former arena. In 1931, the Foreign Office attempted to take much of this
activity back into its own hands by forming an Economic Relations
Section, but this body proved ineffectual.63 The fact remained, however,
that when trade (with all its domestic implications) crossed into inter-
national affairs, the Foreign Officeâ€™s voice was not the only one that
spoke on policy, something that emerged strongly, for example, in the
debates over Anglo-Soviet trade talks of the early 1930s.64
Other new voices also were heard. The attacks on â€˜secret diplomacyâ€™
were mingled with cries for the greater democratization of the making of
foreign policy. One of the results was the creation of extra-governmental
organizations that both commented on official foreign policy and
often advocated alternative courses. The most influential of these was
the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), often referred to as
Chatham House, established in 1920 to provide the public with
informed knowledge of international relations.65 With its many ties to
the official policy makers, Chatham House was active and influential in
the formation of policy in the inter-war period.66 So, too, were less
official bodies, including the League of Nations Union (LNU) and the
various peace groups that proliferated in the inter-war period.67 The
LNU, with Lord Robert Cecil as its president and Gilbert Murray as its
chairman, was particularly vocal, creating a wide basis of support for the
Ephraim Maisel, â€˜The Formation of the Department of Overseas Trade, 1919â€“1926â€™,
JCH, 24 (1989), 169â€“90.
Donald Graeme Boadle, â€˜The Formation of the Foreign Office Economic Relations
Section, 1930â€“1937â€™, HJ, 30, 4 (1977), 919â€“36.
Keith Neilson, â€˜A Cautionary Tale: The Metro-Vickers Incident of 1933â€™, in Gregory
C. Kennedy and Neilson, Incidents and International Relations, 87â€“112.
M. L. Dockrill, â€˜The Foreign Office and the Proposed Institute of International Affairs
1919â€™, IA, 56, 4 (1980), 665â€“72.
Andrea Bosco and Cornelia Navari, eds., Chatham House and British Foreign Policy
1919â€“1945. The Royal Institute of International Affairs During the Inter-war Period
(London, 1994), particularly Gordon Martel, â€˜From Round Table to New Europe: Some
Intellectual Origins of the Institute of International Affairsâ€™, 13â€“39; see also Inderjeet
Parmar, â€˜Chatham House and the Anglo-American Allianceâ€™, D&S, 3, 1 (1992), 23â€“
Donald S. Birn, â€˜The League of Nations and Collective Securityâ€™, JCH, 9, 3 (1974),
131â€“60, Birn, The League of Nations Union, 1918â€“1945 (London, 1980), and J. A.
Thompson, â€˜Lord Cecil and the Pacifists in the League of Nations Unionâ€™, HJ, 20, 4
(1977), 949â€“59. On pacifism and policy, see Martin Pugh, â€˜Pacifism and Politics in
Britain, 1931â€“1935â€™, HJ, 23, 3 (1980), 641â€“56; Keith Robbins, â€˜European Peace
Movements and Their Influence on Policy After the First World Warâ€™, in Ahmann,
Birke and Howard, Quest for Stability, 73â€“86; and, most comprehensively, Martin
Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain 1914â€“1945. The Defining of a Faith (London, 1980), and
Ceadel, Semi-Detached Idealists. The British Peace Movement and International Relations,
1854â€“1945 (Oxford, 2000), 239â€“375.
18 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
League, which it was politically difficult to ignore.68 The devastating
human losses of the First World War gave the pacifist movements more
influence than had been possessed by their Victorian forbears, and
ensured that any attempt to adopt a more confrontational foreign policy
or to advocate rearmament had to be done with finesse. Those who
made strategic foreign policy could not ignore the impact that pacifists
were thought to possess at the ballot box.69
Important, too, were those individuals who helped to create an intellec-
tual atmosphere favourable to Soviet Russia and communism. They were
a disparate lot, ranging from such intellectuals as Beatrice and Sydney
Webb to the stalwarts of the Socialist League and the British Communist
Party, to writers such as J. B. Priestley.70 A number of them travelled to
Soviet Russia, where they were shown latter-day Potemkin villages, and
then returned to Britain to extol the virtues of the workersâ€™ paradise.
These â€˜fellow travellersâ€™ were not politically strong, but their influence
among the educated middle classes â€“ a group likely to vote and to influ-
ence others â€“ meant that they had a political clout beyond their numbers.
Structural legacies of the Great War also existed in other parts of
government. The problems of co-ordinating Britainâ€™s military endeav-
ours from 1914 to 1918 gave impetus to reform.71 This had begun before
1914, with the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID).72
See Duncan Wilson, Gilbert Murray OM 1866â€“1957 (Oxford, 1987), for an uncritical
See the famous East Fulham by-election: Martin Ceadel, â€˜Interpreting East Fulhamâ€™, in
Chris Cook and John Ramsden, eds., By-Elections in British Politics (2nd edn, 1997),
David Caute, The Fellow Travellers. A Postscript to the Enlightenment (London, 1977);
Sylvia Margulies, The Pilgrimage to Russia. The Soviet Union and the Treatment of
Foreigners (Madison, 1968); Blaazer, Popular Front and the Progressive Tradition, 98â€“
192; F. M. Leventhal, â€˜Seeing the Future: British Left-Wing Travellers to the Soviet
Union, 1919â€“1932â€™, in J. M. W. Bean, ed., The Political Culture of Modern Britain.
Studies in Memory of Stephen Koss (London, 1987), 209â€“27; Gertrude Himmelfarb,
â€˜The Intellectual in Politics: The Case of the Webbsâ€™, JCH, 6, 3 (1971), 3â€“11; Ben
Pimlott, â€˜The Socialist League: Intellectuals and the Labour Left in the 1930sâ€™, JCH, 6,
3 (1971), 12â€“39; Margot Heinemann, â€˜The Peopleâ€™s Front and the Intellectualsâ€™, in Jim
Fyrth, ed., Britain, Fascism and the Popular Front (London, 1985), 157â€“86; and Martin
Ceadel, â€˜The First Communist â€śPeace Societyâ€ť: The British Anti-War Movement
1932â€“1935â€™, TCBH, 1, 1 (1990), 58â€“86.
John Sweetman, â€˜Towards a Ministry of Defence: First Faltering Steps, 1890â€“1923â€™, in
David French and Brian Holden Reid, eds., The British General Staff. Reform and
Innovation, 1890â€“1939 (London and Portland, OR, 2002), 26â€“40; William J. Philpott,
â€˜The Campaign for a Ministry of Defence, 1919â€“1936â€™, in Paul Smith, ed., Government
and the Armed Forces in Britain 1856â€“1990 (London and Rio Grande, 1996), 109â€“54.
F. A. Johnson, Defence by Committee: The British Committee of Imperial Defence, 1885â€“
1959 (Oxford, 1960); Nicholas dâ€™Ombrain, War Machinery and High Policy. Defence
Administration in Peacetime Britain 1902â€“1914 (Oxford, 1973).
After the war, in 1923, the result was the formation of the Chiefs of Staff
Committee (COS).73 This was followed by the creation of a plethora of
other military planning innovations: the Advisory Committee on Trade
Questions in Time of War (ATB) in 1923; the Principal Supply Officers
Committee (PSOC) in 1924; the Joint Planning Committee (JPC) in
1927; and both the Deputy Chiefs of Staff Committee (DCOS) and the
Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in 1936. These military bodies,
whose ambits are evident from their titles, were tied to the broader
framework of strategic foreign-policy making by the fact that they all
reported to the CID, whose membership included the other principal
departments â€“ the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Board of Trade â€“
involved. The existence of such bodies further broadened the number of
those who participated in making strategic foreign policy.
So, too, did the existence of several new bodies dealing with intelli-
gence.74 In 1919, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS)
was created by amalgamating the War Office and Admiraltyâ€™s wartime
code-breaking bodies. In 1922 this new body was placed under the
Foreign Office, joining the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). These two
bodies continued the intelligence war against Soviet Russia that had
been such a feature of Anglo-Russian relations before 1914. Until
1927, GC&CS read much of Soviet traffic; however, in the 1930s,
GC&CS had no success against Soviet diplomatic codes in Europe and
SIS was unable to place agents in Soviet Russia.75 Thus, in this crucial
decade, when knowledge of Soviet intentions would have been extremely
valuable, British strategic foreign policy was largely uninformed by either
signals or human intelligence about Soviet Russia.
There was a second factor that influenced how the military affected
strategic foreign policy: which war and what kind of war each of
the services expected to fight. Which war was shaped by the general
H. G. Welch, â€˜The Origins and Development of the Chiefs of Staff Subcommittee of
the Committee of Imperial Defence: 1923â€“1939â€™, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University
of London, 1973. What follows is informed by Gaines Post, Jnr, Dilemmas of Appease-
ment. British Deterrence and Defense, 1934â€“1937 (Ithaca and London, 1993), 27â€“31.
Post argues that such structures are inefficient.
Christopher Andrew, Secret Service. The Making of the British Intelligence Community
(London, 1985); Andrew, â€˜Secret Intelligence and British Foreign Policy 1900â€“1939â€™,
in Christopher Andrew and Jeremy Noakes, eds., Intelligence and International Relations
(Exeter, 1987), 9â€“28; John Ferris, â€˜Whitehallâ€™s Black Chamber: British Cryptology and
the Government Code and Cypher School, 1919â€“1929â€™, INS, 2, 1 (1987), 54â€“91;
Ferris, â€˜Before â€śRoom 40â€ť: The British Empire and Signals Intelligence, 1898â€“1914â€™,
JSS, 12, 4 (1989), 431â€“57; and Ferris, â€˜The Road to Bletchley Park: The British
Experience with Signals Intelligence, 1892â€“1945â€™, INS, 17, 1 (2002), 53â€“84.
The Soviets had much greater success against Britain; see Christopher Andrew and
Oleg Gordievsky, KGB. The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev
(London, 1990), 135â€“86.
20 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
international situation and Britainâ€™s place in it, but deciding what kind of
war was expected was complex, an admixture of the experiences of the
First World War, the advances in technology and the projections of
military theorists. Projections varied from service to service. The deci-
sion was perhaps simplest for the Royal Navy (RN). The RNâ€™s long-
standing need to defend Britainâ€™s interests globally did not change after
the Great War. The navy continued to be the dominant arm of Britainâ€™s
fighting forces after 1918. However, it was not all smooth sailing for the
RN. After the First World War, the twin hammers of disarmament and
fiscal restraint created new guidelines: formal equality with the United
States and a 5:3:1.75:1.75 tonnage ratio between Britain, Japan, France
and Italy.76 The Admiralty, however, did not accept that such a formula
would allow it to fulfil its global responsibilities, arguing that its needs
were absolute, not relative. Thus, strategic foreign policy was constantly
affected in the inter-war period by the Admiraltyâ€™s battle with the
The British army emerged from the First World War as the most
powerful land force in British history. And yet, it suffered financial cuts
far greater than the RN, reflecting both the historical suspicions that the
British have had of standing armies and a national lack of strategic need
for a large land force. However, the army still had its two traditional
tasks: defending Britainâ€™s empire and facing continental foes.77 These
two responsibilities required both differing equipments and differing
doctrines.78 At a doctrinal level, the army attempted to cover all the
bases by preparing for a â€˜war of the first magnitudeâ€™ (that is, against a
European Power), on the assumption that this would also be sufficient
for any imperial conflict. Such preparations are exactly what were
made.79 But the preferred solution, an army capable of becoming an
The Washington Naval Conference ratios of 1922. For the RN, see Stephen Roskill,
Naval Policy Between the Wars (2 vols; London, 1968â€“76), and Christopher Bell, The
Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy Between the Wars (London, 2000).
See Michael Howard, The Continental Commitment. The Dilemma for British Defence
Policy in the Two World Wars (London, 1972); G. C. Peden, â€˜The Burden of Imperial
Defence and the Continental Commitment Reconsideredâ€™, HJ, 27, 2 (1984), 405â€“23;
and Pradeep Barua, â€˜Strategies and Doctrines of Imperial Defence: Britain and India,
1919â€“1945â€™, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 25, 2 (1997), 240â€“66.
Brian Bond, British Military Policy Between the Two World Wars (Oxford, 1980). My
analysis is informed by David French, â€˜Big Wars and Small Wars Between the Warsâ€™,
unpublished conference paper given at the Strategic and Combat Studies Institute
Conference, Oxford, 27 March 2003. I would like to thank Professor French for
making this paper available to me.
For a recent assessment, see J. P. Harris, â€˜The British General Staff and the Coming of
War, 1933â€“1939â€™, in French and Holden Reid, British General Staff, 175â€“91. Of
particular importance is Harrisâ€™s own Men, Ideas and Tanks. British Military Thought
expeditionary force to the continent, cut across post-war cries of â€˜never
againâ€™, efforts at disarmament and the personal objections of many. This
divergence between responsibilities and capabilities had a marked effect
on British strategic foreign policy, as it meant that continental allies,
such as Soviet Russia, would be a necessity if war were to come.
The First World War was the fons et origo of the Royal Air Force
(RAF). But, after the war, the RAF had to struggle to survive as an
independent force.80 To do so, it scrambled to find a role. Initially, the
RAF pushed for a Home Defence Air Force to defend against a French
air menace.81 This was followed by a contention that imperial policing
could be performed better by the RAF from the air than by the army on
the ground.82 In the 1930s, the RAF opted for a deterrent role, arguing
that its ability to deliver a devastating blow to any opponent would both
prevent war and save money.83 This argument, despite its technological
weaknesses, was used successfully to obtain funding. In the second half
of the decade, a fear of aerial attack led to the development of fighter
command.84 Of the three services, and despite its junior status, the RAF
and Armoured Forces, 1903â€“1939 (Manchester, 1995), and, especially, David French,
Raising Churchillâ€™s Army. The British Army and the War Against Germany, 1919â€“1945
(Oxford, 2000), and three of his articles, â€˜Doctrine and Organization in the British
Army, 1919â€“1932â€™, HJ, 44, 2 (2001), 497â€“515, â€˜The Mechanization of the British
Cavalry Between the World Warsâ€™, WH, 10, 3 (2003), 296â€“320, and â€˜ â€śAn Extensive
Use of Weedkillerâ€ť: Patterns of Promotion in the Senior Ranks of the British Army,
1919â€“1939â€™, in French and Sweetman, British General Staff, 159â€“74.
John Sweetman, â€˜Crucial Months for Survival: The Royal Air Force, 1918â€“1919â€™, JCH,
19 (1984), 529â€“47. For the inter-war RAF, see Malcolm Smith, British Air Strategy
Between the Wars (Oxford, 1984), and Barry D. Powers, Strategy Without Slide-Rule.
British Air Strategy 1914â€“1939 (London, 1976).
Hines H. Hall, III, â€˜British Air Defense and Anglo-French Relations, 1921â€“1924â€™, JSS,
4, 3 (1981), 271â€“84; John Ferris, â€˜The Theory of a â€śFrench Air Menaceâ€ť, Anglo-
French Relations and the British Home Defence Air Force Programmes of 1921â€“
1925â€™, JSS, 10, 1 (1987), 62â€“83; and Neil Young, â€˜British Home Air Defence Planning
in the 1920sâ€™, JSS, 11, 4 (1988), 416â€“39.
Michael Paris, â€˜Air Power and Imperial Defence 1880â€“1919â€™, JCH, 24 (1989), 209â€“25;
David E. Omissi, Air Power and Colonial Control. The Royal Air Force, 1919â€“1939
(Manchester, 1990). For the Armyâ€™s alternatives, see T. R. Moreman, â€˜ â€śSmall Warsâ€ť
and â€śImperial Policingâ€ť: The British Army and the Theory and Practice of Colonial
Warfare in the British Empire, 1919â€“1939â€™, JSS, 19, 4 (1996), 105â€“131.
R. J. Overy, â€˜Air Power and the Origins of Deterrence Theory Before 1939â€™, JSS, 15, 1
(1992), 73â€“101; Uri Bialer, The Shadow of the Bomber. The Fear of Air Attack and British
Politics 1932â€“1939 (London, 1980); Bialer, â€˜Elite Opinion and Defence Policy: Air Power
Advocacy and British Rearmament During the 1930sâ€™, BJIS, 6 (1980), 32â€“51; Malcolm
Smith, â€˜The Royal Air Force, Air Power and British Foreign Policy, 1932â€“1937â€™, JCH,
12 (1977), 153â€“74; N. Jones, The Beginnings of Strategic Air Power. A History of the British
Bomber Force 1923â€“1939 (London, 1987). For a harsher view, see Scot Robertson, The
Development of RAF Bombing Doctrine, 1919â€“1939 (Westport, CT, 1995).
John Ferris, â€˜Fighter Defence Before Fighter Command: The Rise of Strategic Air
Defence in Great Britain, 1917â€“1934â€™, JMilH, 63, 4 (1999), 845â€“84.
22 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order