862.20/1106: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Atherton) to the Secretary of State

58. The conversations in London and in Paris subsequent to the royal funeral,32 although devoid of concrete result, have nevertheless given a new impetus to European diplomatic maneuverings. While it is still far from clear whither this impetus will lead, at the moment the British sense the drift of Europe away from the League to regional agreements framed in consideration of the menace of German rearmament.

At the same time, with the approval of the new financial year beginning March 15, the British have been presented with the occasion for impressing upon the public again the need for extensive rearmament in the face of actual and potential German rearmament. The Government has made it clear beyond question that substantial British expenditure on armament will be made during the next 2 or 3 [Page 197] years, and is satisfied that the press estimate of some pounds 300,000,000 has occasioned no undue adverse comment. Nevertheless it is carefully being pointed out that the only expansion in armament is in the air, that the extensive sums for the navy are largely for replacement and that the military expenditures are for mechanization and matériel. At the same time measures may be taken to make the British public more air-minded, and by such means as mass issuance of gas masks, et cetera to bring home the realization of Britain’s vulnerability to air attack, including the idea that Britain might have to meet an attack alone before the League or France could come to her aid.

In the circumstances there is every indication that until this British armament activity has made further progress, particularly with respect to the air arm, British foreign policy will be fundamentally based on the idea of temporization. Furthermore this is a policy which circumstances have rendered appealing to Eden33 who is anxious to belie Tory criticism of youthful impetuousness and impractical idealism.

This concept of temporization, which is directly connected with the German situation (1) and with the Japanese situation (2), is also in a sense applicable to the Italian situation (3).

1. As regards Germany, England is seeking for a means to alleviate tension and prevent the drift towards another 1914 situation. The British continue to favor an approach to Germany whenever it can be determined that a reasonable and promising basis for negotiation has been evolved. In the meantime they will avoid any action which would increase German antagonism and cause her further to withdraw from efforts at international cooperation. Nevertheless the British Government, through its Minister for the Colonies,34 took occasion to state in the House of Commons last night:

“The Government have not considered and are not considering the handing over of any British colonies or territories held under mandate.”

In this general connection, in reply to a question concerning the demilitarized zone, the Foreign Secretary added: “The obligations of His Majesty’s Government are specified in the Treaty of Locarno itself. His Majesty’s Government stand by those obligations and, as has been previously stated in this House, intend, should the need arise, faithfully to fulfill them.”

At the same time, it is realized here that some concessions to Germany must be made if there is to be any chance of political appeasement in Europe. Also it is with the idea of avoiding a deadlock with Germany in the armament field and in consideration of amour-propre [Page 198] that the British are maneuvering to avoid signing a four-power naval agreement35 which would merely be put up to Germany for acceptance or rejection. In the British view, if France is wise she will understand that Germany’s inclusion in the naval treaty is as much to her benefit as it is to England’s, that the era of dictation to Germany is past, especially since the French themselves admit they cannot mobilize an army for action outside of France.

2. Since Japan’s position and attitude renders Great Britain very vulnerable in the Far East, England will, through temporization, strive to prevent any issue from arising with Japan so long as the German situation remains unsolved. Indeed, there are influential elements here which continue to advocate the consideration of a policy of rapprochement with Japan. In answer to a question it was stated to me that the present surface friendliness between London and Moscow, born of mutual support for the League must be viewed merely as a feature in the present British policy of temporization, since it tends to ease France’s position in pursuit of her Danubian policy, where England has no commitments of her own outside the League, and also it has a restraining influence in Berlin and Tokyo. It was added that naturally England would welcome an extension of Anglo-Soviet commercial intercourse.

3. As regards the Italian situation, it is felt here that even though Mussolini may act to increase tension in the Mediterranean, nevertheless the zenith of Anglo-Italian hostility is probably well passed. The framework of mutual support in the Mediterranean and the degree to which British defensive preparations have been carried in the Mediterranean area if they have not eliminated the possibility of “a mad dog act” have, it is thought here, greatly reduced the chances of any such development and in any case insured that such an action would be unsuccessfully terminated in a relatively short time, despite the threat of the Italian air force to the British navy. The efficacy of financial and economic sanctions, plus the above absence of substantial Italian military success in Abyssinia, are regarded as marking the inevitable failure of Mussolini’s adventure. In dealing with the Italian situation it becomes therefore, in the British view, not so much a question of placing added impediments in Italy’s path but of awaiting the maturing of events before meeting the difficult question of settlement. I am confidentially informed that recent reports from the British Embassy at Borne express the opinion that Mussolini’s control in Italy is at present sufficiently strong to permit him to accept an unfavorable compromise and still remain in power. This opinion does not, however, attempt to prejudge his decision. In this general connection, a British official remarked “in the past England always looked to the Mediterranean as a waterway to the East and she will not be prepared to give up this waterway, even though probably for years Mussolini, and perhaps for decades the Italian people, will bear a grudge against England.”

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The foregoing interpretations, evolved in connection with informed sources, represent the trend of British policy, and at the same time indicate its lack of precision for the moment.

Copies by mail to Paris, Rome, Berlin.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. Of the late King George V, who died January 20.
  3. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  4. James H. Thomas.
  5. At the London Naval Conference, held December 9, 1935–March 25, 1936; see pp. 22 ff.