The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: I feel that the time has arrived when it is wise to assume a definite policy in relation to the various nations which make up the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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The ill-considered disclosure of the “Sixtus letter”90 by M. Clemenceau has compelled the Emperor and Government of Austria-Hungary to take a position in regard to Germany which makes further peace approaches to them well-nigh impossible, while their attitude toward Italy will be, as a result, generous in order to influence the latter country to withdraw from the war, and so release Austrian troops for the front in Flanders.

Like all these questions arising at the present time I think that they should be considered always from the standpoint of winning the war. I do not believe that we should hesitate in changing a policy in the event that a change will contribute to our success provided it is not dishonorable or immoral.

In the present case it seems to me that the pertinent questions are the following:

Is there anything to be gained by giving support to the conception of an Austria-Hungary with substantially the same boundaries as those now existing?
Is there any peculiar advantage in encouraging the independence of the several nationalities such as the Czech, the Jugo-Slav, the Roumanian, &c, and if so, ought we not to sanction the national movements of these various elements?
Should we or should we not openly proclaim that the various nationalities subject to the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary ought to have the privilege of self-determination as to their political affiliations?
In brief, should we or should we not favor the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into its component parts and a union of these parts, or certain of them, based upon self-determination?

It seems to me that the time has come when these questions should be answered.

If we are to check the effect of the possible bribe of territory which will doubtless be offered to Italy, is not the most efficacious way to offset this inducement to declare that the aspirations of the subject nations of Austria-Hungary should be determined by the people of those nations and not by the power which has compelled their submission? Italy in such circumstances will undoubtedly consider the possibility of obtaining far greater concessions than Austria-Hungary can offer. She will therefore remain true to the common cause. Furthermore the revolutionary spirit of the nationalities concerned would be given a new hope. Unquestionably a revolution or its possibility in the Empire would be advantageous. Ought we or ought we not to encourage the movement by giving recognition to the nationalities which seek independence?

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I have no doubt that you have been, as I have, importuned by representatives of these nationalities to give support to their efforts to arouse their fellow-countrymen to opposition to the present Austrian Government. This importunity is increasing. What should be said to these people? Some answer must be made. Should we aid or discourage them?

I do not think in considering this subject we should ignore the fact that the German Government has been eminently successful in the disorganization of Russia by appealing to the national jealousies and aspirations of the several peoples under the Czar’s sovereignty. Whether we like the method or not, the resulting impotency of Russia presents a strong argument in favor of employing as far as possible the same methods in relation to Austria’s alien provinces. I do not think that it would be wise to ignore the lesson to be learned from Germany’s policy toward the Russian people.

I would be gratified, Mr. President, to have your judgment as to whether we should continue to favor the integrity of Austria or should declare that we will give support to the self-determination of the nationalities concerned. I think that the time has come to decide definitely what policy we should pursue.

Faithfully yours,

Robert Lansing