File No. 763.72119/1914
The Swedish Minister ( Ekengren) to the Secretary of State
Excellency: I have the honor to communicate to you the following note addressed by the Imperial and Royal Government of Austria-Hungary to the Royal Government of Sweden and received by me on this day by telegraph:
Although it was declined by the enemy Powers, the peace proposal made on December 12, 1916,1 by the four allied Powers, which never [Page 307] desisted from the conciliatory intent that had prompted it, nevertheless was the beginning of a new phase in the history of this war. From that day the question of peace, after two and a half years of fierce struggle, suddenly became the main topic of discussion in Europe, nay, in the world, and has been steadily gaining prominence ever since. From that day nearly every belligerent state has repeatedly voiced its opinion on the subject of peace. The discussion, however, was not carried on along the same lines. Viewpoints varied according to the military and political conditions, and so, thus far at least, no tangible or practical result has been achieved. Notwithstanding those fluctuations a lessening of the distance between the viewpoints of the two parties could be noted, though no attempt will be made to deny the great divergences of opinion which divide the two enemy camps and which it has heretofore been impossible to reconcile. One may be nevertheless permitted to notice that some of the extreme war aims have been departed from, and that the fundamental basis of a universal peace is to some extent agreed upon. There is no doubt that on either side the desire of the peoples to reach an understanding and bring about peace is becoming more and more manifest. The same impression is created when the manner in which the peace proposal of the four allied Powers was received in the past is compared with the subsequent utterances of their adversaries, whether they came from responsible statesmen or from personages holding no office but likewise wielding political influence. By way of illustration confined to a few instances, the Allies in their reply to President Wilson’s note advanced claims which meant nothing less than the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary, the mutilation of and radical changes in the political structure of Germany, and also the annihilation of European Turkey. With time, those terms that could not be enforced without a crushing victory were modified or partly abandoned by some of the official declarations of the Entente.
Thus Mr. Balfour, in the course of last year, plainly declared to the English Parliament that Austria-Hungary was to solve her domestic problems by herself and that Germany could not be given another constitution through foreign influence; Mr. Lloyd George afterward announced, in the beginning of this year, that the Allies were not fighting for the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary or to despoil the Ottoman Empire of its Turkish provinces, or, again, to bring internal reforms to Germany. We may also add that in December 1917 Mr. Balfour categorically repudiated the assumption that British policy had pledged itself to create an independent state including the German territory lying on the left bank of the Rhine. As for the utterances of the Central Powers, they leave no doubt that those states are merely fighting to defend the integrity and safety of their territories. Much greater than in respect to concrete war aims is the evidence that the principles upon which peace could be concluded and a new order of things established in Europe and throughout the world have in a way drawn nearer to one another. On this point President Wilson in his addresses of February 12 , and July 4, 1918, formulated principles that have raised no objection from his allies and whose wide application will [scarcely] meet with objections from the four allied Powers provided [that application] be general and consistent with the vital interests of the states concerned. [Page 308] To agree upon general principles, however, would not suffice; an agreement should also be reached as to their interpretation and application to the several concrete questions of war and peace.
To an unprejudiced observer there can be no doubt that in all the belligerent states, without exception, the desire for a compromise peace has been enormously strengthened; that the conviction is increasing that the further continuance of the bloody struggle must transform Europe into ruins and into a state of exhaustion that will check its development for decades to come—and this without any guarantee of thereby bringing about the decision by arms which four years of efforts, hardships and immense sacrifices have failed to bring about. Now, by what means, in what manner can the way be paved that will finally lead to such a compromise? Can anyone in earnest expect that goal to be attained by adhering to the method heretofore followed in the discussion of the peace problem? We dare not answer that question in the affirmative. The discussion as conducted until now from one rostrum to another by the statesmen of the several countries was substantially but a series of monologues. It lacked sequence above all. Speeches delivered, arguments expounded by the orators of the opposite parties received no direct immediate reply. Again, the publicity of those utterances, the places where they were delivered, excluded every possible serviceable result. In such public utterances the eloquence used is of the high-pitched kind which is intended to thrill the masses. Whether intentionally or not, the gap between conflicting ideas is thus widened. Misunderstandings that cannot easily be eradicated spring up, and a simple, straightforward exchange of ideas is hampered as soon as mentioned, and even before an official answer can be made by the adversary every declaration of the statesmen in power is taken up for passionate and immoderate discussion by irresponsible persons. But the statesmen themselves are obsessed by a fear that they may unfavorably influence public opinion in their country and thereby compromise the chances of the war, and also of prematurely disclosing their true intentions. That is why they use [strong phrases] and persist in upholding unflinching points of view.
If therefore it were intended to seek the basis for a compromise apt to make an end of the war, whose prolongation would mean nothing but suicide, and to save Europe from that catastrophe, resort should be had in any event to some other method which would permit of continuous and direct converse between the representatives of the governments and between them only. Such an exchange of views would take in the conflicting views of the several belligerent states to the same extent as the general principles on which to build up peace and the relations between states, and might first lead to an understanding as to those principles. The fundamental principles once agreed upon, an effort should be made in the course of the informal negotiations to apply them concretely to the several peace questions and thereby bring about their solution. We indulge the hope that none of the belligerents will object to this proposed exchange of views. There would be no interruption of military operations. The conversation would go no farther than deemed useful by the participants; the parties concerned could be put to no disadvantage [Page 309] thereby. The exchange of views, far from doing any harm, could be but beneficial to the cause of peace; what might fail at the first attempt could be tried over again; something will at least have been done toward elucidating the problems. How many are the deep rooted misunderstandings that might be dispelled! How many the new ideas that would break their way out! Human sentiments so long pent up could burst forth from all hearts, creating a warmer atmosphere, while safeguarding every essential point, and dispel many a discussion which at this time seems important. We are convinced that it is the duty of all belligerents to mankind to take up together the question whether there is no way, after so many years of a struggle which notwithstanding all the sacrifices it has cost is still undecided and the whole course of which seems to demand a compromise, of bringing this awful war to an end.
The Imperial and Royal Government therefore comes again to the governments of all the belligerent states with a proposal shortly to send to a neutral country, upon a previous agreement as to the date and place, delegates who would broach a confidential non-binding conversation over the fundamental principles of a peace that could be concluded. The delegates would be commissioned to communicate to one another the views of their respective governments on the aforesaid principles and very freely and frankly interchange information on every point for which provision should be made.
The Imperial and Royal Government has the honor to apply for your kindly good offices and to request that the Royal Government of Sweden kindly communicate the present communication, which is addressed to all the belligerent states simultaneously, to the Governments of the United States of America and of Great Britain. Burián.
Be pleased to accept [etc.]