BY PAUL REYNAUD
French Minister of Finance
AT the end of the sixth month of the war, it is interesting to take a few bearings and to compare the present situation of the allied democracies with the state of things that existed in January 1915, six months after the outbreak of the first World War.
This comparison must not be made with the idea of lulling oneself into blissful optimism and concluding that all is for the best, but to enable one to understand how the Franco-British coöperation has been able to utilize the experience of the past by pooling — at the outset of the hostilities — the military, economic, and financial resources of the two empires. Twenty-five years ago this had been achieved much later, very imperfectly and after many trials and errors. Today this merging of FrancoBritish resources is not only one of the main assets of the democracies in the pursuit of the war; it must also be considered as the necessary cornerstone of the economic reorganization which Europe must impose upon itself after the war if peace is to be something more than another brief armistice between two conflicts.
At the end of January 1915, as at the end of January 1940, Germany had known success in the East. The victory of Tannenberg was a terrible blow to the Russian army from which it never recovered completely, thus enabling Germany to maintain on the Western Front during the whole duration of the war three fourths of its forces. Half of Poland was occupied by German troops. Turkey and Bulgaria had sided with the Reich, and Rumania had adopted towards it an attitude of benevolent neutrality.
From Hamburg to Bagdad, the German and Austrian Empires formed a political, military, and economic bloc under the indisputable supremacy of Berlin. The German General Staff directed the operations of the coalition and controlled closely the execution of every move. The Reich and its allies had free access to, and disposal of, all the resources which are to be found in the territories which are now called Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Turkey, Irak, Syria, Palestine, and the Arabian Kingdoms.
In the West the Allies had suffered very serious reverses. In spite of the extraordinary comeback of the French at the Battle of the Marne, eleven French Departments remained occupied by the German troops. They included the major part of the metal and textile industries, 80 per cent of the coal, and all the ore supply of France. France had lost 460,000 killed. The British Expeditionary Force was partially destroyed (12,000 killed out of 73,000 enlisted). On the seas, Great Britain’s superiority over the German navy was not very great, and the blockade was far from being as methodical and as effective as it is today. To the solid bloc of Germany, Austria, and Turkey, firmly led by the Reich, the Allies could only oppose, as yet, a loose association, without unity of military command, without coöperation in the matters of economics and finance.
Copyright 1940, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.
With the Russians the maintenance of contact was difficult. Between the British and the French, coördination was difficult and limited. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the French Minister of Finance had not yet met. Out of the first encounter between Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Ribot nothing came but an expression of solidarity which was mostly window dressing.
Today the situation is entirely different. It is true that Germany’s successes in the East, during the month of September, were so rapid that it was materially impossible for France to achieve its mobilization before the Polish army was defeated. But in the West the Maginot Line assures the inviolability of the French frontier. France therefore retains the totality of its industrial and mining resources, which have been considerably increased since the return of Alsace and Lorraine.
On the seas, the British fleet, with the help of the French, has organized from the very outbreak of the war a tight blockade which bears both on the exports and on the imports of Germany. Thus the Reich is cut off from all countries beyond the seas.
But it is in the field of interallied cooperation that the change is most important and — in certain respects — really astonishing. It can indeed be said, and without any exaggeration, that the British and French democracies have started this war more closely united than they were in 1918 at the end of the last conflict.
After the United States entered the war in 1917, American public opinion understood admirably, and preached the necessity of, intimate coöperation between the Allies in all domains. Today it has not underestimated the importance of the Franco-British agreements of December 4, 1939. Moreover, and quite justly, the value of these agreements has been emphasized not only because they permit practical realizations for the present, but also on account of the hope they offer for the future.
For the conduct of the war, these agreements bring to the maximum the efficiency of the democratic coalition. The unity of naval and military command was already achieved before the outbreak of hostilities by a British Admiral and a French General. (In the last war this was done only in March 1918, three and a half years after the beginning of the war.)
The economic agreements pool the resources of the two empires. The FrancoBritish financial agreement of December 4 is the foundation of this new policy, and its instrument is the monetary solidarity between the two countries. It has been agreed that, as far as possible, the respective rates of the franc and the pound sterling will not be modified as long as the agreement lasts. In any event, no change can take place without previous understanding between both parties. On the other hand, both governments have agreed to provide one another with any amount of francs or pounds sterling that they may need without collateral or guarantee of any kind. In other words, the two currencies have become practically interchangeable. The franc can be used without restrictions in the sterling area, and the pound sterling in the whole of the French Empire. By this system, monetary factors can be no obstacle to Franco-British exchanges. Thus currency solidarity makes possible economic solidarity.
The latter is expressed both in the financial agreement of December 4 and in the agreement of Brighton signed in November. By these agreements it has been decided that the resources of the two allied empires could be used indiscriminately by both according to their requirements and needs.
To this end a completely new organization, called the Executive Committee, has been set up. It ensures distribution for the common good and is the medium through which purchases abroad are made for both countries. It also ensures the best possible utilization of the merchant marines of England and France.
Such a step has no precedent in history, and it should allow for the maximum development of the war potentialities of the Allies.
But at the same time it is the first step towards the future that has been taken in this war. It should serve as a precedent, if not as the foundation for the economic reorganization of Europe after the victory of the Allies.
Instead of proceeding from the general to the particular, as the League of Nations has attempted to do, this union between two nations having the same political ideals and similar civilizations, as well as comparable standards of living, will form a nucleus around which other peoples can aggregate. These hopeful and fruitful promises are strikingly emphasized by the clause of the agreement of December 4 which provides that its provisions will remain in force after the war and six months after the signature of the peace treaty.
It has become a trite saying, especially in the United States, that the Versailles Treaty was responsible for the misfortunes of Europe after the war. In the political partition of the Danubian Basin one has seen the origin of all the economic crises which have followed one another in Europe and in the world since 1918. From that premise, to ask for the revision of frontiers was but a step. This step was taken in England and in America immediately after the war by numerous and brilliant writers whose themes were later taken up by Hitler’s propaganda.
In reality, the authors of the Versailles Treaty did not commit injustices when they defined the political frontiers. The British Ambassador to the United States made it clear in his speech, at the Pilgrims’ Dinner in New York, that from the ethnological point of view the boundaries set down at Versailles were as fair as any that ever existed in Europe, and that it was difficult for an arbitrator of good faith to imagine any that could be much better. The error of the Versailles statesmen was in making the customs boundaries coincide with the political frontiers and in giving to the Successor States of Austro-Hungary and Russia total sovereignty in the matter of economics, when it would have been possible to impose upon them — at least within certain limits — a customs union. The makers of the Versailles Treaty could have found useful inspiration in the example of America, where forty-eight sovereign States, free to organize themselves from the political, administrative, and judiciary point of view, form nevertheless the greatest area of free trade opened to human activity that exists in the world.
It is in this direction that Europe must find its orientation if it does not want to perish. This is the fundamental condition to ensure economic progress and a rising standard of living for the people. Herein lies in the long run, for France itself, real security.
In signing the agreements of December, the two great Western democracies have contracted, for obvious reasons of common interest, to limit their rights of free decision in certain essential fields. They have admitted that they have no right to fix, without mutual agreement, the value of their currencies or the volume of their imports.
If such results have been achieved in countries as involved economically as Great Britain and France, why can’t the same thing be done in less powerful countries with a simpler economic structure? How much easier would then be the task of defining boundaries when the time comes to negotiate the future peace!
It is to the fulfillment of this program that the British and French democracies should convene all free people when the present conflict is over. And this applies not only to the people of Europe, but to those overseas, because the problem goes beyond the limits of the Old World, and because also the experience of the last twenty years has been a sufficient demonstration for the Republics of the New World that America cannot be prosperous when Europe is ruined.
It is natural, therefore, that the responsible leaders in England and in France should keep in mind the relation of this proposed European system to the American policy. The United States, through the various pronouncements of President Roosevelt and Mr. Cordell Hull, has already outlined the principles upon which the future economy of free countries should be built. The results achieved by Mr. Hull in the extension of commercial treaties, and the courageous reiteration of his policy in spite of the war, point the way to the future and necessary integration between the FrancoBritish program, with its far-reaching ramifications to the whole of Europe and to the far-flung empire of both countries, and the American or Pan-American conception. The peace of the world and the rational development of trade for the benefit of all people cannot be achieved without coöperation, not only between nations, but between continents.
It would be futile, however, to hope for the realization of such a program as long as Germany maintains its present régime and doctrines. The conception of free states, equal in rights, voluntarily limiting their sovereignty is the absolute antithesis of Frederic II’s Realpolitik, of Bismarck’s Pan-Germanism and of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialism. It presupposes equality between people in rights as well as in responsibilities. It excludes the belief in a chosen race of overlords and the Herrenvolk myth. It is incompatible with the thesis of the Lebensraum, in the name of which three countries have been annihilated by Germany in less than twenty months. To apply such a conception, it is not necessary to have recourse to forced migrations of people and to the frightful expulsions, the mass murders intended to wipe out the élite, which we see the Germans practising today in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and which they would certainly practise tomorrow if they won this war.
To achieve the policy of which England and France have already given the outline, and for which they have laid the basic foundation, it is not necessary that statesmen should become supermen. All that is required is that they should have common sense and should have learned in their own country tolerance and respect for human dignity. It is enough that they should know how to conciliate private interests with those of the community of people. In fact, it is enough that they should be democratic in their spirit and in their methods.
This is why the new Europe can only be built on the victory of the democracies.