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bandied about at the time, the British were not going to pull the French
and Soviet chestnuts out of the fire. In this ˜war of the chestnuts™, neither
the British nor the French believed in the Soviets™ professions of support
or in their capacity to carry them out.223 The result was that all parties
could blame another: the French could claim that the ˜English governess™

Material from the Soviet Archives™, HJ, 42, 3 (1999), 751“79; Michael Jabara Carley,
1939. The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II (Chicago, 1999), 35“
81; Louise Grace Shaw, The British Political Elite and the Soviet Union 1937“1939
(London and Portland, OR 2003), 38“40; and Hugh Ragsdale, The Soviets, the Munich
Crisis, and the Coming of World War II (Cambridge, 2004). Interpretations vary widely.
Morgan (Istanbul) to FO, disp 483, 24 Sept 1938, FO 371/21777/C11208/5302/18,
minute (1 Oct), Roberts.
Martin Thomas, ˜France and the Czechoslovak Crisis™, D&S, 10, 2“3 (1999), 122“59;
Yvon Lacaze, ˜Daladier, Bonnet and the Decision-Making Process During the Munich
Crisis, 1938™, in Robert Boyce, ed., French Foreign and Defence Policy, 1918“1940
(London and New York, 1998), 215“33; Jonathan Haslam, ˜The Soviet Union and
the Czechoslovakian Crisis of 1938™, JCH, 14, 3 (1979), 441“62.
Thomas, ˜France and the Czechoslovak Crisis™; Peter Jackson, France and the Nazi
¨ ´
Menace, 237, 290“2; Maurice Va±sse, ˜La Perception de la pussiance sovietique par la
militaries francais en 1938™, Revues Historique des Armees, 23 (1983), 19“25.
Chamberlain™s interlude 253

had paralysed them, the British could assert that French and Soviet
weakness meant that Czechoslovakia was doomed and Soviet Russia
could assume the role of the virtuous second let down by the capitalist

From his appointment as prime minister until the end of the Munich
crisis, Neville Chamberlain had carried out the strategic foreign policy
that he preferred.224 He had disengaged Britain from the eastern Euro-
pean complications produced by the Franco-Soviet Pact and France™s
other treaty commitments in that region. Instead, he had attempted to
come to terms with Hitler and Mussolini, all the while increasing
Britain™s Home Defence Air Force and anti-aircraft capabilities (first
undermining and then ending preparations to send an expeditionary
force to the continent). In the Far East, he had been blocked from
pursuing a similar policy by Tokyo™s ongoing assaults against China.
This meant that British interests in China had been protected by China™s
ability to absorb Japan™s energy (the policy of ˜stalemate™) and the
United States™s potential and Soviet Russia™s actual military capability
in the region. He had turned his back on the League (although continu-
ing to pay public lip-service to its ideals) and on any collaboration with
Soviet Russia.
This policy had paid few dividends. Despite the signing of the Anglo-
Italian Pact on 16 April (the so-called Easter Pact), Italy had refused to
withdraw its troops from Spain, and the pact remained unratified. Hitler
had shown himself without gratitude for colonial offers, and had taken
the Sudetenland without regard for British sensibilities. Japan had
proved unrelenting in its predations in China, despite every British effort
not to offend it. Masked by the euphoria surrounding the avoidance of
war at Munich was the fact that Chamberlain™s policy had been largely
barren. What remained was either further appeasement or a move to-
wards establishing a balance of power. France had little choice but to
take what it could get from Britain, but would Soviet Russia be prepared
to accept anything that fell short of protecting its own interests?

Erik Goldstein, ˜Neville Chamberlain, the British Official Mind and the Munich
Crisis™, D&S, 10, 2“3 (1999), 276“92.
7 Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass:
October 1938“September 1939

In the eleven months from the Munich settlement to the outbreak of war
in Europe, there were two principal alternatives for British strategic
defence policy. The first was Neville Chamberlain™s approach. In
Europe, this amounted to continued concessions to the dictator states
(appeasement by another name), but this strategy was limited, both by
the fact that there were fewer and fewer concessions left to give and
by the fact that it showed no signs of achieving its goals.1 In the Far East,
it meant accommodation with Japan, but Tokyo™s continued aggression
meant that accommodation was hard to effect without alienating both
public opinion and the United States. The second alternative was to take
up arms in conjunction with others and oppose the revisionist Powers.
But would Chamberlain accept this? And would the other Powers adhere
to such a British policy after years of being snubbed or fobbed off
with excuses? France, certainly, had few alternatives, but Soviet Russia
had two: it could either retreat into isolation or mend its fences with
Chamberlain™s freedom of action was less during this period than it
had been before Munich. Although only Duff Cooper had resigned after
Munich, the Cabinet was more restive than before, and small ˜groups™ of
parliamentarians “ Eden™s ˜glamour boys™ (now led by Leo Amery) and
Churchill™s supporters “ who disliked Chamberlain™s foreign policy had
formed.2 These ˜groups™ were not coherent in any political sense and had
to act carefully to escape the wrath of a vindictive prime minister, but

Chamberlain continued to appease Italy in the Mediterranean; however, the Italians
were turning towards Germany: Reynolds M. Salerno, Vital Crossroads. Mediterranean
Origins of the Second World War, 1935“1940 (Ithaca and London, 2002), 73“108.
John Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (London, 1989), 143“53; N. J.
Crowson, Facing Fascism. The Conservative Party and the European Dictators, 1935“1940
(London and New York, 1997), 99“102; Richard Cockett, Twilight of Truth. Chamber-
lain, Appeasement and the Manipulation of the Press (London, 1989), 101“2; Maurice
Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy 1933“1940 (Cambridge,
1975), 249“53.

Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass 255

they constituted a reservoir of discontent.3 Eden contented himself
with frequenting London™s clubland, where supporters ˜kept pumping
sedition into his ear™.4
The prime minister was well aware of this discontent.5 Typically, he
felt himself the victim (rather than the author) of these circumstances.
˜Sometimes I feel that I wish democracy™, he wrote on 17 December
after a trying week in the House, ˜at the devil and I often wonder what
PM ever had to go through such an ordeal as I.™ He resented the fact that
he had to face a myriad of parliamentary questions, and that ˜each is
followed by two or three supplementaries prepared beforehand in the
hope of tripping me with some imprudent declaration and always with
the object of injuring my foreign policy™. Chamberlain™s woes were
compounded by the fact that he received little support. My ˜own follow-
ers are continually harassing me with warnings & doubts™, he lamented.6
To remedy this, he earlier had attempted to buttress his Cabinet. In late
October, Runciman was asked to rejoin that body. Chamberlain™s ap-
proach to his former colleague made clear the change since 1937. The
prime minister told Runciman that the latter could serve in ˜some
capacity congenial to yourself™.7 Other changes were not impressive. A
disappointed office-seeker shrewdly contended that this was due to the
fact that the prime minister felt ˜that the more dullards he has in high
places, the easier it will be for him to run the show as he likes™.8
This was the political context for Anglo-Soviet relations after
Munich.9 On 29 September, Halifax attempted to ensure that Moscow
should not ˜misinterpret™ Chamberlain™s proceedings at Munich. The
foreign secretary pointed out that Soviet Russia had not been asked to
participate at Munich simply because the Germans and Italians ˜would
not be willing in present circumstances to sit in conference with Soviet
representatives™. However, he also told Maisky that Britain was ˜fully

Thomas Jones to Abraham Flexner (director, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton),
30 Oct 1938, in T. Jones, A Diary with Letters, 1931“1950 (London, 1954), 418“19;
N. J. Crowson, ˜Conservative Parliamentary Dissent over Foreign Policy During the
Premiership of Neville Chamberlain: Myth or Reality?™, Parliamentary History, 14, 3
(1995), 315“36.
Crawford diary entry, 2 Nov 1938, in John Vincent, ed., The Crawford Papers. The
Journals of David Lindsay Twenty-Seventh Earl of Crawford and Tenth Earl of Balcarres
1871“1940 During the Years 1892 to 1940 (Manchester, 1984), 590.
N. Chamberlain to Hilda, his sister, 11 Dec 1938, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1079.
N. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 17 Dec 1938, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/1080.
Chamberlain to Runciman, 20 Oct 1938, Runciman Papers, WR 289.
Headlam diary entry, 28 Oct 1938, in Stuart Ball, ed., Parliament and Politics in the Age
of Churchill and Attlee. The Headlam Diaries 1935“1951 (Cambridge, 1999), 142.
See Donald Lammers, ˜From Whitehall After Munich: The Foreign Office and the
Future Course of British Policy™, HJ, 16, 4 (1973), 831“56.
256 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

alive to the importance of working as closely as we might with his
Government™. Halifax characterized Maisky™s attitude as ˜one of some
suspicion, but not one of resentment™, but the differences were deep.10
This was revealed on 11 October. Maisky complained about public
utterances in Britain asserting that Moscow had made only vague prom-
ises of help during the Munich crisis due to its ˜military weakness™. He
maintained that Litvinov had made the Soviet willingness to help clear.
But, when Maisky stated that ˜he was at a loss to understand why we
failed so completely to appreciate the necessity of checking these
methods of aggression before it was too late™, Halifax™s reply highlighted
the differences between them:
I told him that I very well understood the point of view of his Government but
that the philosophy that he had outlined suggested the necessity of having a war
with Germany every 15 to 20 years to prevent worse things happening. That
seemed to me to spell certain disaster for Europe and if indeed there was no other
way but that we might as well all abandon hope.

Maisky™s response was that the Soviet government was ˜confident that, if
the kind of action they favoured had been taken, war could, in fact, have
been prevented™.11
What about Litvinov and Soviet policy? And how did this play into the
Franco-Soviet relationship and British strategic foreign policy? The
Soviet foreign minister had been ˜highly incensed™ at the Munich settle-
ment, and told Bonnet that Hitler had ˜bluffed™ the British and French.
For his part, the French foreign minister was less than amused by what
he termed ˜the Soviets™ pretension to dictate French foreign policy™, and
had ˜smiled when he referred to the probable extent of Soviet help had
war broken out™.12 In fact, Bonnet was reported to believe that France
must re-evaluate its relations with both Soviet Russia and Poland. This
occasioned comment at the Foreign Office. Sargent declared that it was
˜curious that it should have taken 2 1/2 years for a realistic and logical
people like the French to appreciate such an obvious fact™ that Franco-
Soviet relations needed to be reconsidered. He went on to say that, if
France were to abandon its ˜active and positive™ policy in Europe and
become ˜more or less isolated and without continental allies™, then the
Anglo-French condominium over Europe that had existed since 1919

Halifax™s conversation with Maisky, 29 Sept 1938, in disp 608 to Chilston, FO 371/
21743/C11100/1941/18; Michael Jabara Carley, ˜End of the “Low, Dishonest
Decade”: Failure of the Anglo-Franco-Soviet Alliance in 1939™, E“AS, 45, 2 (1993),
Halifax™s conversation with Maisky, 11 Oct 1938, in disp 628 to Chilston, FO 371/
Phipps to FO, tel 645, 1 Oct 1938, FO 371/21778/C11379/5302/18.
Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass 257

would have to be abandoned. This would mean that ˜our influence
and authority will be correspondingly reduced™, but would have the
countervailing advantage of lessening ˜our commitments™ and influen-
cing ˜the character and extent of our re-armament™. Cadogan largely
agreed. He pointed out that ˜[b]oth we and France will have to be on the
defensive for some time to come, and during that time we shall not be
able (we may never again be able) to direct affairs in Central & Eastern
Europe as we aspired to do in the “Covenant” years™. Vansittart opposed
Sargent tout court. ˜If we and the French are really to fall apart into some
sort of isolation or bisolation™, the chief diplomatic adviser pronounced,
˜we shall not long be even second-class powers. And if we aren™t going to
try to hold even that rank, any “extent” of our rearmament will be
wasted.™13 Much depended on how Britain, France and Soviet Russia
faced the new circumstances.
This required information about Moscow™s intentions. A new course
in Soviet policy was felt ˜most improbable™ by Chilston, and he felt
that Litvinov™s position, although shaken, was likely secure, as he was
˜irreplaceable™. However, it was evident that there was ˜bitter disappoint-
ment™ in Moscow over the policy taken by Paris and London. As a result,
Collier believed that the Soviet government ˜would like more than ever
to pursue a policy of isolation if they could safely do so, [but] they realise
that, after Munich, they can afford to risk isolation even less than they
could before™.14 News from France, where Phipps reported that the
Soviets, ˜far from seeking to denounce their Pact with France, are
showing an almost feverish desire to maintain it fully, as they dread a
German attack on the Ukraine™, supported this interpretation. As
always, Sargent disliked any strengthening of Franco-Soviet ties. His
views had not changed since 1936:
Would it, I wonder, strengthen their [French] hands if we were to tell them that
we consider that in the altered circumstances of today they ought not to continue
[to be] tied by their Russian Treaty in as much as it can in future only constitute
a dangerous liability for France, all the more dangerous because if they did get
involved in a war with Germany in defence of Russia they clearly could not count
upon the collaboration of Great Britain as they were able to do in the recent case
of Czechoslovakia.

Phipps to FO, tel 675, 12 Oct 1938, FO 371/21612/C12161/1050/17, minutes,
Sargent (17 Oct), Cadogan (17 Oct), Vansittart (18 Oct), all seen by Halifax (18 Oct).
Halifax reported this to Cabinet: minutes, Cab 49(38), 19 Oct 1938, Cab 23/96. See also
Vansittart™s untitled memo for Halifax, 20 Oct 1938, Halifax Papers, FO 800/314.
Chilston to FO, disp 442, 18 Oct 1938, FO 371/22289/N5164/97/38, minute, Collier
(28 Oct). Maisky also made this latter point: Thomas Jones to Lady Grigg, 5 Nov 1938,
in T. Jones, Diary with Letters, 419.
258 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

Cadogan poured cold water on this idea. The obverse side was that, ˜if
repudiation of the Franco-Soviet Treaty would in fact reduce French
security, that w[oul]d put a greater burden on us, or at least render it less


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