Time for NATO to Close Its Door
The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good
SIR SAMUEL HOARE, British Foreign Minister, and Herr Joachim von Ribbentrop, special German Ambassador, exchanged a series of letters on June 18 which constituted a broad Anglo-German naval agreement. All Europe was dum-founded by the suddenness of the event.
The origins of the agreement are to be found in the conversations which Sir John Simon and Chancellor Hitler had at Berlin on March 25 and 26. Hitler, disregarding the objections of the Wilhelmstrasse, proposed to his visitor that Germany should recognize by a bilateral agreement the naval hegemony of Great Britain, while herself remaining satisfied with a naval power equal to that of France (such was the expression used), or one-third that of Britain. It was immediately pointed out to der Führer that this proposal lacked consistency. The French fleet was half as big as the British; consequently the German navy could hardly equal that of France and still be one-third that of Great Britain. As a result, Hitler in his famous speech of May 21 expressed his claims in more exact terms: the German navy was to be 35 percent of the English or 15 percent smaller than the French. "The German Government," added Hitler, "voluntarily recognize the supreme vital importance, and thus the justification, for a dominating protection of the British world Empire at sea, just as we ourselves, on the other hand, are determined to do everything necessary for the protection of our existence and freedom on the continent. The German Government sincerely intend to do everything to bring about and maintain such relations with the British people and state as will for ever prevent a repetition of the only war which there has as yet been between the two nations."
On June 4, that is to say less than two weeks after this solemn declaration, Herr von Ribbentrop arrived at London at the head of a group of naval experts. Everyone expected long negotiations and endless bargaining. But Hitler's emissary did not weaken in his insistence that the German offer should be accepted according to the bases laid down in Berlin, bases which were not so simple and free from arrière-pensées as the average reader of the May 21 speech might imagine. Two weeks later, on June 18, the affair had been terminated. There subsequently followed conversations between British and German naval experts during which the British endeavored to restore certain conditions already rejected by von Ribbentrop. But they were unsuccessful in regaining what they had once surrendered, and the technical conversations changed nothing of the conditions earlier established.
The Anglo-German Naval Agreement has been keenly criticized in France, Italy, Soviet Russia and the countries of the Little Entente, in short, in all the nations which believe themselves menaced by Hitler's policy of Pan-Germanism and which for more than a year have been endeavoring to link themselves together by promises of mutual assistance in the hope that their combined military resources will ward off aggression. In the British Parliament, too, criticism has not been lacking, notably in the House of Lords on June 26 and in the Commons on July 11 and 12.
Why so much excitement? Should not Germany's agreement to bow forever before the naval supremacy of Britain have been received with rejoicing by all friends of peace and by all defenders of the treaties of 1919? Has not British naval supremacy for decades been regarded as one of the principal instruments for preserving the liberties of Europe, as the most redoubtable adversary of any nation which plans to bring the European continent under its domination?
Let us first examine the Anglo-German agreement from a naval and purely technical point of view. Germany is given 35 percent of the maritime strength of the British Empire. The latter term, incidentally, was not used by chance. The German navy will not be one-third the size of the British forces stationed about the British Isles, in either the North Sea or the Atlantic, but of all the squadrons which fly the British flag, whether at Singapore or in the Pacific or in Australian ports. Hence, the German fleet will inevitably be much stronger than 35 percent of the British fleet stationed in European waters. Everyone is agreed that the Singapore base was constructed to protect and strengthen the numerous British naval units scattered along the coast of the China Sea. But either the Singapore base will never be used as it was originally intended, or the German fleet of 420,000 tons (which is one-third of the British total of 1,240,000 tons) will easily attain 70 percent of the European strength of the British navy.
Nor is this all. Officially, the British fleet includes but 205,000 tons classed as "over age." Actually the clauses of the Treaties of Washington (1922) and London (1930) classify many units as "under age" which are really obsolete and not the equal of vessels of modern construction. The Earl of Glasgow declared in the House of Lords on June 26 that by the end of next year 11 of Britain's 15 first-line battleships, 14 of her 15 cruisers, and 50 of her 120 destroyers would have passed the age limit as defined in those two treaties. Even then, many units will continue to be called "under age" only in virtue of the treaty fiction. In contrast to these old-time ships, which because of the London Treaty England cannot begin to replace until 1937, and which cannot be completed before 1942, the German navy, totally constructed afresh between 1935 and 1940, will represent a superior force ton for ton. It will be a navy constructed in a minimum of time, launched on a big scale, and having a homogeneity not possessed by vessels built over a fifteen-year period. Nor should it be forgotten that the German fleet has but one coast line to defend, a coast line that is inaccessible, excellent for offensive action, easily defended, and which during the World War had to sustain not one serious blow from the British navy. This further alters the 35 percent paper ratio.
For these reasons it would have been wise, to say the least, for the British to have obtained Herr von Ribbentrop's agreement that construction of the 420,000 tons conceded to the Reich should be spread over seven or eight years, that the keels for that tonnage would not be laid down in accordance with the maximum capacity of German shipyards, which can build to the extent of 100,000 tons in an average year. Undoubtedly the English negotiators desired to secure such a promise from the Germans. But they were not successful. On June 29 the French Ambassador at London received notice regarding the German naval program for just the one year 1935. It amounts to 115,000 tons. If this can be taken as a ratio, all of the 420,000 tons accorded to the German navy by the British will be entirely constructed and in operation by 1939.
Our British friends flatter themselves that the naval agreement of June 18 halts the growth of the German navy within relatively modest bounds. Let us forget for a moment the exceptions which must be made in estimating the 35 percent ratio of German strength. The British aim will be realized only if the Anglo-German Agreement is effective for at least ten years, if it does not become void as the result of war or a unilateral denunciation. Given present indications, there is nothing unreasonable in fearing that the Reich will embark on war in Central or Eastern Europe before the ten-year period has elapsed. This hypothesis is perhaps pessimistic, but it is shared by all the War Offices -- that of London as well as that of Paris. Suppose that the fear proves justified. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement will in no way have hindered German rearmament, since the shipyards will have been left free to work at maximum capacity. Moreover, by accepting it the British Government and people throw a cloak of moral approbation about the preparations going on beyond the Rhine. During the next few years, the years decisive for the continuance of peace, the agreement of June 18 is worth less than nothing for those who are working to prevent war. One can go further and say that it has an adverse effect.
Holding strictly to the letter of the agreement, can one claim that Germany has accepted, without any reserve either explicit or implicit, the 35 percent ratio with reference to the British navy? Article 2, Paragraph C, allows a modicum of doubt: "Germany will adhere to the ratio 35:100 in all circumstances, e.g., the ratio will not be affected by the construction of other Powers. If the general equilibrium of naval armaments, as normally maintained in the past, should be violently upset by any abnormal and exceptional construction by other Powers, the German Government reserve the right to invite His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to examine the new situation thus created."
These are ambiguous phrases. What does the German Government understand by "normal equilibrium?" It probably refers to the distribution of naval strength among the great maritime Powers -- Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France, Italy and even Russia -- prevailing on the date of the agreement, the date, that is, when Germany appeared in this general picture with an allowance of 420,000 tons. Let us suppose, and this is very plausible, that France demands the right to increase her navy in view of the fact that the German sea forces will be quadrupled in the next four years. Will not the German admiralty immediately proclaim that the "normal equilibrium" has been broken? If so, there will be one of two courses to follow: either England will increase her own navy, which will satisfy Germany, since thereby the German allowance will be increased; or else England will abstain from replying to the new French construction, assuming that it is not directed against her. In that case, Germany will consider herself menaced and will invite Britain "to a reconsideration of the new situation" and may threaten to assume liberty of action in increasing her own tonnage.
From the French point of view it is obvious that the "normal equilibrium" established among the Great Powers between 1922 and 1935 is disturbed by the precipitate entrance of Germany with 420,000 tons as against the 144,000 tons accorded her by the naval clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, and that this "normal equilibrium" will be regained only when France enlarges her navy. In support of this thesis we might draw attention to one consequence of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement which seems to have passed unnoticed. The Treaty of Washington accorded to France (as to Italy) a battleship tonnage of 175,000 tons. This was reduced to 105,000 tons (and to 70,000 tons for Italy) by Part One of the Treaty of London which, it might be said in passing, France has signed but never ratified. But according to the agreement of June 18, Germany is allowed to build up to 35 percent of the 525,000 tons allotted to Britain for battleships, or a maximum of 183,000 tons. Thus the inferior position of France is all the more accentuated. Germany already has four pocket battleships of the Deutschland type, against which, unit for unit, the old French battleships of the 1913-1915 period, still classed as "under age" by the Treaty of London, are no equal. During the coming year, Germany will build two battleships of 26,000 tons. In comparison with this formidable group, France has only the two of the Dunquerque type, which will be completed two years hence, and a battleship of 35,000 tons the keel of which will be laid down in September. Whereas the Treaty of London forbids France to lay down a second battleship of 35,000 tons until January 1, 1937, the Germans are at once free to use the full limit of their construction capacity to build all of the 89,000 battleship tonnage still due them after the construction of the four Deutschlands and the two 1935 ships.
The French Government is not disposed to submit to this situation, since it has never ratified Part One of the Treaty of London.
It would also be easy to show that the two 10,000-ton German cruisers of the 1935 program will render obsolete all French cruisers of similar size, with the exception of the Algérie, and that this will naturally necessitate a reply from France. Further, the German submarine fleet will equal 45 percent of the British submarine strength, and even (should the German Government so wish) 100 percent. This will certainly induce a heavy reinforcement of the French squadron of destroyers. France has never signed Part Three of the Treaty of London dealing with cruisers and destroyers. Here, then, the French admiralty is hindered by no juridical obstacles; it is bound by no international agreement. Perhaps someone will point out that France already has a submarine fleet of 80,000 tons. But since 1931 we have built only two new submarines. The German submarines, smaller in size but embodying great technical perfection, can total 57,000 tons and the number of these small but efficient units can be as great as our own.
Since she possesses the second largest colonial empire in the world, France needs a much stronger navy than does Germany, a compact state opening on a closed sea. This fact, and the details already brought forward, indicate why France criticizes the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, and especially Paragraph C of Article 2. Let no one presume to come across the Channel to instruct us, as did Mr. Lloyd George the other day, that we should eliminate submarines so that Germany may follow suit. To eliminate submarines in time of peace is merely to say that in time of war the strongest industrial power, or the power which has secretly prepared for aggression, will have a monopoly of this kind of weapon. To imagine anything else is arrant nonsense, as vain as the stipulations of the Treaty of 1930 which decree that this type of weapon must only be used in a humanitarian way. In time of war, there is only one categorical imperative: to destroy the enemy.
These, then, are the technical objections provoked by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. It spells an armaments race between Germany and France, and also between Germany and Soviet Russia, for the latter will not long allow the Baltic to be under German domination. A significant sign was the inclusion of naval material among the orders recently given French industry by the Soviet Government. Perhaps this competition was inevitable. But it would have assumed a different aspect if the British and French navies had maintained their unity against Germany, if the British admiralty had not put itself in a position of complicity and close accord with the German admiralty in a manner to hamper the development of the French navy, in short, if Paragraph C of Article 2 had not been written into the agreement of June 18.
Let us now pass to political objections.
The British recognize that the new agreement violates the naval clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. But, they say, only jurists, professors and theorists impervious to all contact with reality are able to speak without smiling of the military clauses which were imposed on Germany after her defeat. Those clauses are dead, and peace is better served by recognizing the changed situation than by ignoring it. The British go further and remind us, as Mr. Eden reminded M. Laval at Paris on June 21 and 22, that France committed a major blunder in April 1934 when she rejected the German propositions concerning land armaments. At that time, they maintain, Germany would have been glad to accept ratios for men and arms which the subsequent growth of the German army has now left far behind. "You missed the train," said Mr. Eden, "and no policy is more costly. In the naval field we have profited by your example and have decided to be realistic." Such is the reasoning in Downing Street.
The French Government does not feel that it neglected any opportunity in April 1934. It simply affirmed in the Doumergue-Barthou note the primacy of national defense over the ideology of disarmament. With the whole young manhood of Germany mobilized not only in the Reichswehr, but in the private armies of the Nazi Party and in labor camps, can anyone presume to say where the German army begins and where the civil population ends? In France, the line between the civil and military is easily drawn. Across the Rhine no such line exists. As to the project to eliminate offensive armaments, it is sufficient to point out that the most noticeable characteristic of the Anglo-German proposals during the period from January to April 1934 is the way in which they serve the state which is most highly industrialized and which is most disposed to aggression. On the day when war is declared, that state, having chosen when and where to declare it, will appear equipped with all necessary offensive arms, while its victim, which has observed its international contracts, will have renounced them years earlier. Is it reasonable to suppose that a country which violates major international treaties outlawing war as an instrument of national policy would respect some minor international convention forbidding the use of a given type of armament?
Taking these matters into account, the Doumergue-Barthou Government, acting on the recommendation of Ministers of State Herriot and Tardieu, and in harmony with the conclusions of the Conseil Supérieur de la Défense Nationale, decided deliberately that the security of the French people should not be allowed to depend on international arms agreements which deprive France of the right of military preparation, but rather on that preparation itself (which in consequence has now been under way for over a year) and on the coördination of forces with other nations which desire peace in Europe.
Naval armaments are better adapted to limitation by treaty than are land or air forces because the fact of their existence is susceptible of verification. Mr. Eden has no need of referring to what was not accomplished in 1934 to justify what was done on June 18, 1935. The only question is whether England has concluded a bargain which is useful to peace and whether she had the right to conclude it without consulting those states with which she had associated herself at the beginning of the year with the aim of effecting a conditional revision of the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. These are the points in question.
On February 3, 1935, the Quai d'Orsay and Downing Street adopted a joint plan for the general pacification of Europe. In this plan Germany was offered revision of the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The German army thus might reacquire the legal status of which the policy of secret rearmament had deprived it. The only condition imposed upon Germany was that she should assert her peaceful intentions by adhering to the systems of mutual assistance against unprovoked aggression proposed in Western, Eastern and Central Europe. Twice during March Hitler fulminated violently against the February 3 project, and later officially tore up the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty. In consequence, the three Western Powers -- France, Britain and Italy -- proclaimed at Stresa on April 14 that no unilateral denunciation of an international treaty was to be tolerated. Three days later, they requested the Council of the League of Nations formally to condemn the German Government and to appoint a committee to study what economic and financial sanctions might in the future be used against a state committing this sort of crime.
Throughout this diplomatic activity on behalf of European peace British policy was not continuous and uniform. Thus London did not really adhere to the clear statements made by its representatives in connection with Stresa (notably by Sir Robert Vansittart, necessarily with the approval of Sir John Simon) to the effect that a Western air pact should be signed with France even if Germany refused to accept it. Instead it wandered about, apparently troubled partly by conflicting currents in domestic public opinion, partly by the cool reception given the proposed treaty by the Dominions. At one moment the cabinet adhered to the plan of February 3, at another it abandoned it; sometimes it spoke with the clarity usually found in French diplomatic language, sometimes it took refuge in elastic and equivocal formulae of the sort made familiar by various British diplomats during the last fifteen years. The indecisions of the British cabinet between February and June will certainly one day have to be examined and described in detail. The fact is that there has been no such thing as "a British foreign policy." Rather are there divergent impulses, conflicting ideas, and personal rivalries.
But when all is said, the British Government did bind itself in February to the principle of preliminary consultation with France in order to make effective the plans which had already been formulated. At Stresa on April 14 and at Geneva on April 17 Great Britain officially censored unilateral repudiation by the signatory of an international treaty. Yet less than two months later Great Britain made herself an accomplice in the denunciation of the naval clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. What is at issue here is not a signature given on June 28, 1919, and which because of the long evolution of events Great Britain now considers void, but a promise given spontaneously as recently as February 3, 1935 -- nor let us forget that it was Sir John Simon himself who took the initiative in inviting the French ministers to meet him on that occasion. The promise made in February was repeated at Stresa and Geneva under the most formal circumstances. Two months later came the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
Is it surprising that this agreement should have stupefied Europe, that it should have been interpreted as marking a profound reversal of British policy, as the abandonment of the plan of European pacification drawn up in February and April, as official acceptance of the idea of an Anglo-German entente sketched at the beginning of the year by the Marquess of Lothian? The officials of the Wilhelmstrasse never believed that Hitler's coup would succeed, and in March they counseled him not to broach the naval question to Sir John Simon. This was the advice given by Herr von Bülow and perhaps by his superior, Baron von Neurath. Hitler can now boast of having been more farsighted than the official diplomats; hence the honors bestowed on von Ribbentrop. He can reasonably assume that by being clever enough he can always divide the defenders of European peace. Did he not draw Poland into a combination with Germany? Did he not involve England in a system which can very easily create a rivalry between the British and French fleets?
Until June of this year every increase in the British navy was a cause of French rejoicing. Was it not one of the most solid bulwarks of peace? But henceforth whenever the British navy is increased by a certain number of units in order to compensate for some increase in the American or Japanese navies, French public opinion will necessarily be alarmed, for automatically the German naval force will be increased to preserve the 35 percent ratio. There thus is a very real risk that the two countries of the Entente Cordiale will draw apart from one another.
Under the pretext of political realism, the British may find it necessary to sign an air agreement with Germany similar to the naval agreement. This might allow Germany to speed up still further the production of her continental armaments, without bringing back to earth the ideologists who do not understand the reality of the principle of the interdependence of land, naval and aerial armaments so often proclaimed by the Disarmament Conference, and who will be only too delighted to accept the idea that another agreement will insulate Britain against a German air attack just as the naval agreement supposedly insulates her by sea.
One consequence of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement is a strengthening of all that is bold and adventurous in German foreign policy. It is possible that England will return to the French viewpoint, that her move toward Germany on June 18 will be followed by one in the opposite direction. But after these last events we are not justified in presuming that Downing Street will have the wisdom to define and execute a policy which can prevent war. If a crisis arrives, England will perhaps end by entering the conflict on the side of those who are devoted to international peace; but she will not have known in advance how to create that "deterrent to war" about which Messrs. Baldwin and MacDonald have frequently spoken during the past year. This is a matter of very serious portent.
The incident is closed. We have only to see the consequences take shape and order. If England changes her course and does not abandon the cause of those who wish to preserve European peace, we in France shall be profoundly grateful. But in the meanwhile, as we have shown in connection with the Ethiopian affair, we shall necessarily observe the greatest independence vis-à-vis London. We demand nothing better than to remain on harmonious terms with Britain, whose civilization is closer to ours than that of any other country, and whose aims, whatever one may think of methods, are the same as ours. But concerning the possibility of intimate coöperation with London it is necessary to confess frankly that doubt has entered and now pervades many French minds. On the ministers of Great Britain it is incumbent, if they deem it wise, to reëstablish confidence.