89 Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 179 LONDON, 18 May 1939


Reply to the U.S.S.R. communication of 14th May [1] now being considered by Cabinet. There is general agreement as to the desirability of arrangement with the U.S.S.R. to ensure their support if trouble arises over Poland or Roumania. Division of opinion, however, as to how far the United Kingdom should go to obtain an agreement.

One section holds that if necessary, the United Kingdom should agree to the U.S.S.R. demand for reciprocal guarantees. Arguments advanced for this view are:-

(1) U.S.S.R. will not enter into agreement unless mutual guarantees are agreed to;

(2) that such an agreement is essential in view of the commitments entered into by the United Kingdom in Eastern Europe in order to obtain the maximum support and the U.S.S.R. with great man power and resources would be invaluable;

(3) the failure of the United Kingdom and France to arrive at an agreement with the U.S.S.R. would be regarded as a failure of the attempt to create an anti-aggression front, would encourage Germany and Italy, and would turn the waverers, e.g., Bulgaria, towards the totalitarian powers;

(4) would create the possibility of an arrangement being arrived at by Germany and the U.S.S.R.

The other section maintains:-

(1) an arrangement on the basis of mutual guarantees would consolidate German opinion by the fear of the Russian menace and enable Nazi propaganda to put over the idea of German encirclement which they are having difficulty in doing at present and thus bring war danger nearer;

(2) that U.S.S.R. assistance would be of little value owing to immobilisation of leaders of all arms [sic], lack of oganisation and hopeless transport system;

(3) any value U.S.S.R. help would be more than offset by the antagonism created in Spain, Portugal, Finland and the Baltic States and the known distaste of Poland and Roumania to the U.S.S.R. alliance;

(4) that failure to reach agreement would not have the suggested effects as what has been already accomplished, particularly the Anglo-Turkish agreement, has had a most salutary and steadying effect on Hitler [2];

(5) that Hitler could not get away with a volte-face in coming to an arrangement with the U.S.S.R.;

(6) that an arrangement with the U.S.S.R. even if limited to Europe, would tip the scale in favour of Japan agreeing to enter into military alliance with Germany and Italy.

The General Staff is very doubtful of the value of U.S.S.R. military assistance. The Labour Party and Churchill [3] strongly in favour of full military alliance.

Owing to the impossibility in the time since my arrival to establish full contacts can only send a summary of the position.

Would greatly appreciate your reactions.


1 On 8 May 1939 the U.K. and France asked the U.S.S.R. for a guarantee that if they became involved in hostilities in the course of fulfilling their obligations to Poland and Rumania, the U.S.S.R. would afford immediate assistance if this was desired. The U.S.S.R. rejected this proposal on is (not 14) May on the grounds that it offered no reciprocal obligation and suggested instead a tripartite pact of mutual assistance with the U.K. and France; this would include Finland, Estonia and Latvia in the guarantee system as well as Poland and Rumania.

2 Adolf Hitler, German Chancellor.

3 Winston S. Churchill, then a backbench member of the U.K. House of Commons.

[AA: A981, GREAT BRITAIN 8B, iv]