The Ambassador in Germany (Dodd) to the Secretary of State

No. 2651

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegram No. 29 of January 29, 6 p.m.,25 in which I ventured to give certain views and conclusions inspired by Mr. Wilson’s interesting telegram to the Department, No. [Page 190] 363 of January 23, 8 p.m.,26 with regard to the matter of German Armament Limitation which in turn is concerned with the larger problem of a solution of what might be termed “the German Question”. It is my purpose in this despatch to elaborate these views and conclusions somewhat, so that the Department may have in some detail the basis on which they rest.

There is no royal road to a solution I fear, nor any hope of attaining an ideal arrangement. It is rather a choice of the lesser of evils. Perhaps even the word “choice” is a mis-nomer, and “chance” the more accurate expression. If advantage is to be taken of this chance, I am convinced that it will only be by the adoption of a most realistic attitude in which the most important factors will have to be faced and the situation appreciated and dealt with accordingly.

The two questions raised by Mr. Wilson’s telegram under reference are, briefly, as follows:

Is the time ripe for consideration of limitation of armament?
If so, is the threat of collective force against Germany the most auspicious method of approach?

To understand these questions, the post-bellum years must be recalled, since the difficulties of the moment are to a large extent the result of the mistakes of these years and of past European history. Suspicion and distrust, one move following or blocking another, and so on, ad infinitum, in an endless chain of pros and cons. All this reduces itself in substance to the fact that we are witnessing today the stresses and strains of European readjustment which would normally have begun just after the World War and pursued its way in a natural course. The Versailles Treaty, and the consequent effort to keep Germany down, postponed this normal evolution. We are now feeling the effect of this pent-up situation and the scrambling for position in face of a Germany suddenly recovering her former might.

According to information I have recently telegraphed, German rearmament up to the size declared on March 17 [16?]27 will not be completed until next year. This fact, in juxtaposition to the French attitude described in Mr. Wilson’s telegram would seem to set the limits to the field of practical opportunity for negotiations of arms limitation agreement which would be of any real value to the French. In other words, the chance to keep European armaments within limits which would neither be preponderantly offensive nor ruinously costly is now at hand on account of the new French point of view, but likely is only feasible during that period in which Germany is completing her military program.

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The question of the Franco-Soviet alliance is of capital importance in relation to the chance of Arms Limitation. The ratification of this alliance by the French, which appears rather imminent, would likely be a serious, if not fatal, obstacle to successful negotiations with Germany for an arms limitation on any reasonable basis. As a well-informed German officer on the General Staff recently said to our Military Attaché, and as I reported in my telegram No. 31, of January 30, 5 p.m.,28 Germany will consider the balance of military power in Western Europe as ipso facto upset in the case that the Franco-Soviet pact is consummated, and Germany will be forced both to expand her present rearmament program and to intensify the speed with which this rearmament is being effected. The speeches and private statements of the civilian German Government officials leave little room for doubt that this is also their opinion.

To analyze the situation further, certain economic factors have to be considered. These are so complex and involve such a knowledge of German political-economic policies and statistics not available to us, that comment must of necessity be somewhat speculative.

For example, the rearmament here is of such gigantic proportions that it constitutes a tremendous drain on the country whose whole national economy has been placed at the service of this achievement, with the result that normal export and import considerations have been subordinated thereto and even the daily nourishment of the country rationed to satisfy the requirements of rearmament. On the other hand, this work has provided employment and occupation for a great mass of German laborers. It is a question whether and how far the rhythm of rearmament can be slowed down or arrested with safety to the State in such a situation, despite statements here to the effect that housing replacement will largely take up the slack when rearmament is concluded. When a country has embarked with such detail and in such amazing amplitude on rearmament with the military objective not only to plan but actually to initiate a re-distribution of the whole industrial set-up, the problem becomes almost too incalculable to be considered satisfactorily from the point of view of whether negotiations may hope to halt such a tremendous undertaking.

At this juncture it is pertinent to inquire what form of armament limitation the British and others in Europe may have in mind vis-à-vis Germany. After many years of discussion of disarmament, I believe that general international opinion now holds that quantitative limitation is not feasible; that this form of perpendicular restraint of national action in regard to a matter as vital as national defense and so close to national prestige is impracticable. The Disarmament Conference turned down the best quantitative plan, namely, the so-called [Page 192] Hoover Plan.29 However, the idea of qualitative limitation was thought possible, given the proper circumstances, since this form of limitation was horizontal, so-to-say, demanding the same material restraints from all states, regardless of their size or importance. Furthermore, it was felt that, indirectly and to an appreciable extent, not only would qualitative limitation be a great saving in expense and diminish the aggressive character of armies, but by its very nature would so alter military organization as in effect to tend toward, if not actually achieve gradually, a considerable quantitative reduction in armed forces. I may say, therefore, that from my observation, it would be going over the same unhappy field of unsuccessful negotiations at the expense of much time and further embroilment, if efforts towards arms limitation were not confined strictly to a qualitative aspect.

Proceeding on this plane, it seems that there are certain natural factors advantageous to Germany which might lead her to look with favor on qualitative limitation. I refer to those advantages of superior industrial and chemical technique and equipment which the Germans would always have, no doubt, over the other European countries and which would give them an advantage in matériel within the scope of any limitation. Indeed, we have had an example of this in another respect in the Reichswehr as constituted by the Versailles Treaty. This army of 100,000 men with long-term enlistment was considered sufficient to protect Germany internally, and was expected to be innocuous as a military force externally. After some ten years the Germans had so developed this small force as practically to change European ideas of military strategy and tactics, having evolved perhaps as perfect an organization of its kind as has ever existed. This genius for making a great deal out of an opportunity, and by industry and planning to turn a bad situation into a good one, hearkening back to Napoleonic days, is a factor on which I am sure the Germans would count in considering qualitative limitation, since in this manner they would still have a certain superiority over their neighbors.

Likewise and collateral to the above, it would seem certain, as the Military Attaché’s office has frequently informed us, that starting from “scratch” the Germans have more modern matériel than any of their real rivals in Europe, which is another favorable factor as regards the possible willingness on the part of Germany to fall in with the idea of arms limitation. The reverse of this picture is also favorable, namely, that starting from “scratch” the Germans need great quantities of reserve material so that, even under a qualitative limitation agreement, their industry would have a great deal to do for a long period of time, which would occasion much-needed employment even if steps were taken towards a limitation of armament.

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I am attempting to give the picture only from the German side. The favorable factors involved may mean too great a sacrifice for others, and so be unacceptable. I feel, however, that a survey of the considerations I have outlined in the preceding pages is timely, and that they support the conclusion that the time is ripe for discussion with Germany toward limitation of armament and related questions, such as colonies, treaty revision, League revision, etc.

The second question raised by Mr. Wilson’s telegram No. 363, under reference, is whether this would be aided by a threat of encirclement. There are a number of ways of testing the wisdom of such a policy. The first and critical question is whether the British and those with whom they would be associated in an attitude of encirclement of Germany would be willing to fight for the end in view. If they are, it is one thing, and might be effective without any actual hostilities taking place; in other words, the Germans might acknowledge a defeat right off if they felt that England, France, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium—all were prepared to annihilate Germany if she should not accede to an intimation or an ultimatum to halt her rearmament. But let us assume for a moment that such a businesslike encirclement were possible and that Germany knuckled under and agreed to the terms. We would only be back again at 1918. There would be increased bitterness of feeling, the victors would probably muddle the whole show as badly as was the case at Versailles, and the weary, tragic days of the past would have to be relived again.

Suppose, on the other hand, that Germany resisted even such a coalition—as might be the case in a dictatorship—but was eventually defeated. It would probably be at the cost of some millions of lives and Europe would be pretty much in ruins and a prey to Bolshevism, which would be the only gainer of such a situation. In the third place, and as most probably would happen judging by past performances, if the so-called “Encirclement Powers” were not prepared to fight, I am fearful that the unsupported threat would only make the Germans expand their armament program, hasten its completion, and develop further the peculiarly Teutonic complex of “martyrdom” and “sacrifice” which has to such a large extent been the origin and the mainstay of the present Nazi regime. In other words, an idle threat would only be to the advantage of the extremist element in Germany and in an eventual show-down would only further “inflate” Germany towards a more adventurous attitude and a contemptuous feeling towards the other European States.

Looking at this question from a slightly different angle, I am inclined to believe that it is correct to say that, while European psychology in general recoils from the thought of war except in the case of [Page 194] a direct attack, German psychology does not so recoil despite the thousands of cultivated Germans and many of the older men who fought in the last war and who now shudder at the thought. It is largely a question, as I see it, of this difference in psychology which led me, as indicated in my telegram No. 29, of January 29, 6 p.m., to the only policy toward Germany which I can view with any hope.

I refer to a policy of “deflation” which would relieve the tension so long existing in this country and in Europe, and would tend to cut the ground from under the “martyr” complex to which I referred above. When an engineer is faced with steam pressure of a dangerous nature, he does not advise a further clamping down of the lid, but rather an exhaust-pipe to diminish the strain. German energy and the German dynamic spirit in this central part of Europe is undoubtedly a danger to European peace, if not indeed to the peace of the world. Of this there is no doubt in my mind. But the only hope of avoiding a disaster appears to me to lie in an effort to canalize it, to help direct it into as constructive a direction as can be devised.

This, however, would be at a price. It will cost something which the “Possession Powers” must pay if they feel it is worth it, and the longer the delay, the higher the price. As was said to me the other day, a policy which makes definite and clear-cut concessions to Germany now would relieve much of the artificially created and artificially maintained tension here which overshadows the whole of Europe, and would give time for the operation of modifying natural laws of equilibrium which pertain not only to politics but to economics as well.

A golden opportunity was presented to Europe in general and to France and England in particular, just after the War, when almost ideal conditions, and those which some years previously could scarcely have been dreamed of, prevailed—by the disappearance of the Hohenzollern rule and the substitution for it of a social-democratic regime in Germany. Such a government in a Germany, war-weary, desperately unhappy, poorly nourished, feeling the awful effect of disillusionment and defeat, with all their gods thrown down—such a government presented an opportunity to have shown magnanimity, to have taken Germany into the picture on this new footing and to try to see if there was not a chance of developing the finer attributes of the people, away from thoughts of aggression and of military grandeur. It might not have been successful. The chances were against it. But it was the only chance I am afraid. This was bungled. We need not go into the details or assess the blame which is difficult to estimate fairly at such close perspective, since the German people themselves were to a very real extent at fault.

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Now, the old military spirit, the development of the army and the recent throwing off of restraints of these past 17 years, have brought matters back to a place where Germany is even more dangerous to the world than in 1914.

Perhaps it is too late, perhaps it would never have been successful, but at least for a brief period there appears to be an opportunity to take Hitler’s May 21st speech at its face value and explore that other policy which was not tried in 1918 and in the ensuing years. This will be at considerable cost, as I have said, and could only be successful if supported by a strong England and France.

I venture to say at the conclusion of this report, in which I have tried to assemble a number of ideas and factors involved in the present European situation, that it is written with a dispassionate mind, not as argument but as exposition, since fortunately, for the moment at least, there is no decision demanded of us in the premises. I have purposely confined myself to the German aspect of the matter, since it is with this that I am most closely in touch and directly concerned. I am not oblivious, however, to the other side of the shield and to the serious menace felt by France and other neighbor nations with regard to Germany, and now in turn it seems by England herself. There is reason for them to feel most apprehensive and it may be that eventually only extreme and forceful measures will serve. Meanwhile, however, until this eventuality, and in the hope of forestalling it, I cannot but feel that it would be only a part of wisdom at least to explore searchingly another way out.

Finally, I submit this report on a subject of so vast a scope and importance, with a certain diffidence, since it is scarcely possible without writing at great length to cover the ground adequately or discuss the principal points comprehensively. I have sought rather to indicate certain lines of thought and the reasons for the desirability of their consideration.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Not printed.
  2. Vol. iii, p. 97.
  3. See telegram No. 49, March 16, 1935, from the Ambassador in Germany, Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. ii, p. 296.
  4. Not printed.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1932, vol. i, pp. 180 ff.