The Safety of France
UNTIL the month of September 1938, France’s foreign policy has consistently moved along well-defined lines. Its object was the maintenance of the peace treaties signed in 1919 and 1920: the treaties of Versailles, St. Germain, Trianon, and Neuilly. All the ministers of foreign affairs who, during the last twenty years, have taken charge of the Quai d’Orsay were strongly of opinion that their country’s major interest was to support the Slav states formed or enlarged from the ruins of the four empires which had crumbled under the steady pressure of the Allied and Associated Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey. Notwithstanding the criticism which, for so long, has been directed against that static policy, and the arguments put forward in favor of a drastic revision of the war settlement, a very good case can, in our judgment, be made for that steadfastness of French diplomacy.
We must never forget that the world conflict which broke out in 1914 really arose from the oppression of Slav majorities by the German and Magyar minorities in control of Austria-Hungary and of the house of Hapsburg in application of the dualist pact of 1867, which checked the natural evolution of the great Danubian empire towards a federal union of some kind. The rulers of Vienna, under the pressure of their German and Magyar privileged subjects, and because they were afraid lest the Slav states, elated by the victory they had won against Turkey in 1912, should sooner or later bring about the revolt of the discontented races within their borders, were forced, to a greater and greater extent, to regard the Hohenzollerns as their protectors, to turn towards them whenever they were confronted with a serious difficulty, and to take their cue from them; the whole system worked as though a Pan-Germanic ‘Mitteleuropa’ had already been in existence.
But German policy, on the eve of the Great War, was at work far beyond the countries watered by the Danube and its tributaries. The Bagdad railway was being built in all haste, the whole of Anatolia was seemingly doomed to be transformed into a German dominion (the British, Russian, and French Governments had given up all hope of resisting), and a German military mission had practically taken command of the Turkish army. Between Berlin and London another agreement had been arrived at for the eventual partition of the Portuguese colonies (the first in date had been negotiated in 1898). As against that formidable expansion of the Germanic power, the loose Triple Entente between France, England, and Russia could be described only as a very inadequate barrier; and, moreover, there were signs that Tsar Nicholas II and his advisers might surrender rather than engage in a struggle which bade fair to end in a social upheaval; there were already prophets of the Russian Revolution. A German diplomat told his government, in the summer of 1914, that it had better refrain from resorting to violence, as the concessions which could be wrested from the British Government were practically unbounded.
The German dream which had so nearly come true gradually evaporated on the battlefields, because in July 1914 the French Republic, under the strong leadership of Poincaré, then the head of the state, did not hesitate to carry out her obligations under the treaty of defensive alliance signed with Russia in 1892, and because the violation of Belgium’s guaranteed neutrality by the German armies roused British opinion to such a degree that the London Cabinet realized the hour had struck to pull down incipient German hegemony and chose to enter the struggle by the side of France. The war which went on for fiftyone months was essentially a war for the succession of Austria. The Europe that issued from it was formed of national communities freed from imperial moulds. In Central and Eastern Europe, it is true, the various national groups, mainly the result of German and Magyar colonization among the Slavs, were so hopelessly mixed up that the boundaries of the new states had to diverge, in many cases, from the correct ethnic frontier (exchanges of populations — then an undreamed-of procedure — would have supplied a more acceptable alternative solution), and besides, economic and strategic considerations could not be ruled out of account. But none the less the number of Europeans who, from 1918 onwards, had to live under an alien domination was reduced nearly to the incompressible limit.
The leadership of the politically rejuvenated continent devolved upon France, which is not an empire (except, beyond the seas, in the colonial conception of the word), but a compact national state where no heterogeneous element, no ethnic dissenters, are included. A League of Nations was formed, and its aim was to provide a machinery whereby future conflicts could be solved by other means than the use of brutal force. However, since it could not be presumed that nobody would attempt a warlike aggression under the new order of things and that international law would be universally respected, penal clauses (the famous Article 16) had to be inserted in the Covenant; and since it would have been futile to expect that every one of the fifty-odd member states would be ready to incur the risks involved in the enforcement of the economic and military sanctions, it was necessary to recognize that the Powers most directly interested in the preservation of the political and territorial structure of Europe should bind themselves by pacts of mutual assistance.
Such was the origin of the ‘French system’ of post-war alliances which was opened up by the treaty with Poland and was developed to cover Czechoslovakia (1924) and Soviet Russia (1935). The treaties of the Little Entente, intended to keep in order Hungary; the PolishRumanian alliance, directed, on the whole, against Moscow; and the treaties of diplomatic consultation between Paris, Belgrade, and Bucharest (those did not entail military obligations) were all more or less conceived in that spirit. The articles in the Treaty of Versailles about the demilitarization of the Rhineland confirmed later on in the Rhineland pact of Locarno (October 16, 1925) had the practical result of investing France with a military preponderance in the general interest of the small nations.
Such was the new Europe as built up at Versailles and in the international conferences which succeeded each other for twelve solid years. Its decline dates from the Abyssinian War. (The consequences of the Sino-Japanese War of 1931 would not have been far-reaching, in that respect, if the international law had been upheld against the Fascist Government in Rome; and it can be observed that, conversely, any drastic steps taken to keep the Japanese Empire within bounds would not have failed to stimulate the subversive factors at work in Europe, owing to the fact that British forces would have been busy in the East.) The reoccupation by the Reichswehr of the Rhineland districts is another landmark to record in that decay of what is called ‘collective security.’ The suppression of Austria’s independence and, above all, the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, in September 1938, have struck the last blow at the whole fabric.
Now, without any exaggeration whatever, it is possible to contend that, in September 1938, the Western Powers retroactively lost the war of 1914-1918, and that they find themselves, on the whole, in a worse position than a quarter of a century ago. In the Anglo-French conference which met in London on the twenty-ninth of April, the British ministers had more or less grudgingly made up their minds to stand by the French Government if the latter was called upon to resort to arms to safeguard Czechoslovakia’s territorial integrity and national independence. Thus Great Britain, pledged by a defensive alliance that arose from the ruins of the Rhineland pact of Locarno to defend France’s frontier against an unprovoked attack by Germany, had practically adhered to the ‘French system’ set up for the upholding of the status quo in Central Europe. Czechoslovakia, the direct ally of France and the indirect ally of Great Britain, has nevertheless been abandoned and delivered to the tender mercies of Hitlerian Germany, Poland, and Hungary. Both Western Powers have shown in a striking manner that they were ready to surrender to the German Reich and its associates rather than to fight.
As a consequence, it is not easy to perceive, now, where the Germanic tide can be dammed. The body of the Czechoslovak nation, after the surgical operation that has been performed upon it, can, at the most, survive in a condition of abject vassality. Collective security, under any conceivable form, has vanished altogether; and, left to themselves, such countries as Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rumania, will have no alternative left but to enter into bilateral agreements of a political and economic nature with the Nazi dictator. From 1936, and even perhaps from an earlier date, the various countries had become skeptical as to the material assistance that would be actually lent to them in an emergency, and they had tried to allay their apprehension through embarking upon a policy of reinsurance with Berlin and Rome, which, in the case of Poland at any rate, was developed to the length of active complicity under the aegis of anti-Communism.
Henceforward, they may be compelled to barter their independence against controlled autonomy. Soviet Russia, of course, stands behind them, and normally ought to be expected to back them all against the National Socialist foe. But the Stalinist dictatorship has not yet emerged from its fundamental crisis; all kinds of social prejudices, in addition to its own doings, strive to keep it in moral isolation; and the government of Moscow has made it clear, once for all, particularly by joining hands with the French Republic in May 1935, that it would never intervene in a European conflict except after the Western Powers had taken the initiative. As to Fascist Italy, she concentrates upon open or concealed schemes of conquest in the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, and she is probably determined to cast her lot with Germany to the end. Moreover, her economic distress makes it hardly possible for her to relax the bond with her stronger partner unless she gives up all her hopes of aggrandizement, a solution that no totalitarian state can safely contemplate.
It is being said by many that, in truth, the task assumed by the French and British Cabinets, to keep alive the Europe of 1919, was ultra vires and, as demonstrated by the Runciman report of September 21, in direct contradiction to the very nature of things. That argument need not be taken very seriously. With due respect to Lord Runciman, none can claim for him the qualification of an expert in Central European politics, and his report is undermined by many inconsistencies. He set himself to work with the naive idea, largely entertained in England and America, that political solutions can be evolved which are apt to last on account of their intrinsic merits and do not require the backing of military power to perpetuate themselves. Most censors of the Versailles settlement have behaved like Lord Runciman. They believe that in the European continent, as we see it to-day, conflicting interests might be harmonized in such a manner as to give rise to an equilibrium which would be satisfactory to everyone concerned and would not need occasionally to be propped up by force. It is nothing more than a delusion. The whole history of Europe can be accounted for by a continuous struggle, either violent or latent, between a single nation aspiring to hegemony and a group of nations pooling their resources to keep a balance of power. A moral element may have asserted itself with effects not to be despised on the side of the states which fought for the ’freedom’ of the continent — for the liberiés européennes, to quote the old expression. But those libertés européennes never had the better of the contest otherwise than by a superiority of armament or man power.
For fully sixteen years, France and Great Britain enjoyed that superiority. They had only to raise a finger to hold German revenge in check. In March 1936, to give a single instance of the opportunities which were theirs, the generals in command of the Reichswehr had been instructed, as soon as the French military reaction had begun to materialize, to withdraw from the Rhineland districts they had been ordered to invade. Thus, without even having to fire a shot, France was in a position to give a new lease of life to the Europe of 1919. It would not be so easy to discover in the past a territorial and political order of things the continuation and permanence of which could be bought at such a cheap price. To maintain itself, the new German Empire now in formation will have to be much more drastic and venturesome in its methods: in the background and even in the foreground, it must keep t he Reichswehr and the state police very busy indeed.
The conclusion to be drawn from the above is that neither France nor Great Britain has shown herself morally and materially fit to keep alive the Europe they themselves had created at a gigantic expense of blood and treasure. They are to be compared to an investor who has sunk huge sums of money in building up an industrial plan and yet, later on, lets it go to the dogs rather than disburse another five-pound note. To-day they arc called upon to carry out a much more exacting task.
Hitler’s Germany last summer could hope to win in a war only by making the most of the superiority of her air forces. Had the military campaign lasted more than three or four months, had she failed to bring about, as the outcome of a succession of well-planned air raids, the military and industrial dislocation of the French and British nations, she was doomed to defeat. She could not contemplate prolonged hostilities: the limited supplies available to her forbade it.
In a not too distant future she may have appropriated the resources of Central and Southeastern Europe to such a degree that she will be able to put the Western Powers to a still more dreadful test than would have been the case, last September, during the initial period of warfare. Such a possibility assumes that the Western Powers do not go down at the outset, and that they succeed in marshaling not only the abundance of raw materials and manufactured articles of warlike use which the command of the sea and American sympathy put within their grasp, but also enough men and arms, before it is too late, to compete in battle on equal terms. Therefore the preparations that the Western Powers will have to complete within the next twelve months or so, if they are not to fall hopelessly behind Germany’s rising military power, do not bear any comparison, unfortunately, with the exertions that would have sufficed, up to a few months ago, to enable them to hold their own.
Following upon the disaster suffered in Munich, the British and the French ministers go about repeating that a revision of the principles upon which both countries’ foreign policy has been carried out must be quickly undertaken. An easy phrase, a catchword which cannot lead very far. It is not possible for any clear-minded man to deceive himself about it for very long. MM. Daladier and Bonnet endeavored to define the new course of action that could be adopted, in the speeches which they delivered before the congress of the Radical-Socialist Party in Marseilles, on October 27 and 29 respectively; and as usual Mr. Neville Chamberlain volunteered to give much fuller explanations to the House of Commons on the first and second of November. Conciliation with Germany and Italy — such is the motto emphasized by all.
A new era of European peace has been opened up in Munich, they said, and there is no reason why what occurred in Munich on September 29 and 30 should not repeat itself until all the problems in suspense between the Western Powers on the one side, and the Berlin-Rome Axis on the other, have been disposed of. That phrase is meaningless unless it should be believed that the Munich settlement partook of the nature of a compromise and was not merely the translation into diplomatic terms of the superior military power which, implicitly, Germany was recognized to possess.
Are we to assume that the French and British signatories of the Munich settlement are really so proud of their achievement that they wish to renew it at the first opportunity? No, they are not sincere. They do not express what they have at the bottom of their hearts. For political purposes they are weak enough to exploit the feeling of relief which very naturally spread among the multitude when it heard that this time it would be saved the dreadful ordeal that, on September 27 and 28, seemed to be impending. When, on September 14, Mr. Chamberlain resolved to ask Herr Hitler to receive him in Berchtesgaden, a highly placed person in Downing Street exclaimed that he was going to Canossa. He is not such a fool as to have ignored what lay in store for him in the village on the Bavarian hills. In the airplane that brought M. Daladier back to Paris, after he had appended his signature to the Munich arrangement, he freely told his fellow travelers, the head officials of the ministry of foreign affairs, about the anxiety he felt at the idea of having to meet the crowd in the streets of Paris. Bigger statesmen, when the cheering of the populace first struck their ears, would have shouted: ‘This is not the proper hour for popular rejoicing! We could not behave otherwise than we have, but, from what has taken place, let us learn the lesson that we must unite more closely and work harder!’
The British Prime Minister and the French President of the Council have virtually become the prisoners of the mendacious interpretation of the Munich agreement they have been compelled to spread for the sake of saving their own ministerial skins. At any rate, the optimism that the flattery of the surrounding politicians may perhaps, later on, have inspired in them will not withstand the test to which it will be put once the negotiations they intend to start with the totalitarian states have taken shape.
They encourage people to think that France and England, having lost their influence in Central and Southeastern Europe, can make up for it through concentrating upon their oversea empires and turning to better account the immeasurable wealth these contain. The wise thing to do, they add in a half voice, will be to retrocede to Germany, in whole or in part, the colonies that were taken from her in 1919; and, as a counterpart, Great Britain and France will be left in quiet enjoyment of their possessions. According to the same trend of thought an extra price will have to be paid, of course, to transform Italy into a contented nation, and it is even possible that the extra price will have to be handed down first, for the purpose of making Signor Mussolini less particular about the necessity of upholding his connection with Herr Hitler, which would abate German claims in proportion. But no valid reason can be detected to substantiate that all too convenient conception.
The hard fact is that the Spanish civil war has given, and still gives, Germany and Italy a pretext to seize for themselves points of strategic vantage in the western Mediterranean; that lines of communications essential to the French and British Governments are heavily mortgaged; and that the transfer to Germany and Italy of African territories would further increase their strangle hold, especially if the Togo and Cameroons were thrown into the bargain, since the Berlin-Rome Axis of military offensive would then be given a fair chance to prolong itself up to the Gulf of Guinea, across Libya and the area of Lake Chad, with dangerous results to British and French freedom of movement in the Atlantic Ocean.
Anyattemptatan all-round settlement with both dictatorships would be sure to concern the limitation of air and land armaments, and this subject is fraught with still more perilous possibilities. The Berlin and Rome Governments, which are deeply afraid of the French and British programmes of armaments and are determined to retain the advance they have won as regards their aerial armies (vide the Saarbrücken and Weimar speeches of October 9 and November 6 and countless pronouncements and press articles in both countries), would make it an absolute condition that the present distribution of forces should be ‘crystallized,’ above all, by the means of qualitative limitations. Thus, at one single stroke, would be canceled all the French and British ‘prototypes’ (aeroplanes, artillery guns, tanks, and so forth) which already give much food for thought to the would-be aggressors.
Qualitative limitations, in every domain, are certain to redound to the advantage of the states which, on account of their internal régime, are at liberty to appoint in advance a date for the attack on their neighbors, and, having at their disposal extensive industrial equipment, are able secretly to provide themselves with the very arms that their victims, respectful of international contracts, would not be entitled to have. It goes without saying that all Frenchmen and British want to arrange for a modus vivendi with the great dictatorial states in a way consonant with their dignity and their vital interests. But were those arrangements to be such as to place them under the compulsion to surrender, as they have had to surrender in Munich, every time a problem of magnitude crops up, they would, indeed, be changed into Powers with ‘limited interests ’ — limited interests that would gradually shrink. Willingly or unwillingly, they would have to join the group of the ‘secondary Powers,’ a group which so far has not fared badly because its members indirectly benefited by the strength of the British Commonwealth and of the French nation — the ownership by Belgium, Holland, and Portugal of vast and rich territories outside Europe cannot be accounted for otherwise.
All these explanations lead to the conclusion that, in the new circumstances of the time, France and Great Britain can achieve very little by diplomacy as long as they have not provided themselves with military establishments on a scale comparable with those of Germany and Italy, and, moreover, as long as the moral mobilization of their people has not been taken in hand in all earnestness. As regards Soviet Russia only is some scope left to diplomacy. Were the worst to come to the worst, could some kind of contribution to the common cause be expected from her? In the Stalinist dictatorship, would the conditions that exist allow this, or is the idea to be dismissed as a futile dream? It is of foremost importance that an answer should at last be returned to that query. As to the necessity of military preparations commensurate with those on the opposite side, that goes without saying, and there is no need to prove it. Safety cannot be sought except on the assumption that the Führer and even the Duce are men to make the most of all the brutal means at their command, and that any controversy arising with them must be treated as merely a problem of physics or mechanics. But the urgency of the moral mobilization of French and British citizens deserves to be underlined.
The diplomatic defeat inflicted upon the great democracies on September 30 originated in the divisions of public opinion in France and in England, in the reluctance of all to sanction the most restricted introduction of authoritative modes of government, and in the very general apprehension widely felt in the upper and middle classes lest an international conflict should act as the promoter of social revolution. Hence the complacency shown by so many, and so apparent in the press, to the Italian and
even to the German despot. Hence the distortion of all international developments, which was a striking feature of the French newspapers, prevented the masses from forming a correct notion of what was at stake, and made the popular ovation to M. Daladier, on his return from Munich, a very natural phenomenon.
In the forthcoming weeks two dominant questions will practically settle the current discussions about what France’s and Great Britain’s foreign policy ought to be. The first is in relation to the financial and economic management of France. Will M. Paul Reynaud, the new Minister of Finance, succeed in rehabilitating French industrial production, in combing out the social legislation of the Popular Front, in augmenting the national income to its level of ten years ago (it has fallen from 350 billion francs to 220) ? The French Army, in the words of General Gamelin, may still be likely to prove more efficient than the German, in the long run; the aerial power of France will nevertheless continue to be inadequate unless that rejuvenation of the economic body be quickly secured.
The other point concerns the British Government. Is it at least ready to reconsider its attitude towards the compulsory principle, to give precedence to the needs of national defense as against mercantile interests, and to lay down the foundations of an army on the continental model, as a set-off for the loss of the Czech Army to the cause of European freedom? Will Mr. Neville Chamberlain open his eyes to the European situation as it is and not disguise any longer the true significance of Munich? Will he be brought to understand that no acceptable bargain can be made with Berlin and Rome if his own country and France are not in a position to speak with ‘equal weight’ on the international forum?
France and Great Britain will join in the same fate, and the course either of them follows will affect the other.