740.0011 Mutual Guarantee (Locarno)/877: Telegram
The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Bingham) to the Secretary of State
[Received March 25—7:30 p.m.]
173. From my conversations it would appear that the visit to London just terminated of the King of the Belgians upon the invitation of King George but unaccompanied by ministers has been a success. I understand the Belgian Government will shortly make public its position which in substance amounts to a desire for freedom from all [Page 65] obligations under Locarno to come to the aid of France but willingness, however, to maintain adequate forces to defend its own frontiers—likewise it will not depart from the Geneva protocol tradition. Subsequently, the French and British Governments will state their adherence to the terms of the declaration of March 20 guaranteeing assistance to Belgium (see my 2072 of March 26, 1936,80 and previous). While Italy is legally concerned it is not known what position Mussolini will take.
The German note of reply (outlined in Paris’ 363, March 15, 7 p.m.80), I understand from the Foreign Office, merely restates the old German thesis as to a western Locarno independent of the League of Nations. It does, however, suggest that England and Italy should be arbiters in any dispute as between Germany and France with both arbiters agreeing before any decision is binding.
There has been recently a steady deterioration of Anglo-Italian understanding. The recent massacres in Abyssinia, Mussolini’s rearmament program, his declarations to the Mussulman world upon his arrival in Libya, and the question of the Italian coronation envoy have all rekindled public opinion in this country. Meanwhile, the denunciation of Italy from British pulpits, the British Broadcasting Company’s characterization of the recent Italian reversals in Spain as “a second Caporetto,” and the tone of the press generally have all tended to incite Italian resentment against England. In the estimate of one of my colleagues English animosity toward Italy at this moment is greater than public feeling against Germany which must drive Mussolini into German arms. I understand the statement of the Italian Ambassador in the Non-intervention Committee day before yesterday (made after repeated oral thrusts by the Soviet Ambassador) that Italy would not be willing to discuss the withdrawal of volunteers from Spain has further incited public opinion in this country and according to the statement of my French colleague marks a very grave incident more especially in view of the repercussions in France where the Blum Government has maintained its adherence to the Non-Intervention Committee with considerable difficulty. Foreign Office points out that the German volunteer position in Spain seems to be somewhat liquidated “leaving Mussolini to hold the bag” and that, by this recent statement of the Italian Ambassador, Italian volunteers in Spain must in a measure appear as units of the Italian army and as such queries whether they can be left there unsupported.
The Foreign Office, in pointing out the strength of public opinion today in England against Mussolini, states the last week has considerably complicated the European situation above all since Mussolini in his present mood is increasingly “undependable.” However, an [Page 66] early attempt will be made to iron out the Abyssinian question at Geneva which it is hoped will have a favorable repercussion in Italy towards this country.
Copy to Paris, and Rome.