740.00/125: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Bingham ) to the Secretary of State

133. As indicated in my 118, March 5, 3 p.m.,65 I saw the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. At the outset he said that he was glad to report that with regard to the representations on the subject of tobacco (made under Department’s 379, October 23, 7 p.m.65) his Government had concluded to make no change in the existing situation for the present but he requested that this be kept confidential in order to avoid attacks on this decision which might arise from some sources.

It is generally assumed and accepted that Mr. Baldwin66 will retire shortly after the Coronation and will be succeeded by Mr. Chamberlain.67 Without committing himself on this subject Eden said he anticipated no change of attitude or policy in the event of a change. He said that Chamberlain had supported him on the subject of sanctions and that he was convinced the Chancellor was not so far to the right as many people thought and he stressed Chamberlain’s friendly attitude towards the United States.

He said that he felt that the success of the French loan which seemed probable would result in improving the internal situation in France and in strengthening Blum, especially as Blum had resisted efforts made by some of the extremists in his own party.

He said the crux of the whole European situation was Germany; that he was very much surprised at Ribbentrop’s Leipzig speech; that in about an hour’s conversation he had with the German Ambassador before he left for Germany he had hardly mentioned the subject of [Page 59] colonies and Ribbentrop had indicated some prospect of a more cooperative attitude on the part of Germany. However, near the end of the conversation, Ribbentrop had brought up the question of colonies and Eden told him that the British position was unchanged and he saw now no prospect of change upon which Ribbentrop said he felt this would be badly received in his country and would be a strong influence against any cooperation towards peace by Germany.

On the subject of Belgium Eden stated that their negotiations were proceeding but made difficult; first, by Belgium’s desire that her inviolability be guaranteed without the assumption of any obligations on Belgium’s part; secondly, by Germany’s refusal to enter into any pact for the protection of Belgium in the face of the existence of the Franco-Soviet pact68 and the agreement between France and Czechoslovakia;69 and further by the fact that the British themselves although committed to go to the assistance of France and Belgium in the face of unprovoked attack on either of them were unwilling either to obligate themselves to go to the assistance of any other continental nation or to obligate themselves not to do so, beyond their very general commitments under the covenant. He said that he had just been reading Trevelyan’s Life of Lord Grey 70 and that he was impressed with the parallel with the situation now confronting his Government with reference to Czechoslovakia and that which confronted the Government in Grey’s time with reference to Belgium. At that time one school of thought in England maintained that a firm declaration on the part of the British Government to go to war if Belgium should be invaded would prevent war. On the other hand, there was strong opposition to any such commitment and Grey felt that if he made a definite commitment in advance there would be such a division of public opinion in England as would tend to increase the danger of war rather than to diminish it.

At the present time Great Britain occupied a like position with reference to Czechoslovakia because a declaration in advance that the British Government would go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia if invaded would split British public opinion and the opposition would create an impression on the mind of any prospective invader that the British statement was mere bluff. For this reason he had come to the conclusion that Lord Grey was right and that Great Britain must again maintain the same position.

In view of Germany’s attitude he saw little prospect of a western Locarno pact in the near future although he felt such a pact necessary as a beginning towards restoring any bases of confidence in Europe.

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Eden then said that Phipps, British Ambassador designate to France, before he left his post in Berlin had had a talk with Von Neurath who mentioned that the German Government had had something in the nature of a feeler from the American Government on the subject of holding a disarmament conference.71 In this connection Eden said that so far as Great Britain is concerned the rearmament program had not advanced far [enough?] for the British to risk participation in a disarmament conference because he felt the dictators would look upon it as indicating weakness on the part of the British and inability to carry through their program; and while his Government’s attitude towards general disarmament had undergone no change and in his opinion would undergo no change he felt the time had not yet arrived when his country could contemplate any steps in this direction.

In addition he stated that he felt the Japanese were beginning to feel the strain of their rearmament program and that Sato,72 he thought, recognized this, but he attributed this change of attitude as far as it went to the British and American rearmament program.

He added that Ribbentrop had just returned from Germany and he expected to confer with him in the next day or two although he had very little hope of any change in the German attitude.

In conclusion, I referred to the rubber situation which he said would receive his personal attention. Since then the Foreign Office has informed me that the British Government’s reply (see my 68, February 16, 1 p.m.73) would be forwarded me tonight.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister.
  4. Neville Chamberlain, British Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  5. Signed May 2, 1935, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxxvii, p. 395.
  6. Signed October 16, 1925, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. liv, p. 359.
  7. Viscount Edward Grey, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1905–1916.
  8. See pp. 665 ff.
  9. Naotake Sato, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  10. Post, p. 888.