Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/0


Secretary’s Notes of a Conversation Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, on Friday, January 17, 1919, at 15 O’clock (3 p.m.)

  • Present
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • M. Pichon.
      • M. Dutasta.
      • Berthelot.
      • M. Fromageot.
      • Captain A. Portier.
    • Great Britain
      • The Rt Hon. D. Lloyd George.
      • The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour.
      • Lt.-Col. Sir M. P. A. Hankey.
      • Major A. M. Caccia.
    • Italy
      • Baron Sonnino.
      • Count Aldrovandi.
      • Major A. Jones.
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
      • Mr. R. Lansing.
      • Mr. A. H. Frazier.
      • Mr. L. Harrison.
    • Japan
      • Viscount Chinda.
      • M. Matsui.

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1. Representation of the States M. Pichon said he wished to bring to the notice of the meeting that he had received two formal protests regarding the representation allotted to Belgium and Serbia. The Belgian Government had written to him in the following terms: “The Belgian Council of Ministers had decided to protest against the number of delegates allotted to Belgium. The decision of the Great Powers to give only two seats at the Conference table was inacceptable.” It was left, therefore, to Baron de Gaiffier1 to decide whether he would accept the invitation received from the Great Powers to attend the Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George thought it would be unwise to accept a challenge of this nature. Belgium had only put 250,000 men in the field, compared with the millions supplied by the Great Powers. From the point of view of contributions to the war, as well as from the point of view of the total population of the country, he did not think it was possible to increase the number of Representatives for Belgium.

Mr. Lansing argued that the point to be considered was that both Belgium and Serbia had suffered invasions from the very commencement of the war and this, in the case of Belgium, was the reason why she had not been able to put a larger force into the field.

[Page 602]

Mr. Lloyd George held that they must be guided by some standard of representation. He thought, in this connection, that they should consider the influence which the country exercised in the world, its contribution to the war, or the total population of the country.

Mr. Lansing suggested that the sacrifices which the country had made must also be considered.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that the sacrifices made could only be taken into account in determining the compensations and indemnities to be received.

Mr. Balfour wished to put forward a practical consideration. He would like to do honour to Belgium and Serbia, but if they were going on sentimental grounds the Conference would find itself occupied forever in attempting to assess the relative claims of all the Powers concerned. The Conference had already devoted much time to all this. The sentimental claims, no doubt, were very great, but, if they were granted, endless discussions would be involved. If extra representation gave more power in voting there would be something substantial in these claims.

Baron Sonnino said that these countries admitted that voting had nothing to do with the question. Two great parties existed in Belgium—the Clerical party and the Socialist party—and if a sufficient number of Representatives was refused, it would put the Government in a political difficulty in attempting to satisfy the claims of the various parties.

Mr. Lansing insisted that the losses incurred by Belgium and the interest they had in obtaining full indemnity for these losses must be given due weight.

M. Clemenceau said he must insist on saying a word for Belgium and Serbia. Belgium and Serbia both found themselves in a most tragic situation. Belgium could have done as Roumania did later. She could have said that the country was sure to be overrun and that she could not resist. She could have given way like Luxembourg. The Bang of the Belgians, especially, might very well have abandoned his country. But he had set a noble and inspiring example which had impressed all the countries of Europe and, he felt sure he could say, America also. Again, the sufferings of Serbia had been terrible. She had suffered enormous losses; her manhood had been destroyed wholesale. Yet she had fought on without counting her losses. He agreed with President Wilson that it was extremely awkward to find themselves placed in such a situation and to be faced with such a document. But would it not be even more awkward to be compelled at to-morrow’s meeting to refuse to accede to Belgium’s demands? Further, should Belgium persist in her refusal to attend the meeting, the Great Powers would find themselves in an awkward position and [Page 603] it would be a bad beginning to the Conferences. That morning they had decided to grant two Delegates to the King of the Hedjaz and he himself had agreed to that proposal. He begged his colleagues, therefore, to consider very carefully the remarks which he had just made regarding Belgium and Serbia. He was ready to accept any decision, but he was also particularly anxious to avoid a bad start.

Baron Sonnino drew attention to the fact that Serbia would probably very soon be entitled to additional Representatives, as soon as the new Yugo-Slav State was recognised.

M. Pichon said that the question of Yugo-Slavia was not involved. The protest which he had received was from the Serbian Minister, M. Vesnitch, who had notified him that he did not write as the Representative of the Serb-Croat-Slovene State, but as the Representative of Serbia. He would point out that it had been decided to leave the question of the recognition of the Yugo-Slav State to the Conference. Meanwhile, they merely had to deal with Serbia. M. Vesnitch, in his letter, regretted both the smallness of the representation allotted to Serbia and also the fact that the Great Powers had taken this decision without any reference to his Government. He concluded his letter by saying that he reserved to himself the right to raise this question at the first meeting of the Conference. In conclusion, M. Pichon asked the meeting whether they would agree to accord three Representatives to Belgium and three to Serbia.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired whether this was the end of it. He thought that, if they were to occupy their time in making decisions and reversing them and altering them, the Conference would never come to an end. Tomorrow, when it was discovered that Belgium and Serbia had been given three Representatives apiece, Greece, Roumania and even China, with her population of 400 millions, would undoubtedly protest. But if they were going to chop and change constantly, when would they come to the end of it? If he felt sure that this was the last case to be considered, he would not resist. But he felt that if they now changed this number, the representation question would never be closed.

President Wilson pointed out that the Belgian Government in their protest had merely said that the number allotted to them was not acceptable. How did this meeting know that three would be acceptable? Had the Belgians themselves suggested this number?

M. Pichon replied in the affirmative. He explained that three Delegates were required, in order to represent each of the political parties, namely:—

  • M. Hymans, the Foreign Minister, as President.
  • M. Vandervelde, as representing the Socialist Party.
  • M. Van den Heuvel, as representing the Catholic Party.

[Page 604]

M. Clemenceau thought it would be best to accept this proposal, on the understanding that they would refuse ever to re-open the question again.

Mr. Lloyd George agreed, provided it was understood that it would definitely put an end to the question.

(It was agreed that Belgium and Serbia should have three Representatives apiece.)

(It was also agreed that the question of the number of Delegates apportioned to each country must now be regarded as finally closed.)

2. Agenda of First Preliminary Conference M. Pichon said that the next question to consider would be the drafting of the Agenda for the first Preliminary Conference. As regards the subjects to be entered on the Agenda, he suggested the list of questions proposed by President Wilson at a previous meeting, namely:—

League of Nations.
New States.
Frontiers and territorial changes.

These subjects to be discussed in the order given.

President Wilson said that that list had really been put forward to form the basis of discussion at the small meetings and not for the large Conference.

Mr. Balfour wished respectfully to put the following point to the meeting. He agreed that questions such as the League of Nations and Reparation were eminently suitable for discussion at a full Conference, but when it came to discussing the creation of new States, frontiers and territorial changes, and Colonial possessions, he dreaded the position in which they might find themselves. If these questions were to be put to the Delegates sitting at the full Conference, they would also have to be debated in full Conference. He asked his colleagues to imagine what would be the state of the full Conference if all these explosive subjects, full of difficulties and likely to lead to violent disputes, came up for discussion in this manner.

President Wilson enquired whether the following proposal would be preferable. The presiding officer at the Conference would appoint Committees on such and such subjects (large and small Committees), each consisting of a chosen number of Delegates who would be required to report to the Great Powers. The Great Powers would then decide on each question whether it should be sent back to the full Conference or not.

Mr. Lloyd George said that a suggestion had occurred to him. No regular resolution should be proposed to the Conference, but a statement [Page 605] should be made by M. Clemenceau, as Chairman of the Conference, giving the general headings under which they would be prepared to study the various questions to be taken up by the Conference and he would invite each of the Delegations to submit to the Secretariat their views on such questions as might concern them. It would not be necessary to ask each of the Delegations to submit their views on every question. For instance, the Hedjaz need not be asked to give its views on Poland. But each of the Delegations should be invited to send their views to the Secretariat on subjects which concerned them. This would meet the wishes of people such as M. Veniselos, who were anxious to present their case to the Great Powers before any decision was reached by these. As soon as these reports were received, the Great Powers could direct their advisers to examine these documents and to extract irrelevant matter. It was very important that each country should have an opportunity of presenting its case, particularly as regards boundaries which it might covet. This would give the Delegation something to do—a very important matter. It would also give a reality to the Conference on the next day. It would not make the Conference formal and it would give the Delegates an opportunity of putting questions affecting themselves.

President Wilson thought that if Mr. Lloyd George’s proposals were accepted, the large Conference, having nothing to discuss, would die of inanition. M. Clemenceau had said that his proposal would set the machinery working and he agreed that the Great Powers might be able to draw therefrom the work required by them. What they wanted was to give the members something real to do connected with the work of the Conference and not merely the appearance of work.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that if a large number of committees was set up, a machinery would be created which it would be impossible for them to control, especially if the small Powers were represented on each of these small committees. Dozens of subjects would have to be considered and it would be impossible for the small States to be adequately represented on all. On the other hand, each Delegation could prepare reports which would assure their interests being duly considered. The resolution which Mr. Clemenceau had proposed was intended as a guide for the meeting of the Great Powers. When extended to a large Conference of thirty Powers, it was, in his opinion, quite inapplicable, whereas, if the Chairman made a speech asking the Delegations to put forward their views on any subjects included in the approved list which might concern them, [Page 606] the best results would be obtained. The Delegations themselves could decide what were the subjects of interest to them.

M. Pichon said that the Secretariat would receive all the reports and would make a digest of them.

M. Clemenceau enquired what would happen to these reports after they had been dealt with by the Secretariat.

Mr. Balfour thought that if these reports were then transmitted to the Great Powers, that would be a satisfactory arrangement, but if they were referred back to the big Conference, it would be extremely dangerous.

President Wilson proposed that the reports so received by the Secretariat should be submitted “for such reference as the Chairman may determine.”

Mr. Balfour suggested as an amendment that the reports should be forwarded to the Secretariat, “who will transmit the same to the Great Powers.”

Mr. Lloyd George agreed that that was exactly what the small Powers wanted. The small Powers all wished that the Great Powers should receive and give due consideration to their views.

M. Clemenceau said they would adopt Mr. Lloyd George’s proposal, but he wished to add to it something of his own which would to some extent include the proposal originally made by President Wilson. Mr. Balfour had admitted that certain questions, such as the League of Nations and Reparations, could at once be referred to the big Conference. If they agreed to take these two subjects only, that alone would give enormous work to do. On the other hand, President Wilson had asked that the consideration of the League of Nations should be deferred till the second meeting of the Conference. There remained the question of Reparations—a most important one. Why should not that be placed before the Conference on the next day? Why should not a large committee, with financial experts, be appointed to consider that question?

Mr. Lloyd George said that he was altogether in favour of that suggestion, but he hoped it would not be discussed on the next day. He hoped that the question of Reparations would first be discussed here and that, after discussion, a commission would be appointed to deal with the whole question. With this reservation, he would support M. Clemenceau’s proposal. He was of the opinion that each of the Delegations should be asked to send their views on all subjects of interest to them, including the question of a League of Nations.

M. Clemenceau agreed.

Mr. Lloyd George wished to suggest one more subject to be entered on the list, if the list was to be complete, namely, “Punishment of those guilty of offences against the Law of Nations.”

[Page 607]

M. Pichon wished to invite attention to the list included in the Note of Procedure,3 which would be found to be more complete than President Wilson’s. This list included the following:—

League of Nations.
Polish affairs.
Russian affairs.
Baltic Nationalities.
States formed from the late Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
Balkan affairs.
Eastern affairs.
Affairs of the Far East and of the Pacific.
Jewish affairs.
International river navigation (Rhine, Danube, Elbe, Scheldt and Vistula).
International railways (45th parallel, Adriatic to Baltic, Bagdad railways, African railways, Cape to Cairo and Cape to Algiers).
Public legislation ensuring to the peoples their self-determination, combined with the right of ethnical and religious minorities.
International legislation on labour.
International legislation, patents and trade marks.
Penalties against crimes committed during the war.
Economic system.
Financial questions.

It would be noticed that Mr. Lloyd George’s proposal regarding penalties against crimes committed during the war was included.

President Wilson held that subjects such as those included in items 10 and 13 could not be brought under discussion at the Conference. Special technical committees would have to be appointed to draft the necessary regulations.

M. Clemenceau thought that two or three questions only might be suggested for submission to the first Conference.

M. Pichon suggested that in submitting the list to the Delegations special attention should be drawn to the question of the “Responsibility of the authors of the war”.

Mr. Lloyd George asked that they should add to that, “International legislation on labour”.

Mr. Balfour enquired what elasticity was given to the Great Powers to add subjects to the list. He thought the Chairman should be authorised to add any subjects which might at some future date require consideration.

[Page 608]

M. Clemenceau said that the five Great Powers should decide what subjects were to be placed on the list. As Chairman he could not take upon himself the responsibility of deciding this question.

Baron Sonnino agreed that the Chairman should be the mandatory of the five Powers, but any Delegate could present an additional subject, which the Chairman would refer to the five Powers, who would give their decision as to its inclusion in the approved list.

Mr. Balfour wished to raise one point of great importance. President Wilson, the Prime Minister and M. Clemenceau had pointed out how important it was to settle as soon as possible all questions which would facilitate demobilisation. Therefore it would be necessary to indicate the order in which the Delegates should settle the various questions entered on the list. This order would not be settled tomorrow, but they would reserve to themselves later on the right of settling the order of precedence.

Baron Sonnino thought that if they put off fixing the order of precedence the Delegates would not know what subjects to study and would do nothing.

President Wilson thought that demobilisation could not take place before their work had been completed. Demobilisation up to a certain point was taking place at present and could go on as at present But could they hasten the final demobilisation except by making peace?

Baron Sonnino thought that if all questions which would facilitate demobilisation were to be considered first, the territorial questions should take precedence of all others.

M. Clemenceau said that he agreed with President Wilson that peace alone could settle the question of demobilisation.

To sum up, he understood that the Delegations would be invited to submit reports on all questions which might interest them. These reports would be sent to the Secretariat for transmission to the five Great Powers.

The attention of the Delegations would be specially invited to two of these questions namely:—

Responsibility of the authors of the war and penalties for crimes committed during the war.
International legislation on labour.

Baron Sonnino: The Delegations should be at liberty to suggest subjects for addition to the list. The Chairman would transmit these suggestions to the five Great Powers for decision regarding their inclusion in the approved list.

M. Clemenceau, continuing said he would add that the Great Powers would, in due course, fix the date of the second Conference.

Baron Sonnino made it clear that no other subject outside those entered on the Agenda would be considered to-morrow.

[Page 609]

Mr. Lloyd George proposed that if another Power, either great or small, wished to propose any question to the Conference, due notice should be given in order that time should be available for it to receive full consideration.

M. Pichon pointed out that this had already been provided for in the Rules, copies of which would be supplied to each of the Delegations.

Baron Sonnino enquired whether he was correct in thinking that, as regards the organisation of the Secretariat, the Chairman would nominate the Head of the Secretariat, and that each of the Delegations or Governments would retain the power of appointing one representative to the Secretariat.

(It was agreed that the President of the French Council of Ministers, as provisional Chairman of the Conference, should invite the Delegations present to forward to the Secretariat of the Peace Conference reports setting forth their views on any question in which they may be directly interested. Such reports shall be transmitted by the Secretariat to the five Great Powers for their consideration. The Chairman shall invite special attention to the following two subjects as requiring immediate consideration:—

Responsibility of the authors of the war and penalties for crimes committed during the war.
International legislation on labour.

Delegations wishing to suggest additional subjects for consideration are entitled to submit them to the Chairman for transmission to the five Great Powers, who will decide as to the inclusion in the list of subjects.)

3. Communication to the Press Mr. Lloyd George distributed a draft note to be issued to the Press for Publication, drawn up in accordance with a resolution adopted at that morning’s meeting.4

President Wilson wished to preface what he was going to say by the statement that he did not know how it would be possible for him to defend privacy for the meetings of the full Conference except on unusual occasions. The argument for privacy in these conversations between the Great Powers was conclusive. He wished to draw a distinction between the two. He would therefore suggest certain amendments in order to allow full publicity for the full Conference proceedings. He could not defend entire secrecy for the big Conferences. He felt compelled to draw a distinction between the two.

(President Wilson then read the text as amended by him in order to give effect to his proposals. Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Balfour proposed minor amendments in the wording of certain sentences.)

[Page 610]

The following text was then unanimously accepted:—

The Representatives of the Allied and Associated Powers have given earnest consideration to the question of publicity for the proceedings of the Peace Conference. They are anxious that the public, through the Press, should have the fullest information compatible with safeguarding the supreme interest of all, which is that a just and honourable settlement should be arrived at with the minimum of delay. It is, however, obvious that publicity, for the preliminary conversations now proceeding must be subject to the limitations necessarily imposed by the difficult and delicate nature of their task.

The conversations of the great Peace Conference are far more analogous to the meetings of a Cabinet than to those of a Legislature. Nobody has ever suggested that Cabinet meetings should be held in public, and if they were so held the work of the government would become impossible. One reason why Cabinets are held in private is in order that differences may be reconciled and agreement reached before the stage of publicity is begun. The essence of democratic method is not that deliberations of a Government should be conducted in public, but that its conclusions should be subject to the consideration of a popular Chamber, and to free and open discussion on the platform and in the Press.

The representatives of the Associated Powers are holding conversations in order to solve questions which affect the vital interests of many nations, and upon which they may at present hold many diverse views. These deliberations cannot proceed by the method of a majority vote. No nation can be committed except by the free vote of its own Delegates. The conclusions arrived at at these consultations, therefore, can only be formed by the difficult process of reaching agreement among all. This vital process would only be hindered if the discussion of every disputed question were to open by a public declaration by each Delegation of its own national point of view. Such a declaration would in many cases be followed by a premature public controversy. This would be serious enough if it were conned to controversy between parties within each State. It might be extremely dangerous if, as would often be inevitable, it resulted in controversy between nations. Moreover, such public declarations would render that give and take on the part of the Delegates themselves which is essential to a successful negotiation a matter of infinitely greater difficulty.

It is also extremely important that the settlement should be not only just but speedy. Every belligerent Power is anxious for the early conclusion of peace, in order that its armies may be demobilised and that it may return once more to the ways of peace. If premature publicity is given to the negotiations, the proceedings of the Peace inference would be interminably protracted, and the Delegates would be forced to speak not only to the business before the Conference, but to concern themselves with the controversies which had been raised by the account of their proceedings outside.

Finally, there will often be very strong reasons against announcing the conclusions of the conversations as they are arrived at. Representatives of a nation may be willing to give their assent on one point only provided they receive a concession on another point which [Page 611] has not yet been discussed. It will not be possible to judge of the wisdom and justice of the Peace settlement until it can be viewed as a whole, and premature announcements might lead to misapprehensions and anxiety as to the ultimate results for which there was no real foundation.

In calling attention, however, to this necessary limitation on publicity, the representatives of the Powers do not underrate the importance of carrying public opinion with them in the vast task by which they are confronted. They recognise that unless public opinion approves of the results of their labours they will be nugatory. This reasoning applies with conclusive force to the present conversations between the representatives of the Great Powers.

(With regard to the full Conferences, the following rule was adopted: “Representatives of the Press shall be admitted to the meetings of the full Conference, but upon necessary occasions the deliberations of the Conference may be held in camera”.)

4. Renewal of Armistice With Germany M. Clemenceau communicated to the meeting the substance of a telephone message received from Marshal Foch, to the effect that the German Delegates had agreed to sign an agreement relating to the German mercantile fleet in accordance with the conclusion reached by the Supreme War Council at the meeting held in Paris on Monday, 13th January, 1919. (See I. C.–105.)5

  1. Baron de Gaiffier d’Hestroy, Belgian Minister at Paris.
  2. Vol. i, p. 390.
  3. For text of this draft, see p. 620.
  4. BC–1, Minute 3, p. 512.