740.00/149: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State

516–522. I was informed today by the Belgian Ambassador and the French Foreign Office that the British and French had submitted to Belgium their notes with regard to Belgium’s new position in international affairs; that the Belgian Government had not yet commented but that the notes probably would be made public within the next few days.

The Belgian Ambassador informed me in addition that he believed the German Government probably would issue a statement guaranteeing Belgium.

The Belgian Ambassador went on to say that Belgium is absolutely determined not to permit her soil to become the battleground of the next war; nor to permit either the foot of a German, British or French soldier to be placed on her soil.

Now that this new policy of Belgium, which was originally announced in the speech of the King last October, is about to become a reality, its effect on the position of France in Central and Eastern Europe has become a subject of acute disquiet throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

For example, the Polish Ambassador in a highly confidential conversation said to me that at the recent conference which Beck6 had held with all the Polish Ambassadors in Europe, it had been decided that the barring of Belgium to the passage of French troops would render the Franco-Polish alliance virtually useless. He went on to say that Poland’s position vis-à-vis Germany would be so weakened that a serious reconsideration of Polish foreign policy must be envisaged.

The Polish Ambassador pointed out that the position of Czechoslovakia would be affected as disastrously as that of Poland. In this [Page 78] connection Delbos said to me a few days ago that Beneš had asked him recently if France would have any objection to Czechoslovakia attempting to work out a more friendly relationship with Germany. He had replied that France would have no objection. I discussed this question with Léger7 today who said that he considered it within the bounds of possibility that Czechoslovakia would now press to reach a nonaggression agreement with Germany similar to the German-Polish agreement.

European politics today are based essentially on the military position of the great powers, and, although it is arguable—and is argued by the French Foreign Office—that France’s defensive position will be strengthened and not weakened by the new status of Belgium, no one can argue that France’s offensive position—that is to say her ability to come to the aid of Poland or the Little Entente—has been strengthened. Indeed there is general agreement that recent developments are closing rapidly the door to French influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

I have information which I believe to be reliable that the Germans have now constructed to the east of the Rhine from Switzerland northward to Karlsruhe a series of fortifications which though less elaborate do not compare unfavorably with the French Maginot line. Competent military observers, including our Military Attaché, believe that a French attack on Germany from Alsace in the face of these fortifications and the obstacle presented by the river itself is out of the question.

If Belgium is now to be considered as a neutral state like Switzerland, France can advance on Germany therefore only through the zone of about 125 miles which separates the Rhine from the southernmost point of the Belgian frontier. This territory is for the most part very difficult to traverse. Our Military Attaché estimates that Germany could hold this short front with less than half her army against an attack of the whole French Army. Furthermore, Belgium’s refusal to allow France to use her territory for airplane bases from which to attack the Ruhr weakens the situation of the French aviation arm.

I discussed this position with Léger today and he said with some diffidence that the French General Staff did not consider either the Rhine or this short line unattackable and insisted that Belgium’s new position would not diminish the influence of France in Central and Eastern Europe. I know no competent observer, either political or military, who agrees with this point of view which the French Foreign Office feels obliged to maintain.

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When I asked Léger how he expected France to support Czechoslovakia in case of attack by Germany, he said that there were plans already made to support Czechoslovakia by expeditionary forces which would pass through Rumania and Yugoslavia. I said that this seemed to me somewhat fantastic but he replied that plans had actually been drawn up for such expeditions!

In conjunction with the position of Czechoslovakia Coulondre, French Ambassador in Moscow who is in Paris at the moment, has said to me that he is certain that Russia will not support Czechoslovakia in case of a German attack on Czechoslovakia. He said that aside from minor pieces of evidence on this point he had one major piece. He and a French general had been talking recently with Litvinov and the French general had asked Litvinov pointblank, “If Germany attacks Czechoslovakia will you send support to Czechoslovakia?” Litvinov had replied, “No”. Coulondre said that Litvinov later had covered up the “no” by saying, “We should wait to see what France would do and would do whatever France might do.” Coulondre said that in his opinion the “no” was decisive and sincere.

In view of these developments it is only natural that Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the other states of Central and Eastern Europe should be beginning to lose whatever confidence they had had in the effectiveness of French support and should attempt to come to terms of one sort or another with Germany. Léger today admitted that he expected this to happen; but added that neither Poland nor Czechoslovakia nor any other state of Central and Eastern Europe would have any confidence in any promises which Germany might make and while cultivating better relations with Germany would attempt to do everything possible to obtain additional support from France and England.

Both Delbos and Léger are in agreement that it is highly improbable Germany will risk war during the next 12 months since Germany will need about 12 months to [effect?] alterations due to the defects in her aviation motors and her tanks which became visible in Spain. They are both apprehensive, however, that Hitler may possibly decide at some time during the next 12 months to provoke a Nazi revolt in Austria and support it by so-called “volunteers” from Germany.

In this connection the Austrian Minister stated to me a few days ago that he had certain knowledge that the basis of the agreement between Hitler and Mussolini with regard to Austria was that Hitler had said that he would not intervene in Austria unless Otto should be placed on the Throne; that Mussolini had accepted this exception because he was confident that the influence of the Catholic Church and the Vienna Jews would be sufficient to keep Austria from turning Nazi without the return of Otto. Hitler had made the proposal [Page 80] because he was confident that unless Otto should return the Nazi movement in Austria would overcome all opposition.

Léger said that he had [recently?] received information from Austria that the Germans had mobilized some troops on the Austrian frontier. He did not regard this as a serious threat of immediate action.

Both Delbos and Léger believed that Hitler has not decided on his next move. For the moment he is keeping open all possibilities. He will have Schacht8 explore the possible advantages which Germany may achieve by entering into international economic agreements and following a policy of peace. He will prepare at the same time for a policy of war.

I cannot find anyone in Paris, including the members of the French Foreign Office, who believes that Van Zeeland’s9 efforts may be crowned with success. Frère10 who visited London recently for Van Zeeland and had a series of conversations chiefly with Leith-Ross11 said to me today that he had found the British extremely negative.

In general therefore the expectation in Paris is that there will probably be no war before next spring but that during that period French influence will diminish and German influence will increase throughout Central and Eastern Europe and that Hitler may move on Austria.

  1. Jozef Beck, Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  2. R. A. Alexis Léger, Secretary General of the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Hjalmar Schacht, German Minister for Economic Affairs and President of the Reichsbank.
  4. Paul van Zeeland, Belgian Prime Minister; for his economic mission, see pp. 671 ff.
  5. Maurice Frère, assistant to Van Zeeland on mission; a Belgian who was formerly the Counselor of the National Bank of Austria.
  6. Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, Chief Economic Adviser to the British Government.