740.0011 Mutual Guarantee (Locarno)/872: Telegram

The Chargé in France (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

366. I called upon the Foreign Minister today. In response to my inquiry regarding the German and Italian replies to the British memorandum76 of last November concerning a western pact he said that the German reply was in effect negative, that it does not advance matters at all. He said that the Italian reply had been received at the Foreign Office only last night, that he had not had an opportunity to do anything more than to glance at it but that it was his impression [Page 62] that it was on the same lines as the German reply while being less precise.

Speaking of the German reply he said that it proposed that in the new western pact there should be no guarantee of England since it was inconceivable according to the German Government that there should be a war between Germany and England or between Italy and England. The German proposal therefore according to Delbos is that the western pact in effect should be limited to a nonaggression agreement between France and Germany guaranteed by England and Italy. However, the Germans proposed that this guarantee should not become effective until both England and Italy, acting more, commented Delbos, as joint arbitrators than as guarantors, should decide that there had in fact been a case of aggression. In view of the close working agreement between Germany and Italy—if not alliance—and the knowledge which has been gained, Delbos remarked, as a result of the Spanish experience as to the degree of reliance which may be placed in the good faith of Italy, the value for France of any such supposed guarantee is only too evident.

The German note proposed, according to Delbos, that the League of Nations should have nothing whatsoever to do with the new western pact: instead of the Council of the League deciding when aggression had taken place it will be as mentioned above, only England and Italy acting together. The obligations of mutual assistance under Article 16 of the Covenant would cease to exist. In other words, Germany was proposing, said Delbos, to wipe out the League of Nations and the whole system of security in Europe as it exists today.

Delbos said that the German note also proposes to destroy the French treaties of mutual assistance with Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia through providing that in any case France could not go to the assistance of these countries. The German proposal evidently is that with a new nonaggression arrangement between Germany and France, it must be understood that under no conditions could Germany and France ever be at war, and that if a situation should unfortunately arise in which Germany might find herself at war with, for example, Czechoslovakia, France would still be bound by her nonaggression arrangement with Germany and hence could not go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia.

With regard to the special case of Belgium, the Minister said that the Belgian Government was pressing for an arrangement which would define the status of Belgium along the lines expressed by the King in his message of last October,77 namely that Belgian security would be guaranteed by the others but Belgium would not guarantee the security of any other country. Delbos said that the Belgian position [Page 63] was that they wished to avoid at any cost danger of being drawn into a war not directly affecting Belgium, for instance Belgium feared that in the event of conflict between Germany and Czechoslovakia in which France would go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia, Belgium wished to be free of any commitment that might involve her in the conflict. Delbos said that he had told the Belgian Ambassador that while Belgium was making every effort to keep out of war she was at the same time running the risk that if war should in fact break out she would find that there would be no immediate and effective assistance for the defense of Belgium against attack. It was all very well Delbos said to speak of Belgium being guaranteed but everyone knew what a guarantee by Germany was worth and in order that the guarantee by England and France should be effective it would be necessary to have a military understanding between the three powers. This, however, the Belgian Government did not want apparently believing that there would be a greater chance of keeping out of war if Belgium were entirely “neutral” and being willing to run the risk that if war should break out Belgium would be at the mercy of Germany without any immediate means of assistance from England and France.

Delbos went on to say that in view of the Belgian position the French Government was prepared to release the Belgian Government from the existing obligation of Belgium to protect France against aggression and that he thought it might be possible to work out a five power pact guaranteeing Belgium against aggression along the lines which the Belgian Government was proposing. He thought that this might be the outcome if there was any outcome at all of the negotiations which had now been resumed with regard to the so-called western pact. He said that, of course, the German and Italian proposals regarding this western pact were wholly unacceptable to the French Government. The French Government, however, welcomes the fact that any proposals at all have been made by Germany and Italy and is disposed to discuss the matter fully.

I asked what the attitude of the British Government was. He said that while there had not been time as yet to “concert” the positions of the British and French Governments, he understood that the British views were about the same as those held here in Paris.

I remarked that it must have been obvious to the Germans that neither the British nor the French Government could accept a proposal which sought in effect to shut the League of Nations out of any part in guaranteeing security in Western Europe and which sought, as Delbos had observed, to leave Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe and I asked what in his view had been the reasons which might have led the German Government to put forward such a proposal. He said that he felt that the extent of the British rearmament program and [Page 64] the successful way in which France was working out of her financial difficulties were factors which had greatly influenced the German Government; Nazi foreign policy had reached an impasse and it had become apparent to the German Government that it could no longer remain in the position of seeming to refuse to make any contribution towards a settlement of the problem of security in Western Europe, these proposals had therefore probably been made more for the purpose of gaining time than with any hope that they might be accepted.

In speaking of Spain, Delbos said that he thought it might be difficult for the governmental forces defending Madrid to resist indefinitely an offensive which was being carried out by regularly constituted divisions of the Italian Army. He spoke of the armed intervention of the Italian Government in Spain as “abominable” and said that the French Government had information (which it believed reliable although it did not have conclusive proof) to the effect that since February 20 when the ban on volunteers was adopted 27,000 regular Italian troops had landed in Spain. He said that he had spoken plainly with Cerruti78 yesterday regarding this situation but that Cerruti had denied that the information was correct. Delbos said that 5 days ago Ciano79 had sent for the French Chargé d’Affaires at Rome and had denied to him the reports published in the press of the landing of Italian troops in Spain since February 20. Ciano had proposed that Delbos should himself put out this denial. Delbos had replied that he would be glad to make a statement to the effect that Ciano denied these allegations. Ciano, however, had declined to have it done this way and had requested that this exchange of communications between Delbos and himself be kept absolutely confidential. It was, said Delbos, another example of the “utmost cynicism” on the part of the Italian Government.

  1. See memorandum by the Counselor of Embassy in Belgium, December 19, 1936, Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. i, p. 384.
  2. October 14, 1936; Stephen Heald (ed.), Documents on International Affairs, 1936 (London, Oxford University Press, 1937), p. 223.
  3. Vittorio Cerruti, Italian Ambassador in France.
  4. Count Galeazzo Ciano di Cortellazzo, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs.