Inquiry Document No. 887

The Inquiry—Memorandum Submitted December 22, 1917

The Present Situation: The War Aims and Peace Terms It Suggests

our objectives

The Allied military situation and Berlin-Bagdad.

The Allies have had various opportunities to destroy Middle Europe by arms, to wit: the Russian invasion of Alicia, the protection of Serbia, the intervention of Rumania, the offensive of Italy, the expedition at Gallipot, the expedition to Salonika, the Mesopotamia campaign, and the Palestinian campaign. The use made of these opportunities has produced roughly the following results: The Russian army has ceased to be an offensive force, and Germany occupies a large part of that territory of the Russian Empire which is inhabited by more or less non-Russian peoples; Rumania is occupied to the mouth of the Danube; Serbia and Montenegro are occupied; the Austrian and German are deep into Italian territory. As the Russian, Rumanian, Serbian, and Italian armies cannot be expected to resume a dangerous offensive, the invasion of Austria-Hungary has ceased to be a possibility. The Allies hold Saloniki, which they are unable to use as a base for offensive operations. There is danger that they may be driven from it. If they are able to hold it, and to keep it from Austrian hands, they have made a blind alley of one subordinate part of the Berlin-Bagdad project, which has always included a branch line to Saloniki, and then to the sea. By the capture [Page 42] of Bagdad they not only control the rich resources of Mesopotamia but have made a blind alley of the main Berlin-Bagdad line, so far as that line was aimed to be a line of communication to the Persian Gulf as a threat against India. By the capture of Palestine the British have nullified a subordinate part of the Berlin-Bagdad scheme, that is, the threat to the Suez Canal. By the almost complete separation of Arabia from Turkey, the Turks have not only lost the Holy Cities, but another threat to the Red Sea has been removed. Germany has therefore lost the terminals of her project, and if Saloniki, Jerusalem, Bagdad, and Arabia remain in non-German hands the possibilities of defense against the politico-military portions of the Bagdad scheme exist.

The problem of Berlin-Bagdad.

The problem is therefore reduced to this: How effectively is it possible for Germany to organize the territory now under her political and military influence so as to be, in a position at a later date to complete the scheme and to use the resources and the manpower of Middle Europe in the interests of her own foreign policy? She faces here four critical political problems: 1) The Poles; 2) the Czechs; 3) the South Slavs; and 4) Bulgaria. The problem may be stated as follows: If these peoples become either the willing accomplices or the helpless servants of Germany and her political purposes, Berlin will have established a power in Central Europe which will be the master of the continent. The interest of the United States in preventing this must be carefully distinguished before our objectives can become clear. It can be no part of our policy to prevent a free interplay of economic and cultural forces in Central Europe. We should have no interest in thwarting a tendency toward unification. Our interest is in the disestablishment of a system by which adventurous and imperialistic groups in Berlin and Vienna and Budapest could use the resources of this area in the interest of a fiercely selfish foreign policy directed against their neighbors and the rest of the world. In our opposition to Middle Europe, therefore, we should distinguish between the drawing together of an area which has a certain economic unity, and the uses of that unity and the methods by which it is controlled. We are interested primarily in the nature of the control.

The chief binding interests in Middle Europe.

The present control rests upon an alliance of interest between the ruling powers at Vienna, Budapest, Sofia, Constantinople, and Berlin. There are certain common interests which bind these ruling groups together. The chief ones are: 1) the common interests of Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest in the subjection of the Poles, the Czechs, and the Croats; 2) from the point of view of Berlin the [Page 43] present arrangement assures a control of the external affairs and of the military and economic resources of Austria-Hungary; 3) from the point of view of Vienna and Budapest it assures the German-Magyar ascendency; 4) the interest that binds Sofia to the alliance lay chiefly in the ability of Germany to exploit the wrong done Bulgaria in the treaty of Bucharest; 5) the interest of Constantinople is no doubt in part bought, in part coerced, but it is also in a measure due to the fact that in the German alliance alone lies the possibility of even a nominal integrity for the Turkish Empire; 6) at the conclusion of the war, the greatest tie which will bind Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey to Germany will be the debts of these countries to Germany.

The disestablishment of a Prussian Middle Europe.

It follows that the objectives to be aimed at in order to render Middle Europe safe are the following:

Increased democratization of Germany, which means, no doubt, legal changes like the reform of the Prussian franchise, increased ministerial responsibility, control of the army and navy, of the war power and foreign policy, by representatives responsible to the German people. But it means something more. It means the appointment to office of men who represent the interests of south and west Germany and the large cities of Prussia—men who today vote Progressive, Centrist, or Social Democrat tickets—in brief, the men who stood behind the Bloc which forced through the Reichstag resolution of July.
In addition to increased democratization of German, we have to aim at an independent foreign policy in Austria-Hungary.
We must aim at preventing the military union of Austria-Hungary and Germany.
We must aim at the contentment and friendship of Bulgaria through a satisfactory solution of the Balkan frontiers.
We must aim at the neutralization and the internationalization of Constantinople and the Straits.
We must see that the control of the two military terminals of Berlin-Bagdad remain in the hands of an administration friendly to the western nations.
As a result of the accomplishment of the foregoing, we must secure a guaranteed autonomy for the Armenians, not only as a matter of justice and humanity but in order to re-establish the one people of Asia Minor capable of preventing economic monopolization of Turkey by the Germans.

These being our objectives, what are our present assets and liabilities?


[I.] Our economic weapon.

The commercial control of the outer world, and the possibility of German exclusion both from the sources of raw materials and the [Page 44] richer markets, and from the routes of communication, lie in our hands. The possibility of a continued commercial exclusion weighs heavily, in fact, most heavily of all, upon the German mind at present, because upon the conclusion of peace a successful demobilization is possible only as there are raw materials and markets for the resumption of German industry. Without these the army would become a discontented and dangerous body. If the possibility of exclusion from economic opportunity is associated with a vision of a world co-operation realized, the double motives of fear and hope can be used upon the German people. This is our strongest weapon, and the Germans realize its menace. Held over them, it can win priceless concessions. It should be noted that this weapon will be of special advantage after the peace conference has assembled. Our ability to protract the discussion at the industrial expense of Germany and to our own benefit, and [sic] will give us a bargaining power of great advantage. Skilfully handled, this asset can be used both to threaten and to lure them; and its appeal is wellnigh universal, as the utterances and comment from Germany clearly show. To the dynasty and the ruling classes, it presents the most tangible threat of revolution, because it is obvious that the danger of revolution will be enormously increased upon the conclusion of peace, when the patriotic motive subsides. To the commercial classes it presents the obvious picture of financial ruin and of disorder. To the army it presents the picture of a long period following the conclusion of the war in which government will not dare to demobilize rapidly. To the poorer classes generally it presents the picture of a long period after the war in which the present hardships will continue.

II. Our assets in Austria-Hungary.

In Austria-Hungary we have a number of assets which may seem contradictory at first, but which can all be employed at the same time. There is the nationalistic discontent of the Czechs and probably of the South Slavs. The increase of nationalistic discontent among the Czechs and the possibility of some kind of Poland will tend to break the political coalition which has existed between the Austrian Poles and the German Austrians. On the part of the Emperor and of the present ruling powers in Austria-Hungary there is a great desire to emerge from the war with the patrimony of Francis Joseph unimpaired. This desire has taken two interesting forms: 1) it has resulted in the adoption of a policy of no annexations, which is obvious enough; and 2) in the adoption, evidently with much sincerity, of a desire for disarmament and a league of nations. The motive here is evidently a realization that financially Austria cannot maintain armaments at the present scale after the war, and a realization that in a league of [Page 45] nations she would find a guarantee of the status quo. It follows that the more turbulent the subject nationalities become and the less the present Magyar-Austrian ascendency sees itself threatened with absolute extinction, the more fervent will become the desire in Austria-Hungary to make itself a fit partner in a league of nations. Our policy must therefore consist first in a stirring up of nationalist discontent, and then in refusing to accept the extreme logic of this discontent, which would be the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary. By threatening the present German-Magyar combination with nationalist uprisings on the one side, and by showing it a mode of safety on the other, its resistance would be reduced to a minimum, and the motive to an independence from Berlin in foreign affairs would be enormously accelerated. Austria-Hungary is in the position where she must be good in order to survive.

It should be noted that the danger of economic exclusion after the war affects Austria-Hungary as well as Germany very seriously, and no amount of ultimate trade in transit to Turkey will be able to solve for her the immediate problem of finding work for her demobilized army, of replenishing her exhausted supplies, and of finding enough wealth to meet her financial burdens.

III. Our assets in Bulgaria.

In regard to Bulgaria our greatest asset is the possibility of satisfying her just claims, now that the threat of an imperialistic Russian occupation of Constantinople is removed. A satisfied Bulgaria would no doubt share in the economic advantages of Middle Europe, but without a strong national grievance of her own, her exploitation for political and military purposes is improbable. To this should be added the consideration that the reverberations of the Russian revolution are sure to be felt in Bulgaria.

IV. Our assets in Turkey.

In regard to Turkey our primary assets are our military successes, already commented upon above. These military successes should have a religio-political effect upon the Ottoman Turk. The great financial and economic weakness of Turkey immediately after the war and her need of assistance are also assets to be considered.

V. Out assets outside of Europe.

The German colonies are obvious material to bargain with, as is Germany’s exclusion from the Pacific and from Central and South America.

VI. The radicalism of Russia.

It is often overlooked that the Russian revolution, inspired as it is by deep hatred of autocracy, contains within it at least three other [Page 46] great motives of serious danger to German domination: 1) anti-capitalist feeling, which would be fully as intense, or more intense, against German capitalism; 2) a religious love of Russia which is spiritually antagonistic to Protestant Germany; and 3) a powerful nationalist feeling among the Moderates, who will either return to power or at least exercise a strong influence in Russia. The revolution, therefore, must be regarded not only as inherently difficult for the Germans to manage and to master, but as being in itself a great dissolving force through its sheer example. Note in this regard the reported interpellation of a deputy in the Austrian parliament, who wanted to know when the Austrian and Hungarian landed estates were to be broken up upon Bolsheviki principles, seeing that the government had recognized the Bolsheviki.

VII. The Vatican.

The Vatican has been rightly regarded as pro-German in its neutrality. But we should not be misled in regard to it as we have been misled in regard to the Russian revolution. The Germans have been skilful enough to use it. The Vatican is one of those forces in the world which require exceedingly skilful handling, and contains within it the possibility of great assistance to our cause, as is shown, for example, by the opportunity it offered the President to carry on the first successful diplomatic offensive made by the Allies since the beginning of the war.

VIII. American resources.

The fact that with time the man-power and resources of this country, added to the present forces of the Entente, render a complete and crushing military victory over the Central Powers a certainty.

IX. The intangibles.

To be counted on our side if skilfully used are certain intangibles which the President undoubtedly had in mind when he warned the statesmen of the world in his last message that they were living “in this midday hour of the world’s life.” These are: 1) the universal longing for peace, which under the circumstances should not be handed over to Germany as something for them to capitalize; 2) the almost universal feeling on the part of common people of the world that the old diplomacy is bankrupt, and that the system of the armed peace must not be restored. This is a sentiment fundamentally anti-Prussian in its nature, and should be capitalized for our side; 3) there is then, too, a great hope of a league of nations which has the approbation of disinterested people everywhere; 4) there is the menace of social revolution all over the world, and as a factor in it a realization by the governing political and financial groups that the meeting of the war debts is virtually insoluble without revolutionary [Page 47] measures about property. In a war fought for democratic aims, these fears should be made to fight on our side.

X. The changed direction of German policy.

In estimating the objects of German policy, as well as the concessions which Germany offers, it should be borne in mind that her first economic and political penetration pointed due south through Italy, that later it swerved southeast towards Constantinople, Bagdad, and the Persian Gulf, and that at present, in view of the Russian debacle, its direction of easiest advance is due east. The present is the best time for Germany to seize the opportunities offering themselves there, and this may very well cause her to decide that she will accept sacrifices towards the southeast, the west, on other continents, and in distant seas, in order to assure her control of the Russian opportunities.


Balanced off against these assets are our liabilities. They are, briefly:

The military impotence of Russia.
The strategic impossibility of any military operation which will cut to the heart of Middle Europe.
The costs and dangers of a war of attrition on the western front, and the improbability of anything more than a slow withdrawal by the Germans, leaving behind them an absolute devastation of western Belgium and of northern France.
The possession by the Germans at this time of the occupied areas.
The concentration of France upon Alsace-Lorraine, which opens at least as a possibility an attempt by the Germans to cause an almost complete rupture of the western alliance by offering France an attractive compromise solution. In case the Germans should decide within the next few months that they could compensate themselves in the east, they may offer France enough in the west to force either a peace or so keep a schism of French opinion as to render France impotent.
In regard to Italy, our liabilities are also heavy. There is the obvious danger of social revolution and disorganization.
Another liability lies in the present unwillingness of the dominant opinion of Great Britain to discuss modifications of sea power.

a program for a diplomatic offensive

Bulgaria, Serbia, and Italy.

Attention may first be directed to Bulgaria as a weak section of the German line. The Allies should publicly recognize Bulgaria’s [Page 48] just national claims and Serbia’s right to independence and to access to the sea. This should be accompanied by a strong public move in the direction of Italy, emphasizing Italy’s just claims to a rectification of her frontier, both for defensive and for nationalistic reasons. The abandonment by Italy of her imperialist claims can be covered by strong assurances that her territory shall be evacuated and her pressing economic needs now and after the war assured.


Towards Austria-Hungary the approach should consist of references to the subjection of the various nationalities, in order to keep that agitation alive, but coupled with it should go repeated assurances that no dismemberment of the Empire is intended, together with allusions to the humiliating vassalage of the proudest court in Europe. It will probably be well to inject into the discussion a mention of the fact that Austria-Hungary is bound to Germany by huge debts expended in the interest of German ambition. In regard to Austria-Hungary it will probably not be wise to suggest frankly the cancellation of these debts, as in the case of Turkey. Reference to their existence and to the bondage which they imply will, however, produce a useful ferment. The desire of Austria-Hungary to discuss the question of disarmament should not be ignored. The discussion should specifically be accepted and the danger of disarmament in the face of an autocratic Germany explained again.


As against Germany the lines of the offensive have already been laid down by the President. There should be more explicit assertion that the penalty of a failure to democratize Germany more adequately must mean exclusion from freedom of intercourse after the war, that the reward for democratization is a partnership of all nations in meeting the problems that will follow the peace. This offensive should of course contain the explicit assurance that we do not intend to dictate the form of responsible government in Germany, and that we are quite within the justified limits of intercourse with nations if we take the position that our attitude towards a responsible Germany would be different from our attitude towards the present Germany.


Towards Russia our best success will lie: 1) in showing that we are not unwilling to state war aims; 2) in a hearty propaganda of the idea of a league of nations; and 3) in a demonstration to them that the diplomatic offensive is in progress, and that the Allies are not relying totally upon force.

[Page 49]


For the sake of the morale of France it will perhaps be wise to indicate an interest in the solution of the problem of Alsace-Lorraine.

The western Allies in general.

All of the western Allies should be braced: 1) by an energetic movement for economic unity of control; 2) by utterances from the United States which will show the way to the Liberals in Great Britain and in France, and therefore restore their national unity of purpose. These Liberals will readily accept the leadership of the President if he undertakes a liberal diplomatic offensive, because they will find in that offensive an invaluable support for their internal domestic troubles; finally 3) such a powerful liberal offensive on the part of the United States will immensely stimulate American pride and interest in the war, and will assure the administration the support of that great mass of the American people who desire an idealistic solution. Such a liberal offensive will do more than any other thing to create in this country the sort of public opinion that the President needs in order to carry through the program he has outlined.

a suggested statement of peace terms

What follows is suggested as a statement of peace terms in case a general statement of terms at this time is desired. The different items are phrased, both with a view to what they include and exclude, in their relationship to the present military and diplomatic situation. The purpose is to make them serve both as the bases of an ultimate just peace and as a program of war aims which would cause the maximum disunity in the enemy and the maximum unity among our associates.


Belgium must be evacuated and restored by Germany, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations.

Northern France.

Northern France must be evacuated and restored.


This question should be ignored at this time and left to negotiation.


Every act of Germany towards Alsace-Lorraine for half a century has proclaimed that these provinces are foreign territory, and no genuine part of the German Empire. Germany cannot be permitted to escape the stern logic of her own conduct. The wrong done in 1871 must be undone.

[Page 50]

This paragraph is phrased so as to avoid making the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France an essential aim of the United States in the war, while giving all possible moral support to France in her effort to regain the provinces. It is now our belief that the recovery, of Alsace-Lorraine is highly desirable and practically essential to the successful recovery of France. It is also our belief that the relinquishment of Alsace-Lorraine would be the final seal upon the destruction of German militarism. At the same time, we recognize that America cannot insist upon fighting for Alsace-Lorraine longer than France herself is willing to fight, and therefore if Germany should offer France a compromise which France herself was willing to accept, it would be unwise for us to have a commitment on record which we could not fulfill.*


We recognize that Italy is entitled to rectifications of her boundaries on the basis of a just balance of defensive and nationalist considerations. This right was recognized in principle by Austria-Hungary before Italy entered the war and justice towards Italy is in nowise altered by any subsequent military events. We recognize also that the port of Trieste should be commercially free and that the inhabitants of the city deserve their cultural autonomy.

It is our belief that the application of this plank will meet the just demands of Italy, without yielding to those larger ambitions along the eastern shore of the Adriatic for which we can find no substantial justification.

The Balkans.

No just or lasting settlement of the tangled problems confronting the deeply wronged peoples of the Balkans can be based upon the arbitrary treaty of Bucharest.14 That treaty was a product of the evil diplomacy which the peoples of the world are now determined to end. That treaty wronged every nation in the Balkans, even those which it appeared to favor, by imposing upon them all the permanent menace of war. It unquestionably tore men and women of Bulgarian loyalty from their natural allegiance. It denied to Serbia that access to the sea which she must have in order to complete her independence. Any just settlement must of course begin with the evacuation of Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro by the armies of the Central Powers, and the restoration of Serbia and [Page 51] Montenegro. The ultimate relationship of the different Balkan nations must be based upon a fair balance of nationalistic and economic considerations, applied in a generous and inves[ti]tive spirit after impartial and scientific inquiry. The meddling and intriguing of great powers must be stopped, and the efforts to attain national unity by massacre must be abandoned.

It would obviously be unwise to attempt at this time to draw frontiers for the Balkan states.* Certain broad considerations, however, may tentatively be kept in mind. They are in brief these: 1) that the area annexed by Rumania in the Dobrudja is almost surely Bulgarian in character and should be returned; 2) that the boundary between Bulgaria and Turkey should be restored to the Enos-Midia line, as agreed upon at the conference of London; 3) that the south boundary of Bulgaria should be the Aegean Sea coast from Enos to the gulf of Orfano, and should leave the mouth of the Struma river in Bulgarian territory; 4) that the best access to the sea for Serbia is through Saloniki; 5) that the final disposition of Macedonia cannot be determined without further inquiry; 6) that an independent Albania is almost certainly an undesirable political entity.

We are strongly of the opinion that in the last analysis economic considerations will outweigh nationalistic affiliations in the Balkans, and that a settlement which insures economic prosperity is most likely to be a lasting one.


An independent and democratic Poland shall be established. Its boundaries shall be based on a fair balance of national and economic considerations, giving full weight to the necessity for adequate access to the sea. The form of Poland’s government and its economic and political relations should be left to the determination of the people of Poland acting through their chosen representatives.

The subject of Poland is by far the most complex of all the problems to be considered. The present distribution of Poles is such as to make their complete unification impossible without separating East Prussia from Germany. This is probably not within the bounds of practical politics. A Poland which consists essentially of Russian and perhaps Austrian Poland would probably secure its access to the sea through the Vistula River and the canals of Germany which run to Hamburg and Bremen. This relationship would very probably involve both [Page 52] the economic subjection of Poland and the establishment of an area of great friction. If Russia is to remain weak the new Poland will lie in an exceedingly exposed position. The experiment must no doubt be made, however, but in order to assure it a fair start, it is necessary to insist at the outset upon a democratic basis for the Polish state. Unless this is loyally observed, the internal friction of Poles, Ruthenians, and Jews is likely to render Poland impotent in the presence of Germany.


We see promise in the discussions now going on between the Austro-Hungarian Governments and the peoples of the monarchy, but the vassalage of Austria-Hungary to the masters of Germany, riveted upon them by debts for money expended in the interests of German ambition, must be done away with in order that Austria-Hungary may be free to take her rightful place among the nations.

The object of this is to encourage the present movement towards federalism in Austria, a movement which, if it is successful, will break the German-Magyar ascendency. By injecting the idea of a possible cancellation of the war debts, it is hoped to encourage all the separatist tendencies as between Austria-Hungary and Germany, as well as the social revolutionary sentiment which poverty has stimulated.


It is necessary to free the subject races of the Turkish Empire from oppression and misrule. This implies at the very least autonomy for Armenia and the protection of Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Arabia by the civilized nations. It is necessary also to establish free intercourse through and across the straits. Turkey proper must be justly treated and freed from economic and political bondage. Her war debts to Germany must be cancelled. None of the money involved was spent in the interest of Turkey, and none of it should be regarded as a Turkish obligation. An adjustment of her pre-war debt in accordance with her territorial limitations is also required by the considerations of justice. Moreover, it will undoubtedly be feasible to arrange advances of money to Turkey in order to enable her under suitable supervision to institute and maintain satisfactory educational and sanitary conditions, and to undertake her economic rehabilitation. Thus Turkey can be freed from intermeddling and enabled to develop institutions adapted to the genius of her own people.

This will appear on the surface to be a drastic solution of the Turkish problem, but it is one which the military situation enables us to accomplish, and it can hardly be doubted that no principle of [Page 53] justice requires the return of occupied portions of Turkey to the German-Turkish alliance. The cancellation of Turkey’s debt to Germany is the one final way to abolish German political and commercial penetration. It is also the one method by which Turkey can be given a new start, considerably reduced in size, without power to misgovern alien races, and therefore free to concentrate upon the needs of her own population. It should be noted in this regard that only a few days ago it was announced that Germany had agreed to forego interest on the Turkish debt for a period of twelve years after the war. This implies a realization on Germany’s part that if she insists upon the interest payments a repudiation is possible, carrying with it a destruction of German influence in Turkey.

The League of Nations.

From the nations at present engaged in resistance to Germany’s effort to dominate the world there is growing a League of Nations for common protection, for the peaceful settlement of international disputes, for the attainment of a joint economic prosperity, including equal opportunity upon the highways of the world and equitable access to the raw materials which all nations need. Whether this League is to remain armed and exclusive, or whether there is to be a reduction of armaments and a cordial inclusion of Germany, will depend upon whether the German Government is in fact representative of the German democracy.

This is of course simply another statement of the alternative before Germany.

We regard all of the terms mentioned as essential to any final agreement. It may well be, however, that some of the provisions other than those relating to Belgium and northern France, the evacuation of Italy and Rumania, and the evacuation and restoration of Serbia and Montenegro, do not require assent as a preliminary to discussion at the conference. And this is due to the fact that we have the power to compel Germany’s assent at the peace conference by our ability to bar her indefinitely from access to supplies and to protract the negotiations at her cost and at our own benefit.

We emphasize our belief that no surrender of this power, even by inference, should be considered until all the terms stated above are definitely agreed to, in detail as well as in principle, by Germany at the peace conference. This involves adopting as our policy the reserving of the discussion of economic peace until our political, social, and international objects are attained.

We might well adopt as our slogan “No economic peace until the peoples are freed.”

  1. Mr. Miller dissents in part and submits a separate memorandum. See appendix. [Footnote in the original. The memorandum is not attached to the file copy of this document.]
  2. French text in R. Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Trattati e convenzioni fra il regno d’Italia e gli altri stati, vol. 23, p. 412.
  3. A tentative map is appended. [Footnote in the original. The map is not appended to the file copy of this document.]
  4. In the treaty of Bucharest. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. And in the treaty of San Stefano. [Footnote in the original.]