- Britain, France, and the Naval Arms Trade in the Baltic, 1919–1939: Grand Strategy and Failure
For interwar specialists, Donald Stoker's Britain, France, and the Naval Arms Trade in the Baltic provides a welcome perspective on a subject which has been woefully under-researched. As the title implies, this book examines the competition between the British and French governments to insert military advisors and negotiate naval arms sales and treaties with Poland and the newly independent republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland during the interwar period.
Stoker's examination is based on the notion of how the concept of cordon sanitaire was utilized during the interwar period. Stoker argues that French governments were increasingly preoccupied with looking for ways to contain Germany via her eastern border, while British governments [End Page 855] were more preoccupied with looking for new trading partners in the Baltic region and finding local allies who could assist the Royal Navy in safeguarding the Baltic Sea. Within this context Stoker examines the problems the newly independent republics encountered—the initial lack of experienced native born naval officers (all of the newly independent Baltic republics initially used ex-Tsarist or Austro-Hungarian officers), endemic corruption within the higher echelons of the military—and how these hindrances irrevocably impeded their own naval foundries and technological development, leaving them dependent on the British and French governments for naval matériel and technology for much of the interwar period. These deficiencies, Stoker argues, left the Baltic republics with overpriced, unreliable, and obsolete warships. In regard to Poland, Stoker provides a very interesting analysis of the Polish government's reactions to the French tendency (both militarily and politically) to overlook Poland as a strategic equal partner and to see her rather as a satellite who could be used as another front in a future conflict.
Stoker concludes his monograph by observing that the internal political situation in Britain and France dictated how their relations with the Baltic States and Poland evolved throughout the interwar period. He contends that the British Admiralty was a constant obstacle to developing relations and markets with the Baltic States, as they would repeatedly argue that security concerns, treaty obligations, and a lack of funding prevented them from acquiescing to Foreign Office requests to provide naval advisers and military equipment. While the Admiralty placed obstacles in the way of the British shipbuilding businesses, the exact opposite was taking place in French circles. The French military and government worked in tandem to aggressively pursue naval contracts and supply the new republics with naval advisers, which led to more collegial relations with heads of state and military leaders in the Baltic region.
One of the interesting aspects of this monograph is the extensive use of French, British, American, Finnish, and Polish archives. The only critique of these sources would be the lack of material drawn from Admiralty files located within the Public Record Office (Kew) which could have provided more information regarding the Board of Admiralty's decision-making process in regard to this subject, especially as Stoker repeatedly mentions the Board's reluctance to supply advisers and matériel to the Baltic navies.
This book's greatest strength is that it provides insight into the decision- making processes of the British and French Governments in their search for security guarantees in the Baltic. In this aspect, Stoker has done a masterful job.