Section III.—Left bank of the Rhine (Art. 42 to 44)

Notes to Part III, Section III, Articles 42 to 44

Articles 42 to 44 are best understood when read with part XIV (Guarantees, section I, articles 428–432), which represented a compromise of the French desire to detach the left bank of the Rhine from Germany. They were incorporated here in the effort to satisfy the French desire for security and were intended to be supported by the parallel agreements signed on June 28, 1919 by Great Britain and the United States relative to assistance to France in the event of unprovoked aggression by Germany (Treaties, Conventions, etc., 1910–23, iii, 3709). These severally stipulated that, because these three articles of the treaty of peace “may not provide adequate security and protection to France, the United States of America shall be bound [Great Britain agrees] to come immediately to her assistance in the event of any unprovoked movement of aggression against her being made by Germany”. The President of the United States submitted the parallel agreements to the Senate, which did not consider them. In consequence, though Great Britain ratified the one agreement, the guaranty did not become effective.

At the Cannes conference in 1922 the United Kingdom offered France a unilateral guaranty on its part, but owing to opposition in the French Parliament the Briand government then in power was obliged to resign before accepting the offer, and Poincaré succeeded him with the definite assertion that France would not accept a unilateral guaranty. As the United Kingdom did not feel the same need of a guaranty, no mutual arrangement was made.

France meanwhile was building up a series of protective political agreements. On September 10–15, 1920 France made a military agreement with Belgium (2 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 127); [Page 149] on February 19, 1921 a political agreement with Poland on the other side of Germany (18 ibid., p. 11); and eventually similar agreements with Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia (23 ibid., p. 163; 58 ibid., p. 233; 68 ibid., p. 373). After the adoption of the plan of the Committee of Experts (Dawes Plan) in August 1924 began a smooth period in reparation. A Franco-German rapprochement began. This culminated in the treaties of Locarno, initialed on October 16, 1925, which consisted of a final act binding together a treaty of mutual guaranty between Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Italy and arbitration conventions or treaties between Germany on the one side and Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland on the other. This series of treaties entered into force upon the admission of Germany into the League of Nations on September 8, 1926. They were to remain in force until one year after the Council of the League, after a three months’ notice, decided by a two-thirds majority “that the League of Nations assures sufficient protection to the high contracting parties”. Although Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations became effective on October 21, 1935, the Treaty of Locarno continued in effect at least until the German occupation of the Rhineland on March 7, 1936.

The Locarno treaty of mutual guaranty is printed in the Appendix, p. 841.

The negotiations regarding security which occurred from 1932 onward with a view to keeping Germany in the Conference for Reduction and Limitation of Armaments and those which ensued after June 1934 with a view to a European settlement were interspersed with repeated assertions of German loyalty to the Locarno treaty of guaranty. Though Adolf Hitler sometimes spoke as Führer of the National Socialist Party and sometimes as Chancellor of the German Reich, lie and the government adduced the terms of the Locarno treaty both as a reason for not concluding agreements inconsistent therewith and as an argument for not accepting repetitive or confirmatory proposals.

One effort to find a political basis on which to set a policy of limiting armament was thought of as an “eastern Locarno”, which as originally proposed in a French memorandum of June 27, 1934 contemplated a treaty of regional assistance to be signed by Poland, the Soviet Union, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (United Kingdom, Correspondence showing the Course of certain Diplomatic Discussions directed towards securing [Page 150] an European Settlement, June 1934 to March 1935, No. 1, Misc. No. 3 (1936), Cmd. 5143). To avoid the implication of “encirclement”, France and the Soviet Union at Geneva on December 5, 1934 undertook by a protocol not to “engage in negotiations aiming at the conclusion by them of political agreements, bilateral or multilateral, which might compromise the preparation and conclusion of the regional pact of the east” (ibid., No. 4).

To a meeting at Stresa which the Germans did not attend, the Berlin Government expressed itself antagonistically to the idea underlying the negotiations for this security system in eastern Europe, which had by then become voluminous and were apparently making headway. In a statement of April 12, 1935 it said “that the German Government was not in a position to agree to a proposal for a pact which contained more or less automatic obligations for military assistance, as between all or certain individual parties” (ibid., No. 12). This communication also registered German objection to proceeding either bilaterally or multilaterally. From that the representative of France concluded that his Government “had latitude to make with [the Soviet Union] a bilateral arrangement of mutual assistance” which, he assured the United Kingdom representative, would not be “outside Geneva and the League of Nations, but within the framework of the Covenant” (ibid., No. 13).

The French-Soviet treaty of mutual assistance was concluded on May 2, 1935 (167 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 395). Article 1 of this treaty read:

“In the event of France or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics being threatened with or in danger of aggression on the part of any European State, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and reciprocally France undertake mutually to proceed to an immediate consultation as regards the measures to be taken for the observance of the provisions of Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.”

Articles 2 and 3 dealt with the obligation to render mutual aid in the case of an unprovoked aggression under the circumstances specified in article 15, paragraph 7, article 16 and article 17, paragraphs 1 and 3, of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Article 4 recorded that these undertakings were “consonant with the obligations of the High Contracting Parties as Members of the League of Nations” and were not to be interpreted as restricting obligations [Page 151] resulting from the Covenant. Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union signed a similar treaty on May 16, which entered into force on June 8, 1935 (159, ibid., p. 347).

On May 21, the Chancellor of the German Reich announced a program of international policy to the Reichstag. He rejected the decision of the Council of the League of Nations of April 17 condemning unilateral German rearmament, but in the remainder of his 13 points appeared to describe the scope of agreements which Germany was willing to undertake. One of these—limitation of the German navy to 35 percent of British fleet strength—was realized by the agreement of June 18 (see p. 339). The address asserted that the German Government would “in particular, observe and fulfil all obligations arising out of the Locarno Pact so long as the other parties to the treaty are also willing to adhere to the said pact”, even though it was drawn up before that government took over the power. A German memorandum of May 25, 1935 (Cmd. 5143, op. cit., No. 23) to the parties to the Locarno treaty of guaranty questioned the consistency of that Franco-Soviet treaty therewith on the ground that it created an obligation to lend mutual assistance which referred “only to the case when one of those parties finds itself in armed conflict with Germany”. The German Government asked Belgium, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom to recognize the self-evident proposition “that the provisions of the treaty of Locarno can not legally be modified or interpreted by the fact that a treaty has been concluded with a third party by one of the signatories”.

The French reply of June 25 was confirmed to Germany by the other Locarno signatories in separate communications (ibid., Nos. 27, 28, 29, 30). All entirely agreed that the Locarno treaty was unaffected by a French treaty with an outside party, and that its terms were “consistent with the obligations undertaken in the Locarno pact”. The German argument that procedure in the Soviet treaty based on article 16 of the Covenant might constitute a violation of a Locarno provision was “not justified”. Each of the three informed Germany that its own rights and duties under the Locarno treaty were “subject to the findings and recommendations of the Council of the League of Nations”, and not subject to any French or Soviet unilateral conclusion, as Germany alleged. The German Government took note of this consensus on August 1. It did “not agree with the juridical point of view … endorsed by the other three Governments”; but there would “be sufficient opportunity for the necessary [Page 152] further discussions in the framework of the other pending negotiations” (ibid., No. 36) for the air and eastern pacts.

The Chancellor of the German Reich expressed an eagerness to conclude an air pact, but here again positive and concrete contributions by Germany were lacking, though it continued to put itself “on record in vague phrases” (ibid., No. 19). By August 1935 the negotiations for an eastern pact, an air pact and air limitation agreement were at a halt, the German Government not vouchsafing any clarification between those projects and the Locarno principles. The withdrawal of Germany as a member of the League of Nations on October 21, 1935 did not affect the applicability of the treaty of Locarno, which depended upon the machinery of the League for its operation; but Germany thereby acquired freedom from the Covenant of the League. By November Germany said it found progress to be impossible during the continuance of the Ethiopian-Italian dispute and on December 13 the Chancellor of the Reich declared to the United Kingdom’s Ambassador in Berlin that the Franco-Soviet treaty “had rendered any air pact out of the question”.

Ratifications of the Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty of mutual assistance of May 16, 1935 had been exchanged on June 8, but it would operate between the parties “only in so far as … assistance may be rendered by France to the party victim of the aggression”. When debate on the Franco-Soviet treaty began in the French Chamber of Deputies in February 1936, German communiqués on “encirclement” and “flagrant violation of the treaty of Locarno” were given publicity. The treaty was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on February 27 by a vote of 353 to 164.

The following day an authorized interview with the German Chancellor on “achieving a détente with France” was belatedly published in the Paris-Midi. On March 6 the German Ambassador in London gave the Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom to understand “that there was no opposition in principle on the Chancellor’s part to an air pact”.

On March 7, 1936 the first contingents of some 30,000 German garrison troops were sent into the demilitarized zone defined in article 42 of the treaty of peace and took stations in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Mainz, Coblenz, and Frankfurt amid popular demonstrations. While this was going on, German representatives delivered to the signatories of the Locarno treaty of guaranty—France, Belgium, Italy, and the United Kingdom—a memorandum in which the [Page 153] German Government declared itself “no longer bound by this dissolved treaty” and that it “today restored the full and unrestricted sovereignty of Germany in the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland”.

This studied violation of treaty obligations on which the political relations of important states were based was a turning point in a system of policy which had evolved since 1919.

The German memorandum was at once a conscious fiat and a plausible proffer of “real pacification”. The memorandum asseverated—

that the Franco-Soviet treaty of May 2, 1935 was “not compatible” with French obligations arising out of the Locarno treaty;

the “undisputed fact that the Franco-Soviet pact is directed exclusively against Germany”;

France has undertaken “obligations which practically amount to undertaking in a given case to act as if neither the Covenant of the League of Nations, nor the Rhine pact, which refers to the Covenant, were valid”;

France “has destroyed the political system of the Rhine pact”;

France “has replied to the repeated friendly offers and peaceful assurances made by Germany by infringing the Rhine pact” which has “ceased in practice to exist” and so Germany regards itself for its part “as no longer bound by this dissolved treaty”.

“Now constrained to face the new situation” and to secure its frontiers and insure its defense, “the German Government have today restored the full and unrestricted sovereignty of Germany in the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland”.

“Unchangeable longing for a real pacification of Europe between states which are equal in rights and equally respected” prompted the German Government to make proposals “for the creation of a System of peaceful security for Europe”. These, the German Ambassador in London told the British Foreign Office, were “an offer of greater importance than had been made at any time in recent history”. Four out of seven attenuated proposals were calculated to replace the repudiated Locarno guaranty with another involving creation of a “zone demilitarized on both sides”, which the Netherlands might join. Germany in the other three proposals was now “prepared” to conclude an air pact and offered to conclude non-aggression pacts with states bordering it on the east. It was “willing to reenter the League of Nations”. The conditions attached to these proffers were so phrased as not to be too apparent. (See United Kingdom, Memorandum [Page 154] by the German Government respecting the Franco-Soviet Treaty, the Treaty of Locarno and the Demilitarised Zone in the Rhineland communicated to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs by the German Ambassador on March 7, 1936, Germany No. 1 (1936), Cmd. 5118).

Undeterred by the German action and these new offers, the French Senate approved the treaty of mutual assistance with the Soviet Union on March 12 by a vote of 231 to 52, and the exchange of ratifications brought it into force on March 27 in the midst of a fresh series of developments.

The Belgian and French Governments on March 8 requested the Secretary-General of the League of Nations to convene an extraordinary session of the Council under article 4, paragraph 1, of the Locarno treaty of guaranty to consider the German violation of article 43 of the treaty of peace, which forbids “the maintenance and the assembly of armed forces” in the demilitarized area. The paragraph of the Locarno treaty referred to provides:

“If one of the High Contracting Parties alleges that a violation of Article 2 of the present Treaty or a breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the Treaty of Versailles has been or is being committed, it shall bring the question at once before the Council of the League of Nations.”

The 91st session of the Council convened on Saturday, March 14, and authorized the Secretary-General to extend an invitation to the German Government, as a contracting party to the Locarno treaty. The German reply on the 15th was an acceptance in principle “on equal terms with the representatives of the powers represented on the Council in the discussions and decisions”. Assurance was asked for on the point that Germany participated “on the same terms as the representatives of the other guaranteed powers whose situation under the treaty is the same as that of Germany—that is, with full right of discussion, the votes of the three powers not being counted in calculating unanimity”. The German note further stated that “the German Government can participate in the Council’s proceedings only if it is assured that the Powers concerned are prepared to enter into negotiations as soon as possible in regard to the German proposals”. On this condition the German Government was informed that “it is not for the Council to give … the assurance which it desires”, thus throwing-that question back to the Locarno states.

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The German representative did not take his seat at the Council table until Thursday, March 19, when he spent the morning in a very full statement of the German case. In the afternoon a vote was taken on a resolution introduced by Belgium and France on March 16, and which had been fully debated. The voting by roll call was in four groups, the members of the Council other than the Locarno parties, the president of the Council, representatives of the guarantors (the United Kingdom and Italy), and the representatives of the guaranteed states (Belgium, France, and Germany), these three not being counted in calculating unanimity. The resolution unanimously adopted notified the Locarno signatories that the Council:

“Finds that the German Government has committed a breach of Article 43 of the Treaty of Versailles by causing, on March 7th, 1936, military forces to enter and establish themselves in the demilitarised zone referred to in Article 42 and the following articles of that Treaty and in the Treaty of Locarno”.

Germany, which voted against the resolution, did not contest its unanimous passage but was “profoundly convinced that it must reject” it and enter a formal protest. “It is not Germany which has broken the treaty of Locarno; it was France … Germany’s act of March 7 … is solely the consequence of France’s act.” France suggested that the point be submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice.

The other Locarno states—Belgium, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom—on March 19 reached their own conclusions on the effect of German action on the treaty of guaranty. Since March 7 German troops had been physically garrisoned in the demilitarized zone, but none of the four assumed that this flagrant breach of the treaty made immediate action necessary (Art. 4, par. 3). For none of them claimed that any of the casus foederis stipulated in that paragraph existed. The presence of German troops in the demilitarized zone was not treated by them as “an unprovoked act of aggression”; nor was “crossing of the frontier” or “outbreak of hostilities” involved. The fourth casus foederis, “assembly of armed forces in the demilitarized zone”, raised the question of whether the distribution of German troops throughout the zone constituted an assembling of them in the area; no practical decision was taken on the point by the four states, which did not address Germany [Page 156] directly on the subject of its introduction of those troops or evacuation of them, before or in consequence of the Council’s vote of March 19.

The Locarno states worked out a set of proposals on March 19 which they intended to explore, partly by themselves, partly with Germany, and partly with the Council of the League. A draft resolution to be submitted to the Council embraced three points which they thought appropriate for its action:

By its unilateral action, which necessarily appeared to be a threat to European security, “the German Government confers upon itself no legal rights”; practical remedial measures to be proposed by a committee to the members of the League of Nations;
The German claim that the Franco-Soviet treaty was incompatible with the Locarno treaty to be submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice;
The members of the League of Nations to adopt “any action that may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of nations”, in consequence of Germany’s unilateral action and without prejudice to the application by the parties of Articles 1 and 4 of the Locarno treaty.

The Council, March 24, deferred action on the draft resolution until the progress of conversations between the governments rendered its further consideration desirable. The question remained on the agenda and was postponed at the 92d successively to the 104th session of the Council, that is, during the years 1936–39, after which the Council did not meet.

The proposals drawn up by the four governments as a program of settlement (United Kingdom, Text of Proposals … London, March 19, 1936, Germany No. 2 (1936), Cmd. 5134) included letters formally pledging the United Kingdom and Italy to assist Belgium and France “in respect of any measures which shall be jointly decided upon”, if conciliation should fail. The guarantors, as an insurance against unprovoked aggression, would “establish or continue contact between the general staffs”, which was contemplated in the main proposals.

Proposals were in nine sections, the first four of which recited the substance of the draft resolution and the foregoing letters. The other proposals were calculated to induce Germany to suspend further activity in the demilitarized zone; to arrange for occupation of a neutral zone on either side of the Belgo-French-German [Page 157] border by an international force pending revision of the status of the Rhineland, and the negotiation of mutual assistance pacts between the Locarno signatories; and to promote through the League of Nations agreements for a system of collective security, effective limitation of armament, the extension of economic relations, the organization of commerce and the conclusion of an eastern non-aggression pact, and Germany’s reentry into the League of Nations.

These proposals were rejected on March 24 by Germany, which said they contained “not one of the necessary conditions for the successful organization of a really lasting peace”. They were liable “once more to infringe the honor of the nation or to bring into question or do away with its equality of rights”. Preparation for elections prevented the drawing of new proposals that week, but they would be ready the following week (United Kingdom, Foreign Office, Correspondence with the German Government regarding the German Proposals for an European Settlement, March 24–May 26, 1936, Misc. No. 6 (1936), Cmd. 5175).

The Reichstag had been dissolved March 7 and elections fixed for the 29th. That German election consisted of filing a ballot reading “Reichstag for Freedom and Peace”, with ample space for an affirmative vote and no provision for a negative vote. The most active pressure resulted in 99 percent of the electorate casting ballots, and only 1.2 percent of that number found a way to be counted in the negative.

Two days after that electoral tour de force, the Germans laid their “peace plan” before the British instead of all the Locarno states. The introduction to this “effort to achieve a European understanding” of March 31 reviewed previous German arguments and included the assertion that the demilitarization provisions were “based on the breach of an assurance given to Germany” whose renunciation in the western provinces of the Reich was “a result of the ‘dictate’ of Versailles, and of a series of the harshest acts of oppression suffered by the German people as a result of that treaty”. The plan itself embraced 19 points, the first 14 of which repeated with further details the first five points of March 7 and the next four elaborated with some eloquence the remaining two items of March 7. The nineteenth point proposed an international court of arbitration as a monitor of the various agreements. After the conclusion “of this great work”, practical attention would be given to checking “unlimited competition in armaments” on a scale short [Page 158] of “settlements of a universal kind” through a series of conferences each with one clearly defined objective, of which five were mentioned. Parallel with this would be “an exchange of views on economic problems”, a field in which the German Government was prepared “to contribute as far as lies in their power”. Though Germany addressed this memorandum only to the British Government, it was widely published as a “solemn general mandate” just received by the German Government from the German people.

The United Kingdom reiterated its intention of initiating conversations with the Belgian and French general staffs to arrange the technical conditions for carrying out the Locarno guaranty in case of unprovoked aggression. Against the published German memorandum the French Government on April 8 published observations which, after incisive criticism of the German effort, embodied a peace plan of its own. The five Locarno states in a communiqué from Geneva on April 10 found that the German proposals did not permit immediate general negotiations, invited the United Kingdom to reply to Germany, convened the general staffs (except the Italian) for April 15, and decided to lay the German and French papers before the Council of the League.

The British Government in its reply to Germany of May 6 regretted that “the German Government have not been able to make a more substantial contribution towards the reestablishment of the confidence which is such an essential preliminary to the wide negotiations” which they both were said to have in view.

The British Government was “in some doubt as to the conception held by the German Government of the basis upon which the future settlement should be founded.” A clear declaration as to whether Germany regarded itself to be “in a condition to conclude a binding treaty” would be welcomed. The British Government “must, of course, make it clear that they are unable to accept the views put forward by the German Government” with respect to the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was asked whether it “recognizes and intends to respect the existing territorial and political status of Europe except in so far as this might be subsequently modified by free negotiation and agreement”. The lines along which the British Government thought the German proposals concerning an air pact, non-aggression arrangements, the east European question and future relations to the League of Nations might be developed were discussed as a preliminary to the “opening of the general negotiations”.

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Germany offered no reply. In an address to the Reichstag on January 30, 1937 the Chancellor of the Reich said that ‘it was not possible for the German Government, for reasons which the Government of Great Britain will appreciate, to reply to those questions”.

Progress with recasting the Locarno group of five states was no more successful. Germany and Italy accepted in July 1936 the idea of a conference but no date for its convening could be arranged with either. Thus Germany remained in the Rhineland area without effective opposition, without making any concessions, and without assuming any new obligations or contributing to European order. The conditions on which articles 42 to 44 of the treaty of peace were based had disappeared.

Article 42.

Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications either on the left bank of the Rhine or on the right bank to the west of a line drawn 50 kilometres to the East of the Rhine.

Article 43.

In the area defined above the maintenance and the assembly of armed forces, either permanently or temporarily, and military manœuvres of any kind, as well as the upkeep of all permanent works for mobilization, are in the same way forbidden.

Note to III, 43

Pursuant to article 43 of the treaty and article 5 of the agreement with regard to the military occupation of the territories of the Rhine signed at Versailles June 28, 1919, the Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission issued Ordinance No. 20, Coblenz, April 23, 1920, which made the following reservations with reference to the application of the German decree of October 17, 1919 (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1919, No. 204, p. 1801) regarding the competence of the National Treasury Department (Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission, Official Gazette, 1920, parts IV and V, 55):

  • “1. The Department of the Administration of State Property for the Occupied Rhineland must in no way concern itself with questions regarding the maintenance of the German Army and Navy although these questions be within the competence of the National Treasury Department. [Page 160]
  • “2. In all the duties which devolve upon it with regard to the Allied Armies, this Administration must conform not only with the Ordinances that may be promulgated by the High Commission but also with all instructions and requisitions that emanate from the Armies of Occupation within the limits of the Agreement annexed to the Treaty of Peace for the performance of its duties.”

These provisions were repeated in Ordinance No. 32, Coblenz, July 22, 1920, which canceled Ordinance No. 20 (ibid., parts VIII and IX, 15).

The Conference of Ambassadors on October 6, 1924 decided to inform the German Government that the presence of Reichswehr musicians in the neutral zone constituted a violation of article 43.

In 1929, the arrangements concerning the left bank of the Rhine were still under the supervision of the Conference of Ambassadors, which had on May 25, 1922 made various representations to the German Government respecting the railroads in that area. Before the war of 1914–18, students of strategy had discussed with interest the German railroad network toward the west, which was generally regarded as uneconomic and intended more for military than transportation purposes. The Inter-Allied Commission on Local Railroads (chemins de fer de campagne) considered the matter for several years. At Paris on July 17, August 4, 10, and 13, 1929 (104 League of Nations Treaty Series, p. 95), the German Government and the Conference of Ambassadors executed an exchange of notes with a view to making the German railway system of the left bank of the Rhine conform with the provisions of article 43. The notes specified the reduction of certain lines to a single track, the laying of some lighter rails, and the shortening or removal of 13 ramps.

Article 44.

In case Germany violates in any manner whatever the provisions of Articles 42 and 43, she shall be regarded as committing a hostile act against the Powers signatory of the present Treaty and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world.

Note to III, 44

No action was taken by any of the interested states to apply article 44 in spite of the resolution of the Council of the League of Nations of March 19, 1936 “that the German Government has committed a breach of Article 43”.