The Minister in Czechoslovakia (Carr) to the Secretary of State

No. 93

Sir: In my telegram No. 18 of February 26, 12 noon, 1938,36 I reported the substance of an interview which Mr. Chapin37 and I had with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Krofta, in relation to the Central European situation and particularly the effect of the German-Austrian relations, the Cabinet crisis in England and the speech of Hitler upon governmental and public opinion in Prague. Night before last, February 28th, I was received by the President and talked with him for fifty minutes upon the same subject.

In discussing the effect of the Anglo-Italian negotiations upon Central Europe, and especially the attitude of Germany toward Central European States, the President said that it was the Great Powers and not the small countries of Central Europe which are important at the present time. Germany’s conquest of Czechoslovakia and Austria, for example, would not bring peace to Europe. It would only be a first step in Germany’s program and she would carry on her activities against the other countries in this area. Their conquest in turn would not determine the peace of Europe; she would go further toward the East and South and would also involve England and France, or, if she could succeed in isolating Russia, she would undoubtedly succeed, in due time, in effecting an agreement with that country by which Germany would be given control of the whole of Central Europe or, at least, that part which was not relinquished to Russia, and Russia, on the other hand, would relinquish to Japan the control of the Far East. Then the whole of Europe would be at the mercy of Germany and Russia and would involve enormous sacrifices if not great danger to Great Britain and France. From his point of view, the only sound [Page 411] position to take is to stand, as Czechoslovakia has stood, upon principle and show courage and resist. The wisdom of this has been shown just recently in the case of Austria. Hitler made a vehement speech which caused great nervousness throughout the world and expectation of some aggressive act. Schuschnigg, on the other hand, had the courage to stand for definite principles and to declare for the independence of Austria, and no further move on Germany’s part has been made. He said that Czechoslovakia would continue to maintain her position not only because it was the only loyal and honorable course to take with respect to her treaty obligations with her friends but the only sound course to take for her own self-preservation. He would gladly negotiate with Germany and would make reasonable concessions, provided they do not involve the intervention of Germany in the internal affairs of this country. Any attempt on the part of Germany to intervene in the internal affairs of Czechoslovakia would be resisted to the point of fighting if necessary, and, while Czechoslovakia may, of course, be defeated, she will not compromise.

The President several times expressed his pleasure and even delight at the declarations of Chautemps and Delbos in the French Chamber of Deputies on Saturday38 to the effect that France would be faithful to Czechoslovakia and to her treaty obligations and regarded Austrian independence as an indispensable element of European balance; and he commented at some length upon the vote in the Chamber in support of those declarations with only two negative votes. He said this action was not only gratifying to Czechoslovakia but that it definitely made it more difficult for Germany to make an aggressive move.

The President said he had no fear of military aggression from Germany at the present time. In his opinion, Germany will want to negotiate, and the French attitude will assist in the negotiations. In this relation he said that while in his speech Hitler raised the mailed fist menacingly toward the neighboring States of Central Europe, at the same time, as is always the case with Germany, he, on the other hand, gave encouragement to the idea of negotiation. The President said, however, that he would negotiate with Germany only on the basis of complete loyalty to Great Britain and France and full knowledge on their part of every move that should take place.

In regard to the question of a European war, the President said that Germany and Italy would not start a war at present. Italy could perhaps put several more divisions in the field, and Germany could possibly add as many as twenty more divisions to her army, but neither Germany nor Italy has the money, the raw materials or is economically in a position to carry on a war the extent of which cannot be foreseen. If they should be able to gain control of Central Europe [Page 412] to such an extent as to strengthen themselves economically and from the standpoint of raw materials, they might then be in a position to wage war. He said he had urged this point of view strongly at Paris and had explained that unless the Great Powers, such as France and England, saw this danger and realized that their own protection lay in their support of the integrity of the Central European States, they would, in due time, be menaced and have to fight for their existence.

The President thinks that Chamberlain may succeed in his negotiations with Italy, and, if so, the situation in Central Europe would be strengthened. On the other hand, if he should fail, he believes there would be new elections and a new Government in England, possibly headed by Eden, and that the new Government would be far firmer in its attitude to the Totalitarian Powers than the Chamberlain Government has been. Meanwhile, he lays stress upon the fact that British rearmament is proceeding rapidly and the position of Great Britain is becoming stronger.

I inquired about the Soviet Pact and the extent to which it was still regarded as important. The reply was that France was bound to Russia as one of the Great Powers and that Czechoslovakia was bound to France as well as to Russia.39 Germany has been trying, and is trying, to isolate Russia from Western Europe. If it should succeed in doing so, it would promptly turn round and endeavor to enter into an agreement with Russia. If this should be attended with success, all Central Europe would be at the mercy of these two Powers and the independence of the several States would cease to exist. In self-defense France must prevent such a thing from occurring and to that end Czechoslovakia must support France, because, in turn, she is relying upon France for protection. If Czechoslovakia should desert France, it would become at once a vassal of Germany. Czechoslovakia has stood fast and resisted the encroachment of Germany, and the President believes that this attitude has made possible the declarations which Chautemps and Delbos made on Saturday. He thinks that if Czechoslovakia had weakened and attempted to compromise, as some of the other Central European nations have done, it would have been disastrous not only to herself but to the other nations of Central Europe and to France as well. When asked whether there had been any perceptible increase in cohesion between the Central European States since the Hitler speech, he said that perhaps there had been a little. He did not appear to be as optimistic in this regard as Foreign Minister Krofta, whose view I reported in my telegram No. 18 of February 26th. The President went on to say that none of these [Page 413] States had left the League and none had dropped their old allies, such as France and Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, they had pretended to take a neutral position and had undertaken to make other friends. Now they find themselves in the position of not being able to be real friends with their old associates or with their new ones; hence their position is weak. Czechoslovakia, however, is strong because she has never compromised her position but has stood definitely upon certain sound principles. He spoke with some feeling about the course of Yugoslavia and Rumania and their flirting with Germany and Italy while holding on to their relation with France and Czechoslovakia. But, on the other hand, he said that as soon as a firmer attitude was taken by France and Great Britain, there would be no question about the return of these smaller nations to their first allegiance. It was not for him, he said, to reproach other nations for the course that they had taken, but, speaking quite personally and in confidence, he said he felt strongly that these smaller nations could have prevented matters in Europe from drifting as far as they had, if they and Poland had stood loyally by the Western Powers and the League to which they owed their very existence, instead of yielding to the persuasion of so-called friends as soon as trouble appeared upon the horizon.

I asked him what the effect would be of the provision in the new Rumanian Constitution forbidding the movement of foreign troops across Rumanian territory unless especially permitted by Rumanian legislation. He said he had not been aware that such a provision existed, but, if it existed, he regarded it as unimportant inasmuch as Rumania is a member of the League of Nations and is bound by the article in the Covenant which covers that exact question; consequently, any question that might arise about the transfer of troops over Rumanian territory would be settled under that article. He added that he had never negotiated with Rumania in regard to the movement of foreign troops across that territory and never had asked her anything about it.

Returning to the question of war, he said that he was convinced that there would be no war in Europe this year, but, on the other hand, he was convinced that the events of this year would definitely determine the question as to whether there would be a European war. If the Anglo-Italian negotiations should result favorably, they would almost certainly be followed by an agreement with Germany and possibly one with Russia and peace might be assured. If, however, those negotiations should fail, then a European conflict is quite possible. Speaking again of Czechoslovakia, the President said that Germany cares nothing about Czechoslovakia in itself but is only interested in it as a pretext for her larger aims which include, of course, the control of the whole of Central Europe as a means of going further to the East.

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I desire to add, in order that the Department may clearly understand my aim in the despatches and telegrams which I have sent, that I have thought it best to report to the Department, as fast as I could get information, the views expressed to me from various quarters rather than to attempt to appraise the several views and to draw from them conclusions as to what in my opinion the facts actually are. It seems to me that the Department is in a better position with the information received by it from other capitals interested in this region to make an accurate appraisal of the correctness of the information which I am reporting from time to time.

Respectfully yours,

Wilbur J. Carr
  1. Not printed.
  2. Vinton Chapin, Second Secretary of Legation.
  3. February 26.
  4. Treaty of Mutual Assistance between France and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, signed May 2, 1935; League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxvii, p. 395; and Treaty of Mutual Assistance between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, signed May 16, 1935, ibid., vol. clix, p. 347.