LONDON, Aug. 22, 1939 (UP) -- Announcement that Germany and Russia had agreed to negotiate a non-aggression pact threatened Great Britain and France today with what would be their gravest diplomatic defeat since the World war.
It means likewise that Adolf Hitler was near a great victory in Europe's long "war of nerves."
Implications of the pact envisaged by Germany and Russia remained obscure.
But Hitler's lightning diplomatic stroke threatened to smash the British-French "peace bloc" policy-which the Germans call encirclement.
Never since the sudden Russian-German pact at the Rapallo conference in the years immediately after the World war had a diplomatic coup thrown European chancelleries into such confusion.
Political commentators used such terms as astounding, incredible, inconceivable.
Telephone conversations I had this morning with United Press bureau managers in continental capitals reveal a general belief that Hitler may seize the opportunity within the next few days, in the midst of diplomatic confusion, to make whatever move he intends to against Danzig and the Polish corridor.
Frederick Oechsner, manager at Berlin, reports that Germany's military machine, powerful and compact, will reach its highest point of efficiency and preparedness tonight.
The British cabinet was confronted at its meeting today with a necessity for some of the most excruciating and momentous decisions in its existence.
Neville Chamberlain's government was faced with the imminent possibility of the crash of its whole scheme to stop Hitler by a chain of diplomatic barriers.
It was forced to decide whether to accept fully and promptly Russia's terms for an anti-aggression treaty-if a treaty was still possible-or to permit the complete breakdown of negotiations which already had dragged on for four months.
Along with Hitler, Russia's Josef Stalin also had achieved a big diplomatic victory.
While Chamberlain was using Russia in negotiations to bring pressure upon Hitler, Russia astutely used Britain to make terms with Germany.
It was regarded as likely that the cabinet discussed the advisability of sending Viscount Halifax, foreign minister, to Russia at once.
The threat of a Russian-German pact was a humiliating blow to Great Britain and France because, for one thing, diplomats saw it as exposing the hollowness of their pledge to protect Poland.
As the diplomats saw it, Poland in the present circumstances probably would be overrun in any attack by Germany before Britain and France could make any decisive contribution.
Two important points must be kept in mind:
1. Germany and Russia have not yet signed a pact.
2. Every non-aggression pact which Russia has yet signed with her neighbors contains an escape clause giving Russia a free hand if the other party commits aggression against a third power.
The pact envisaged with Germany undoubtedly would contain an escape clause.
It was regarded here as likely that Great Britain and France could still conclude a pact with Russia if they knuckled down and fully met Russia's terms.
Conclusion of a German-Russian pact would make it impossible, as it was seen here, for Japan to join the Rome-Berlin axis in a military alliance because Russia is Japan's greatest potential enemy and Japan could not ally herself with the Nazis if Germany were unable to help her.
A German-Russian pact would mark another radical departure form Hitler's previous basic policies.
Many students of European politics have held for years that a German-Russian alliance would be at once logical and the greatest possible disaster to European countries at large.
But Hitler had hitherto repeatedly affirmed that he would never enter any pact with Russia.
However, he had also always maintained that he wanted no non-Germans within the Reich, yet he seized Czecho-Slovakia.
A Russian-German pact would have important repercussions in British domestic politics.
Liberals, Laborites and Churchillian Conservatives have repeatedly warned Neville Chamberlain of the possibility of a Russian-German rapproachement unless he quit trying what they called his effort to dupe the Russians.
On the other hand, such a pact would provide ammunition for those Conservatives who have asserted continually that Russia would only double-cross Britain in any event.
Even the Laborite Daily Herald stresses the double-cross theme and calls the proposed pact "a bigger betrayal of peace and European freedom even than Munich."
It was learned on high authority that the British cabinet had not the slightest previous hint of the imminence of a Russian-German pact.
British diplomatic quarters prefer to think at present that the principal importance of the announcement is its psychological effect and that fundamentally the situation is unaltered.