In the annals of European diplomacy the year 1934 belongs to Louis Barthou. Coming to office in the Doumergue ministry formed in the wake of the bloody rioting of February, Barthou brought to the Quai d'Orsay a combination of clear vision, steady purpose, and nicely judged audacity which gave to French policy in the 1930s almost all the little luster it can fairly claim. Put shortly, Barthou's plan was to safeguard the French against the menace of German nationalism by reconstituting as nearly as possible the Triple Entente of prewar years. The spirit which animated him may be traced to his former mentor, Raymond Poincaré, but the design was his own, and the approaches to Britain and Russia which it entailed demanded far more insight and finesse than Poincaré had showed in the years of his postwar premiership.
Historians, faced by the whole horrific record of the Hitler regime, have tended to treat Barthou's effort approvingly despite its eventual ill success. The accounts they have produced so far, however, have been focussed on Franco-Soviet or Anglo-French relations. The Anglo-Soviet side of the diplomatic triangle, never a match for the other two in prominence, has not come in for much sustained attention. Yet relations between Britain and Russia, developing in the context powerfully shaped by Barthou's initiative, were never more cordial and hopeful than over the years 1934-35; in view of the fateful consequences of their later deterioration, it is surely worth inquiring closely into the circumstances and implications of their original improvement.