CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 94: File–Germany Treaty VI

The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Bevin) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Marshall : At the meeting of the Council on the 25th March8 you gave it as your view that the German Peace Treaty should not be signed by a German Government. Your proposal, if I understand it correctly, is that the Allies should demand that a clause be written into the future German constitution requiring that all authority exercised under the constitution should be exercised in accordance with the terms of the Peace Treaty. By this means the whole German nation would be obliged to observe the Peace Treaty by the terms of the constitution.

You will recall that I expressed grave doubts about this proposal at the time. I felt that it was most important that the Peace Treaty should be signed on behalf of Germany. I have since been giving more thought to this question, and I feel bound to let you know that I am confirmed in the view which I expressed at the Council.

I fully appreciate the underlying aim of your proposal, and with your wish to spread the responsibility for the acceptance of the Treaty over the German people as a whole, and to avoid so far as possible a repetition of the developments which followed the signature by the German Government of the Versailles Treaty.

Nevertheless, I see no escape from the need to obtain the explicit acceptance by the German Government of certain conditions upon [Page 451] which the Allies will have to insist in return for abandoning the supreme authority which they now exercise in Germany. Such a need is foreseen in the United States draft Treaty for the Disarmament and Demilitarisation of Germany, where it is stated in Article 3 that the acceptance by Germany of certain prohibitions shall be a condition for the termination of the Allied occupation. If the scope of this Treaty were widened, as may prove advisable, or if other similar Treaties were made to impose other restrictions on Germany, and Germany was obliged to accept those restrictions also, we should in fact have arrived at much the same situation as if Germany was required to sign a Peace Treaty.

A Peace Treaty which was signed only by the Allied Powers and not by Germany would not be binding on Germany in international law, and acceptance of the Treaty by the Germans merely as part of their constitution would not make it so. Moreover, the Germans, if they ever regain any freedom, will be able to change their constitution, unless the maintenance of the constitution, or of certain vital clauses in it, is made obligatory by some special international machinery. In that event, as I have indicated above, the net result would be virtually the same as if a German Government had been required to sign a Peace Treaty. The essential feature in either case is that the Allies would require certain specific undertakings to be given by Germany, which undertakings could only be binding on Germany if she were a party to them.

At the same time, I realise that there is much to be said for laying responsibility for the acceptance of the Peace Treaty on the German people as a whole and not merely on the German Government of the time. My own view is that there will be considerable advantage in inserting an article in the German constitution on the lines you propose, provided that this is in addition to Germany’s signature and ratification of the Peace Treaty and not in substitution for it. If the constitution is adopted by democratic methods, as we intend shall be the case, such a procedure would constitute a complete protection for those individual Germans whose duty was to sign the Peace Treaty.

Similarly, it seems to me desirable that the Peace Treaty (or an agreement similar to the United States Disarmament and Demilitarisation Treaty) should lay down the minimum constitutional principles which Germany must be internationally bound to maintain.

The above considerations lead me to believe that there may not, in fact, be so wide a difference between your approach and ours as seemed to be the case. I should be grateful if you could consider my views and let me have your own, since I feel it is important that we should try to agree on this question fairly soon.

Yours sincerely,

Ernest Bevin
  1. For a report on the 13th Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, March 25, see telegram 1013, Delsec 1345, March 25, from Moscow, p. 287.