Peter J. Beck, â€˜Britain and Appeasement in the Late 1930s: Was There a League
of Nationsâ€™ Alternative?â€™, in Dick Richardson and Glyn Stone, eds., Decisions and
12 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
The Leagueâ€™s Covenant ostensibly provided a framework for joint action
dealing with all international disputes, but the articles of the Covenant
that provided for what became known as â€˜collective securityâ€™ were not
binding. Nor were they necessarily backed up by force, since the
Leagueâ€™s Council could only â€˜recommendâ€™ to its members what force
should be used should sanctions fail.43 And there was a fundamental
dichotomy between simultaneously advocating disarmament and
expecting member states to provide the force required to make collective
security effective.44 By the 1930s, many believed (or preferred to be-
lieve) that international public opinion would act as the Leagueâ€™s ultim-
ate weapon. Such a belief cut no ice with Soviet Russia, whose idea of
collective security always involved force.
Another weakness of the League was the extent of its membership.
Germany was excluded at first, not being allowed to join until 1926. The
United States was one of the intellectual founders of the League, but the
American Senateâ€™s rejection of the Treaty of Versailles kept Washington
outside Geneva. And Soviet Russia viewed the entire League with suspi-
cion, seeing it as innately hostile to the Bolshevik experiment. Indeed,
the Comintern was founded in part to act as an alternative to the League.
Without the membership of key players, the League could provide only a
feeble substitute for the pre-1914 balance of power. However, the emo-
tional and political capital invested in the concept of the League meant
that any international undertakings had to be (or appear to be) compat-
ible with the League. This led to difficulties. One of these was notable
after Soviet Russia joined the League in 1934. The Soviet commissar for
foreign affairs, Maxim Litvinov, interpreted collective security in a fash-
ion difficult to distinguish from pre-1914 Concert diplomacy. This
complicated Anglo-Soviet relations, as many Britons no longer accepted
that nineteenth-century approach.
While the League provided a new framework, there was another
means of dealing with international relations that gained wide acceptance.
This was the idea of mutual guarantees that found its initial expres-
sion in the Locarno Treaties of 1925.45 Negotiated in an attempt to
Diplomacy. Essays in Twentieth-Century International History (London and New York,
F. H. Hinsley, Power and the Pursuit of Peace. Theory and Practice in the History of
Relations Between States (Cambridge, 1963), 309â€“22.
Maurice VaÄ±sse, â€˜Security and Disarmament: Problems in the Development of the
Disarmament Debates 1919â€“1934â€™, and Philip Towle, â€˜British Security and Disarma-
ment Policy in Europe in the 1920sâ€™, both in Ahmann, Birke and Howard, Quest for
Stability, 173â€“200 and 127â€“53 respectively.
Jon Jacobson, Locarno Diplomacy. Germany and the West, 1925â€“1929 (Princeton, 1972),
and Grayson, Austen Chamberlain, 44â€“75. For recent reappraisals of Chamberlainâ€™s
ensure Franceâ€™s security while at the same time treating Germany as an
equal, the Locarno Treaties, despite their extra-League qualities, were
seen as compatible with the spirit of Geneva.46 Hence, Locarno gen-
erated a series of bilateral pacts. British policy makers spent a good
deal of time in the 1930s trying to manufacture such things as an
â€˜Eastern Locarnoâ€™ and a â€˜Mediterranean Locarnoâ€™.47 But, Locarno also
acted as a constraint on British policy makers. With bows needing to be
made in the direction of either the League Covenant or Locarno (or
both), the room for diplomatic manoeuvre was slight. Negotiations with
Soviet Russia in the 1930s often found themselves hindered by such
The Great War also left major intellectual legacies. Some of these
involved Soviet Russia directly, others did not. They need to be dis-
cussed, however, as they impinged upon all inter-war thinking. One
important issue was the disputation about the origins of the conflict
itself. There were various strands in this debate: the impact of arms
races, the pernicious influence of â€˜old diplomacyâ€™, the effect of entan-
gling alliances and the problems presented by submerged nationalities.
For many people after the war, it was a truism that arms races, evil in
themselves, caused war.48 So powerful was this argument that disarma-
ment was made part and parcel of the Treaty of Versailles, and the British
concept of international relations in the inter-war period was suffused
with a concern to avoid arms races, with their attendant â€˜merchants of
deathâ€™, lest they lead to war.49
Another explanation for the origin of the war centred around the
linked concepts of â€˜old diplomacyâ€™, secret alliances and the balance of
policy, see Gaynor Johnson, â€˜Lord Dâ€™Abernon, Austen Chamberlain and the Origin of
the Treaty of Locarnoâ€™, eJIH (2000), and cf. Richard Grayson, â€˜Austen Chamberlainâ€™,
in T. G. Otte, ed., The Makers of British Foreign Policy from Pitt to Thatcher (Basingstoke
and New York, 2002), 150â€“72, and B. J. C. McKercher, â€˜Austen Chamberlain and the
Continental Balance of Power: Strategy, Stability, and the League of Nations, 1924â€“
1929â€™, D&S, 14, 2 (2003), 207â€“36.
For the linkage, see Joseph Charles Heim, â€˜Liberalism and the Establishment of
Collective Security in British Foreign Policyâ€™, TRHS, 6th series, 5 (1995), 91â€“110.
See, for example, Gabor Batonyi, Britain and Central Europe 1918â€“1933 (Oxford,
Carolyn J. Kitching, Britain and the Geneva Disarmament Conference (Basingstoke and
New York, 2003), 7â€“11, summarizes the arguments; for analysis, see David Stevenson,
Armaments and the Coming of War. Europe 1904â€“1914 (Oxford, 1996), 1â€“15, 412â€“21.
Important is Patrick Kyba, Covenants Without the Sword. Public Opinion and British
Defence Policy 1931â€“1935 (Waterloo, Ontario, 1983).
David G. Anderson, â€˜British Rearmament and the â€śMerchants of Deathâ€ť: The 1935â€“
1936 Royal Commission on the Manufacture of and Trade in Armamentsâ€™, JCH, 29
14 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
power.50 In this view, it was the pre-1914 secret treaties between the
various Powers, with their interlocking obligations, that had transformed
a local Balkan conflict into a European catastrophe. In the emotive
British variant, it was argued that the unfortunate Entente with France
had led to the flower of British youth dying on the battlefields of
Flanders and that Britain had gone to war to defend autocratic Russia.
There was another strand: the alleged undemocratic way in which these
treaties had been concluded. Pressure groups such as the Union of
Democratic Control railed that the Foreign Office, a bastion of aristo-
cratic privilege, had committed Britain to war behind the back of
Parliament and the people.51 All of this could be avoided, liberal inter-
nationalists contended, by the innovation provided by the League, and,
as Woodrow Wilson put it, by â€˜open covenants openly arrived atâ€™. Thus,
in the inter-war period certain kinds of policies were proscribed; as
a British diplomatist put it: â€˜alliances were out of fashionâ€™.52 Action
taken in the context of the League or of a Locarno-like agreement was
acceptable; anything that smacked of â€˜secretâ€™ diplomacy was not.
Closely aligned was the intellectual attack on the balance of power.
The term indeed is a slippery one, but it was generally used pejoratively
to refer to a reliance on considerations of power to maintain the status
quo.53 As such, it cut across all notions of collective security, reliance on
the League and, implicitly, the idea of disarmament. Thus, the balance
of power was lumped in with other pre-war notions that had to be
discarded in the new world order.
If the First World War had been caused by such things as secret
diplomacy, arms races and a reliance on the balance of power, then
why was Germanyâ€™s war-guilt enshrined in the Treaty of Versailles?54
On â€˜old diplomacyâ€™, see Henig, â€˜New Diplomacy and Oldâ€™.
Marvin Swartz, The Union of Democratic Control in British Politics During the First World
War (Oxford, 1971). Criticism led to post-war reform; see Zara Steiner and
M. L. Dockrill, â€˜The Foreign Office Reforms, 1919â€“1921â€™, HJ, 17, 1 (1974), 131â€“
56. For a contemporary academic opinion, see Robert T. Nightingale, â€˜The Personnel of
the British Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service, 1851â€“1929â€™, American Political Sci-
ence Review, 24, 2 (1930), 331.
Sir John Tilley, London to Tokyo (London, 1942), 194.
For the problems of definition, see Martin Wight, â€˜The Balance of Powerâ€™, in Herbert
Butterfield and Martin Wight, eds., Diplomatic Investigations. Essays in the Theory of
International Politics (London, 1966), 149â€“75. For an approach to the topic of the
balance of power in the inter-war period, see M. L. Roi and B. J. C. McKercher,
â€˜ â€śIdealâ€ť and â€śPunch-Bagâ€ť: Conflicting Views of the Balance of Power and Their
Influence on Inter-war British Foreign Policyâ€™, D&S, 12, 2 (2001), 47â€“78.
Two recent collections are valuable: Michael Dockrill and John Fisher, eds., The Paris
Peace Conference, 1919. Peace Without Victory? (Basingstoke and New York, 2001), par-
ticularly, Zara Steiner, â€˜The Treaty of Versailles Revisitedâ€™, 13â€“34, and Manfred F.
Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Glaser, eds., The Treaty of Versailles. A
And, if Versailles was a Diktat or victorsâ€™ peace, what legitimacy did the
treaty possess and how could it act as the basis on which to build a
lasting new order? The attacks on its legitimacy began soon after the ink
was dry, and the assault continued throughout the inter-war period. The
Germans, playing on both the emerging historical consensus that the war
was caused by impersonal forces and a strong moral and religious
argument that the peace was flawed, called for revisions to the settle-
ment.55 With the use of force sidelined as un-Leaguely and likely to
cause another war, and with the revisionist Powers being seen as having
legitimate grievances, British policy makers found themselves in the
midst of a â€˜twenty yearsâ€™ crisisâ€™.56 Policy choices were tightly circum-
scribed, not only by the physical, economic and financial â€˜realities
behind diplomacyâ€™, but also by mental constraints. It was the debate
over these mental constraints â€“ as much as discussions of military weak-
ness or decline â€“ that was at the intellectual heart of all British strategic
foreign policy in the period from 1919 to 1939. In that sense, then, this is
a study of competing mentalites, an effort to determine what were the
â€˜mental mapsâ€™ of the foreign-policy making elite and how they affected
A consideration of mental maps leads into a discussion of who made
policy. Before such a discussion can begin, it is necessary to remember
that there was yet another legacy of the First World War: a â€˜transform-
ationâ€™ of British government.58 One aspect was that the pre-1914
Reassessment After 75 Years (Washington and Cambridge, 1998), particularly Michael
Graham Fry, â€˜British Revisionismâ€™, 565â€“602, and Gordon Martel, â€˜A Commentâ€™, 615â€“36.
Catherine Ann Cline, â€˜British Historians and the Treaty of Versaillesâ€™, Albion, 20, 1
(1988), 43â€“58; Cline, â€˜Ecumenism and Appeasement: The Bishops of the Church of
England and the Treaty of Versaillesâ€™, JMH, 61, 4 (1989), 683â€“703, and Gordon
Martel, â€˜The Prehistory of Appeasement: Headlam-Morley, the Peace Settlement and
Revisionismâ€™, D&S, 9, 3 (1998), 242â€“65.
Carr, The Twenty Yearsâ€™ Crisis, drew attention to the tendency of policy makers to ignore
power in international relations. Carr omitted to mention that his own intellectual
activities helped to undermine the existing order; see Jonathan Haslam, The Vices of
Integrity. E. H. Carr 1892â€“1982 (London, 1999), 41â€“80.
For mentalites, see Patrick H. Hutton, â€˜The History of Mentalities: The New Map of
Cultural Historyâ€™, History and Theory, 20 (1981), 237â€“59. For â€˜mental mapsâ€™, see Zara
Steiner, â€˜Elitism and Foreign Policy: The Foreign Office Before the Great Warâ€™, in
B. J. C. McKercher and David J. Moss, eds., Shadow and Substance in British Foreign
Policy, 1895â€“1939. Memorial Essays Honouring C. J. Lowe (Edmonton, Alberta, 1984),
19â€“56, and Keith Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar. British Policy and Russia, 1894â€“1917
(Oxford, 1995), xiâ€“xii, 3â€“109. For the underlying concept, see Alan K. Hendrickson,
â€˜The Geographical â€śMental Mapsâ€ť of American Foreign Policy Makersâ€™, International
Political Science Review, 1, 4 (1980); Steiner makes apposite comments in â€˜On Writing
International History: Chaps, Maps and Much Moreâ€™, IA, 73 (1997), 531â€“46.
Developed in Kathleen Burk, ed., War and the State. The Transformation of British
Government, 1914â€“1919 (London, 1982).
16 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
primacy of the Foreign Office in making foreign policy, under fire dur-
ing the war itself, was also challenged by other departments during the
inter-war period.59 Of particular importance was the increase in the
remit of the Treasury.60 Both during and after the war, the complicated
negotiations concerning loans, war debts and reparations immersed
the Treasury in relations with other states. Further, the fact that all
spending programmes had to go to the Treasury before they could be
considered by Cabinet also led to friction. The Treasury would often
make suggestions about foreign policy in an attempt to limit the amounts
of spending that the fighting services deemed necessary. Either event
could result in disputes between the Treasury and the Foreign Office
over which was to be the final arbiter of British strategic foreign policy.61
There were other changes to the policy-making structure. Two con-
cerned foreign trade. Before 1914, the Commercial Department of the
Foreign Office dealt with such matters, but during the war a Contraband
Department (which grew into the Ministry of Blockade) took over the
work.62 In 1917, the department of Overseas Trade (DOT), run jointly
by the Foreign Office and Board of Trade, was created to offer assistance
to British traders. This new department blurred the distinction between
foreign and domestic policy, and, like the Treasury, intruded into the
Roberta M. Warman, â€˜The Erosion of Foreign Office Influence in the Making of
Foreign Policy, 1916â€“1918â€™, HJ, 15, 1 (1972), 133â€“59; Alan Sharp, â€˜The Foreign
Office in Eclipse, 1919â€“1922â€™, History, 61, 202 (1976), 198â€“218. For reappraisals, see
G. H. Bennett, â€˜Lloyd George, Curzon and the Control of British Foreign Policy 1919â€“
1922â€™, AJPH, 45, 4 (1999), 467â€“82, and Gaynor Johnson, â€˜Curzon, Lloyd George and
the Control of British Foreign Policy, 1919â€“1922: A Reassessmentâ€™, D&S, 11, 3
(2000), 49â€“71. The inter-war context is in David Dilks, â€˜The British Foreign Office
Between the Warsâ€™, in McKercher and Moss, Shadow and Substance, 181â€“202; Valerie
Cromwell and Zara Steiner, â€˜Reform and Retrenchment: The Foreign Office Between
the Warsâ€™, in Roger Bullen, ed., The Foreign Office 1782â€“1982 (Frederick, MD, 1984),
85â€“106; and B. J. C. McKercher, â€˜Old Diplomacy and New: The Foreign Office
and Foreign Policy, 1919â€“1939â€™, in Michael Dockrill and Brian McKercher, eds.,
Diplomacy and World Power. Studies in British Foreign Policy, 1890â€“1950 (Cambridge,
Kathleen Burk, â€˜The Treasury: From Impotence to Powerâ€™, in Burk, War and the State,
84â€“107, and George Peden, The Treasury and British Public Policy 1906â€“1959 (Oxford,
Generally, see Peter Neville, â€˜Lord Vansittart, Sir Walford Selby and the Debate About
Treasury Interference in the Conduct of British Foreign Policy in the 1930sâ€™, JCH, 36,
4 (2001), 623â€“33. For the views of two participants, see Frank Ashton-Gwatkin,
â€˜Thoughts on the Foreign Office: 1918â€“1939â€™, Contemporary Review, 138 (1955),
374â€“8, and Sir Walford Selby, Diplomatic Twilight 1930â€“1940 (London, 1953), 4, 6,
D. C. M. Platt, Finance, Trade and Politics in British Foreign Policy 1815â€“1914 (Oxford,
1968), 378â€“80, 393â€“5; Zara Steiner, â€˜The Foreign Office and the Warâ€™, in F. H.
Hinsley, ed., British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey (Cambridge, 1977), 516â€“