The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: You ask me for an opinion in regard to the enclosed communication.8 I hesitate to give one because I do not agree with the premises on which these good people rest their argument for the commencement of a peace movement in this country.

I do not believe that it is true that the civil leaders of the belligerents would at the present time look with favor on action by the neutral nations; and, even if they did, the military branches of the belligerent governments dominate the situation, and, they favor a continuance of the war. It is the latter element which must be won over or we must wait until the civil branch becomes more influential in the conduct of affairs.

It is probable that Germany and Austria, now triumphant in the East and firmly entrenched in the West, would welcome a peace movement by neutrals. I should think that they would, for they are occupying extensive tracts of their enemies territories. While they are losing large numbers of men, the efficiency of their armies remains [Page 14]unimpaired. They are in the best possible situation to make a peace which will give them, in part at least, the fruits of their victories over Russia and their firm hold on the Belgian and French territory which they occupy. They are in a position to demand compensation in territory and treasure. This would unquestionably be their attitude if peace negotiations should be instituted at the present time. It would be the reasonable and logical attitude.

On the other hand the Allies would not, in my opinion, be willing to consider a peace under the present military conditions. Every reason which would induce the Teutons to make peace would make the Allies unwilling. With their enemy successfully occupying their lands they are in no position to make a peace which would be satisfactory to them. They would consider an agreement to negotiate an evidence of weakness, which I do not think they would admit even indirectly. I understand from several reliable sources that their hope is to continue the war in much the same way that it is being carried on now on the theory that Germany and Austria cannot stand the waste of men and resources resulting. The Allies believe that, while this process of wasting is going on, they will on the other hand be gaining in men and munitions and be prepared at the opportune time to force back their exhausted opponents within their own boundaries.

Whether they are drawing right conclusions or not makes no difference if they believe this will be the consequence of continuing hostilities. I am certain that they have this belief.

Manifestly a suggestion to enter into peace negotiations would be inacceptable at the present time to the Allies who are relying on time to equalize the military strength of the belligerents. I think that the attempt now would not only be rejected but resented.

If this estimate of the situation is correct and if we do not wish to destroy our helpfulness when an effort to restore peace offers some prospect of success, it would be folly to approach the belligerents on the subject at the present time.

As to the second premise, the fitness of the United States to initiate a peace appeal at the present time, I think that it is only needful to say that our usefulness for the future as an intermediary would undoubtedly be lost or greatly lessened by such a step, for the Allies would look upon our activity as in the interest of their foes, while the latter would be glad to use us as tools to secure their conquests and not as friends seeking the common good of all.

Holding these views I would strongly favor discouraging any neutral movement toward peace at the present time, because I believe it would fail and because, if it did fail, we would lose our influence for the future.

Faithfully yours,

Robert Lansing
  1. No copy of enclosure found in Department files.