The British Ambassador ( Lindsay ) to the Secretary of State
His Majesty’s Ambassador has received instructions to communicate the following information to the Secretary of State:—
Lord Runciman’s mission to Prague to act as investigator or mediator between the Czechoslovak Government and the Sudeten Germans was undertaken to prevent a deadlock arising in the negotiations between the two parties, as seemed probable at the end of July, and to suggest means for bringing them to success.
The constitutional question, viz., provision of some degree of home rule for the Sudeten Germans within the Czechoslovak Republic is the immediate issue confronting Lord Runciman. After his arrival in Prague his first task was to study the suggestions proposed by the two sides. It became clear, however, at a meeting between the Czech and Sudeten representatives on August 17th that there was too wide a gulf between the respective proposals to permit of continuous negotiations on this basis. Lord Runciman prevented the Sudeten party from closing the door on further negotiations and was considering a new basis for their resumption when he learnt on August 21st that new and much more generous proposals were being put forward by M. Beneš of which the most important features were:—
- Creation of local autonomous districts in the Sudeten areas.
- An exchange of German for Czechoslovak officials.
- Withdrawal of Czechoslovak police from the German district.
- Important financial and economic concessions.
Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin returned to London on August 25th and reported that the Sudeten leaders regarded these proposals as a suitable basis for negotiations. Discussions had already taken place between M. Beneš and Dr. Hodza and the Sudeten leaders on August 24th and on August 25th at which the atmosphere was good, although it was somewhat disturbed by the issue on August 26th of a Sudeten party manifesto authorising party followers to defend themselves if attacked.
In view of the close approach to the Nazi Congress opening at Nuremberg on September 5th at which some definite pronouncement on the Sudeten problem might be expected from Herr Hitler, Lord Runciman has emphasised to M. Beneš the urgency of reaching an early agreement in such a form that it could be published before the Nuremberg meeting. M. Beneš indicated that the negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily and hoped that publication might be possible soon after his next meeting with Dr. Kundt on August 30th. From conversations on August 28th with Sudeten leaders who had been in contact with Herr Hitler it became clear, however, that they did not regard [Page 575] M. Beneš’ proposals as adequate, and that Herr Hitler had indicated that the Sudeten question must be solved on the basis of Herr Henlein’s eight Carlsbad points of last April which go beyond M. Beneš’ offer of August 21st.
On August 29th Lord Runciman received from M. Beneš a written memorandum purporting to amplify the Czech proposals. This document in Lord Runciman’s opinion marked a retreat from practical suggestions to academic principles and appeared to justify Sudeten scepticism. He feared that publication of the Czech proposals in this form might do more harm than good. Negotiations meanwhile are proceeding and it is to be hoped that M. Beneš’ recent proposals may still be made to serve as an agreed basis for detailed negotiations between the Czechoslovak and Sudeten leaders in the near future.
To sum up, a considerable advance towards agreement would appear to have been made recently in Prague largely owing to Lord Runciman’s efforts. The present situation, however, gives cause for serious anxiety since it is evident that the German Government, while ready to give Lord Runciman’s mission a chance, are not prepared to stand aside and wait much longer for present negotiations to produce a satisfactory result. Early in August information was received by His Majesty’s Government of extensive military preparations in Germany, including the calling up of reservists, the formation of reserve divisions, extension of service of second year recruits throughout October, conscription of labour for completion of German fortifications in the West, and measures empowering the military authorities to conscript civilian goods and services. These measures amount to partial mobilization and indicate that the German government are determined to find a settlement of the Czechoslovak question this autumn, if necessary by force. His Majesty’s Government have, moreover, received numerous other indications from various sources to this effect. Nor is it certain whether the German Government’s real objective is to secure to the Sudetens adequate rights of self-government within Czechoslovakia or whether they are aiming at nothing less than the break-up of Czechoslovakia as an independent state.
These anxieties formed the background to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech at Lanark on August 27th, and it is because of them that His Majesty’s Government decided to repeat once more the warning given by the Prime Minister on March 24th. Time is short, for it seems certain that Herr Hitler will have to speak about Czechoslovakia at the Nuremberg Congress between September 5th and September 12th, and failing any outward and visible sign of progress before the Congress he may feel obliged to make an unpleasant [Page 576] pronouncement, possibly backed up by an appeal to force, based on the right of self-determination and perhaps demanding a plebiscite. He might, however, be restrained from committing himself to any such extreme action if agreement could be secured between the Czechoslovak Government and the Sudeten Germans without further delay as to the basis for a comprehensive settlement. Every effort is being made by Lord Runciman with the support of His Majesty’s Government to establish such a basis.
His Majesty’s Government are anxious to acquaint the United States Government of the foregoing because of the serious menace which the present situation represents for the peace of the world. They accordingly desire that the United States Government should be aware of the efforts which His Majesty’s Government are making in order to restrain Germany from arrogant and forcible action, and at the same time to induce the Czechoslovak Government to make without further delay or evasion the far-reaching concessions which are necessary if an agreed settlement is to be reached between the Czechoslovak Government and the Sudetens.