The Lion and the Bear
Establishing a lasting peace in Scandinavia

By Charles Roburn

Is war between England and Russia inevitable in Diplomacy?

I was inspired to ask this question after reading the first article in Jasper Dupuis' new "The Honest Truth" series last issue, which focused on playing Russia. Jasper mentions many points worthy of debate, but one struck me in particular: he claims the statement that "England attacking Russia in the early game is not a good idea" is a "major myth" that needs to be debunked. Strong words — but I don't believe the few points he mentions to support this view are adequate. There's a lot more to be said on the matter than appears in the article!

As someone who actually agrees with this supposed "myth", I thought it would be a good idea to explore it further. It seems to me that there are many games where England and Russia clash bitterly over Scandinavia, without fully considering the many important reasons why they might want to avoid it.

Why do England and Russia fight?

On the surface, it isn't unreasonable for England and Russia to come to blows. They are neighbors, after all, and they have competing interests in the north. But when the Prime Minister and Tsar roll up their respective sleeves and have at each other, are they really looking at the big picture?

My sense is that all too often, England and Russia fight without thinking through the full consequences. Instead of pursuing their war as part of a long-term grand strategy aimed at getting eighteen centers, they just fall into it. Usually, it goes something like this:

  1. In 1901 England gets Norway, while Russia takes Sweden.
  2. Russia, seeing an English unit now bordering on StP, builds a unit there to defend it.
  3. England, seeing two Russian units bordering on Nwy (F Swe and U StP), gets nervous.
  4. Russia, seeing two of his units bordering on Nwy, thinks about attacking it.
Both sides feel insecure about their positions in Scandinavia, because the placement of an English-held center (Nwy) between two Russian ones (Swe, StP) is inherently unstable. As a result, both feel a need to force the other out for the sake of their own security; and that's how it begins.

They prepare for this problem even before the opening moves. They each focus their efforts against the other from the very first: wooing Germany, encouraging the other's neighbors to attack him, and otherwise causing each other a lot of trouble. Russia may order A Mos-StP in Spring 1901 just to set up for the future struggle; while if he doesn't, in Fall 1901 England may convoy F Nth C A Yor-Nwy and order F Nwg-Bar.

Once started, the fight just spirals out of control. It can prove extremely difficult for the two opponents to make peace: the forward momentum from their initial moves becomes too great for either England or Russia to pull back. And so the battle continues until one side or the other is completely defeated, or until a strong attack from somebody else forces one of them to capitulate. That's a huge amount of effort to invest in a struggle over a single area — especially one that may have to be defended later against a strong Germany, who is likely to profit from this conflict between his two neighbors!

From a certain perspective this is all understandable enough — but I believe it demonstrates short-term thinking. In the larger strategic view, does it really make sense for England and Russia to target each other first? Does the early destruction of the one truly benefit the other?

The Case for Peace: The View from Whitehall

It's entirely natural for England to have an impulse to head north at the beginning of the game. Early growth is important, and Norway is the only neutral center that the Prime Minister can be sure of taking in 1901. Once established in one spot, it makes sense to expand future efforts in the same region. There are certainly other supply centers in the area; Sweden and St Petersburg can be tempting targets for future English growth, especially if other possibilities such as Belgium have already been claimed by others. Taking the Russian capital also prevents the Tsar from constructing any new northern fleets, which adds a strategic argument in favor of the attack.

However, there's a lot more to winning the game than just grabbing centers! There are several reasons why attacking Russia first may not be such a good idea for the PM:

No, really: St Petersburg is a dead end

In his article, Jasper mentions that "Everybody needs 18, and for England StP is one of them". That may be true — but so are Brest, Spain, and Kiel! The fact that a particular supply center is frequently one of a successful England's eighteen is not, of itself, an argument for taking that center before the others. I'd suggest that the best criteria for deciding the order of capture consist of accessibility, future prospects for expansion, and strategy.

By accessibility, I mean the ease with which a country can reach and take the target center. To some extent this depends on the diplomatic situation: you generally need allies to make progress, which is part of the point of the game! However, the map itself also has an effect on which centers are most accessible to a given country. It's easiest for a Power to exert influence over centers closest to its own home centers, because it takes fewer moves for reinforcements to arrive. And while StP and Swe are not impossibly far away, there are many centers that are just as close or closer to England's shores.

For England, StP and Swe are actually more distant than Den, Hol, Bel, and Bre. In fact, from London it takes a fleet just as many moves to reach StP or Swe as it does to get to Kiel, Portugal, or Spain. As for armies, England must convoy them across the ocean to reach the front — and a long convoy chain ties up fleets. So in many ways it makes more sense for England to focus on securing the North Sea and Channel before going further afield. This is something that many Prime Ministers may not consider when crafting their grand strategy — but they should!

Future prospects for expansion also represent a compelling argument against heading for StP, because of the difficulty England faces in getting any further into Russia once St Petersburg falls. Warsaw and Moscow are both landlocked provinces, and it requires armies to take them. Early on in the game England can ill afford to build many armies; in most cases, doing so is just asking for trouble. This means that in order to finish Russia off, the Prime Minister needs a powerful land-based ally: Germany, Austria, Turkey, or some combination of those three. The problem here is that said ally will very likely claim all the rest of Russia (War, Mos, Sev) as their spoils. Even if the ally agrees to support England into Moscow, he will almost certainly be able to force the English armies back later on.

England can probably take Sweden more easily — but that isn't guaranteed either. Germany too has an interest there, and with Russia out of the way the Kaiser may have more room to maneuver northward — particularly if it's the German Army that took Warsaw and Moscow. Even if the Royal Navy gets to Stockholm first, a sudden attack by the High Seas Fleet will remain an ever-present danger. The Prime Minister may find himself forced onto the defensive, committing the bulk of his units to ensure the safety of both StP and Swe instead of sending them on to new conquests.

Finally, heading for the north may not be a profitable overall strategy for England for one simple reason: it's the wrong direction.

England, like Turkey, faces an important strategic challenge that must be overcome in order to win: England's home centers are as far away as possible from the main stalemate line. As a result, the English player has to be particularly aware of the stalemate line at all times, and should try to cross it as soon as he can. His eighteen centers are most likely to consist of all seventeen centers on the northwest side of the stalemate line, plus one other: if he wants to win, he should try to secure that one other SC as soon as he can safely manage it, before powers on the other side of the line can prevent him. So which center is that likely to be?

I believe there are three main areas where England has the best chance to cross the stalemate line. There's the east, consisting of the Russian home centers (Mos, War); the center, consisting of Austrian home SCs (Vie); and the Mediterranean (Tun). From England's point of view, this means that the closest candidate for 18th center is one of Moscow, Vienna, or Tunis. As I've already discussed, it's problematic for England to support a large land-based force early on in the game: so Moscow and Vienna, both landlocked centers, are not the most likely candidates. That leaves Tunis.

Tunis is both accessible to fleets, and relatively near to Englandís home centers (four moves: Lon/Lpl - Eng/Iri - MAO - Wes/NAf - Tun). These two factors make it much easier for England to exercise leverage over the center relatively early on. All else being equal, a strategy that aims to take Tunis early is more likely to pay off than the alternatives.

When England begins the game with an effort to take StP, the chances of sailing past Gibraltar to grab Tunis before a southern Power can plug the gap go down with each season. That in itself wonít necessarily defeat England; thereís still the chance that English land forces can take Vienna, or Warsaw, or Moscow. But those are more difficult options, particularly when England isnít likely to have enough armies until heís large enough to make the other surviving powers worry about stopping his solo.

For all these reasons, an early war to take St Petersburg can often be a diversion that detracts from Englandís ultimate chances of victory. The Prime Minister may well find that a different approach lead more quickly to lasting SC gains, and serves Englandís strategic needs better.

An early attack on Russia ties up too many units

In the "Honest Truth" article, it states that "It takes two units to hold STP for the rest of the game". If only it were that easy!

The real truth is that any northern campaign to seize and hold StP can require a lot more effort on England's part than just two units, especially if Russia is doing well in the south.

To begin, there's the problem of taking StP in the first place. Even if you accept the "two units" claim as accurate (more on that below), it will take England more than that to capture the center against determined Russian opposition. At the very least, the Tsar should be able to field two or three units to defend his capital, requiring three or four English units to force them out. Early on in the game, this represents a significant force for England to send so far away from the homeland! It leaves very little (one or two units) for home defense, or for expansion on other fronts.

And while it is true that StP can be held with 'only' two units (though looking at it the other way, two units seems a lot to commit so early on a front where you can only defend and not advance), that's only when no enemy fleet exists in the north. There's no guarantee that will be the case! A single fleet in Bot or Bal changes the situation dramatically. And there are no less than three Powers who are very likely to have northern fleets in position to sabotage English defense of a captured StP:

France and Germany are bigger threats

Consider how many times you've witnessed a game opening like the following:

England and France agree to demilitarize the Channel. In 1901, they both keep the agreement: England goes for the Northern Opening (F Edi-Nwg, F Lon-Nth, A Lpl-Yor) and secures Norway, while France sends his fleet through MAO to Portugal. In Winter, neither of them builds a fleet on the Channel: France leaves Brest open, while England builds F Edi.

In S1902, the truce seems to continue. France pulls F Por back to MAO, but moves his armies decisively toward the German frontier to secure Belgium, while England orders F Nth-Ska to press the attack on Russian-held Sweden. Then, in F1902, that French fleet suddenly moves from the Mid-Atlantic to the Irish Sea. France seizes Belgium, but uses the build for a new F Bre. In the meantime, England hasn't managed to get a build against stiff Russian resistance. Liverpool is open to French invasion, and England is going to have to order F Nth - Eng if he wants to prevent the French navy from seizing the Channel. Of course, this takes strength away from the Scandinavian front; so Russia is able to force his way into Norway. Scenting blood in the water, the Kaiser decides to join in. He supports himself into Nth in Spring, convoying an army to Yor in the Fall. England ends 1903 reduced to two home centers (Lon and Edi), and is soon eliminated completely.

Does any of that sound familiar? If you've been playing Diplomacy for any length of time, I'm sure you've seen something like this happen — probably more than once.

The simple fact is that France and Germany are both closer to England's home centers than Russia is. They're better able to build the northern fleets needed for an invasion, and move them into threatening positions before England can respond adequately. In the long term, they have more motivation to attack England, too: when you consider the most likely eighteen centers for each nation, there's a good chance that both France and Germany will be counting the three Home Island SCs among their targets. Clever French or German players will be well aware that England's closest eighteen targets include their own home centers, to say nothing of the neutrals they claim in 1901. If the Prime Minister sends too many of his forces away to fight Russia, they have every reason to see that as an invitation to stab while they can. If they do it skillfully, England simply won't be able to bring enough forces back in time to set up a workable defense.

When you look at it this way, it seems especially risky for England to launch an attack on Russia while leaving minimal guards against France and Germany. It's a bit like Turkey moving F Ank-Con-Aeg in 1901, using the build from Bulgaria for a new fleet in Smyrna, and then sailing straight for Naples while ignoring Austria and Russia!

Well, okay: maybe it isnít quite that bad. England does have some incentive to go for StP. He has several possible allies who may join him. He can spot the moves leading to a stab more easily. So an early English assault on Russia may be better compared to the Lepanto; itís a slow, high-risk, low-payoff gamble that can work out, but leaves forces overextended and the country vulnerable to a stab even when it succeeds.

I prefer the 'reverse Lepanto' analogy myself; I think itís an interesting comparison that underlines how risky the attack on Russia can be. Either way you look at it, the distances and logistics involved are similar. Prime Ministers would do well to consider that before deciding to throw everything northeast.

Russia can be a good ally

I find that analyzing each country's most likely eighteen centers for victory can be a useful exercise, because it gives you an idea of where each country is likely to go and what conflicts may arise in the long term. Paul Windsor does this exhaustively in his article Geography is Destiny, where he calculates the shortest routes to victory for each Power and extrapolates to make some interesting observations about the board. While I don't agree with all his conclusions (for one thing, he doesn't take conflict over neutrals into account!), I do think Paul makes some excellent points.

The first table in that article lists the eighteen supply centers closest to each Power's home centers, showing the distance in 'tempi' (i.e. moves from a home center). As I've already mentioned, the most likely eighteen centers for a successful England consist of everything north and west of the main stalemate line (England, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Bel/Hol, and Iberia) plus one other: Moscow, or Tunis. When you look at Russia, you have more choice; but the closest eighteen centers seem most likely to come from the Balkans (4), Austria (3), Turkey (3), Germany (3), and Scandinavia (3). Centers bordering on the North Sea (Lon, Edi, Bel, Hol) also appear in the third column, since they are theoretically only three moves away from St Petersburg. I personally tend to discount these last four — certainly Bel and Hol, at least — since the shortest path to them depends on a strong naval presence to force a way through the North Sea, and Russia can take centers more easily with armies elsewhere.

When you compare these two spheres of influence, there's some overlap in the North in Scandinavia, Germany, and around the North Sea (theoretically). However, Russia has other options. It's entirely possible for the Tsar to get eighteen from his home centers (4), the south (Austria + Turkey + Balkans = 10), and only four out of the six German and Scandinavian centers. When you compare that to the massive overlap between England's sphere and those of France or Germany (15 or more SCs), Russia represents minimal conflict.

In practical terms, an alliance of England and Russia has an opportunity to cooperate against a mutual neighbor, and then head in opposite directions where they won't get in each other's way. When you think about it, that's a fair description of the dreaded Russo-Turkish Juggernaut alliance, too. If the Tsar can ally profitably with one Wicked Witch, why not the other? Can an RE alliance be as successful as the infamous RT?

From England's perspective, there are quite a few points in favor of it.

For one thing, there's Germany. If war with the Reich is on the horizon, England can use a strong land-based ally to help against the Kaiser. Austria, France, and Russia are all possible choices, since they too are German neighbors. However, there are potential problems with each of them. Austria is usually too focused on the south to commit to an anti-German campaign early in the game. France is more effective — but is also a likely future rival who poses a great potential threat to the Home Islands. Helping the Republic grow is not necessarily in England's best interests!

Russia does also represent a possible threat to England in the long run, and that should certainly not be ignored; but for many reasons I've already mentioned, I think the Tsar represents the lesser danger. Russia is farther away, is less likely to follow a naval policy, and has easier alternative routes for expansion. He also has other neighbors to worry about, who generally pose more of a threat to him. England can even apply to them for help if necessary: Austria and/or Turkey may not be very happy to see Russia enjoying a free hand in the north, and may work actively to prevent it.

In the longer term, an ER alliance can give each partner influence in an area of the board where they cannot intervene directly. This is an advantage that alliance with Germany or France doesn't really provide, certainly not to the same extent. For example: if Turkey becomes large enough to be a threat to win, there generally isn't anything the Prime Minister can do directly to stop him. But by giving Russia the room and resources in the north that he needs to focus on the south, England may be able to prevent the Sultan from claiming victory. Conversely, if Russia has already been eliminated by the time the Sultan makes his big push for victory, that's a major obstacle removed from Turkey's path. So under the right circumstances, it can be to England's advantage to see Russia prosper.

The Case for Peace: View from the Winter Palace

We've gone over several reasons why England may want to establish peace, or even an active alliance, with Russia. But what about the other side of the equation? Does Russia benefit equally? Russia's motives for peace are often similar to, but sometimes slightly different from, England's. They can include:

Southern/central expansion is easier and offers more

Count the centers available in Scandinavia/Germany (6), and compare them with the number found in Austria/Balkans/Turkey (10). That's four more in the south, just to start.

Admittedly, there's as much competition in the Balkans as in the north; England, Germany, and France all have an interest in those six centers, while Austria, Turkey, and Italy are likely rivals for the southern ten. But there are few reasons why southern expansion can be the easier path for Russia:

Naturally, none of this means that Russia should ignore the north completely. It's not as though the Tsar has to choose one direction or the other; one of the advantages of Russia is the potential to advance on different fronts at once. However, it does put the issues into a new perspective, and indicates where Russian efforts may pay off most.

To use terms from my analysis of England: the southern centers are more accessible, and offer better prospects for expansion. And since Russia naturally straddles the main stalemate line, the Tsar doesn't have to worry about it as much; he has greater latitude in deciding which direction to focus his attention.

An early northern offensive takes too many units

Just as for England, it takes a lot of units for Russia to dominate Scandinavia. The Tsar will need at least three (F Swe, A Fin, U StP) to dislodge England from Norway. Add to that possible defensive support from Moscow to protect against an English counter-attack on StP. The Tsar may also need aid from France or Germany to cut or divert England's defensive support of Nwy from yet another fleet in Nth.

Even after capturing the center, Russia may have to keep three or four units in position to defend against English counter-attacks on Nwy, not to mention a possible German stab into Sweden. This defensive commitment may tie up Russian units for quite a while, because finishing off England is generally beyond Russia's capability early in the game. Building fleets is risky for the Tsar; each navy raised in StP is a unit that can never be used to defend Warsaw, Moscow, or Sevastopol. While that doesn't mean Russia should never build fleets in 1901, it does mean the Tsar has to evaluate his situation, and weigh the costs and benefits carefully. Early on Russia just can't build many fleets in StP without risking — indeed, inviting — an attack on his other home centers.

Of course, the conquest of England can be completed by a French or German ally. But in that case, Russia doesn't get much out of it. France and/or Germany reap the main rewards; and that can come back to haunt the Tsar later. So is fighting England first worth it?

Well, possibly, if the alternative means losing StP: it's a home center, and the Tsar does need to protect his position straddling the stalemate line. But even there, it depends on the other threats Russia faces. An English fleet in StP is no threat to other Russian home centers, while German armies in Pru and Sil are a terrible menace. Which leads to the next item…

England is the least of Russia's worries

Most countries on the Diplomacy map have three countries that they consider neighbors. Germany and Austria each have four, but are generally able to count on peace with each other. But Russia has four active neighbors, each of whom can plausibly fight with the Tsar fairly early on in the game. Out of these four — England, Germany, Austria, and Turkey — which poses the least threat to Russia's home centers?

We've already established that England is primarily a naval power, with little chance of forcing his way south of StP early in the game even if he tries. And we've already seen that England's easiest and fastest path to victory overlaps only minimally with that of Russia.

When you compare Russia's sphere of interest with those of Germany, Austria, or Turkey, you can see that there's a lot more potential conflict with any one of these three. Germany competes with Russia for all the centers England does, and then some. Austria and Turkey overlap with Russia throughout the south, including Russian home centers; and to the Sultan, St Petersburg represents the closest center on the other side of the stalemate line. Add to all that the fact that these Powers all can easily field armies capable of taking Moscow and Warsaw, and it's evident that in the long term they are major threats to Russian survival. Consequently, if he has a choice it makes a lot of sense for the Tsar to direct his strategic and diplomatic efforts against them first.

England can be a good ally too

Finally, there's the flip side of the ally argument: just as Russia can work with England and offer influence in a completely different area of the board, England can do the same for Russia.

The earlier section already covered the arguments about cooperation vs Germany, the compatibility of land-based vs naval powers, and extending influence into another area of the board. These are all equally valid from the Russian point of view. However, there's one additional matter that deserves special mention: the natural power of France.

There's a natural tendency to see the French Republic as a natural ally for Tsarist Russia, just as it was historically. France is on the other side of both Germany and England, and thus an important potential ally against two of Russia's neighbors. Being on the other side of the board, France's sphere of influence overlaps with Russia's only minimally. These are all very good reasons why Russia can benefit from working with France. However, a careful Tsar also has to consider the long term; and in the long term, a strong France is a major contender to win the game.

To date, France's performance in Diplomacy has been outstanding (for detailed analysis, have another look at the Geography is Destiny article and the related pages it links to, or Baron Powell's Introduction to the 1900 variant and discussion of France in the 1900 variant). When you rank each country's results, France consistently vies with Russia for the top spot. The Republic enjoys many natural advantages: uncontested neutrals in Iberia, a position along a defensible edge of the board and astride the stalemate line, and the ability to send fleets back and forth through the Straits of Gibraltar to whichever front needs them most. Wisely managed, these advantages give France a substantial edge in the struggle for eighteen centers. So while France may not pose an immediate or even mid-term threat to Russia's security, a wise Tsar must still ensure that the Republic doesn't grow too large.

As one of France's natural competitors, England can be a valuable ally in the struggle to keep France down to size. If England is eliminated, France is likely to gain the most. Not only may France grow by one or more English home centers; the country's northern frontier is secured, and the President is in position to dominate the entire western edge of the board. So if the Tsar can keep the PM friendly, England can serve as a much-needed counterweight to one of Russia's main rivals.

Making it work

Assuming that both England and Russia agree that peace is in their mutual interest, how can they bring it about? What are the steps they have to take to set up a workable arrangement that suits both of them?

Obviously there are a lot of variables to consider. However, the basic goal is to remove or lessen the causes that encourage England and Russia to fight each other, so they'll be free to focus their attentions elsewhere. This means respecting each other's need for growth and security, and agreeing over the division of Scandinavia.

Putting Scandinavia aside for the moment, a final agreement may include some or all of the following provisions:

England is thus guaranteed Norway even if he doesn't have two fleets bordering on it in F1901. This may lead the Prime Minister to open with F Lon-Eng and F Edi-Nth instead, in hopes of establishing a bridgehead in Belgium. Even if he goes for the Northern Opening he can take Norway with F Nwg alone, which leaves F Nth free to participate in an attempt on Belgium, Holland, or Denmark. And since Russia is building no additional fleets and carefully restricting the movement of the existing one, England should have the security needed to pursue growth on other fronts.

These concessions should go a long way toward dealing with England's concerns. In return, the Prime Minister should make concessions of his own. These may include:

If England and Russia can agree on these items, that should deal with the larger strategic reasons why they would go to war. England will be better able to expand in other directions, which will give Russia security in the north. Since StP has been removed from the equation, it also reduces the problem of Scandinavia to a single center on either side. That's still no guarantee the two parties will agree, of course: alliances have certainly foundered before for as little cause, or even less. But it does lower the stakes, which should make it easier to reach an accord.

So, to business: the division of Scandinavia.

There are basically three possible long-term configurations for England and Russia to consider:

  1. Equal division: they each keep the centers taken in 1901, or swap them
  2. Russia takes both Nwy and Swe
  3. England takes both Nwy and Swe
At first glance, the first option (equal division) may seem like the only mutually acceptable one. Why should either country give up a center to the other?

Believe it or not, there can be good reasons. As with so many things in Diplomacy, it depends on the situation: the personalities of all the players, what the other Powers are up to, how closely England and Russia intend to cooperate, and the overall strategies they each intend to pursue.

Option 1: Equal Division

Assuming that England and Russia manage to take Nwy and Swe respectively in 1901, there's no reason why they can't accept the status quo in the long term. If they've agreed on the other points above, that should remove some of the potential friction between them. The very process of discussion may make them trust each other more, leaving the door open for a complete demilitarization of the area. Nonetheless, I see two possible disadvantages to this scenario.

The first is that it doesn't really address the basic problem: it's still awkward to have an English center stuck in between two Russian centers. If Russia builds A StP that still leaves a possible 2-unit attack on Nwy, but if he leaves it open then England may slip into StP. Similarly, if England demilitarizes Norway, there's a danger that Russia will take it.

There's also the problem of a German assault on Sweden in 1902: if the Kaiser sends a fleet in to the Baltic, how will Russia be able to defend it? Will England keep F Nwy in position to support Swe in place? Will Russia instead order A StP-Fin in S1902? There are a lot of moves that will have to be coordinated, and these are all issues that will have to be discussed. With enough goodwill it should work out, but it will still be complex.

If Russia and England manage to settle it all, that may lead to the second difficulty: the careful maneuvering required to maintain an equal division will demonstrate to the entire board that England and Russia are working together. This isn't necessarily a problem at all: if both partners are already cooperating against Germany, the true state of affairs will be obvious anyway. Still, it's another point to be considered.

If England and Russia want to keep an equal division but aren't happy with the 1901 status quo, they may agree to swap the two centers. This gets the English unit away from StP, and makes it more convenient for England to pursue operations against Denmark if the PM wishes. If Russia moves into Nwy with A StP (while withdrawing F Swe to Bot, say) this does leave the question of what to do with the Russian fleet: Germany is its logical target, but the Tsar may not be ready to take on his Teutonic cousin. However, this is a minor concern; swapping Nwy and Swe may prove the more attractive option.

Option 2: Cossacks in Kristiania

Although an equal division seems fair, in the longer term it may be simpler and more stable for one of the two partners to give up the Scandinavian centers altogether. So what about letting Russia take both?

I'm sure most Prime Ministers' initial gut reaction to this idea will consist of horror: but let's have a closer look before we reject it out of hand.

As stated earlier, Norway is the only neutral center that England can be sure of claiming in 1901. And there's no denying that early growth is important; there's no point in having a brilliant game-long strategy if you don't survive long enough to use it.

However, weíve also established that itís important for England to establish a permanent presence on the other side of the main stalemate line as soon as possible, and an early drive north isnít really the best way to do that. From this point of view, the Prime Minister may not want to waste time and effort defending Norway against Russia or Germany, so long as England has an opportunity to grow elsewhere and is left free to do so. He may be willing to cede Norway to Russia completely in exchange for something else: support into Denmark, intervention against a hostile Kaiser, or guaranteed Russian neutrality during an Anglo-French war.

For our purposes, under the terms where Russia agrees not to order A Mos-StP, England is already guaranteed to take Norway in 1901 if he wants it: and it's assumed that there will be no hostile Russian takeover later. Still, the Prime Minister may agree to hand the center over voluntarily in exchange for any of the help listed above if it isn't otherwise forthcoming. Or if the two have already agreed to divide Germany evenly, it can be a simple matter to let England take an extra German home center in return for Norway.

There's another factor here that both England and Russia should be aware of: Early Leader Syndrome. An England that holds both Nwy and Swe appears to be doing well, but a Russia that holds both centers looks monstrous. Other Powers will be more inclined to see him as a threat — especially Germany, and especially if Russia is doing well in the south. This can work to England's advantage, and Russia's detriment. A Prime Minister who wants the Kaiser's attention focused firmly elsewhere may find that a mass of white units looming north of Germany does the trick… and the Tsar should be aware of this danger before he leaps to accept the offer.

Finally, there's the question of how things are going in the Balkans. Again, if any country or alliance is on the verge of dominating the south, a prosperous England may be willing to let the Tsar hold onto Norway in order to fuel his southern armies. This can be particularly true if England intends to pursue an early Mediterranean strategy: the more Turkey and Italy focus on Russian units in the Balkans, the less chance they'll resist English advances past Gibraltar before it's too late.

My own feeling is that giving up Norway is not likely to be any Prime Minister's first choice (though I have seen it happen!); he's more likely to accept it grudgingly as part of a peace settlement after an Anglo-Russian war. Even that doesn't have to be a disaster: as long as the Tsar occupies Norway with an army rather than a fleet, England can be reasonably confident that he'll stop there. And in the long run, that's the most important thing.

Option 3: Royal Navy in Stockholm

So what about the opposite case? Under what circumstances would a responsible Tsar consider yielding Sweden to England?

Well, to begin with, Russian capture of Sweden isn't guaranteed. Throughout this article I've been more or less assuming that Germany won't stop it, but that isn't necessarily true. It's extremely common for the Kaiser to open with F Kie-Den; and from there F Den-Swe will prevent Russia from claiming the center, while still grabbing a build for the Reich.

Of course, Tsars tend to view such a move as a hostile action; so the Kaiser isn't likely to bounce in Sweden unless he's already decided on war with Russia. He's more likely to use the threat of the move as leverage to get Russia to act in a certain way — to keep out of Prussia and Silesia, to leave Austria alone, or even to order A Mos-StP. However, a Tsar isn't always responsive to such demands, and the Kaiser always has the option of ordering to Sweden regardless.

So if the Tsar finds himself bounced by a hostile Germany, he has no foothold in Scandinavia to begin with. If he is already allied with England, he may apply to the Prime Minister for help taking Sweden in S1902. However, if not, he may be able to gain that very alliance by offering to support England into the center instead.

If England accepts in good faith this prevents an immediate attack on St Petersburg, and can cause problems between England and Germany. Not only does it make it more difficult for the Kaiser to take Sweden for himself; it also provides a clear path for English expansion to continue down the North Sea coast to Denmark and Kiel — especially if England managed to get a foothold in Belgium (or Holland) in Fall 1901. Even if the Prime Minister is content to stop at Swe, that doesn't mean Germany is willing to let him keep it. By getting out of Scandinavia, Russia increases the chances that England and Germany will fight each other.

This is true even if Germany doesn't prevent F Bot-Swe in Fall 1901, so if he really wants to generate EG friction the Tsar may be willing to give Sweden up to England voluntarily anyway! Of course, even if he is willing to yield the center for free, he doesn't have to let the Prime Minister know it. He can still ask for something in return: an active alliance against Germany, support into Denmark or a German home center, or simple peace on the northern front while he pursues growth elsewhere.

As mentioned elsewhere it can be in Russia's interest to have England prosper even if Germany isn't the main target. If France is doing well, or if Italy has reached the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, the Tsar may want to prop England up for the same reasons the Prime Minister would consider helping Russia resist a southern Power.

It's also worth noting that for Russia, losing Sweden can have the opposite effect from Early Leader Syndrome. The country suddenly looks like it's lost significantly on the northern front, even though Sweden is only one supply center. The Tsar can use this perception to his advantage, presenting Russia as relatively weak and unthreatening, or pretending to be overly focused on the north so he can retake his 'rightful centers' of Swe and Nwy, since he obviously can't afford to go without them. The truth is that without Sweden his strategic position isn't significantly harmed; Russia has other avenues for expansion, and as long as StP is secure the Tsar preserves both his northern fleet-building capability, and his position astride the stalemate line. However, that may not be how others see it!

Finally, it's also important to note that in this scenario it can be relatively easy to demilitarize Scandinavia. Remember, StP has two coasts; if the Tsar retreats his fleet back to StP/sc, it presents no threat to Norway at all. This makes it relatively simple for England to withdraw units from Nwy entirely, which then lets Russia move F StP/sc out of StP to Bot or Lvn. The number of units on the mutual border drops down to zero with little risk, which benefits both.


By now, you should be utterly convinced that peace between England and Russia is the only way to go. It's a great idea, and it's entirely feasible. After this article is published, we will never see an early Anglo-Russian war again, right? Harmony in the north is now guaranteed!

Well, no. Of course not.

The game of Diplomacy is far too flexible for "always" or "never". In any particular game, there can be plenty of perfectly valid reasons for England and Russia to fight early on that will outweigh all the reasons why they shouldn't. There will still be players who don't agree with my points, or who just feel more comfortable going for a northern war first. Some of them will even set you up for a stab by pointing at this article and saying "let's be allies!" (and when that happens, don't say I didn't warn you). I still sincerely believe that early war between England and Russia is generally a bad idea; but I can't promise that it will never happen, or that it will never work out well for the aggressor when it does. That isn't really the point.

The point is that by being aware of the strategic arguments against an early Anglo-Russian war, players can handle the whole issue more effectively. In any given game this might mean going for an active ER alliance right away, or making peace quickly after an inconclusive northern war, or even just using the arguments to get a better deal from Germany. What's important is less what players actually do, and more that they fully understand why they're doing it and what's likely to happen because of it. So the next time you find yourself in charge of the navy blue or snow white pieces, I hope you'll keep the larger issues in mind.

Historically, England and Russia were firm (if reluctant) allies several times. They joined forces against Napoleon, and in two World Wars: in all these cases, they won. In your next game of Diplomacy, maybe you can add to that count!

Charles Roburn

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