862.20/762: Telegram

The Acting Chairman of the American Delegation to the Disarmament Conference (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

1021. My 1018, March 21, 10 a.m.55 I have seen Avenol,56 who returned from Paris, and others this morning and have also been authoritatively informed of discussions Henderson57 has recently had with Simon in London.

It appears that the British were determined no longer to be thwarted by what they consider the French plan of overloading every proposal. They were profoundly convinced that the only safety for the Continent lay in bringing Germany back into the concert of powers and to this end they would bend every effort and were willing indeed to accept temporary disadvantages therefor. They felt that they should handle the matter themselves in this contingency since they believed [Page 203] themselves the only power in Europe which could do so with even the remote hope of success. To the extent of making certain concessions this attitude has been modified by pressure from the French and Italians who persuaded the British to accept a discussion between Léger, Eden and Suvich, prior to Simon’s trip; and a meeting between Simon, Laval and Mussolini in Italy to follow as a pretext for [to follow Simon’s?] visit to Berlin and Eden’s visit to Moscow.

It appears that Henderson considers that the German presentation of a fait accompli brings a limitation convention again into the realm of possibility and that it would be advisable to call a Bureau meeting in the near future. When Henderson called on Simon the latter vigorously opposed the suggestion for a Bureau [meeting?] and begged Henderson to take no action either in London or Geneva which might “rock the boat” in this very critical moment. He told Henderson that he would consult with him immediately on his return from Berlin telling him the results of his visit. There could then be further consideration of a Bureau meeting.

Avenol feels that the French action in laying this matter before the Council is a distinctly helpful step however this would appear to be dictated by the urgency of the moment in French international politics. While the politicians and those in immediate touch with affairs in France realized that German rearmament had already anticipated Hitler’s announcement the ordinary Frenchman was ignorant of this and is now dismayed and is even talking of the possibility of war. Avenol is convinced that with this temper in France there is no possibility of successful negotiations by visits of Simon from one capital to another. Avenol believes that the only hope lies in a general meeting and the representatives of Italy and France will urge upon Eden in Paris the advisability that the British do their utmost to persuade the Germans to take part in the general discussion in the Council meeting. This, Avenol thinks, the Germans can do without loss of dignity since they retired from Geneva on the ground that equality was not granted them and they have now taken equality for themselves and can consider this condition constitutionally has been removed. If, over and above this condition, the Germans demand agreement before they will discuss the peace of Europe with the other states this, Avenol claims, would prove that they have no real desire for a peaceful solution.

A date has not yet been set for the Council meeting and Avenol hopes that it will only be set in the light of the negotiations and that nothing precipitate will be done.

Avenol believes that the Council meeting is essential for France and other powers to state their positions but he claims that they can state them and will state them with moderation. There is the possible [Page 204] exception of Russia and according to Avenol Russia is the only state that may be provocative in the meeting.

Although the attitude which Avenol has given me is generally reflected in the Secretariat by those who have talked with him, opinon among my colleagues in the Conference and pressmen is, on the contrary, much concerned at the French action. It is pointed out that this action was dictated by party politics and the necessity for taking into account an aroused French public opinion as well as by the pressure of their allies and by resentment against England; that the Council meeting can serve no useful purpose but may on the contrary provoke an agitation among the peoples of Europe which will bring about an extremely dangerous situation. Parenthetically, the French resentment against England which I have mentioned is much deeper than the press or public statements reveal. Though a number of factors contribute to it, it is primarily based on the French belief that the British Government in arranging Simon’s visit to Berlin after Hitler’s declaration had violated the consultation agreement with France.

There is plainly a conflict of view as to how this critical situation should be handled. As indicated above the British seem inclined to believe that it can only be done by direct and separate negotiations while the French, bound as they are by their friendships and alliances, are taking the position that a settlement can only be reached collectively and through the League of Nations. With this acute European difference in the forefront of the present struggle, your attitude of refusing to express opinions at this moment seems to me the only wise one. I believe further that when the time comes, if it does come, in which we should feel it wise to take a position we could do so much more effectively with a background of silence.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Joseph Avenol, Secretary General of the League of Nations.
  3. Arthur Henderson, President of the General Disarmament Conference.