Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Henderson)70

Numerous articles relating to Soviet foreign policies have lately appeared in the press which in my opinion must have been written by persons who have little knowledge or understanding of the mentality of the present rulers of Russia. In fact, there seems to me to be a complete lack of understanding, at least in the American press, of present Soviet foreign policies.

In the hope that they may be of use to you, I am setting forth below a number of statements regarding what I conceive to be the guiding principles of Soviet foreign policy and the effect which recent international events have had upon the application of these principles:

The present rulers of Russia are still dominated by a spirit of aggressiveness, that is, they have not departed from the ultimate aim to enlarge the Soviet Union and to include under the Soviet system additional peoples and territories.
They are convinced, however, that their present tactics should be:
To hold intact the territory already under their control; and
To increase as rapidly as possible the economic and military might of that territory.
Ever since its establishment the rulers of the Soviet Union have been convinced that it will eventually be the target of attack from so-called capitalist powers, either because such powers are greedy for the great undeveloped wealth of Russia or because they have become convinced that eventually they must destroy the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union, ever increasing in strength, is not to destroy them.
During recent years the Soviet leaders have been particularly apprehensive of a number of foreign hostile combinations, of which the following may be particularly mentioned:
Germany, together with Poland, and possibly with the assistance of Japan;
The four great Locarno Powers,71 Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France; (The Soviet leaders since 1918 have been convinced that if these four great Powers ever reach an understanding they will eventually turn against the Soviet Union.)
Japan alone with such aid as Germany and the European border states may render short of actually entering the conflict; (During recent years the Soviet leaders have become convinced that if no third parties intervene they are now sufficiently strong to hold off Japan—a war with Japan, however, would result in great economic losses which they wish to avoid.)
So long as Germany and Poland were collaborating and there appeared to be a possibility that they might join in an attack upon the Soviet Union, the Soviet foreign policy with regard to Europe was based upon Soviet demands for so-called collective security, which in essence would have meant a Europe divided into two camps, in one of which the Soviet Union would have been playing a leading role.
The break which took place between Poland and Germany last March, followed by British guarantees to Poland and Rumania,72 has changed the whole international outlook so far as the Soviet Union is concerned. At present for the first time the Soviet leaders are in no immediate dread of either a German-Polish combination or of a great four-Power European settlement.
As a result of this change the Soviet Union has no longer any deep interest in the policy of collective security. It feels itself relatively safe from a dangerous European attack so long as Poland, supported by Great Britain, is at loggerheads with Germany. It is not anxious to enter into any European arrangement at the present time which may restrict its ability to maneuver. If it does come to terms with Great Britain, it will do so only on a basis which will give it what amounts to hegemony over Eastern Europe, and which will render impossible for at least many years to come a united Western Europe.
Feeling itself relatively safe in Europe, the Soviet Union is turning its attention to the Far East. For years it has endeavored without success to settle three outstanding questions with Japan:
The Japanese concessions in Soviet Sakhalin;73 (The Soviet leaders will not be satisfied until the Japanese are entirely out of Soviet Sakhalin.)
The Japanese rights under the Portsmouth Treaty74 to fish in Siberian waters; (The Soviet leaders feel that the existence of these rights represents a curtailment of their sovereignty, and they will not be satisfied until they have established full and unrestricted Soviet Sovereignty along the entire Siberian coast.) and
The establishment of definite boundaries between the Soviet Union and Manchukuo and between Manchukuo and Mongolia.
At present the Japanese are in the unpleasant position of conducting a war with China and simultaneously of carrying on quarrels with the great Powers possessing ports and extraterritorial rights in China. The Soviet Union has no pressing international problem elsewhere. The Soviet Union is therefore in a position to create numerous incidents in the Far East and in general to make matters unpleasant for Japan with the idea of forcing the Japanese to make sacrifices necessary to bring about a Japanese-Soviet settlement in the Far East satisfactory to the Soviet Union. I am inclined to believe that the Soviet Union is not failing to take advantage of its position and that the numerous incidents which are taking place at the present time along the Mongolian-Manchukuoan frontier are largely of Soviet instigation. In following a policy of pressing Japan in the Far East the Soviet Union is of course incurring the danger of becoming involved in a war with that country. If war should ensue, however, it will be under most favorable circumstances for the Soviet Union. Most of the civilized world, with the exception of the totalitarian powers, would in general sympathize with the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Government by agreeing to enter into the treaty at present being sought by Great Britain and France would secure British and French support if the Germans should endeavor to come to the aid of the Japanese.

I realize that the above represents an over-simplification of a very complicated situation. You will notice that I have not even referred to the Communist International or to the attitude which the Soviet Union might take in case of the outbreak of a war in the near future between Poland and Germany. It is my feeling, however, that the points which I have brought out above should be considered whenever an attempt is made to understand Soviet foreign policies.

  1. Addressed to Mr. James C. Dunn, Adviser on Political Relations, and to Mr. John D. Hickerson, Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs.
  2. For the texts of the treaties signed at Locarno on October 16, 1925, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. liv, pp. 289 ff.
  3. The British guarantee to Rumania (and Greece) was given by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons on April 13, 1939 (Parliamentary Debates, 5th series, vol. 346, p. 13).
  4. The northern half of Sakhalin Island above the 50th parallel of north latitude.
  5. Signed on August 23/September 5, 1905, Foreign Relations, 1905, p. 824.