Our Most Dangerous Enemy Great Britain Pre-Eminent in the 1930s | Dawes Plan | World War I Reparations

'Our Most Dangerous Enemy': Great Britain Pre-Eminent in the 1930s Author(s): B. J. C.

McKercher Source: The International History Review, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 751-783 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40106490 . Accessed: 25/01/2011 02:46
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'Our Most Dangerous Enemy5: Great Britain Pre-eminent in the 1930s

Britain was the pre-eminentpower in the world between the Firstand SecondWorldWars,especiallyin the 1930s.There were severalreasonsfor this. First, because of her empire, she was the only truly global power. Britishgovernmentsbetween the wars pursued an activist foreign policy designed to protect their country's interestworldwide; hence GreatBritain's leadingpositionin the League and imperialconferences,and her willingnessto work with a varietyof powersto maintainthe global balance of power. Second, buttressedby the Britishnavy with its widespreadnetwork of bases, British foreign policywas hardlyto be challenged.Finally,Britisheconomicand financial strength,though weakened by both the cost of fighting the First to WorldWar and the disruption trade causedby the GreatDepression, was stillformidable.Indeed, contemporaries recognizedher power,and to her determination pursueher traditionalpolicy of allowing no single power to dominate the Continent. In 1938, for instance, when Adolf Hitlerhad embarkedon a coursedesignedto establishGermany'shegemony, he received a lengthy answer by Joachim von Ribbentrop,his ambassadorat London, to the 'fateful question'of how much change GreatBritainwould accept in the Europeanbalancebeforeshe opposed Germanambitions.'Henceforth -regardless of what tactical interludes of conciliationmay be attemptedwith regard to us,' Ribbentropconcluded, 'every day that our political calculationsare not actuated by the fundamentalidea that Englandis our most dangerousenemy would
be a gain for our enemies?1
I would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of of Canada,as well as the Academic ResearchProgramme the Departmentof National Defence, Ottawa, for their financial assistance in the preparation of this essay. 1 Ribbentrop,'Memorandumfor the Ftthrer',2 Jan. 1938, Documents on German Foreign Policy, igi8-iQ45i series D (London, 1949), i. 162-8. Emphasis in original. The InternationalHistoryReview, xm, 4, November 1991, pp. 661-880 cn issn 0707-5332 © The InternationalHistory Review


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None of this is to suggestthat Britishpre-eminence was equatedwith British omnipotence in the 1930s. As the decade progressed,Great Britain faced threats to her interestsfrom three aggressivepowers in differentregions of the globe. On the Continent, Hitler removed the shacklesimposedon Germanyby the treatyof Versaillesand, espousing settlement pan-Germanism, began a programmeto revisethe territorial of eastern Europe and to make Germany the dominant European power.2To the south, Fascist Italy under Benito Mussolinisought to establishan empire in the Balkansand North Africa- to make Italy 'the mistressof the Mediterranean'.3 Finally,in the Far East, especially after the beginningof the Sino-JapaneseWar in July 1937, the leaders of militaristicJapan saw an opportunityto replace the white colonial empiresin east Asia with one dominatedby them.4 As the foreign policies of these powers spelled danger to established Britisheconomic, imperial, and strategicinterests,Britishleadersconfronted these assaultson the global status of Great Britain, and the prospectof relative decline in areas crucial to the exerciseof effective foreignpolicy. The firstwas economicstrength.Wherethe Britishwere wedded to fiscal orthodoxyand low tariffs,the three totalitarianstates moved towards deficit financing and protection. In Germany under Hitler - the best example - massive government spending directed towardspublic worksprogrammesand rearmamentended the depression rather quickly.5This meant relative economic decline for Great
2 Perhaps the best study of Hitler's foreign policy is G.L. Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany(Chicago, 1970, 1980). But also see A. Bullock,Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (rev. ed., Hannondsworth, 1962), pp. 312-71, 411-89; K. Hildebrand, Deutsche Aussenpolitik, 1933-1945: Kalkul oder Dogma? (3rd ed., Stuttgart, 1976); and P. Kluke, 'Nationalsozialistische Europaideologie',in P. Kluke, Aussenpolitik und Zeitgeschichte (Wiesbaden, 1974), pp. 188-222. 3 D. Mack Smith, Mussolini's Roman Empire (London, 1976), Mussolini (New York, 1982), pp. 170-237; E. Robertson, Mussolini as Empire-Builder:Europe and Africa, 1932-6 (New York, 1977) ; and G. Zamboni,Mussolini'sExpansionspolitik auf dem Balkan (Hamburg, 1970) . 4 J.B. Crowley,Japan's Quest for Autonomy: National Security and Foreign Policy 1930-1938 (Princeton, 1966) ; W.M. Fletcher, III, The Search for a New Order: Intellectuals and Fascism in PrewarJapan (Chapel Hill, 1982) ; and The China Quagmire: Japan's Expansion on the Asian Continent, 1933-1941: Selected Translations from Taiheyo Senso e no Michi, Kaisen gaiko shi, ed. J. Morley (New York, 1983). 5 See B.A. Carroll,Design for Total War: Arms and Economics in the Third Reich (The Hague, 1968); and H.-E. Volkmann, 'Politik, Wirtschaft und Aufriistung unter dem Nationalsozialismus',in Hitler, Deutschland und die Mdchte: MaterielienzurAussenpolitik Dritten Reiches,ed. M. Funke (Diisseldorf,1976), pp. des 269-91. But cf. A.S. Milward, War, Economy and Society, 1939-1945 (Berkeley, X977)>and RJ« Overy, Goering, cThe Man of Iron' (London, 1984) ; and then consider A.S. Milward, 'Preparingfor Total War5[which reviews Overy], Times Literary Supplement, 25 Jan. 1985, p. 82, and the debate between Overy and Milwardin the 8 Feb., 22 Feb., and 8 March issuesof the TLS.

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Britainand, with that, decliningmilitarystrength.No doubt existsthat the Britishnavy was the strongestin the world when the Second World War broke out in 1939. As well, the Britishhad begun to rearm in a 6 majorway after 1936-7. But the heavy armsspendingby the Germans, Italians,and Japaneseon their air, sea, and land forcesled to a relative Britishdecline in the final yearsof peace.7As Ribbentrop'swarning to Hitler indicated, Great Britaincould still hold her own diplomatically and militarilywith these powersone at a time, but the chance of their combiningto oppose her in Europe, the Mediterranean,and the Far East held the potential for real trouble. Therefore,viewed from the other side of 1939, the rise of the three aggressivepowersdid not mean the inevitabledecline of Great Britain. had done for several centuries,Britishleaders in As their predecessors the 1930s used diplomacyto correctperceivedimbalancesdetrimental to GreatBritain.This was done in two ways. First,not all great powers sought to profit at British expense. This led to efforts to align with France which, bordering on both Germany and Italy, also had to of contend with the aggressiveness both. Although an Anglo-French accommodationprovedto be difficultin the early 1930s- the resultof about securityand armslimitationpolices- the Germandisagreements provoked crises in Austria and Czechoslovakiain 1938 led to joint Britishand Frencheffortsto maintainthe Europeanbalance. Here the Britishfollowed establishedpatternsin foreign policy. If their interests could be defended bloodlesslyand without upsettingthe balance, the Britishhad few scruplesabout appeasing a rival.8The apotheosisof appeasementin the 1930s was reachedwith the Anglo-Frenchoffer of the Sudetenlandto Germanyat the Munich conferencein September 1938. Hitler said this would be his last territorialdemand; the indewas ; pendenceof the rump of Czechoslovakia guaranteed and general war was averted.However,when the threatto the balance of European powerappearedto be too great,the Britishstood firm. Hence, when the
6 See R.A.C. Parker, 'Economic Rearmament and Foreign Policy: The United Kingdom before 1939 - A PreliminaryStudy', Journal of ContemporaryHistory, x (!975)j 637-47; G.C. Peden, BritishRearmamentand the Treasury, 1932-1939 (Edinburgh, 1979) ; and R.P. Shay, British Rearmamentin the Thirties: Politics and Profits (Princeton, 1977). 7 See the British assessmentof this in Committee of Imperial Defence [hereafter CID] Paper No. 1366B, 'Comparisonof the Strength of Great Britain with that of certain other nations as at January 1938, Report of the Chiefs of Staff SubCommittee', 12 Nov. 1937, CAB[inet Records, Public Record Office] 4/26. Especiallyimportantare the tables on naval, air, and land forces, pp. 12, 15, 23. 8 P.M. Kennedy, 'The Tradition of Appeasement in British Foreign Policy, 18651939', British Journal of International Studies, ii (1976), 195-215; and P.W. Schroeder, 'Munich and the British Tradition', Historical Journal, xix (1976), 223-43.


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Germans annexed the rump of Czechoslovakiain March 1939, the British,draggingthe Frenchalong with them, set a limit beyondwhich they indicatedthey would not accept Germanexpansion.The tangible expression of their resolution was the Anglo-French guarantee to Poland.9 The second method of correcting perceived imbalances involved working with powers which, though their internal policies were anathema to the British, had common foreign policy interests.Until the crisisof 1935-6 poisonedAnglo-Italianrelations,a succession Abyssinian of Britishdiplomatsworkedwith Mussolinito maintainthe great power equilibriumin Europe. From the negotiationof the Locarnotreaty in 1925 to the conclusionof the Stresafront in April 1935, Great Britain and Italy found enough common ground to make co-operationeasy.10 This helped ensure the stabilityof the Continent until the mid-1930s when other meanshad to be found. In the same way, the Britishsought a basis for co-operationwith the Japanese in the Far East. After the abrogationof the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1921, relationsbetween even the two islandempiresremainedpromising,11 afterthe crisiscaused the Japanese annexation of Manchuria in 1931-2, the British enby deavouredfor five yearsto work out an accommodationwith Japan in China.They gave up on the outbreakof the Sino-JapaneseWar in July 1937, when nationalistleaders in Tokyo decided to establishJapan's hegemony in east Asia and the western Pacific. Only then did the Britishsearch for another way to maintain their imperial interestsin China and south-eastAsia. Still, despiteher relativeeconomicand militarydecline,GreatBritain was not surpassed the 1930sby any of her rivals;the threatsposedby in
9 S. Newman, The British Guarantee to Poland: A Study in the Continuity of British Foreign Policy (London, 1976); W.R. Rock, 'The British Guarantee to Poland, March 1939: A Problemin Diplomatic Decision Making', South Atlantic Quarterly,lxv ( 1966), 229-40; and D.C. Watt, How War Came (London, 1989). 10 P.G. Edwards,'Britain,Mussolini and the "Locarno-GenevaSystem" European ', Studies Review, x (1980), 1-16; A.L. Goldman, 'Sir Robert Vansittart's Search for Italian Cooperationagainst Hitler, 1933-36', Journal of Contemporary History, ix (1974), 93-130; and R. Quartararo,'Imperial Defence in the Mediterranean on the Eve of the Ethiopian Crisis (July-October 1935)', Historical Journal, xx 11 Hosoya Chihiro, 'Britain and the United States in Japan's View of the International System, 1919-37', in Anglo-JapaneseAlienation, 79/9-/952: Papers of the Anglo-Japanese Conference on the History of the Second World War, ed. I.H. Nish (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 3-26; B.J.C. McKercher,'A Sane and Sensible Diplomacy: Austen Chamberlain,Japan, and the Naval Balance of Power in the Pacific Ocean, 1924-29', Canadian Journal of History, xxi (1986), 187-213; I.H. Nish, 'Japan in Britain's View of the International System, 1919-37', in Alienation, ed. Nish, pp. 27-56; and A. Trotter, 'Tentative Steps for an AngloJapanese Rapprochement in 1934', Modern Asian Studies, viii (1974), 59-83.
(i977), 185-200.

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Germany,Italy, and Japan were essentiallyregional. Admittedly, the Germanthreat was the most important,for the possibilityof German successon the Continentportendedupheaval on Great Britain'sdoorstep which might threaten the securityof the home islands or, as Sir at Warren Fisher, the germanophobepermanent under-secretary the it in 1934, the 'very heart' of Great Britain: 'With treasury, put [American]policy we English are in no sense concerned; the United States have not almost at their front door a potential enemy which is graduallymaking herselfinto a firstclass menace; and thereforethere is no question for the Americansof having to consider the risk of a simultaneouswar in two widely separateareas, one of which includes But their very heart.'12 as Britishdiplomatshad done in the past when Great Britainfound she could not stand alone, they sought to create a threat. Anglo-Frenchcollaborationin 1938-9 should be countervailing seen in this light. In the 1930s,however,one power did have the potentialto challenge Great Britain successfullyfor its global position. This was the United in States.Britishglobal pre-eminence the nineteenthcenturyhad rested on two pillars: economic and financialstrength,and the navy's ability to keepopen the sea routesto the empireand overseasmarkets.By 19 18, for however,as a consequenceof acting as paymaster the allied coalition the First World War, Great Britain had become a net debtor during and the United Statesa net creditor.This was the reverseof the situation in 19 14, and was causedby the willingnessof the Americans,througha number of large banking houses, to lend the BritishgovernmentsubTo stantial sums of money to pay for the allied war effort.13 add to Britishconcern, US naval strengthhad also been decidedly increased duringthe four years of war. Becauseof the nature of the war for the trade United States-three yearsof neutrality, duringwhichUS maritime was affected adverselyby the Britishblockade of the Central Powers, when the US navy helped followedby morethan a year of belligerency, the blockadeagainstthem - US navalistshad arguedsuccessfully apply for a significantincreasein the size of the United States fleet.14This
12 Fisher [permanent under-secretary, treasury] to Ghatfield [first sea lord], i July 1934, enclosed in Fisher to Baldwin [lord president of the council] and Chamberlain [chancellor of the exchequer], 1 1 July 1934, Baldwin MSS [Cambridge University Library], vol. 131. 13 See K.M. Burk, The Mobilization of Anglo-American Finance during World War F, in Mobilization for Total War, ed. N.F. Dreisziger (Waterloo, Ont., 1981 ) ,

pp. 23-42; and K.M. Burk, Britain, America and the Sinews of War, igi4~igi8 (London, 1985) for an indication. 14 W.R. Braisted,The United States Navy in the Pacific, igog-1922 (Austin, 1971) ; J. Daniels, The Wilson Era: Volume II: Years of War and After, igiy-ig23 (Chapel Hill, 1946), esp. pp. 65-156, 367-88; J.J. Safford, WilsonianMaritime


BJ.C. McKercher

meant that in the post-war period, with the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow and the disappearanceof other pre-1914 naval threats,for exampleRussia,the United Stateswas seen as the main rival of the Britishnavy. Britishuneaseincreasedwhen, afterthe war, American navalistscalled for ca navy second to none'. Thus, as the post-war periodbegan, the United Stateswas no longera regionalpower: assured of control over the westernhemisphereby a willingnessto enforce the Monroe Doctrine, she had expanding economic interestsin Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. In economic, financial, and naval terms, she possessedthe potential to challenge Great Britain'sglobal pre-eminence. A bodyof historiography foundedin the late 1960s on economicdeterminismassertsthat economicand financialgains made duringthe First World War, coupled with a large population and industrialcapacity, had made the United Statesthe leading power in the world before the Parispeace conference.In the wordsof the most recentof these works, the United States 'by 1918 was indisputablythe strongestPower in the world'.15 This view is disputable.In the past few years,a new school of has internationalhistorians,wedded to the conceptsof realpolitik, been that except for economic and financialstrength -though even arguing herefor a long timeGreatBritainsurpassed United States- American the power remained more potential than real. The issue hinges on one's definition of the term 'power' as it relates to foreign policy. As the economic determinists rightlyemphasize,'power'is somethingmeasurable in the percentagesand growthratesof quantifiableentitiessuch as gross national product, volume of trade, and industrialcapacity. Just as tangibly,however,power can be computedin the numberof troops, aeroplanes,and ships availableto supportdiplomaticinitiatives,either by threateningor by going to war. Or it can be the strengthof allied powersto be thrown into the balance or, less tangibly, the willingness of and abilityof leadersto use theseresources, the prestige theirstate, and to scare off potential opponents. When considering'power' in interDiplomacy (New Brunswick, N.J., 1978) ; and R.F. Trask, Captainsand Cabinets: Anglo-AmericanNaval Relations, igiy-igi8 (Columbia, Mo., 1973). 15 The quotation is from P. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to sooo (New York, 1987), xix. Representativeof the Economic determinist5 interpretationare F.G. Costigliola, 'Anglo-AmericanFinancial Rivalry in the 1920s', Journal of Economic History, xxxvii (1977), 911-34; M.J. Hogan, Informal Entente: The Private Structure of Cooperation in Anglo-AmericanEconomic Diplomacy, igi8-ig28 (Columbia, Mo., 1977); M.P. Leffler, The Elusive Quest: America's Pursuit of European Stability and French Security, igig-ig33 (Chapel Hill, 1979) ; and C.P. Parrini, Heir to Empire: United States Economic Diplomacy, igi6-ig23 (Pittsburg,Pa., 1969).

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national politics, it is probablybest to assume that it consistsin each of thesethingsand all of them. Using this broad definitionof power, the new school arguesthat the reality of Britishpower was more importantand more effective than If was Americanpotential.16 the United States had used her wealth in the 1920s to build a navy approachingthe size of the Britishnavy; if she had involved herselfin internationalpoliticsthroughorganizations such as the League, and used her economic might as the basis for ; political strength and if she had been preparedto use what force she -as did possessin areasof the globe where US interestswere imperilled in Chinain 1927; then, arguesthe new school,the United States,given her wealth, population,industrialcapacity, and skills would certainly have posed a seriousthreatto Britishpre-eminence.In fact, the United States did none of these things: she was reluctant to build £a navy second to none3 she refusedto involve herselfin crucial political issues ; in the 1920s, such as League effortstouchingEuropeansecurity,which could have given her internationalclout; and she turned away from using what armed strengthshe did have to supporther foreign policy and defend her interestsoutsidethe westernhemisphere unlike Great Britain at Shanghai in 1927. There is no question, as the economic deterministsshow, that the United States was wealthier than Great Britainby 1918. But as the realistsadd, her wealth was not translated into power. by Althoughin 1930 GreatBritainhad yet to be surpassed the United Statesin the globalpowerstakes,ten yearslaterthe shiftwas well underway. By the summerof 1940, Great Britain'sContinentalally, France, had been knocked unexpectedlyout of the war by German force of arms, and Britishpre-eminencewas seen to be melting quickly away: on the defensiveagainst two first-classpowers, Germany and Italy in
16 This is increasinglyknown as 'the London school', as its proponents are either University of London graduatesor membersof the Instituteof HistoricalResearch. See J.R. Ferris,Men, Money, and Diplomacy: The Evolution of British Strategic Policy, 1919-1926 (London, 1989); D. French, The British Way of Warfare, i688sooo (London, 1990) ; and B.J.G. McKercher, 'Wealth, Power, and the New International Order: Britain and the American Challenge in the 1920s', Diplomatic History, xii (1988), 41 1-41. Although all of the contributorsare not part of 'the London school', also see the articles in Anglo-AmericanRelations in the 1920s: The Struggle for Supremacy, ed. B.J.G. McKercher (Edmonton, 199 1) . The general approach in all of this work is part of the so-called 'new internationalhistory'- see D.G. Watt, What About the People? Abstractionand Reality in History and the Social Sciences (London, 1983) -which owes much to the pioneering work of historians like J.-B. Duroselle and Watt. Cf. J.B. Duroselle, De Wilsona Roosevelt: Politique extSrieuredes Etats-Unis, 1913-1945 (Paris, i960), and D.G. Watt, Succeeding John Bull: America in Britain'sPlace, 1900-1975 (Cambridge,1984).


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Europe, and facing the possibilitythat a third, Japan, would exploit the Europeancrisisto make gains at her expensein the Far East, London's economicand financialresources were at the point of exhaustion. Britisharmed strengthwas so stretchedthat, although the navy could prevent a cross-Channelinvasion, there was no chance of winning a victoryunilaterallyover the Axis. As Britishleadersrecognizedthe dire peril facing them, their willingnessto take the offensiveto shape events evaporated.The United States, conversely,was untouchedby the war, admittedlybecause of strong isolationistsentimentin congresstied to uncertaintywhether Great Britain could survive. However, the US president,FranklinDelano Roosevelt,did all he could during 1940 to ensure that US interestswere not endangeredby the changes taking place in Europe and the Far East. His administrationhad eased the way for Anglo-Frenchpurchasesof war materielin the United States during the firstnine months of the war, which continuedafter France fell. By November, after his election to an unprecedentedthird term, Roosevelt felt strong enough politically to aid Great Britain via the Lend-Leasebill and to restrainJapan in east Asia via economic sanctions. The United States also began to rearm in a major way, and by late 1940-early 1941, was ready, willing, and able to transformher potentialpowerinto real poweron a global scale. At this point, and not before, the transitionin the internationalpositionof Great Britainand the United Statesbegan. of The decade of the 1930s is thereforepivotal to the understanding Great Britain'srelationshipwith the United States in terms of global power. For all the books written about Anglo-Americanrelations in this decade, only a few specialiststudiesexamine the early 1930s; most concentrateon the post-1937 period.17 Two reasonscan be given for this. First,since the thirty-year rule in Great Britainreplacedthe fiftyyear rule, in 1968 -opening the Britishofficial archivesfrom 1917 to 1937 in one fell swoop- therehas been continuinginterestin the diplo17 J.R. Leutze, Bargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-AmericanNaval Collaboration, I937'i94i (Chapel Hill, 1977) ; M. Murfett, Fool-Proof Relations: The Search for Anglo-AmericanNaval Cooperation during the Chamberlain Years, 19371940 (Singapore, 1984); D. Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941: A Study in Competitive Cooperation (London, 1982) ; and W.R. Rock, Chamberlainand Roosevelt: British Foreign Policy and the United States, 1937-1940 (Columbus,Ohio, 1988) are indicative. An example of a study which considers an Anglo-Americanquestion earlier in the 1930s is C. Thorne, The Limits of Foreign Policy: The West, the League and the Far Eastern Crisisof I93I'I933 (London, 1972). For two insightful analyses of Anglo-Americanrelations from 1918 to 1945, see C. Thorne, 'The Near and the Far: Aspects of Anglo-AmericanRelations, 1919-1945', in C. Thorne, Border Crossings:Studies in International History (London, New York, 1988), pp. 59-85; and Watt, SucceedingJohn Bull, chs. 3, 4.

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matichistoryof the last yearsof peace. Second, 1937 is importantto the powers: in January, politicalhistoryof the two chief English-speaking Rooseveltbegan his second term as presidentand, four months later, Neville Chamberlainbecame prime ministerof Great Britain. A new relationsbegan, particularlyas appeasement phase in Anglo-American became the leitmotif of Britishforeign policy until the Prague crisisof March 1939. The compellingpoint aboutstudiesof the post-1937 period forwardlooking,theirconcernbeing to underis that they are essentially stand better the Anglo-American relationshipas it emergedduring the SecondWorldWar and extendedinto the cold war that followed.They seek to explain the ultimate US dominationof the westernhalf of the alliance formed to defeat the Axis and Japan, the pressures leading to of the decolonization the BritishEmpire,and the concept of 'the special relationship'. Although the answersgiven to a broad range of questionstouching the Anglo-Americanrelationshipafter 1937 are reasonablydefinitive, those for the 1930s as a whole are not. The 1930s, and, more especially the years after 1937, were not simply a prologue to critical events in Great Britain'ssubsequentrelations with the United States. No one knew in January 1930 or October 1935 or even February1939 that a generalEuropeanwar would breakout in the autumn of 1939. Just as critical,no one had an inklingthat such a war would lead to a restrucsystemin a way that would see Great Britain turingof the international did the juniorof the United States.Neville Chamberlain not know this; neither did Stanley Baldwin, Herbert Hoover, or FranklinRoosevelt, nor, one hastensto add, Adolf Hitler. Hence, whilstthere is much to be learnt from treatingevents in these ten years as a precursorto monumentalchangesbroughtaboutby the war,it is alsoimportanthistorically to treatthe 1930sas a separateand distinctslice of time. Such treatment providesanswersto essentialquestionsabout Great Britain as the sole global power,and the relativestrengthof GreatBritainand the United difficultinternationalmilieu of the 1930s, States.Giventhe increasingly what was the natureof the Anglo-American Flowing from relationship? this is the second question,fundamentalto any 'realist'assertionabout the relativestrengthof Great Britain: did the United States force her will on Great Britain over a major issue so as to make Great Britain Together,the answersto adopt her policiesto conformto US interests? these questions explain the reality of power in the Anglo-American relationshipof the 1930s, a reality that assured Great Britain'spreeminence in the world until almost a year after the outbreak of the SecondWorldWar.


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in An understanding the Anglo-American of relationship the 1930s lies in an appreciationof two cardinal points: first, the principal issues dominating great power diplomacy in the 1920s extended into the 1930s; second, relationsbetween Great Britain and the United States were on the whole betterin theseyearsthan in the precedingten. From the time the peacemakers down at Paris in January 1919 until the sat outbreakof the Second World War in September 1939, the issue of internationalpeace and security dominated great power diplomacy. Severalunsuccessful effortswere made in the first half of the 1920s to maintainthe territorial of arrangements the peace-the Anglo-American to France, the draft treaty of mutual assistance,and the guarantee Geneva protocol. Finally, in October 1925, the Locarno treaty was border, arranged: an Anglo-Italian guaranteeof the Franco-German tied to arbitrationtreaties between Germany and its eastern neighA bours.18 systemof Europeansecurityemerged,which lasteduntil after Hitler'sriseto power,when new effortstied to the creationof defensive alliances were attempted. Concerningthe Far East, the Washington conferenceof 1921-2 resultedin two great power agreementsto maintain the post-war statusquo}9The Nine Powertreatycollectively guaranteed China's ostensibleindependence whilst the Four Power Treaty of guaranteedthe existingpossessions Great Britain,the United States, and France in the Pacific Ocean. Internal strugglesby indiJapan, genous warlordsconvulsed China in the decade after the Washington conference,but the so-called 'Washingtonsystem'protectedthe great powers'interests. Japan'sannexationof Manchuriain 1931-2 destroyed the 'system',and althoughother arrangements the interestedpowers by were attempted,the outbreakof the Sino-JapaneseWar in July 1937 made it apparentthat a diplomaticsolutionto the securityproblemin this region was increasinglyunlikely.
18 J. Jacobson,Locarno Diplomacy: Germanyand the West, 1925-1gag (Princeton, 1972); S. Marks, 'Manage a Trois: The Negotiations for an Anglo-FrenchBelgian Alliance in 1922', International History Review, iv (1982), 524-52; W.A. McDougall, France's Rhineland Diplomacy, igi4-ig24: The Last Bid for a Balance of Power in Europe (Princeton, 1978) ; P.J. Noel-Baker, The Geneva Protocol (London, 1925); A. Orde, Great Britain and International Security, ig2O-ig26 (London, 1977); and L. Yates, The United States and French Security, igiy-ig2i: A Study in AmericanDiplomatic History (New York, 1957). 19 T. Buckley, The United States and the Washington Conference, ig2i-ig22 (Knoxville, Tenn., 1970); M.G. Fry, Illusions of Security: North Atlantic Diplomacy, igi8-ig22 (Toronto, 1972) ; I.H. Nish, Alliance in Decline: A Study in Anglo-Japanese Relations, igo8-ig23 (London, 1972); S.W. Roskill, Naval Policy between the Wars:Volume I: The Period of Anglo-AmericanAntagonism, igig-ig2g (London, 1968), pp. 300-31; and J.G. Vinson, The Drafting of the Four Power Treaty of the Washington Conference',Journal of Modern History, xxv (1953) ,40-7.

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A subset of these diplomaticmanoeuvresinvolved disarmamentor, The search for as it became in the inter-warperiod, arms limitation.20 arms limitation, which was also the desire of governsecurityurged ments- 'the war to end all wars'had just been fought - and the public, who hoped both to reduce taxes and to shift more funds to other proAt grammes. the Washingtonconference,the five principalnaval powers - Great Britain,the United States, Japan, France, and Italy - agreed to limit warships over 10,000 tons in a ratio of 5:5:3:1-75:1-75 respectively.It proved impossibleto limit vessels under 10,000 tons because Great Britain and the United States were unwilling to compromiseover cruisers,the main weapon for attacking and defending None the less,the desireto limit arms sea-bornelinesof communication. did not abate. Talks to limit warshipsunder 10,000 tons took place at Geneva in the summer of 1927 amongst Great Britain, the United States, and Japan; without success.Finally, at the London naval conference of 1930, called to extend the ten-year life of the Washington werelimited;and the originaltreatywas extended treaty,lesserwarships for fiveyears.However,the secondLondonnaval conference,December 1935 -January 1936, was unable further to extend the Washington to treatybecauseof Japan'sunwillingness continue in an inferiorposiother effortswere in train. In late 1925 a commission tion. Meanwhile, to was established preparethe way for a League-sponsored general disarmamentconferenceon air, land, and sea weapons. Its deliberations took six difficultyearsbut, in February1932, the World Disarmament conference convened. Fruitless negotiations lasted until early 1935, when the conferencewas adjourned,unable to reconcile the requirementsof land and sea powers.Hitler'sdecisionto take Germanyout of both the conferenceand the League in the autumn of 1933 provideda convenientexcuse for failure in any case. Although bilateral arrangemade - the 1935 Anglo-Germannaval agreementswere subsequently for instance- effective arms limitation had yet to be achieved ment, when the difficult period in European and Far Eastern great power politicsbegan after 1937. Finally, financialissuesfrom the 1920s had yet to be resolvedin the
20 G. Hall, Britain, America and Arms Control, 1921-1937 (London, 1987) ; B.J.C. McKercher,The Second Baldwin Governmentand the United States, 1924-1929: Attitudes and Diplomacy (Cambridge, 1984); R.G. O'Connor, Perilous Equilibrium: The US and the London Naval Conference of 1930 (Lawrence, Kans., 1962) ; S.E. Pelz, Race to Pearl Harbor: The Failure of the Second London Naval Conference and the Onset of World War II (Cambridge, Mass., 1974); and Roskill, Naval Policy between the Wars, i. 498-516, ii. 21-88, 284-321. There is no adequate study of the World Disarmamentconference.


BJ.C. McKercher

The 1930s.21 treatyof VersaillescompelledGermanyto pay reparations, which bankruptedher and led to a Frenchinvasionof the Ruhr valley in 1923 to seize its industrialproductionin lieu of payments.Because this crisis threatened European security, an international committee of bankersheaded by an American, CharlesDawes, devised a plan to put Germany back on her economic feet, and arrange a workable reparationsschedule.The Dawes plan of 1924 gave Germanya fixed scale of annual paymentsand in return US loans, which injected life into the German,thus the European,economy.In 1929, a secondinternationalcommitteechairedby anotherAmerican,Owen Young, modified the Dawes plan to reduce Germany'sprincipaland her period of After payment.At this moment,war debtsintersectedwith reparations. the war, the United States demandedfrom the Britishand other allies repaymentof the moneyborrowedto financetheir fighting.The British at first sought to tie war debts and reparationstogether, while the Americanssought to keep them apart, but a settlementwas reachedin 1923. Other powers followed suit, but by the summer of 1931 the Great Depressionhad underminedeveryone'sability to pay, and upset the Young plan, by which German reparationshelped fund the debt paymentsof France and other powers. In June 1931 the Hoover administrationproposeda one-year moratoriumon all debts, but when the moratoriumended in late 1932, Great Britain and several other powersdefaultedon their payments,the Germanscould not pay their reparations,and financial commitments dating from the war went into limbo. Two developments were uniqueto the 1930s.The firstwas the Great Depressionfollowing the Wall Street crash of October 1929, which resultedin a tremendousdislocationof national economiesand international trade.22 Great Britain,for example, departedfrom the tradi21 D. Artaud, La question des dettes interalliees et la reconstructionde VEurope, 1917-1929 (Paris, 1978); R.A. Dayer, 'Anglo-AmericanMonetary Policy and Rivalryin Europeand the Far East, 1919-1931', in Anglo-AmericanRelations, ed. McKercher, pp. 158-86; M.L. Dockrill and J.D. Goold, Peace without Promise: Reiches, 1923-1927 (Diisseldorf, 1974); and M. Trachtenberg, Reparation in World Politics: France and European Economic Diplomacy, 1916-1923 (New York, 1980). 22 See E.W. Bennett, Germanyand the Financial Crisis, 1931 (Cambridge, Mass., 1962) ; R.W.D. Boyce, British Capitalismat the Crossroads,1919-1932: A Study in Politics, Economics,and InternationalRelations (Cambridge, 1988) ; F. Capie, Depressionand Protectionism:Britain between the Wars (London, 1983) ; S.V.O. Clarke,Exchange-RateStabilizationin the mid-1930s: Negotiating the Tripartite Agreement (Princeton, 1977) ; S. Howson, Sterling'sManaged Float: The Operations of the Exchange Equalization Account, 1932-1939 (Princeton, 1980) ; and C.P. Kindleberger,The World in Depression, 1929-1939 (London, 1973).
Britain and the Peace Conferences, 1919-23 (London, 1981), pp. 45-56; C.-D. Krohn, Stabilisierung und okonomishe Inter essen: Die Finanzpolitik des Deutches

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tional free-tradepolicy to help negotiate imperial preference at the Ottawa conference of 1932. The second was the revisionistforeign policiesof Germany,Italy, and Japan, which threatenedto destabilize the internationalsystem.No power in the 1920s had had the strength to modify in a major way the post-warsettlementcreated at Paris and Washington.This was not so in the 1930s, as Japan'sactionsin China after 1931 and Hitler's actions in central Europe showed. Moreover, the maintenanceof stabilityin Europe- that is to say, the balance of power- increasedin complexitywith the re-emergenceof Russia as a great power. By the latter half of the decade, when Joseph Stalin had succeededin eliminatingdomesticoppositionto his rule, he turnedaway from policiesthat had transformedBolshevikRussia into an abattoir, and Russian isolation from great power politics came to an end. There is much truth to the claim that the relationsbetween Great Britainand the United Statesimprovedin the 1930s because they saw in the rise of the totalitarianpowersa common dangerboth in Europe and in the Far East.23More to the point, the issue dividing the two powers in the 1920s had been resolved one way or English-speaking anotherby the early 1930s.The questfor Europeansecurityhad largely been achievedin the 1920s with the Locarno treaty and the systemof collectivesecurityit spawnedbetweenGreatBritainand the Continental powers.'I startedwith the idea that it was a great mistaketo court the Americansas the League had been doing, and to give them to understand that we felt ourselves poor weaklings without their support,' in the AustenChamberlain, foreignsecretary 1927, opined. 'Experience has led me, as you can see, to go furtherand, on the whole, to think it is betterfor them and us that in their presentstage of developmentthey These Britishsentimentsdid not change should not join the League.'24 in the 1930s,even as the Locarnosystembrokedown to be replacedby a systemof alliancesas the best meansof ensuringcollectivesecurity.Even pro-Americanslike the British prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, in recognizedthis to be so. After his retirement 1935, MacDonaldcould reflect: 'I know very well [the Americans']justifiableanxiety to keep out of European troubles,but neverthelessit puts us sometimesin a very awkwardfix and leaves us to bear the brunt of those troubles.'25
23 For instance, H.C. Allen, Great Britain and the United States: A History of Anglo-AmericanRelations, 1783-^52 (New York, 1969), pp. 724-80; and B.D. Rhodes, 'The Image of Britain in the United States, 1919-1929: A Contentious Relative and Rival', in Anglo-AmericanRelations, ed. McKercher, p. 187. 24 Chamberlain to Spender [Christian Science Monitor], 10 Jan. 1927, Austen Chamberlain MSS, F[oreign] O[ffice Records, Public Record Office] 800/260. 25 MacDonald to Solis-Cohen[an Americanfriend], 5 Sept. 1935, MacDonald MSS, PRO [PrivateMSS Collections, Public Record Office] 30/69/1445/2.


BJ.C. McKercher

It is thereforepossibleto say that the Anglo-Americanrelationship was not strainedby US isolationism.In both the 1920s and 1930s, at least after Locarno,the United Stateswas ignoredby Britishleadersas they strovefor Europeansecurity.They would have welcomedUS support had it been forthcoming;even Austen Chamberlainwould have done so; but it was pointlessto count on United States involvementin any European securitysystem, tied to the League or any other body. With the majorityof US congressional and public opinion opposed to them at home, Roosevelt and his diplomats'hands were tied abroad. at Immediatelyafterthe Munich agreement,the US ambassador Berlin, endeavouredto explain why pressreactionsin EuropeHugh Wilson, 'a spontaneousoutburstof joy, relief, and hope for the future'- differed from that in the United States- 'a ratherreluctantapprobation'.£If I apprisethis correctly,'he remarked,'this is due less to a finer sense of moralityamong the American people, it is due rather to two factors: that the Britishand Frenchwere weighingthe case with their own skins in immediatejeopardy,and that the peoplesof both of thoselands have of of perhapsa deeperknowledgeand appreciation the problems Europe than the Americanpeople,remotefromEurope,can have.'26 reality The was that Great Britain'sconcern with the Europeanbalance of power meant that she could exert more influencethan could the United States in Europein the 1930s. Ribbentrop'swarning to Hitler can be seen as a testamentto this fact. The naval questionceasedto be divisivein Anglo-American relations because of the London naval conference,which met from January to differencesin the 1920s followApril 1930. AlthoughAnglo-American the Washingtonconferencehad to do with cruiserlimitation,they ing reachedtheirnadirin the winterof 1928-9 when the Britishand French on agreedto compromise key elementsof their disarmament policy: the Britishto accept the Frenchformulafor land forces,and the Frenchto was ill-received This compromise accept the Britishpositionon cruisers. both the Americansand the Germans,but US rejectionwas coupled by with a call for American naval supremacyby the president, Calvin This blusterwas later recanted,but not Coolidge,in November 1928.27 before the passage of a 'fifteen cruiser bill' by congress in February 1929, just beforeHerbertHoover was inaugurated.With neitherpower
26 Wilson to Hull [US secretary of state], 3 Oct. 1938, Wilson Papers [Herbert Hoover PresidentialLibrary,West Branch,Iowa], container3. Wilsondecided not to send this letter; rather, he put it with his diary; see minute, no date, Watt, on this letter. 27 Cf. D. Carlton, 'The Anglo-French Compromise on Arms Limitation, 1928', Journal of British Studies, viii (1969), 141-62; McKercher, Second Baldwin Government,pp. 142-7; and Roskill, Naval Policy, i. 545-9.

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wanting a naval race because of the cost, and the Britishsensing that their navy's pre-eminencehung in the balance, between April and October 1929 the Britishand the Americansworkedto eliminatetheir differences.28 resultwas the naval treaty. The The breach between the British and the Americans over cruisers healed becausethe agreementhammeredout at London providedeach side with what it wanted at that moment; in reality, because of US isolationism duringthe GreatDepression,over time the Britishwere the clearwinners.By the termsof the treaty,the Britishconcededcomplete by Anglo-American parityin cruisers 1936 but, becauseof theirrequirementsfor imperialand trade defence, the Britishwere accorded50,000 extra tons of light cruisers,the Americansto make up the differencein constructionof heavy cruisers.For reasons of economy, however, as -the to well as publicdisinclination supportnaval buildingprogrammes United Statesneverbuilt to Londonnaval treatylevels. Comparisonof the totals of cruisersbuilt and building in 1930, the year of the first London naval conference, and 1936, the year the treaty ended, are telling. In 1930, total British cruiser tonnage amounted to 323,680, divided between seventeenheavy cruisersand thirty-sixlight ones; the Americanfigureswere 215,050 tons divided into fourteen and twelve By respectively.29 1936, the British had thirteen heavy cruisers and forty-fivelight ones for a total tonnage of 41 1,550. The United States had just eighteenand nineteen,displacinga total of 304,450 tons. The Americansrealizedthe weaknessof their position prior to the conveningof the secondLondonconferencein 1935. One of the reasons for their successin 1930, they thought, was that the fifteen cruiserbill not in 1929, underpinned theirwealth,had showntheirdetermination by to slip behind Great Britain and other naval powers. But no building programme had followed the 1930 conference; indeed, the vessels authorizedin the 1929 bill were shelvedbecauseof the apparentsuccess at London. In October 1933 Hugh Wilson, then a senior US arms his conference, expressed concern: negotiatorat the WorldDisarmament I have alwaysfelt that since the WashingtonConferencethe American situationin its claim respecting Delegationhas been put in an impossible
28 D. Carlton, MacDonald versus Henderson: The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government (London, 1970), pp. 100-19; B.J.G. McKercher, Esme Howard: A Diplomatic Biography (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 337-49; O'Connor, PerilousEquilibrium,pp. 1-61; and Roskill, Naval Policy, ii. 21-53. 29 The figuresfor this and the rest of this paragraphare from Jane's Fighting Ships 1930, ed. O. Parkes (London, 1930), pp. 50-69, 469-74; and Jane's Fighting Ships 1936, ed. F.E. McMurtrie (London, 1936), pp. 40-56, 521-7. The tonnage for ship building is arrived at by averaging the tonnage built, to the nearest 100 tons upwards,and multiplying this by the number of vessels under construction.



cruisers,comparedwith either Great Britain or Japan, when we had nothingbut potentialbuildingstrengthto offer against their real ships. Bad as the situationwas in 1930,we were able to get our way, make the othersstopand wait for us becauseof our vastwealth.If we entered1935 withoutconstruction, picturewould be difference the [sic]:we would not even have the wealth to count on, and I fear that unlesswe are built of near the Treatylevel, the Conference 1935will be a comsomewhere pletefiasco.30 US weaknesswas apparentto Britishleadersin the mid-1930s as they endeavouredto find the best means of looking after Great Britain's interests.In preliminarydiscussionswith the US negotiatorsin June 1934, the foreignsecretary,Sir John Simon, observedwith icy realism: Our American friendsmaywell be sincerein sayingthat theydo not mind how big a navywe have; theirrealconcernis that the Britishneedsshould America. may It not encourage Japanto builda navyso big as to threaten that be, therefore, the onlyhopewouldbe fora preliminary Anglo-Japanese level and then which fixedthe Japanesenavy at a reasonable negotiation if to face the Americans with the prospect losingthis advantage theydo of not findit possible agreeon the [higher] to level.31 British The 1935 conferencedid end in fiasco for the Americans.Securein their position in the Far East and unwilling to remain in a position inferiorto the two English-speaking powers,the Japanesetook a hard In line, which finishedthe Washingtonsystemof naval limitation.32 the as ensuingroundof construction, the Britishand Japanesebuilt up their strengthat sea, the Americansbegan to slip back. By 1939, the British cruiserfleetnumberedthirteenheavy and seventylight warshipsbuilt or building; the Japanese had, respectively,twelve and twenty-six; the Americansnineteen and twenty-three.33 Although Great Britain now had other naval threatsto consider,the Germansand Italians having undertakensignificantconstruction,the Britishnavy still had a superiority of two to one in cruisersover the United States.34
30 Wilson to Grew [US ambassador, Tokyo], 31 Oct. 1933, Wilson Papers, container 31 Simon to Baldwin, 27 June 1934, Baldwin MSS, vol. 131. 82 Hall, Arms Control, pp. 143-92; Pelz, Race to Pearl Harbor, pp. 152-64; and Roskill, Naval Policy, ii. 284-321. Cf. Asado Sadao, 'The Japanese Navy and the United States', in Pearl Harbor as History: Japanese- American Relations, 19311941, ed. D. Borg, Shumpei Okamoto, and D.K.A. Findlayson (New York, 1973), pp. 225-60; and M.W. Berg, 'Admiral William H. Standley and the Second London Naval Treaty, 1934-1936', Historian, xxxiii (1971), 215-36. 33 See Jane's Fighting Ships 1939, ed. F.E. McMurtrie (London, 1939), viii. 44-60, 318-28,490-8. 34 Hankey [secretary to the GID] memorandum on 'Imperial Defence Policy', No.

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The financial turnabout in Anglo-American relations during the 1930s began with Great Britain'sfailure to pay her war debt in 1933. She had gone off the gold standardin late 193 1, and now international confidencein her ability to withstandthe depressionbegan to erode.35 Domestically, meanwhile, pressureswere mounting to mitigate the effects of unemploymentand to increase trade. British leaders were aware of the troublesthat default would bring: Lord Hailsham, the of secretary state for war and a seniormemberof the National government, put the matter plainly to the prime minister:Britain was owed more from loans raisedon the London money marketsince 1918 than it owed the United States in war debts. 'If, therefore,the result of our defaultwere to induce our debtorsto default to us,' he pointedout, 'the The effect would be that we should be heavy losersin the balance.'36 which was underminto this dire event was the depression, background reachedin the 1920s- the variouswar-debt ing the financialsettlements and the Dawes and Young plans. By the summerof 1931, agreements, not onlydid GreatBritainand a numberof powersconfrontthe possibility of a default on their debt-funding with the United States, but the threatenedto unravel.In recognitionof schemefor Germanreparations GreatBritainand the Europeanpowerswere in, Hoover the difficulties on made his novel suggestionof a one-yearmoratorium all intergoverncame due in June mental debts effective 1 July 193 137 -payments and December each year. Despite temporary obstruction from the French, the Hoover moratoriumwent into effect, the payments to resumein December 1932. The assumptionwas that the worst of the would have passedby then. depression
1144B, June 1934, GAB 4/23 gives an indication. Although this paper, which fifteen others preceding it, points out difficultiesin imperial defence, summarizes it is on the whole positive. Gf. CID Paper No. 1455B, 'Strategic Importance of the Pacific Islands', 23 July 1938, Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee,CAB 4/2; and CID Paper No. I542B, 'New Zealand: Conference on Pacific Questions', 31 March 1939, Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee, GAB 4/29. Cf. A.G. Bell, Sea Power and the Next War (New York, 1938), and H.W. Richmond, Sea Power in the Modern World (New York, 1934). 35 See D.H. Aldcroft, The Inter-warEconomy: Britain, 1919-1939 (London, 1970), pp. 269-70, and The British Economy: Volume I: The Years of Turmoil, 19201951 (Brighton, 1986), pp. 44-60; R. Skidelsky,Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Governmentof 1929-1931 (London, 1967); and D. Williams, 'London and the 1931 Sterling Crisis',Economic History Review, xv (1962-3). 36 Hailsham to MacDonald, 17 Feb. 1933, MacDonald MSS, PRO 30/69/679. 37 R.A. Dayer, Finance and Empire: Sir CharlesAddis, 1861-1945 (London, 1988), pp. 222-30; H. Flesig, 'War-RelatedDebts and the Great Depression',American EconomicReview, lxvi (1976), 52-8; and B.D. Rhodes, 'HerbertHoover and the War Debts', Prologue, vi (1974), 130-44. Also of interest is H.G. Moulton and L. Paslovsky,War Debts and WorldProsperity (Washington, 1932).


B.J.C. McKercher

Becauseof the economiccrisisin Germany,a significantscalingdown debtswas of Germanreparations the cancellationof inter-European and Ratificato at the Lausanneconferencein the summerof 1932.88 agreed tion of these agreementswas made dependenton a subsequentrenegotiation of the variouswar-debtsettlementswith the United States. But such renegotiationproved impossible,given the economic crisisin the United Stateswhere,if politicianscancelledwhat was owed Americans, the political price would be high. Hence, though Roosevelt defeated Hoover in the November 1932 election, and his party, the Democrats, had to demand paymentof war controlledcongress,his administration debts.GreatBritainmade its Decemberpayment,the last to be made in full by any debtor state, and then in June and December 1933 made nominalpaymentsof £2 million.The Rooseveltadministration accepted this sleight of hand as an indication that the Britishwere paying their of debts,but congressrebelled.In April 1934, underthe sponsorship the isolationistsenator,Hiram Johnson,legislationwas passedthat forbade the United Statesgovernmentand lendinginstitutionsto make loans to The any statein defaultof its debtsto the United States.39 Britishwould not pay; other powers would not pay; and the Lausanne agreements were never ratified.However, by that time the Europeansituationhad alteredsignificantly owing to the advent of Hitler'sregimein Germany. To all intents and purposes,the financial questionsthat had plagued the powers since the peace conferenceat Paris simply disappeared. At the officiallevel, althoughhard feelingsexistedin private,40 AngloAmericanrelationswererelativelyharmonious the restof the decade. for In fact, several efforts were made to establish co-operationbetween GreatBritainand the United Stateson economicand financialmatters once it became clear that the war-debt issue was dead. The first was unsuccessful.In the twilight months of the Hoover administration, Great Britain and the United States had laid plans for a World Economic conferenceto meet at Londonin the summerof 1933. American leaders, for instance Hoover's secretaryof state, Henry Stimson, and
38 Dayer, Addis, pp. 242-3 ; and D.E. Kaiser, Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War: Germany,Britain, France and Eastern Europe, 1930*939 (Princeton, 1980), pp. 52-6. Gf. L.J. Reid, Britain and the War Debts (London, 1933). 89 J.G. Vinson, 'War Debts and Peace Legislation: The Johnson Act of 1934', Mid-America,1 (1968), 206-22. 40 For indicationson the Americanside, see Grew to Castle [RepublicanPartyluminary], 12 Dec. 1935, Castle Papers [HerbertHoover PresidentialLibrary],file 76; and C. Hull, Memoirs (New York, 1948), i. 525. On the British side, see Runciman [presidentof the board of trade] minute for Baldwin on 'Telegram received from the President 20th October 1933', undated, in Baldwin MSS, vol. no; and K. Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain(London, 1946), p. 325.

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CordellHull, recognized need afterMarch 1933,Stimson's the successor, for some sort of accommodationwith the British.41 Similarsentiments were voiced in Great Britain,particularlyby the chancellorof the exHull'sgoal was to stimulatefreerinterchequer,Neville Chamberlain.42 on nationaltradeas a fillipto generaleconomicrecovery.Chamberlain, of the other hand, saw the collapse of the financial arrangements the 1920s as an opportunityfor a general reductionof tariffs,harmonyof monetarypolicy,and more.The conferenceduly met at Londonin June 1933 but, in earlyJuly, the US delegationled by Hull receiveda message an fromRoosevelt,which overturned Anglo-American agreementon the Roosevelthad decided to set the of currencyspeculation.43 prevention US economy on a firm footing before concentratingon international to ; agreements his actionbroughtthe conference a suddenend.Although the Britishleaderslike MacDonald felt betrayedby Roosevelt,44 search for some sort of Anglo-Americancondominiumover economic and financial issues continued. In 1934, Hull managed to get a reciprocal tradeagreementpassedby congress,45 permittingthe presidentto reduce US tariffsup to fifty per cent on the importsof those powersthat would lowertheirtariffsagainstUS goods.This set in traina twisteddiplomacy seekingto create which, in November1938, led to two tradeagreements freertrade amongstthe three North Atlantic powers,Great Britain,the The impact of the agreementswas miniUnited States,and Canada.46 mized by the outbreakof the Second World War ten months later.
41 For example: *I pointed out also that unless we had a general BritishAmerican understandingbefore a conference[,] the conference would be likely to fail. Gooperation between these two nations was virtually absolutely necessary for the success of the conference as a whole'; in Stimson diary, 15 Jan. 1933, Stimson Papers [Sterling Library,Yale University], vol. 25. Also see Hull telegram (unnumbered) to Moley [Roosevelt adviser], 26 June 1933, Hull Papers [Libraryof Congress],container34. 42 Chamberlainto Arthur Chamberlain[a cousin], 20 Feb. 1933, Neville Chamberlain MSS [University of BirminghamLibrary],NC 7/1 1/26/9. 43 On Roosevelt'smessage,see J.W. Pratt, A History of United States Foreign Policy (3rd. ed., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1972), pp. 325-6. Also see Hull draft telegram to Roosevelt, 2 July 1933, and Hull to Howe [Roosevelt adviser], 8 July 1933, both in Hull Papers,container34. 44 MacDonald toLamont [Americanbanker], 11 Aug. 1933, MacDonald MSS, PRO 30/69/1443. 45 W.R. Allen, 'Cordell Hull and the Defense of the Trade Agreements Program, 1934-19401,in Isolation and Security: Ideas and Interests in Twentieth-Century American Foreign Policy, ed. A. DeConde (Durham, N.C., 1957), PP- IO7"32. 46 Cf. I.M. Drummond and N. Hillmer, Negotiating Freer Trade: The United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, and the Trade Agreements of 1938 (Waterloo, Ont., 1989) ; R.N. Kottman, Reciprocity and the North Atlantic Triangle, 1932-1938 (Ithaca, 1968); and A.W. Schatz, The Anglo-American Trade Agreement and Cordell Hull's Search for Peace, 1936-1938', Journal of AmericanHistory,lvii (1970), 85-103.


B.J.C. McKercher

In this way, the courseof Anglo-Americanrelationsin the 1930s as it touched financial and ancillaryquestionscan be seen to have been dominatedby at firstthe debt reparations settlement,then the collapse of the 1920s system,and, finally, the effort- not always easy- to find an accommodation.The failure of the World Economic conference to demonstrated GreatBritain'sdisinclination go out of her way to court the United States but, if pushed by self-interest,to find a basis for accommodation.Just as Roosevelt opted to rebuild the US economy the afterJuly 1933 beforeseekinginternationalagreements, British,too, firstas chancellor turnedinwards.The policiesof Neville Chamberlain, of the exchequer,then as prime minister,followed the dictatesof financial orthodoxy,47 concentratingmore on the stimulation of domestic than on the improvementof internationaltrade; perhaps consumption reasonably,given that outside the empire high tariffs against British goods were the order of the day. Admittedly, Chamberlain'spolicies resultedin the steady but not spectacularimprovementof the British In economyby the eve of the war.48 1932, the worstyear of the depression for Great Britain,the Britishgrossnational productwas US$ 13.1 billion, its trade total US$ 1.58 billion, and its industrialproduction, using 1924 as a base, 1o 1.9. By 1939, thesefigureshad risen,respectively, to US$ 23.6 billion,US$ 2.23 billion, and 144.1. Corresponding figures for the United Statesin the same periodwere: in 1932, US$ 58 billion, US$ 1.6 1 billion, and, using 1958 as a base, 46; and in 1939, US$ 90.5 billion,US$ 3.18 billion,and 69. Thus, by 1939, though GreatBritain's economywas smallerthan that of the United States,it wasnotnecessarily weaker. relationsin Given the less rancorousatmosphereof Anglo-American the 1930s, was the United States able to force Britain along lines of policy chosenby US interests? Perhapsthe best argumentis the state of
47 See the works of Aldcroft cited in fn. 35; and H.W. Richardson, Economic Recoveryin Britain, 1932-39 (London, 1967). 48 The statisticsfor the rest of this paragraphare based on the following: for Great Britain, 'MiscellaneousProduction Statistics 15. Indices of Industrial Production -the United Kingdom 1801- 1938', 'OverseasTrade 3. Values at Current Prices of Overseas Trade - United Kingdom 1854-1956', and 'National Income and Expenditure 2. United Kingdom National Income- 1855-1946. B. Prest's Estimates, 1915-46', in B.R. Mitchell and P. Deane, Abstracts of British Historical Statistics (Cambridge, 1962), pp. 272, 284, 368; and for the United States, 'Gross National Product- Summary in Current and Constant (1958) Prices: 1929 to 1970', 'Indexes of Manufacturing Production: i860 to 1970', and 'Value of Exports and Imports: 1790-1970', in United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington, 1975), pp. 228, 667, 884. I have computed the British totals, which are given in sterling, in $US based on the 'ForeignExchange Rates' in D. Butler and A. Sloman, British Political Facts, 1900-1975 (London, 1975), p. 310.

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Britishand US foreign and arms policies at the World Disarmament conferenceand afterwards. effectiveforeignpolicy dependsupon the As of the armedforce behindit, and as the realityof global power strength in the 1930s meant protectionof interestsscatteredaround the world, the likelyeffect of armslimitationon diplomacyand strategyhad to be faced squarelyby both Great Britainand the United States. Although the motiveswithin the Britishleadershipvaried- retrenchmentor the horrorof war, for example- the essentialBritishaim at the conference was to persuadethe major powers to limit their armed forces. Given the consultativenature of British government,this was the result of lengthy debate within the cabinet, discussionsamongst the three main at politicalparties,deliberations the foreignoffice,treasury,and service at and betweenthe governments London and in the Dominministries, that reductions or even the complete ions.49 Britishleadersunderstood in, elimination of, classes of weapons were not enough in themselvesto ensure that war would not break out. Arms limitation could not be attemptedin a vacuum; it had to marchwith diplomaticarrangements amongstthe powers and the League. This understandingtranscended partylines- especiallywithin MacDonald'sLabourgovernment,which held power from June 1929 to August 1931, and the National government that succeeded it and controlledaffairs in different guises until September1939 - and it was sharedby the civil serviceadvisersin the foreignoffice,the treasury,and the three serviceministries. In preparingfor the conference,and duringthe conferenceitself, the to the Britishweredetermined preserve variousdiplomaticarrangements to which they had been committed for more than a decade. This insuch as Locarno,as well as general volvedspecificregionalundertakings ones such as the League covenant,the Kellogg-Briandpact renouncing war as an instrumentof national policy, and the so-called 'Optional to Clause',which compelledsignatories settledisputesthroughthe arbitration of the Permanent Court of International Justice. The only difficultyfor the Britishas the conferencebegan was that Japan had just commencedher annexation of Manchuria,which threatenedthe
49 Except where noted, this and the next paragraph are based on GID Paper No. 996B, deduction and Limitation of Armaments',2 Oct. 1930, CAB 4/19; GID Paper No. 1027B, 'Arbitrationand Disarmament: Report of a Committee to the Imperial Conference, 1930', Oct. 1930, CAB 4/20; and CID Paper No. 1060B, 'The Disarmament Conference: The Three Party Resolutions', 16 Sept. 1931, CID Paper No. 1063B, 'The French Memorandumon Disarmament,Dated July !5j r93lJ>24 Sept. 193 1, CID Paper No. IO78B,'Reports of the Inter-Departmental Sub-Committee on Preparation for the Disarmament Conference', 18 Feb. 1932, CID Paper No. 1079B, 'Report of Cabinet Committee on Preparation for Disarmament Conference and Cabinet Conclusion Thereon', 18 Feb. 1932, all CAB 4/2 1.


BJ.C. McKercher

WashingtonNine Power treaty. Even in this regard,however,the new National governmentthrough Sir John Simon, the foreign secretary, embarkedon a diplomatic effort, through the League, to defuse the crisisand somehowreconcilethe Chineseand Japanese.50 for US preparations the conferencecentredprimarilyon reachingan that would allow them to reducetheir armedforces,enforce agreement retrenchment,and reduce taxation. This derived from Hoover who, given the power of a US president,did not have to seek parliamentary consensus,as did the prime ministerof Great Britain. In the springof 193 1, Hoover began to enforce cost-cuttingmeasureson the United Statesarmedservices.51 6 and 7 June, he met with his servicechiefs On and the secretaryof the navy to impresson them 'that the economic conditions required cooperation on the part of all branches of the In Governmenttoward enforcing economies'.52 the months that folbecame the sine qua non of US arms limitation lowed, budget-paring policy, particularlyfor the navy, which consumed the lion's share of the spending.The processwas bolsteredby state departmentassessments that both Great Britain and Japan would have difficultybuilding to Retrenchmentthen the levels permittedby the London naval treaty."3 became the basis of US policy at the World Disarmamentconference. In pursuing retrenchment,the Americans saw no need to involve themselvesin any of the existing diplomaticmeasuresto ensure peace and security.As Hoover later emphasized:cMyambitionin our foreign policies was to lead the United States to full cooperationwith world moral forces to preservepeace.'54Given the isolationismof congress, and the dearth of first-class powersthreateningUnited States security, Hoover'srelianceon moralityratherthan power politicsis understandin able. It meant, however, that in the same way that his predecessors the 1920shad disclaimedany connectionbetweenwar debtsand reparations, Hoover took the view at the conferencethat no directlink existed between arms reductionand the preservation internationalsecurity. of
50 See W.R. Louis, British Strategy in the Far East, 1919-1939 (Oxford, 1971), pp. 177-94; and Thome, Limits of Foreign Policy, pp. 134-52, 181-92, 202-72. 51 For example, Hoover to Jahncke [assistantsecretaryof the navy], 15 May 1931, Herbert Hoover PresidentialPapers [West Branch, Iowa], container 38. 52 Minutes of Naval Conferenceat Camp Rapidan 6 June 1931 [but it extended to 7 June]', ibid. 53 On effecting economies, see secretaryof the navy to Hoover, 13 Oct. 1931, ibid. On state department analysis of British and Japanese naval strength, see Castle [assistant secretary of state] to Hoover, 10 Dec. 1931, enclosing Moffat [state department western European division] memorandumto Castle, 10 Dec. 1931, Hoover PresidentialPapers, container 100 1. 54 H. Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Cabinet and the Presidency, 1920-1933 (New York, 1952), P- 33°-

Great Britain in the ig^os


As the conferencebegan less than six months before the expiry of the on moratorium intergovernmental debts,Hooverthoughtany reduction in armsspendingwould providefunds to be spent more effectivelyon endeavoursto get the internationaleconomy functioningagain. It is obvious that Great Britain and the United States approached the World Disarmamentconferencewith diametricallyopposingviews aboutthe purposeof armslimitationand the meansto achieve effective security.As a drafttreatyhad been drawnup aftersix yearsof deliberation by a preparatorycommission,55 ostensiblepurpose of the disthe cussionswas to fill in the blanks, deciding the quantity of weapons to be kept and the elimination of others. None the less, when the chief Britishand US delegatesoutlined their plans for arms limitation, the dichotomybetween the two powersimmediatelybecame apparent. In his initial speech on 8 February,Simon laid out specificproposalsfor a rangeof air, land, and sea weapons.He also asserted:cWetake the view that the temptationto resortto armed conflict is obviouslyreduced if defenceis strengthened the expenseof attack.And, sinceour common at and is not to increasebut to diminishthe sum total of armaments object their expense, it follows that we must direct especial attention to such prohibitionsor limitations as will weaken the attack and so remove contain The temptationfromaggression.556 US positiondid not originally for limitation,but unwilling to be upstagedby the specificsuggestions British,and after transatlantic telephonecalls to get permissionto tack on a list of suggestedlimitations, Hugh Gibson, the chief American The nub of his remarks delegate, laid out the American position.57 showed the United Statesready to cut the armed forces and no more: 'The AmericanDelegationhas not attemptedto formulateand submit any comprehensive plan for overcomingall of the obstaclesthat exist in ... the way of achievinga generallimitationand reductionof armaments we do not believethe human mind is capableof so projectingitself into the future as to devise a plan which will adequately provide for all and contingencies.' futuredevelopments the Britishand Americanswere at one in desiring Hence, although to limit arms-a course universallyespoused- they disagreed about how this shouldbe arranged.Here was an echo of the ill-fated Coolidge
55 A copy can be found in Cmd. 3757. 56 Simon's speech is in League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments (Geneva, 1935), i. 57-9. 57 Ibid. On Gibson's permission to add specific proposals, see Memorandum of a Transatlantic Telephone Conversation ... Monday, February 8, 1932, at 11:10 am', and 'Transatlantic Telephone Conversation ... 2:00, Disarmament' , both in Hoover Presidential Papers, container 1002.


B.J.C. McKercher

naval conferenceof 1927.58 Once again, as five yearsbefore,the British held that armed forces should be reduced all round to take away the actions,but themselvesdemanded abilityof powersto launch aggressive sufficientforces to defend themselvesand honour the securitycommitmentsthey had made sincethe war. Thus, GreatBritainhad an absolute need for a minimum number of warshipsand other arms, while the Americans,with no commitmentsof any sort beyond the necessityto protect their routes to overseasmarketsand their imperial holdings in the westernhemisphereand the western Pacific, had a relative need: they could accept significantreductionsas long as other powersdid the same. Hence the US emphasison cutting arms spendingto effect arms reductions;such reductionswould enhance their security. Differencesbetweenthe Britishand the Americanswerequicklyovertaken at the conferenceby a vituperativedebatestemmingfrom French demandsthat cuts in armedforcesbe balancedby moreeffectivemeans of collective security.'9By June 1932, Hoover, sensing that the conference might fail, and worried about the presenteconomic crisisand the imminent presidential-congressional elections in November, made a dramatic move. He advocated that all powers reduce their armed Naval arms were forcesacrossthe board by one-quarterto one-third.60 out for reduction.It was a bold initiative,but it met especiallysingled with resistancefrom Great Britain, France, and other powers because it made no strategicsense.In the Britishcase,it threatenedto undermine the doctrine of absolute need. Quite simply, whilst the United States enjoyedthe luxuryof politicalisolationfrom great powerpolitics,whilst its security requirementswere relative to those of other powers, and whilst it could seek moral leadershipat the conferenceby advocating such a stunninglysimpleproposal,Europeanpowershad to gauge their level of arms to cover a range of national and internationaldefence commitments.After consultingother delegations,Simon responded,a month later, with specific proposals supporting Hoover's ideas, but making smallercuts.61
58 On the Coolidge conference, see D. Carlton, 'Great Britain and the Goolidge Naval Conference of 1927', Political Science Quarterly, lxxxiii (1968), 573-98; Hall, Arms Control, 36-54; and Roskill, Naval Policy, i. 498-516. On the British 'doctrine of absolute need' versus the American 'doctrine of relative need' in 1927, see B.J.C. McKercher, The Second Baldwin Governmentand the United States, 1924-1929: Attitudes and Diplomacy (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 71-2. 59 J-W. Wheeler-Bennett,The DisarmamentDeadlock (London, 1934), pp. 22-64. Hall, Arms Control, pp. 118-42 adds nothing new in his discussion of the conference. 60 'Message of President Hoover to the Disarmament Conference, June 1932', in J.W. Wheeler-Bennett, Documents on International Affairs, 1932 (London, 1933), PP- 169-71. 61 See ibid., pp. 178-83.

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The 1932 electioncampaignin the United States,Roosevelt'svictory, to and the transfer powerfromone administration the next, coincided of with the defaultof the war-debtsettlements, delayedeffectiveaction and by the conference.The ensuingpoliticalcrisisin Germany,which led to Hitler'sappointmentas chancelloron 30 January 1933, added an element of unease at Geneva. After this, the negotiationsfoundered.The Rooseveltadministration but, thoughit soughtsome means participated did of bringing about a practical expressionof arms limitation,62 not make a substantiveproposal.The running was left to the other great powers,especiallythe Europeans,who now confrontedthe spectreof a and Germanyfreedfromreparations, demandingher own armedforces. As no chance existedof Germaninvolvementin the conference,a final meetingoccurredin the springof 1935, but ended without result.With neutralitylegislationfoistedon RooseveltafterAugust 1935, the force of Great Britain and the other powers US diplomacy was weakened.63 could not hope for United States support. Even before the World Disarmamentconferenceended, the British fell back on traditionalmethods of maintainingbalances of power in those regionsof the globe where they were endangered.In the Far East with Japan. In May 1933, the Manchurian theysoughtaccommodation crisishad ended with Japan and China signingthe Tangku treaty,and Chinaacquiescing the lossof her northernprovinceand makingother in concessionsto Japan. Although Japan had left the League because she was brandedthe aggressor,the Britishdid not rule out an AngloPart Japaneserapprochement** of the Britishproblem,so the argument was excessiveemphasissince before the Washingtonconference went, on tryingto workwith the United Statesin the Far East. The cabinet's defencerequirements committeeput this argumentforcefullyin Februto 'Thereis much to be said for the view that our subservience ary 1934:
62 Instructive are Davis [chief American negotiator] to Roosevelt, 13 April 1933, Davis Papers [Library of Congress], container 51; 'Message of President Roosevelt to 54 Heads of State, 16 May 1933', in United States Department of State,

Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, 1943), pp. 180- 1; and Mayer [member,US delegation] to Moffat, 20 Jan. 1934, No. 36, Mayer Papers [HerbertHoover PresidentialLibrary],container 1. 63 For a broad view of isolationism,see W.S. Cole, Roosevelt and the Isolationists, 1932-45 (Lincoln, 1983) ; M. Jonas, Isolationismin America, 1935-1941 (Ithaca, 1966) ; and Three Faces of Midwestern Isolationism: Gerald P. Nye, Robert E. historians: cf. R. Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945 (New York, 1979); and F.W. Marks, III, Wind over Sand: The Diplomacy of FranklinRoosevelt (Athens, Ga., 1988), especially pp. 13-1 19. For a Britishview, see Watt, SucceedingJohn Bull, pp. 77-83. 64 Simon memorandum,16 March 1934, CP 80(34), CAB 24/248.
Wood, John L. Lewis, ed. J.N. Schact (Iowa City, 1981). The debate on the impact of isolationism on Roosevelt's foreign policy is vituperative amongst US


B.J.C. McKercher

the United Statesin past yearshas been one of the principalfactorsin the deteriorationof our former good relations with Japan and, that, beforethe naval disarmament conference,1935, we ought to reconsider our attitude.'65 This diplomacyfound many supportersin the cabinet, including the ever cautious Chamberlain.66 Even afterthe chancefor a diplomaticsettlementwithJapanvanished in mid-1937, the Britishsought other methodsof shoringup their position in the Far East. No doubt existed that after the abortive second London naval conference,the Japanese held a commandingposition in Taiwan, Korea, and easternand northernChina. Thus, the British endeavoured to establish a defensive perimeter at the edges of this region by the usual methodsof imperialdefence: building up defences at Singaporeand, furthersouth,by agreements with Australiaand New In of Zealand.67 essence,the Britishsaw the possibility curbingJapanese ambitions beyond Japan's immediate sphere of interest. Sir Robert Craigie,the ambassadorat Tokyo, explained this to the foreign office as late as March 1939: 'The presenceof [an] adequate fleet and air force, based at Singapore,would, by removing the chance of a rapid attack on the fortress,also remove one of the prizes of war and so enhance in Japanese eyes, the advantagesof neutrality.368 Although the Tientsinincidentin May-June1939 saw Craigieappeasingthe Japanese on mainland China,69 Great Britain'spositionin those areaswhere her could be broughtto bear, at some distancefrom Japan, seemed strength secure.Even after Japan launchedher attack on the westernpowersin December 1941, Craigieargued that war had not been inevitableand for that opportunities deterthe Japanesehad been squandered;70 his to candour, he was rewardedby the prime minister,Winston Churchill,
65 'Report of the Defence Requirements Committee', 28 Feb. 1934, GP 64(34), GAB 24/247. 66 Chamberlainmemorandumon The Naval Conference and Our Relations with Japan', late July or early Aug. 1934, ChamberlainMSS, NC 8/ 19/ 1. This was shown to Baldwin, Simon, and two other cabinet ministers but never circulated; instead, Chamberlainand Simon circulated a joint memorandumto the cabinet that contained its essential elements. See Chamberlainand Simon memo, 16 Oct. !934j GP 223(34), Documents on British Foreign Policy, series II, xii. 61-5. 67 See CID Paper No. 1463B, 'Strategic Importance of the Pacific Islands', July !938, GAB 4/28; as well as CID Papers Nos. 1455B and 1542B, in fn. 34. Cf. Roskill,Naval Policy, ii. 43 1-77, passim. 68 Craigie telegram (269) to FO, 23 March 1938, FO 371/23560/2885/456. 69 Murfett, Fool-Proof Relations, pp. 249-67; and Watt, How War Came, pp. 33960, especially pp. 355-60. Also see 'The Situation in the Far East: Note by the Secretary covering Report by the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee',FP(36)96, 18 June 1939, CAB 27/627. 70 R. Craigie, Behind the Japanese Mask (London, 1946). Also see P. Lowe, 'The Dilemmas of an Ambassador: Sir Robert Craigie in Tokyo, 1937-1941', Proceedings of the British Association for Japanese Studies, ii (1977), 34-56.

Great Britain in the 1930s


with enforcedretirement.Still, at least until the crisisin Europe after March 1939 - and Tientsin derivedfrom a Japanesedesireto profitby the crisis- the Britishpositionin the Far East was secure. If Craigieis to be believed,it was secureeven longer. The course of Britishpolicy towards Germanyand Italy, after the between Great Italian invasionof Ethiopiain 1935 led to estrangement Britain and Italy and to Mussolini'salignment with Hitler by September 1937, is one of the most intensely studied periods in modern It history.71 is also one of the most hotly debated. The function of appeasement,the culpabilityof Neville Chamberlain,the morality of the Munich agreement,and otherissuesrevolvearoundthe inevitability of the war itself and of Great Britain'sparticipation.There is little doubt that after the failure of the World Disarmamentconference,the Britishgovernmentsof the time - Baldwin'sfrom June 1935 to May thereafter fell back on the traditionalways 1937 and Chamberlain's of maintaining the balance of power on the Continent and in the Mediterranean.Put in its simplestterms, the Britishworked to align themselveswith powersof like interestsand, when necessary,to resolve issueswith their potential enemies as need arose. British diplomatsin the past, from Castlereaghto Palmerstonto Grey, had used the same diplomaticdeviceswith the same end in view. As early as February 1934, the cabinet defence requirementscommitteeidentifiedHitler'sGermanyas GreatBritain's'ultimatepotential enemy'.72With this threat in Europe, plus the growing strength of Japan in east Asia, Warren Fisher'sconcern expressedto the first sea Great Britain'sinitial diplolord in July 1934 is easily appreciated.73 maticresponse Nazi Germanywas to drawcloserto Franceand Italy, to both of which were concernedwith the potentialthreatposed by Hitler. Thus MacDonaldand Simon,who made foreignpolicyuntil the advent of Baldwin'sministryin June 1935, tried to forge a diplomaticfront to contain Germanambitionsin Europe. At a meeting at Stresain April 1935, just as the World Disarmamentconferencegaspedits last breath, an Anglo-Franco-Italianagreement was made. Although some difficultieshad yet to be overcome,such as France'sneed to pacify her allies Italian in the Little Entente, MacDonald commented'I am satisfied5.74
71 For an indication, see British Foreign Policy, 1918-1943: A Guide to Research and Research Materials, ed. S. Aster (Wilmington, Del., 1984), pp. 213-18, 237-65; and the bibliographyin Watt, How War Came. 72 This is CP 64(34), cited in fn. 65. 73 His ideas had not changed by the time of the Munich agreement; see Warren Fisher to Chamberlain, 1 Oct. 1938, Warren Fisher MSS [British Library of Economicand Political Science, London],file 1. 74 This quote is from MacDonald diary, 13 April 1935, MacDonald MSS, PRO


B.J.C. McKercher

policy in east Africa after October 1935, however, brought the Stresa front crashingdown; Britishand Frenchpublic opinionrejectedItaly's claim to Ethiopia,75 and the ensuing Italian estrangementfrom Great Britain and France led Mussolini, who needed an ally, gradually to warmto Germany. The British were distressedby these developments,and concerned about Italy and Germany'sinvolvementin the Spanish civil war after balance July 1936. Such a war threatenedthe westernMediterranean of power, and the securityof sea routes to Suez, and beyond Suez to India and the Far East.76 1936 Baldwin'sgovernmenthad begun to By rearmto meet the threatposedby the two Fascistpowersin Europe,as well as that of Japan.77 The focus was on the navy and air force: the remained a weak sister, as both the Baldwin and Chamberlain army before 1914, were looking to the governments,like their predecessors French to meet a land threat on the Continent.At the same time they were attempting,as in the Far East, to establisha systemof deterrence under way to underpinBritish in Europe. Effortswere simultaneously economic means. In early 1936 anyone could see that diplomacy by on puttingeconomicpressure Germany,withoutgoing to war, would be on difficultbut, two yearslater,with workprogressing the Britishcruiser the committee of imperial defence was drawing up contraband fleet, It lists in the event a blockadehad to be enforced.78 is also interesting that in the mid-1930sseveralstates,includingEstonia,Latvia, Portugal,
30/69/1753; and see his report to the cabinet in Cabinet Conclusion 24(35), CAB 23/81. Also see the Goldman and Quartararoarticles cited in fn. 10. 75 E.L. Pressiesen, Foreign Policy and British Public Opinion: The Hoare-Laval Pact of 1935', World Affairs Quarterly, xxix (1958), 256-77; J.C. Robertson, 'The Origins of British Opposition to Mussolini over Ethiopia', Journal of British Studies, ix (1969), 122-42, and 'The Hoare-Laval Plan', Journal of ContemporaryHistory, x (1975), 433-64; and D.P. Waley, British Public Opinion and the AbyssinianWar, 1935-1936 (London, 1976). 76 See CID Paper No. 1295B, 'WesternMediterranean:Situation Arising from the Spanish Civil War: Report by the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee',24 Aug. 1936, CAB 4/24; and Eden [foreign secretary]note on 'Italian Policy in the Spanish Civil War', FP(36)io, 19 Aug. 1936, with enclosure, CAB 27/626. Also see J. Edwards,The British Governmentand the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (London, 1979) ; A.R. Peters, Anthony Eden at the Foreign Office 1931-1938 (New York, 1986), pp. 220-357, passim; and R.H. Whealey, 'Foreign Intervention in the Spanish Civil War', in The Republic and the Civil War in Spain, ed. R. Carr 77 See fn. 6. 78 Cf. CID Paper No. 1272B, 'Report by the Economic PressureSub-Committeein the Exercise of Economic Pressureon Germany without there Being a State of War', 12 March 1936, CAB 4/25; and CID Paper No. 1459B, 'ContrabandList: Memorandumby the Chairman of the AdvisoryCommittee on Trade Questions in Time of War', 22 July 1938, CAB 4/28.
(London, iQ7i).

Great Britain in the 1930s


and the Scandinavians, joined GreatBritain's'SterlingArea'becauseof the strengthof the pound. This had some politicaland strategicbenefits for Britishdiplomacylater in the decade.79 the late 1930s, therefore, By Great Britain was moving to provide its diplomacy with armed and economicmuscle. Which raisesthe question,was appeasementan indicationof British weaknessin the face of aggression? Was it an effort to gain time? Was it a recognition that Germany, especially, had legitimate grievances stemmingfrom the Paris peace settlement,which should be allayed? The 'Guilty Men' thesis, the revisionist,and other theoriesabound, in a minefieldfor historians,but it is probablysafe to say that an understanding of appeasementlies in the considerationof all of these questions. Chamberlain thosewho controlledforeignand defencepolicy and reckonedthat Great Britain would be too weak to restrain certainly Germany until her rearmament programme gathered momentum. Betweenthe Munich and Prague crises,Chamberlainthought this was as Moreover,as morallyreprehensible it might have coming to pass.80 cold-bloodedrealpolitikin an the Munich agreementrepresented been, endeavourto preventa second great war within a generation.Besides, Hitler had impressedon Chamberlainthat German revisionismhad Not been satisfied,though Chamberlaindid entertain some doubts.81 when the Prague crisiserupted six months after Munich, surprisingly, Chamberlaindrew the line. Prior to this, he had not been keen on aligning too closely with France and other powers, wanting Great Britainto have the freesthand possible.82 Praguechanged all this, with the result that Anglo-Frenchcollaborationbegan apace.83Deterrence became the order of the day, as the guaranteeto Poland, the reintroduction of conscription,and the movement towards France showed. Although Chamberlaingot a rude shockfrom the Germanoccupation of the rumpof Czechoslovakia, his own politicalpositionweakened and at home, Great Britain'sposition did not weaken abroad. With the Germaninvasionof Poland on 1 September 1939, the line set in late
79 For instance, CID Paper No. 1474B, 'Situation in Portugal: Memorandum by the British Military Mission: Report of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee', 14 Oct. 1938, CAB 4/28. 80 Chamberlain to Hilda, his sister, 5 Feb. 1939, Chamberlain MSS, NC 18/1/ 1084. For criticism of Chamberlain's optimism, see W.K. Wark, The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany, 1933-1 939 (Ithaca, 1985), pp. 217-18. 81 Chamberlain to Gwynne [newspaper editor], 7 Jan. 1939, Chamberlain MSS, NC 82 Rock, Chamberlain and Roosevelt, p. 1 1. 83 Cf. CID Paper No. 1527B, 'Staff Conversations with France and Belgium', 14 Feb. 1939, with annexes, and CID Paper No. 1546, 'Conversations with the French', 12 April 1939, both CAB 4/29; and see Committee on Foreign Policy Meetings 38 to 40, 27, 30, and 31 March 1939, CAB 27/624.
7/1 1/32/105.


B.J.C. McKercher

March was crossed.Great Britain'sdeclarationof war two days later showed her continued leadership in Europe and the world beyond. In the periodbeginningwith the World Disarmamentconferencein February1932 and endingwith the outbreakof war in September1939, the United States was unable to force the Britishto tailor their foreign and armspoliciesto US interests.It was not for want of trying. In the firststage of the conference,the period priorto Hoover'sleaving office, the divergencebetween the Britishand American positionsover arms limitationwas pronounced.As Henry Stimsonsaid in early June 1932, on returningfrom a month at Geneva and when the conferenceseemed to bog down: 'The only naval powerwhich bearsupon these European which land armamentsis the Britishnaval power in the Mediterranean conflictswith the French ferriageproblemto North Africa. No matter how much we might reduce our navy, Britainwould never relinquish her superiorityin the Mediterraneanwhich is based on Malta and Gibraltarand protectsher route to India.'84 was a realisticappraisal It of the United States'lack of leverageat the conference.85 the Hoover If administrationhad any hope of persuadingthe conferenceto accept the overwhelmingneed to retrench,it had to meet the legitimatestrategic concernsof the other great powers.It might not want to entangle the United Statesin securityarrangements Europeor elsewhere,but in it had at least to do the oppositeof what Gibsonhad said in his opening speech- it had to projectits mind into the future.This did not happen. At the end of June Hoover proposedmassive arms cuts by arbitrary figuresof one-quarterto one-third.Not surprisingly except, perhaps, to Hoover who looked to moral leadership the proposalfailed miserably. Great Britain'sfundamental need had been ignored, thus any success the United States could hope to achieve lay with Roosevelt. Rooseveltalso wanted to achieve a measureof arms limitation,and one of his first acts after inaugurationwas to send a message to the In fifty-fourstates meeting at Geneva.86 it he argued that 'aggressive shouldbe abolishedand a universalpact made, pledgingnonweapons ; aggression with this accomplished, securitywould be assuredwhilstthe conferencegot down to the nuts and bolts of disarmament.His words were receivedfavourably except by the Germans -but were perceived as a beginning,not an end. FerdinandMayer,one of the US delegates, sought to impressthis on the state department: 'If we continue to pull on our trousers and wear them, we will breathelife into this Conference
84 Stimson telegram (unnumbered) to the US delegation, Geneva, 4 June 1932, Stimson Papers [microfilm edition, Sterling Library, Yale University], reel 83. 85 Stimson diary, April 1932, Stimson Papers, vol. 20. 86 See Roosevelt's message as cited in fn. 62.

Great Britain in the ig3os


which it has never had before,' he wrote. 'If, on the other hand, we go only half the way and dilly-dallyas we have done before, it will be But equally disappointing and disheartening.387 American trousers remaineddown, as specific proposalsto give substanceto Roosevelt's ideas failed to appear. The reason was simple: six weeks later, the president'storpedoingof the World Economic conferenceindicated a general US desire to turn inwards. Roosevelt did not ignore foreign policy issuesafter this, and he generallysupportedthe concept of arms but limitation,88 he and his adviserstook no new steps to bring Great Britainand the othergreat powersto an agreement.In reality,he could not. Not only were the Britishloath to limit their arms, especiallythe but navy, withoutfirmpoliticalagreements, also Hitler was determined to rearmGermany.For the remaininglife of the World Disarmament conference,the United States let the other powers seek a way around the impasseat Geneva. Rooseveltand his adviserswere worried about the course of British foreign policy after 1933. In November 1934, for instance, as British with diplomatsleft no doubt that they were seekinga rapprochement for the preliminarydiscussions the second London naval Japan, using conferenceto do so, the presidentexpressedhis strongdesireto end the growing closenessin Anglo-Japaneserelations: with the simple Simonand a few otherToriesmustbe constantly impressed of to fact that if GreatBritainis evensuspected preferring playwith Japan of in to playing withus, I shallbe compelled, the interest American security, to approachpublic sentimentin Canada, Australia,New Zealand and South Africa in a definiteeffort to make these Dominionsunderstand clearlythat their futuresecurityis linkedwith us in the United States.89 But, ultimately,Rooseveltcould do nothing. When the second London naval conferencebroke down, the Britishdivertedpublic funds to the this navy and, as the figuresdemonstrate, led to a two-to-oneadvantage over the United States in cruisersby 1939. Moreover, although the opinionsof Dominion leaderswere not without weight at London, the courseof intra-imperial relationsafter 1934 shows that Britishleaders the Baldwin and Chamberlaingovernmentsformulated their during foreignand armspolicieswith the United Kingdom'sinterestsforemost
87 Mayer to Moffat, 20 May 1933, No. 10, Mayer Papers,container 1. 88 On his interest in foreign policy, see Marks, Wind over Sand, pp. 13-39; this must be read with an eye to its strong anti-Rooseveltbias. For general Roosevelt administrationsupport of arms limitation, see Davis to Roosevelt, 6 Nov. 1934, Davis Papers,container5 1. 89 Rooseveltto Davis, 9 Nov. 1934, Davis Papers,container5 1.


B.J.C. McKercher

in mind.90 Canada and South Africa had brokenwith the concept of a singleimperialforeignpolicy in the 1920s; Australiaand New Zealand had a less independentbent. But in the final years of peace, especially after the 1937 imperial conference,the Britishwere able to use their political,economic, and racial connectionswith the 'white5Dominions to bolstertheirpositionin the Pacificby constructing line of deterrence a on the perimeterof the Japanese sphere of interest.91 Indeed, when Great Britaindeclaredwar on Germanyin September1939, it is significantthat the Dominionsalso declaredwar. The empireas a whole, the United Kingdom at its head, went into the struggleagainst Nazi Germany. Hence, Roosevelt'sclaim to make the Dominionssee 'that their securityis linked with ... the United States'remainedunprovenin this period.The inabilityof the United Statesto divertBritishforeignpolicy from the course determinedfor it at London touched all manner of issuesin the late 1930s. Roosevelt dislikedthe Munich agreement,for example, and was critical of Chamberlain,but could do nothing, or would do nothing, to try to change British policy.92Indeed, in many respects,it was incumbenton the United Statesto find a modusvivendi with Great Britain.The conclusionin 1938 of the trade agreementsby Great Britain,the United States, and Canada, although fraught with difficultyand not necessarilyindicative of warm relationsbetween the two chief English-speaking powers,showed this. Neither side gave way to the other; rather, what emerged was a traditional compromise. Within the context of foreign and arms policy, however, the will to compromisewas less pronounced. As the course of Anglo-American relationshad shown since Hoover'spresidency,the Britishwere willing to accommodatethe United States when they could; when it proved impossible,as over Hoover's June 1932 proposal, or US distaste for Anglo-Japanese closenessin 1934-5, they were prepared to go their own way to protectwhat they saw as GreatBritain'sinterests.By 1939, Britishforeign policy was effectivein Europe,the Mediterranean, and, within certainlimits,the Far East.This was the realityof being a global power in the 1930s, and Great Britain,ratherthan the United States, had achieved it.
Jt JL M.

90 The best study of this question is R. Ovendale, 'Appeasement'and the English Speaking World: Britain, the United States, the Dominions, and the Policy of of Appeasement,1937-1939 (Cardiff, 1975). 91 See the GID Papers, nos. 1455B, 1463B, and 1542!*,cited in fns. 34, 67. 92 Gf. Marks, Wind over Sand, pp. 144-7; A. Offner, American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany,1933-1938 (Cambridge,Mass., 1969) , pp. 267-72; and Rock, Chamberlainand Roosevelt, pp. 130-1.

Great Britain in the ig3os


It is impossibleto find one instance in the 1930s when, over a major policy decision concerning Great Britain's protection of its external interests,the United States was able to persuade London to adopt a policyWashingtonthoughtbest. This doesnot mean the Britishignored the United States in their diplomatic calculations,especiallytouching It foreignand armspolicies.They did not.93 is to say, however,that the -the combinationof economic United States did not have the 'power' muscle, armed strength,and sustainedwill - to deflect the British.No doubt the United States had the potential in the 1930s to be a world power,becauseof her wealth. But wealth means nothing without some of tangibleexpression nationalstrength,coupledwith the will to employ it. As Hugh Wilson remarkedin 1933, the United States had been its bargaining potentialagainstthe realshipsof the Britishand Japanese. of The barrenness such a tactic emergedin 1935. But even after this, as both Great Britain and Japan pushed ahead with naval construction, the United Stateswas reluctantto build warships.Wilson'scritiquecan be applied to other US foreign policy initiatives,for whether they involved naval construction,the balance of power in Europe, the collection of war debts, or whatever,US wealth did not lead to a decline in GreatBritain'sglobal powerstatus.No doubt GreatBritainfaced great danger in 1939 in three regions of the globe. But she moved to meet these threatsby a combinationof rearmamentand activist diplomacy. When the diplomacyof appeasementfailed, a different approach involving close ties with France and increased co-operation with the empire was employed. How any of the other great powers, including the United States,would have been able to cope with such a situation is open to speculation.In terms of the realityof power and despitethe Great Britainwas still pre-eminentin claims of economicdeterminists, the world in September1939. Royal MilitaryCollegeof Canada

93 For instance, see Eden memorandumon the 'Strength of Great Britain and of certain other Nations as at January 1938', 26 Nov. 1937, CID Paper No. 1373^, GAB4/27.

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