500.A15A4 Steering Committee/508: Telegram (part air)

The Minister in Switzerland ( Wilson ) to the Secretary of State

40. Your 25, April 14, 5 p.m. I appreciate the force of your last sentence but want nevertheless to present certain considerations.

During the past 6 months political and economic conditions on the Continent have become appreciably better. Italy seems to have joined [Page 2] the satisfied states and the Spanish affair4 while still dangerous shows a certain European political accord. The reception given throughout the Continent to Van Zeeland’s5 explorations in the economy field is encouraging. Germany’s last note to Eden,6 which I have read in the German Legation here, shows a marked advance in that Germany no longer insists on the abrogation of the Russo-French Pact7 but only the elimination of the automatic feature. Thus I have the impression that the evolution in Western and Central Europe is slowly reaching a point where pacification between the great states may be possible.

In looking over the course of events since the Locarno treaties8 I am struck with the fact that repeated attempts to bring Germany more closely into European cooperation failed largely because the negotiations were initiated without the presence and collaboration of Germany. I feel strongly that any attempt to build a plan for restriction of armaments in Germany’s absence is doomed to failure. I feel that even a plan to bring about economic betterment in Europe without consultation with Germany is doomed to at least partial failure. The tide of Europe depends in the final analysis upon the state of mind of a dozen men in Berlin and I fear cannot be accomplished until those men are willing to sacrifice some of the so-called advantages of autarchy for the real advantages of international collaboration.

The French urged on the Assembly a meeting of the Bureau of the Disarmament Conference. In repeated and thoroughgoing talks with Vienot9 and Massigli,10 I failed to find any positive idea behind this step and indeed received the impression that Blum’s11 démarche had been made purely in fulfillment of election pledges and to satisfy one section of his voters. Equally I can find no positive attitude among the British in respect to the Bureau. Agreement between the British and French on the traffic in arms problem is, as far as I am aware, as remote as it was 2 years ago. Agreement on publicity of national expenditure might be possible between them. It would, incidentally, be embarrassing to us because of the Army’s attitude.

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Even supposing agreement were possible on some minor phase the very fact of an agreement being made in Geneva within the League of Nations would bring about its refusal by Germany and very probably by Italy.

I must say bluntly I deplore the calling of the Bureau and only hope that the meeting can be as decorously unobtrusive as possible. I am apprehensive of the publicity of the meeting and fear its effect on the gradually bettering sentiment on the Continent.

I believe that political understanding between the great states of Western Europe must precede any successful general gathering and as a corollary thereto that any prior attempt to convene a general gathering may even jeopardize such an understanding.

Mr. Davis’ authoritative position is so well known in Europe and hope is so wide-spread that America will take an initiative that the mere statement that he is coming to Geneva would give rise to the belief that the United States had some specific proposal for solving the problem and unless we had such a proposal his visit could only result in disillusion. Furthermore, our interest in and position on disarmament is so thoroughly well known as not to require additional emphasis in Geneva.

The foregoing is based on impressions I received and conclusions I drew some months ago at the last Council meeting. Since that time I have had no opportunity to talk to responsible people in France and England and it may be that new and more hopeful factors of which I am unaware would reverse the opinions I have expressed.

I am sending a copy of this message to Mr. Davis who will have more recent facts at his disposition.

  1. Seee pp. 215 ff.
  2. Paul van Zeeland, Belgian Prime Minister.
  3. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and delegate to the League of Nations Assembly.
  4. Mutual military assistance agreement, signed May 2, 1935; League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxvii, p. 395.
  5. The several treaties signed on October 16, 1925, at Locarno, between Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom; see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. liv, pp. 289–363.
  6. Pierre Vienot, French auxiliary Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and deputy delegate to the League of Nations Assembly.
  7. René Massigli, Assistant Director of Political and Commercial Affairs, French Ministry for Foreign Affairs; and assistant deputy delegate to the League of Nations Assembly.
  8. Léon Blum, President of French Council of Ministers.