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321 Officer to Evatt

Dispatch HAG21/48, THE HAGUE, 15 April 1948


I have the honour to enclose a short note on the general situation based on the talks in the course of my recent visit to London.

I crossed to London in the latter part of March after 15 months in the Netherlands, a week on leave in Switzerland and a brief visit one day for lunch with the British Ambassador to Brussels. The general impression I had was one of increasing gloom and anxiety in all these countries where many people seem to think that war was a matter almost of months (in some cases weeks). I had been disturbed particularly from time to time by the wild statements of the U.S. Service attachEs on the inevitability of war and the wisdom of getting it over whilst the U.S. still had the atom bomb.

2. I devoted much of my time in London to talking to the people whom I felt would be well informed. These included the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (Sir Orme Sargent) Sir William Strang[1], Sir Noel Charles[2]; Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Douglas; Lord Ismay[3], and a number of more junior members of the Foreign Office. The impression I gained from these various talks was that no one had quite made up their minds what was behind Soviet policy. It might be based (a) on a feeling of isolation and semi-fear and designed to secure a protective cordon of as great a width as possible round the Soviet Union, or (b) on a policy of prestige which required continual successes at the expense of its former active and still nominal allies to maintain enthusiasm for close association with the U.S.S.R in some of the satellite states, or (c) based on a policy of imperialism to gain as much as possible now by infiltration and 'cold war' and when the time was ripe probably to be ready to face actual war. I found no belief that (c) was the basis of their policy. The general impression was that it was inspired by (a), but perhaps influenced by (b). The general feeling was that the Soviet Union desired war no more than any other nation.

3. But there was general agreement that the intention of the Soviet was to obtain as much as it could by all means short of war, and to be continually feeling for 'soft spots' and exploiting them.

4. A[s] regards a policy to meet the situation there was general agreement that what was called for was a determination to decide on essential things and make quite clear that there would be no withdrawal or appeasement on these points, but that side by side with this, every endeavour should be made to avoid putting the Soviet Union in a position from which it would find it hard to retire without loss of face. There was general agreement that fear of loss of face and dislike of being outvoted, influenced, to an extraordinary degree, Soviet action.

5. I found a feeling in some quarters that at times U.K. but still more, American actions, had not been as carefully thought out as they should have been. A case in point was the action taken immediately after last week's incident in Berlin involving the loss of a British air liner. Some people seem to feel that the first British protest had been stronger that the situation justified. What however disturbed people much more was the American tendency on occasions to over-hasty action. Those however who had been in the States recently assured me that officials in high places fully realised the danger of the situation and had no intention of precipitating any crisis. I found rather a general tendency to agree that formal written protests (such as the Americans rather like 'to keep the record clear') were seldom useful and sometimes mischievous. A good many people felt that it was unwise to interfere anywhere where it would not be possible to follow up the protest.

6. I found that it was realised that a result of former resistance to Soviet inroads to the West might be to turn their efforts to the East. It was felt that this was inevitable and had to be faced.

7. It was freely admitted that the situation in the West made it very difficult at the present time to take any action regarding a settlement with Japan.[4] I emphasised in all my talks my personal feeling that the Commonwealth Government was very anxious to see progress, but was always met with the reply that, when there were so many difficulties with the U.S.S.R. already, it was unwise to create a new one unless it was absolutely essential and that at this juncture the Japanese Peace negotiations were not in this category.

8. As a result of my talks, I have returned to The Hague feeling more confident than when I went away that the danger is not as great as many people here believe, and that the UK authorities are fully alive to it and are doing their best to face it.

9. But the U.K. authorities do feel, I think, that they should have all the assistance possible from the Dominions and that at times the Dominions do not realise fully the difficulties of the situation. There is no doubt that the Dominions' appreciation of the position and encouragement of the U.K. from time to time would strengthen the U.K. in pursuing what seems the only possible policy at the present moment. Moreover it should justify increasing pressure on them to support us in a move for the earliest steps towards negotiations of a peace settlement with Japan. If we support the U.K. in their efforts to stabilise the situation in Europe then as soon as it is in any way more settled they should be able to support us in our efforts to secure a Peace Treaty.

[1] Sir William Strang, Permanent Under-Secretary, UK Foreign Office (German Section).

[2] Sir Noel Charles, Foreign Office.

[3] Lord Ismay, former Chief of Staff to UK Minister of Defence.

[4] On negotiations for a Japanese peace settlement, see Volume 14.

[AA : A1838, TS69/1/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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