The Minister in Switzerland ( Wilson ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 9 p.m.]
363. It seemed clear from the outset of this Council session that no decisive action on the Italo-Abyssinian question could be expected because of the sickness of the King followed by his death81 and because of Laval’s precarious situation which has resulted in his resignation. On the other hand, the fact emerged that since the Hoare-Laval episode had occurred immediately before an anticipated decision on an oil sanction; and because Mussolini had uttered threats against its application, the sanction itself had become a symbol of the determination of the League, vis-à-vis Mussolini. Hence, it was felt that something should be done to demonstrate that the matter was still alive.
In discussing the setting up of an Expert Committee to examine the efficacy of such a sanction, Eden said Litvinoff proposed to adjourn the work of that committee until the attitude of “other producing countries” could be ascertained. Eden said that this, of course, meant the United States in the mind of his hearers and that he did not want the committee to take any such action as would appear to be predicated on that of the United States, and he feared that it might be embarrassing to us. As the alternative, he urged that the committee meet at an early date and examine the possibilities in the light of different hypotheses. He hoped that Mr. Hull would understand his motive in trying to avoid any action by the League predicated on ours.
Aloisi tells me that he is making no wild statements about what will be done if the oil sanction is applied but that if Italy feels itself about to be strangled it will have to take violent measures to prevent strangulation. There are evidences from other Italian sources that the threat [Page 98] of hostilities in answer to the imposition of the oil embargo is being less insisted upon. Eden feels that the application of this sanction is really dependent upon the conclusions of the Expert Committee as to its efficacy. Several of the delegates have told him they think it essential to impose it if investigation shows its practicability. In any case the delegates have no desire to hurry on this matter and are all anxious to see the course of our neutrality bill before determining their action. While they presumably will avoid direct reference to American legislation, such legislation will, nevertheless, be considered a basic factor in determining the efficacy of a contemplated oil embargo. I believe that I sense a diminution in the determination to “punish” Italy which raises some doubt in my mind as to whether the oil sanction will be applied even if found to be efficacious.
As to the possibilities of conciliation Aloisi tells me that he, himself, recognizes that after the demonstration of the British people on the Hoare-Laval proposal presumably neither Great Britain nor France will be willing to take the initiative except through League organs. Italy now recognizes that steps toward conciliation must be made through the League, and his presence here now, he says, participating in the normal work of the Council is an indication that such procedure would not be displeasing to Italy. He expressed the hope that after the French elections and the cessation of hostilities through the beginning of the rainy season, public opinion would be sufficiently modified to permit the initiation of further efforts of conciliation. Under different phrases Eden and Massigli82 likewise expressed the hope that the beginning of the rainy season may be a propitious moment.
It is difficult to see how conciliation will be possible even then. A psychological chasm separates the British and Italian conception of the situation. Aloisi is deeply bewildered by the British attitude. As he analyses their motives, he completely leaves out of account the universal condemnation of Italy’s aggression. He says, for instance, “nobody could expect us to give up territory gained by the expense of blood and treasure.” How such a conception can be conciliated with the phrase in Eden’s speech on Friday last, “an aggression must not be allowed to succeed,” is difficult to see. Aloisi finds in Eden’s conversation a more moderate tone and attaches some hope to this. I excuse his impression that the British have so regularized their position in the Mediterranean through the promise of military support from the Mediterranean states and their own improved military preparations, that they are no longer rattled. They regard with equanimity the continuance of the present situation for a period and feel free to consider other problems.[Page 99]
The problem which most perturbs them is that of German rearmament. The intensity of this rearmament now overshadows the immediate question of Abyssinia in the minds of the French as well as the British.
I have been struck in the last few days with the fact that nearly everyone with whom I have spoken has treated the problem of Germany with greater gravity than that of Abyssinia or, indeed, of the status of the eastern Mediterranean. Both from Massigli and a member of the French general staff, I learn that the French now desire above all things to arrange a system of limitation with Germany. Eden tells me that Laval is of the same mind. Massigli says that the French are much concerned lest the Germans in the near future denounce the servitudes on the Rhineland and that only prompt action can head this off.
That an early initiation of disarmament discussions can be brought about under present conditions seems improbable. Nevertheless, Eden feels that at some stage they should put their cards on the table with Germany; should tell the Germans that their present tempo of rearmament causes grave concern; that other states have already adopted measures to compete in building but that such competition would be wasteful and dangerous; that they desire to undertake with the resignation [sic] and examination of the latter’s grievances in the hope of satisfying some of them; that this is under the condition that Germany returns to the League for the purposes of discussing limitation of armaments. Very confidentially Eden tells me that he has ordered Phipps83 to London next week to discuss with him the question of whether the time is ripe to make any overture to Germany on the question of disarmament.
A conflict of opinion in respect to the effect on Germany of a show of force as a phase of collective action is beginning to emerge. Eden apparently feels that a demonstration of the determination of peacefully minded states to meet force with force, if necessary, will be a factor in inducing Germany to look favorably upon a proposal to limit armament. However, in the minds of the unofficial Germans here the military preparation of the League states coupled with the development of the idea of collective military action, which the Germans regard as a potential military alliance against their country, constitutes a threat which Germany must resent and answer by counter preparation in armament. Aloisi assures me there is no understanding between Italy and Germany but he pointed out that the transformation of the League through British influence into a dooming alliance against Italy in the Mediterranean cannot fail to present Italy and Germany as in the same camp. He believes the states of [Page 100] the League will bend that instrument to military purposes against Germany as well as against Italy. Hence, in the mind of the public, at least these two countries will be thrown together.
I have thus treated summarily the impression resulting from a number of conversations. I will report in greater detail by letter.