The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 22—10:15 p.m.]
250–254. Delbos, Minister for Foreign Affairs, called on me this afternoon and we talked for 2 hours. As his remarks contained an extremely comprehensive and confidential exposition of French foreign [Page 47] policy I venture to burden you with a telegram which is much too long.
I thanked him on your behalf for his assistance in arranging the question of St. Pierre Miquelon.48 He said that at the Cabinet meeting at which the matter had been discussed he had taken the position that the Minister of Colonies must make a settlement entirely satisfactory to the American Government and that Blum had supported him fully.
He then said that he was aware that there was a certain distrust of France in the United States due largely to France’s default on its debt and that he hoped the present Government’s cooperation in arranging this slight matter of St. Pierre Miquelon might be the beginning of more confident relations. I replied that the cooperation of the French Government with regard to St. Pierre Miquelon has certainly produced a most happy impression in Washington.
I asked Delbos how he felt about the present international situation and what he foresaw for the future. He replied that at the moment he was more disturbed by the behavior of Italy than by Germany. He said that the French Government had positive information that the Italians now had 50,000 troops in Spain, that 2 days ago 6 ships had left Naples and Gaeta carrying further troops and munitions and that by the end of this week there would be more than 60,000 Italian troops in Spain. This Italian action on the eve of the ban on volunteers was striking example of Mussolini’s good faith.
Delbos added that he had been informed, but was not certain of the accuracy of the information, that in this final shipment of Italian munitions there had been large supplies of gas. He said he feared that if the Italians should begin to use gas in Spain serious international repercussions might follow.
He then went on to express the belief that Franco would win unless it should be possible in the near future to come to an agreement for the withdrawal of “volunteers”. The agreement already reached to prevent further sending of “volunteers” was a real step forward and he did not despair of getting some agreement for withdrawal of “volunteers”.
In any event he was to a large extent in agreement with the British opinion that if Franco should triumph he would not establish a totalitarian Fascist Government and that if the Valencia Government should triumph it would not establish a totalitarian Bolshevik Government. In the end Spain would come out with a government which might be either somewhat to the Eight or somewhat to the Left. It was certainly not the part of wisdom which would make a European war about the nuances of a future Spanish Government.[Page 48]
He then went on to say that Mussolini had become the jackal of European politics. He was attempting continually to stir up trouble in the hope that from some conflict he might sneak away with a piece of meat. So long as France and Germany should remain hostile to each other Mussolini would have great importance but the day France and Germany should reach reconciliation Italy, in international affairs, would not be much more important than Belgium.
He felt that Germany definitely had inaugurated a more moderate policy since the 6th of January of this year. This he attributed to the facts that the Germans had discovered by experience in Spain that neither their airplanes nor their tanks were so good as they had believed; that it was not proving easy to create an adequate officers’ corps in Germany; and that in spite of all the words of Hitler and others to the contrary Germany knew very well she could not in the long run live satisfactorily under a closed economy cut off from normal trade with the rest of the world. He felt that Hitler’s recent statements to the international gathering of war veterans had been most important. After making the pacific statements he had made to the veterans it would be difficult for Hitler in the near future to launch a war.
His latest information from François-Poncet was to the effect that Schacht and the businessmen of Germany once more had rather more influence with Hitler than the leaders of the Nazi Party. He was sending the experts of the Ministry of Commerce to Berlin tomorrow to conduct the negotiations for the renewal of the Franco-German Treaty of Commerce.49 He had given them orders to act with the greatest liberality. They were not to push for a surplus of French exports to Germany or even for equality of exports from one country to the other. They were to accept a surplus of export to France.
He went on to say that there was a most private and secret negotiation with regard to which he would like to inform me. Leith-Ross50 had met Schacht in Basel and they had had a long conversation with regard to ways and means of reducing the barriers to trade between Germany and England. Leith-Ross had expressed to Schacht his great regret that the Franco-German negotiations had not gone further. Delbos commented “that was of course a typical British remark because the truth is that the British Government was furious with us for having those conversations with Schacht and said to us that while they would be glad to have us have conversations with the Germans in which they participated they resented our conducting such conversations as we had had with Schacht”. I told him that this interested [Page 49] me particularly as the British Ambassador here, Sir George Clerk, had taken the trouble to invite me to lunch in order to assure me that his one desire and the desire of the British Government was to see the French and the Germans reach reconciliation. I asked him if Sir George Clerk had ever said anything similar to him. He said that Sir George Clerk had never made any such statement to him. He said that Eden, he believed, was a good European and would really like to see France and Germany get together. Unfortunately however, Eden often did not control British foreign policy. The ground was cut from under him by other members of the British Cabinet and even by the permanent officials of the British Foreign Office. He believed that the British would pretend to desire Franco-German reconciliation but would continue to follow their old policy of keeping France and Germany hostile to each other though not at war.
Delbos then said that Leith-Boss was to meet Schacht again in the very near future secretly probably in Berlin to continue the conversations they had begun. He said that Schacht had spoken to François-Poncet 3 days ago and had said that he believed much more progress could be made if the conversations should be enlarged to include France. Delbos said that the entire matter was being handled with the greatest secrecy; that Poncet had communicated with him by letter brought by personal messenger and then said “I happen to have my reply in my pocket for I have just written it and I will read it to you”. The substance of his handwritten reply was that he would attempt to send Charles Bist51 to represent France in the negotiations. He had already spoken to Blum who approved in principle. Delbos said he hoped that from the negotiations between Schacht, Leith-Boss and Rist might arise some definite plan for the reintegration of Germany in the economy of the western world. He said that he felt personally that it was entirely unfair to Germany to ask her to stop arming and to turn her factories to peaceful purposes unless the nations of the world were prepared to give her outlets for her products of peace.
I asked him how he proposed to do this.
He said that in the first place he believes that something could be done by ordinary bilateral negotiations for the reduction of tariff barriers. That would be the first step. The second step would be one which he would ask me to regard as most secret. He and Blum had not discussed it even with the other members of the Cabinet. They had in mind the creation of consortiums to develop sections of Africa. Germany would not be able to put up much money but a large proportion of the development would be done by the use of German machines. [Page 50] The money would be found in France and England and, if the United States should be inclined to join, in the United States.
To crown the entire proposal Germany would be given a colony, probably the Cameroons. Then all the African colonies except French North Africa and British South Africa would, so to speak, be put into a common pot; British, French, Belgian, Portuguese, and German colonies would all be exploited by international consortiums which would in considerable measure favor the use of German products. He felt there was work enough in Africa to consume the energies of the civilized world for the next 50 years. Thus he hoped the manufacturing genius of Germany could be turned from war to peace purposes. At the same time he proposed to attempt to reach agreement with Germany on limitation of armaments. He then used almost word for word one of the sentences in the speech which I telegraphed you for approval 2 days ago52 saying: “You cannot expect France or any other nation to help supply Germany with iron and steel in order to receive it back in the form of shells and bombs”. I asked him if he had any other plans for drawing Germany away from war and he said that he had none.
He asked for my opinion and I told him that the ideas he has expressed were close to those of my Government and that I was certain you and the President would be glad to know that he was working in this manner.
I then said that in spite of what appeared to be a new moderation in Hitler’s policies I was somewhat fearful that this might prove to be the lull before the storm. I had reason to believe that Hitler was speculating on a possible collapse of the French financial situation and the overthrow of the Blum government. This, in the opinion of the Germans, would result in the Socialists, the Communists, and the Left-wing Radical Socialists going into a united opposition which would produce an immense series of strikes of the gravest nature. Delbos said that all this was indeed a possibility but he did not believe personally that the financial situation would get out of hand to such an extent as to produce the overthrow of the Government.…
I then suggested to Delbos that it might be possible to expect some help from Poland in the matter of reconciliation between France and Germany. He said that he was beginning to believe that Poland might help. Relations between France and Poland had improved incredibly since Blum’s government had been in power. It was Gamelin53 who had insisted that the French Government should come to terms with the Poles and Gamelin had done much of the work in [Page 51] personal conversations with Smigly-Rydz. The change in Beck’s attitude had been phenomenal. Delbos said that the first two times he had met Beck in Geneva, Beck had been frigid and distant. That last time he was in Geneva with Beck, Beck had almost overwhelmed him with attentions and personal affection. When Beck had invited him to dinner Beck had worn only a French decoration and then before sitting down to dinner had decorated Delbos with the highest Polish decoration saying “we should now wear always each other’s colors on our coats as we wear them on our hearts.”
Delbos said that in spite of this demonstration he had not been able to get anywhere in his repeated attempts to persuade Beck to adopt a more friendly attitude toward Czechoslovakia. “When you are allies” he said, “as close as Poland and France are today you have a right to expect that your ally will assist you in your general foreign policy”. Beck absolutely refused to do anything to guarantee Czechoslovakia and refused to adopt a more friendly tone toward Czechoslovakia. Moreover while Beck was hostile to both Germany and the Soviet Union he was hostile toward Germany only because it was his deepest conviction that the foot of a German or a Russian soldier must never be placed on Polish soil whereas there was real hatred in his attitude toward the Soviet Union. Delbos said he argued constantly with Beck that Poland should give a guarantee to Czechoslovakia in order to prevent Germany from attacking Czechoslovakia. His argument was that if Germany should attack Czechoslovakia, France would attack Germany the next morning. Poland then would be obliged to go in. Poland thus stood a much better chance of avoiding war with Germany if she should guarantee Czechoslovakia in advance. He said that Beck was not impressed by this argument.
He said that he had used the same argument on Sir George Clerk the other day with what he thought was somewhat beclouded success. He had assured Sir George Clerk in the most categorical terms as he could assure me once again that France would fight at once if Germany should attack Czechoslovakia. Sir George Clerk had then said “then we’ll all be dragged in”.
The pathetic eagerness of the French to believe that they will have British support in Czechoslovakia was never better shown than by Delbos adding “so while of course that was not a formal diplomatic promise I feel that we should have the support of England also.”
I then asked Delbos whether he felt Germany intended to attack Czechoslovakia. He said that he felt that much would depend on whether the internal situation in France should remain solid or should begin to disintegrate in terrible strikes. In the latter case Germany might act. He then said that it is presumed that in case of war Russia would be able to give great assistance to Czechoslovakia. I expressed [Page 52] skepticism saying that Germany’s first act in making war on Czechoslovakia would be to bomb all the Czech landing fields so that if Russian planes should reach Czechoslovakia they would find no fields on which to land. He then made a statement which I regard as exceedingly important. He said that the Russian planes would be on the Czech fields before Germany attacked. I asked him precisely what he meant by this. He said that the moment there was such a state of tension between Czechoslovakia and Germany that war appeared likely the Russian planes would fly at once to Czechoslovakia. Inasmuch as the planes could make 500 kilometers an hour they would reach the Czech fields before Germany could attack. I asked him if he had thought of the political consequences adding that if, in a state of tension between Czechoslovakia and Germany, thousands of Russian planes should fly to Czechoslovakia for the obvious purpose of threatening to attack Germany public opinion in both England and the United States would regard Czechoslovakia and Russia as the aggressors and not Germany. I also asked him how the Russian planes were to reach Czechoslovakia without violating the neutrality of Poland or Rumania. He replied that he did not know. He felt certain that the Russians would not dare to fly over Poland because the Poles would at once attack them. The present Government of Rumania would be equally opposed to permitting the passage of the Russian planes. He left off the rest of the thought, implying that the Rumanians had no planes with which to stop the Russians.
Delbos then said that he had been informed that the German Government recently through its Ambassadors in Italy and Great Britain had told the Italian and British Governments delicately but definitely that an attempt to restore Otto54 to the throne of Austria would produce immediate action by Germany which was taken to mean that German troops would enter Austria. I asked him if France would react in the same manner with regard to German invasion of Austria as in case of German invasion of Czechoslovakia. He said “No”. So far as he was concerned he believed there were only two reasons which should or could lead France into war. One was an invasion of French territory, the second was the invasion of the territory of some ally of France, that France had promised to protect under such circumstances. France had no obligations to protect Austria. He felt it was impossible to predict how the situation in Austria would develop but he was somewhat disturbed by a report which the French Minister in Vienna had just sent to him to the effect that Schuschnigg55 had informed [Page 53] him most confidentially that he intended to get married in the near future and to resign his Chancellorship. Delbos said that he felt the mere knowledge that Schuschnigg was contemplating resignation might produce great uncertainties in Austria with unforeseeable consequences.
I then asked Delbos if there were any conversations in progress between the Russian and French General Staffs. He said there were no new or large scale conversations in progress but that there were constant interchanges of information and discussions of possible eventualities through the French Military Attaché in Moscow and the Soviet Military Attaché in Paris. He then went on to say that it was his belief that Stalin56 for the moment had decided to pursue a more moderate policy in interfering in the affairs of the outside world. He considered the withdrawal of Rosenberg57 from Valencia most significant. He said that he was, however, not really sure that this meant any change in Stalin’s attitude toward pushing world revolution through the Comintern because he had also been informed that the reason the Soviet Government had lost interest in further adventures in Spain was because the Soviet Government had become convinced that if the Valencia Government should triumph it would not establish a Communist state and the Soviet Government would prefer to have Franco as an easy target to shoot at with propaganda than a decent democratic government which would not afford such a good target. He said that all his information from Russia indicated that Stalin was deeply afraid of the Trotskyist movement especially of its strength among the youth and in the army. Mass executions of which no one outside heard were taking place.
He said that Coulondre, the French Ambassador in Moscow, had been about to leave for Paris 3 days ago. He had refrained from coming and had sent a most secret message to say that his reason was that he believed Litvinov was in serious trouble and probably would soon be dismissed from his post and might soon be on trial. It appeared certain that Litvinov’s wife (Ivy Low of British origin) was seriously compromised having had most intimate relations with many of those who have been executed or imprisoned and many of those who are about to be placed on trial. Delbos felt that these internal difficulties in Russia would now keep Stalin calm for a while. Thus with Stalin uncertain and Hitler uncertain the prospect for peace would not seem altogether bad. Delbos concluded by saying that he himself felt that the next 6 months might offer a really great opportunity to produce reconciliation in Europe. The mere prospect of British rearmament on such a vast scale as had been proposed was already beginning to [Page 54] have a sobering effect on the dictators. At the end of 3 years when the British were fully rearmed they would of course become intolerable but that was another story.
- See vol. ii, pp. 298 ff.↩
- Signed at Paris August 17, 1927, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. lxxvi, p. 5. Supplementary agreement signed February 3, 1931, ibid., vol. cvii, p. 510.↩
- Sir Frederick W. Leith-Ross, Chief Economic Adviser to the British Government.↩
- French financial expert, and Director of the Scientific Institute for Economic and Social Research, Paris.↩
- Telegram No. 244, February 19, 5 p.m., not printed; it transmitted the text of a speech the Ambassador prepared to deliver in Paris on February 22.↩
- Gen. Maurice Gamelin, Chief of the General Staff of the French Army.↩
- Otto von Hapsburg, eldest son of the late Emperor Charles I of Austria and claimant to the monarchy.↩
- Kurt von Schuschnigg, Austrian Federal Chancellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs.↩
- Josef V. Stalin, Secretary General of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.↩
- Marcel Rosenberg, Soviet Ambassador in Spain.↩