Xi’s Costly Obsession With Security
How a Quest for Control Threatens China’s Economic Growth
ON MARCH 4, 1921, Mr. Harding was inaugurated President of the United States and Mr. Charles Evans Hughes assumed the onerous duties of Secretary of State. There could be no doubt as to the immensity of the task which confronted the new Secretary. The whole world was out of joint and though he was not "born to set it right" he was called upon to conduct and in large measure to shape the relations of his country with the rest of this disjointed world. The wisdom of his policy might affect the fate of countless millions of his fellow creatures and influence profoundly the course of history. It was a responsibility no man could undertake lightly, but the opportunities of achievement could not but appeal to one's highest aspirations.
For the conduct of its foreign affairs the new administration apparently enjoyed a highly advantageous situation. It had behind it the sweeping victory of the presidential election which had not only brought Mr. Harding into the White House but had given the Republican Party a large majority in both branches of Congress. Accordingly the executive, at least in theory, could count on the support of the legislative branch of the government. There was the less likelihood of dissension between the two because the American people had just given a clear indication of their desires at that moment. Unquestionably they wished to keep out of European complications and in particular not to join the League of Nations. For the time being further discussion on this topic was academic. The Senate had refused to confirm the Peace of Versailles, or to take an Armenian mandate; the treaty of alliance with France was shelved without even coming up for discussion; and America no longer participated officially in any of the Allied conferences. The table was thus cleared for a new deal.
The position of America among the nations was imposing. In power and wealth she stood first. Her intervention had decided the fate of the World War; at the peace table, while demanding little for herself, she had been the arbiter of peoples bound to her not only by genuine gratitude but by that kind which has been described as "a lively sense of favors to come." Some two years had now elapsed since the great days of the conference at Paris, but in spite of the grievous disappointment caused by her failure to ratify the signatures of her delegates a large part of the world still looked to her with open or concealed hopes. If her moral prestige had declined, her material one was unimpaired.
Such a position, however, brought its own disadvantages and dangers and could not in the nature of things be permanent. Nor were the difficulties awaiting the new administration, and especially Mr. Hughes, to be found only abroad. At home, to begin with, there was the Senate. Never in the history of that august body had it been more convinced of its right to participate in shaping the foreign policy of the country. It was flushed with triumph after its long and bitter struggle with President Wilson, and it had in Senator Lodge a chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of tried knowledge and competence who could be trusted not to forget one jot or tittle of senatorial prerogative. Although the Senate had not opposed the appointment of Mr. Hughes, whose ability it recognized, it had not greeted him with enthusiasm and it would be quick to resent encroachment or disregard on his part.
In President Harding the Secretary had a chief of whose loyal support he might feel assured. The President had never possessed special knowledge of international questions or shown extraordinary interest in them, nor was he the man to take private counsel with some intimate friends and make far reaching decisions over the heads of his responsible advisers. There has been no Colonel House in the present administration. But certain things presidents reserve to themselves, particularly the important appointments. Among these the most coveted are the chief diplomatic posts, most of which are filled in accordance with political considerations rather than with especial fitness. As a consequence a Secretary of State must put up with certain subordinates about whom he has been consulted merely through courtesy and whose influence in the party may well exceed his own. President Harding's appointments to foreign missions have been made on the same principles as those of his predecessors and have not been markedly better or worse. We may note to his credit that he has extended the practice already followed by President Wilson of raising from the ranks of the secretaries some few to the position of minister as a reward for long and faithful service. A Secretary of State has also to take his colleagues into account. International relations today affect every department of the government. The more competent and forceful the heads of the other departments are, the more the Secretary of State has to reckon with them and seek to harmonize his policy with theirs. Mr. Hoover, for instance, whose Department of Commerce is vitally affected by foreign conditions, has a reputation for ability to play a lone hand rather than for team work. It is, therefore, creditable to all concerned and is a proof of the tact and skill of the President that he has kept in line a Cabinet containing so many strong personalities, and this too despite the fact that there is so much that is haphazard in the division of subjects between them. Even the unwarrantable overlapping between the consular service and the commercial agents has not led to the friction it might have between Secretaries Hughes and Hoover. But the coupling of the English debt agreement with the ship subsidy bill must have been more welcome to the Shipping Board than it was to the State Department.
It would be futile to attempt here to follow out the foreign policy of the present administration in the various fields in which it has been pursued and to appreciate the measure of its success. The general principles by which it has been guided and the larger results it has secured are of more interest, as well as importance, than the details of execution. From the first Secretary Hughes made it plain, at any rate until recently, that his grasp was firm. He has known what he wanted and how to set about to attain it, and also how to be patient and to make allowances for the difficulties of others as well as to realize those which lay in his own road. Without arousing the susceptibilities of the Senate or antagonizing public opinion, he has shown independent judgment and initiative. He has the lawyer's faculty of stating his case clearly and convincingly. His attitude has been broadminded, kindly and unemotional. At least on one occasion he has proved that he possessed the vision of high statesmanship, a quality of which the world has never been in greater need than at the present hour.
There was one question which the new administration plainly did not feel called upon to consider and that was its relation to the League of Nations. It simply did not have any. That matter had been settled for it by the November elections when the country had reacted so violently against everything that savored of Wilsonism. To be sure, during the campaign the Committee of Thirty-one by their adherence at the same time to the cause of the League and to the candidacy of Mr. Harding (who did not discourage their support) had prevented the issue from being a clearcut party one. None the less there could be no doubt as to the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of the Republican voters, and the administration accepted the decision. The appointment of Mr. George Harvey as Ambassador to London, if less important, was more significant than that of Mr. Hughes as Secretary of State. Nothing more was heard about any "Association of Nations." And America having decided she would stay out of the League had taken a dislike to the whole institution. This was logical enough. If the League, however imperfect, represented a step in the right direction, if it was capable of improvement, if its ideals were in conformity with those on which Americans had prided themselves, was there not an obvious selfishness in keeping aloof without even the suggestion of a desire to come to an understanding? It was easier and pleasanter for the national conscience to assume a censorious tone, to scoff at the League and its supporters, to criticize its proceedings, to sneer at its achievements and to laugh at its failures, and even to dub it "the evil thing with a holy name." These themes have been harped upon countless times in the press and on the platform.
Of course it would be manifestly unfair to accuse the administration or the State Department with having adopted any such attitude of vicious criticism. They have not condemned the League, they have merely repulsed its timid attempts at familiarity and ignored its existence. Even the constitution of the World Court, in which Mr. Root took such a part, and the appointment of Mr. John Bassett Moore as one of the judges elicited for some time no manifestation of interest because these judges are chosen by the League. Not until lately has the official accession of the United States to the High Court been mentioned as a possibility.
This attitude which, however natural, was at least ungracious --some have called it nasty--has provoked among the supporters of the League anger and pointed reference to Mr. Hughes' own previous stand. Some of the shafts of criticism appear to have penetrated, if we may judge from the asperity of the Secretary's reply to the charges brought against him by Mr. Hamilton Holt and others. Since then there have been indications of a slightly greater readiness on the part of the government to recognize that the League is trying to do good and in its modest way is accomplishing results deserving of American cooperation, but an ugly kick has just been administered it by our objection to its being represented in the Pan-American Congress at Santiago. In the broad public, too, there has been, under the influence of recent events, what looks like a beginning of a change of heart. Even the principles of the Committee of Thirty-one appear to have been not dead but sleeping during the last two years and are showing signs of revival. They are held by Republicans of unimpeachable orthodoxy and may have their day yet in councils of the party. So far, however, the attitude of official Washington towards the League, though more politely manifested, is not unlike that of Moscow.
One aspect of the League of Nations which peradventure may affect us, whether we stay out or enter in, relates to Latin America. Most of the Latin American states have joined the League and at the last meeting of the Assembly a Chilean was elected president. To be sure this (and we may suspect a desire to curry favor with the United States in view of the Tacna and Arica question) led to the withdrawal of Peru, nevertheless the election was significant and gave pleasure. The latest snub of the League by the State Department is likely to have the opposite effect, at least at Santiago. It is quite conceivable that Latin American countries may try to use the League as a protection against any too great preponderance of the United States or extension of the Monroe Doctrine.
John Hay once asserted that his foreign policy rested on the Ten Commandments and the Monroe Doctrine. The problems that Mr. Hughes has had to deal with have been much more complicated than were those of Hay and it has been harder to know just how the Ten Commandments applied to them. On the other hand there has been little cause for the application of the Monroe Doctrine. The time is past when we need dread European intervention prejudicial to our interests in the western hemisphere. An Asiatic challenge is perhaps more probable. Some day it may be that our position will be questioned by Japan on the ground that the Monroe Doctrine is a proclamation of a "sphere of influence" not unlike what we reprobate in the Far East and that Japan and Mexico have as good a right to be bosom friends as America and China, and other things of the sort. But the time for this may never come and anyway it has not come yet. Today we are concerned with the relations of the United States and Latin America, relations calling for a good deal of tact on our part, as the interests of the Latin American peoples often make less trouble than their susceptibilities. Pan-Americanism is a tender plant which still requires careful nursing. All the banquets, speeches and exchange of messages in the world do not alter the fact that in the lands to the south of us, though there may be admiration for the United States, there are also much fear, dislike and above all suspicion, and not without some plausible justification. Our actions towards any one Latin American state are at once noted, and usually with disfavor, in the rest and may have far reaching results. On the other hand, a Pan-American sentiment does exist among them and there is a possibility of using it for the development of further "regional understandings."
In dealing with these states the policy of the present administration has been characteristically safe and sane. It began by healing a running sore, the claim of Colombia that she had been feloniously deprived of Panama. The Wilson administration had virtually admitted this by agreeing to pay Colombia a sum of twenty-five million dollars, but the treaty had never been ratified by the Senate. It was now taken up and put through, although some of those who voted for it like Senator Lodge must have found difficulty in reconciling their action with their former attitude. But the sullen sense of injury cherished by Colombia met with sympathy in other parts of Latin America and hampered Pan-Americanism. It was worth a sacrifice to remove and the Republican majority, like the administration, though less convinced than were the Democrats of the wickedness of President Roosevelt's exploit, were willing to make a handsome payment to get rid of the question. To be sure, what they regarded as an act of generosity will probably be interpreted by history as a formal acknowledgment of guilt.
The paying of conscience money has been a curious characteristic of the foreign policy of America. No other country has, without constraint, handed over such large sums except as subsidies. The history of her territorial expansion has been unique in this way, for not only has she acquired the greater part of her area by actual purchase, but even when she has got land by conquest, from Mexico and Spain, she has, while imposing severe terms on her adversaries, made a money payment herself. This has been due in part to the feeling she was taking more than the provocation or her sacrifices warranted. She also points with pride to her return of indemnities to Japan and China, so that her recent settlement with Colombia was in accordance with tradition. If we were not quite so prosperous a nation it might make more of an impression on outsiders.
With most of the Latin American states our relations during the last two years have been friendly and uneventful. Secretary Hughes has made a visit to Rio de Janeiro and has been proposing a more extensive tour. A boundary dispute between Costa Rica and Panama has been adjusted by the application of gentle pressure on the Panamanians who had refused to accept an arbitration that had gone against them. Chile and Peru have been induced to confer in Washington and to sign an agreement which we may hope, now that they have invited America to act as arbitrator, will settle at last their long and bitter dispute over Tacna and Arica. Similarly, successful attempts have been made to bring the all too individualistic republics of Central America into something like harmony, though not as yet into actual union. In these excellent enterprises the government at Washington has shown tact as well as benevolence. It has also fortunately been able to refrain so far from actual intervention in Cuba even if conditions have been such as to invite action. But however beneficial a resumption of American authority in the island might be, there is no telling where it would end and no escaping the fact that it would produce a disastrous impression in many of the other Latin countries of this hemisphere.
The policy followed by the United States in regard to Hayti, San Domingo and Nicaragua also serves as a touchstone for those fearful of Yankee imperialism. Here again the conduct of the present administration has been conciliatory. As the various interventions in these states were begun under a Republican administration but maintained and developed under a Democratic, they have not become party questions. Of late, however, the American public, which at first paid little heed to what had taken place, has shown a disposition to look into the matter more closely and to disapprove of the depriving of even turbulent or backward peoples of their right to manage their own affairs. President Harding and his advisers, without condemning the conduct of their predecessors, have tended to regard the task of pacification and reorganization of these backward regions as satisfactorily completed and to terminate direct American control. The three republics should soon be standing once more on their own feet.
With the President of Mexico we are still without official relations. For better or for worse, in sickness or in health, the United States has on its border a great expanse of territory inhabited by a people of Spanish civilization but predominently of Indian blood, a territory full of undeveloped resources to tempt the capitalist and exploiter, a people the immense majority of whom are uneducated peasants easily degenerating into banditti or soldiers ready to follow any turbulent, ambitious leader. And high or low, their instinct is to fear and hate their northern neighbor while recognizing that they have a certain need of his superior knowledge and enterprise. The continual revolutions since the downfall of Diaz have been accompanied by great loss to American property and many atrocities against American citizens. Twice during the Wilson administration the United States interfered by force, first at Vera Cruz, second by Pershing's expedition across the Rio Grande in pursuit of Villa. In neither instance was the result entirely satisfactory and intervention on a large scale has more than once looked probable. But the huge cost of any such intervention and the immeasurable difficulties to which it might lead, besides its wide unpopularity at home and the disapproval and suspicion it would arouse throughout Latin America, have been more than enough to make the authorities in Washington hesitate before committing this country to a course with such grave possibilities. Like its predecessor the present administration has preferred to follow a conservative policy, and so far it has been fortunate in not having to deal with as critical a situation as the one which faced President Wilson at the time of his accession and on several later occasions. While not adopting an unfriendly attitude towards the government of General Obregon, it has refused to grant him formal recognition until it has received sufficient guarantees for the security of the lives and property of those of its citizens who are carrying on legitimate business in Mexico. It has not felt called upon to show itself sympathetic but it has been patient and forbearing, and has worked quietly for a better future.
Unsatisfactory as such a policy may be to the few in the United States who have favored armed intervention or to those at the other extreme who would at any time grasp the hand of Mexico, bloodstained or not, it has so far commended itself to public opinion, which realizes the complexities of the Mexican problem and is willing to leave it to the government to deal with them. It has also met with a meed of appreciation in other Latin American countries where Mexico does not just now enjoy overmuch respect. As for those Mexicans who dream of an ally against the United States, they turn their eyes, imperial Germany having vanished from the scene, not to their kinsmen to the southward but across the sea to Japan.
The Far Eastern question, both in its immediate seriousness and its latent possibilities, presented the most urgent problem of foreign policy inherited by the Harding administration. On the one hand the Chinese were showing themselves distressingly incapable of orderly self-government, on the other the position of Japan seemed to be becoming permanently dominant in that part of the world in a way unfavorable to American interests. Meanwhile the relations between the United States and Japan, which had been growing slowly but steadily worse since the Peace of Portsmouth in 1905, had now become almost openly unfriendly owing to events connected with the World War. American public opinion disapproved of the Lansing-Ishi agreement, of Japan's twenty-one demands on China, of the conduct of the Japanese in Siberia, of the Japanese retention of Shantung. American business men dreaded unfair commercial rivalry and American naval officers saw a peril in the development of the Japanese fleet. The Japanese on their part resented the American attitude of race exclusion and Japanese soldiers, statesmen and others of imperialistic tendencies had come to regard the United States as the successor to China and Russia in constituting the chief obstacle in the path of their future expansion and greatness. By 1921 the Far Eastern situation was not one for further watchful waiting which would mean competition of armaments with increased suspicion on both sides. What was required was bold statesmanlike action.
The Government at Washington rose to the occasion. It interwove with the peculiar necessities of the Far East the world-wide demand for a reduction of the crushing burden of armaments and called an international conference to discuss both subjects. When the conference assembled, America took the lead with dramatic suddenness by her proposal for scrapping several battleships and for a ratio in future ship-building which, for mutual benefit, should put an end to competition with Great Britain and Japan, the only other formidable naval powers. After the first moment of surprise the proposal, whose sincere honesty of intention could hardly be doubted, was accepted with few modifications, and though not many of the later suggestions in regard to lighter vessels and to submarines were equally fortunate, here too something was accomplished.
The question of the Far East presented greater difficulties but again our representatives, aided by the good-will they met on all sides and by the notable moderation of the Japanese, won a signal success. It may be that American naval authorities have grounds for dissatisfaction at the outcome, and that other critics are right in thinking that Japan has reserved for herself more advantages than are apparent to the layman. Time alone can show the truth of this. But there is no denying that the Americans have obtained the cancellation of the Anglo-Japanese treaty --a pretty harmless compact in its later years but one that had got on their nerves. They have also obtained a more formal recognition than ever before of the open door and of various other provisions intended to keep China on her feet, and, since the conference and primarily as the result of it, the Japanese, contrary to all pessimistic prophecies, have evacuated both Shantung and Eastern Siberia. Another fortunate consequence was a dissipation of suspicions and a genuine increase in good feeling between most of the participants. All told the achievement at Washington may rank high in history.
Unfortunately this achievement is not yet complete enough for us to pass a final judgment on it. It still lacks ratification both from those who took part and from those who did not. The conference also was not productive of good feeling only. On the contrary it embittered relations between France and England and impaired those between France and the United States. Although the French made mistakes the fault was not all theirs. At the very outset the American delegates (it has been rumored that Mr. Hughes was not the one to blame in this respect) were guilty of a serious error in tact. Perhaps thinking that the fewer people you have to consult about an agreement the easier it is to reach, they decided not to include France in the preliminary program as to relative naval strength but to establish her quota of capital ships, like that of Italy, as a secondary matter later. The proportion allotted her seemed reasonable enough. She not only did not have to scrap any existing vessels but she had a leeway to build more new ones than she had any immediate intention or likelihood of doing. Nevertheless this manner of proceeding showed lack of understanding. It overlooked the fact that France with her vast colonial empire, which during the World War had contributed so much to her resources, felt that her need of a great sea power to defend her communications was second to none. And, with a certain Anglo-Saxon lack of imagination, it forgot that during most of the last two centuries France had been the second maritime power in the world and that she cherished with legitimate pride the traditions and glories of her navy. She had been obliged to neglect her fleets while she devoted her strength to winning the war on land, and now, after a glorious victory bought with her heart's blood, she was invited, without previous consultation, to accept a position of permanent naval inferiority, one far below that of Great Britain and the United States, well beneath the Asiatic empire of Japan and only on a level with Italy, the jealous rival whose geographic position menaces her vital communication with her North African possessions. Small wonder that the French delegates to the conference, although they ended by accepting the ratio as to capital ships, showed themselves intractable regarding lighter vessels and submarines, not to speak of land armaments. Their foolish tactics and other blunders were soon recognized and condemned at home, but this did not prevent France from feeling that she had come out of the conference belittled and humiliated. She believed, too, that wittingly or unwittingly the Americans had played the English game at her expense. Franco-American relations have never been quite the same since.
When the Washington treaties were once signed the American public took it for granted rather too easily that ratification would soon follow in all the countries concerned. Rumors of French dissatisfaction made no more impression in Washington than similar expressions of opinion in the United States did in Paris in 1919. But M. Poincaré has not seemed in a hurry to bring the matter to a vote in the Chamber. The desire of America to see the treaties ratified has been one of the few cards that the French Government has held in its hand in discussions with Washington. Naturally it has not wished to discard it prematurely. And now when the two Anglo-Saxon powers, her late comrades in arms, have left her with outspoken disapproval of her conduct to struggle with her own difficulties and perils, she is not in a mood to renounce any rights of self-defense she possesses. She may deem it wise to ratify the disarmament treaty as well as the others, but if she does not, or puts in amendments, we need not be surprised. To the charge of failure to honor their signature and of sacrificing the cause of humanity to their own blind selfishness, the retort of the French would be only too obvious.
Another--perhaps not mistake but flaw--in the Washington Conference was that it did not include all the parties interested. To have brought in any of the Latin American states might have complicated matters unnecessarily, though there was something strange in the exclusion from a conference dealing with the Pacific of Chile, which of all countries has the longest coast on that ocean. But the omission of Russia was a different affair. Under the circumstances it could hardly be helped. But the defect was none the less serious, not in respect to the naval agreement--Russia is not going to build a formidable fleet just yet--but in the Far Eastern questions. No one can pretend that Russia is not deeply interested in the Far East and that her assent is not necessary sooner or later to any permanent arrangement there. Chicherin in vigorous but dignified language twice protested formally against her being left out, and declared that she would regard as invalid any agreement, however good in itself, concluded without her participation. The protest went unheeded and we may suspect that the back stairs conversations carried on with her satellite, the Far Eastern Republic, were prompted in part by a desire to detach it from Soviet influence. If this was the case the plan failed completely. When the necessity of foreign support was over, the camouflage of Far Eastern independence was promptly abandoned, all other opposition collapsed and the word of Moscow is now law at Vladivostok. Russia has indeed cause to be grateful to American policy for helping to get the Japanese out of Siberia, a thing she was too weak to bring about by herself, but gratitude counts for nothing in such cases. She is in a position to bide her time in the Far East, to make trouble when she chooses to, and when the day comes that she is ready to adhere to the Washington compacts we may expect her to ask her price.
Seldom have the relations between two countries been more curious than those between Russia and the United States during the last four years. Although the Soviet revolution of November, 1917, was as generally disapproved of in the United States as the February one which overthrew Tsar Nicholas II had been approved, American diplomatic representatives remained in Russia for a year and a half longer. Their position was most anomalous. While refusing to recognize the new authorities they were obliged to deal with them, indeed President Wilson himself directly addressed the Lenin administration and appealed to it in vain not to make peace with Germany. Still they stayed on, finally withdrawing to Archangel, which was occupied by an Allied force containing an American contingent that played its part in the winter fighting of 1918-1919. Other American troops were sent to Siberia, though they were forbidden to penetrate far, yet Russia and the United States were not and have not been at war. The so-called Bullit mission was joyously greeted in Moscow and aroused unwarranted hopes, followed by speedy disappointment. After the recall of the American troops from Archangel and Vladivostok relations ceased almost entirely.
One of the questions confronting Mr. Hughes when he came into office was what attitude he was going to adopt towards the Soviet Government, now firmly established and desirous of resuming contact with the outside world, particularly with the United States. American public opinion, though somewhat allured by fancied possibilities of trade and concessions in Russia and especially Siberia, still in the main regarded the Bolsheviks and all their doings with unfeigned horror, and the régime they had established as a thing monstrous and unclean. Consequently, when, in response to an overture from Moscow for the opening of trade relations, Secretary Hughes made on March 25, 1921, a clear pronouncement that the Soviet Government did not yet present the guarantees of respect for life and property, the sanctity of contract and the right of free labor which would authorize America to recognize it, he met with general approval. He has repeated this statement since, to the sad disappointment of Moscow, which had indulged in rosy day-dreams of American assistance in putting her on her feet again and which even had entertained fancies of a political understanding directed against England and Japan.
There is much to be said for the policy of aloofness pursued so far by the administration like its predecessor, both on moral grounds--though the Bolsheviks and their friends here can hardly be expected to agree--and on those of worldly wisdom in view of the uncertainties which becloud almost everything Russian. The claim, too, that the desire for American recognition exercises a salutary influence on the Soviet leaders cannot be entirely rejected. At any rate it is absurd to declare, as has been done, that by our non-recognition we are outlawing one hundred and thirty million people and maintaining a blockade against them. No blockade is being maintained. Any American may trade with Russia at his own risk and peril and grow rich thereby if he can, but his government does not feel bound to aid and protect him in his enterprise. As for outlawry it is a strange charge to bring when one nation has for a year and a half been feeding and succoring the other on a scale quite without parallel in history.
The news of the appalling misery which the economic breakdown, followed by famine, had brought upon millions in Russia touched the generous heart of the American people. To what extent the Russians themselves, or at least the men they had chosen or allowed to govern them, were responsible for the calamity did not affect the central fact of the terrific suffering of vast numbers of human beings. Fortunately there was ready in the form of the American Relief Administration under Secretary Hoover an organization comprising many men of tried ability in dealing with situations of this kind. The very magnitude of the task only made them the more anxious to undertake it. The appeal of Maxim Gorki met with a ready response; an agreement with the Soviet authorities was reached at Riga and the work of relief was begun at once and has been carried on ever since with magnificent success.
The theory that the whole relief work was a private unofficial enterprise has been strictly maintained from the start. The circumstance that the president of the relief association happened to be one of the most prominent members of President Harding's Cabinet was treated as if it were a coincidence. But the food and other supplies soon ceased to be furnished by private charity alone, which however great was manifestly insufficient to meet the demand. Huge quantities of medical and other stores accumulated for the war were turned over and Congress voted a sum of about twenty million to be used for Russian relief. But though all this has been done for the people of Russia and necessarily in cooperation with her officials, no formal recognition has yet been extended to her government, although it has now been in existence for five years, although it rules over eight million square miles of territory and has never looked firmer than at the present moment. Could paradox well go further?
But supposing one says "so far so good," one cannot help wondering how much longer this policy can be continued. Sooner or later it must come to an end, even if the present communist system and methods remain unchanged, for Russia is too large a portion of the globe to be sent permanently to coventry. Whether we like it or not she exists and she cannot be forever ignored. It is true the United States is still in a position to choose its own time but something may be lost by waiting too long. Anxious as the Soviet Government is for American recognition and capital it is not disposed to submit to severe or humiliating terms. It has shown by the way it snubbed the suggestion of an American commission of investigation that it does not intend to be condescended to; indeed the fate of the similar suggestion of an international relief commission in 1921 might have warned Washington of the futility of the proposal. There are inconveniences, too, in not having Russia seated at the board of nations and adding her signature to international treaties. She will have to be dealt with later and perhaps paid for compliance with the arrangements made by others. The State Department will do well to remember that Russian interest in the Far East is at least equal to ours and that in the question of the Straits it is many times greater. The Straits are, in truth, more vital to her than the Panama Canal is to us. Chicherin's manners at Lausanne may not have been ingratiating, but there was some soundness in his contentions, and Russian views in that part of the world cannot be left out of account indefinitely. Likewise there is no gainsaying a certain force to the argument that if we lag behind the others in our recognition of Russia and her claims American capital and trade are in danger of finding occupied certain profitable fields which they might have secured by an earlier appearance. It is also asserted that we shall be able to do more to succor the Russian people when we are again on good terms with their government. Be that as it may, the movement in favor of recognizing Soviet Russia as part of the general world settlement is gaining ground in the United States.
But whatever are the complications of the Russian problem, they are of far less pressing consequence to the welfare of the American people than the situation in western Europe. To be sure, the rôle of the United States looked simple at first. When the Republican Party came into power the temper of the triumphant majority, reflected in Congress and to a lesser degree in the administration, demanded a policy of letting Europe stew in her own juice. The Americans had done for others more than anyone had a right to expect. It was time now to attend to their own affairs and mend their fences. They had claimed no undue reparations, they asked for no favors, only a respect for their rights and a fair field for their enterprises. The selfish rivalries and unedifying disputes of the European powers, great and small, old and new, were things to keep out of.
This reaction against the high-strung idealism of the war time and in favor of a policy of enlightened selfishness was natural in itself and in one form or another common to many countries. The first decisive step taken by the new administration was to arrange for a peace with Germany (followed by similar ones with Austria and Hungary) stipulating for America whatever advantages she would have obtained under the Treaty of Versailles but without assuming the obligations. She has, however, felt sufficient interest in the workings of some of the financial provisions of that treaty to keep an unofficial member on the Reparations Commission, although Congress showed its fear of commitments by forbidding that he be made official without its consent. In the second place Secretary Hughes has propounded and sharply maintained the doctrine that the United States, owing to its participation in the war, is entitled to a voice in the question of mandates and that it shares in the priority of payments for the expenses of the military occupation of the German Rhine territories, in which rather illogically, but for the general benefit, it continued to take part till the other day. In all these questions the American Government has stood on firm ground though it has not erred from excess of generosity. As the Senate had refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, peace had to be made in some other way, the sooner the better.
But obvious as this was, the disappointment at our action was keen throughout Europe. So much had been hoped of America, of her lack of selfish interests, of her generosity and above all of her abundant resources that even disillusioned statesmen, as well as incurable idealists and the eager public, have found it hard to get over the hope that she would presently "come back." Every time an unofficial "observer" has attended an international conference, or Mr. J. P. Morgan has made a visit to Paris, or encouraging remarks have been delivered by some Congressman, rumors have immediately been rife. And repeated disappointment has inevitably led to a great loss of American popularity, a loss all the greater because neither the governments nor the public have dared to express their feelings openly. They are still too anxious for our assistance for them to indulge in frankness where we are concerned. But this very necessity for hypocrisy and subservience tends to embitter them. Even the continued outpourings of American generosity, especially in the devastated region of France, in the Near East and in Russia, while awakening much local gratitude, have occasionally been likened to the charity of the rich pharisee.
Unmoved, however, by European lamentation, the American people and their representatives have hardened their hearts. They have refused to take official part at Genoa, at The Hague or at Lausanne, they have disclaimed all interest in the political affairs of the old world and fought shy of discussing the financial ones, knowing full well that every plan of rehabilitation presupposed a large contribution from them. The persistence and the naïve tactlessness with which their good offices have been solicited have irritated them and strengthened their conviction that even if Europe is in need of aid it is not the business of the United States to serve as a milch cow to anybody and everybody.
But as the months have gone by men have begun to wake up to the existence of certain unpalatable facts--facts it is true long predicted but rejected with contumely by the dominant Republican Party. The first of these is that whether the United States does or does not have a political interest in European affairs it certainly has an economic one, and that if Europe, through no matter whose fault, keeps on going to the dogs and cannot buy American products, then America cannot sell them, which means loss to her shipping and her trade, to her farmers, her manufacturers and her laborers. Besides, how are the European powers to pay their debts if they have no money? These unwelcome lessons have been slow in penetrating, but bad times have driven them home. Today although the American people have no more desire than before to get mixed in the "damned mess" on the other side of the Atlantic, their attitude towards such questions as reparations has been passing from indifference to painful solicitude. It is all very well to say that Europe must first put her own house in order before we extend assistance to her, but suppose she is perverse enough not to do so? Are we going to let her go to a ruin that will have disastrous reactions on us when by assisting her in the right way we might also benefit ourselves?
This query has been raised with ever increasing insistence and has had its effect on the voters as well as on the powers that be. Even before the striking evidence of the November elections some of the Republican leaders were uncomfortably conscious of the increasing unpopularity of their party. The elections and many other signs, including the new light which has dawned on Senator Borah, have made it evident that a change is taking place in public opinion. The widespread discontent of the farmers and the growing belief among them that they need a prosperous Europe which can buy American products has been revolutionizing the whole tone in regard to participation in European affairs. Granting, at least for the sake of argument, that the crux of the difficulties lies in the question of reparations, and that on its speedy and proper settlement the welfare of Europe and of the world depend, then the sooner the United States, the one disinterested and yet deeply interested party, takes a hand in that settlement the better for all concerned.
There are certain facts about the reparations question which might as well be faced at the start. It is admitted on all sides that Germany cannot possibly pay more than a fraction of the contribution originally imposed upon her and it has been feared that the attempt to collect something by force would bring about chaos and revolution. France, though recognizing the peril, believes that Germany has so far cheated about the payments, and meanwhile she herself, in order to build up her devastated districts, has incurred vast expenses based on the money promised her. Unless she receives it she will go bankrupt. If somebody is to be ruined she does not see why it should be she rather than Germany. At any rate, if she cannot get what she is entitled to she should at least be released from her own financial obligations. England accuses France of a mad desire to destroy Germany regardless of the harm it may do others. For her part she is willing to relinquish much in order to put German credit on its feet again but she sees virtue in the principle "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," a principle she expressed in the wrong way in the ill-starred Balfour note. She has enormous sums owed to her, and like France, Italy, and several others of the Allies, she owes enormous sums to the United States.
But the American public has until very recently shown itself resolutely hostile to any remitting of the Allied debts. It has taken the ground that America did more than her share in the war and she alone asked for nothing in return. Her allies, for whom she made such sacrifices, ought at least to be willing to pay back what they borrowed from her. She too needs money. Repayment would mean the lightening of the grievous tax burden of the American citizen and would be quite possible if the European nations would reduce their expenses for armies and other reprehensible objects. Civilized society rests on the sanctity of contracts. What if the bankers in the United States and especially in New York do believe that repayment is not only impossible but undesirable? The answer is that that unpopular class think only of their own interests and care nothing for those of the people.
The strength of the popular feeling on this subject was strikingly manifested in the Refunding Bill at the very beginning of President Harding's administration. The Senate, of which he had so recently been a member, was presumably most friendly to him and disposed to listen to his wishes, and yet on the mere suspicion that Secretary Mellon might be too soft-hearted, instead of giving him the discretion which he asked for to deal with foreign nations according to the circumstances in each case, it enjoined him by law to exact repayment within twenty-five years and it set a four and a quarter per cent rate of interest. He was thus practically ordered to browbeat rather than to negotiate. There is truth, though there may be exaggeration, in the alleged remark of Mr. Stanley Baldwin that "the debt has got on the nerves of the American people and there is no sentiment whatever in favor of cancellation. The word makes them shy all along the line." Matters were not helped by the speech of Secretary Hoover of October last in which he blurted out that the Allied debts could and should be paid.
Now it is all very well to say that one's own bad debts have nothing to do with what one honestly owes somebody else. That is theory, logic, morality if you please, but it is not human nature. To men or nations in financial difficulties there is a very real relation between money which has been promised to them and money which they have promised to others. To expect that the harassed French people, for instance, will freely forgive what Germany, their enemy, owes them while at the same time they shall pay all they owe us, their friend and associate, is to ask a good deal. Similarly there is no sign that the Italians think of paying anyone. We may assert, as Secretary Hughes has, that the limit of Germany's indebtedness for reparations is the limit of her capacity, which has no connection with what the Allies owe us. In their minds their own capacity to pay depends on what they are to receive, and if stern necessity forces them to consent to a reduction of what they ought to get they fail to see why the only wealthy country should be the only one exempt from further sacrifices. There may be flaws in their reasoning but it will be hard to shake their conviction that the fair and feasible solution among the late Allied and Associated Powers would be a clean slate, and if there is to be an international economic conference there is just as much reason for it to take up Allied debts as reparations. Even England, which has been the most willing and can best afford to attempt repayment, has shared in these sentiments. She has shown that she will not flinch from painful sacrifices to maintain her unsullied financial honor, but in their hearts many Englishmen feel that our conduct is shabby, the more so as our new tariff makes repayment by the sale of goods to us impossible. As things now stand, none of the countries which owe us money wish to dishonor their signatures or will admit the thought of doing so, but all of them are anxious to be forgiven their debts, and in none of them do the people at bottom believe they ever will pay them, can pay them or should pay them. What are we going to do about it? How do we propose to collect?
Under these circumstances the position of the State Department has not been an enviable one. The Disarmament Conference owed its success in large measure to the fact that the United States began the proceedings with the announcement of a great, definite sacrifice it was prepared to make for the common good if others would do likewise. But owing to the obligations imposed by Congress in the Refunding Bill, the precedent then set cannot be followed now in respect to reparations and allied debts. Instead, a compromise contrary to the terms of the bill has first to be arranged in secret and then referred to Congress to be condoned.
This was what was done in the case of the Stanley Baldwin mission. The spirit of the negotiators on both sides seems to have been of the best and an acceptable compromise was agreed upon. The approbation of Congress had then to be obtained. It came with a celerity which showed that that body has learned a good deal in the last year or so about what is possible and what is not in the present financial condition of Europe. This is fortunate, as our other debtors are much less solvent than England. They are also more vitally affected by the question of reparations on which the fate of western Europe now hinges.
By December last the situation, both at home and abroad, was such as to impress the administration with the necessity for positive, constructive action. The elections showed how it had lost credit throughout the country, and even among the Republicans its conduct of foreign affairs was being criticized with more and more acerbity by the groups represented by the Irreconcilables on the one side and the Committee of Thirty-one on the other. If, as some declared, its only notable or at least spectacular achievement since it had been in power was in the field of foreign policy--the Disarmament Conference--should it not try another venture of the kind ? Apparently it appreciated this, and though one can hardly say that it took the lead it threw out feelers and sounded the way. The open initiative came, as in the case of the Disarmament Conference, from Senator Borah. His proposal of an international conference elicited the slightly querulous letter in which the President pointed out to Senator Lodge and to the American people how he was hampered by the restrictions imposed upon him by Congress. Next day Secretary Hughes in his New Haven speech announced that he had already intimated to the Allied powers that if they were unable to agree as to the amount of reparations Germany could pay America was willing to attend an economic conference which should harmonize their differences.
This idea was favorably received and Senator Borah withdrew his motion. But luck was running against the administration. Four days later the English and French in Paris disagreed on almost every point except the total of reparations, which was just the one America was offering to help them out on. Then came the French occupation of the Ruhr, it is said quite contrary to the expectations of the State Department and in spite of previous intimations of American disapproval. The somewhat unseemly dispute as to how officially these intimations had been conveyed and the abrupt manner in which the withdrawal of the American contingent from the Rhine was decreed looked like a show of temper and detracted from the dignity of the step. It soon became evident too that the government was more surprised and shocked than the public was. The Boyden incident also was unfortunate and it stimulated the dissatisfaction already expressed in many quarters with the system of "unofficial observers." All told, the prestige of Secretary Hughes has suffered severely.
It must be admitted that except in the case of the Disarmament Conference the foreign policy of President Harding's administration has not been such as to make the heart beat quicker with patriotic pride. It has generally been wise and it has been cautious, it has given heed to the popular principle of "safety first" and it has avoided encouraging hopes it was unable to fulfill and making demands it was not sure it could enforce. It has looked after American interests and has asserted them convincingly and firmly, and has usually ended by carrying its point. It has been courteous and aboveboard in its dealings and it has maintained a fair neutrality amidst the jarring discord of the powers which have appealed for its support or tried to use it against one another.
On the other hand this policy has not often been inspiring. It has been that of the careful householder who has recently been overspending his income and has decided that charity begins at home, which is too apt to mean that it ends there. One finds it hard to deny a certain truth to the charge so often made in Europe and increasingly in this country that from the separate peace with Germany to the Conference at Lausanne, where it sent not observers but debaters to claim and to harangue but to sign nothing, the United States while refusing to recognize obligations has insisted on its rights and privileges. It has been prompt to claim "equal opportunities" but slow to admit equal responsibilities. In this the government has only reflected, perhaps too readily, the prevalent mood of the American people and particularly of Congress. We have preferred to confine our altruism to direct charity and to pious homilies; we have sympathized with, succored and talked about the suffering Armenians, but like western Europe we have left it to Bolshevik Russia to be the first to offer a refuge to their hundreds of thousands of homeless exiles. We have been willing to feed stricken Europe but not to lend our help in trying to reconstitute it. The reasons for this may have been compelling but they will hardly be regarded as a subject of national pride. Nor can we wonder if Europe sometimes listens to our exhortations and admonitions with a "weary impatience," and neither France nor Germany nor any other country cares to meet us again in general conference unless we have something to proffer besides advice. Even the President's belated recommendation that we should now take part in the World Court, however significant and admirable in itself, will look to many Europeans in their agonies like offering them, not the bread they are starving for, but a stone.
Few would deny that the international situation at the present moment is charged with ominous possibilities. The momentous decision of the French to wait no longer but to obtain by an occupation of territory a guarantee for the reparations they have been promised has started a crisis of the utmost gravity whose outcome it is impossible to foresee. In that crisis American opinion has not yet found itself. Although there are many who condemn the action of the French and others who think it was a fatal mistake, it has been far more generally approved than had been expected. Clearly France still has a host of partisans and enjoys greater popularity among the American people than she does in official circles in Washington. The whole country is watching the outcome with deep interest. The Irreconcilables declare that the wisdom of their policy is proved by the event, the Democrats scoff at the "fumbling" of the administration, the champions of the League of Nations have gathered new courage and believe their cause is gaining ground. Their contention that the civilized world would never have got into its present disastrous state if America had not refused to join the League is a telling argument hard to disprove.
And now, goaded by the criticisms directed against it from every quarter, the administration in the last hours of its second year of foreign policy has taken a step which will be interpreted by both friends and foes as an approach to the League. Our adhesion to the World Court created by it would constitute a recognition of the utility and the moral authority of the League hitherto denied. Whether this beginning of community of action would lead towards ultimate membership will be widely debated and we may doubt if the intentions of the White House itself are quite clear in this respect. But the issue has been raised for discussion long months before it can be settled. Its importance, vast as that is, lies in its bearing on the future. The World Court offers no refuge from existing difficulties.
One thing is plain. America, however reluctantly, is preparing anew to take an open, active part in the settlement of European questions. She is troubled and hesitating but sooner or later she will have to put her hand to the plough to aid in the redemption of a Europe now physically and morally devastated. The Harding administration has of late appeared to be drifting somewhat helplessly. It has reached a critical period in its career. During the last two years it has more than once shown in its foreign as in its domestic policy that it possessed wisdom. What are also needed by it and by the nation at the present juncture are vision and courage--the vision that sees beyond the needs of the day and looks to a better world, the courage that will meet and overcome obstacles and will not shrink from sacrifice.