The Nazi-Soviet pact: perfidy or realism?



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The world was shocked by the announcement that the Soviet Union and Germany had signed a nonaggression pact on August 23, 1939. Britain and France were angered as well by the apparent duplicity of the Russians who had, during the summer of 1939, simultaneous l y negotiated with them a mutual assistance pact which would also guarantee Poland's security. Despite the suddenness of the announcement and the furtiveness with which the pact was negotiated there had been numerous portents of such an agreement. The Soviet Union had played a very small part in European affairs in the decade following World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. In the early 1930's, she had responded to the increasing militarism of Germany and Japan by joining the League of Nations and arranging treaties with most of the nations of Central and East ern Europe to contain Fascist aggression in Spain, Ethiopia and Europe by collective security. When Britain and France f ailed to uphold League principles and showed themselves willing to buy peace and security for themselves by the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference in 1938, the Soviet Union was much alarmed. At the same time, she was gravely offended by the repeated rebuffs and exclusions with which her own diplomatic overtures were met during 1937 and the first half of 1938 as a result of the deep-rooted Western distrust of Coroniums. She believed that the Western democracies would view with equanimity an invasion of Russia, as two enemies could thus, be simultaneously removed. In March 1939, Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia and other threatening moves forced upon Russia and the West an acknowledgement of the need for cooperation. Several attempts to r each an agreement was made during the spring. Britain and France were stampeded into a hasty and unwise guarantee of Poland so that, in effect, Russia ' s border was already protected by their guarantee and her bargaining position in negotiations much enhanced. These negotiations reached an impasse in May which be broken by the German Italian "Pact of Steel" and the in creasing Japanese threat. 2 A formal diplomatic mission from Britain and France went to Moscow in mid-June to assist in negotiations. Unfortunately, its members were junior officials who were little known and without full plenipotentiary powers. The offended Soviets were enabled by the Polish guarantee to steadily escalate the demands, they made of the West. Many of them requirements, such as the guarantee of the Baltic states, were met but a deadlock was reached over the means by which the treaty was to be implemented in the event of indirect aggression or a coup d’état. Agreement was made much more difficult by the steadfast objections of Poland and the Baltic states to any defensive arrangement which involved the Soviet Union. The Soviets demanded at the end of July that a military mission be sent to replace the diplomatic team. The members of the British and French General Staffs were no more distinguished than their diplomatic predecessors had been, possess ed no better credentials and were very tardy in arriving in Moscow. The Soviets again believed that they were being insulted and negotiations were unavailing. The primary reason for 3 the failure of the talks was the uncompromising refusal of the Polish Government to agree to the Russian Army's entry into Poland for the implementation of the treaty. At the same time, the members of the Nazi government were in frequent contact with certain British politicians. Several developments led the Soviets to believe that appeasement was still the policy of England and that she favored an agreement with Hitler, at the expense of Eastern Europe. This led Stalin to permit diplomatic approaches from the Nazi r regime, which were carried on under the guise of economic talks. As Hitle r became determined to invade Poland, it became necessary to first secure Russia's neutrality in order to avoid the necessity of fighting a two-front war. As Poland remained intransigent and the Wes t seemed likely to turn to Germany, the Soviets clearly perceived that their most certain prospect for at least temporary security lay in an alliance with Germany, whose requests had become more urgent as the deadline set for a Polish invasion drew nearer. The Germans were also quite willing to accede to any Soviet demands. The pact as it was completed contained a secret annex by which Russia was given a free hand in the Baltic area in return for her neutrality. This coldly logical exercise in realpolitik was the culmination of a decade-long Soviet search for security, in which she had been constantly frustrated by the West.



Soviet Union and Germany, Nonaggression pact, Foreign Relations, Poland's security