Rotten to the Core?
How America’s Political Decay Accelerated During the Trump Era
THE terms "old diplomacy" and "new diplomacy" have been in common use for twenty-five years or more. The system of alliance set up by France, England and Russia to ward off the German danger in the decade before 1914 is dubbed "old diplomacy." The system of so-called international security which took shape in the League's Covenant of June 1919, and afterward regulated or was supposed to regulate the relations of the fifty-odd states of the world, is labelled "new diplomacy." All the implications of the word "alliance" connote "old diplomacy." In the same way, "new diplomacy" connotes the twin ideas of replacing the bilateral alliances of the past with a universal or semi-universal association of states pledged to compliance with a set of general principles embodied in international law, and the abandonment of "power politics" -- that is, the use of force to settle conflicts between nations.
It is difficult today to imagine the unbounded enthusiasm which burst out in most European nations when the American President landed in Brest in 1918. I shall always remember the remark of an eminent British political writer with whom I was taking a short rest in the country. A common friend was about to go to London as correspondent: of the Echo de Paris, the newspaper of which I was then foreign editor. That friend, who was to make a great name as a playwright, had remarked that he was attracted by his new journalistic task but feared lest his scanty knowledge of history would prove a serious hindrance. "Do believe," said the Englishman, "that we are starting today with a clean slate and that the interests and the passions which formerly have determined the fate of the world will henceforth be of little weight." Such was the belief of many, perhaps of most -- if not in France, at least in England, and, I am sure, here in America.
Those great expectations have been frustrated. The ambitious experiment started by the preceding generation of statesmen has ended in war -- in an ordeal more terrible than the one old diplomacy had been unable to forestall. Was new diplomacy at fault? Numerous voices insist that it was not. New diplomacy, they say, was not given a fair chance. It was stifled in its very cradle by the men and the ideas it was to replace. This time, they conclude, we must make a complete break with the political tenets and practices which held sway in Paris, London and St. Petersburg when the present century was in its teens.
This article examines only the pattern of old diplomacy worked out by the Powers of the Triple Entente -- France, Russia and Britain. They are the Powers that tried to preserve peace, and we are interested in defense, not in offense. It is meaningless to use the terms "old" and "new" diplomacy in reference to Germany. Germany, a persistently aggressive empire, had no more to do with new diplomacy than was necessary to disguise her program of revenge.
The danger at the present moment, with full victory within the grasp of the American, British and Russian Armies, is a fresh venture in the field of new diplomacy as it was understood at the termination of the First World War. For the common good we must rid ourselves of confusion of thought which, if continued, cannot but play into the hands of all disturbers of the peace.
My contention is that, to nip in the bud all forms of aggression, to curb any would-be disturber of the peace, to initiate any vigorous action in the international field, definite political and military commitments must be entered into. Political and military commitments are not likely to prove adequate if diluted into general pacts subscribed to by twenty, thirty or forty participants. To believe that such pacts suffice to maintain peace is to beg the whole question, to assume that the conduct of international relations can forever be divorced from the use of material force, that the rule of law has already been made secure throughout the world, that no secular arm is needed in support of law -- in short, that the days of power politics are over. Clearly, no such assumptions are permissible. And as long as international relations involve questions of power, only the commitments which create a distinct solidarity of the few Great Powers can exorcise war.
Those few Great Powers must so closely adjust their respective national interests as to be equally determined to take up the challenge, whenever the challenge comes. And I doubt that such adjustment of national interests between the few is possible if too many signatories are gathered. Moreover, with a great number of signatories, the execution of the pledges will unavoidably lack the necessary decisiveness. In a convoy groping its way across the ocean, the pace is set by the slowest ship. Not very differently, collective enforcement of obligations binding dozens of states runs the risk of being adjusted to the gait of those which are the less determined to act and the most prone to entertain extensive reservations, if not, indeed, to play a double game. I do not imply that the Great Powers who must assume the responsibility for dealing with the disturbers of the peace are free to trample on the rights of the international community, and to ignore notions of justice and equity. By no means. Within the international organization, unequal functions ought not to generate unequal rights. In a well-ordered international polity, there should be procedures by which secondary Powers could mobilize public opinion against the leading states, should the latter become domineering. I wish to emphasize only that the leadership in the effort to maintain peace must rest with the principal Powers. That leadership must be founded upon their alliance.
Old diplomacy failed in 1914 because the counter-alliance it managed to set up in order to hold in check the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy was not impressive enough and, consequently, did not deter the Central Empires from their sinister undertaking. New diplomacy failed in the thirties because, having brought about the dissolution of the Anglo-French alliance, it could construct nothing positive from the wreckage of its ideological schemes. History will hold that the sins of commission for which the new diplomacy is answerable outstrip the sins of omission laid at the door of the old.
The danger to European civilization and to the world in the German bid for supremacy which became visible in the opening years of the century cannot now be minimized by the wildest stretch of pacifist and humanitarian imagination. To its eternal honor, French diplomacy was first to detect it. The alliance of the United Nations in the present war as well as the system outlined in the Dumbarton Oaks proposals are the lineal descendants of the coalition pieced together some forty years ago.
On the day Théophile Delcassé took office as Minister of Foreign Affairs in June 1898, France undertook not only to unite Britain and herself in a common bond, but also to unite Britain and Russia, the ally of France since 1891-92. Indeed, Delcassé himself was not the original inventor of the Triple Entente. The scheme loomed large in the talk of Léon Gambetta, some eighteen years earlier, and the idea had been taken up by Paul Cambon and Camille Barrère, the most farseeing ambassadors any French government ever had in its service. Let us add to the small group of pioneers the names of Alexandre Ribot (the Minister who brought into being the alliance with Russia), and of Jules Cambon, who was not to be given an ambassadorial post until 1898. They are the statesmen who fully perceived the convergence of Franco-British interests, latent all through the nineteenth century in spite of superficial discords. The problem was to draw Russia and Britain together for the sake of European salvation. After Gabriel Hanotaux left the Quai d'Orsay for good in 1898, Delcassé let nothing interfere with his main purpose. A close adviser of Delcassé once told me of the Minister's deep emotion on leaving the room of Lord Lansdowne at the Foreign Office in the spring of 1903. The Frenchman had come to London to further the progress of the contemplated convention on Egypt and Morocco which was to seal the Entente Cordiale the following year. All of a sudden Lord Lansdowne said to him: "You ought to open the way for some rapprochement between ourselves and Russia." "I felt," related Delcassé to my friend, "that my head was about to burst. But I did not show anything of the feeling those words had stirred deep in me. I was content to remark that I should avail myself of every opportunity to praise in the presence of Russian statesmen the satisfactory working of the Entente Cordiale. I could not promise to do more, at the outset, since great care had to be taken not to raise doubts, among Russian diplomats, as to our loyalty to the Franco-Russian alliance." The dream of Delcassé became true on August 31, 1907. On that day the Governments of London and St. Petersburg reached full agreement on Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet. The Triple Entente was born.
When put to the test, seven years later, the Franco-Russian branch of the system worked without a hitch. As unhesitatingly as Germany supported Austria, France remained loyal to her bond and unflinchingly accepted the terrible risks and sacrifices of the First World War. It was the Anglo-French branch which was slow to operate. Properly speaking, no formal alliance between France and England was in existence: only a mechanism for cooperation between the general staffs of the two countries had been set up.
The old diplomacy of the period was outdone by the warlike moves of the Central Empires. It took the British Government a full week or more to estimate correctly the far-reaching consequences of the ultimatum delivered by the Austrian Government to Belgrade on July 23, 1914. I vividly remember calling on Paul Cambon the morning of the next day, a few hours after the text, or a summary, of the ultimatum had been made public. Oddly enough, he knew nothing of it. Apparently no warning had reached him as yet from the Foreign Office or even from his own staff. He carefully perused the Ballplatz note and said: "It means war. I easily visualize what is about to happen. If the British Government put its foot on the whole thing today, peace might be saved. But Grey is going to wobble and hesitate. Meanwhile, the Germans will go ahead in the belief that England does not dare intervene. England is sure to join us in the end but too late!" Paul Cambon only too accurately forecast the British course.
To a great extent, the European tragedy arose from the fact that, instinctively, our British friends were still involved in the traditional concept of the balance of power. For ages that concept had done them good service. They clung to it against a mass of premonitory warnings. I ask the reader not to imagine that I find some wanton delectation in plunging into the recesses of the past, that I wander about unburying the dead for the sake of indicting the British Government. But the lesson implicit in those records of thirty years ago has a bearing on the present time and must not be missed.
The balance of power principle had a very peculiar significance for England. As used by a Frenchman, the expression meant that no single Power or group of Powers must be permitted to become a law unto itself, and that unless France was ready to forfeit her independence she had no choice but to band her resources with the resources of others as soon as she felt unable to maintain an equilibrium by her own might. But France was always to be at the center of the contemplated coalition, in the thick of the fight, with her land and sea forces. As the British Cabinet understood the balance of power, England, on the contrary, needed not be in the midst of the storm. Britain's control of the seas and the incomparable consequences of sea power, as appraised in London, made it possible for her to hold the scales on the Continent with a minimum contribution of her own substance. The necessary prerequisite of such a policy was, of course, that calculations of every nation's resources and purposes should be faultless.
In 1914, the British ministers were blind to many new international factors. Many of them did not rightly judge the strength and threat of the German Navy. The dynamism and the scope of the Pan German movement escaped their notice. As late as 1899, for example, Joseph Chamberlain favored the conclusion of an alliance with Germany. And British ministers failed to perceive the significance of the changes of structure in Austria-Hungary.
They could not shake off old connections and prejudices before it was too late. I doubt that more intelligent ministers ever sat around the Council table at 10 Downing Street than such men as Herbert Asquith, Edward Grey, R. B. Haldane, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill. But they were imbued to the marrow with the optimism of the nineteenth century. A very charming girl of 13, close to one of them, once addressed a colonel of the Guards in the following words: "How extraordinary that you should spend your life preparing for emergencies which will never come to pass! Can you take yourself seriously?" The appeasement of Germany by the London Cabinet, from 1907 to 1914, makes a story which approximates the show of Munich. In those acts of surrender -- the agreements initialed or even signed on Asiatic Turkey and the Portuguese colonies -- the German Emperor and his counsellors found a convincing proof of the British resolve to keep aloof, and they went to war. Nothing less than a fully constituted military alliance might have dissuaded them. The Triple Entente was realistically planned but very inadequately implemented.
The French, British and Russian statesmen of the period have been charged with secrecy, and people in the United States are particularly apt to suspect them of shady machinations. I have approached many of the diplomats who then played an active part. Oddly enough, I was even a regular visitor at the German Embassy in London, and the counsellor and chargé d'affaires, Freiherr von Kühlmann, who was to take charge of the Wil-helmstrasse in 1917, spoke to me with little restraint. I can bear witness that it was no harder to follow whatever international negotiation was in progress than it is today. No press conference was held, it is true. But are press conferences of such great assistance? While knowing how to be discreet as to details, the protagonists never concealed their movements. Paul Cambon, held to be the very embodiment of old diplomacy, evinced utter frankness, a frankness never shown by such a man as Aristide Briand, for instance. I am at a loss to understand how Woodrow Wilson could have been caught unaware by the treaty intended to bring Italy into the war in April 1915, or by the territorial and political advantages simultaneously promised to the Imperial Government of Russia. It is true that neither the letters exchanged in 1891, 1892 and 1899 by the French and the Russian ministers and military leaders to define their countries' alliance, nor the correspondence between Sir Edward Grey and Paul Cambon in November 1912, which regularized the military consultations between the French and British general staffs, were ever made public. This was in accordance with the practice of the time. The treaties of Triple Alliance -- incomparably more involved and detailed documents -- were shrouded in mystery. It would not have helped our cause to give the potential enemy an insight into our very fragmentary arrangements. The content of the agreements negotiated with Sergei Sazonoff, the Foreign Minister of Tsar Nicholas II, and with Baron Sonnino, the Italian Foreign Minister, were not so very unlike the adjustments of national interests which today have to be made among nations.
The advent of new diplomacy can be dated from January 1920. Then the Council of the League of Nations met in Paris for the first time and a very numerous staff set to work under the guidance of Sir Eric Drummond (Lord Perth), Secretary-General of the League. Sir Eric Drummond was a regular Foreign Office diplomat, but of the weakest type. Later, he served as Ambassador to Rome. If the dispatches he sent from Mussolini's capital are ever made public otherwise than as excerpts from selected documents, his intellectual caliber and his strength of purpose will be evident to all. The French League officials under him were picked up very casually. Lord Robert Cecil (Lord Cecil of Chelwood) had forced upon Clemenceau's acceptance a French protege of his, a businessman who had everything to learn about foreign affairs. "Since I do not care a brass for the League of Nations," said the French Premier, "I have conceded Lord Cecil's request." The old statesman was wrong. The League was out to destroy French policy as shaped in the Delcassé-Poincaré tradition, and it succeeded.
To listen to the talk current at the Geneva forum was a shocking experience. The adepts of the new faith believed that the political universe could be rebuilt on a set of very simple principles. For instance, they did not doubt that calculated economic interest would henceforward have greater weight with the mass of the people in enemy states and elsewhere than chauvinistic programs. Had it not been proved that victory did not pay? "Then why don't you let me have some little crumbs from your table?" retorted the German Foreign Minister Stresemann to an egregious lady friend of mine who had expatiated on that theme. The proponents of the League were convinced that public opinion crossing frontiers would surely assert itself in a tremendous volume against the government daring to violate the rules of the Covenant and retain its military establishments. The assumption was that the Weimar Constitution had turned the German people into peaceloving liberals.
It is a fact that during a period of some ten years, which opened with the defeat of Raymond Poincaré in the general election of 1924 and closed about two years after the death of Aristide Briand, everyone behaved as though the Covenant was indeed the regulator of international relations. The attempt of French diplomacy to resist the change which was fatally to weaken the enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles was overwhelmed. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Philippe Berthelot, was a strange person. He boasted that while paying tribute to the Geneva institution in high-sounding words he knew how to safeguard the long-tested concepts and positions of French foreign relations. That man has always baffled me. Whether he was more than an exhibitionist addicted to perpetual paradoxes, an opportunist, and a questionable connoisseur of exotic antiquities, remains a riddle. His name is linked with the disintegration of France's policy.
In theory, the Covenant of the League of Nations was consistent with the continuation of the alliances. Such is the meaning of Articles 20 and 21. But the spirit of that instrument was antagonistic to all separate groupings of power, and, except in special circumstances, favored general commitments entered into by all states, great and small alike. The American prejudice against old-fashioned political and military agreements also contributed to the decay of the alliances. And from the outset, the British Government shared to the full in the reaction against them. The Franco-British bond was the first to suffer. Then, under pressure from the United States, the London Foreign Office resigned itself to severing the alliance with Japan, though convinced at the time that Japanese nationalism and imperialism were thereby being given free rein. Alliance, therefore, gave way to a system of general engagements unrelated to any concrete situation. Its fundamental weakness has already been underlined.
Leaving aside problems of execution, can it be said that on paper, at any rate, the Covenant was a closely-woven document which made all acts of aggression punishable by the League? No. Preventive action by the Council? Article 11 provided for it. But the requirement for a unanimous vote sterilized the procedure. The solitary exception to the rule of unanimity was found in Article 15, dealing with the settlement of conflicts by the Council -- conflicts which had actually broken out. Was Article 15 thus to be taken as an unshakable bulwark of peace? Let the reader ponder on paragraph 7 and enlightenment will come: "If the Council fails to reach a report which is unanimously agreed upon by the members thereof, other than the representatives of one or more of the parties to the dispute, the members of the League reserve to themselves the right to take such action as they shall consider necessary for the maintenance of right and justice." That, in fact, meant that governments with delegates on the Council could lawfully pass into the camp of the attacking nation! In the Covenant there was room for "lawful wars." Other gaps could be singled out.
Then, in what set of circumstances were the economic and military sanctions with which Article 16 dealt intended to become effective? Those sanctions were only to be enforced if the warmaker had not complied, before unsheathing his sword, with the long drawn out procedure before the Council (Article 15) or with the alternative method left to his choice -- arbitration (Articles 13 and 14), if he had started waging war regardless of the three months delay (after the award by the arbitrators or the report by the Council) prescribed in Article 12.
None of the aggressors of 1931 to 1938, neither Japan nor Italy nor Germany, took the trouble to avail herself of the several loopholes which the Covenant afforded her to fight "lawfully." They struck their blows without bothering about Article 16 and its sanctions. They knew that the rule of unanimity stood in the way. (All the ingenuity, energy and brilliant intellect of Nicolas Titulesco had to be employed to get around that rule of unanimity in October 1935, when Fascist Italy invaded Abyssinia.) They knew also that economic sanctions carried out by fifty states -- with no compulsory military sanctions to back them -- could not hit the target. What a paradox that no permanent military committee should ever have had a lasting rôle in the Geneva framework, that the helpless permanent consultative military committee of 1920 faded away in 1928 without leaving a trace behind! Only a fully organized Franco-British alliance could have given vigor to the League in those great emergencies when war again threatened to engulf the world. It was not at hand. It was not to be revived in time. Moreover, in the tumult of ideas and men which followed the check inflicted on Poincaré's Ruhr policy in 1924, unscrupulous and perverse politicians -- Laval, Flandin, Bonnet -- came to the top and wielded an influence which would never have been theirs had not the traditional school been so drastically dismantled.
When the full history of the League is written, the most pathetic chapter will relate what was done from year to year to uphold the great illusions. Who first invented the idea of "pacts of non-aggression" whereby a promise to refrain from making war on one's neighbor without provocation was treated as a substantial consolidation of the European structure and rewarded accordingly? Was it not an open admission that there was such a thing as a right of aggression? The idea flowered in the futile Kellogg-Briand Pact of August 1928. What an ersatz for a guarantee of peace!
But the Treaties of Locarno of October 16, 1925, must be regarded as the most deceptive and dishonest instrument of the period. Article 4 in the treaty of mutual guarantee between Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy (the so-called Rhineland Pact) and Article 1 in the arbitration treaties between Germany and Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia, are worthy specimens of the whole compact. Article 4 is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, England and Italy, the guarantors, were under the obligation immediately to come to the help of France in case of a flagrant violation by Germany of the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles on the demilitarization of the Rhineland. On the other hand, the guarantors undertook "to act in accordance with the recommendations of the League's Council," which implied procrastination. When the Rhineland Pact was bluntly challenged by Hitler in March 1936, the British guarantor remained inert. (It was out of the question, of course, that Italy should make good her guarantee.) And the Council of the League, on being called upon to intervene, coldly declared that the whole pact was res inter alias acta and that it was not concerned in the matter. Article I in the Locarno treaties of arbitration covertly ruled out territorial disputes. The said treaties did not apply "to disputes arising out of events prior to them and belonging to the past." It would not be easy to find a match for such trickery with words in the diplomatic records of the nineteenth century. After all, naked cynicism is to be preferred to hypocrisy. We were on safer ground before 1919. The true significance of treaties was not so well concealed behind a screen of make-believe.
The successors of Poincaré in France professed to trust the trilogy "arbitration, disarmament, security;" nonetheless, they endeavored to get some reinsurance in the old style. But all the constructions between France and Poland, France and Czechoslovakia, among Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia and Rumania, and among Jugoslavia, Rumania, Greece and Turkey, were mere castles of cards. Again, only the alliance of France and England could have given them some solidity; and that central pillar had long been pulled down.
An effective Franco-Russian alliance might have proved a substitute. But the contract to which Laval and Litvinoff appended their names remained a dead letter. The industrial and military growth of Russia frightened the French bourgeoisie out of their senses and the country was cut asunder. At last, in November 1936, after the Rhineland had been occupied by the Reichswehr, there was a general stampede toward the mode of international security deliberately destroyed fifteen years before. The London and Paris Governments formally undertook to stand together against a German attack; but British commitments did not extend beyond western Europe -- a restriction which was not to disappear until the spring of 1939, six months after Munich. At this point the two great allies, with their eyes wide open at last to the impending peril, had to put up with the terrible consequences of their relative disarmament. The control of the air had slipped from the western Powers to Germany. The British Admiralty labored under an exaggerated sense of its impotence on the high seas. France had maintained an army, despite the bitter criticism which surged against her from the Anglo-Saxon world; but the all-pervading pacifism, born of the social schism, and an out-of-date High Command, made it an indifferent force. Salvation was tentatively sought in a policy of appeasement carried much further than in 1912-1914.
Making light of all Geneva formulas, Britain had once again played the game of the balance of power. Lord Lothian hailed Hitler's repudiation of the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles in March 1935, and the reassertion of full German sovereignty over the Rhineland as healthy changes, harbingers of a well-poised Europe. So much for the achievements of the new diplomacy, in cursory review.
The conduct of diplomatic business in the years between the two world wars deserves particular attention. The French and British Ambassadors lost a good deal of their importance in the great capitals. On the whole, they were abased to the level of ushers, messengers and mailboxes. Essential negotiations were no longer channelled into their care. The heads of government, or the foreign ministers who met in Geneva four times a year during the regular sessions of the League's Council and in the international conferences held outside Geneva, became the supreme negotiators. In wartime, when military and political problems are inextricably interwoven, this is inescapable. But, in wartime, the heads of government are more often than not men of outstanding stature, men who have successfully withstood the impact of tremendous events and proved their mettle. In peacetime, the ministers at the helm have won promotion in the electoral and parliamentary field. Most of them have not been tried elsewhere. They are not prepared to undertake tasks which call for a thorough knowledge of the political and economic forces at work in the Old and New Worlds, an understanding to be won only through many years of intense study and sustained observation.
It is true that in the interwar period career diplomats sometimes bowed more abjectly than their masters to the whims of uninformed public opinion. But their very mediocrity was the result of the new rôle assumed by the political chiefs. They were often selected because of their pliancy and servility. "Are you aware," said Jules Cambon to his brother Paul, "that nowadays we could not serve as ambassadors?" He meant that a diplomat more experienced in foreign affairs than the titular minister, and with definite opinions about his country's interest, was in honor compelled to revolt against a system where ignorance and foolhardiness had free rein.
The personal conversations Aristide Briand had with Stresemann, for instance, did not help international harmony. Philippe Berthelot was never able to find out from Briand what had really passed between him and the German leader in Thoiry in 1926. And what about Sir John Simon and Hitler, Ramsay MacDonald and Mussolini? I am told by an English friend who knows what he is talking about that the diplomatic correspondence pigeonholed at the Foreign Office can never be printed. The archives issued in book form on the origins of the wars of 1870 and 1914 redound to the credit of the majority of the French diplomats concerned, even under the reign of Napoleon III.
This is not the place to discuss the functioning of the press in the era of emphatic idealism. Corrupt journalists in France and elsewhere have come in for their fair share of denunciation. But they did no greater harm than honest but naïve, ill-informed and wrongheaded editors. The speeches of Lord Lothian in the House of Lords and his articles in the London Times, signed and unsigned, are a sample. I hope they will be collected and published; they might convey a warning. Before the 1914 conflict, the press in western Europe probably gave its readers a more accurate picture of the political world than did the press during the period of the new diplomacy.
To sum up. The protective system created by France, Russia and England in the first decade of this century was in an embryonic state when Germany and Austria-Hungary resolved to force their hegemony upon the Continent by means of war. To deter them, a full-grown alliance of the three Powers was needed; and even such an alliance might not have kept the peace. The alliance remained a rudimentary one largely because British political thought had stagnated in the concepts of the Victorian Age. Nonetheless, the Triple Entente did not give way under the German onslaught. It was soon in full battle array, and but for the stupid policy followed toward Turkey and for the medieval structure of Russian society, it might have won through to victory without the full participation of American troops. It rested upon the convergence of French, Russian and British national interests. It was cast in the mold of political realism. The statesmen who brought it into being had assimilated the lessons of historical experience and were full of contempt for ideologies. Their task, as they understood it, was not to resettle the universe sub specie aeternitatis but to solve its problems empirically. They trusted that their successors of the next generation would meet new circumstances in a similar spirit and carry their work further. They believed that all panaceas were likely to make impossible the solutions which the problems of the near future required, and they considered any panacea positively dangerous.
The international system which came into its own in 1919-20 led the victors of the First World War to a new and more terrible ordeal, though the possibility of safeguarding European peace in 1934-36 was incomparably greater than in 1912-1914. A modicum of common sense and courage could have avoided the ordeal of the Second World War. But no success was possible unless the whole policy of the preceding fifteen years was abruptly reversed and the old alliances restored. In 1934, after Germany had slammed the door on the League, Louis Barthou did his utmost to precipitate the reversal. Perhaps a great opportunity was at hand. It vanished the day he was assassinated and Pierre Laval took office. Too many incompetent or unworthy men crowded governmental councils in Paris and in London to permit the great undertaking to be performed. Fools and knaves, in posts of influence, cannot but wreck the best conceived international system. And in 1935-1936 everything had to be assembled anew out of materials scattered on the lawns of Geneva.
The tentative proposals for a world security organization drafted at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference do not fall within the range of this article. However, it may be permissible to record that they conform to the lessons of the last thirty years and retain surprisingly little of the claims and the practices of the new diplomacy.
Disarmament was in the forefront of the program of the new diplomacy. The lasting military alliance of the Great Powers is at the hub of the organization contemplated at Dumbarton Oaks. The pretense of the new diplomacy was to rule the world on the basis of a set of universal principles embodied in a "covenant." No covenant has issued from Dumbarton Oaks. It was felt that the Atlantic Charter -- which is in the nature of a geometrical limit -- had better be retained. The grand alliance is centered on the enforcement, over many years, of the armistice conventions to be imposed upon Germany, Germany's satellites and Japan. Its feet are on the ground. And the national interests of the Great Powers are being submitted to an unbroken process of adaptation to make certain that centrifugal forces will not get the better of their concord. This makes for an experimental, yet well-defined system.
Does not even this brief glance at the recent past support the conclusion that only well-defined systems, geared to a concrete purpose and comparatively modest in scope, can take a firm grip on international realities? At the same time I think that this political world of ours will not always be denied, at any rate, the sort of stabilization which became the privilege of man under the Roman Caesars in the first three centuries of the Christian era.
In the pages above, new diplomacy has been dissected and found wanting. But it ought not to be inferred that we shall be confined to the narrow circle of possibilities within which old diplomacy moved before 1914. Whether and when the reign of undiluted international law will be made secure cannot be predicted. However, it is reasonable to stand by those two assertions.
Assuming that the grand alliance which emerged from the Dumbarton Oaks Conference is to withstand the test for the length of one generation, then some definite progress toward an international system built on more ambitious lines may well materialize. The ideology embodied in the 1919 Covenant did not have the flimsiest chance to succeed, 25 years ago. But let us rewrite history. Let us suppose that, 25 years ago, the war alliances had been continued and that all the revengeful preparations in Germany had broken upon that rock, between 1930 and 1940. In that case, is it so unreasonable to imagine that the tide of the time might have favored grandiose projects of pacification? The Covenant of 1919 could not be a point of departure. To some degree it might have been a point of arrival.
In the interval ahead, it will devolve upon public opinion to provide some of the checks and balances needed in the "security organization." To scorn and decry that kind of check and balance is only too easy. They cannot be relied upon at every turn and perhaps even on most occasions. Even so, it is fairly safe to lay down the general rule that no grand alliance of the Dumbarton Oaks model would prove capable of surviving many years against a rising volume of criticism in the principal democracies of the world. Against the eventual excesses of the system, this safeguard must not, therefore, be called inexistent.