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Following based on Clive to FO, disp 505, 22 Sept 1936, FO 371/20286/F6478/539/
23, minutes; T. L. Rowan (Treasury) to Harvey (Eden™s private secretary), 26 Oct
1936, FO 371/20279/F6511/89/23, minutes, Orde (30 Oct), Cadogan (29 Oct), Van-
sittart (30 Oct) and Eden (30 Oct); S. Olu Agbi, ˜The Foreign Office and Yoshida™s Bid
for Rapprochement with Britain in 1936“1937: A Critical Reconsideration of the
Anglo-Japanese Conversation™, HJ, 21, 1 (1978), 173“9. See also Clive to FO, 9 Oct
1936, disp 543, 9 Oct 1936, FO 371/20286/F6607/539/23, minutes.
Clive to FO, tel 318, 3 Nov 1936, FO 371/20279/F6724/89/23. The decision was also
pushed by Cadogan: Cadogan diary entries, 29 and 30 Oct 1936, Cadogan Papers,
ACAD 1/5.
The beating by a Japanese policeman of several British sailors on 7 October 1936: see
Greg Kennedy, ˜The Keelung Incident and Britain™s Far Eastern Strategic Foreign
Policy, 1936“1937™, in Gregory C. Kennedy and Keith Neilson, eds., Incidents and
International Relations. People, Power and Personalities (Westport, CT, 2002), 135“58.
Soviet Russian assertiveness 189

involved.104 On 15 August, they and the French had signed a Non-
Intervention Pact, to which Soviet Russia had adhered on 22 August.105
British policy was determined by several things: strategic concerns
about the sea lanes to the Far East, the stability of French politics and,
tied to the latter point, ideological concerns about a possible ˜red
Spain™.106 By mid-October, it was evident that Germany, Italy and
Soviet Russia were all providing supplies for the belligerents.107 Some
suspected that Soviet policy marked a moving away from the ˜Litvinov
fabric™ of collective security and a return to an ˜ideological policy™ based
on revolution. Collier contended instead that the Soviets were merely
˜seek[ing] to reinsure themselves in other quarters, so long as they
suspect H[is] M[ajesty™s] Govt. and/or the French Government of being
ready to leave them to face Hitler unaided™.108
On 3 November, Maisky put the Soviet view to Eden. The ambas-
sador argued that Soviet support for the Republicans was ˜not due to
their desire to set up a Communist regime in that country™, but merely to
deny a victory to Franco, a victory that would ˜bring nearer the day when
another active aggression would be committed™ by Germany or Italy.

Tom Buchanan, ˜“A Far Away Country of Which we Know Nothing”? Perceptions of
Spain and Its Civil War in Britain, 1931“1939™, TCBH, 4, 1 (1993), 1“24; Enrique
Moradiellos, ˜The Origins of British Non-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War: Anglo-
Spanish Relations in Early 1936™, EHQ, 21 (1991), 339“64. On British policy towards
Spain, see two articles by Moradiellos, ˜Appeasement and Non-Intervention: British
Policy During the Spanish Civil War™, in Peter Catterall with C. J. Morris, eds., Britain
and the Threat to Stability in Europe, 1918“1945 (London and New York, 1993), 94“104,
and ˜British Political Strategy in the Face of the Military Rising of 1936 in Spain™, CEH,
1, 2 (1992), 123“37; and two articles by Glyn Stone, ˜Britain, Non-Intervention and
the Spanish Civil War™, ESR, 9 (1979), 129“49, and ˜Sir Robert Vansittart and Spain
1931“1941™, in T. G. Otte and Constantine A. Pagedas, Personalities, War and Diplo-
macy. Essays in International History (London, 1997), 127“57. Soviet policy can be
found in Geoffrey Roberts, ˜Soviet Foreign Policy and the Spanish Civil War™, in
Christian Leitz and David J. Dunthorn, eds., Spain in an International Context, 1936“
1959 (New York and Oxford, 1999), 81“104; Denis Smyth, ˜“We Are with You”:
Solidarity and Self-interest in Soviet Policy Towards Republican Spain, 1936“1939™,
in Paul Preston and Ann L. Mackenzie, eds., The Republic Besieged. Civil War in Spain
1936“1939 (Edinburgh, 1996), 87“105. The most comprehensive over all examination
is Jill Edwards, The British Government and the Spanish Civil War, 1936“1939 (London,
1979). My discussion of Spain is based on these sources.
For European reaction see Glyn Stone, ˜The European Great Powers and the Spanish
Civil War, 1936“1939™, in Robert Boyce and E. M. Robertson, eds., Paths to War. New
Essays on the Origins of the Second World War (London, 1989), 199“232.
David Carlton, ˜Eden, Blum, and the Origins of Non-Intervention™, JCH, 6, 3 (1971),
40“55; Douglas Little, ˜Red Scare, 1936: Anti-Bolshevism and the Origins of British
Non-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War™, JCH, 23 (1988), 291“311.
Vansittart™s minute, 16 Oct 1936, on Adm to FO, 15 Oct 1936, FO 371/20580/
MacKillop to FO, disp 604, 20 Oct 1936, FO 371/20581/W14276/9459/41, Collier™s
minute, 6 Nov.
190 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

Eden was sceptical, arguing that Maisky ˜could hardly be surprised if
other people thought differently in view of the declared objective of the
upholders of Communism to make their method of Government univer-
sal™. Maisky agreed, but contended that universal revolution was an
˜ultimate objective but . . . a very distant one™.109 Eden™s suspicions grew
with the ongoing reports of Soviet aid to the Republicans as did his
irritation with continued public calls in Britain to prevent arms ship-
ments to Spain from Italy and Germany.110 On 19 November, he made
what he termed ˜his scarcely veiled allusion to the Soviets™ in the House
of Commons, in which he stated that there were other governments
more to blame for sending supplies to Spain than Germany and Italy.111
Eden™s statement triggered a cri de coeur from Collier. The head of the
Northern Department argued that to downplay the Italian and German
support for Franco had caused a
growth in Liberal and Labour circles in this country (and not always in those
circles only) [of a belief ] that the Government have been induced by people who
I have heard described as ˜Conservatives first and Englishmen afterwards™ to
adopt a policy of conniving at Signor Mussolini™s now avowed policy of spread-
ing Fascism throughout the world as an antidote to communism, and [to seek] to
come to an understanding with him which would leave him free to pursue this
policy without fear of British opposition.

Collier added that he had always rejected such an interpretation of
British policy. He had instead believed that the Foreign Office operated
on the principle ˜that the ambitions of the three Powers “ Italy, Germany
and Japan “ who are now using anti-Communism as a cloak for their
aggressive designs, were much more dangerous to British interests than
Communism could ever be™. But the present British policy of trying to
work out a Mediterranean agreement with Mussolini made Collier
wonder whether this belief was true.
His remarks drew fire from Owen O™Malley, the head of the Southern
Department. The latter contended that Mussolini had not ˜started the
trouble™; rather, it was the long-term policy of the ˜Soviet Government or
the Third International, whichever we choose to call it™ that had initiated
the Spanish conflict. Eden™s remark, O™Malley argued, had merely ˜re-
dressed™ the imbalance in public opinion, in which Soviet Russia had
avoided any blame for its equally flagrant violation of the principle of

Eden™s conversation with Maisky, 3 Nov 1936, FO 371/20584/W15074/9549/41.
Litvinov had earlier evaded the topic: Eden to FO, tel 139, 1 Oct 1936, Eden Papers,
FO 954/24.
Minutes, 11 and 12 Nov 1936, FO 371/20585/W15953 and W15884/9549/41.
Eden™s minute, 20 Nov 1936, on Adm to FO, 18 Nov 1936, FO 371/20585/W15880/
Soviet Russian assertiveness 191

non-intervention. He argued that, as the ˜Defence Departments feel very
strong [sic]™ that an attempt to come to terms with Italy should be made,
the British should pursue their ˜accepted doctrine that we are not, as a
Government, concerned with the constitutional complexion of foreign
States, but only with their behaviour towards British interests™. As to the
whole process of non-intervention, O™Malley dismissed it as ˜largely a
piece of humbug, but an extremely useful piece of humbug™.
These were highly political remarks, and Mounsey reacted cautiously.
Vansittart was characteristically more outspoken. He blamed all those
who had intervened in Spain equally. However, he rejected Collier™s
remarks about ˜Conservatives first and Englishmen afterwards™. ˜And
who exactly are™ such people, Vansittart asked rhetorically, ˜and what
exactly are they supposed to have done?™ Nor did he agree with Collier™s
remarks about the unacceptability of pursuing Italy. For the PUS, mili-
tary strength remained the key. ˜We simply do not have the wherewithal
to face the possibility of trouble on 3 fronts™, he asserted, ˜and we do owe
something to the people of this country in the way of security.™112 Most
importantly, Eden had nailed his flag to a policy of improving relations
with Italy at the same time as increasing British strength.113 However,
events in the Far East seemed to make this security even more difficult to
In mid-November 1936, rumours were swirling about a possible
German“Japanese grouping.114 Eden promptly told Yoshida that such
an agreement would make any Anglo-Japanese discussions more diffi-
cult, an action that the Cabinet approved.115 But, before the existence of
what was to become the Anti-Comintern Pact could be confirmed, there
were two important developments that spoke to the impact that such an
arrangement might have.116 One was a long memorandum by Chilston
about a possible Soviet“German rapprochement. The ambassador argued
that, for ideological, economic and ˜strategic-political™ reasons, such an
occurrence was unlikely unless the two countries came to be run by their
military authorities. Nor would breakdown of the Franco-Soviet
alliance lead to improved Russo-German relations, although ˜splendid

Maj. Napier (WO) to FO, 23 Nov 1936, minutes, Collier (24 Nov), O™Malley (30
Nov), Mounsey (1 Dec) and Vansittart (1 Dec).
Eden™s minute (nd) on Cranborne™s untitled memo, 12 Nov 1936, Cranborne Papers,
FO 800/296.
Drummond (Rome) to FO, disp 296, 4 Nov 1936, FO 371/20285/F6849/303/23.
Minutes on Clive to FO, tel 332 immediate, 16 Nov 1936, FO 371/20279/F7014/89/
23; minutes, Cab 66(36), 18 Nov 1936, Cab 23/86.
John W. Chapman, ˜A Dance on Eggs: Intelligence and the “Anti-Comintern”™, JCH,
22 (1987), 333“72; Antony Best, Britain, Japan and Pearl Harbor. Avoiding War in East
Asia, 1936“1941 (London and New York, 1995), 27“9.
192 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

isolation™ was a possible Soviet response. He did remark, however, that
˜there is only one contingency which the Soviet Government really fear:
a combined attack by Germany and Japan™. In the Northern Depart-
ment, Collier found this analysis persuasive, but believed that Soviet
˜isolation™ would be inimical to British interests. Continuing his long
debate with Sargent, Collier contended that, while most might consider
˜the prospects of a definite German“Soviet rapprochement as decidedly
It does not follow, however, that the abandonment of the Franco-Soviet pact
would not, on that account, have serious consequences from our point of view.
Even if it only resulted . . . in the abandonment of the Litvinov policy and a
return to one of isolation, Germany would be encouraged to pursue her ambi-
tions at the expense of e.g. Czechoslovakia, while the Soviet Government would
feel free to ˜reinsure themselves™ through the Comintern at the expense of all the
capitalist Powers, including France and ourselves, and might be tempted to
make trouble for us in Asia.

Vansittart merely observed that the German army wished to get rid
of the Franco-Soviet Pact in the ˜short-term™, and ˜have in mind the
possibility™ of an arrangement with Soviet Russia in the ˜longer range™.117
The second development was a memorandum on Japanese foreign
policy. This paper, written on 19 November, aimed at considering ˜the
prospect of Japan being so far satisfied with the position vis a vis Russia
as to be encouraged to strike forcibly in a southern direction™. Since
1932, Orde argued, Soviet Russia had strengthened its military position
in the Far East, had sold the diminishing asset of the CER to Japan and
had tried to reach an accommodation with Tokyo. Japan™s rejection of
the latter had meant that Soviet Russia had used force to meet the
Japanese border ˜pinpricks™. Thus, Orde felt that a German“Japanese
rapprochement would not end Russo-Japanese hostility. However, it
might encourage Japan to risk an attack to the south:
If the United Kingdom and Russia were simultaneously engaged in war with
Germany Japan™s choice [of whom to attack] would be doubtful. If only one were
engaged there could be little doubt that Japan would attack that one. The only
safeguard to us will come from the completion of the Singapore Base and the
possession of a really strong fleet based upon it.

For Cadogan, this dark analysis had a silver lining. Since a too-strong
Russia might push Japan southwards against Britain™s interests, the
rumoured German“Japanese ˜understanding may be a contrary indicator.

Chilston to FO, disp 637, 16 Nov 1936, FO 371/20347/N5715/1837/38, minutes,
Collier (25 Nov) and Vansittart (28 Nov), original emphasis.
Soviet Russian assertiveness 193

If so, and from that point of view alone, it may not be entirely disadvan-
tageous to us.™118
Such thinking underpinned the British response to the Anti-Comin-
tern Pact. Collier was gloomy about the pact; he felt that it foreshadowed
a German-Italian-Japanese grouping ˜inimical to British interests™. Van-
sittart shared Collier™s view, but Orde, Craigie and, most importantly,
Eden, did not. The former pair did not think that there was much in the
pact, while the foreign secretary was ˜not prepared to take the matter
tragically, still less to believe that if we play our cards well the agreement
need lead to any closer cooperation between Germany & Japan™. But, the
reaction of Soviet Russia also had to be considered.119
On 18 November, Maisky stated that Soviet Russia was strong enough
to ignore the effects of the Anti-Comintern Pact. Collier accepted that
Soviet Russia was strong enough to discourage Japan, but he did not
believe that it could deter Germany. Therefore, the result would be that
Japan would be ˜able to pursue with impunity their present plan of
leaving Soviet territory alone . . . concentrating on their offensive against
China and, ultimately, against our own interests™. Orde did not believe
that either Japan or Germany would be strengthened by the pact, unless
there was (which he doubted) ˜an important military agreement behind
it, as the Russians assert™.120 He tended to see the pact as a vague anti-
communist declaration. Cadogan rejected Collier™s contention about the
military balance swinging in favour of Japan. ˜The German-Japanese
Agreement™, he wrote, ˜though from one point of view it may strengthen
Japan, must antagonise Russia and make of her a more uncomfortable
neighbour whom it will be difficult to ignore while seeking adventures in
other directions.™121
There were other unpleasant possibilities. There were rumours that
Italy might join the Anti-Comintern Pact.122 This was particularly signifi-
cant because, at the beginning of November, it had been decided to make
an effort to improve Anglo-Italian relations, with an eye towards lessening
the strategic difficulties in the Mediterranean.123 The Admiralty was very

Untitled minute, Orde, 19 Nov 1936, FO 371/20287/F7146/553/23, Cadogan™s
minute (19 Nov).
His minute (26 Nov) on Clive to FO, tel 348, 25 Nov 1936, FO 371/20285/F7223/
Craigie™s untitled memo, 19 Nov 1936, FO 371/20348/N5866/287/38, minutes.
See also Clive to FO, tel 348, 25 Nov 1936, FO 371/20285/F7223/303/23.
Minutes, Drummond to FO, disp 296, 4 Nov 1936, FO 371/20285/F6849/303/23;
Drummond to FO, tel 250, 20 Nov 1936, FO 371/2045/R7041/6851/22.


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