Washington’s Missing China Strategy
To Counter Beijing, the Biden Administration Needs to Decide What It Wants
THE world which Aristide Briand has just left at the age of seventy is not the world he wanted. His death falls into the void, so to speak, of a life which had already lost its effective significance. Aristide Briand! Has any other name connected with post-war statesmanship awakened deeper emotions in the world? Has any other inspired fonder hopes in our contemporaries or handed on graver doubts to our posterity? The fact that Briand is dead says nothing new to us: he really had ceased to live. France has buried him with public honors; but the real meaning of his life already lies engulfed in quicksands of prejudice, disappointment, impatience. Had his passing occurred a few years ago, an abyss would have seemed to be opened up in the field of international relations. Today he vanishes leaving hardly a disturbance in the present rarefied atmosphere.
Death came upon him like a thief in the night; and there were no watchers at hand to sound the alarm. Leaving his beloved Cocherel in a country of babbling brooks, he stole back to Paris to die in his town residence, a damp, musty, chilly mansion which he had not used for years. No one was allowed to accompany him. The old man was creeping away in secret! In the distant perspective stood the leafless trees of the Quai d'Orsay, rising grimly through the balmy air of a day in March. But through the offices of the Ministry over there a new spirit was sweeping. André Tardieu is a man who radiates optimism and sparkles with wit. André Tardieu is a man still far, far removed from making any plea of weariness!
It may seem hardly in keeping with present circumstances to allude to such a death in terms of regret. But we are constrained to do so. Nor is this altogether futile, since it can teach us a poignant lesson. Ended is a life which was always inspired with the noblest aspirations for a better fate for humanity, a life the best years of which had been dedicated to the cause of shaping a better Europe. But no career more aptly than the career of Aristide Briand can show that in the sort of world organization established by the Treaty of Versailles the best of good wills is necessarily poisoned -- more, that even the good can promote evil. It was Briand's greatness that he tried to make men different. It was Briand's weakness that he tried to leave the world of Versailles unaltered.
This inconsistency gradually made his policy incomprehensible to the people of our time, especially to our younger generations. On the one hand, France could keep shouting at him that he was placing the safety of his country second to a system of humanitarian coercion -- in other words, an international organization. On the other hand, the Germans had frequent occasion for wrath at him because he continued to cripple the national energies of Germany; because he was bent on bringing the Germans to have faith in this, the worst of all possible worlds; because, with his magic eloquence, he was at one moment arousing hopes for a Europe inhabited by a better kind of human being, and then again chilling all hearts by arming the allies of France and drawing a cordon of mistrust tighter about Germany; because, in a word, he committed the mistake of striving for an ideal, though simultaneously being careful to take all precautions against the chance that his ideal might fail of fulfilment. Briand has shown clearly that one cannot be prophet and politician at the same time; that one cannot propose the most utopian schemes and at the same time organize the mistrust which those schemes arouse.
At the moment when Germany ceased to believe in Briand he was trying to bring the Germans back under his spell with the concept of the two Germanies. On all the platforms of Europe he was speaking of a reasonable, a European, Germany with which it was possible to deal; and of a hard-hearted, nationalist Germany with which no dealings could be had. And in doing that he was deepening the age-old gulf between Germany and France, inclining Germans to that forgetfulness which permits people today, at the moment of his death, to overlook his great accomplishment -- the humanization of international relations in the postwar period.
There is no great consolation in looking back, today, upon the road which Aristide Briand left behind him. That road seems to bend round and back to its starting point; and the atmosphere which, at the time when he rushed enthusiastically into the fray, he was eager to free from pollutions of hatred and armed mistrust, has again become almost as hard to breathe as it was then. The hurrying peoples of our time sneeringly ask us where Locarno is, and in just what corner of the world is now to be found the withering olive branch which Briand carried to the four points of the compass like a dove of peace. Stresemann preceded him to the grave. Stresemann was fortunate enough not to be called upon to witness the collapse of his life's effort. Fighting off his memories as he fought off the drowsiness of an approaching end, Briand from time to time still murmured the name of his old antagonist, who had also been to a certain extent his friend. Did he realize that they both had succumbed to the same wound? In killing Briand's policies, France killed the man himself. He may have smiled on receiving news of his defeat as a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic. At the same time he understood it as a hint that he withdraw from the scene. And we must not forget the next, and perhaps the last, blow that fell upon him: the uncompromising opposition of his country to the German-Austrian customs union. On that occasion he confessed before the Senate, his shoulders drooping, that there are happenings in this world that dwarf a man, that reduce him in size.
Aristide Briand was the postilion of a France that did not follow him. At the sharpest turn in his road he looked back, and saw that he was alone. He must have perceived that he had served neither mankind nor France wholeheartedly. He had used the débris of the barriers which he had torn down between the peoples to build new walls to fortify the Europe created by Versailles. To be sure, he labored indefatigably in the fields of arbitration and international adjustment; but at the same time he strove for sanctions, and entangled the advantages to be derived from a new world order in such a network of private alliances for France that no outsider has ever been able to unravel it. Time and again he returned to the premiership of France, but not because he was the Briand whose gospel has soared like a rocket into the sky of Europe's diplomatic night, but because he was a shrewd politician, an able compromiser, because he knew the art of cajoling oppositions and convincing antagonists that everything was as they would have it. What was ever returning him to power was, in a word, not his humanity, his love of mankind, but his political dexterity, which had now and again to be placed at the service of France. Then suddenly both France and the world turned away from him -- the world, because he was too devious; France, because he was too European.
Wherever his head bobbed up on the ever-changing yet ever-monotonous scene of the international conferences, there hope seemed to follow him like a silver trail; yet ever and anon that everlasting foreign policy of France, which he was supposed to be transforming, showed itself stronger than his character, and in the end he would always be reduced to the necessity of picking up all the big ideas lying about in post-war statesmanship, and which had been exalted for the consolation of a distressed humanity, and putting them at the service of traditional "French interests." The magic formulae which were to lift the lid from the tomb of Europe always turned out to be mere inscriptions on that slab, whether they spelled "European Union," "World Union," or "Disarmament." Briand was attempting the impossible in trying to help the peoples of Europe to regain their normal growth, their natural development, and at the same time in trying to perpetuate the order in which they were condemned to live. That was the point on which he came to grief, that the reason why he died alone.
Nevertheless, we feel sorrow at his death. For Briand stands out, against the background of post-war policies in Europe, as a man whose activity was ever inspired by deep human aspirations. "These poor people -- what a pity!" That exclamation, which sounds so foreign in any consideration of policy today, always seemed inaudibly present on his eloquent lips. Does the death of Briand mean the passing of the type of statesman who regards the personal freedom of the individual and the welfare of the plain man as the ultimate goals of all public policy? One is often tempted to think so. Oftentimes it seems as though that concern for individual happiness which lay at the basis of Briand's whole activity had been all but banished from public life today. The preoccupation derived, in his case, from his nights at Verdun. (Just as, after all, the world's anxiety for the welfare of mankind, seems to have been born of those years of horror and to weaken as the memory of them fades.) "I have had enough!" Briand once shouted at the Chamber of Deputies as a wave of sentiment unseated him and then swept him back into power again. "I have had enough!" said an old gray-haired man, worn by the weight of responsibility, as for the last time he walked down the majestic steps of the Quai d'Orsay. And then came death, the one merciful power in this age of ours, to silence his last lonely doubts.
Briand is, so to speak, the classic type of the Foreign Minister of post-war statesmanship; but that fact forever links his name with the failure to which that sort of statesmanship was condemned. With the new period which opened with the Hoover Moratorium he no longer had any connections. The great problem in current policy has been the question of reparations, or, more exactly, the economic situation, since in practical terms reparations have ceased to exist and now serve merely as the pretext for discussions of all sorts, above all for discussions of credits and tariffs.
Reparations never really interested Briand, and he more than once privately confessed that he could not at all understand their bearing on other things. Only so can one explain the fact that his single interference in the reparations question, on the occasion of his famous breakfast with Stresemann at Thoiry, resulted in a complete failure. The subject of that conversation was the evacuation of the occupied zone, which Germany had a right to demand after signing the Locarno agreement. However, the soundness of that claim was not in question. The problem was merely to determine under just what conditions the evacuation would take place; for it was soon evident, unfortunately, that not even Briand was in a position to carry out unconditional evacuation, as the latter had been understood at Locarno, with the support of his own government. Stresemann, accordingly, took the bull by the horns, and proposed a financial compromise on the part of Germany. He proposed that the German national railroad bonds, which had been authorized in accord with the Dawes Plan, should be placed on the market and the proceeds diverted to France. Thereupon, and strictly within the scope of French policy, Briand demanded that Germany comply with the disarmament clauses still outstanding. In that connection, in fact, not a few points had been left still unclarified, though they were so insignificant that only a French eye could have been sharp enough to detect them. All the same, it was necessary, a few days before the evacuation, for a French and a German staff-officer to go climbing about the German fortifications that had been blown up at Kehl, opposite Strasbourg, and to make measurements down to a centimeter to see that the fragments resulting from the blasts did not exceed the dimensions specified by the French.
Unfortunately there had been no way of blowing up reparations. It must not be forgotten that reparations formed the legal basis for the occupation of the Rhineland. The presence of foreign troops on German soil was to guarantee reparations payments. But Briand did not go so very far in his objections to Stresemann's proposals. He was still caught in the inflation notion that to get a good solid payment in cash would be a pretty piece of business for France. He therefore took up enthusiastically with Stresemann's suggestion. And there would have been no great harm in that, had his doing so not provoked the most exaggerated expectations in both countries that a final understanding was near at hand. Briand allowed these hopes to blossom; then, once he had got in touch with his cabinet in Paris, no great acumen on his part was required for him to realize that the plan was not feasible. The French Foreign Minister had not perceived very clearly that the American market was the only one that could be expected to take up the projected bond issue; and as everybody knew, the Americans would never be willing to apply their resources to any such operation, so long as the Mellon-Bérenger debt agreement had not been ratified by the French Parliament. The reaction was painful. Hope rapidly dissipated, and the public in each country began to complain of its neighbor that another pleasant dream had failed to come true because of the other party's stubborn ill will.
It would, however, be unfair to the great statesman to measure him solely by the separate diplomatic negotiations which make up his public life. Indeed one may go farther and say that to analyze Briand's diplomatic adventures would be to render a bad service to his memory. The great thing about Aristide Briand is a something that cannot be analyzed: his personality. By virtue of his personality he occasioned a notable improvement in political manners in post-war Europe, which is still operative today when conditions otherwise are not at their best. Even today, when nationalism seems to be triumphing in Germany and France is familiar with governments supported by chauvinistic groups, there are no longer exchanges of contemptuous and embittering epithets such as were frequent down to the time of Locarno. Peoples have come to realize that a certain amount of mutual respect is the most effective instrument for preventing a general ruin. At the time when Briand took hold of the European imbroglio he found himself in an atmosphere where nobody trusted anybody else. Every suggestion that a statesman or a government put forward as a step toward promoting international discussion was viewed with suspicion from the outset and regarded as a manœuvre, a trick, for the eventual attainment of questionable purposes.
The events leading up to the Locarno agreement are the best evidence of that situation. As early as the first months of 1923 the Reich had made proposals quite similar to the agreement later reached at Locarno; but Poincaré had dropped them with icy coldness. Then in February 1925 Germany came forward with the outlines of what became the Locarno treaty, and the welcome was the same. At that moment M. Herriot, as chief of a government based upon the so-called Cartel, was sitting as his own Foreign Minister at the Quai d'Orsay. He received with evident mistrust the note which the German Ambassador, von Hoesch, presented to him in Stresemann's name. It proposed that the great European Powers should renounce war for a specified period of time, such promise of abstention to be supplemented with an arbitration agreement which would guarantee a peaceful settlement of all legal and political conflicts, and which could later be extended to all other countries which should see fit to join. Herriot allowed the document to stay in his drawer. Presumably he scented a trap in it, just as Poincaré had done early in 1923 in connection with Cuno's proposal.
This blindness in the face of a suggestion of such far-reaching significance is characteristic of the atmosphere that prevailed at that moment. The two peoples had been insulting each other and whetting their fury against each other, day in and day out, for too long a time. They could not possibly have any faith in anything that either government said to the other government. Briand was not in the Ministry in those days -- he was just an influential member of Parliament. When Herriot showed Stresemann's note to him he caught its significance at once and with an amazing outburst of temperament managed to dispel all of Herriot's suspicions.
That was a typical victory for Briand. It was not so much the arguments which he brought forward that worked upon the Premier, as the optimism with which he advanced them. Everything in him was suddenly filled with hopefulness in the future, with enthusiasm for work to be done, with an exciting vision of boundless possibilities. It was Briand's sheer moral force that swept Herriot off his feet -- and Herriot was a cautious individual with no liking for foolhardy schemes. As early as March 7 the Frenchman's decisive conversation with Sir Austen Chamberlain took place in Paris. By the middle of April Briand had again assumed the premiership, and the work was then brought to swift completion.
Unfortunately Stresemann did not succeed, meantime, in definitely settling the two points that were most important for him: an abandonment by the Allies of the thesis that Germany was alone responsible for the war; and, more especially, arrangements for the final and complete evacuation of the occupied area. In those connections Briand brought up against the limits of his power; though to leave those questions open could only result in an appreciable weakening of the healing powers of Locarno. At the time of the signing of the Locarno Treaty in London Stresemann had soundly remarked: "If this gesture does not derive from a new spirit, if it does not mean the beginning of a new period of mutal confidence, it will not have the effects we hopefully expect of it."
That was a significant warning. If there was really to be any relaxation in tension between the two peoples, the so-called "reactions" to Locarno, and specifically and especially the evacuation of Germany, had to come very soon. They did not come. Or, to speak more exactly, they came some months too late. The invisible line was overstepped. That magic moment, to be perceived only by the most delicate eye, when evacuation would have its saving influence, was allowed to slip by.
It is a tragic fact that Locarno represents the high point in Briand's life work, and the beginning of his decline. As is the case with all tragic happenings, the statesman's joys of fulfilment lasted only for a second. So long as a mysterious and at the same time a jovial personal charm could master the momentary situation, everything went well. His words, his smile, his gestures conjured up the vision of a future of peace, and the radiance of it illumined the features of the other negotiators. Those were moments when a refreshing thrill of rejoicing went coursing through the veins of an aged and sorely tried Europe. Those moments will be eternally associated with the name of Aristide Briand. Let no one object that the dreams then indulged in never came true. The fact that they could be dreamed (and will someday come true) was in itself enough to make the air in Europe breathable for the first time in the years following the war. Briand mobilized good will. He brought a world outlook into diplomacy. As we said above, he contributed to the humanization of foreign relations. And he was able to accomplish such results thanks to his unique personality, which was French but at the same time also European.
At every point where he overstepped his Frenchness to press forward toward the European or the broadly human, France deserted him. The reason why he was able to talk with the Germans, and to a certain extent possess their confidence, was that he did not cling to the usual French custom of tying everything up with the order of the universe. He was always breaking through the hackneyed terminology of the French, in the light of which all French policy is nothing more nor less than an interpretation and defense of civilization on earth. As a result he was able to regard the opponents of France, who were obliged to resist French pretensions, not exactly as offenders against civilization, as sinners against the Holy Ghost of world order, but as human beings who were simply defending their own interests.
What is it that makes any kind of diplomatic negotiations with France so difficult? It is that France always presumes to be speaking in the name of mankind and as the one authorized guarantor of its welfare. Anyone following a policy at variance with French policy is quite likely therefore to fall under the suspicion of being a mauvais sujet, or even an enemy of mankind. So it comes about that when French diplomacy is trying to reach an understanding with an opponent, it is always accompanied by a public chorus which brands the opponent in question as a savage or as a public danger. Anyone discussing foreign relations with France has to deal not only with the Quai d'Orsay and the highly refined artistry of that institution, but also with the French philosophy of life which is readily disposed to represent the Quai d'Orsay as the executor of divine justice and the guardian angel of civilization. Whatever France does is always "un effort admirable pour le maintien de la paix du monde." Anything the American, the German or the Englishman does, on the contrary, becomes a manœuvre, an intrigue, an effort at disturbance, not to say (as is usually the case with the German) a reprehensible attack on peace and goodfellowship in the world.
This outlook, which finds its unwitting propagandists in all poseurs, and in most litterateurs and intellectuals who are under the influence of "French charm," was shared by Briand only to a very inconsiderable extent. His enemies assert that he was too cynical for any such thing. We Germans know, instead, that he was simply too clever. On the other hand, it is true that he was not so deeply rooted in the French tradition as, for instance, a Poincaré, or a Barthou. He was an altogether simple man, who read very little and felt entirely at home only on his little place in the country. The manifold expressions of French intelligence filled him with awe, but they never interested him deeply. As a result he did not draw on the French spirit for his weapons, as was the case with Poincaré. He was more or less familiar with the history of his country, of course; but he was not as well read as Poincaré, or even as Herriot. He was not, accordingly, forever demonstrating the divine mission of French policy on historical grounds. He was, in the eyes of his countrymen -- and quite in contrast with foreign conceptions of him -- a bohemian, a person who bothered very little with books. The better educated Frenchman of the lower middle class uses books, or at least has a good assortment of quotations from them. Briand knew Roman criminal law. His other books related to sheep-raising or to flower-gardening -- especially to roses. Preferably he quoted proverbs from his homeland in Brittany, or expressions used by the fishermen along its shores.
The Germans had more faith in him than in any other French statesman because they felt that he was one of the few individuals connected with the French Foreign Ministry who viewed all nations as possessed of equal rights and had never set out to strafe Germany or require of her that she "learn to behave." The Germans therefore believed him when he said that he had tried to "talk European." That kind of talk had in fact become necessary. No progress had been made through strictly French conceptions. Through those conceptions, indeed, Europe had been brought to the edge of the precipice.
This might seem to be the place to drop a remark as to the Nationalistic movement in Germany; for it might easily be objected that the application of Briand's policies and the gradual liquidation of the war have led to nothing save a gigantic awakening of aggressive chauvinism in that country. Two answers should be made to such criticism.
It should be remembered, in the first place, that all the good things that have been done in the past ten years were done too late. France has never made a single concession to Germany except under pressure of absolute necessity. She has never yielded voluntarily, or at a time when her considerateness might have had the appearance of spontaneity or magnanimity. Neither the evacuation of the Rhineland, nor the abandonment of military supervision, nor the reduction in reparations annuities, could be regarded as generous acts. France consented to those measures only after the most stubborn opposition and not until her last resources in refusals, refutations, objections, hair-splittings, had been exhausted. The plain man in Germany, furthermore, has come to regard the words "France" and "hair-splitting" as synonymous terms. Whenever a great hope has dawned on the horizon, France has bobbed up and disappointed it through her veto. The best example of that would be the Hoover Moratorium, which was robbed of all its psychological effects by French pettifogging.
However, the second consideration is more important. The rise of Nationalism in Germany is not a valid reproach against the Briand policy, because present-day German Nationalism should not be mistaken for an expression of the spirit of revenge or of hatred toward France. The younger generations in Germany, who are taking the lead in the nationalistic movement, are no longer interested in France as France. That is the plain truth. They take the position that the war was an affair of the older generations, that they are not concerned with it, that they are not willing to suffer from the consequences of it any longer. They are determined to repel any effort to make them responsible for the defeat of their predecessors, and they do repel it with gestures now ironical, now merely pathetic. They are not thinking of any squaring of accounts by military measures; for they know that such a recourse would now have no meaning. Germany is not going to pay reparations any longer. She is going to obtain parity in armaments. And she will gain those rights without any rattling of sabres. The apparent militarism of these Nationalists is in no sense a militarism of the Hohenzollern type. It is rather an internal, a social upheaval that has no bearing on foreign relations proper. I am aware that the foreign reader will read this statement with surprise, all the more since he knows that the question of the eastern frontiers of Germany is altogether unsolvable. But that question has always been unsolvable, and even a hundred percent success for the Briand policy would not have been able to eliminate it.
To be sure, Briand never succeeded in developing a foreign policy that very far overstepped French tradition. That tradition may be epitomized in three watchwords: arbitration, security, disarmament. Indeed, one may condense the formula still farther and put it in the one central word: security. Security is the one thing that France is always demanding: not security against the armed foreign invader only, but security against any disturbance of traditional French manners of living and thinking. The yearning for security is deeply rooted in the French soul, and anyone who comes to know that beautiful and rich and mistrustful country understands the reason why.
If France always feels that she is living under a threat from Germany, her fright is not alone occasioned by unhappy experiences in the past, nor is it born of German military power and German foreign policy. It is also a fear of German inventiveness, German restlessness, industriousness, physical health. The Peace Treaty could not of course eliminate such causes of fear; but the Frenchman knows that it did do one thing: it made a world in which his dreams and yearnings come nearest to realization; and the Treaty holds Germany in a situation of such embarrassment and weakness that she cannot be dangerous. This French uneasiness, born of a thousand considerations, finds its expression in an ardent eagerness for the maintenance of the Treaty; and the moment Germany stirs, be it even to breathe, be it even for the pleasure of seeing the bodies of her children grow strong, France at once interprets the movement as a threat against the Treaty, and the whole gigantic apparatus of mistrust comes into play.
Briand always had a vivid understanding of this French longing for security, and he shared it unreservedly. Because he was a plain man, because he was always more or less the peasant and never lost contact altogether with the soil, he always felt the secret anxiety of the peasant for a patch of ground lovingly tilled. But he was superior to the typical Parisian, the average Frenchman, in this, that he saw the other side of the French longing for security and learned not to regard every stir on the part of Germany as a move to attack. He liked to think of the two countries as divided not so much vertically, by national frontiers, as horizontally by distinctions of class. He liked to talk of the plain people in Germany, who, he thought, would become as devoted as ever to their own plots of ground, to their own soil, if only they could be given a ray of hope again. And in that also he was superior to most of his countrymen; for it is commonly imagined in France that the Frenchman is the only person on earth who has any deep attachment to home.
Translated into terms of foreign relations, Briand's thorough-going adherence to the concept of security meant that in the whole course of his diplomatic career he was never once in the position of making a single proposal in the field of foreign relations which did not contain implicitly or explicitly some guarantee of the French status quo. I am not here thinking so much of his overt doublehandedness, for which the preponderant influence of the French General Staff was in part responsible, and which consisted in his binding to France a number of satellites, notably Poland and the Little Entente, by treaties, the exact terms of which have never been fully made known and which undoubtedly contain secret military provisos. On this point Briand was over-shrewd. He liked the proverb: "Twice stitched, twice hitched." So, while he was suggesting arbitration treaties to the European Powers, his government was arming this or that state of the Eastern or Southeastern Europe, virtually creating a French united command by exchanges within general staffs, establishing uniform armaments (with guns manufactured in French factories, of course), and so freeing the states in question, some of them notorious troublemakers, from the necessity of coming to sound and abiding understandings with their neighbors, especially with Germany. But, as above suggested, in this domain Briand was confronted with established facts which it was not within his power to alter; and several important steps in the connections in question were taken directly by the French General Staff without his having had any opportunity to express an opinion.
In the case of the Locarno Treaty, Briand's concern with security is of course to be taken for granted. But both the so-called Kellogg Pact and the proposal for a European Federation became in his magic hands mere tools to promote the French policy of security. The French Foreign Minister doubtless saw in the increasing tendency among Europeans to form more and more comprehensive alliances a threat to the world order established at Versailles. He saw himself confronted with a union of all "dissatisfied" peoples, who were trying independently to help themselves by organizing a higher economic unit.
That is why he appropriated the notion of the United States of Europe at the eleventh hour in order to divert it to the purposes of French security. Even before he went to The Hague -- in fact, on July 31, 1929 -- he brought this notion before the Chamber for the first time, and in a form which did indeed take full advantage of idealistic connotations, but which at the same time left the deputies with the certainty that no demoralization of the existing order was involved, that, on the contrary, that order was to be more strongly welded together.
What Briand had in mind has the appearance almost of a trick at sleight-of-hand. He knew that certain boundaries in Europe were untenable. He therefore conjured up before the eyes of peoples who were suffering from such frontiers the vision of a day when all frontiers would be abolished. It was apparent, even in the examining board appointed to study the project at Geneva, that the idea was being taken up by the various nations in Europe with no particular enthusiasm, whether because they did not feel themselves sufficiently European, as was the case with England, or because they were afraid they were being tricked, as was the case with Germany. In any event, the moment this idea was taken over into French policy it was placed, so to speak, under a glass bell in a position where it could -- and can -- do no further harm.
Briand's entanglement with the French security policy became even more apparent in connection with the so-called Kellogg Pact, the development of which makes a tragi-comic chapter in the history of French post-war diplomacy. The young demigod, Lindbergh, dropping out of the clouds of night upon the field of Le Bourget, had flown the ocean to Europe like a dove of peace; and the unparalleled enthusiasm aroused by the American hero was cleverly utilized by Briand to launch the notion of an agreement to outlaw war between France and the United States. That idea swam back to America in the bilgewater of the ship that took Lindbergh home. If one could ever really know how in the world the tireless mind of Aristide Briand came to hit upon it!
It should be observed that those were the days when France was struggling desperately and doggedly to avoid ratifying the Mellon-Bérenger settlement of the French war debt to the United States. Could the French statesman seriously have hoped that he could sweep away the French opposition to any abatement, or even cancellation, of the German debt in the tornado of his enthusiasm for peace? Was he not placing too great a reliance on the magic of his eloquence, on the fascination that emanated from his name? Why did Myron T. Herrick, the American Ambassador, not drop a word of warning to his French friend, at the time when he was pointing out some of the difficulties that were going to be encountered? In a message to the American people delivered through the Associated Press on April 6, 1927, the tenth anniversary of the American declaration of war, the French Foreign Minister had used the expression: "the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy;" but he had further added that "the goal toward which we must strive at this moment is not so much disarmament as the actual application of peace." This addendum was not altogether clear. If one chose, one could be satisfied with an understanding that the immediate objective was not disarmament.
That this assumption had something in its favor soon became apparent. For Kellogg adroitly seized on the idea, and set out to extend it to all nations. The French were terrified. There then followed, over a month's time, an exchange of notes between Paris and Washington; and never has the naked skeleton of the classic post-war policy of France come more clearly to light than in that correspondence. Two worlds stood facing each other: the progressive, Protestant American world, relying largely on moral factors; and the conservative, formalistic, almost Roman world of the French, mistrustful of human freewill, disposed to leave nothing to chance or growth, and determined to create an instrument of power which would be called into action the moment moral pressures no longer sufficed. When the Americans pressed for the extension of the treaty to a number of nations, France began insisting on bald demands for sanctions; and it was in the end apparent that out of the negotiations France was trying to squeeze guarantees of military support from the American army and navy for the security of the world system organized at Versailles. It was clear that under such conditions the treaty would have to remain a matter of patchwork. England made reservations vis-à-vis the dominions; and France reserved the "right to legitimate defense within the terms of existing treaties."
In using this language it became evident that French foreign policy was quite clever in taking advantage of the fact that the concept of legitimate defense has never been susceptible of accurate definition. The Geneva Protocol had already suffered from the impossibility of defining beyond dispute the nature of an attack. And so it was with the Kellogg Pact, where France, after all, retains her freedom of action by always having a way out through a concept that cannot be made specific.
The signing of the Kellogg Pact was, however, a great moment, if for no other reason than that Stresemann, his features already marked with signs of his fatal illness, made a first visit to Paris on that occasion. That visit was perhaps more significant than the Pact itself. For both Pact and visit Briand was alike responsible, and in that episode we see him at work in his full scope: he is busy forging ambiguous and very questionable diplomatic instruments; but at the same time he is creating such a human, such a pleasant, atmosphere that something is won for the cause of universal peace in any event.
And so things stood down to his death. There were to be his defeats, of course. In November 1929 he was beaten before the Chamber on a question of foreign policy. Tardieu came forward, and then Laval. Briand still held a seat at the Quai d'Orsay; but when the evacuation of the Rhineland did not have its expected effects on the atmosphere in Europe, a deeper shadow came over his life. Briand was actually the first man to lose his head when Germany made known her intention to conclude a customs union with Austria. Before Chamber and Senate he combated this intention with arguments that clearly show that he had already abandoned any thought of any further effective collaboration toward world organization. He was not the man designated to accept Germany's capitulation at Geneva -- his physicians had forbidden him to make the journey. It was M. Flandin who went, a man who works within the orbit of the traditional French policy but without possessing any of Briand's genuine and outstanding characteristics even by way of reflected light.
Everyone knows the rest. In the ensuing presidential elections Briand was beaten by M. Doumer, at the time President of the Senate. France, or to speak more accurately, the French Parliament, was eliminating Briand just as Clemenceau had been eliminated. And was it the foreign policy of Germany that indirectly struck him down with the fatal blow? Many people assert that such was the case; and if so, it would serve to fill out the tragedy of Aristide Briand, who fought harder than any other Frenchman for the improvement of relations between Germany and his country.
The old man, whose shoulders had drooped lower and lower as the years went by, whose delicate cardinal-like hand was always holding a cigarette, whose habitually smiling lips so readily found the kindly or the sublime word, died a few months after his political course had been run. The great importance he managed to acquire in post-war diplomacy depended on the curious contradiction in him: that he was a hundred percent Frenchman, but at the same time was more than a Frenchman. From the horrors of the war -- we should not forget that he headed his government during the endless battle at Verdun -- he had experienced the severest and deepest shock that ever racked a human being. He learned at that time to think not only of the future security of France, but to embrace our whole poor humanity in a simple kindly affection. Peace, in his eyes, was not just a French concern, but a matter for all mankind; and that was why, for a moment, he was able to function as the spokesman of all Europe. The Germans owe much to him; but it is in keeping with the thankless and painful rôle of that people that Briand's foreign policy should come to grief in the very regard of Germany. For though the Germans had learned to appreciate the French statesman's warm-heartedness, his sincere desire for peace, they could never understand why, at the same time, he should try to keep them from breathing. However, the Germans also dreamed with him his dream of peace, and willingly. For what could have greater effect upon a youthful, impoverished and suffering people than the simple gospel of a simple soul?