Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/49

CF–49

Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Thursday, June 5, 1919, at 4 p.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
    • Italy
      • H. E. M. Orlando.
    • Czecho-Slovakia
      • Dr. Benes.
    • Greece
      • M. Venizelos.
    • Poland
      • M. Paderewski.
    • Roumania
      • M. Bratiano.
      • M. Misu.
    • Serbia
      • M. Vesnitch.
Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B. } Secrateries.
Count Aldrovandi.
Prof. P. J. Mantoux.—Interpreter.

1. President Wilson said that, when the Council had come to the problem of fixing the military establishments for Austria, it had realised the difficulty of discussing the question with the Austrians unless, at the same time, the military establishments to be maintained by the group of States surrounding Austria were considered. Greece, obviously, was included in the group, and it had now become apparent that an attempt must be made to solve the question. The first step was to invite the Council of Military Advisers of the Supreme War Council to make suggestions. They had taken for their basis such matters as population, frontiers and the distribution of the population: they had further adopted the principle that States containing one or more very great cities should be allowed larger forces than States where the population was less concentrated, in order to provide against disorder. The first figures proposed by the Military Representatives contemplated 40,000 for Austria. This seemed to the Council disproportionately large for a nation of 8,000,000 or 9,000,000, when Germany, with a population of 60,000,000, was only to have a force of 100,000 men. The Military Representatives had also made proposals as regards the forces of Hungary and Bulgaria, who could not be represented, of course, today, and the remainder of [Page 203]the Group. He and his colleagues had seen at once that no attempt could be made to solve the difficulty without first consulting and getting the views of the representatives of the States concerned. They had it in mind that it was one thing to fix the details of a permanent peace settlement and another thing to carry it out. They thought, however, that it might be possible to reach a definite limitation of armaments on a definite date, for example, January 1st, 1921, unless the Council of the League of Nations should think the grounds sufficient to postpone it. This was only one of several suggestions. The figures of the Military Representatives had been based on a calculation of 4 effectives per 1,000 of the population, although, in Austria and Hungary which contained immense cities like Vienna and Buda-Pesth, a slightly larger proportion had been allowed. Limitation of Armaments

M. Vesnitch said that the programme was, for his country, of the highest importance. For the Serbo-Croat-Slovene State, he must confess the proposals came quite as a surprise. His Delegation felt bound to put the question of how matters of such importance for Allied States who had fought side by side with the larger Powers could be decided as part of the settlement with the enemy. This gave him serious preoccupation. A second and equally important point was the tendency to diminish and even to annihilate the sovereignty of the smaller States. In entering the war, one of the things for which his country had fought was to obtain for the small States the same freedom, the same right of organization and the same juridical equality as had been recognised as just ever since international law had existed. His Delegation was seriously afraid—and he was speaking in the name of the whole people—that, if, at this moment before the League of Nations had taken its standing, the Serbo-Croat-Slovene State was obliged to accept such an acknowledgment as was now proposed, it would surely be condemned by the people. It would be impossible to obtain powers of ratification for the Treaty. He found himself confronted with a difficulty which might perhaps be avoided if it were not connected with the limitation of armaments of Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. Up to now, the limitation of armaments had been laid down for Germany and for no other country, great or small. If the proposals envisaged in President Wilson’s remarks were brought forward now, the Allied States of central Europe would find themselves in a less good position than even Neutrals who had remained out of the war. Consequently, without insisting further on the subject, he, in the name of the Serbo-Croat-Slovene Kingdom, must make all reserves even on the principle. Should the Great Powers, however, be decided, (and he hoped they were not), to press this matter, then he must reserve the right of discussing the proportion of the military forces of his own country. His Government regarded it as the gravest necessity to protect the external as well as the internal peace of the State.

[Page 204]

M. Venizelos said that the limitation of armaments was one of the great common hopes which animated all, and he hoped that it would become a reality. He would be very disappointed if, after all the sacrifices which had been made, the same Armies were maintained as before the war. He must acknowledge however, that M. Vesnitch’s remarks had made a considerable impression upon him. If it was contemplated now to have the forces of the States with special interests fixed to a certain standard after some particular date, for example, January 1st 1921, it would seem better to await the functioning of the League of Nations. So far as Greece was concerned, he would declare now that she would pay the most earnest attention to the recommendations of the Council of the League of Nations. In this order of ideas, he supported the general views of M. Vesnitch and suggested that the question should be remitted to the Council of the League of Nations.

M. Brattano began by thanking the Council for examining the question in this manner, so that he was able to state the views and interests of his own country in the most frank but in the most amicable fashion. He desired to affirm the sympathy he felt for the manner in which M. Vesnitch and M. Venizelos had presented the case. As a question of principle, it was agreed that there should be a limitation of armaments, and, in bringing this about, the League of Nations would have a great role to play. Allusion had been made to the limitation of armaments of States with special interests. This was a term that had been found useful in the present Conference, and certainly these States might be said to have a more limited influence than the great States. Nevertheless, their influence was more extended and more complicated than would appear from merely looking at the map. He was only speaking for Roumania’s interests, but the limitation of armaments in Roumania could not be considered only in relation to the armaments of Austria, who had not even a common boundary with her territory. Had the Military Representatives at Versailles considered the special situation of each country? It was not merely a matter of the number of towns in a country. Other considerations must not be forgotten—the neighbours and the nature of the frontiers. If frontiers were open, the defensive forces must be larger. The frontiers of Roumania, however, were still unsettled, so that the military establishments could not yet be fixed. On the other hand, Roumania was actually in a state of war formally declared on her by the Bolshevists both of Russia and Hungary. It was a good thing to disarm the police, but the thieves must be disarmed first. Who would charge himself with this duty? On the Eastern frontier, Roumania did not know whether she would have as neighbour the Ukraine or a great United Russia. How then could the question be solved at the present time? [Page 205]It could not be decided in relation to Austrian armaments, since Austria was not a neighbour, but must be settled in connection with Russian armaments. The effectives could not be considered until an answer could be given as to what would be the status of Russia, the strength of her forces and her relation to the League of Nations. That was why, though sympathetic to the principle of the limitation of armaments, he thought the question could not be settled now. Consequently, he rallied to the views of M. Vesnitch and M. Venizelos.

Dr. Benes thanked the Council for the opportunity of expressing his views. He wished to explain the special position of his Government in regard to this question. There were several points on which Czecho-Slovakia had a peculiar point of view. His Government had already taken decisions which corresponded to the idea of the limitation of armaments. Their general intention and policy was to work out a constitutional system similar to that in operation in Switzerland. This applied also to military matters. Their geographical situation was similar to that of Switzerland and the system was suitable, specially when the fact of their considerable German population was taken into account, and the people of Czechoslovakia would be satisfied with it. Hence, the policy of his Government fundamentally corresponded to the principle of the limitation of armaments. He then explained why he inclined to the same view as the Heads of Central European States who had already spoken. First, there was the general situation of Central Europe, which compelled all the countries situated therein to take special measures. Austria was gone, but, in deciding on the limitation of armaments, it was impossible to overlook Russia, and the Neutral States, or, for that matter, the Western Powers. In Bohemia, the question would be asked “What was to be the future of Germany and Russia”? The question was unanswerable. In these conditions, it was difficult to take measures which would aggravate and alarm public opinion.

Measures must not be taken which the inhabitants of Bohemia would consider to place them in a less favourable position than Holland and Switzerland. It would increase the anxiety of the people. Hence he believed it dangerous to consider the question from the local point of view, that is to say, the point of view of Central Europe. Limitation of armaments must be considered as a world question. A situation might arise which might be more difficult and uncertain for all the Nations even than the present. A second point was that if it were laid down that Czecho-Slovakia were to have an Army of such and such a size the Government would be placed in a difficult situation because in the Czecho-Slovakia State while there was a strong tendency towards disarmament, at the same time the people [Page 206]were in complete uncertainty as to the future of Germany and Russia, and they were actually being attacked by the Magyars. Hence, to commence now would bring dangerous consequences with it.

To sum up he considered that to put the limitation of armaments in force at present would be very dangerous, and that the question should be discussed on a general basis as a world question by the League of Nations. He would deprecate any immediate decision.

M. Paderewski said that contrary to opinions that had been expressed in some quarters, Poland had no idea of defying the authority of the Council of the principal Allied and Associated Powers. In this and in all other matters Poland relied on their wisdom and equity, and awaited their final decision with perfect confidence. Technically, the Polish Army was no longer under the control of the Polish Government. It had been placed under Marshal Foch who ought to be consulted on the question. As representing the Government of the Polish State, he could declare that his Government would support most cordially every measure for the limitation of armaments. They considered as a benefit for the country and people everything which tended to relieve them from the burden which they had so long borne. While associating himself with the distinguished speakers who had preceded him, he would wish to call attention to the peculiar position of Poland. The situation was even more critical than that of Roumania which M. Bratiano had described. Poland was menaced greatly by Germany, not only on the west and on the north-west, but in the country itself. From 300,000 to 350,000 German soldiers were concentrated round Poland in Upper Silesia, Posnania, East Prussia and Lithuania. The monster had been wounded but not killed, and was still very much alive. There was no actual war, but skirmishes took place every day, and these, together with reports of bombardments, slaughter of peasants, gassing of villagers, and persons being killed contributed to a continual excitement. On the other side Poland was not menaced but forced by circumstances to be at war with Bolshevik Russia and Ukrainia. On the western side of Germany the German forces were not yet entirely controlled by the Allied and Associated Powers, and on the eastern frontiers of Poland the Peace Conference exercised no authority whatsoever. Hence, he was obliged to ask that the principal Powers in case of disarmament would undertake to protect Poland against Russia and Germany.

President Wilson said he had been much impressed by the spirit of the views expressed and by their definiteness. There had been brought to the surface not merely local, but general difficulties. It was these considerations which had induced him and his colleagues to make the suggestion that the day of the limitation of armaments should be postponed for the present, and that the possibility of further postponement should be provided for. All recognised the danger [Page 207]of present circumstances to the States of Central Europe. He felt that after hearing these views he would have to think the whole matter over again.

Mr. Lloyd George agreed with what had fallen from President Wilson. He was greatly impressed by what had been said by the representatives of the Central European States. He had already had the advantage of discussing the matter with Dr. Benes, who had convinced him that as M. Paderewski had pointed out limitation of armament was out of the question until the present dangers had passed. But as President Wilson had said there had been no idea in the mind of him and his colleagues to reduce the defence against these dangers. The problem which faced them was the amount of armaments to be allowed to Austria and Hungary. It had been decided to render them impotent. They were carving out practically new countries. He would remark to M. Vesnitch that the conditions were not similar to those of Holland. Serbia was trebling the size of her kingdom. The problem was as to the conditions which were to be insisted on in a delimitation of a territory which would add enormously to the size of Serbia and Roumania. The problem was the same as had faced the negotiators of the Treaty of Berlin, that is to say, new States would be created, and conditions had to be laid down to secure the peace of the world. That is why it was thought necessary in carving out new states from old Empires not to leave them at the mercy of neighbours with unlimited armies. There was no idea at all of interfering with defensive necessities, but merely whether in imposing on the enemy the delimitation of armaments, the principle should not be extended to the neighbouring States. The argument presented by the statesmen present had been very powerful and clever, but he and his colleagues had no idea of any interference with sovereignty. They were engaged in re-arranging Central Europe and the Turkish Empire and they did not wish to create new forces of danger. Moreover they would not impose conditions they were unwilling to accept themselves. After peace was signed there would be a great reduction in the military forces of the British Empire. The Roumanian army would almost certainly be larger than the British, and probably the same could be said of the Polish.

M. Paderewski pointed out that Great Britain did not have to “fight the water” on its frontiers.

M. Clemenceau said he did not speak to contradict anyone, but agreed in all that had been said. The Central European situation justified all the statements made. He thought that all were agreed in principle. No one had asked him to reduce the French army, but he could assure those present that this was one of the first questions that would have to be considered after peace was made. Even if France [Page 208]wished to maintain her army, economic considerations and the need to concentrate all efforts in the economic field would impose it on her. One thing that had struck him in the observations of M. Vesnitch—he had stated it with moderation and with tact—was that the principal Powers in their hour of victory ought not to discuss the limitation of the armaments of their Allies in relation to the limitation of Austria’s armaments. This was not certainly the principle which had inspired them. They were imposing terms on Austria, but discussing with their friends and Allies what reduction they could agree to among themselves. In order to ensure permanent peace nothing was more important than to maintain the accord of the victorious Powers, and he hoped that his friends of Central Europe would recognise this. He himself would always remain faithful to this idea. If the Council were to start from the idea of the limitation of armaments of Austria, and keep in view the idea of a reduction of armaments, he thought that this was almost all that could be done at the moment. It was impossible to overlook what M. Bratiano and M. Paderewski had urged with regard to the dangers of their countries. The Czecho-Slovaks were in the same case, and were now being attacked by the Hungarians. Some time ago the Allies had discussed whether they could not settle matters finally with Hungary, and the Commander-in-Chief of the French army in the East had been consulted. He had produced a scheme, the extent of which had rather alarmed the Council. Then they had heard that the Roumanians were advancing, but M. Bratiano when questioned had said this information was not correct. To-day the situation was changed, the Czechs were being attacked by the Magyars. It might be necessary to take some action and the military representatives at Versailles might probably very soon propose some combined operation. M. Paderewski had stated a formidable figure for the German forces on the Polish frontier, but unfortunately this corresponded with French information, except that the French gave the forces as 300,000 and not 350,000. What was the reason of this concentration? Crushed in the West, Germany was seeking expansion in the East, first military and then economic. If Germany got control of Russia the war would have been lost. The Germans in Silesia were not there for a parade. Would the Germans sign the Treaty? Even if they did he was not sure that they would evacuate this territory. With 350,000 soldiers on the Polish frontier he was convinced, like all present, that the moment for limitation of armaments had not come. He himself had always been an enemy of war, although he had been dragged into it a great deal, but he would to-day take a solemn engagement before all that it would not be France who would provoke a future war. The sentiments of Great Britain and the United States in this matter were well known. They were entirely pacific. Nevertheless it was essential not to create a situation, of [Page 209]which some great Power in a spirit of aggression would take advantage. Supposing all were not in agreement on this question. It was mathematically certain that the war would cease before the limitation of armaments could begin, and he was by no means sure that peace itself would begin with the signature of the Treaty. He thought, therefore, the best plan would be to decide to take a mutual obligation by the great and little Powers to settle these questions when the right time came. He was a partisan to fixing a date, but he did not think it was possible to fix it at present. We did not know what would happen to Germany nor to Hungary. It was certain that when the time came the League of Nations would play a great role in the question of disarmament; hence he thought that either the League of Nations or, if preferred, the Great Powers, should ultimately hold a conference to fix the military establishments. He had full confidence in the League of Nations which had a great task before it, but the war was not yet at an end. Poles, Czechs, Magyars, were all fighting. When all this fighting was over, and people had resumed their normal occupations and life had quieted down, then it would be a splendid example to the world to hold a conference to consider the question of international disarmament.

M. Orlando said he really had nothing to add to what his colleagues had said, and he only spoke at all in case his silence should be misunderstood. All were in agreement, and no one had any idea of limiting in any humiliating way the sovereignty of nations, which had combined to bring about this great victory. He could not but recognise the gravity of the situation. In saying this he had in mind the suggestion that had been made that even January 1921 was too early a date to commence limitation of armaments. In certain cases, however, it might be possible to postpone disarmament. For the moment disarmament was rather a technical than a political question. If the proportion of four effectives to one thousand of the population were taken as a basis it would be found that before the war the peace establishment of the Italian army had closely corresponded to it. He thought the discussion had been a very valuable one, although sceptical people said a discussion taught nothing. He himself had been much impressed [by?] what he had heard. For the moment he would limit himself to what Mr. Bratiano had said, namely, that the question of the limitation of armaments could not be settled when frontiers had not been delimited. According to the nature of the frontier the military forces would be greater or smaller. He was in full accord with all that his colleagues had said, and he thanked his colleagues representing the States of Central Europe for their very valuable contribution to the discussion.