The Ambassador in Italy (Long) to the Secretary of State

No. 1022

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that, as seen from Rome, the European political situation as of today is one of nervousness after the visit of Simon to Berlin and expectancy while waiting for the Stresa Conference.64

The German position is that they have arranged for an army of approximately 550,000 men, fully equipped; that they demand a navy equal to one-third the size of that of Great Britain; that they will join an air convention provided that they will be accorded the right to have an air force equal to the strongest force in Europe; and that they will insist upon the independence of Austria to the extent that that country be afforded the right freely to determine her future allegiance without interference of any kind from any Government.

The dilemma presented by the German position can be solved in two ways. 1) The Western Powers can decline to accept the German program and oppose it. This would mean war. 2) They can yield to the insistence of Germany and accept her aggressive steps. This would mean a prolongation of peace.

There may be a middle course but it is hard for me to divine it. It is also possible that out of the excitement of the present situation there may be some hasty act or some ill-advised word which will precipitate matters and suddenly plunge the whole of Europe into another war.

The bluntness of the German demands and the secrecy which accompanied their communication, together with the exaggerations which naturally ensued from the secret manner in which they were treated, has brought about a nervous state of mind which is intensified by the thought that a Germany armed is not apt to be less docile than a Germany unarmed—or conversely, that an armed Germany is certain to be more aggressive than an unarmed Germany. These Governments all seem to fear Germany. They are afraid to actually oppose her. They are each conscious of their own internal difficulties and of the obstacles to their mutual coordination. The other Governments of Europe find themselves scattered in a big circle around Germany [Page 213] and at a disadvantage as far as communication and coordination are concerned. Each of them seems to have reacted differently to Hitler’s announcement so that there is no actual cohesion. The peripatetic statesmen of these various Governments have been and are making various visits to different capitals in an effort to establish some common ground and to prepare some basis of understanding before the Stresa meeting, to which they all look forward with something of awe because the decision, if any, at that meeting may be decisive as to the immediate future of Europe. However, as I see the Stresa meeting, it will be one of secondary importance. It is not composed of Prime Ministers but of Foreign Ministers. Each of the conferees except Mussolini will have to return to his respective Government and to confer with his Prime Minister and Cabinet. None will be invested with plenary authority at Stresa, so that that meeting will represent a conference of delegates rather than an assembly of authoritative officials.

From this point of view it does not seem that at Stresa there could be taken a decision which would have any immediate effect though it is quite possible that out of the conference there may develop a point of view which will be subsequently accepted by the different Governments.

In considering the various possibilities of the whole situation, the attitudes of the different Governments may be material.

Italy is ready for any emergency and is so organized that a decision could be taken and put into execution over night. The prospective presence of the Germans in Austria (and that is the implication of Germany’s position) and the extension of the Reich to the Italian northern frontier, would have such important consequences for Italy that it might be assumed that Italy would attempt to take issue with Germany provided she could get any assistance from her neighboring countries. This contemplates aggressive action.

Her neighboring countries are France and Yugoslavia. In France the situation is believed to be such that it would be difficult for the French Government to make an aggressive move against Germany. It would be quite different from the situation which would be presented in case Germany should make an aggressive move against France. The insecurity of the French Government and the political backfires which would be built behind an army advancing into Germany might render it impossible for France to join with Italy in an attack. It seems almost certain that France would not attempt an aggressive move in support of Italy unless there could be obtained some definite assurance of help from England. At this writing and from this point of view it does not seem that England is now or will be disposed to make an aggressive move against Germany. The labor [Page 214] element in England and a large section of liberal thought would be opposed to it. For a thousand years the British mind and the British psychology has been formed in the thought that the Channel effectively separated England from the continent. Generation after generation has lived in that belief and has transmitted to posterity a mental attitude in regard to the Channel and British isolation that it is difficult to convince it suddenly that it is based on a false premise and rendered nugatory by reason of modern scientific and mechanical developments. The frame of mind continues and renders it difficult for a British Government, no matter how strongly convinced of the advisability of aggressive action on the continent, to put its plans into execution with assurance of complete popular support. So that it seems improbable that England will deviate from her historic policy. On the other hand it seems quite probable that England will not quickly join France or any of the continental Powers in any aggressive military movement. This leaves France to determine whether she will cooperate with Italy and other continental Powers without the help of England and it is seriously doubted that France would decide in the affirmative.

Yugoslavia is temporarily aligned with Italy because the Yugoslav Government is bitterly opposed to German occupation of Austria. They feel that they will be one of the next to suffer from the aggressive ambitions of Germany and that the provinces of Croatia and Slovenia, which have an historic connection with Austria, might be overrun by the advancing German ambition. Out of the aftermath of the war, Yugoslavia attached herself formally to France but there have been several signs of a weakening in the bonds of attachment and a suspicion that in case Germany seemed to be the dominant factor it might better serve the interests of Yugoslavia and the other members of the Little Entente to make peace with Germany and get some assurances from her rather than to continue an open conflict with her separated as they are from France and exposed to the full rigors of a successful German advance.

The attitude of Poland is the subject of a good deal of speculation. A possible light upon the intentions of Poland may have been thrown by the communications of the Polish Foreign Minister to the representatives of France and Roumania as indicated in my telegram No. 169 of March 29, 11 a.m.,65 but until the actual test comes it is certainly very doubtful with which side Poland will ally herself.

The conversations between Eden and Litvinof in Moscow are supposed to have progressed very satisfactorily. The British Ambassador told me last night that he had had advices to the effect that [Page 215] they had found themselves in sympathetic accord. But it is very difficult for me to accept the thought that either France or England could seriously contemplate a strategy which would invite the Communists into Central and Western Europe. In case there is to be a war in Europe the consequences of it will be fantastically horrible. This will follow not only from the very nature of the war which will be waged from the air but must contemplate the disturbed social and economic conditions of the world. In 1914 we were all quite stable from the social point of view and in fair equilibrium as far as economics and finances were concerned. During the war there came to the surface evidences of a social unrest but since then social, economic and financial difficulties have spread throughout the world. So that today, on the threshold of a possible new war and with those disturbing elements present, it can only be assumed that the consequences of the new conflict would be exaggerated enormously as compared with those of the former. The sequel to that is that Bolshevism or Communism or whatever name is generally accepted as descriptive of the condition of social and economic chaos which has existed in Russia for more than a decade, would follow in the wake of the next war and would be facilitated and given a place of particular importance in case Russia and its social and political theories should be invited to participate in the further destruction of Europe. Lenin in his most ambitious moments could hardly have conceived of a more practical way to spread his propaganda and to extend the influence of his unpleasant doctrines, and it is almost inconceivable to me that the statesmen of England could contemplate with equanimity the prospect of joining with Russia in any effort which would extend the influence of that Government into Central and Western Europe. And in case it should happen, the consequences to Europe and to world civilization could hardly be estimated in advance.

It is certain that Italy will have distrust for Russia and will lack confidence in the cooperation of the Little Entente except for the immediate purpose of opposing a particular German advance into Austria. So that there will be suspicions and a lack of intimately coordinated policy on the part of the Governments of Europe outside of Germany. This is already manifest in the attitude which Italy takes toward England and the resentment that Italy feels toward His Majesty’s Government for having presumed to act alone after the German announcement in defiance of the Versailles Treaty. It is hard to see how there will be that unanimity of thought and purpose which would unite all the countries in an effective stand against Germany. By an “effective stand” I mean a marshalling of troops and a determination to use them in case Germany does not submit to their insistent demands.

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It seems certain that an effective stand cannot be evolved from the conference of three Foreign Ministers even though one of them is at the same time Prime Minister. It seems certain that some other conference must develop from Stresa—and the larger the conference the more points of view will develop and the fewer chances there will be for a complete coordination. In the meantime Germany is proceeding with her armament and solidifying her position and the German Government is becoming stronger in the confidence of its own people.

For this to continue is to revert to 1914. Without effective opposition Germany will only be encouraged to continue and better prepared to prosecute her expansionist program. The World War will have been fought in vain. Germany will be prepared to accomplish in peace what she was denied in war.

The apparent alternative is to use force to stop it. This the Governments of Europe are loath to do. And if they do—they invite Bolshevism and the horrors of social revolution to the conquest.

The question ultimately presents itself whether German control of Central and Southeastern Europe is as objectionable as the infiltration of Communism throughout all of Europe.

But to go beyond Stresa is to enter the field of speculation. At this time and looking only to Stresa it would seem that the conferees must adjourn without having arrived at any decisions binding upon their respective Governments and that if anything is developed in the future it must be at another and larger conference.

Respectfully yours,

Breckinridge Long
  1. Conference of the British, French, and Italian Foreign Ministers, April 11–14, 1935, at Stresa, Italy.
  2. Not printed; see despatch No. 660, April 4, 1935, from the Ambassador in Poland, p. 217.