741.51/284: Telegram

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

377. With reference to the précis of the Anglo-French talks of last week which was telegraphed by the Foreign Office on May 3 to Sir Ronald Lindsay for communication to the Department,84 the following comments made this afternoon by one of the Foreign Office experts most concerned with the discussions are of interest.

Czechoslovakia. The British do not in any way minimize the danger of this situation which is heightened by uncertainty as to what Germany may do. No one, they think, and probably not even Hitler himself, knows what the course of events will be. On the analogy of Hitler’s past record, however, they are naturally apprehensive that an unwise move on the part of the Czechs or even some unfortunate accident might suggest to Hitler an opportunity for sudden action. The Sudeten-Deutsch, according to Foreign Office information, have now become more Nazi than Hitler himself and are running ahead of Henlein. This naturally increases the possibility of serious trouble through irresponsible action. It seems that every practicable way of assisting the Czechs out of the impasse was examined with the French. The French were most anxious for Great Britain to back up their own commitments in Czechoslovakia. The Foreign Office official said, however, definitely that the British made no commitment whatever to action in Czechoslovakia if war should break, beyond the position stated by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on March 24. It was agreed however, that the British and French Minister in Praha shall make closely concerted representations to the Czech Government. No precise line was laid down for these representations. The British and French Ministers are to consult together carefully in order to avoid crossing any wires. Their representations will not be made jointly nor will they necessarily be identic. The objective of both, however, will be to impress upon Benes the necessity for finding a solution of the Sudeten-Deutsch problem within the framework of the Czechoslovak state and to give him to understand, without saying so in so many words, that it is up to Czechoslovakia to bring forward a solution which will not give Hitler any ostensible excuse for intervening. I presume of course that the British and French suggestion would not go to the extent of telling Benes that he would have to compromise the ultimate sovereignty of his state. To balance this démarche [Page 51] at Praha, the British have agreed to the far more difficult action of making an approach to Hitler. The manner of doing this of course will have to be left to the British Ambassador. The utmost tact will be necessary in order to avoid wounding German susceptibilities. The Foreign Office is not at all sure whether their approach will not receive a rude rebuff. They can give no precise instructions to the Ambassador but he will proceed along the line of the Prime Minister’s policy announced on March 24 and will emphasize the profound desire of Great Britain for a peaceful solution of European difficulties and of her willingness to contribute her share. The danger in Czechoslovakia is obvious and the British will probably try to put it up to Hitler that as a member of the great European community they hope that Germany will contribute her part and show her willingness, through meeting the efforts of the Czech Government in a fair spirit, to assist the cause of continental peace. If the French and British efforts toward even a temporary solution of the Czech-German question meet with any measure of success, the British are hopeful that it may open the way in some degree toward the larger issue of an Anglo-German understanding, thus affording a small beginning toward a general understanding between the four great powers.
Military understandings. According to the Foreign Office, the French press in particular and in less degree the British press have exaggerated the implications regarding military conversations. In fact the British have gone no further than the agreement for staff conversations which was reached in March 1936 after German reoccupation of the Rhineland.85 In tracing this question the official pointed out that following the agreement of March 1936 there had been certain staff contacts between the British and the French in April of the same year; that at that time the British were making feelers and efforts to get Germany into a general understanding with the other great powers. They therefore discouraged any development of these staff conversations at the time for fear of putting the Germans off. Since then the French have continually pressed for further development of these conversations and have received evasive answers from the British. Now, however, the political situation as well as the military situation in Europe has radically changed and from the larger viewpoint of policy the British feel that there could have been no better moment than the present to resume military contacts and discussions. These talks are to be carried out on the basis of the changed position in the rearmament of all the major countries and of recent political developments affecting military strength. There is no question of a military alliance but merely an exploration of what could [Page 52] best be done in the common interest in the event of certain eventualities. The British of course attach tremendous importance to air questions. The army side has greater preoccupation for the French. There was no disagreement on either side as to what they should do in their conversations and staff contacts in these two arms. The French, however, showed a most pertinacious interest in naval conversations. The Foreign Office realizes of course that the French are profoundly worried about their Mediterranean communications. They feel, however, that there also enters into the background of the French insistence for naval staff talks an element of prestige; of desire to make up for the feeling of inferiority coming from the 5–5–3 naval ratio. The British on the other hand are not so much impressed as the French with the necessity or utility of protracted naval staff talks. The army and air conversations have already begun. The naval contacts have not yet been made and no definite time has been set for them to begin. It is also definitely understood that they will be carried out by the military, air and naval attachés of the two countries in Paris and in London; that no full dress delegations will be sent across the channel in either case. Expert officials can of course be sent from London to Paris or vice versa quietly and without publicity, to assist the attachés in their talks any time it may be necessary.
Abyssinia. The Foreign Office is not at all sure that the procedure they are proposing at Geneva for the recognition of Abyssinia will be accepted. They can easily see the possibility of its being balked by Russia or China or someone else. They have therefore drawn up their plans so that in case of rejection each country will be set free by the League to solve the problem in its own way. Should this happen, the exact moment when recognition will be effected by Great Britain will depend on the judgment of the Government as to how far the stipulations of the Anglo-Italian agreement have been fulfilled.
The general impression resulting from these talks is good here though not so lyrical as, according to the French press, it has been in that country. The British are pleased and feel that the conversations were exceedingly well timed from the viewpoint of strategy. However the Rome–Berlin axis may develop, the British realize, as almost every one does, that it has been profoundly affected by the absorption of Austria and Germany. To consolidate whatever gain there is in the Anglo-Italian agreement and whatever advantage may flow from the demonstration just given of Anglo-French solidarity on matters of common interest, these accomplishments must be integrated with the projected effort to bring about a Franco-Italian understanding. Without undue optimism, the Foreign Office believes that something substantial will be accomplished in this direction even though it may be at the cost of shelving for the time being certain sharp points of [Page 53] conflict in Franco-Italian interests, such as the question of Tunis. I gather that they do not feel here that it is possible for all of the major Franco-Italian issues to be included in any agreement at this time.

Copies to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Praha.

  1. Memorandum dated May 4 from the British Embassy to the Department of State, not printed.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. i, pp. 180 ff.