The Ambassador in Poland (Biddle) to the Secretary of State

No. 839

Sir: In conversation with Minister Beck on various aspects of Polish foreign policy, he emphasized that, from Poland’s angle, maintenance of the delicate balance between Moscow and Berlin was more difficult and even more important than maintenance of the balance between Berlin and Paris. Equilibrium in Polish policy between her two major neighbors was particularly difficult, mainly due to Berlin’s inherent misunderstanding and mistrust of Moscow. On the other [Page 109] hand, however, Poland found it measurably easier to balance her relations between Berlin and Paris, in that the passage of time had served to mitigate Paris’ first flush of resentment over the Polish-German Non-Aggression Agreement;44 in fact, in recent years Warsaw had found that fundamentally the Polish-German Non-Aggression Agreement had ceased to have an unfavorable bearing upon the Polish-French Alliance. On the other hand, Berlin had accepted the Polish-French Alliance as representing no hindrance to the Polish-German Non-Aggression Agreement.

Turning to Poland’s and France’s respective relations with the Soviet, and more particularly their comparative appraisals of the Soviet’s potential military strength, Minister Beck remarked that in 1922, when he, as Military Attaché at the Polish Embassy in Paris, had remarked to General Foch that the Soviet Army (then in the course of reorganizing) would bear watching in terms of potential strength and European balance, Foch had manifested distinct annoyance with Beck’s remark, adding that such an idea was illusory and preposterous. At that time, and subsequently, Poland, always in a better position than France to watch closely and appraise realistically Soviet internal developments, was aware of the Soviet’s mounting military strength. Minister Beck then remarked that it had been with a combined sense of amusement and interest that years later General Gamelin45 had loudly acclaimed the Soviet Army as an outstanding force and as a potential balance in the European politico-military arena. The Minister then stated his opinion that, while Poland had kept abreast of military developments in the Soviet during past years, hence realizing its mounting strength, Poland had taken full account of the immediate and long-range bearing of certain weaknesses in the structure resultant from a series of “purges” over past years. Therefore, Beck felt Poland was apt to evaluate the Soviet Army’s potential strength more realistically than France, which was apparently inclined to over-rate Soviet’s strength.

Turning then to the subject of the French-German declaration signed December 6, Minister Beck remarked with a sense of satisfaction that M. Bonnet had advised Polish Ambassador Lukasiewicz well in advance of France’s undertaking and had kept him abreast of negotiations. At the same time Bonnet had pointed out that his Government considered the French-German declaration would work no hindrance either to the Polish-French Alliance or the Polish-German Non-Aggression Agreement.

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About the same time, Chancellor Hitler had advised Polish Ambassador Lipski that Germany intended to join in a declaration with France and that he likewise considered that this declaration would have no unfavorable bearing upon the Polish-French Alliance and the Polish-German Non-Aggression Agreement. It was significant to me that Hitler failed to mention the possible effect of the then forthcoming French-German declaration upon the French-Soviet Alliance. In fact, I interpret this to mean that Hitler deliberately eliminated mention of the latter pact as a means of evidencing his non-acceptance thereof.

In response to Bonnet’s aforementioned message to Beck through the Polish Ambassador in Paris, Beck had replied he was in accord with M. Bonnet’s opinion that the French-German declaration would not affect the Polish-French Alliance nor Poland’s Non-Aggression Agreement with Germany. In fact, he added his belief that France’s action now removed any existent differences of views between Poland and France. In other words, the German-French declaration in effect had placed Poland’s and France’s respective relations vis-à-vis Germany on the same level.

Though Beck has not expressed it in so many words, I gain the impression he is not inclined to look for either France or Britain, in terms of the long-range outlook, to base with any degree of permanency their respective foreign policies on the declarations with Germany. Minister Beck imparted his high esteem both for M. Daladier and M. Bonnet. He felt that of the two M. Bonnet had a clearer grasp of the fundamentals governing Polish policy. On the other hand, he felt that M. Daladier’s political activities had been so confined to the internal affairs of France that he had had little time to keep abreast of problems confronting Polish policy. Beck had learned with sincere regret that, due to a combination of rapid post-Munich events, M. Daladier was inclined to be annoyed with Poland—especially in connection with Poland’s action vis-à-vis Prague. Beck particularly regretted this in view of his belief that M. Daladier had perhaps failed to grasp the whole picture from Poland’s own objective standpoint.

By way of further clarification of Poland’s position, the Minister pointed out that at no time during the past year had he or his close collaborators believed that either France or England would march for Czechoslovakia or that Czechoslovakia would fight Germany single-handed. (My conversations with Minister Beck, Marshal Smigly-Rydz and Chief of Staff, General Stakiewicz over the past year bear out Beck on this point.)

Minister Beck continued that meanwhile both London and Paris had vigorously pressed Warsaw to commit Poland to a line-up with France and Britain vis-à-vis Germany.

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During the period leading up to the Munich Conference, and in response to London’s request that Warsaw suppress its violent press attack on Prague Beck had stated that he would rather be criticized for acting tactlessly at that moment than to be accused three months hence of having “let down” Czechoslovakia.

Here Beck emphasized that, with the conviction in the back of his mind that Paris and London would seek to negotiate rather than fight over Czechoslovakia, he had interpreted London’s pressure for his commitment in the light of an attempt to use Poland’s desired declaration of alignment in the nature of a “big stick” vis-à-vis Berlin. In other words, he foresaw that:

London’s immediate objective envisaged possibly trying to bring Berlin to terms by pointing out that with Poland and Czechoslovakia in the East and Britain and France in the West Germany faced a conflict on two fronts;
London’s possible longer-range objective envisaged, in event of bringing Germany to terms, calling a four-power conference to the exclusion of Poland. Moreover, Beck had foreseen that a four-power conference entailed potential dangers for the smaller powers; in other words, that the latter might possibly become the victims of “peaceful settlements” between the major powers. Moreover, he reiterated with emphasis his former statements to effect that Poland, whose claims for the Teschen district had pre-dated and were more justifiable than Germany’s claims for the Sudetenland, had from the very outset consistently voiced her insistence upon equal and non-discriminatory treatment of Polish claims—and had so notified the capitals of the four major powers. Hence London’s and Paris’ agreement to advance the scope of treatment of Germany’s claims for the Sudeten territory from autonomy to cession, in which deliberation Poland had had no part, had placed Poland in a position whereat there was no alternative other than to settle her claims in her own way. (I am aware that Beck and his collaborators were faced not only with a question of prestige in the light of their internal political arena but also with what they considered the necessity of “showing” Germany they were willing to fight for what they considered their rightful objectives.)
the recent French-German declaration would undoubtedly have the effect of “putting to sleep” the French-Soviet Alliance. Moreover, Beck felt this declaration placed Poland’s and France’s respective relations with Germany on the same level. Hence, there should be little if any difference of views now between France and Poland.

From the foregoing and other conversations with Minister Beck, I gain the distinct impression that he has a sincere desire of clarifying Poland’s position with Messrs. Daladier and Bonnet towards a better understanding and amelioration in relations between Poland and France.

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Signed January 26, 1934, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxxvii, p. 495.
  2. Gen. Maurice Gamelin, Chief of General Staff in the French Army.