Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
THE Anglo-French Alliance is as complete an alliance as one can imagine. It has virtually no parallel in history, and only the coöperation between Germany and Austria-Hungary from 1879 to 1918 admits of comparison. But the Austria-Hungary which in the years following Sadowa gradually associated its destiny with that of Germany, was no longer a free country. The two ethnic majorities -- the Germans and the Hungarians -- dominating the Dual Monarchy were frequently more obedient to instructions from Berlin than from Vienna. Austria in particular was a hothouse for Pan Germanism and for the emotional ideas that went to make up "Mein Kampf." The Austro-German Alliance of 1879 -- which should never be confused with the Triple Alliance of 1882 between Germany, Austria and Italy -- was really a form of annexation on the part of the Hohenzollern Empire. The Anglo-French Alliance, in contrast, joins two peoples and two governments whose sovereignties remain equal, both in theory and in fact -- though of course the German propaganda bureau announces daily that France is being run by the British Cabinet and that Britain will fight on the Continent to the last Frenchman.
This Alliance, which has been growing empirically since 1936, was completed only after the outbreak of war on September 3, 1939. It is not the result of a long-deliberated plan of which all the details were worked out in anticipation of the deepening European crisis of the last few years. It took shape only gradually as an inevitable response to the intensification of that crisis. Neither nation has anything to be proud of in this trial-and-error method. If France and Britain had really presented a unified front back in 1935, the history of Europe would have taken a far different turn, and we would not today be fighting a Hitlerian empire covering Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway and the Low Countries. There would be no such thing as a Russia occupying the eastern half of Poland and dominating the Baltic States and Finland. Nor would Italy, who now insults and threatens us, be occupying Ethiopia and Albania or holding Spain in tutelage.
Only reluctantly, then, and under pressure did Britain and France consent to merge their destinies. It is important that Americans have no doubt on this point, for too often they proceed on the convenient assumption that alliances are the cause of war. In reality, war comes when alliances are all on one side or when the military preponderance of one country is not balanced by the close coöperation of such other countries as are obviously in line to become the victims of aggression.
When Hitler rose to power in January 1933, Franco-British relations, insofar as they were concerned with the essential problem of maintaining peace, were determined by the Locarno Pact of October 16, 1925. Locarno stipulated that France and Germany, and Belgium and Germany, would not go to war against one another except in certain well-defined contingencies. The latter included: legitimate self-defense; flagrant violation of Articles 42 or 43 of the Treaty of Versailles (demilitarization of the Rhineland); execution of paragraph 7 of Article 15 of the Covenant, providing for the peaceful settlement of disputes by the Council of the League; and Article 16 of the Covenant providing for concerted economic and military action against an aggressor. Britain and Italy guaranteed, by arms if necessary, to enforce these terms.
Locarno was a system of security built in the clouds. No provision was made for General Staff consultations between guarantors (Britain and Italy) and guarantees (France, Belgium and Germany). The guarantors, because of their rôle as impartial arbiters, could not consider the hypothesis of a German attack as more probable than a French attack. Furthermore, the parties concerned never unanimously admitted that enforcement should be automatic in case France, Belgium or Germany flagrantly violated their promises. Indeed, Sir John Simon declared in the House of Commons on November 7, 1933, that in each instance the League Council would have the last word, with the consent of the guarantors. Because of the Council's rule of unanimity, either of the guarantors could prevent a final decision. And lastly, a fatal duality was established between Germany's western and eastern frontiers. The treaties of arbitration between the Reich on one hand and Poland and Czechoslovakia on the other set up such a complicated procedure that, by the time a dispute had gone from Conciliation Commission to World Court to League Council, the parties might find themselves legally at war.
The Locarno system collapsed on March 7, 1936, when Hitler, overriding the objections of his generals, ordered the Reichswehr to reoccupy the Rhineland. According to the interpretation always given to Article 4 (paragraph 3) of the Locarno Pact by the Quai d'Orsay, Hitler's action would have authorized France to start marching. By her own example she could thus have forced the guarantors to fulfill their duties. But France did not move. All the ideological sections of the treaty, therewith, fell one after the other. For example, on March 19, the Council of the League -- to whom the men of Locarno had assigned so important a rôle -- stated that Germany had violated the Locarno Pact as well as Article 43 of the Versailles Treaty, but refused to do anything further about it. The Council's bankruptcy immediately caused Belgium to resume her pre-1914 policy of neutrality; while Italy, already pointed in the direction of an alliance with Germany, definitely canceled all of her Locarno obligations when in the fall of 1936 she joined with Germany in the Rome-Berlin Axis. Thus in the end France and Britain found themselves alone. The British Cabinet was at first inclined to fight a rear guard action. For a while it flirted with the strange theory that Germany, by her own initiative, had destroyed the obligations which the treaty placed on the signatories. In other words, an umbrella is useful only as long as the sun shines. It was left to Titulesco to find the correct answer: "Locarno is more alive than ever because the contingency, in anticipation of which it was drafted, has now become a reality."
The British Government therefore had to reconcile itself to making an arrangement for mutual aid with France. On March 9, 1936, Foreign Minister Eden declared in the House of Commons that "should there take place, during the period which will be necessary for the consideration of the new situation which has arisen, any actual attack upon France or Belgium which would constitute a violation of Article 2 of Locarno, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the German repudiation of the Treaty, would regard themselves as in honour bound to come in the manner provided in the Treaty to the assistance of the country attacked." On March 19, this initial promise was strengthened, so that the obligations of Locarno were continued in their entirety insofar as France, Britain and Belgium were concerned. It also provided that conversations were to take place between the three General Staffs in order to work out the technical details of a program of action for meeting unprovoked aggression. Moreover, if the negotiations then going on with Germany for a second Locarno should fail, an annex to the Agreement of March 19 would immediately become effective. This annex -- which was delivered on April 1 to both the French and Belgian Governments, since the latter had not evolved its new policy -- envisaged the transformation of the understandings of March 9 and 19 into an agreement for mutual assistance which would include the collaboration of the General Staffs. In November 1936, the British Government decided to put it into effect; hence the public declarations of Mr. Eden and M. Delbos on November 27 and December 4 of that year. The Anglo-French Alliance was at last on the road to becoming a reality.
It should be emphasized that the Alliance was not the result of a free choice on Britain's part. Rather, it was forced on her by the logic of events and by the need of self-preservation. Eleven years earlier, at Locarno, the British Government had constructed a system which, if enforced, would have made such an alliance unnecessary. We must never forget these origins of the Alliance. They set in bold relief the fact that Anglo-French solidarity was, in the beginning, quite experimental and that it was imposed on both countries by the necessity of protecting themselves. It took form and grew only when their governments had their backs to the wall. "Hang together or hang separately" -- these were the words that constantly rang in the ears of the British and French Governments each time one or the other agreed to abandon a little bit more of its freedom of action.
The Anglo-French entente, as constituted late in 1936, dealt only with the French and Belgian frontiers, and quite inadequately even with these, as we shall see in a moment. Belgium was anxious to repudiate the arrangement of March 19, 1936, and to free herself from the agreement of September 1920 between the Belgian and French General Staffs which, though it had survived every vicissitude thus far, had long been in abeyance. Consequently, a modus vivendi was arranged in April 1937. The two great Western Powers guaranteed Belgium from invasion without receiving any reciprocal engagement in return. The Belgian Government merely promised to maintain an adequate military force and to resist if attacked by another Power. True, Belgium was still bound by the League Covenant, particularly Article 16 and its implication about the right of passage for armies coming to the assistance of a victim of aggression. But her obligation in this respect was so flexible that she has easily avoided it. She has now paid the price for her illusions.
A great deal could be said about the easygoing way France and Britain handled the problem posed by Article 16, which provided for obligatory economic sanctions against an aggressor as well as discretionary military sanctions. To be sure, the Covenant was in a bad way after the Ethiopian War and the blows which M. Laval had struck against it. Thereafter Paris and London lacked the moral authority necessary to demand that states rigorously adhere to this clause of the Covenant. But they should nevertheless have insisted that neutrals -- for they assumed that the juridical concept of neutrality had been reëstablished -- should distinguish between Powers that defended the smaller nations and those that wished to enslave them. The lesser states should have been asked to give, if not active "coöperation" against aggression, at least "assistance" in the form of passive acquiescence. In this connection let us record the resolution of the League Assembly of December 14, 1939, recommending assistance to Finland while scrupulously avoiding any application of Article 16. The consequences of Anglo-French negligence and forbearance can be measured by the events of September 1939 and May 1940. If in the early days of the war France could have sent her troops across Belgium, she might have been able to outflank the Siegfried Line -- which at that time did not extend northward along the German-Belgian border -- and thus force Germany to release her Polish victim. Likewise, a contractual obligation on the part of the smaller states to render assistance would have permitted the Allies to take the initiative in Norway or to have embarked on a preventive occupation of Belgium in November 1939 or January 1940.
If the Anglo-French agreements of 1936 did not adequately protect Western Europe from German invasion, what can be said for Central and Eastern Europe? Here France had several obligations. In the Franco-Polish Alliance of 1921 she had promised aid to that country in case of attack. She had a similar engagement towards Czechoslovakia according to the terms of the Franco-Czech declaration of 1925 annexed to the Locarno Pact. Furthermore, she had underwritten Germany's arbitration treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia made at Locarno. Britain, on the other hand, had no obligations to these countries beyond Article 16 of the Covenant, which had already collapsed. It is useless to recapitulate the events of the summer of 1938, now known to everyone. The essential question was: Would Britain support France if the latter went to the assistance of her ally, Czechoslovakia? The hesitation of the British Cabinet influenced the Quai d'Orsay, and by the time Mr. Chamberlain decided on action, M. Bonnet was on the road leading to Munich.
Only in 1939 did the policies of Britain and France coincide exactly, and only then were guarantees extended to other countries. In January of that year the two governments recognized that it would be to their common interest to assist The Netherlands and Switzerland if the German Army should march into either country. As concerns The Netherlands, the offer was futile. Before effective assistance could be given, The Netherlands would have to link its defenses with those of Belgium. This it repeatedly declined to do. In Eastern Europe, French and British guarantees multiplied after Germany incorporated the remnants of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939. Indeed, the two Great Powers now undertook to maintain the political and territorial structure of Europe in its totality. There was Britain's guarantee to Poland and a reaffirmation of the Franco-Polish Alliance; there were also Anglo-French guarantees to Rumania,[i] Greece, Turkey, and more recently to Norway. Rumania and Greece have proceeded to act as passive beneficiaries, accepting guarantees from the Allies while pretending to Germany that they were not a party to the arrangement. Turkey, however, definitely associated herself with the Western Powers by the Treaty of Ankara (October 19, 1939). This provides for: coöperation in the event of war in the Mediterranean, a Turkish endorsement of the Anglo-French guarantees to Rumania and Greece, and consultation if one of the signatories finds that a German attack on a country not guaranteed is a threat to its own security. The latter clause was probably drafted to include Jugoslavia, which since 1927 has had only a consultative and non-aggression pact with France.
Henceforth, the two Western democracies recognize, in fact as well as in theory, that they are protecting the continent against aggression from Germany and from any Power that conspires with Germany. The system was completed by (1) the Anglo-Polish and Franco-Polish Treaties of September 12, 1939, pledging England and France not to make peace with Germany without the consent of Poland; and (2) the resolution of the Supreme War Council of March 28, 1940, by which France and Britain promised not to enter into preliminary conversations concerning peace, or to examine the proposals of a neutral, until they had first arrived at a common program between themselves. In the diplomatic and military spheres, the solidarity of the two countries is complete.
Does the Polish guarantee mean that the Western Powers must go to war with Russia ? No, for it has been interpreted in such a way as to avoid extending hostilities. In fact, Britain and France refused to declare war on Russia when that country marched into eastern Poland, a fact which the Polish Government of that day, as well as the one subsequently set up at Angers, tacitly accepted. The Allies' military effort is directed exclusively against Germany; but if Russia crosses the firing line, they will not spare her. Thus, if in February and March Finland had called on the Allies for help, they would have dispatched an expeditionary force on the assumption that the annihilation of that country would open the way for a German adventure in Scandinavia. But, while aiding Finland, they would not have taken the initiative in breaking off relations with Moscow: they would have fought Russia in Finland in the same way that Russia is fighting Japan in China. It should be remembered that the Treaty of Ankara does not obligate Turkey to support her Western allies against the Soviet Union. Turkey is free to give or withhold assistance though she is to receive the support of France and Britain if Russia attacks her. In general, it is felt that Turkey will go to war with Russia only if the latter begins talking of the Straits and Constantinople in terms of nineteenth-century Tsarist imperialism. The Allies have an effective weapon that will make Stalin and his advisers think twice: airplanes from Syria and 'Iraq can blast Baku and its oil reservoirs without much difficulty. And Moscow knows it.
This, in its broadest aspects, is the program to which the Western democracies are committed. Its object, in short, is to destroy the German military machine. The promise given to Poland, for example, implied that the Allies would assume this task. By guaranteeing other countries the Allies merely succeeded in disposing them towards the Allied cause, without however causing them to abandon their neutrality. Turkey is an exception. This country, without any coercion from Paris or London, has entered the Allied camp deliberately; the other countries have entered it only after being attacked and invaded -- in other words, not until they had first allowed Germany to occupy their country by force of arms.
To end Germany's military power, France and Britain must regain that superiority in armaments which they permitted the Reich to snatch from them between 1933 and 1939. Above all, they must acquire air superiority. The main problem as concerns man power is to create a British Army at least half the size of the French. This will be a gigantic task. For practical purposes, it cannot be done before the end of 1940. As for Germany, she has devoted all of her resources during the last seven years to the creation of a tremendous military machine, in particular to amassing Blitzkrieg weapons -- planes and tanks -- against which the smaller nations are unable to put up any real resistance.
The formidable military task of the Allies makes it vitally necessary that they act together and use their resources systematically. Since last September, the British Government has proceeded on the assumption that the war may last three years. This does not mean they have three years at their disposal in which to create an adequate army, navy and air force, and that in the meantime reverses can be regarded as unimportant; but it does mean that the British are determined to conscript enough men and wealth to win victory.
The agreements cementing the intimate collaboration of the French and British Empires -- those which made the Alliance a very real thing -- were made since the beginning of the war. They can be divided into four classes: (1) The virtually spontaneous decision, taken in September, to create a Supreme War Council to which the two Prime Ministers summon those of their colleagues whom the day's business warrants, as well as the Commanders in Chief of the armed forces, the heads of the various General Staffs, etc. (2) The two all-important acts of November 17, establishing a common economic front, and of December 4, linking the pound and the franc. (3) The agreements between particular British and French ministries for the intensification of the war effort in a certain field, e.g., blockade, armaments, etc. (4) Collaboration between certain national groups such as Deputies and Members of Parliament, the French Socialist Party and the Labor Party, the Confédération Générale du Travail and the Trade Unions, and between industrial groups.
The importance of the November 17 and December 4 agreements merits special comment. Seven executive departments have been permanently established in London: air, munitions, war materials, oil, food, shipping, and economic warfare. The latter has special characteristics: its function is to coördinate everything that is done by Britain and France to prevent Germany from obtaining supplies from outside her borders. It is in constant touch with the British Ministry of Economic Warfare and the French Ministry of Blockade. The function of the other executive departments is to apportion basic raw materials between the two countries regardless of whether these originated in the British or French Empires or were acquired by purchasing missions in neutral countries. The departments are staffed with equal numbers of French and British delegates. A coördinating committee resolves whatever disputes may arise within or between departments -- in regard, for instance, to the bitterly disputed question concerning priority for shipping space. And last, each country has its national committees, presided over by their respective Prime Ministers, to draw up estimates of their own particular needs and how they can be met, for submission to the relevant executive departments in London. In France, this body is called "the committee on planning and purchasing" and it includes the appropriate cabinet ministers; in Britain it includes the general secretaries of the relevant ministries. If certain questions cannot be solved by the arbitration of the coördinating committee -- of which the chairman is M. Jean Monnet -- the Supreme War Council intervenes and cuts the Gordian knot. In all this the guiding principle is equality of sacrifice.
This economic organization was articulated by the agreement of December 4 establishing the monetary basis of the coalition. Its general features can be described as follows: (1) The stability of the franc and the pound is assured by introducing the principle of balance between the British and French stabilization funds. The two governments have agreed to supply one another francs for pounds and pounds for francs without transferring gold, at the fixed rate of 176 francs to the pound. As between Britain and France the tripartite monetary agreement of September 1930 has been suspended, though it still applies to the United States. The sterling which France has at her disposal will, if necessary, be converted by the British Treasury into the particular moneys of the sterling area. Thus, they can be spent not only in Great Britain but in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, British India, the crown colonies, mandated areas, Egypt, the Egyptian Sudan and 'Iraq. (2) The two countries may, by prior arrangement, buy from a neutral in terms of the other's currency, in case one of them should have a surplus of such funds. Thus, Britain can balance her purchases in Switzerland with French francs, Switzerland being obliged to convert them into her own currency in Paris rather than in London. The aim of both countries is to preserve their gold and, as far as possible, to use it only to purchase arms. Thus the world has a new autarchy with a broad base that extends into every continent. (3) The two governments have promised not to adopt, vis-à-vis one another, measures for the protection of their industries or currencies. In fact, the two Empires might well lower their tariffs against one another. Such a step was, indeed, foreshadowed in an agreement negotiated in February 1940 between the French Minister of Commerce and the President of the Board of Trade. (4) If either Ally does not have its proper share of the common resources, it will be reimbursed by the other in gold or exchange. Thus, if France has to buy copper at the world price in America or the Belgian Congo, while England obtains hers within the Empire at a lower price, France will be duly compensated. (5) Britain has agreed, in view of her larger resources and wealth, to pay certain charges common to the Allies in the proportion of 3 to 2. Such charges are: the cost of the blockade, maintenance expenses of the Allied armies, the cost of distant expeditions, financial advances to neutrals (e.g., the subsidies given to Finland under one form or another), etc.
Such is the Anglo-French economic alliance. To deepen it we must eliminate certain wartime obstacles restricting the circulation of peoples and goods between the two countries. A few beginnings have been made, such as the February agreement mentioned a moment ago; but much remains to be done. In the realm of actual practice, union is far from being complete. We must anticipate some opposition from public opinion and expect that class or other interests will try to check the growing momentum. But the necessity of winning a life-and-death struggle will silence all opposition. Moreover, these agreements provide that this union shall continue not only for the duration of the war, but after hostilities have ceased. That charter of financial solidarity, the agreement of December 4, is to run for six months after the signing of peace -- which is only another way of saying that it will continue indefinitely.
According to the official communiqué of the Supreme War Council issued on March 28:
The government of the French Republic and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland mutually undertake . . . not to discuss peace terms before reaching complete agreement on the conditions necessary to ensure to each of them an effective and lasting guarantee of their security . . . they [also] undertake to maintain after conclusion of peace a community of action in all spheres for so long as may be necessary to safeguard their security and to effect the reconstruction, with the assistance of other nations, of an international order which will ensure the liberty of peoples, respect for law and the maintenance of peace in Europe.
It is clear, then, that the Anglo-French union is an instrument from which we expect not only victory but the reconstruction of Europe.
When the peace treaties of 1919 were negotiated, two types of preoccupation dominated the minds of Americans, Englishmen and Frenchmen: (1) to safeguard Western Europe from further aggression by setting up material guarantees of security -- e.g., the occupation of the Rhineland and the project of Anglo-American assistance to France; and (2) to create an international system in which everyone, victor and vanquished, would have equal authority and influence. In the long run, the second part of the 1919 program prevailed over the first -- the Locarno Treaties are a case in point. This time, however, material guarantees will prevail and the Anglo-French tie will not be diluted in a wider system of general or universal commitments. The hard lesson of experience has taught us that he who commits himself to everything for everybody in reality commits himself to nothing. If the League of Nations is revived, the two Western Powers will in effect constitute its executive -- an executive whose decisions and acts will not depend on the deliberations of the Council or the Assembly. Is this to say that France and Britain will not seek the concurrence of other Powers? By no means. But paralleling the group of states charged with everyday tasks, including procedure under Article 15 of the Covenant, will be another group gathered around France and Britain in a military alliance for the application of Article 16. The system of 1919 was characterized by the predominance of Article 15. The new system will be placed under the aegis of Article 16 -- or its equivalent, since the Covenant is likely to be altered. The juridical equality among states will remain untouched. But there will be no equality of responsibility, for it is absurd to pretend that all European states are equally capable of resisting aggression.
Through bitter experience the statesmen of France and Britain have come to know that a paper peace is of little value by itself; that there is no such thing as a plan of European reconstruction, however perfect, which can rally and hold all peoples; that the profound feelings of the vanquished, whatever their docility and flexibility on the morrow of the war, cannot really be known until one or two generations later; that Anglo-French military preponderance must be preserved until experience gives us something better; that the Rhineland should become the instrument of this preponderance but without involving any annexation or transfer of sovereignty; and that henceforth general disarmament should be the sign that peace has been reëstablished, not just the initial step towards its reëstablishment. Heaven knows that twenty years ago most men found these ideas repugnant. But the cruel events of 1938-40 have hammered their lessons home to all of us.
All this does not mean, however, that in time of peace French and British armaments will necessarily be maintained at their present level. But they will be of sufficient size to permit the two nations, in collaboration with the greatest possible number of other states, to impose respect for law and order on any recalcitrant. Let us not forget that Britain will continue to remain a military nation, or rather a military empire; that she will not abolish conscription; that she knows her fate is tied up, not only with the free countries of Western Europe, but with those of Central and Eastern Europe as well.
Will French and British efforts to bring order out of chaos result in a European federation? It is impossible to say. A federation does not fall ready-made from the sky. Two acorns must be planted: one in the West (the Anglo-French union) and another in the East (a modest Polish-Czech federation). We cannot be too confident that they will become great oaks. In any event, if a European federation is achieved, it will only be because of the Anglo-French union.
Certain American commentators have created the impression that many people in the United States resent the alliance of the Western Powers and, in particular, object to the formation of the great economic area to which that alliance has given birth. I would suggest that these critics recall that there are other large economic units already in existence: Greater Germany with some 90 million inhabitants (not including the four North and West European kingdoms recently overrun by the Nazi armies); a Soviet empire of 170 millions and covering one-seventh of the earth's land surface; and even an American empire containing nearly 150 million souls. If they will keep these facts in mind, they will then understand that France and Britain, only if joined to each other in the closest bonds, can hope to uphold their traditional civilization.
[i] The promise to Rumania applies only against Germany and does not underwrite Bessarabia.