File No. 763.72/6922

The Minister in Switzerland ( Stovall) to the Secretary of State

No. 1319

Sir: Referring to my cipher telegram No. 1476, dated August 21, 1917,1 I have the honor to transmit herewith enclosed copies of the two communications brought to my attention through my British colleague, dealing with a conversation about July 20 last between Emperor Charles of Austria and Professor Foerster of Munich.

In order that this channel may not be closed for further information of this nature, I earnestly request that the Department will confide the telegram referred to and this despatch to as few persons as possible.

I have [etc.]

P. A. Stovall
[Enclosure 1—Extract]

Report Received through the British Minister, Dated July 31, 1917

On July 29 my informant met Foerster who has just crossed the Austrian-Swiss frontier, was full of his recent visit to Vienna, and proceeded to expatiate on his interview with the Emperor. The Emperor had sent for him in private audience, and had detained him for two or three hours discussing with him in all simplicity and frankness the political situation. The Emperor seemed sincere, earnest and very clear-headed. He explained his difficult situation in that he in the main had to depend upon what his Ministers reported for all his information. He begged Foerster to speak with complete freedom, to criticise, to say disagreeable things, to speak his real mind. The Emperor pointed out at the start the discrepancy which existed between the official picture of the sordid aims of Great Britain and those ideas which he cherished as representing England. He had always felt drawn to England and believed in her mission in the world. He described the difficulty he had had in obtaining the ministerial consent to the well-known amnesty proclaimed, and gave voice to the need of a complete renovation of the Monarchy. It could only be saved by radical measures along the line of democracy and federation. There were tremendous impediments in the way and it was probably true that, failing an impulse from without, the regeneration could not be effected. Perhaps violations done to the country by the Entente might in the end be a blessing in disguise. There were vested interests which only stern necessity could [Page 202] overcome (the Hungarian magnates were singled out as being the greatest hindrances to the future as they had been in the past, by their anti-Serbianism, the greatest blame for the war). The land must definitely turn from its subserviency to Prussian military ideals; it was not a German Empire, it was a composite Empire in which the Germans were hopelessly in the minority. For the greatness of the Monarchy the ideal solution would be to build up a great confederation which would serve as a counterpoise to Germany. That confederation should be constructed on the principle of the right of constituent peoples to decide upon their own fate.

The historic boundaries must fall, the South Slavs must come together, if they so desire, independently of the question as to whether a given part belonged to Austria or to Hungary, and if that were feasible all these might be joined into a kingdom of Servia with a king of their own choice, within the confederation. Hungary might also be called upon to cede her Roumanian districts to a kingdom of Roumania, having a similar status. The autonomy of Poland must be assured and Bohemian claims satisfied, even if it meant a disruption of crowned rights. In short, home rule all round. The Emperor appeared to be under the conviction that no such fundamental transformation could be obtained save at the behest of the Entente, and declared that he could not close his eyes to the reasonableness of many of the demands of the Allied Governments.

This is the account given by Prof. Foerster to my informant. Of its authenticity I feel there can be little doubt. One must bear in mind, however, that Foerster is a very commanding personality, and probably a much stronger character than the Emperor Charles. It is not unlikely, therefore, that Foerster did most of the talking, and that on analysis it would be found that many of the expressions of opinion put by him into the mouth of the Emperor were silent acquiescences to rather startling propositions enunciated by Foerster himself. That the Emperor, however, was pleased with his guest is evidenced by the fact that he arranged for him to leave the country without any inspection of his luggage or annoyances at the frontier and invited him to return in a few weeks. He was also given to understand that certain reforms were imminent, and that the public belief that Baron von Beck was to inaugurate a long period of half-promises was sand in the eyes of the people—confidences which Foerster could hardly have suggested.

My informant accompanied Foerster for only a short portion of his return journey, and their conversation, in which Foerster evidently did most of the talking, was interrupted somewhat hurriedly. He had time, however, to object that the Entente would very possibly fear the creation of an expansive Austria which might subsequently [Page 203] fall into line with Mittel Europa rather than be a counterpoise to Germany. Foerster replied that this had been considered and it was regarded that the introduction of perfect democracy was a sufficient guarantee; the confederation could never be directed by a Vienna-German clique; Serbian interests would be protected because Serbia would have an important voice and so would all the other nationalities. My informant also expressed doubts as to whether independent Serbia and Roumania would welcome a reduced grade of sovereignty comparable with that of Bavaria and the German Empire, and, as he conceived the intentions of the Entente, he doubted whether they would be willing to use pressure to obtain assent on the part of a nation which had been the victim of Austrian aggression. Another objection which my informant did not have time to put forward was that Italy, even after recovering the tèrra irrèdenta in full measure, would be stoutly opposed to sharing the Adriatic with such an overwhelming power.

[Enclosure 2—Extract]

Report Received through the British Minister, Dated August 15, 1917

I am writing to say that my informant has had another conversation with Foerster, of which he has given me the following account:

I did not want to show too great an interest in the matter lest he should restrain his utterances. He asked me whether I had reflected on what he had told me and what impression I had of the proposals. I pointed out that to my mind the interests of Italy were so completely sacrificed that I could not conceive of an assent on the part of the Entente. He confessed that Italy fared the worst in the arrangement and in general showed very little appreciation of the Italian standpoint. He described the Emperor as personally “well inclined towards Italian aspirations but declared that this was the domain where all Austrians seemed in accord, in their opposition to Italian demands.” What little the Emperor was willing to concede would be objected to even by his broadest-minded advisors. Still necessity would lead to the granting of “legitimate” aspirations. Prof. F. proceeded to enumerate these. The cession of the Trentino he conceived as such although economically to the disadvantage of the inhabitants and at variance with the cardinal ideals proclaimed by the Entente, for a referendum would probably decide against it (?). Gorizia and Gradisca might also be ceded, but Trieste and Dalmatia could not be justly demanded. To take Trieste away from Austria would be as great a wrong as was perpetrated by Austria in preventing Serbia from securing an outlet to the Adriatic. I pointed out that unless the views of Italian politicians were quite misleading the Entente had in all probability insured Trieste to Italy as part of the minimum guaranteed by treaty on Italy’s entrance into the war, and that it was hard to conceive any compromise acceptable to Italy which did not involve the cession of Trieste.

[Page 204]

I expressed great interest in the statement that the public press of late had been full of discussions showing a dull intuition of the matters under debate in Austria, of which he had told me; allusions to the possible intentions of the young Emperor, distrust of Austria; all this was in the air. I expressed the opinion that it would be very harmful if the press were to learn of the revelations which he had made. It would certainly lead to a storm of anger in Berlin and to a formal veto. F. declared that Vienna no longer would listen to dictation from Berlin—that this was not merely the attitude of the Emperor but that of all the Austrian statesmen with whom he had had occasion to confer. While maintaining formal relations befitting the position of an ally, Austria was not at all inclined to look to Berlin for guidance. It was true, however, that the military situation had some influence on this and that the fall of Tarnopol had enabled Germany to regain a temporary ascendancy. Every victory in the east, especially if won on Austrian territory by German troops, was regrettable to one who desired Austrian liberation from the Prussian yoke. F. declared, however, vigorously that Prussian hegemony was a danger that no longer existed. In Bavaria they were as determined not to tolerate it as they were in Austria. This was the case with all classes of society, including Government circles.

I ventured to express some suprise at the free way in which F. had told me so many state secrets and again asked whether he did not think it would be deplorable if the newspapers took the matter up as a revelation. He replied that it would be a mistake now, but that he thought at an opportune moment the thing might be thrown open to public discussion. He then confessed that he was quite ready for it all to be known to the British Foreign Office and had given a report to Prof. Young, who had probably transmitted the same in some form.

An interesting feature is that Prof. F. is to return to Vienna on the consummation of certain ministerial changes, which in the opinion of the Emperor will give him the opportunity to take up the matter more fully and under ministerial responsibility. Prof. F. remains in immediate correspondence with the Emperor.

Prof. F. then took up a point on which he lays great stress. It is his conviction and he has had assent to this on the part of statesmen who believe that Austria’s and Germany’s welfare require the strong medicine of Entente intervention, that it would carry great weight if all the Entente powers, including the U. S. A. and China, were to undertake a diplomatic offensive, consisting in threatening the Central powers with absolute economic boycott, unless the latter accept the terms of the Entente. He says the dread of such exclusion from the trade of the whole world is far greater than the fear of the armies that are being trained and that it might lead to a suing for peace at a very early date, if it were really believed that the threat was seriously meant. For purposes of argument I asked whether Mittel Europa was so lightly thought of now and he assured me that no one in authority had any confidence to-day in such a policy. I then said that for Germany to sue for peace the military party must be convinced or rendered powerless. Would not this party react to the threat of economic isolation by the resolve to prevent just this very thing by military success, by imposing treaties [Page 205] of commerce, as in Frankfort? Would not the fact that the Entente relied on such a threat be construed as implying military weakness and encourage a military decision on the assumption that the economic domain presented an ascendency of the Entente which the military action had certainly not revealed in such overwhelming proportions and that consequently Germany must rely on her sword? This brought forth the declaration that no German with any degree of insight, whether in the Empire or abroad, in his heart of hearts believed a German victory a possibility. Many trusted that the Entente might desist from exhaustion and offer acceptable terms to get out of a bad affair; but they had no other hope than this. He had travelled far and wide, he had discussed the war with people in all walks of life. There could be no question then that the prevalent conviction was that nothing but a fluke could save the Central powers from defeat; victory was a word left for patriotic orators.

  1. Not printed.