FOR six months, now, there have been signs of growing tension in Franco-Italian relations, with special evidences of irritation on the part of Italy. Before entering upon a discussion of the points at issue, I might make one or two remarks upon the general situation from the French point of view.

Negotiations between Paris and Rome have been in progress for some eleven years. They have as yet been brought to no satisfactory conclusion, though neither country has felt any lack of interest or encouragement on the part of other Powers. It is abundantly realized, indeed, that the differences between France and Italy must be settled before a general conference on the reduction and limitation of armaments can profitably be held.

Now there are those who think that with a little good will on the part of France an agreement could easily be reached.

France does not share this optimism, for she has a precise knowledge of what is being asked of her. The fact is that her statesmen have been working under exceptionally unfavorable circumstances. On the one hand, the negotiations themselves have been conducted in strict secrecy. On the other hand, newspapers have been left free to conduct futile debates and to give the widest publicity to insults and rhetoric calculated to inflame public passions.

The responsibility for this lack of moderation France is disposed to place squarely with the Italian Government. The campaign waged against France in Italy has had, in virtue of the Fascist censorship, a semi-official character. So true is this, that on at least two occasions, as a result of representations from the French Government, the campaign has been hushed. Why, then, has it not been permanently ended?

The situation of the French Government in a matter of this sort is very different. There is no censorship in France, and there are opposition parties. The government cannot compel all French newspapers to say the same things; nor can it so limit constitutional rights of asylum as to prevent Italian newspapers published in France from saying all the same things. The most it can do is to urge French newspapers not to report or republish the more offensive of the insults that are being hurled at France from south of the Alps. Let impartial judges abroad say on which side moderation lies.

In any event, it is clear that the discussion, as it has been conducted in the newspapers, has produced nothing but fever and bewilderment. We must escape from that atmosphere and go straight to the basic problems. These problems are numerous, and they have changed in relative importance in the course of the eleven years mentioned. At the present moment, nevertheless, they may be reduced to three: colonial questions; the Slav question; and the question of parity in armaments.


The Italians say: "The promises made to us at the time we entered the war and afterwards have not been kept."

This reproach causes some surprise in France. Did not victory give Italy her natural frontiers? Has not her traditional enemy been swept from the map of Europe?

France has not reaped any such advantages from the war, though she realizes that the two countries did not enter the war in the same circumstances and in the same spirit. France was taken unawares by an attack and an invasion, and was hurled into the conflict at a moment's warning. Italy took several months to make her choice between war and neutrality, and in virtue of a treaty negotiated in advance with her allies, and signed by them, she knew exactly the territories which she was setting out to conquer. With the coming of the armistice, France found plenty of occasion for rejoicing in the fact that her soil was again free of the enemy. Italy, on the other hand, may well have been disappointed at not being able to annex all the territory she had counted on.

But the question arises as to whether France alone can be held responsible for this disappointment.

Article 13 of the Treaty of London (April 26, 1915) stipulated: "In the event of France and Great Britain increasing their colonial territories in Africa at the expense of Germany, those two Powers agree in principle that Italy may claim some equitable compensation, particularly as regards the settlement in her favor of the questions relative to the frontiers of the Italian colonies of Eritrea, Somaliland and Libya and the neighboring colonies belonging to France and Great Britain."

In execution of this article, the Franco-Italian agreement of September 12, 1919, granted Italy a rectification of the western frontier of Libya whereby the Oases of Ghadames and Ghat passed under Italian sovereignty.

Was this "equitable compensation"? France says yes. Italy says no.

France points to the precedent of England's settlement with Italy. England in 1924 ceded Jubaland, a territory bordering on Italian Somaliland, and made a further readjustment of frontiers in 1926, whereby Koufza became part of Libya. Italy regarded this as "equitable compensation" on the part of England. It represented a transfer to Italy of 90,000 square kilometers, approximately 35,000 square miles, of territory.

The French cession gave Italy some 46,000 square miles of territory. Furthermore, in 1928 the French Government suggested that in case Italy accepted certain proposals concerning affairs in Tunis, France would cede her the Djado Oasis to the south of Tummo (already an Italian possession), an addition of about 16,000 square miles of territory.

This offer seemed satisfactory to the Italian Government at that time. It is far from seeming so today. Italian residents in the colonies have been aroused, and the reoccupation of Mourzouk by General Graziani, last January, has only whetted their appetites. They now want Bilma, Tibesti and northern Borkou, a territory some twelve times as large as the offer they had previously found reasonable. They are even demanding access to Lake Chad, though this would cut all the lines of communication which France has been establishing with such great effort between the two parts of her African empire -- West Africa and Equatorial Africa.

But this is not all. From 1927 on, Italy has been making a claim that since she inherited all the rights of Turkey in Tripolitania and the "hinterland" of Tripolitania, any concession France might make in the direction of Tibesti and Borkou could not be considered as "equitable compensation." It is true that in 1890 the Ottoman Government put forward a claim that the "hinterland" of Tripolitania extended as far as the frontiers of the Cameroon. But this absurd stretching of the "hinterland" theory was never justified by any important or durable occupation and was never recognized by France or England. The zone of French influence was delimited by an agreement with England on March 21, 1899. The boundaries indicated on the map annexed to that accord were accepted by Italy in letters exchanged between M. Barrère and Count Visconti-Venosta on December 14 and December 16, 1900, and between M. Barrère and Count Prinetti on November 1, 1902. France, accordingly, cannot consent to the reopening of that question now.[i]

So far, then, as the execution of Article 13 of the Treaty of London is concerned, the French position is clear: to the original cession of Ghadames and Ghat, France is willing to add the Oasis of Djado, provided all mortgages weighing upon Tunis are once and for all canceled. Moreover, though this supplementary cession of Djado, as consideration in a Tunisian settlement, was judged reasonable by Italy in 1928, France would be willing to consider looking for some new basis of agreement to the east of Tummo, if Djado were no longer acceptable.

The status of Italians in Tunis is regulated by Franco-Italian agreements of 1896. Article 13 of the "Agreement for the Establishment of Consulates" provides that: "Italy will regard as Tunisians and Tunis will regard as Italians, such individuals as shall have retained Tunisian or Italian nationality in accordance with the laws of their respective countries." Notice of the repudiation of this Article was served on Italy by France in 1918, but the article has been left in force by quarter-annual renewals since that time. Italians, therefore, have been escaping application of a French decree of November 8, 1921, which stipulates that "all individuals born in the Regency of Tunis of parents one of whom was born in the Regency are French." This decree was modified December 20, 1923, so that any individual in the category mentioned has a right to decline French citizenship, provided he does so within a year of majority; though children born of an individual who has exercised this privilege are French.

What is France aiming at in this whole matter? Simply to apply her common law, but making transitions for individuals affected as little troublesome as possible. England has accepted this arrangement for her own subjects and for her Maltese dependents, a point I mention just to show that the French demands, as regards Italy, are normal and reasonable.

However, this is not the end. In connection with Article 13 of the London Treaty, Italy has raised the question of mandates. If the distribution of mandates were reconsidered, would the French Government be opposed to Italy's receiving one, as against all other candidates? And the Italian press has often asserted that France and the British Empire have wronged Italy in keeping all colonial mandates for themselves.

In this connection it is important to remember just how the mandates in question arose and the conditions under which they might come to an end. The mandates of Types A, B, and C were assigned to France, Japan, Great Britain and certain of the British Dominions by unanimous decision of the "Principal Allied and Associated Powers" (Italy among these, and concurring in the decision). There were two reasons for the assignments: the territories under mandate had been conquered during the war by the respective mandatories, and they bounded on territories already held by those Powers. Italy made no objection to the assignments at the time. Furthermore, France, Great Britain and the Dominions were granted administrative responsibilities, not property rights. By taking over these mandates they did not "augment their colonial possessions." And how might a mandate terminate? In two ways, and only two. In the first place, a population under mandate might be judged capable of self-government. This case can arise, in any immediate future, only for A mandates -- Irak, Syria, Palestine; and in such event, no new mandatory need be designated. (Mandates of types B and C relate mostly to Africa and the Pacific Islands, where the populations affected are very, very backward.) In the second place, a mandate might become vacant through resignation by the mandatory power; in which case, a new assignment would have to be made by unanimous consent of the Powers. It is clear that under such circumstances no eventual candidacy can be negotiated with a single Power, nor could any single Power assume contractual obligations apart from all the other Powers, especially when at least one of the Powers has already given notice of opposition to the candidacy of Italy.

We have said that the negotiations have lasted eleven years. And small wonder, if we think back over the course they have followed. There is one essential point of departure -- the fulfillment by France of Article 13 of the Treaty of London. France, following the precedent of the Anglo-Italian accord under the same article, believes that she has satisfied the obligation undertaken in 1915 (Italy thought so too, down to 1928). But with this as a starting point, the Italians have reared a most complicated structure of dreams and contradictions: demands for territories twelve times as large; then for an approach to Lake Chad; finally for the whole "inheritance of the Turks." The French inclination to tie up any further cession of territory with some settlement as to the status of Italians in Tunisia has been disputed, after having been accepted. Vague concessions "in principle" have been asked for: France should recognize "in principle" further modification of the frontiers of Libya; she should promise "in principle" to support Italian aspirations to a mandate. Finally, all sorts of questions, entirely foreign to the colonial settlement, have been dragged in: the Anschluss, relations with Jugoslavia, and so on.

As a matter of fact, nothing would be simpler than to come to an accord as to the execution of the Treaty of London by France. Italy, however, has chosen to keep the question open, until Italian views on more general, and as Italy thinks, more important, issues have been accepted.


To crown her concessions in the colonial field, France suggested a treaty of arbitration and friendship with Italy. Two years ago, at the request of the Italian Government, France submitted (but so far without results) a scheme for such a treaty, which would revive certain provisions in the Treaty which Italy concluded in 1924 with the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. To be sure, this latter Treaty has not been renewed, and that is why our friendship for the Jugoslavs comes to play a part in our relations with Italy.

The peace treaties failed to satisfy all of Italy's Adriatic aspirations. Of the Dalmatian coast, accorded to her under the Treaty of London, Italy came into possession only of Zara.

Is France to blame for that? During the negotiations in 1919, though Italy had washed her hands completely of French interests (the left bank of the Rhine, the Sarre, etc.), France declared herself ready to fulfil her promises. But the application of the Treaty of London had by that time become impossible to such a degree that Italy herself never requested France to assist her in sticking to it.

One may ask why. The answer is clear. Because, in placing Fiume in the forefront of her demands, Italy made the Treaty of London a back number. According to that Treaty, Fiume went not to Italy, but to the Jugoslavs, and the good reasons (put forward by Italy, as well) for that disposition of the town in 1915 were all the more valid in 1919, as a result of the events that had taken place in the meantime: principal among these, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary before the armistice; the formation of a Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on December 1, 1918; and the entrance of the United States into the crusade in support of the right of peoples to dispose of themselves. President Wilson declared that he would never assent to the Italian claims upon Fiume and Dalmatia. France and Great Britain took the position that they could not apply the Treaty of London in so far as it was favorable to Italy, and repudiate it in so far as it was favorable to the Jugoslavs. Some compromise was obviously necessary whereby Italy could garner as many profits as possible from the Treaty, with Fiume to boot. At the instance of Signor Orlando, in April-May, 1919, and of Signor Tittoni in August of the same year, M. Tardieu did his best to work out a plan. It went aground on Mr. Wilson's refusal. But toward the end of 1920 the United States withdrew from coöperation in the European settlement. Thereupon, Great Britain and France, and particularly France, urgently begged Belgrade to come to a direct understanding with Italy. The Treaty of Rapallo (1920) was the result. That Treaty was modified, at the request of Italy (and to her advantage), by the agreements reached at Santa Margherita in 1923, supplemented by the agreements of Belgrade and Nettuno, and finally crowned by a Treaty of Friendship in 1924.

In the course of those two hectic years, it was natural that the Italian people, always more or less uneasy, should not always have found France active enough in furthering Italian designs. But the line of our policy never varied. France worked steadily to facilitate an accord which would procure for Italy such portions of Italian ambitions as were actually realizable.[ii]

But two years after this Italo-Jugoslav settlement, which was designed to promote friendly coöperation between the two countries, Italy signed the Treaty of Tirana (1926) with Albania. That was the end of Italy's policy of concord with Jugoslavia. The Franco-Jugoslav Treaty came in 1927. Italy opined that this treaty was aimed at her, and tightened her hold on Albania. She did not renew the Treaty of Friendship with Jugoslavia.

It is apparent, therefore, that tension between Italy and Jugoslavia existed before the conclusion of the Franco-Jugoslav treaty; and a study of the conditions under which the latter treaty was negotiated will make clear whether it was ever conceived as against Italy. I shall quote, on this point, from an article by Count Sforza:[iii]

I cannot see how the French Government can be criticized in this particular episode. The idea, and the first suggestion, of a three-cornered treaty between France, Italy and Jugoslavia, came from Rome in 1923, when Fascism was already in power. The suggestion was never reduced to definite terms. It was brought forward again, toward the close of 1925, at the instance of M. Nintchitch, then Minister of Foreign Affairs at Belgrade, and a warm partisan, among the Serbs, of that policy of diplomatic friendship and collaboration with Italy which I had inaugurated in 1920 and 1921 with the Treaty of Rapallo and the anti-Hapsburg agreement. This time the initiative was taken by Paris. But the Fascist Government, which had not seemed hostile at first, shortly began making objections and ended by proposing to Belgrade a formal alliance which would exclude all other Powers. The result might readily have been foreseen: fearing that she was being "isolated," Jugoslavia began negotiating with Paris and Rome simultaneously. She found easy going at Paris, though the formal signing of a treaty was delayed by M. Briand out of a courteous desire to await developments at Rome. When an Italo-Jugoslav agreement seemed imminent, M. Briand simply initialed his documents, that the Fascist Government might be the first to conclude and sign a formal treaty. The informal signing of the treaty in France was repeated three times during the years 1926 and 1927 to permit the cabinet in Rome to smooth out the difficulties that constantly arose in the path of its entente with Belgrade. In September 1927 M. Briand thought it unwise to delay any longer. He informed the cabinet in Rome six weeks in advance that he intended to sign the treaty, and he explained at the same time the conditions under which it had been negotiated. The Treaty was formally concluded on November 11, 1927.

So then: Messrs. Briand and Nintchitch wanted either a single three-cornered treaty, or else two symmetrical treaties -- it mattered little which. Italy, however, refused to consider anything except a friendly agreement with Jugoslavia from which France would be excluded. Furthermore, she made any agreement with France dependent on a recognition by France of Italy's unlimited freedom of action east of the Adriatic.

Friendship between France and the Slavs was a matter of tradition before 1914, and the war strengthened it. It did not arise out of hostility to Italy. Furthermore it is by no means a matter of destiny that the friendship in question should make enemies of Italy and France. There is the tradition of Mazzini, who preached "alliance with the Slavic family." Italy encouraged Serbia when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia, and at the time of the Balkan Wars. It was at Rome, in 1918, that the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities was held, and at that congress the Italians and the Jugoslavs "resolved that the unity and independence of the Jugoslav nation are of vital importance to Italy, just as the integrity and unity of the Italian nation are of vital importance to the Jugoslav nation," both of them "pledging themselves to a common effort during the war and at the moment of peace." Finally, one has only to think of the policy of accord between Italy and Jugoslavia which was followed down to 1924.

In contrast with this policy -- anti-Hapsburg, Slavophile, and favorable to inter-Balkan concord -- there have been other Italian policies: the policy of Sonnino; the policy of alliance with Hungary; the policy of protectorate over Albania; the policy of disruption in the Balkans, in the Hapsburg tradition. Are these the best policies for Italy to follow? Italy must answer that question. That they are not the only policies that Italy is free to follow is evident, since even Fascist Italy once sketched a policy of friendship with the Slavs; and France asked nothing better than the chance to collaborate with it. This privilege was denied her. But she can easily be given another chance!

Meantime, how can the Italians talk of any "encircling" of Italy as a consequence of the Franco-Jugoslav Treaty? What does the Treaty stipulate in its essential provisions -- Articles 3, 4 and 5?

In the three cases covered in those articles -- threats to national security, aggression, revision of treaties -- priority of action is reserved to the Council, or the Assembly, of the League of Nations. So long as matters are under consideration by the League (including demands for revision of treaties, in virtue of Article XIX of the Pact), there can be no question of separate action on the part of the contracting Powers. Only after failure on the part of the League, or the withdrawal of the dispute from the jurisdiction of the League, will the two nations have a free hand to make common cause in defense of their interests, their territory, their independence! This Franco-Jugoslav treaty, then, gives positive exemplification of the central idea of the Covenant -- coöperation with a view to peace. It is in harmony, also, with Resolution 14 of the Assembly (1922), with the Protocol of 1924, and with the labors of the Committee on Arbitration and Security. Like Locarno, it is a regional application of the system of the Protocol. It is aimed at nobody. The name of the aggressor is left blank, and since Signor Mussolini has just proclaimed from Rome (October 27, 1930) that "Fascist Italy will never begin a war," the treaty can never be invoked against her. The treaty, furthermore, is open to all countries desirous of endorsing it. Italy is free at any moment to return to the idea of a three-cornered treaty, or to the idea of two parallel treaties.

Friendship between the French and the Jugoslavs, accordingly, is a cause of Franco-Italian misunderstanding only by the choice of Italy in refusing to share in that friendship. In asking for a formal alliance with Belgrade to the exclusion of all other Powers; in establishing herself in Albania; in concluding alliances with Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria, and (since Hitler's large vote) in talking of a rapprochement with Germany, Italy has launched forth on a policy of expansion toward the East, a policy that does not foster warm relations on her part either with Jugoslavia, or with the Little Entente, or with France.

Recently the darling of international capitalism (in virtue of the security it seemed to offer to investments in Italy), Fascism is bringing that country more and more to look like a proletarian nation which consents to postpone a general revolution in Europe only at the price of a general revision of treaties, and a general disarmament of the victors in the war in favor of all the dissatisfied nations -- in other words of the conquered nations, plus Soviet Russia and Italy.

Such a plan, grounded apparently on the assumption of a world triumph of Fascism (now advertised as an exportable article), does not greatly encourage France in the belief that an agreement may be easily reached with Italy, especially if such an agreement must be based on parity in armaments.


Minister Grandi spoke before the Italian Senate on June 3, 1930, on the subject of parity. After summarizing the minutes of the Washington Conference of 1921--22, he concluded: "Italy went to London . . . asking for nothing save the recognition of a right which had been acquired by Italy, and conceded to Italy, as early as 1922."

It is true that even before the advent of Fascism Italy asked for equality in naval forces with France. It is also true that the French representatives at the Washington Conference, while reserving for their own country a right to fix the strength of their naval forces according to actual needs, filed no objections to Italy's demand. What better proof that the one idea of France was to come to an agreement with Italy? But there can be no talk of "a right acquired by Italy" as regards a general principle of parity applying to all her military and naval forces. The agreement signed by the representatives of France recognizes such a "right" as bearing only on dreadnoughts. It was ratified by the French Parliament with the explicit reservation that it applied only to dreadnoughts. Italy's policy toward France during the past eight years has demonstrated that to have generalized any such "right" would have been one of the most dangerous of engagements that France could possibly have undertaken.

The London Conference, provoked by an agreement as to parity between Great Britain and the United States, supplied Italy with an unusual opportunity for forcing her claim to general parity. But the word parity does not cover the same facts in the two cases.

For England and the United States, parity is the expression of a state of political equilibrium in which war between the two countries is "unthinkable." Neither of the two nations has its eye on possessions of the other. Public opinion in the two countries would be horrified at the mere suggestion of a resort to force in the settlement of any difficulty that might arise between them. Parity, with them, is the culminating point of a long history of mutual confidence.

Contrast that situation with one which includes Italy -- an Italy where the censored and controlled press, day in, day out, is specifying just which portions of the home and colonial domain of France are indispensable to the Kingdom of Italy if the latter is to complete its unity or even if it is to survive; an Italy which is exerting all possible diplomatic pressure to weaken French influence in every quarter in Europe; an Italy which is striving to maintain the Italian loyalty of the immigrants she has sent to Tunis and even to France; an Italy which continually is putting her people on edge with talk of "imminent tests of strength along the national frontiers," and is comparing her prolific and concentrated exuberance with the scattered population and declining birth rate in France. This is the Italy that would make parity in armaments the basis of negotiations with France!

In the case of England and America, besides, the theory of parity recognizes a balance both in resources and in good will. Great Britain conceded parity with the United States because, if parity had not been conceded, the Americans could (and would) have built a fleet superior to the British fleet; whereas, once parity is granted, the Americans can be depended on to build a fleet of equal power.

Now the Italians, doubtless, are free to rush into naval construction with the idea that some day the Italian fleet will be equal or superior to the French fleet -- each nation is master of its resources and of its pipe-dreams. But the Italians say to the French: "Concede us parity, and lower the strength of your armament, in order that it may cost us less to catch up with you. So long as the level you fix is a high one, we shall not try to build as much as you. What we want is your recognition of our right to do so, in the way we wish and at our own good leisure."

This attenuation would seem to be advantageous to France. In reality it is a danger. What four nations out of five went to London to find was temporary security from the superior armaments of their rivals. Italy wants parity, without giving any undertaking that she will realize it. She wants the chance to take advantage of the latest technical inventions before starting a building program in her shipyards (shipyards where she is filling more foreign orders than England herself, by virtue of the low costs made possible by state subsidies). We should be disarmed if we gave Italy carte blanche to do what she pleases, without warning, before she has attained parity.

It was on the principle of common programs -- based on actual possibilities and actual intentions in building over a five-year period, and with safeguards for the signatories from surprises -- that four out of the five Powers came to agreement at London. But clinging to her idea of parity as a natural right (in which case, parity with the strongest Powers should be insisted on), Italy refused to take part in the general discussion, thus emphasizing the absurdity of a position which did not admit of her participation in any of the negotiations of the Conference.

Naturally each navy insists on limitation of total tonnage when it thinks of a navy stronger than itself, and on limitation by classes of vessels when it considers a navy that is its equal or inferior in gross tonnage. For in the first case, it seeks to obviate the consequences of inferiority by reserving the tonnage which can cause the superior navy greatest annoyance, and which -- since special superiorities can always be manipulated within the gross figures -- offers chances of surprises at a given moment: while, in the second case, limitation by categories protects it against just such risks from inferior navies. After long conversations behind closed doors, Great Britain and the United States came to an agreement as to the categories they desired to have accepted by other Powers. Japan and France entered objections of detail as to the definition of the categories and as to possibilities of transfer from one category to another; but they did not dispute the incontestable advantages, along the line of security, which the Anglo-American system provided. Italy stuck out for total tonnage, with the opportunities for surprises which it affords.

"I am indifferent," said Italy further, "as to the level of armaments. I hope it will be as low as possible. But, whatever it is, it must assure me parity with France."

The thesis of relativity has an element of soundness; for if all armaments drop together, relative differences being preserved, there has been no substantial change as regards power.

But if the present ratio in tonnage between the Italian and French fleets (expressed in the approximate proportions of 4 to 6 to 8) be altered to equality, then everything is changed.

Furthermore, Article VIII of the Covenant of the League of Nations sets limits to the thesis of relativity. For one thing, it takes account of needs varying according to "the geographical situation and the special circumstances of each state." For another, it considers "national security and the fulfilment of international obligations imposed by common action." Indeed, it is the problem of defining the peculiar position of each nation that the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference has been working over for the past six years, sending out questionnaires in the hope that the answers received will make real needs apparent. To answer, therefore, that "I am indifferent to armament totals, provided I am left equal to this or that neighbor," is to ignore Article VIII and to cripple the League method.

Italy was so well aware of the weakness of her position that she was careful, at the meetings where Great Britain and the United States explained their needs, not to state the bases of her own needs. In the course of the Conference, to be sure, she could not help giving some inkling of them: her virtually insular position; the inadequacy of her raw materials; the large numbers of her emigrants living abroad; and the like. But they were only passing allusions, and they were not pressed, for she knew perfectly well that her needs in such regards could not compare with the requirements of France, a country fronting on three seas and governing a colonial empire of sixty millions of inhabitants.

As for subordinating the question of disarmament to the previous attainment of organized security, Great Britain, the United States and Japan could well display indifference. In view of the great oceans which separate those countries, simultaneous reduction of armaments does not cause any great alarm as regards security. An American ton, far off in Europe, away from its base, would probably not be equal to a British ton, fighting in home waters. Similarly, any American fleet crossing the Pacific would suffer a percentage of weakening which, joined to the advantages Japan might derive from her naval aviation bases, might compensate Japan for her inferiority in tonnage. Any one of the three navies is strong enough to guarantee complete security to its own country, in home waters. But as between European Powers, separated by minutes rather than by hours of navigation, the process of equalization by distance does not operate. England, and indirectly America, were aware of this difference, and along toward the close of the Conference a long discussion took place between England and France, near neighbors one to the other, as to Article XVI of the Pact, an article fundamental to French security, since it deals with sanctions.

Italy refused to take part in this discussion.

Furthermore, as for the connections to be made between security and disarmament, there was a contradiction between the position taken by Signor Grandi at London and the point of view he later expounded in his speech of June 3, not to mention the thesis which had all along been pressed by the Italian delegation at Geneva. Whereas Signor Grandi today holds that "security is not a means but an end, an end that is to be reached by disarmament," Signor Mussolini twice signified to the Secretariat of the League of Nations (once in 1923 and again in 1925) his formal approval of the principles underlying Resolution 14 and the "Outline of a Treaty of Mutual Assistance." Thereafter the Italian delegation to the League of Nations had, to be sure, evinced some reticence in collaborating on the text of the Protocol of Geneva and in the investigations which have been prosecuted since the rejection of that Protocol. But such hesitation betrayed a concern in Italy to see security grounded not on a system which would guarantee the state of things resulting from the peace treaties, but rather on a "political evolution" which would remove causes of conflict. "War," declared Signor Scialoja, "may be a crime, but it is surely a disease. In curing a disease the first step is to master the causes." Far, then, from insisting that disarmament precede "organization for peace," the Italian delegation has always held that it can be only the consequence of a thoroughgoing political preparation, consisting not so much in "making war on war," as in eliminating the deep-lying causes of war. If disarmament now creates security, it will follow, in accord with the Italian thesis, that the security of France will depend on her reducing armaments to the lowest possible limit, a limit which, in any case, will deprive France of all advantage over Italy, on land as well as on the sea. Nations which are such close neighbors as Italy and France do not defend themselves, or attack, only with their navies!

Between the two countries, therefore, a question of the interdependence of armaments arises.

In the year 1930, France has been maintaining a regular army (French and colonial troops, both white and colored, and including officers) of 522,000 men, of whom 317,000 are kept in France and 205,000 in the colonies abroad. Add to these her police and her customs guards ("groups organized in military fashion"), 36,000 of the former, 18,000 of the latter. According to the "Handbook" of the League of Nations, Italy has a regular permanent army of 303,000 men, of whom 251,000 are in Italy and 52,000 in the colonies abroad. Her "groups organized in military fashion" comprise 50,000 police (carabinieri), 25,000 customs guards, and 35,000 men belonging to the permanent force of the Fascist militia (in case of war these last would constitute two battalions of "shock troops" per army division).

All in all, France is maintaining at home a total armed force of 371,000 men, a reduction of about a half from the figures of 1913--14; Italy, at home, has a total armed force of 361,000, an increase of about a third as compared with 1913--14. The two figures are almost equal. The very considerable reduction which France has made in her military forces stands in contrast with the increases in the budget of Italian national defense made since the advent of Fascism: 30 percent for the army, 70 percent for the air-force, 15 percent for the navy. To the 361,000 soldiers in the regular armed forces of Italy should be added the 353,000 men in the Fascist volunteer militia. These latter participate in the manœuvers of the regular army, and are specially trained in "surprise attacks" (for example, pontoon manœuvers on the seacoast in preparation for debarkations in force). They are distinct from the army and reënforce it. There come, finally, a million children and young men who receive military training between the ages of 10 and 21, after which they are enrolled in the Fascist militia.

These figures show whether "militarism" is in France or in Italy, and whether the doctrine that "disarmament creates security" is valid for Italy or only for other countries.

Signor Mussolini is keeping close watch on French defenses along the Alps. I might remark that after the war France completely neglected them, to such an extent that she did not even mention them in her report on the state of her national defenses made to the League of Nations in 1922 (basing her military demands at that time on the requirements of another frontier exclusively). During the crises in Morocco and Syria we reduced our Alpine forces to a single battalion. But beginning with the year 1926, a memorable date in the history of Franco-Italian relations, Italy began building military roads converging on the French frontier, multiplying practice manœuvers in that neighborhood and in general giving every evidence of contemplating a surprise attack. The result has been that we have restored prewar garrisons and repaired defenses along a frontier which France would very gladly have left as unprotected as her front along the Pyrenees.

However, as regards regular standing armies at home, France and Italy have about the same number of men in barracks. At Geneva, before the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference Italy asked for parity between her army and ours, including in the French figures all troops stationed abroad, or at least including the principal French contingent abroad -- that used as a garrison in North Africa. This force, in case of war, the Italian navy would try to cut off from service in France. On the question of land forces, as on the question of naval forces, no account is being taken of our different requirements, which at present result in a superiority on our part of 219,000 men for the army and of 240,000 tons for the navy. France is invited to sacrifice this excess so that, by virtue of the scattering of her forces along different fronts (she does not regard the Italian front as the most important), she shall be left in a position of inferiority along the Alps and the Mediterranean.

In view of all this, it is evident that the Italian thesis favoring parity with France has not derived any great strength from the precedent of Anglo-American parity. Geography, history, and present policy may justify the one. They prove the other something impractical. The wisest policy, therefore, would be not to force the matter. In stating the theme of the London Conference as a five-year building program, four Powers out of five hoped that that formula would enable Italy to avoid both asking for parity and abandoning the right to do so; and France, for her part, would not be placed in the predicament of refusing parity or insisting as a prerequisite that Italy yield on the point.

Unfortunately, in the few direct conversations they had with the French during the Conference, the Italian representatives, while not denying that the requirements of France were greater than those of Italy, nevertheless asserted that they bore formal instructions to obtain French recognition of parity. A matter of prestige, they said, for Italy, a Great Power. A matter of prestige for the Fascist régime, which could not return home from London with less than the representatives of the doddering old régime which was supplanted by Fascism, had obtained at Washington! Holding aloof, therefore, from the general conference, they rested content with the assertion that as regards the light surface fleet of vessels actually serviceable, virtual parity was already a fact.

That was the drift of the Italian memorandum of February 19. In that document -- by taking no account of the seventh French cruiser of the Washington type already building, or of the superiority of the fifth French cruiser already afloat and of the sixth about to be launched, over the fifth and sixth Italian cruisers of the same type; by fixing the minimum age of the vessels at a figure most favorable to Italian statistics; and by overlooking submarines altogether -- it was pointed out that, as regards cruisers and destroyers in actual service, on the ways, or ordered, Italian tonnage could be put at 227,846 tons and French tonnage at 231,305 tons.

Assuming that Italy would build as much tonnage as France between 1930 and 1936, Italy claimed that, by 1936, the French fleet's advantage to the extent of something like 240,000 tons (excluding submarines) would be accounted for in superannuated battleships and cruisers.

This was just a manœuver. Italy aimed to show a temporary and actual superiority on the part of France in those classes of vessels for which parity had been accepted in principle at Washington; and, by concentrating her building program so as to strike the rhythm in gross tonnage of the French program in other categories, to obtain actual parity in the classes where parity had not been recognized in principle.

It was evident that France would not tie her own hands in respect to French and Italian building programs which did not reflect the proportions prevailing in the actual tonnage of the two navies as at present constituted.

However keen the eagerness of England and the United States to reduce the tonnage of the French and Italian fleets to the lowest possible level, that they might effect their own parity at a better bargain, they never lent support to the Italian claim of parity in any representations made to France; nor did they ever refer to Anglo-American parity as a precedent. England and America both understood that the present advantage of the French navy more or less approximated the special needs of France. The Conference ended therefore in a four Power accord, Italy availing herself of the safeguarding clause to retain freedom in her own building program. But France elected to hold temporarily aloof from the treaty in order to make another effort to come to an agreement with Rome through direct negotiations in which England would be sympathetically interested.

These parleys, delayed by Signor Mussolini's speaking tour in May, did not begin till July 23.

The two governments then agreed that "the laying down of vessels to be built in execution of their respective programs for the current year would not take place earlier than the coming December." France was willing to resume negotiations for a naval program of six years, and to give that discussion priority over other questions at issue. But the Italian order of procedure placed recognition of parity in the foreground and suggested a program whereby, in 1936, the two countries would have the same number of new or recently built vessels, though France would be left with superiority in gross naval tonnage (100,000 tons, as against the present 240,000, and accounted for in superannuated units).

This numerical equality again represented actual inferiority for France in the Mediterranean, since she cannot concentrate her forces there, while Italy can.

The French expert, speaking privately, replied that the only agreement which France could consider between now and 1936 would be a building program providing for vessels equal in number if not in tonnage, the margin of tonnage not to be modified without adequate warning. This proposition Italy rejected toward the end of September. The Fascist Grand Council voted on October 9 to demand French recognition of the principle of parity. That is where we stand today.


In forcing the naval question to the foreground of the diplomatic question, and the question of parity to the foreground of the naval question, Italy is subordinating everything to a satisfaction of prestige, leaving no room for compromising on realities. We are confined willy-nilly to the domain of sentiment and passion.

Very considerable concessions to Italian vanities, such as we made at Washington (parity in battleships) and at Locarno (endorsement of the Treaty by Italy on a par with England), lent no help to the solution of other difficulties. Indeed, our earlier concessions have so fanned Italian ambitions as to make it a question today of all or nothing. Unless France surrenders, unless she abandons her superiority in arms, her freedom to choose her alliances and define her own policies, unless she does something to increase Italy's confidence in herself and the confidence of other nations in Italy, her motive can only be that she designs to block Italy's path, deny her a natural right to equality and to a living, treat her, in short, as a second-rate Power!

Now such a surrender as Italy desires can be procured from a nation in only two ways. Either you force it by a great war followed by a crushing victory, or you prepare it by a century of friendly relations. The campaign of discouragement and intimidation which Italy has been waging against France -- asserting that France is depopulated, incapable of exploiting her colonial and home possessions, and that her salvation depends on an alliance with Italy to form a Latin coalition of eighty million souls (led by whom, and directed against whom?) -- has not had the effect of reconciling France to the notion of parity. But the very exaggeration of the instrumentalities Italy has called into play has brought France to understand the importance which Italy attaches to an entente with us, and to realize that she has not been underestimating our resistance.

This fact ought to be sufficient to bring the two countries back to a sense of realities.

France would like nothing better than an understanding with Italy. Italy is our neighbor. She has forty millions of inhabitants. A million Italians are living and working in France, her colonies and protectorates. Commercial interchange between us is very considerable and very well balanced, and the surprising stability in our economic relations contrasts with the instability prevailing in our diplomatic relations. French investments in Italian business have materially increased since the war and now amount to several billions of lire.

France has no designs on anything that Italy possesses. Why then should we "encircle" her in order to attack her? For a century past Frenchmen have fought for Italians and as allies of Italians. After the late war we discontinued fortifications along our common frontier. In the diplomatic field we have no sacrifices to ask of Italy. We do understand that it would be to our mutual interest to regulate better the status of Italian labor in France, and the status of French financial and commercial interests in Italy. In the colonial sphere, we should definitely fix the frontiers of Libya and bring Italians living in Tunis under French common law. In international relations, particularly with the Slav world and in the Balkans, we should like to return to the policy of collaboration with Italy which was expressed in our project for the three-cornered treaty. As for naval power, we should like to agree, in line with the Treaty of London, on a building program to hold good down to 1936.

These are all specific questions and require frank discussion between one nation and the other in order that they may find their answers at the earliest possible moment.

But if it be a question of creating a number of "little Italys" on French territory or in our colonies or protectorates, of redrawing the map of North Africa, of redistributing colonial mandates; if it be a question of checkmating the Slavs in their effort to resist Italian expansion toward the East, of reviving the Triple Alliance, of revising treaties, of disarming conquerors in the interests of the conquered; if it be a question of recognizing numerical parities which in substance mean French inferiority in power; and if, in all this dance, France, and incidentally her friends, are to pay the whole salary of the piper, then it is useless to expect from France that "little evidence of good will" which will once and for all remove the causes of Italy's dissatisfaction.

It is not that France is indisposed to discuss these questions in pacific terms; but she refuses to be taken as the butt of the ambitions of other nations and to be held responsible for Italian exaggerations in this regard. Most of Italy's demands overreach the scope of any possible Franco-Italian negotiation.

France is not the only country to show a declining birth rate. The burdens of excess fertility in Italy are not exceptionally oppressive. They do not give Italy a right to a redistribution, to her exclusive profit, of the lands and raw materials in Europe and outside of Europe. Those problems are not Franco-Italian problems merely. They are world problems.

Causes for the "war disease" there surely are. But they must be treated in public. For ten years past, in all international negotiations, Italy has acted as the sole dissident, the one Power who refuses to "join in." She recently announced an intention to resume in the League of Nations that great and important place she has hitherto scorned to occupy. Italy should, in fact, go to Geneva, place herself there at the head of the discontented Powers, and proceed to turn the world topsy-turvy -- but by pacific means and for the good of everybody!

[i] By agreements reached by France and Italy in 1901, Italy abandoned all rights of interference in Moroccan affairs. However, in 1928 Italy refused to endorse the "Constitution of Tangiers" save on the following conditions: that an Italian magistrate sit in the courts of the zone; that an officer attached to the Italian Consulate General have the right to see that the neutrality of the zone be not violated; that, in case of need, the Italian navy coöperate in the repression of contraband traffic in arms and munitions along the shores of the Straits. Fundamentally, these demands involved nothing but a recognition of prestige, which France was most happy to accord.

[ii] The Treaty of London (1915) and of Saint Jean de Maurienne (1917) provided that in case of a partition of Turkey or of the establishment of spheres of influence in Turkey, Italy would have a share, notably in the region of Adalia. The hypothesis then held in view never materialized. But was that the fault of France? It would seem to have been the fault of the Turks! So, at any rate, the Italians thought, when, early in May 1919, without informing their Allies and Associates, they were planning to debark at Smyrna. Signor Orlando finally went over to the view of Messrs. Lloyd George, Wilson and Clemenceau that the landing should be left to Greece. It was to the Greeks, not to the Italians, that the Allies and Associates gave very bad advice that day.

[iii] "Italy and France," Revue de Paris, August, 1930.

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  • LOUIS AUBERT, formerly Editor of the Revue de Paris, member of successive French delegations at Geneva and one of the French experts at the Naval Disarmament Conference in London
  • More By Louis Aubert