Memorandum by Mr. D. H. Miller on Revised French Proposals of November 21, 1918 4

This memorandum concerns the French Note received November 21, 1918,5 which is somewhat changed in form from the note previously received and made the subject of cable serial number 109 of November 15, 1918.6

It will be more convenient to consider the French Note in an arrangement somewhat different from that therein adopted, and the subject matter thereof in general, before proceeding to discuss the detailed suggestions of the French Government.

The theoretical similarities between the coming Peace Congress and the Congresses of Vienna, of Paris, and of Berlin, are to be viewed in the light of the great differences in the practical state of affairs now existing as compared with that existing at any of the previous periods mentioned.

The situation will be set out in detail in order to emphasize the limited scope of the precedents of Vienna, of Paris, or of Berlin. In each of those cases the negotiations were solely for the purpose of reconciling the differences between well-known and established powers, and the chief difficulties in procedure arose from the difference in strength and in interest of the Powers in particular questions. It is true that at Vienna relations of the German states were to be adjusted, and were adjusted in the formation of the North German Confederation; but even there the Powers were dealing with entities whose preexisting status, although unsatisfactory, was not in doubt. At the present time the problem of the Peace Congress, while it includes problems similar to those of the previous conferences mentioned, includes also the bringing of order out of chaos in practically all of Europe east of the Rhine, and north of the Danube, as well as restoration and [Page 355] a new life in various other parts of Europe and Asia, and beyond this the regulation of Africa for the future. The conditions of some of these communities is such as to render it impossible to say as regards millions of people whether any government, even de facto, exists, and if so, of whom it is composed.

The Powers opposed to the Central Powers may be grouped in six classes:

Great Powers, actual belligerents.
Minor Powers, actual belligerents.
Other powers which declared war against Germany, but which have taken no actual part in the fighting.
Powers which have broken relations with Germany.
Russia and Roumania.
Invaded neutrals: Luxemburg and Persia.

The classification is based on the international pre-war situation and status, and before alluding to subsequent complications, it is necessary to make some observations on the various classes above mentioned.

The first class is composed of Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and Japan. But even in this class there is distinction, for Japan is not primarily, or particularly, interested in many of the general questions of Europe, although she is vitally interested in the Pacific.

The second class comprises Belgium, Portugal, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. Here again the classification is not altogether satisfactory, for Montenegro has been practically out of the war since 1915, and may now be regarded as bound up with Serbia, or, more properly speaking, with the question of Jugo-Slavia.

The third group comprises China, Siam (mention of Siam is omitted in the French Note), Liberia, Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Brazil. The whole question of the Far East is involved in the belligerency of China and Siam. The other states have a negligible interest in the particular results of the war. It is obviously of great importance to the United States that the Latin-American Powers should receive the consideration which they expect. It is, of course, true that Liberia, Cuba, Haiti and Panama, are practically under the direction of the United States, and this might also be said of Nicaragua, but this fact is hardly one which can by us be emphasized according to the suggestions of the French Note, which will be noticed in detail hereafter. One complication may be mentioned, and that is that the United States does not recognize the existing government of Costa Rica. Probably a participation with Costa Rica in a peace conference, and certainly signature of a treaty to which Costa Rica was a part, would be ipso facto recognition of the Tinoco government.

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Egypt and six other countries, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Salvador and Santo Domingo, have broken relations with Germany. Of the Latin-American countries mentioned, Uruguay, in particular, has done what she could to further the interests of the United States, and, indeed, has committed acts which Germany might very properly, if she had so chosen, have regarded as acts of war. The French Note speaks of countries in the third class as theoretical belligerents (Belligérants théoriques). Whatever may be the European view, it cannot be the position of the United States that countries such as Brazil, a belligerent, and Uruguay, not a belligerent, have been concerned in the conflict merely theoretically.

In addition to the foregoing complications on the side of the Powers opposed to Germany, the striking situation in Russia is one that compels attention. At least two new states have arisen out of the territory formerly Russian, namely Finland, which has been recognized by some of the Powers, and Poland, which will become a full-fledged entity by the action of the Peace Congress itself.

Detailed mention is unnecessary of the other separatist movements through Russia, as their permanence, internationally speaking, must still be regarded as doubtful, even in the case of the Ukraine. It is to be observed in connection with the Russian situation that two treaties, with various supplements, have been concluded between Finland and Germany, and also two treaties between Finland and Austria-Hungary, and that no mention of any of these treaties is made in either of the agreements of armistice severally made by those two Powers with the United States and the Allies.

Luxemburg and Persia have been mentioned for the sake of completeness, as their interests will be required to be considered at the Congress.

On the side of the Central Powers the practical and technical situations are at least equally confused. Turkey continues an existing government, although doubtlessly greatly to be changed in extent and form, a change involving the question of the Straits, which is of interest to the whole commercial world. Bulgaria remains a separate entity, although she has become a Republic. It appears that Austria-Hungary is already dismembered, that Hungary is a separate state, and that German Austria is attempting to be. The South Slav question may perhaps be regarded as one pertaining to Italy and Serbia, but the Powers opposed to Germany recognize that Bohemia is independent, and associated with them although its territory forms part of Austria and of Hungary as they existed before the war.

In Germany the actual situation is not sufficiently known to be intelligently discussed. Reports of the existence of independent governments are numerous, and how far the authority of the existing de facto government at Berlin extends, or how long it will continue, [Page 357] are questions impossible of answer. The complexity of this situation is not lessened by the reports of quasi hostilities between Germany and the Poles in the neighborhood of Posen. The technical situation as to the international status of Germany is one which is perhaps even more uncertain than the actual situation. The German Constitution is certainly not in operation, unless, perhaps, in some provisional form existing in the absence of dissent; and even whether the German Kaiser has, or has not, definitely abdicated, is not known.

The task of the coming Peace Congress is one of such magnitude, and is one so different from anything that has ever confronted the world before, that precedents in procedure should be used with great caution, in view of the actual and technical uncertainties to which allusion has been made.

Departing from the arrangement under the headings of the French Note, the points therein discussed will be considered under different titles:

Preliminaries to the Peace Congress

It is an essential part of the American program that there shall be open discussion at the Peace Congress between the representatives of the Central Powers and of those opposed to them, of the conditions of peace, and it is an essential prerequisite of that open discussion that a complete agreement as to the peace terms should be reached among the powers opposed to the Central Powers.

It is very properly pointed out in the French Note that the questions to be discussed fall into two general classes, viz.: First, those relating to the settlement of the war, strictly speaking, and, second, those concerning international relations of the future, which are grouped in the French Note around the question of the society of nations. In respect to both groups of questions the preliminaries to the Peace Congress are of the highest importance. Unity among the powers opposed to the Central Powers is essential, and that unity can be reached by discussion and agreement among them.

In regard to the particular questions growing out of the war and necessarily involved in its termination, real agreement may be reached at informal conferences in each case and discussion among the powers respectively interested in particular questions; such agreement should extend, not only to matters of principle, but to matters of detail, and after the agreement as to matters of principle is reached, memoranda embodying the agreement in full detail should be drawn up as a proposal to be presented and supported at the Peace Congress for the approval not only of the powers directly interested, but of all the powers opposed to Germany.

This method of procedure differs more in form than in substance from that proposed in the French Note. Its theory would be that [Page 358] instead of preliminary discussion among the four Great Powers, to which discussion other powers would, as the case might requite, be invited, such discussion would, as to any particular question, be among all the powers directly interested in that question, among which would, in every case, be the four Great Powers. That the representatives at these discussions should have the assistance of technical advisors, as suggested in the French Note, is obviously desirable.

It is to be observed that this method of procedure would accord with the approaching visit of the President to Europe, for the questions of principle involved in any particular matter might thus be agreed upon with his approval, leaving a detailed memorandum based upon those principles to be drawn up in each case for general approval and subsequent presentation at the Congress itself.

It may clarify this suggestion as to procedure to consider a specific instance: the case of the restitution of Belgium. Discussion of this subject would proceed between the representatives of Belgium and of the Great Powers, Upon their agreement on matters of principle, a detailed memorandum would be drawn up for the approval of those Powers, and for the subsequent approval of the powers associated with them. This memorandum would form the basis of discussion at the Peace Congress with the representatives of the Central Powers.

In matters of a more general nature, which while peculiarly of interest to certain powers, are of great interest to others, and of some interest to all the world, a somewhat different procedure would be necessary. Such a question is that of the future of Central Africa. In such a case a preliminary and informal discussion among the Great Powers alone would facilitate an agreement with the smaller powers directly interested, such as Belgium and Portugal, and, subsequently, with the other powers which are indirectly concerned.

A somewhat similar method is essential regarding the public law of the future. As to these questions, which may be conveniently considered as pertaining to a society of nations, a preliminary discussion among the four Great Powers and Japan is obviously desirable, for it is essential that these Powers should be in accord in any plan looking toward the peace of the world in the future; and it is probable that any plan approved by these five Powers would subsequently be approved and joined in, not only by the other powers opposed to Germany, but by the neutral powers whose assent would be asked at the Peace Congress itself.

The first step of all, however, in determining the procedure of the preliminaries to the Congress is an informal conference as to such procedure among the four Great Powers. More than one exchange of notes on the subject would probably result in a greater delay than [Page 359] is permitted by the time available; furthermore, such preliminary conference in considering and determining the questions of preliminary procedure might also consider and determine the questions more directly relating to the procedure of the Peace Congress itself, its date of meeting, the powers to be represented, the number of delegates from each power, and other details which will be subsequently mentioned.

Bases of Negotiations

The statements of the French Note on this subject cannot be considered to be in accord with the views of the Government of the United States.

The bases of negotiations can only be deemed to be the fourteen points enumerated by President Wilson in his speech of January 8th, 1918,7 as subsequently modified, which, as so modified, have been agreed to, not only by the governments of Great Britain, of France and of Italy, but by the Governments of Germany, of Bulgaria and of Turkey, and by the former government of Austria-Hungary. Of these fourteen points, the tenth point relating to Austria-Hungary was expressly qualified by President Wilson in his note to Austria-Hungary of October 18th [19th], 1918,8 and the Allied Powers reserved complete liberty of action as to the second point relating to the freedom of the seas. There are also certain other supplementary bases of negotiations contained in the armistice agreement between the United States and the Allied Powers and Germany. These are contained particularly in items 15 and 19 of the armistice agreement,9 the former relating to the Treaties of Bucharest and Brest-Litovsk, and the latter relating to reparation by Germany.

The statements in the French Note that the fourteen points of the President cannot be taken as bases of negotiation, and that the only bases are contained in the declaration of the Allied Powers of the 10th of January, 1917,10 can in no event be supported. It is hardly necessary to point out that the declaration of January 10th, 1917, which is mentioned in the French Note, has never been agreed to by the United States, and the memorandum of the Allied Powers, quoted in the American Note of November 5th, 1918,11 is conclusive of this whole subject.

“The Allied Governments have given careful consideration to the correspondence which has passed between the President of the United States and the German Government. Subject to the qualifications [Page 360] which follow, they declare their willingness to make peace with the Government of Germany on the terms of peace laid down in the President’s address to Congress in January, 1918, and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent addresses. They must point out, however, that Clause 2, relating to what is usually described as the freedom of the seas, is open to various interpretations, some of which they could not accept. They must, therefore, reserve to themselves complete freedom on this subject when they enter the Peace Conference.

“Further, in the conditions of peace laid down in his address to Congress on January 8, 1918, the President declared that invaded territories must be restored, as well as evacuated and made free. The Allied Governments feel that no doubt ought to be allowed to exist as to what this provision implies. By it they understand that compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies, and to their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea and from the air.”

Among the subjects mentioned at the conclusion of the French Note are to be found, however, all of the subjects mentioned in the fourteen points of President Wilson; to these are added a few others, which it is unnecessary to consider in detail in this memorandum. There are doubtless certain subjects of a comparatively minor character which are not mentioned in the fourteen points of President Wilson, which will require consideration by the Peace Congress. The possible addition of such subjects to those contained in the fourteen points of President Wilson would be a subject proper for consideration by the representatives of the Great Powers in their discussion of the preliminaries to the Peace Congress, particularly as it is very probable that suggestions of still other subjects not mentioned in the French Note will be made by powers interested. Possible illustrations are the questions of Spitsbergen, of the Aaland Islands, and of the reduction of the Chinese Indemnity growing out of the Boxer rebellion.

The French Note proposes a declaration by the Peace Congress as to the rights of peoples to decide their own destinies; the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of formulating any such declaration is shown in the French statement itself, which admits that the right is to be combined with the principle of a guaranty of the rights of minorities and is not only subject to a certain homogeneity of state, but is wholly impossible of application in certain regions. The principle as expressed by the French Note is one which, if generally stated, might: be the genesis of innumerable future disputes, and possible future conflicts in and out of Europe. The disastrous effect of such vague generalities is illustrated in the case of Russia, and a specious attempt to use such a principle to justify their own wickedness was made by the Germans in the case of Belgium.

It is to be supposed that any treaty engagements of the Allied Powers, particularly those with Russia, and with Italy, made during [Page 361] the war, which may be inconsistent with the principles enunciated by President Wilson, have been in fact, if not technically, abandoned by the Allied Powers, in view of their announced agreement with those principles above quoted; accordingly, the United States could not consider, in advance, the theoretical possibility of such a supposed position on the part of Italy, as is mentioned in the French Note.

The French Note suggests the desirability of a declaration of the principle of the integrity of home and colonial territory possessed by the Powers (meaning doubtless the Allied Powers), on August 1, 1914. While the African colonies are mentioned in this connection in the French Note, it would appear that the declaration would also have reference to the question of Ireland. The point involved in the suggestions of such a declaration is one of policy and discussion thereof is deemed to be outside the scope of this memorandum.

Representation of Powers and States at the Peace Congress

According to the views as to procedure, previously expressed, the question of representation of powers and of states discussed in the fourth point of the French Note would be determined at the preliminary conferences outlined. It may, however, be proper to present some views on this subject.

In the first instance the powers to be represented at the Peace Congress, on the one side, should be those at war with Germany (aside from Costa Rica and Montenegro). The principles enunciated by President Wilson, as well as the interests of the United States, require that the smaller states, even those not active participants in the war, should participate in the Congress ab initio. Included among the states considered to be at war with Germany would be Roumania, as her treaty of peace with the Central Powers is now a nullity, and also Bohemia, in view of the attitude taken toward the Czechoslovaks by the United States and the Allied Powers, as well as the expressions of the former government of Austria-Hungary, contained in the note to the United States dated October 30th, 1918.12

Costa Rica could not be admitted because the government of that country is not recognized by the United States.

The position of Montenegro is anomalous, but it would seem more prudent to consider Serbia as the sole representative of the south Slavs, at least until developments in that region have progressed further.

Another member of the Congress would be Poland, whose future status as an independent power has been assured by the United States and the Allied Powers.

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Finland will at some point be a necessary member of the Peace Congress, as German influence over that country must be destroyed, and the treaties between Finland and Germany, and between Finland and Austria-Hungary annulled, although no mention is made of them in the armistice agreements.

In view of the existing circumstances in Russia, and until a favorable change therein, it would seem impracticable to admit formally to the Peace Congress any representatives, either of Russia as a whole, or of any of its nationalities which may have attempted to set up separate governments. The suggestion in the French Note of an inter-allied committee for the protection of Russian interests, which would be aided by Russian advisers, seems feasible and worthy of adoption, subject, of course, to future developments. In view of the recent declaration of the Ukraine Republic favoring a federalized Russian state, such development may take place before the Peace Congress meets.

Albania has not such an international status as to warrant admission to the Peace Congress, but its interests should be protected by a committee of the powers on which the United States should be represented.

It is to be pointed out that powers may be admitted to representation in the Peace Congress during the course of the Congress itself, and that the hope of such admission will be a strong inducement toward the establishment of settled governments. Accordingly, in any case of doubt, caution rather than haste is desirable.

The rights of Luxemburg and of Persia, both invaded by the Central Powers, must be protected by membership in the Peace Congress.

Furthermore, justice and the interests of the United States require that the Latin-American countries which broke relations with Germany, and which did, from a practical viewpoint, all that was in their power to promote the interests of the United States during the war, should be regarded as entitled to representation in the Peace Congress. To draw a technical distinction which will exclude such a power as Uruguay from participation in the settlement of the war, in which her whole support has been given to the United States, would disregard substance and be consistent only with formality.

Finally the Peace Congress in proceeding, as it will, to the discussion of those questions involving the future public law of the world, will become a congress, which after settling the matters directly arising from the war, will admit the neutral powers of the world to participation in its discussions of peace for the future. National groups not forming states, such as the Armenians, the Jews in Palestine, and the Arabs, would doubtless be received and heard through [Page 363] their representatives by Committees of the Congress, but could not be admitted to the Congress as member Powers.

The qualifications and limitations of representation of the British dominions, which appears to be desired by the Government of Great Britain, could doubtless be determined at the preliminary conferences, upon the subject of procedure.

As to the representation of the Central Powers, the situation is in some respects uncertain. Turkey and Bulgaria, and perhaps Hungary, are now in a position to appoint plenipotentiaries. It seems very doubtful whether even a de facto government exists in Austria, outside of Bohemia. As to Germany the possibility of a dissolution of the union of the twenty-five states which have formed the German Confederation must be recognized. If the present reports of the program for the election of a constituent assembly in Germany, on February 2nd, 1919, are well founded, a unified government in Germany, with a definite constitution, will seem probable; but at present it is impossible to speak definitely of the technical situation of the German government from an international point of view.

Procedure of the Peace Congress

The third item of the French Note is entitled, “Scheme of Procedure,” and is divided into sixteen numbered articles,13 comment upon which will be limited to those of which the numbers are mentioned.

To a considerable extent these sixteen articles as drawn in the French Note are based upon the rules of procedure of the Berlin Congress of 1878.

The question of the Powers to be represented at the Congress has previously been discussed, and the views expressed are not in accord with the French view that representation should be limited to Powers having effectually taken part in the war.
If the English language is adopted as the official language of the Congress, the order of precedence among the members will be that of the alphabetical order in the English language, with the exception that in matters of personal precedence, the first place would obviously be accorded to President Wilson.
The verification of the Powers of the members of the Congress is of greater consequence and importance than the French Note appears to allow it. The committee to examine these Powers should be composed of representatives of several Powers, including the Great Powers and some others.
While it may not be possible, for lack of space, to provide that the sessions of the Congress shall be open to the public generally, there is at least no reason why accredited representatives of the press should not be present to give such account of its proceedings as they see fit.
Assuming that the Congress will take place at Versailles, and that on occasion President Wilson will be present, it would be very graceful for the French Government to suggest that English should be the official language of the Congress. In this connection it may be observed that it would be impossible for President Wilson to be a delegate in any ordinary sense of the word, and he might well be chosen as Honorary President of the Congress, the actual President being M. Clemenceau.
A modification in this article would follow from the change in the official language.
In modification of this article it is suggested that the petitions, etc., received by the Congress, should be distributed among the member powers in the form of printed copies.
The French Note provides that at the Peace Congress unanimity shall be required in voting upon questions relating to the Society of Nations, but not as to questions of procedure in the absence of protest. The original French Note provided on this point for the necessity of unanimity on all questions except those of procedure. Doubtless the change was made in order to permit that the decisions of the Powers opposed to Germany regarding the settlement of the war would not require the assent of any of the Central Powers.
The whole point is one of great difficulty. Doubtless no State should or could be constrained to become a member of the Society of Nations without its consent, but on the other hand, there would seem to be no reason why agreement upon questions involved in the Society of Nations should be defeated by the dissent of one or two minor Powers.
In lieu of the suggestion of the French Note in this Article, a provision might be inserted, that in questions relating to the Society of Nations any Power might record its dissent from the conclusion which, unless otherwise provided, would bind those States which did agree.
The Committee on Style proposed by this Article should consist of seven members instead of six, the additional member being one to whom the Spanish language is native.
No mention is made in the rules of procedure suggested in the French Note, of the appointment of committees by the Peace Congress, other than the Committee on Style. The advisability, and it [Page 365] may even be said, the necessity of the appointment of such committees seems obvious, and it is accordingly suggested that one of the rules of procedure might provide that committees may be appointed from the plenipotentiaries present, representing at least three Powers, to consider such questions as the Congress may determine, the members of the committees in the absence of objection, to be named by the President of the Congress. It might further be provided that technical advisers not plenipotentiaries might sit as members of such committees without vote.
D. H. M[iller]

  1. Reprinted from Miller, My Diary, vol. ii, p. 28.
  2. French text printed ibid., p. 4; it is summarized in telegram No. 133 from Colonel House to the Secretary of State, supra.
  3. Ante, p. 344.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 12.
  5. Ibid., p. 368.
  6. For text of the armistice agreement, see Colonel House’s telegram No. 46, Nov. 4, 1918, 9 p.m., Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 463.
  7. See telegram No. 1806, Jan. 10, 1917, 8 p.m., from the Ambassador in France, ibid., 1917, supp. 1, p. 6.
  8. Ibid., 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 468.
  9. See note No. 5348, Oct. 30, 1918, from the Swedish Minister, Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 429.
  10. In the “Scheme of Procedure” as outlined in Colonel House’s telegram No. 109, Nov. 15, 1918, ante, p. 344, and modified in No. 133, Nov. 21, 1918, ante, p. 352, the 16 articles are labeled “A, B, C,” etc.