765.84/3470: Telegram

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

27. The series of Cabinet meetings, many of which were in conjunction with the Committee of Imperial Defence, held during the past week, have formulated the stand which Eden will take at Geneva. The Foreign Secretary’s speech last night67 cast light on this position; for one who in the past has spoken so loudly about the sanctionist aspect of the League, Eden was eminently “safe”. In brief, he outlined a League that must have elasticity as well as strength, and added that in the immediate crisis “it would be helpful if the Council in near future could review the situation, take stock of recent events, and appreciate the point we have now reached”.

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The British Government continues to be “the prisoner of its own words” (see my 468, September 25, 2 p.m. and 510, October 10, 8 p.m.68). Since the popular demonstration which caused Sir Samuel Hoare’s resignation, it has been increasingly realized by those responsible for British foreign policy that whereas the methods employed by Hoare were faulty, the general aim of his policy was substantially right.

As has been so often repeated from this Mission, the menace of Germany constitutes the main preoccupation of the responsible services of the Government. The politicians, although in agreement, are nevertheless aware of the importance of the League of Nations sentiments which have been evoked in this country, and are faced with the problem of effecting a practical solution without offending those sentiments. In fact Eden himself in a private conversation remarked that the cooperation which he had been promised from certain countries was “almost embarrassing” incidentally in view of the fact that other countries were already beginning to seek their pound of flesh from London in the Danzig situation. It will also be noted that Eden’s speech contains no reference to sanctions. The Foreign Office frankly states that it is apprehensive over the French internal position, particularly in this connection, and it is also emphasized that it cannot now be determined when American neutrality legislation will be made effective by Congress and that in any case Italy now has sufficient supplies of oil on hand to carry her through the rainy season.

The growing importance in Eden’s mind of the German menace was briefly referred to in my 10, January 9, 5 p.m., and he emphasizes this in the opening lines of his speech when he refers to “the emergence once more of a strong Germany claiming for herself the right to rearm.” An analysis of his speech reveals a League policy which stresses the importance of a collective policy, incidentally to be used in the present crisis, but which purposefully is to be a threat against a future aggressor, possibly Germany. Mr. Eden goes on to emphasize that only through a collective system is the way open to an arms agreement. In other words, he is preparing the British public for the rearmament of Great Britain the full extent of which can only be determined as the government and the popular mind are able more and more to appreciate the weakness or strength of the Geneva collective system. Such a statement from Eden should satisfy public opinion, eliminates embarrassment to the politicians and yet permits an immediate embarkation on all those phases of rearmament that the Crown services are demanding.

Copies by post to Paris, Rome and Geneva.

  1. Speech made to the Engineering Employers Association at Warwick, January 17.
  2. Neither printed.