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THE fall of Mr. Lloyd George's second administration at a critical stage of the Near Eastern imbroglio is not to be interpreted as indicating a change in the foreign policy of Great Britain. This will remain unaltered for the good reason that no other policy is conformable to the interests and the desires of this country. It is, then, important to explain what that policy was and why it was adopted.
The paramount interest of Great Britain is, and has always been, the preservation of peace throughout the world. We endeavored to avert the war, we entered into it reluctantly and without due preparation, and when the last gun was fired the wish that came uppermost in the hearts of every British citizen was that such a peace might be made that never again might our descendants be called upon to endure the torments to which the young men of our own time had been submitted. Public opinion throughout England regarded the war as a wrong which German insolence had inflicted upon Europe. Viewing war as a vulgar crime it demanded the punishment of the criminal; but it also expected such a settlement of international affairs as would preclude a repetition of the evil.
The elections of 1918 which gave Mr. Lloyd George his mammoth majority were the result of this double pre-occupation. A government was returned to power pledged to make Germany pay within the limit of her capacity and commissioned at the same time with the tremendous task of devising, in cooperation with the Allied and Associated Powers, a durable peace through the world.
The peace treaties have been much criticized and there is a widely diffused opinion that they need revision. But in what quarters is amendment called for? The treaties divide themselves into three distinct sections. There is the Covenant of the League of Nations, naturally not an impeccable document, but in its general lines accepted by every responsible statesman in England. There are the economic provisions with respect to reparations and the like, which are widely condemned but have only in small part been executed. And finally there is the territorial settlement which, save in a few relatively unimportant particulars, has been drawn up in accordance with President Wilson's fourteen points, upon the principle of giving to each of the peoples concerned the government which they desire. Of the two latter sections, the territorial, which has been most discussed, is far the most important. The economic provisions of the treaties were expressly made liable to revision by the Reparations Commission. They were indefinitely alterable and they have in fact been altered and are likely to undergo further modification. It is difficult, however, to see how the territorial settlement of the world effected by the treaties can be radically modified, save as the result of a collision of material forces.
Public opinion even yet does not seem to realize the extent to which the new political map of Europe faithfully reflects the doctrine of self-determination enunciated so eloquently by President Wilson and accepted so readily by the European members of the Entente. If the treaties are open to criticism in respect of their territorial provisions it is not by reason of their violation of the Wilsonian philosophy, but because of an over-scrupulous fidelity to a doctrine which does not always readily adapt itself to the stubborn facts of geography. There are, it is true, exceptions to the rule. There is the Tyrolese district assigned to Italy in virtue of the treaty which brought the Italians into the war; and there is the Saar Valley, a district inhabited by Germans, which is assigned to the League of Nations for a period of fifteen years in order that France may be partially compensated for the destruction of her coal mines by the German armies. These, however, are minor blots which do not impair the general features of the plan. The American doctrine of self-determination has, for good or ill, stamped itself upon our new map of Europe, and will be responsible for such blessings or curses as the new map of Europe may entail.
Alike during the peace negotiations and in the times which followed Mr. Lloyd George took his stand very strongly upon this doctrine. There was a section of public opinion in France which hoped permanently to detach the Rhenish districts from Germany. Mr. Lloyd George was steadily opposed to any plan likely to create a new Alsace-Lorraine in Europe. He took the view, and here he was voicing the opinion of his Cabinet and of the whole country, that nothing would more certainly lead to a fresh war than a forcible transference of German citizens from their allegiance to the German state. Similarly the British Government came to the conclusion that Upper Silesia, with its valuable coal fields and highly industrialized area, should not be transferred to Poland until a plebiscite had been taken in order to ascertain the wishes of its inhabitants; and it was in consequence of Mr. Lloyd George's insistence upon this point (and the Prime Minister was supported in his view by a special meeting of the Imperial Cabinet held in Paris) that the final version of the Treaty of Versailles made provision for the Silesian plebiscite. The same principle dominated British policy in the matter of Eastern Galicia. Our government was averse to assigning to Poland a province mainly inhabited by Little Russians who differed from the Poles in race, speech and religion and who stoutly proclaimed their desire for autonomy.
It will be seen from these indications that so far as the British Government was able to exercise a formative influence upon the territorial dispositions made by the Peace Conference, that influence was all in the direction of carrying out, so far as geographical conditions would permit, the principle of self-determination. We believed that a Europe so constituted would be less likely to contain within its organism the germs of future discord; and though it was fully recognized that each of the newly constituted states would comprise alien minorities it was hoped that with the aid of the minority clauses of the treaties and the League of Nations the irritation due to this source would be reduced to a minimum.
There was another matter upon which Mr. Lloyd George laid great stress. That was disarmament. It was largely owing to his insistent pressure that conscription was abolished in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria and that each of these powers was restricted by treaty to a small voluntary army. It was the hope of Great Britain that when once Germany had been thoroughly disarmed other states in Europe would proceed to reduce their armaments and that we should be able to enter a new era of peace and good-will. Great Britain herself, despite her far-flung obligations and the pressure of some most eminent soldiers, set an example by abolishing conscription and reducing her land army below the pre-war figure. It was a risky undertaking, in view of the disturbed state of the world, to break up so suddenly the superb military instrument which had been fashioned during the war,--but the thing was done and the nation applauded the doing of it.
The lead unfortunately was not followed. France, regarding herself as in a special degree the custodian of the treaties and the bulwark of civilization against the Teutonic onrush, remains heavily armed and steadily increases her aeroplanes and submarines. Poland is said to have a million men under arms and the Russians, the Czechoslovaks and the Jugoslavs are still upon a war footing. In spite of the disarmament of the Central Powers there are, unhappily, more armed men on the continent of Europe today than in the year preceding the Great War.
For this deplorable state of things three principal and interconnected causes may be assigned--the fears of France, the reparations, the menace of Russia. We need not be surprised at the alarms of France. In the late war she fought with every advantage on her side and with the help of Russia and the British Empire, of America and Italy, of Belgium, Serbia and Rumania, and yet how nearly was she destroyed! In the event of another war how many of her late allies could she safely reckon upon to give her military and naval support? She knows that as things now are she could not safely reckon upon one of them, and that she must look for her relief to the new states which have been created by the treaties and which would be menaced by any attempt to subvert these. So France fears not only for her own borders, but for the borders of Poland and Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Jugoslavia as well. She feels that these countries are part of her system, outposts of her civilization, and that if the outpost be menaced the citadel is threatened also.
This is one reason for the maintenance of French armaments at their present high level. France is genuinely apprehensive as to her security. She has been invaded twice within living memory. She hates and fears Germany. She is conscious of her smaller population and lower birth-rate. She dreads a combination between Germany and Russia against her ally Poland. Despite the fact that Germany has surrendered her heavy artillery and her aeroplanes and her rifles, and could not be formidable again for at least fifteen years, France is still apprehensive. Besides this, she wants her big army in order that, if necessary, she may employ it to secure reparations and hold down recalcitrant German districts. The fears and apprehensions of France are therefore a very real cause of the present state of armed anxiety in Europe. We in Great Britain have always realized that after the terrible experiences which she has undergone France deserves every security which the world can offer her. It was in this spirit that Mr. Lloyd George pledged his government and country to enter simultaneously with America into a pact to defend the frontiers of France against aggression. He believed, and the British Government believed with him, that if France once had the protection afforded by such a guarantee the peace of Europe would be indefinitely secured. Germany would never dare to assail a country in alliance with the British Empire and the United States, and France, knowing that she was safe from assault, could afford to dismount her military engines and turn an undivided mind to the arts of peace.
The pact came to nothing. America withdrew and, failing America's cooperation, Great Britain was not immediately disposed to proceed. Nevertheless as time went on the British Cabinet became progressively impressed by the magnitude of the evils resulting from the insecurity of France. Should we ever attain a real peace unless France were assured that in the event of an unwarranted invasion she could count on the assistance of a powerful ally? Conversations were opened with the government of M. Briand with a view to a British guarantee. We proposed a defensive pact. We expressed ourselves prepared to guarantee the eastern frontier of France against unwarranted attack and discussions were proceeding upon the point when the Briand Government fell. M. Poincaré has since explained to the public why he did not take up the negotiations. He wanted a reciprocal alliance based on detailed military understandings, under which France would be pledged to protect the Indian frontier and the British Empire the Polish. Such a one-sided and limited pact as was proposed by the British Government was not sufficient. Yet under the proposed British pact distant New Zealand, which lost more men in the Great War than Belgium, would once more have sent her superb contingents to defend the soil of France against the invader.
Nothing more, then, has been heard of the second British attempt to give to France the pact of guarantee which she regards as essential to her future safety. The British offer was honestly and sincerely meant. We do not censure France if she has come to the decision that it was insufficient; but the government which made the offer was braving a considerable mass of public opinion at home in the hopes of meeting the needs of France and of Europe, and it is therefore a curious instance of popular misjudgment that Mr. Lloyd George, who in the war placed the British army under French command and on two separate occasions has been willing to sign a pact of guarantee, should be so widely represented in the Paris press as a malignant enemy of the aspirations of the French nation. In reality no British Prime Minister has worked harder for France or has more energetically represented to his countrymen the devastation wrought by the German armies and the strength of the French claim for reparations.
Nevertheless it would be idle to suppose that France and England see the European problem from the same angle. For the industrial population of Great Britain trade with the continent is a vital necessity. Great Britain lives on her exports and before the war found a large and convenient market for them in Germany. The economic restoration of the ex-enemy countries and indeed of all Europe is therefore a prime need for Great Britain, rendered all the more urgent by reason of the arrest of emigration during the war and the additional millions for whom, somehow or other, employment must now be found at home. France is more self-sufficient, less dependent on foreign trade. Our devastated districts are the great industrial towns of the north which are suffering from a stagnation in trade unparalleled in history, and with respect to which every intelligent worker knows that they can only be restored to full prosperity by the economic revival of Germany. Far otherwise is it with France. There public opinion pursues a different course and passionately demands the payment of German indemnities to repair the losses inflicted by the German invasion. It is not satisfied and has never been satisfied with the loyalty of Germany. It believes that Germany could have paid a great deal more than it has in fact paid and that if a moratorium is now declared to be necessary it should only be granted to the accompaniment of "productive guarantees." One such guarantee would be a big delivery of timber. Another the occupation of the Ruhr coal fields.
Throughout the numerous conferences and protracted conversations upon the subject of indemnities the British Government has always stood for a moderate use of the Allied victory. It has realized the difficulties of the German Government, confronted on the one side with the communists and on the other with the partisans of the former monarchy. And while it has fully recognized the French right to receive and the German duty to pay reparations upon a reasonable scale, it has taken the view that the economic restoration of Germany is a precedent condition to adequate payment. As Mr. Lloyd George put it in his picturesque way, "Our policy is to get milk, yours is to take beef." Another principle for which the late Prime Minister contended was that reparations should be settled by agreement with the Germans. It was owing to his pressure that the Germans were invited to the conference at Spa and that their proposals for the settlement of the question were there considered. In other words the policy of Great Britain has been to obtain a settlement of the reparations question agreed on by Germany, and consistent with the economic revival of Germany, even if that policy should involve the grant of a moratorium and a drastic reduction in the sums required.
It follows that the idea of going into the Ruhr never found favor with the British Cabinet. As an extreme means of bringing pressure upon Germany to accept a reasonable and moderate scheme we were willing to consent to a temporary occupation of the Ruhr districts, and Germany was in fact threatened with such an occupation in May, 1921, in the event of her failing to carry out her obligations as defined by the Reparations Commission. It was a tremendous threat. Before the war the output of coal in the Ruhr Valley was the largest of any single coal field in the world. Two-thirds of the whole of the German iron and steel production is in the Ruhr. During the war the Ruhr Valley was Germany's greatest arsenal for guns, shells and gas. The threat of occupying the Ruhr was therefore the biggest threat which could be applied to Germany. As Mr. Lloyd George said, "With the Ruhr gone, industrial Germany withers." In the view of the British Government this menace could only be legitimately employed to strengthen the hands of the German Government over and against its own public in the execution of measures intrinsically reasonable, feasible and consistent with the convalescence of the country. It was only a valid expedient if applied in conditions which would ensure its being temporary. To a permanent occupation of the Ruhr British opinion would never consent. "We cannot," said the Prime Minister, "bequeath to our children another Alsace-Lorraine. If we did they would curse our memory." The conference at London between Mr. Lloyd George and M. Poincaré in August, 1922, broke down because the methods proposed by the French Prime Minister to secure the payment of reparations seemed to British eyes to be inconsistent with the economic revival of Germany and consequently calculated to defer rather than to promote the common object of the Allied Governments.
In the view of the late Prime Minister the restoration of European prosperity would never be complete unless Russia were once more brought within the comity of nations, and it is on this that he came into sharpest conflict with the dominant opinion of his Conservative supporters in the House of Commons. It is an error to suppose that the British Government had adopted from the first a hostile attitude towards the Russian revolution. On the contrary we recognized the government of Prince Lvoff and that of M. Kerensky which succeeded it. The British Cabinet was in fact willing to deal with and to acknowledge any government in Russia which was prepared to recognize its engagements towards the Allies and to carry on the war with Germany. It was only when the Bolsheviks repudiated these obligations, dispersed the Constituent Assembly, proclaimed a policy of world-wide revolutionary propaganda and murdered a British emissary that diplomatic relations with them became impossible.
The principles upon which the Bolshevik Government was conducting public affairs were deeply repugnant to the British Cabinet. Nevertheless there would have been no British intervention in Russia but for the fact that it was a supreme military necessity to keep a large German army occupied on the Eastern Front during the spring and summer of 1918, and that we had friends in Russia, who with some aid and encouragement from their Western allies were prepared to discharge this valuable function. The cooperation in this Russian enterprise of America, Japan and France was governed by the same ruling military necessity. There was no hostility towards the Russian nation, no desire to thwart the operation of the democratic principle in Russia or to impose a constitution repugnant to Russian sentiment. The guiding principle was to relieve the pressure upon the Western Front, and from this strictly military point of view the intervention of the Allies was justified by the event.
Battlefield decisions are seldom wise in the long run. They serve the desperate need of the moment but produce an aftermath of political trouble. Well do I remember the discussion in London at which the idea of an Allied intervention in Russia was first mooted, how big with political difficulties it seemed to be, and yet how imperious a necessity in view of the balance of military forces then existing in the West. The step once taken was difficult to retrace. Long after the armistice was signed in the West, the war against Bolshevism continued in Russia. Vainly did Mr. Lloyd George propose a conference between the contending parties at Prinkipo. The suggestion was treated with scorn in Russia and was most unfavorably received by Mr. Lloyd George's Conservative supporters in London. So the war dragged on, Britain and France furnishing supplies and some troops to the Russian Whites, and the Russian Whites steadily alienating the feeling of their compatriots by indiscipline and incompetence. After the event a member of the British Cabinet, as responsible as his colleagues for the course which was taken, may confess that his government would have been wise to have withdrawn at an earlier stage of the conflict. The difficulties, however, can be imagined. It is never otherwise than repugnant to an honorable man to leave an ally to the mercies of a harsh and cruel opponent.
The last consignment of British supplies to General Denikin was sent in February, 1920, and in the same month it was decided at a conference in London, at which M. Millerand and Signor Nitti were present, to open up trade relations with Russia. To the "Die-Hard" element in the House of Commons the idea of trading with the Bolshevik Government at all was abhorrent, and when it was known that a Russian subject, M. Krassin, was in London to negotiate a commercial agreement an energetic protest was made. The suggestion that the British Government should decline to trade with a government of violence was brushed aside by Mr. Lloyd George in a speech of overwhelming cogency. "Have we never," he asked, "traded with countries which have been guilty of atrocities? What about Turkey? Were not the atrocities in Russia, bad as they were, exceeded in horror, in number and in persistence by the atrocities perpetrated in Turkey by Abdul Hamid against the Armenians?" Then we had traded with Mexico. We had opened up most of the cannibal trade of the world. Was it really to be said that in a time when the west of Europe was starved of raw materials we were to deny ourselves access to the grain, the flax, the timber of Russia? "It is easy," he concluded, "to find quarrels. The world is bristling with them. Hand grenades are scattered all over the ground, and you have to walk carefully. The world is full of explosive matter. You have quarrels here and quarrels there and the whole trouble is that Europe is sick to death of the sacrifice of its flesh and blood and you will not restore its health until you bring to it something like sustained order."
Eventually in March, 1921, the trade agreement got signed. It was a beginning, but only a beginning. The British Prime Minister was anxious not only to open up trade with Russia but also to secure peace and tranquillity all along the Russian frontier. During the Russo-Polish War of 1920 he suggested a conference in London with a view to clearing up the whole situation, but the suggestion was, to his great regret, refused by the Soviet Government, who preferred to treat with the Poles directly. But the idea of a conference, at which Russian delegates would be present and through which Eastern Europe might be relieved of its nightmare of armaments, was never lost sight of, and was finally realized against tremendous obstacles in the spring of 1922. The Conference of Genoa was not an unqualified success. America declined to be represented, the French representative was continually hampered by instructions from Paris, and the atmosphere was rendered needlessly difficult by the publication of a treaty between Germany and the Soviet Republic. Nor was the bearing of the Russian representatives helpful to the cause of peace. Nevertheless two results, both important as steps towards the reconstruction of Europe, were achieved. Russia had been brought into conference with the Western powers, and a pact was agreed to for the preservation of peace which immediately relieved the apprehensions of the neighbors of the Soviet Republic. The Conference of Genoa was sharply attacked by the Russophobe press at home; but it was fully justified by its results and served to demonstrate once more the sincere desire of the British Government for a real disarmament through Europe.
Meanwhile the situation in the Near East was steadily drifting from bad to worse. And here, in order to understand British policy, it is necessary to take account of four shaping if not dominant considerations. The first is that the Turks, without a shadow of provocation, joined in the war against Great Britain and France, their ancient friends and allies, and by so doing prolonged hostilities for two unnecessary years. The second is that in the course of the war the Turks had been found guilty on the most unimpeachable evidence, most of it furnished by American missionaries and much of it confirmed by the American Ambassador Morgenthau, of a series of terrible Armenian massacres and had in general shown themselves incapable of ruling their Christian subjects with justice and humanity. The third is that the Moslem subjects of the King Emperor in India professed, and in a large measure felt, a keen sympathy for the Turk and were uneasy at his defeat and humiliation. And finally there was the important circumstance that while the Turk had done his best to help Germany to win the war the Greeks under the leadership of M. Venizelos had risked all to help us and at one time when reinforcements were badly wanted had nine divisions in the field.
The decision to partition Turkey at the end of the war was taken by the Allies in 1915 while Mr. Asquith was still Prime Minister of England. Under that early dispensation Constantinople was assigned to Russia; and, indeed, so long as Russia remained in the war, ready to carry through a policy of partition, there was no reason to believe that the policy, whatever might be its merits or demerits, would fail in the execution. Then Russia fell into revolution and out of hostility to the fundamentals of Western society began to stir up Moslem difficulties throughout the world. Nevertheless--for the full influence of the new propaganda was not immediately appreciated--the Allies persisted in their policy, being resolved to apply to the Turkish Empire their principles of self-determination under the dominion of which they had revived Poland, broken up Austria and instituted plebiscites in Schleswig and Silesia. In the mind of the British Prime Minister detestation of Turkish atrocities mingled with the political tradition associated with the great name of Gladstone. "Our policy," he proclaimed (June 23, 1920), "is a policy of releasing all non-Turkish populations from Turkish sway. That has been accepted by everyone in the House and outside." So the Arabian world was to be emancipated, Armenia constituted into a strong and independent state, the Italians brought to Asia Minor, the French to Cilicia and Syria, while Eastern and Western Thrace as well as the Vilayet of Smyrna were allotted to Greece. It was all beautifully logical, except the disposition of Western Thrace, where there appears to be a Turkish majority. And no one can accuse the policy of lack of scope and grandeur. What a chance it seemed to rescue Asia Minor and the Balkans from the blighting dominion of a nomad race, which however attractive in its qualities of hardihood, sobriety and endurance has throughout history conspicuously failed in all its relations to non-Turkish peoples! But here again it was a policy which required a strong instrument to bring it into effect. The instrument broke. America, which according to the required design was to have taken a mandate for Armenia, withdrew from all participation in Western affairs; France, hard pressed in Cilicia, made a separate treaty with the Turks; Italy washed her hands of the whole enterprise. There remained one weapon and that a weak one, the Greek army in Thrace and Asia Minor, whereby the Near East was to be recalled out of medieval barbarism to the glittering days of the early Christian centuries.
The situation had been greatly compromised by the long delay which elapsed between Lord Allenby's decisive rout of the Turkish armies and the signature of the Treaty of Sèvres. For that delay the British Government could hardly be held responsible. Speaking in the House of Commons on March 25, 1920, the Prime Minister, after alluding to the hopes which had been formed of American cooperation in respect of Armenia and the Straits and possibly also of Constantinople, observed:
"We were asked not to proceed with the Turkish scheme until President Wilson had had an opportunity of consulting the United States of America and we were led to expect that he would be in a position to give us a decision in that respect by the end of August or, at the latest, by September. Difficulties arose in the United States at that time in respect of the negotiations for the German treaty. . . . The result has been that we have not had any definite indication as to the attitude of the United States of America in reference to the Turkish treaty. . . . The delay has undoubtedly aggravated unrest in Turkey and has intensified the whole of our difficulties there, but I think that it is better that we should face that and work our way through than that we should create suspicion in the United States of America that we were quite willing to take United States help, but that whenever there was any question of dividing the mandates over these undeveloped territories we instantly took advantage of some little political difficulty in America in order to divide the whole thing among ourselves."
The results of the delay were serious. Mustapha Kemal, representing the spirit of irreconcilable Turkish nationalism, gathered together a force and set up a government at Angora, pledged to turn the Greeks out of Asia Minor and to recover Constantinople and Thrace. A force which would have been regarded as contemptible in 1919 became respectable in 1922. And there was no power on the spot to contest its advance into Greece.
The sentiment of the British Cabinet had, with some notable exceptions, been throughout unfavorable to the Turkish claims. On this point there was no division of opinion between Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Balfour and Lord Curzon, his two successive Foreign Ministers. The Moslem cause found, however, a powerful advocate in the Cabinet in the person of Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, who throughout the peace negotiations represented with great force and eloquence the deep feeling of the Moslem leaders in India and the wisdom of conciliating it, if only as a means of securing a favorable atmosphere in which to launch his great experiment of Indian responsible government. Mr. Montagu was not without his supporters and the Treaty of Sèvres retained the Turk in Constantinople. In most other points, however, it was in violent contradiction with Turkish national sentiment and Mustapha Kemal and his friends vowed to overthrow it.
There followed a duel between Smyrna and Angora, the political history of which will long give rise to acrimonious debates. The British Government pursued a policy not of belligerency, open or covert, but of mediation and neutrality. All through 1921 and the early part of 1922 Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Curzon endeavored to bring the Greeks and Turks to an agreement. Not a gun, not a shell, not a soldier, not a shilling was voted to the support of the Greek enterprise. When the Greek army clamored to occupy Constantinople instructions were given to the British Commander on the spot to come into line with his French colleague and bar the way. On June 12, 1922, Mr. Lloyd George advised the Greeks to evacuate Smyrna; but electing to hold on, they suffered, rather through demoralization than military defeat, their great September disaster. It is possible that if the British Foreign Office had continued to press for evacuation steadily through the spring the world would have been spared the firing and the sack of Smyrna. On the other hand there was no clear military reason for expecting the fall of the city before so weak an assailant (for judged by Western standards Mustapha Kemal's army is far from being formidable) in advance of the meeting of the conference on Near Eastern affairs which was planned for the autumn.
When the news of the fall of Smyrna was received in London the British Cabinet acted with nerve and decision. The important thing was to prevent the victorious army of Mustapha Kemal from crossing the Straits and carrying the war into Europe. A great fleet was rapidly concentrated in the threatened waters, reinforcements were hurried out and an appeal was made to the Dominions for their assistance should it be required. It was felt to be a matter of the first importance to avert a great massacre of the Christian population in Constantinople or the resumption by the Turks of an unfettered and exclusive control of the Dardanelles. So strongly was the Prime Minister of the opinion that the maintenance of the freedom of the Straits was vital to the interests of civilization that he was prepared even single-handed to fight in its defense. The cooperation of France and Italy was, however, urgently desired, and before the government fell the main lines of a settlement had been agreed on by the Allies and the Turks had signed an armistice at Mudania.
Such was the last achievement of Mr. Lloyd George's administration in the domain of foreign policy. The Turk had been arrested on the Asiatic side of the Straits and a breathing time had been secured wherein to negotiate the complicated details of a new settlement and to arrange for the orderly resumption of Moslem administration in Eastern Thrace. Though Asia Minor was lost to the Christian peoples, for causes over which British policy had no control, the horrors of war were stayed at the Hellespont by an exhibition of courage and promptitude which history will salute. Meanwhile the whole Arab world--Irak and Arabia and Palestine and Syria--are by virtue of Allied arms and diplomacy freed from the Turkish yoke.
The indictment preferred in some quarters against the British policy in the Near East is, first, that the Greeks were allowed to occupy Smyrna and, next, that they were not earlier and in stronger terms counselled or commanded to evacuate it. History always gives her award against a vanquished policy and will doubtless pronounce that the whole Allied design for the settlement of Asia Minor was too ambitious and founded upon a miscalculation of forces. It will say: "You should have seen that M. Venizelos was too daring, King Constantine too incompetent. You should have anticipated the treaty between Moscow and Angora, and the separate and secret negotiations between M. Franklin Bouillon and Mustapha Kemal. You should have known in advance that the American Senate would never support President Wilson. You should have measured with greater accuracy the force of Turkish Nationalism. You should not have allowed yourself to be swayed by the complaints of suffering Armenians and Greeks. On the contrary, you should have witnessed with unconcerned eyes the ruthless and systematic extermination of the Christian populations in Asia Minor. Your interest as a great Moslem power was to make, coûte que coûte, a good peace with the Turks, which the inexorable logic of events will now compel you to do." To all of which Lord Curzon might be disposed to reply, "Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni."
No retrospect of British foreign policy during the last four years would be complete without some reference to the Washington Conference, and to the attitude which the British Government has taken up towards the League of Nations.
Of the Washington Conference it is only necessary here to say that the statesmanlike initiative of President Harding was received with enthusiasm throughout the British Empire and that the achievements of the conference were welcomed in no quarter of the world with a greater degree of cordiality than in Great Britain. The conference enabled three problems of the first order of importance for the future of civilization to be happily resolved--the limitation of naval armaments, the political relations between Great Britain, the United States and Japan, and the adjustment of points of actual or potential difference with reference to the disturbed Republic of China. Few conferences in the whole course of history have been so fruitful of results.
The League of Nations, too, despite many disabilities, notably the absence of America, Germany and Russia, has carried out a great deal of valuable international work in the three years of its existence. Its admirers in Great Britain have frequently blamed Mr. Lloyd George for not making a greater use of its machinery and have contended that tasks were being carried out by the Supreme Council which might with greater advantage have been turned over to the League. To this there is the two-fold answer, first, that if the League were invited to liquidate the penal clauses of the peace settlement it would inevitably be involved in an atmosphere of acrimonious controversy likely to prejudice its future usefulness, and second, that nearly all the important political work which had been undertaken by the League had been brought before it at the instance of the British Government. When the League undertook to arbitrate between Sweden and Finland in the affair of the Aaland islands, when it intervened to stop a war between Serbia and Albania, when it subdivided Upper Silesia between the Germans and the Poles, or when it devised a plan for the economic restoration of Austria--in all these instances its action was prompted by the British Government. If, then, the British Government has been remiss in its use of the League machinery what are we to think of the governments of the fifty other states who have signed the Covenant? The truth is that the British Empire has so far been the principal prop and support of the institution.
Valuable, however, though its work has been, the League suffers by reason of its incompleteness. Russia defies it, Germany distrusts it, America stands aloof. Last summer the British Government went out of its way to encourage Germany to apply for admission, but the League was then unpopular with the Germans largely owing to the Silesian decision and Dr. Wirth, having to pursue many unpopular courses in any case, did not wish to aggravate his burden. Next year the atmosphere may be more favorable and Germany may apply. If she does she will undoubtedly gain admission, and the League will be proof against the railings of those who describe it as a machine to promote Entente policies. Mr. Lloyd George has repeatedly pronounced his conviction that the League should be made universal as soon as may be.
So in every field the British Government has labored for peace and conciliation. The foreign policy of Great Britain is identical with the aim of the League of Nations. It is a policy of peace. In the British Empire itself and in lands under British influence or protection, there has been an application, mutatis mutandis, of the same dominant principle, the workings of which we have watched on the continent of Europe. Responsible government in British India, the abolition of the Protectorate in Egypt, the establishment of Dominion Home Rule in Ireland, these achievements of the Liberal spirit have all been accomplished in the course of the four crowded years which have succeeded the war. The Empire has been passing through one of the great seminal periods of human history.