762.63/135: Telegram (part air)

The Consul at Geneva (Gilbert) to the Secretary of State

23. League officials on advices from European political centers are very much preoccupied with the current Austro-German situation particularly [Page 6]in view of the far-reaching political repercussions which might develop therefrom.

Political officials of the Secretariat have informed me in confidence of (1) Austria’s position as presented to them by the Austrian representative here and (2) their reactions thereto.

1. The Austrian note of January 18th or 19th to Germany5 was presented after informing Italy, and Austria intends to inform the French and British Governments immediately of what she is doing. The only “stiff” element in the note was the request for an immediate reply.

On receipt of the note Von Neurath6 remarked “I have up till now done my best in this matter but can do no more”.

Austria hopes that Germany’s reply to the threat of bringing the matter before the Council will be such as to render that step unnecessary.

Should the matter be brought before the Council, the nature of the latter’s action would presumably depend somewhat on the manner it was laid before it. Austria would probably submit to the Council a detailed memorandum setting forth the actions of the German Government against which protest was being brought. The Council might invite Germany to reply to this memorandum. In any case Austria expects no concrete action on the part of the Council. She desires only that Germany be made to realize that in all other negotiations her protestations of peace and friendship will be judged in the light of her attitude toward Austria. Furthermore, the great powers on the Council should declare publicly their privately expressed policy of maintaining Austrian independence. The Austrian representative gave as his own personal opinion and not as coming from his Government that the powers might give some sort of undertaking which would not be eternal but only guaranteeing Austrian independence unless and until an agreement satisfactory to both countries be reached between Austria and Germany. He believed that such declarations would be amply sufficient against further German attacks inasmuch as German public opinion has been led to believe that world opinion was hostile to the Dollfuss government. Since Austria has been obliged to sign a number of treaties binding herself to maintain her own independence, she was entitled to assistance in doing so.

Austria considers this a typical case for the application of paragraph 2 of article XI of the Covenant.7 It would be unwise to delay action on a matter which might eventually lead to a risk of war. The Council could move now without being charged of an unfriendly act toward either party and in so doing would have the world’s sympathy.

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2. It is felt that the question entirely hinges on the support which should be given in this juncture for the purpose of sustaining separate Austrian Government. Should Austria “go Nazi” a situation would ensue whereby not only all chances of League or international action would be lost but the consequent intensification of German recalcitrance would probably be disastrous to disarmament and general peace endeavors. League officials wish to make it clear, however, that in saying this they do not regard Germany as the only state “at fault” in the present disarmament impasse. Although it is not felt that Anschluss would be the immediate, it would undoubtedly be the ultimate outcome which would bring the question before the League in a more difficult form.

The immediate situation is that if Germany can give Dollfuss sufficient satisfaction to enable him to hold his position it will not be necessary to bring the matter before the Council. Should it come before the Council developments are expected to take the general course as outlined in paragraph 1 above.

The purpose of Council action in addition to giving public support to Austria would be to discourage German activities against Austria. This effect is, however, gravely questioned, League officials finding themselves in the absence of German nationals on the Secretariat very much handicapped in estimating German situations and reactions.

The general feeling is that the chances of the question coming before the Council are about even.

The position of the great powers is seen to be substantially as follows. Great Britain has no fundamental objections to the matter coming before the Council, but London hopes that the question may be handled directly between Austria and Germany and Council action thus avoided. France is believed to be urging Austria behind the scenes to appeal to the Council. It is felt that Vienna made an adroit move in that, without precisely consulting Rome, Austria apprised Italy of her intentions thereby at least to a degree committing Italy to moral support.

Gilbert
  1. See despatch No. 64, January 27, from the Chargé in Austria, p. 8.
  2. Constantin von Neurath, German Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3336.