Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/43½


Notes of a Meeting Held at Mr. Lloyd George’s Flat at 23 Rue Nitôt, Paris, on Monday, 2 June, 1919, at 4 p.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • British Empire
      • Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B.—Secretary
      • Professor P. J. Mantoux.—Interpreter.

1. President Wilson said that after the meeting with the Austrians in the morning, he had consulted his experts about the question of Klagenfurt. It appeared that the whole difficulty had been raised by the Jugo-Slavs who wanted to hold the plebiscite by communes instead of for the whole district. This was what had been refused by the Council of Four in other cases. It was particularly unsuitable to the Klagenfurt Valley which constituted an economic unit. It was indeed a pocket surrounded by mountains and Klagenfurt was the only railway centre in the Valley. Klagenfurt

Mr. Lloyd George pointed out that there was a river running through the middle of the valley and a river was not a bad boundary between two countries. North of the river there was an overwhelming majority of Austrians; South of it an overwhelming majority of Slavs. If a plebiscite were taken for the whole, it might give a slight majority to the Jugo-Slavs who would then carry the whole Valley. He understood that the United States’ experts said that they were not Slavs but Wends and that these would very likely vote with the Austrians.

President Wilson said that the interests of the Wends were with the Austrians. He did not mind if the Valley went to Austria if it was given by votes of the Slavs. The United States’ experts who had travelled through the region had found that the people were, on the whole, desirous of remaining as a unit and part of Austria.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that the views of the Jugo-Slavs should be heard.

M. Clemenceau agreed and suggested M. Vesnitch should be heard. It would only take a quarter of an hour.

[Page 139]

2. Mr. Lloyd George said he felt it was his duty to explain the present position of the British Delegation towards the German Treaty of Peace. It was an anxious one. So far as British public was concerned, it had made up its mind that it wanted to get Peace and was not so British Cabinet much concerned about the precise terms. British public opinion would not support a Government that went on with the war without very substantial reasons. Consequently, he had thought it advisable to invite as many members of the British Government as could be spared to come to Paris and confer with him. Altogether he had held four meetings. He had first consulted the British Empire Delegation alone. Then he had conferred informally with the members of the British Cabinet alone on Saturday evening and finally on Sunday he had held two joint meetings of the members of the British Government with members of the British Empire Delegation. He had felt it useful to gather the views of men who were not immersed in the details of the Peace Treaty and whose perspective was consequently clear. He had asked each member separately for his opinion. They had proved to be unanimous on certain points. In particular, they had shown that they were not prepared to continue the war and march on Germany or join in the reimposition of the blockade unless certain defects in the Peace Treaty were put right. He regretted to say that Mr. Barnes, who was the only labour representative in his Cabinet, had written to say that he could not sign the present Treaty of Peace. The South African Delegation were also refusing to sign the present Treaty and General Botha, who was a man of great moderation, insisted on certain changes. Apart from these, however, the whole of those he had consulted had unanimously agreed that unless certain defects in the Treaty were put right they could not advise that the British Army should be allowed to march or that the Fleet should take part in the blockade. He would point out that those present had constituted a very fair representation of all Sections of the British Cabinet. There had been Conservatives and Unionists, Mr. Barnes, representing labour, representatives of the Dominions and a moderate liberal in Mr. Fisher, whose views carried great weight. Before coming to the Meeting, they had read all the documents carefully. They were in touch with public opinion in England which, they said, wanted Peace and did not care so very much about the details of the terms. Several of his colleagues had expressed surprise that the German counter-proposal had gone so far in concessions to the Allies. Mr. Chamberlain had been present and both he and Lord Egbert Cecil were strongly of opinion that changes were necessary in the Treaty. Both the Archbishops had written to him and expressed [Page 140] the same view. They might be taken as fairly representative of moderate opinion. German Delegation’s Letter on the Treaty: Attitude of the British Cabinet

The points his colleagues had been most anxious to see changed were the following:—

The Eastern Frontiers.

After reading the case put forward by the Germans, they felt they could not support an advance by the British Army unless this matter was put right. In this they had the support of the British experts.

Pointing to an ethnographic map of Western Poland and Upper Silesia, he explained that the following were the changes which the Experts advised.

In Upper Silesia they considered that there should be a plebiscite. The advantage of this was that if Upper Silesia elected to go to Poland no question of a war of revenge could arise. If Germany instead of annexing Alsace Lorraine had held a plebiscite in 1870, the present war would never have taken place. Neither could Prussia nurse a war of revenge in the future if Upper Silesia had declared itself for Poland by a plebiscite. His personal view was that Upper Silesia would vote in favour of Poland.

The next point arose in connection with Guhrau and Militsch. He was informed that this area had no historical connection with Poland and was inhabited by Germans in an immense majority. The frontier had been moved to the South in order to secure a strategical defensive line upon the river Bartsch. The strategic arguments however had not been deemed of a very convincing character.

Another district in which a rectification ought to be made was the Schneidemühl-Konitz region. In this district the frontier had been moved slightly to the west of the ethnographical frontier because of railway considerations and further a desire to avoid a serious strategic danger to Poland. The population in this area, however, was predominantly German.

Yet another point where change was desirable was a small district in the extreme north of Pomerania which was inhabited by Germans in a large majority and had been assigned to Poland partly because of railway considerations and partly in order to widen the corridor to the sea. This region, he was informed, was historically German and had no connection with Poland. Finally there was the question of Memel but this was a minor matter. His colleagues had also been a good deal concerned about the Saar. On this matter, however, he had taken up a strong line and had pointed out that at the end of 15 years, if the Saar wished to become Prussian it could do so and he thought his Colleagues would not press their objection here.

The next point, and every one of his Colleagues had made it, referred to compensation. All thought that more had been asked for [Page 141] than Germany could pay. They had pointed out that the scheme was indefinite and no figure had been fixed. He himself had two alternative suggestions on this subject which he would elaborate later, if desired, but he would rather have them examined by Experts before they were discussed in detail by the Council.

The next question raised had been that of the army of occupation. To this his Colleagues would not agree. They urged that when the German army was reduced to a strength of 100,000 men it was ridiculous to maintain an army of occupation of 200,000 men on the Rhine. They represented that it was only a method of quartering the French army on Germany and making Germany pay the cost. It had been pointed out that Germany would not constitute a danger to France for 30 years or even 50 years; certainly not in 15 years. There was something to be said for Marshal Foch’s view that the Rhine should become the frontier of France, although personally he could not agree to it, but there was nothing to be said for the 15 years’ occupation. British military opinion coincided with that of all his Colleagues in that respect. It would cost 100 millions a year if the burden were placed on the German Exchequer and the result of this would be that there would be nothing left for compensation. He then referred to the report by Lord Robert Cecil, M. Loucheur, Mr. Norman Davis and other experts, on a scheme of credit for Europe from which he drew the inference that for the first year or two, Germany would have as much as she could do to pay for her own maintenance. Hence it was reasonable to infer that for a time the army of occupation would cost every penny that Germany could spare. Further, it would be a constant cause of friction. Experience had shown that an army could not be quartered in a foreign country after a war without this result. His Colleagues therefore said they could not see their way to authorise the British Delegates to sign unless there was some modification of this part of the Treaty, nor would they allow the British army to be used for any advance to enforce the Treaty unless the modifications were made. They felt that they could not put this burden on Germany and at the same time deprive the Allies of every penny of compensation. The advice of the British military authorities was that two years was the utmost limit of time for the occupation.

Another point arose in connection with the League of Nations. His Colleagues thought that some indication ought to be given that if Germany showed a disposition to carry out the Peace terms, they should be allowed to enter the League of Nations as soon as possible. They did not urge that this should be done immediately, but that hope should be held out of their being allowed to come in within a year or two. His Colleagues had been unanimous on this point. They had advised that public opinion in Great Britain was a little [Page 142] shaken by the German comments on the Peace terms and found from Brockdorff-Rantzau’s letter that the Germans were prepared to go a good way to meet the Allies.

A final point was that there were multitudes of small matters in the Treaty that gave the impression that Germany was being tied up in many different directions. These pin-pricks had been held by his Colleagues to produce a very serious cumulative effect.

To sum up, the main points on which his Colleagues pressed for a change referred to the Eastern front, Reparation, the army of occupation, the League of Nations and the pin-pricks. He had felt that he ought at once to communicate this information to his Colleagues on the Council.

President Wilson said that the objections raised to the Peace Treaty were of such importance that he would ask that instead of holding a Meeting on the following morning, he should be free so as to be able to consult the American group of Plenipotentiaries and Experts.

M. Clemenceau said that he would like to do the same thing.

President Wilson said he would begin by asking the opinion of his Colleagues, without expressing any view in order not to bias them.

Mr. Lloyd George said that his Colleagues had disliked the Saar Valley scheme, but he had defended it. He and Mr. Balfour had taken a defensive attitude and his Colleagues had been the critics.

President Wilson said he thought the Saar Valley scheme was sound, he asked Mr. Lloyd George for the loan of his ethnographic map of Poland, a request which was granted.

M. Clemenceau said he wished to thank Mr. Lloyd George for his frank statement of the position. It was an extremely grave situation. Indeed it could not be more grave. Just as Mr. Lloyd George had considered current opinion in his own country, so he had to consider the current opinion here in France. In England the view seemed to prevail that the easiest way to finish the war was by making concessions. In France the contrary view was held that it was best to act firmly (brusquer). The French people, unfortunately, knew the Germans very intimately and they believed that the more concessions we made, the more the Germans would demand. What he feared was that by making concessions, a road would be taken which would lead to Peace through negotiations over an incalculable number not of weeks but of months. With these preliminary remarks, he would make a few observations on each of the questions raised.

In regard to Poland he did not say that there might not be desirable rectifications of the frontier. It was possible that some alterations [Page 143] might be made. He would observe, however, that sometimes it was not possible to follow purely ethnographical lines, as President Wilson had himself pointed out in the case of Klagenfürt. When we spoke of establishing Poland, it must be remembered this was not done merely to redress one of the greatest wrongs in history. It was desired to create a barrier between Germany and Russia. He would emphasize this by referring to the statement attributed to Erzberger and reproduced in the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. He was alleged to have said that the principal aim of Germany would be to weaken Poland. If Poland were weak, she would be at the mercy of Germany. If she was strong she would provide a barrier between Germany and Russia. If Poland fell to Germany, the Allies would have lost the war. Germany would be stronger than ever and would be able to renew the advance of 1914, and as Erzberger had put it would “resume her march on Paris”. Without taking this statement too seriously, it should not be forgotten that if Germany were to colonise Russia, the war would be lost and not won.

In regard to the Saar he would make no comment as he understood that Mr. Lloyd George’s Colleagues did not press that point.

In regard to compensation, France was convinced that Germany was not being asked to pay as much as she ought. (Mr. Lloyd George said that this view had been expressed in England also.) As France had suffered most in the war, having been overrun by the enemy, so she demanded more from Germany. The general view in France was that he himself had not done enough. Moreover this was by no means what was said by those holding extreme opinions but by quite moderate men. M. Ribot had made some such observation in his recent speech. He himself believed that the proposals made in the Treaty were reasonable but he had the whole opinion of France against him. Consequently, it would be impossible for him to recede still further. (Mr. Lloyd George interjected that he did not wish to recede though he had alternative proposals to make.) If Mr. Lloyd George could show him a better method he would be glad to examine it together. Public opinion in each country took a different note. Mr. Lloyd George had spoken of British public opinion. This of course said nothing about the Colonies or about the Naval proposals. Naturally it was satisfied in these respects. (Mr. Lloyd George interjected that he had not spoken about the Colonies. If France was willing to give up Colonies so was Great Britain.)

The question of occupation was the most difficult and painful. He had been struggling from day to day with military men who had all sorts of proposals to make. One day when the controversy was finished he could show his Colleagues a remarkable collection of documents [Page 144] on the subject. Here in France he was accused of making too great concessions. The agreement in regard to reparations was one matter in which he was said to have yielded too readily. The burden of the cost of the Army of Occupation must be ascertained. He would be upset if the result should prove unfavourable to the just claims of Great Britain or any other ally. Another question was as to whether the Army of Occupation was necessary. He thought that this question had not been properly put by Mr. Lloyd George’s colleagues. He recognised that Germany was not an immediate menace to France. But Germany would sign the Treaty with every intention of not carrying it out. Evasions would be made first on one point and then on another. The whole Treaty would go by the board if there were not some guarantees such as were provided by the occupation. Consequently he could not agree to there being no troops on the Rhine.

His policy, as he had declared in the Chamber was to keep a perfect entente with Great Britain and the United States of America. He saw the inconveniences of this policy. He recognised the immense distance of water which separated the United States from France and he recognised the growth of the British Empire. Nevertheless it was his policy to stand to the Entente. For this he had been strongly attacked. If he were obliged to retire from office, his colleagues would find themselves met by a much stronger opposition. The best course to be taken was to discuss these matters and try and reduce their differences to a minimum. They should consider the facts and only facts. But if in the end there should remain some points on which there was an irreducible chasm between their views he did not see how they were to act, with the Germans waiting at Versailles.

Mr. Lloyd George said he would like to offer a few remarks on what M. Clemenceau had said. Preoccupations in England had been much the same as in France. The only trouble which he had had in England had been in regard to compensation. He had had no trouble about the Colonies. There had been a little difference about ships and there must be no surprise about this, when it was remembered how many ships had been lost by Great Britain. With regard to Colonies, however, he had read scarcely a speech or a newspaper article in the United Kingdom, though of course some of the Dominions had an interest in particular colonies. If Germany were to say, “We will sign if you will give us a mandate to our colonies”, he would be prepared to give up German East Africa on condition that France would give up the Cameroons. The main British concern, however, at present, was in regard to the occupation of the Rhine. His colleagues had felt that from the moment when a guarantee had been [Page 145] given to France that if they were attacked by the Germans, Great Britain would go to their support, there should have been no question of occupation.

M. Clemenceau said he hoped Mr. Lloyd George would not begin the whole matter again. The situation was very grave.

Mr. Lloyd George said he did not in the least wish to minimise the gravity of the circumstances, but he had perfectly clear instructions as to the line he was to take. Those instructions were in his hand, and in writing. He felt he ought to speak quite frankly. His colleagues believed that it would be a real danger to the peace of Europe to have a great French Army on the Rhine. Occupation by a foreign Power was always dangerous, but was doubly so in the case of peoples who had hated one another for centuries. The result might be an incident which would necessitate Great Britain coming to the assistance of France. If M. Clemenceau and his Cabinet came to the conclusion that they could not meet the British Government on that point, he would have no alternative but to go home and put the whole matter before his Parliament. He had to admit that he ought to have contested this point before. He had never much liked it, and neither had Mr. Balfour. But he had not quite realised the strength of the feeling of his colleagues about it. Although they had not put the matter quite so bluntly, the line they had taken up had been that France ought to have been given the alternative between the occupation of the Rhine and the guarantee of her territory. He himself quite agreed in this. We ought to have said to France “You are entitled to tell us whether you would prefer to occupy the Rhine or to have our guarantee.” He believed British opinion on this was unanimous. To show how he had misunderstood the strength of his colleagues’ views on this, he mentioned that before they came to Paris he had reckoned how he expected that they would be divided. Some of his colleagues, he had anticipated, would take a very strong view in one direction, and others, possibly, in another. As a matter of fact, they had all been agreed on this point. Mr. Hughes, whom no-one could suspect of sympathies towards the Germans, had asked how he had ever agreed to this Treaty.

M. Clemenceau said that he owed it to Mr. Lloyd George to be as frank as he. On this point it was impossible for him to meet his views. Mr. Lloyd George said that if they could not reach an agreement he must go back to his parliament. He himself was in exactly the same case. He was quite willing to resign his position if he was an obstacle to peace, but it was not good either for him or for Mr. Lloyd George to go to their Parliaments on such a matter. He would not conceal his difficulties. He had to struggle continuously [Page 146] against mighty forces in the Parliament and Press, etc. Nevertheless, he did not feel any recrimination against Mr. Lloyd George.

Mr. Lloyd George said that it was the same on his part. He had no reproaches of any sort or kind to make.

President Wilson asked if Mr. Lloyd George could give the details of his proposals for reparation.

Mr. Lloyd George said he stood by the main lines of the demands made in the Treaty. He would not cut out a single one of the categories of reparation, and so he had informed his colleagues. He thought, however, that there was something in the contention that Germany should not be presented with an unknown liability. The difficulty was that they did not know what they had to pay. If the scheme was indefinite, it was equally so for France. If they suffer from this, why should France also suffer?

His first alternative suggestion was to take a contract from Germany to make restoration within a certain time or else to pay. Guarantees for proper execution of the contract would have to be provided. Outside restoration every item could, he believed, be fixed, for example, pensions, ships, etc. He would fix a definite sum for all these, and beyond it allow Germany to take a contract for restoration.

The second alternative was not to say to Germany “Sign the Treaty” but to give her three months within which she could make a definite offer of a figure. We would tell her that the offer in the Treaty was inadequate. The figure of five thousand million Pounds sterling was really only equivalent to two thousand million sterling when the dates of payment and the fact that no interest was to be provided were taken into account. If at the end of three months Germany could not give a figure, then the Treaty would stand.

In conclusion, he wanted to tell M. Clemenceau that what he had said was not in any way intended as a kind of menace.

M. Clemenceau said he recognised this, and that he would much rather know the full truth.

(It was agreed that no meeting should be held on the following morning, so that the Heads of States might be free to consult their own Delegations, but that a meeting of the Council should be held at 4 p.m., when the following subjects would be considered in connection with the German remarks on the Peace Treaty:—Poland, Reparations, League of Nations.)

(Sir Maurice Hankey was instructed to notify this to M. Orlando.)