Soviet alliance due to their inherent, broadly defined
Appeasement as an explanation for the coming of war has not remained
unchallenged. In the late 1970s, a new, revisionist school of thinking
emerged. These accounts argued that appeasement was a reasoned re-
sponse to the â€˜realities behind diplomacyâ€™.23 Closely tied to this revisionist
view of appeasement is â€˜declinismâ€™, the larger thesis of Britainâ€™s putative
decline as a Great Power in the twentieth century.24 In it, appeasement is
subsumed in a grand vision of Britainâ€™s rise and fall, and becomes a subset
of the failure by successive British leaders to recognize Britainâ€™s dimin-
ished capability to shape world events.
Appeasement and â€˜declinismâ€™ have their attractions. Appeasement,
with its â€˜guilty menâ€™ and â€˜anti-appeasersâ€™, makes for a dramatic narrative,
A. Sked and C. Cook, eds., Crisis and Controversy. Essays in Honour of A. J. P. Taylor
(London, 1976), 110â€“29; Stephen G. Walker, â€˜Solving the Appeasement Puzzle: Con-
tending Historical Interpretations of British Diplomacy During the 1930sâ€™, BJIS, 6
(1980), 219â€“46; Paul Kennedy, â€˜Appeasementâ€™, in Gordon Martel, ed., The Origins
of the Second World War Reconsidered. The A. J. P. Taylor Debate After Twenty-Five Years
(London, 1986), 140â€“61; David Dutton, Neville Chamberlain (London, 2001), 70â€“187;
and Patrick Finney, â€˜The Romance of Decline: The Historiography of Appeasement
and British National Identityâ€™, eJIH (June, 2000).
Appeasement has been primarily used as an explanatory model only for Europe, but see
Aron Shai, â€˜Was There a Far Eastern Munich?â€™, JCH, 9, 3 (1974), 161â€“70.
Michael Jabara Carley, 1939. The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War
II (Chicago, 1999), and Shaw, The British Political Elite and the Soviet Union 1937â€“1939
(London and Portland, OR, 2003).
The phrase is from Paul Kennedy, The Realities Behind Diplomacy (London, 1981).
For the â€˜declineâ€™ school, see Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (London,
1972); Barnett, The Audit of War. The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation
(London, 1986); Bernard Porter, The Lionâ€™s Share. A Short History of British Imperialism
1850â€“1970 (London, 1975); Keith Robbins, The Eclipse of a Great Power. Modern
Britain 1870â€“1975 (London, 1983); and Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great
Powers. Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York, 1987); but
cf. Gordon Martel, â€˜The Meaning of Power: Rethinking the Decline and Fall of Great
Britainâ€™, John R. Ferris, â€˜ â€śThe Greatest Power on Earthâ€ť: Great Britain in the 1920sâ€™,
and B. J. C. McKercher, â€˜ â€śOur Most Dangerous Enemyâ€ť: Great Britain Pre-eminent
in the 1930sâ€™, all in IHR, 13, 4 (1991), 662â€“94, 726â€“50 and 751â€“83 respectively. For
â€˜declinismâ€™ as an intellectual phenomenon, see Richard English and Michael Kenny,
â€˜Public Intellectuals and the Question of British Declineâ€™, British Journal of Politics and
International Relations, 3, 3 (2001), 259â€“83.
8 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
complete with villains and heroes.25 In this chiaroscuro world, policy
choices were stark and the moral choices Manichaean. â€˜Declinismâ€™ offers
another intriguing story line. The Olympian perspective of the longue
duree provides the reader with a sense of sombre grandeur, as the rise and
fall of British power is played out by characters who are only dimly aware
of their circumstances.
These approaches also have their limitations. â€˜Declinismâ€™ and revi-
sionist views of appeasement are based largely on economic determin-
ism, and fail to consider the wider aspects of power.26 The arguments
based upon appeasement and â€˜guilty menâ€™ illustrate the dangers inherent
in the principle of the excluded middle. In both cases, their basic
assumptions exclude many possibilities. For the â€˜declinistsâ€™, discussions
of alternative policies are feckless, as impersonal forces have already
determined the outcome. For the â€˜guilty men/appeasementâ€™ school,
there are only two choices to be made: one right, the other wrong. An
examination of the Anglo-Soviet â€˜core-sampleâ€™ makes it evident that
both of these approaches are simplistic and inadequate.
Looking at Anglo-Soviet matters shows that Britain did not face prede-
termined outcomes but rather choice.27 British power, while not irresist-
ible, was sufficient to permit alternative policies. Discovering what these
alternatives were and why they were not followed requires looking at a
wider range of factors than the appeasement school or the declinist school
consider. Only by looking at some of the fundamental matters that
affected the formulation of British strategic foreign policy can a deeper
understanding of it be obtained. To do so requires a consideration of the
legacies of the First World War.28
These legacies will be considered under two headings: structural
(including systemic) and intellectual. With regard to structural and
systemic changes, it is essential to remember that the First World War
brought about a fundamental change in the political make-up of Europe
and the world.29 Four empires had collapsed. Further, extra-European
Neville Thompson, The Anti-Appeasers. Conservative Opposition to Appeasement in the
1930s (Oxford, 1971).
The best analysis is David Reynolds, Britannia Overruled. British Policy and World Power
in the Twentieth Century (London and New York, 1991), 5â€“37.
This belief is shared by the â€˜post-revisionistsâ€™; see Dutton, Neville Chamberlain, 182â€“5.
The key work is R. A. C. Parker, Chamberlain and Appeasement. British Policy and the
Coming of the Second World War (London, 1993), but see also S. Aster, â€˜ â€śGuilty Menâ€ť:
The Case of Neville Chamberlainâ€™, in R. Boyce and E. M. Robertson, eds., Paths to
War. New Essays on the Origins of the Second World War (London, 1989), 233â€“68.
Michael Howard, â€˜The Legacy of the First World Warâ€™, in Boyce and Robertson, Paths
to War, 33â€“54, also discusses this concept.
Systemic is used in the fashion of Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European
Politics 1763â€“1848 (Oxford, 1994), xiâ€“xiii. I accept his need to consider systems-level
Powers, primarily the United States and Japan, moved on to the world
stage. These two occurrences had profound implications. European
politics (and, given the overwhelming strength of Europe, world politics)
had been dominated by a balance of power before 1914.30 Britainâ€™s
geographic location and the strength of the Royal Navy had allowed
the country the luxury of participating in the balance largely as it suited.
While isolation, â€˜splendidâ€™ or otherwise, had never been Britainâ€™s policy,
it had been largely free to choose on to which side of the balance it would
throw its weight.31 After 1918, the European balance was shattered.
While France and Germany, the latter at least potentially, remained as
Great Powers, Austria-Hungary had devolved into a series of weak
successor states, and imperial Russia had been replaced by Soviet
Russia, a country unwilling to participate in (and a threat to) the existing
order. This meant that the pre-war balance of power no longer func-
tioned and that British strategic foreign policy would have to be formu-
lated on a different, as yet undetermined basis.
This problem was intensified by the growth of American and Japanese
power. Even before the First World War, the United Statesâ€™ potential
power was evident to many. The Venezuelan crisis and the Alaska
boundary settlement made this evident; the British had decided that
the Monroe Doctrine would not be challenged and Canada could
not be defended.32 The case of Japan was more complex. The Anglo-
Japanese Alliance in 1902 had been concluded to utilize Tokyo to stem
St Petersburgâ€™s expansion in the Far East.33 This proved to be a double-
edged sword. The Russo-Japanese War eliminated Russia as a threat to
British interests in the Far East, but it also removed St Petersburg as
analysis, but do not wish to enter into the debate as to which â€˜systemâ€™ is correct.
For this, see Jack S. Levy, â€˜The Theoretical Foundations of Paul W. Schroederâ€™s
International Systemâ€™, IHR, 16, 4 (1994), 715â€“45. For a sceptical view, see Edward
Ingram, â€˜The Wonderland of the Political Scientistâ€™, International Security, 22, 1 (1997),
For an introduction, see T. G. Otte, â€˜ â€śAlmost a Law of Natureâ€ť?: Sir Edward Grey, the
Foreign Office, and the Balance of Power in Europe, 1905â€“1912â€™, D&S, 14, 2 (2003),
C. H. D. Howard, Splendid Isolation. A Study of Ideas Concerning Britainâ€™s International
Position and Foreign Policy During the Later Years of the Third Marquis of Salisbury
Charles S. Campbell, Anglo-American Understanding, 1898â€“1903 (Baltimore, 1957);
A. E. Campbell, Great Britain and the United States 1895â€“1903 (London, 1960); and
Samuel F. Wells, Jnr, â€˜British Strategic Withdrawal from the Western Hemisphere,
1904â€“1906â€™, and Peter Neary, â€˜Grey, Bryce, and the Settlement of Canadianâ€“American
Differences, 1905â€“1911â€™, both in CHR, 49, 4 (1968), 335â€“56 and 357â€“80 respectively.
Keith Neilson, â€˜The Anglo-Japanese Alliance and British Strategic Foreign Policy
1902â€“1914â€™, in Phillips Payson Oâ€™Brien, ed., The Anglo-Japanese Alliance (London
and New York, 2004), 48â€“63.
10 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
a check to Tokyoâ€™s aspirations. This new reality was reinforced by the
The systemic significance of the growth of both American and Japanese
power for British strategic foreign policy came from the fact that both
countries lay outside the European balance of power. Great Power
politics now had both a global and a European context, and Britain
had either to defend its extra-European interests by itself or to persuade
another Power to assist it.35 The two possible assistants were the United
States and Soviet Russia.36 Of the two, the United States was the agent
of choice. Washington and London were thought to be kindred spirits, at
worst vying with one another in â€˜competitive cooperationâ€™ rather than
being engaged, as were Moscow and London, in an early version of a
â€˜clash of civilizationsâ€™.37 In the British new world order, Soviet Russia
thus could play a number of roles. As a revolutionary power, it could
reject taking a role favourable to Britain in an extended, global balance
of power and pursue policies designed to subvert Britain and the empire.
Or it could decide to set aside its revolutionary aspirations temporarily
and, for raisons dâ€™etat, combine with Japan to oust Britain from the Far
East. As easily, in the face of an aggressive and ambitious Japan, Moscow
could decide to become Londonâ€™s strategic bedfellow. Soviet Russia had
a similar set of options in Europe. It could either assist in containing a
resurgent Germany or join with it to redraw the map of Europe. Finally,
it could retreat into isolation, and await the inevitable collapse of capit-
alism. In each case, what Soviet Russia decided would be an important
factor for British planners.
If this was the systemic impact of the war itself, what was the legacy of the
peace settlement? Outside the territorial settlements themselves, the pri-
mary innovation at Versailles was the creation of the League of Nations.38
Keith Neilson, â€˜Unbroken Thread: Japan and Britain and Imperial Defence, 1920â€“
1932â€™, in Greg Kennedy, ed., British Naval Strategy East of Suez, 1900â€“2000. Influences
and Actions (London and Portland, OR, 2005), 62â€“89.
This state of affairs had also occurred earlier; see Thomas Otte, â€˜ â€śHeaven Knows
where we shall finally driftâ€ť: Lord Salisbury, the Cabinet, Isolation and the Boxer
Rebellionâ€™, in Gregory C. Kennedy and Keith Neilson, eds., Incidents and International
Relations (Westport, CT, 2002), 25â€“46; Otte, â€˜A Question of Leadership: Lord Salis-
bury, the Unionist Cabinet and Foreign Policy Making, 1895â€“1900â€™, CBH, 14, 4
The point is made for the Far East by Kennedy in his Anglo-American Strategic Relations,
Michael Hogan, Informal Entente. The Private Structure of Cooperation of Anglo-American
Economic Diplomacy 1918â€“1928 (Columbia, MO, 1978); Samuel P. Huntington, The
Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York, 1996).
What follows is informed by Zara Steiner, â€˜The League of Nations and the Quest for
Securityâ€™, in R. Ahmann, A. M. Birke, and M. Howard, eds., The Quest for Stability.
From its inception, the League experienced a number of difficulties. One
such problem was an uncertainty as to its function.39 The League
suffered from a mixed parentage, with some â€“ the â€˜utopiansâ€™, â€˜idealistsâ€™,
â€˜liberal internationalistsâ€™ or â€˜Wilsoniansâ€™ â€“ seeing it as a means of main-
taining peace through guarantees and sanctions.40 Others, the â€˜realistsâ€™
(or â€˜conservative internationalistsâ€™) preferred a League that would pro-
vide a consultative mechanism designed to ensure what would essentially
be an Anglo-American condominium to maintain a stable world order.41
The Leagueâ€™s existence had several phases. In the 1920s, it was
successful in mediating several border disputes between smaller Powers
and in providing a forum for disarmament discussions. In the 1930s, its
successes were minimal. By 1934, disarmament was a failure. And, when
quarrels arose involving Great Powers, the League proved unable to find
a solution.42 Part of this was due to the structure of the League itself.
Problems of West European Security 1918â€“1957 (Oxford, 1993), 36â€“70, and J. P. Dunbabin,
â€˜The League of Nationsâ€™ Place in the International Systemâ€™, History, 78, 254 (1993),
George Egerton, Great Britain and the Creation of the League of Nations. Strategy, Politics
and International Organization, 1914â€“1919 (London, 1979); Egerton, â€˜Collective Secur-
ity as Political Myth: Liberal Internationalism and the League of Nations in Politics and
Historyâ€™, IHR, 5, 4 (1983), 496â€“524; Egerton, â€˜Ideology, Diplomacy and International
Organisations: Wilsonism and the League of Nations in Anglo-American Relations,
1918â€“1920â€™, in B. J. C. McKercher, ed., Anglo-American Relations in the 1920s. The
Struggle for Supremacy (London, 1991), 17â€“54; Egerton, â€˜Conservative International-
ism: British Approaches to International Organization and the Creation of the League
of Nationsâ€™, D&S, 5, 1 (1994), 1â€“20. For a contrary view, see Peter J. Yearwood, â€˜ â€śOn
the Safe and Right Linesâ€ť: The Lloyd George Government and the Origins of the
League of Nationsâ€™, HJ, 32, 1 (1989), 131â€“55, and Yearwood, â€˜ â€śReal Securities against
New Warsâ€ť: Official British Thinking and the Origins of the League of Nations, 1914â€“
1919â€™, D&S, 9, 3 (1998), 83â€“109. Important is Ruth Henig, â€˜New Diplomacy and Old:
A Reassessment of British Conceptions of a League of Nationsâ€™, in Michael Dockrill
and John Fisher, eds., The Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Peace Without Victory? (Basing-
stoke and New York, 2001), 157â€“74.
â€˜Utopiansâ€™ is from E. H. Carr, The Twenty Yearsâ€™ Crisis, 1919â€“1939. An Introduction to the
Study of International Relations (London, 1939); the other terms are the product of
subsequent academic analysis. For discussions, see Peter Wilson, â€˜Introduction: The
Twenty Yearsâ€™ Crisis and the Category of â€śIdealismâ€ť in International Relationsâ€™, and
David Long, â€˜Conclusion: Inter-War â€śIdealismâ€ť, Liberal Internationalism and Contem-
porary International Theoryâ€™, both in David Long and Peter Wilson, eds., Thinkers of the
Twenty Yearsâ€™ Crisis. Inter-War Idealism Reassessed (Oxford, 1995), 1â€“24 and 302â€“28
respectively, and Richard S. Grayson, Liberals, International Relations and Appeasement
(London and Portland, OR, 2001), 1â€“27. For deeper roots, see F. R. Flournoy, â€˜British
Liberal Theories of International Relations, 1848â€“1896â€™, Journal of the History of Ideas, 7,
2 (1946), 195â€“217, and David Blaazer, The Popular Front and the Progressive Tradition.
Socialists, Liberals, and the Quest for Unity, 1884â€“1939 (Cambridge, 1992), 25â€“146.
Priscilla Roberts, â€˜Lord Lothian and the Atlantic Worldâ€™, Historian, 66, 1 (2004),