Paris Peace Conf. 180.03201/22


Secretary’s Notes of a Meeting of Foreign Ministers Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Wednesday, 4th June, 1919, at 3 p.m.

Present Also Present
America, United States of America, United States of
Hon. R. Lansing Dr. C. H. Haskins
Secretary British Empire
Mr. L. Harrison Brig. General H. O. Mance
British Empire Sir Eyre Crowe
The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, O. M., M. P. Colonel Twiss
Secretary Captain C. T. M. Fuller
Mr. E. Phipps Hon. A. Akers-Douglas
France France
M. Stephen Pichon M. André Tardieu
Secretaries M. Laroche
Capt. de St. Quentin Italy
M. de Bearn M. Ricci-Busatti
H. E. Baron Sonnino
M. Bertele
H. E. Baron Makino
M. Kawai

Joint Secretariat

America, United States of Lieut. C. Burden
British Empire Capt. E. Abraham
France Capt. A. Portier
Italy Lieut. Zanchi

1. M. Pichon said that M. Tardieu had prepared a proposal, which he wished to lay before the Council, regarding the procedure to be followed for the revision of the Treaties of 1839.

Revision of the Treaties of 1839 M. Tardieu said that the Council had to deal with two questions, one of method, and one of substance. The question of method was whether negotiations should be carried on directly between the Dutch and the Belgians, or in an international [Page 793] Commission, on which the Great Powers and those two countries should be represented. The question of substance was how far the revision of the Treaties should extend. He thought he was in a position to give the views of the Commission on Belgian Affairs.

As regards the first question, it seemed difficult for the Powers which had declared revision necessary, especially for such of them as were signatories to the Treaty, not to take part in the discussion. On this point, therefore, the contention of the Belgians should be accepted.

As to the second point, it seemed that, as the Conference had decided that no territorial compensation to Holland at the expense of Germany could be enforced, all territorial questions arising out of the revision of the Treaties must be excluded. A further argument was that no Commission had considered the question of territorial readjustments in Flanders or Limbourg. The solution he proposed, therefore, was one that could be adopted speedily and which offered the advantage of a middle course between the Belgian and Dutch points of view. In regard to territory, Belgium would be refused her demand, but in regard to the method of conducting negotiations, her requests would be satisfied.

Mr. Balfour said that he was inclined to agree with the policy proposed by M. Tardieu. He felt sure that it was useless to try and negotiate territorial changes in view of the categorical refusal of Holland. Anyone in the position of the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs would have adopted the same attitude. The Powers could not compel, nor could they induce Holland to give up any territory. He also agreed with M. Tardieu in his general view regarding procedure. It was difficult for any of the Great Powers who were signatory to the Treaties of 1839 to disinterest themselves from the negotiations. He was not sure, however, that it would not be better for the Great Powers to remain in the background while Belgium and Holland conducted the negotiations as far as possible, directly. This, he thought, was not necessarily in contradiction with what M. Tardieu had proposed. M. Hymans wished all the Delegations concerned to discuss questions of railways, canals, the Scheldt etc. as it were, in Plenary Conference. These questions were no doubt important, but hardly justified such a procedure. It would be better, he thought, that Belgium and Holland should try to obtain agreement, and come to the Conference should they fail to obtain it. The Great Powers would, of course, be party in any case to the final settlement. The smaller the number of people discussing such questions as related to waterways, the better, and the solution would be all the speedier. Moreover, if Belgium and Holland really wished to come to an agreement, they would be better alone. He did not know whether this would suit [Page 794] M. Hymans, but M. Van Karnebeek had shown a conciliatory spirit towards the Belgian demands, and this suggestion might lead to a friendly arrangement. He said this in the interest of Belgium. He wished Belgium to obtain all the privileges she asked for, and he thought she would get them more readily by a friendly talk with Holland than by what might appear to the Dutch as coercion by the Great Powers.

M. Tardieu said that he concurred with what Mr. Balfour had said. It was obviously desirable to obtain a friendly arrangement between the Dutch and the Belgians, but according to the plan suggested, the Great Powers would be placed in the position of arbiter. An arbiter was generally a person foreign to the dispute. The fact could not be neglected, however, that several of the Great Powers were signatories of the Treaties under revision. He would therefore propose a solution very similar to Mr. Balfour’s, namely, that the Great Powers, together with Belgium and Holland, should constitute a Commission. This Commission would immediately ask the Dutch and Belgian Members to form a sub-Commission, in order to clear the ground. This sub-Commission would be able, it was hoped, to find solutions for all the more domestic problems concerning the two countries. There were some subjects, however, notably the military problem M. Hymans had alluded to, the fortification of the Scheldt, the Port of Flushing, and similar questions, in which the Great Powers were interested. Their advice might be of use in finding a solution to these questions.

Mr. Balfour said that he accepted this proposal.

Mr. Lansing said that he was not able to say that he would accept it. Whatever the origin of the divisions of territory and reciprocal rights arranged in 1839, the matter had now become essentially one concerning Belgium and Holland. The military question, in his view, was of small importance. The principal question was economic and the Great Powers were not properly interested in this question. He therefore proposed that a joint Dutch and Belgian Committee be appointed to consider the whole problem. In case of disagreement, or in case of undue delay, the Great Powers, or the League of Nations, or Holland and Belgium, might appoint a single individual to arbitrate.

Baron Sonnino said that this could only be given in the form of a recommendation. Of the two proposals, he thought perhaps Mr. Lansing’s was the more conciliatory.

Mr. Balfour asked whether, in Baron Sonnino’s opinion, Belgium would prefer it.

M. Pichon said that he thought Holland might, but that Belgium would not.

Baron Sonnino said that both sides could not be satisfied.

[Page 795]

Mr. Lansing said it must be borne in mind that one party stood to gain something, and the other could only expect to lose.

Baron Sonnino said that if the stipulation that territorial questions were excluded was clearly made, Holland might be satisfied.

M. Pichon expressed the view that Holland would be satisfied with this. In his opinion, in view of the decision previously adopted, it was impossible for the Great Powers to avoid intervening in the discussion. By the 1839 arrangement, Belgium had been made neutral, her sovereignty had been limited, but her security had been guaranteed. It had now been decided that her sovereignty must be restored, and the limitations removed; if so, her security must be established on a new basis. The Powers which had established the previous regime, could not evade the duty of participating in the creation of the new. The Dutch said, however, and they seemed genuinely disposed to display good-will, that the desired result could be better obtained by discussion between Holland and Belgium than by a debate before an areopagus of the big Powers. He thought, therefore, that Mr. Balfour’s proposal met the case. The terms of reference to the Commission should be clearly defined, territorial questions should be strictly excluded, the question of the new regime to be substituted for the old should be examined, and the remaining questions should be referred to the Belgians and Dutch to solve by common agreement. Should they fail to do so, Mr. Lansing’s proposal might be resorted to.

Mr. Lansing said that he was not in favour of a Commission of the Great Powers. In the first place, the United States of America had not been party to the Treaties of 1839. The Council was no doubt within its rights in passing a resolution in favour of revision. Any body, of citizens, might do that. It did not follow that the authors of the resolution should make the revision. Matters, he thought, all over the world, were better settled without foreign interference. If the 1839 Treaties were annulled, Belgium would be relieved of limitations to her sovereignty. Instead of paying for this advantage, she asked that more might be given to her at Dutch expense. An International Commission to deal with this matter was unlikely to produce an acceptable solution, and more likely to aggravate bad feeling. He therefore adhered to his view, that the two countries concerned should try and find a solution by themselves, and if they failed, submit the dispute to an arbitrator.

M. Pichon pointed out that Clause D of the conclusions suggested by the Commission1 and adopted by the Council,2 stipulated “that the Great Powers at the Peace Conference whose interests are general should take part therein (the revision).”

[Page 796]

Mr. Lansing pointed out that at that time, the Council had in mind the delivery to Holland of certain territories to be taken from Germany.

M. Laroche asked if he might be allowed to state the view of the Commission. In 1839, a perpetual limitation of Belgian sovereignty had been instituted. This had been done by the Powers. If this were abrogated, the situation preceding that settlement was restored. It followed that the same Powers should provide the alternative. Had the Powers not taken part in the Treaties of 1839, the settlement would certainly have been very different. It was the duty of the Powers to settle the fate of Belgium now, otherwise, Belgium would be at a disadvantage in relation to Holland. She remained hampered by the limitations imposed in 1839, whereas Holland was free from these impediments.

M. Pichon quoted from the Annex to the Report of the Commission3 the following passage:—

“4. In any case the revision of the three treaties is called for.

Several of the signatory Powers have in fact given definite expression to their views as to the situation set forth above.

Belgium as early as 26 July, 1917, made the following declaration: ‘The international statute established 1831–39 in order to guarantee the security of Belgium has become void by reason of the violation of the joint treaty by two of its signatories. It must be revised.’ She has since renewed this demand before the Peace Conference.
France and Great Britain, signatories and guarantors, have adhered to the Belgian demand for revision.
The United States, not a signatory, has declared that Belgium must be ‘restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations.’

It is a logical consequence of this unanimity and of the considerations set forth above, that the three treaties should be revised, the revision being undertaken in agreement with Holland, not only by Belgium, but by the Great Powers which are signatories and guarantors thereof.

This revision is fully justified in law and cannot be refused.”

He said that he made this quotation not in order to place Mr. Lansing in the position of contradicting the declared policy of the United States, but merely in order to make the question as clear as possible. He wished to reconcile Belgium and Holland, but he also wished the interests of the Great Powers not to be overlooked. These interests were limited to the question of neutrality and sovereignty, the rest could be left to the Belgians and the Dutch to settle among themselves.

[Page 797]

Mr. Lansing said that there were two questions, one was the limitation of the sovereignty of Belgium, and the other the limitation of the sovereignty of Holland. He was entirely in favour of relieving Belgium from all limitations to her sovereignty. In regard to anything which might impose limitations on Dutch sovereignty, he favoured direct negotiations between Belgium and Holland.

Baron Sonnino said he thought there was general agreement. The question was to find a formula. He suggested that the Powers should nominate a Commission to examine from the general point of view the consequences of the revision of the 1839 Treaties, with the object of relieving Belgium of all limitations to her sovereignty, without reference to any territorial readjustments, and only in so far as the questions in dispute could not be settled between the two countries directly concerned. He pointed out that the question of the Congo, which was also neutralised, would be likely to arise. This question concerned all the Powers, and could not be dealt with only between Belgium and Holland.

Mr. Lansing said that he was in favour of a Commission to examine the limitations or restrictions imposed on Belgian Sovereignty and the best means of removing them. In regard to any similar burdens to be imposed on Holland, he thought Belgium and Holland should settle the matter together.

Baron Sonnino pointed out that the neutrality of any country affected the sovereignty of all others. Not only Holland was concerned. For instance, Germany in 1914 had not the sovereign right of attacking Belgium; she had done so and that was why the rest of Europe had fallen on her. The consequences of the neutrality of any country were therefore general.

Mr. Lansing said that his reservation related to limitations that might be placed on Dutch sovereignty, for instance the servitude Belgium wished to impose on the Dutch part of the Scheldt.

Mr. Tardieu said that if this view were taken he could not see what Belgium could possibly gain. Whether neutrality were considered an advantage or a burden, it was to be abolished. No territorial re-arrangement was to be made. All that could be done was to give Belgium waterway facilities, notably in the course of the Scheldt. He pointed out that the Peace Conference had imposed an international régime on many rivers, for instance the Rhine which passed through neutral countries. He did not think Dutch sovereignty would be damaged by a similar arrangement in regard to the Scheldt. President Wilson in replying to M. Bratiano in the last Plenary Conference, had said that as the Great Powers were accepting the responsibility of safeguarding the Peace of the world, they had a right to establish such conditions as they felt they would be justified in maintaining.

[Page 798]

Mr. Lansing said that he was unable to perceive the cogency of the argument. Belgium was being relieved of a burden, and alleged that she must be compensated therefor.

Mr. Tardieu said that Belgium must be in a position to defend herself.

Mr. Balfour said that there was surely a substantial difference between interference with Dutch Sovereignty and saying that the Scheldt was really an international river. In 1839, Holland had been given control of the stream. As a result, Belgium was unable to ask her Allies to come to her help. Now that Belgium was to be made sovereign, she must be in a position to summon her friends to assist in her defence. In this war, neither the French nor the British Navy had been able to go up the Scheldt in order to help Belgium. Holland had a right to say to the British and French Governments that as she was maintaining her neutrality vis à vis Germany, Belgium’s Allies would not be allowed to help in the defence of Antwerp. It was surely not an attack on Dutch sovereignty to ask that Belgium be enabled to summon her Allies to her assistance.

Mr. Lansing observed that had Great Britain been the enemy of Belgium, the arrangement would have worked the other way.

Mr. Balfour said he wished to point out that the British Admiralty as such did not desire any change in the status of the Scheldt, it was the Belgians that desired it, not the British. The Belgians desired henceforth to throw in their lot with the French, British and Americans and to resist with them all danger coming from the East. They now said “we cannot call our friends to help us.”

Mr. Lansing asked whether Mr. Balfour would advocate that the Rhine be so internationalised as to allow Germany to call in her friends if attacked.

M. Tardieu said that he would like to add a few minor arguments to those of Mr. Balfour. Mr. Balfour had spoken of the danger to Belgium in time of war. He wished to speak of the difficulties of Belgium in time of Peace. The régime established in 1839 had as a result that Belgium was deprived of the most natural rights in the stream which was her outlet to the sea. This stream was as extensive as an arm of the sea and the only Port on it was the Commercial Capital of Belgium. All the Great Powers could do was to say that they were agreed that an alteration of the system was desirable. No other pressure could be put on Holland. He thought it was exaggerated to say that any change in the régime was an attack on Dutch sovereignty. Should the Conference which was trying to rebuild the world in the interests of Peace and Justice, shirk a matter of this sort for such a reason?

Mr. Balfour agreed that the Conference was trying to rebuild the [Page 799] world. One of the methods was to open all natural international waterways to the world. No better example of such a waterway existed than the Scheldt. The Powers should be able to go to Holland and say “Will you not allow this great international stream to be governed internationally like the Rhine and the Danube?” This was not a territorial question, nor one of local transportation. It should be treated apart from such questions and submitted, like the case of other big streams in other parts of the world, to a special Commission.

Mr. Lansing said that he was surprised at Mr. Balfour’s argument. In the case of the St. Lawrence, would Canada or the United States agree to the control of this river by an international Commission? Yet to reach certain American cities, American vessels had to pass through the Canadian reaches of the river. He could understand rule by an international Commission whenever a river passed through many States especially States which had been engaged in hostilities, but when the river in question only concerned two friendly countries, he could see no reason why they should not settle the problem together, only calling in a third party in case of disagreement. Belgium and Holland had made a whole series of treaties together, regarding the Scheldt. They had been mentioned by Mr. van Karnebeek on the previous day. It was a general rule that the nation situated upstream should also desire sovereignty over the whole course. This was human nature, and inevitably led to the imposition of servitudes on the country downstream. Why should the Powers take on their shoulders Holland’s burden? It was certain that an international Commission would never satisfy the parties.

M. Tardieu said that he thought his proposal answered the case. The Commission he proposed would not deal with territorial questions, but only with the revision of the general political status. This should be done under the auspices of the Powers. All strictly local relations would be settled between Belgium and Holland.

Mr. Lansing said he would agree, provided it was clearly understood that territorial sovereignty included servitudes such as those imposed in favour of transit on rivers.

M. Tardieu said that the operation as a whole would not consist in imposing new servitudes on Holland, but primarily in liberating Belgium from servitudes. To take a concrete instance, would Mr. Lansing regard it as a limitation of Dutch sovereignty if, instead of the system by which Belgium had to ask Holland to perform all works necessary for navigation, each country were empowered to do the needful on a basis of equality?

M. Sonnino said that it was undesirable to define too closely what the Powers could or could not do. Holland was ready to do much [Page 800] to avoid interference by the Powers. It would be a pity to give her a pretext for resisting.

M. Pichon restated the proposal that a Commission should study the revision of the 1839 treaties with the object of establishing Belgian sovereignty, leaving aside all territorial questions. Holland and Belgium should be invited to solve all the subsidiary problems they could solve together. The Powers would not intervene if any agreement were reached.

Mr. Lansing suggested that the investigation be made only by the Powers signatory to the Treaties of 1839. The Commission could then report to the Council.

Mr. Balfour said that in his view President Wilson would not wish America to be left out of the investigation. He would like to make an informal suggestion. If this were a private transaction, he thought it would be best if M. Pichon asked M. van Karnebeek to come to see him informally, and ask him to state exactly what Holland’s position was;

regarding territorial matters;
regarding local questions;
regarding the Scheldt.

M. Pichon might tell him that the matter had been discussed in the Council and no resolution had been made. He might ask him whether, if all territorial matters were excluded, a good arrangement regarding the Scheldt could not be secured. It might be indicated to M. Van Karnebeek that if such a settlement were not arrived at, there was always a chance that the River might be declared international. It was often easier to get useful results in this way than by a more formal method. Holland might be more yielding than if face to face with a formal document.

Mr. Lansing said that he agreed and the result of this conversation might furnish a guide for a resolution later on.

M. Sonnino thought that the Dutch might be more frank with the Belgians, especially as they seemed very anxious about their public opinion.

Mr. Balfour added that it might be better to leave M. Pichon a completely free hand and avoid stating at the outset that the Powers had no thought of taking territory from Holland. In fact, they had no such intention and could not carry it out if they had, but it might be inexpedient to say so categorically.

M. Pichon replied that he had already had a talk with M. Van Karnebeek, who had told him that Holland could not take part in any negotiations touching her sovereignty, or her territory. He could not even submit to his Government any question of this sort, as this would cause an explosion of public feeling. As to bringing [Page 801] about better relations between Holland and Belgium, lie expected good results from direct negotiation. He thought that a solution could be found to all the questions relating to Canals, to connection between the Meuse and the Rhine, to the Scheldt, in fact, to all the questions pending between the two countries. He felt sure that he would be able to satisfy the Belgian Government. That was the ground on which he stood and he would not change it. It was for this reason that M. Pichon thought the proposal for a Commission was a good one. It gave satisfaction to the Dutch Government and might result in satisfaction to Belgium.

Mr. Lansing said that he would agree, still with the proviso that ‘territory’ included rivers just as it included three miles of sea from the coast of any country.

M. Sonnino said that the main object was to allow the two countries to decide all they could with every appearance of freedom. Too close a definition of functions was therefore undesirable.

Mr. Balfour pointed out that 63 kilometres of the navigable course of the Scheldt were in French territory, and the French fluvial ports of Condé and Valenciennes were situated on this course. The Scheldt was therefore an international river.

(After some further discussion, the following formula was adopted:—

“Having recognised the necessity of revising the Treaties of 1839, the Powers entrust to a Commission comprising a representative of the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Belgium and Holland, the task of studying the measures which must result from this revision and of submitting to them proposals implying neither transfer of territorial sovereignty nor creation of international servitudes.

The Commission will ask Belgium and Holland to present agreed suggestions regarding navigable streams in the spirit of the general principles adopted by the Peace Conference.”)

(The Meeting then adjourned.)

Paris, June 5th, 1919.

  1. See FM–17, p. 730.
  2. On March 8, 1919; see BC–47 (SWC–14), p. 270.
  3. Commission on Belgian Affairs: Report to the Supreme Council of the Allies on the Revision of the Treaty of 1839.