AT THE beginning of 1936 the international policy of Belgium was based on two documents, one complementing the other: the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Locarno Pact. Belgium had no other commitments. Writers sometimes refer to "agreements between General Staffs." But these were limited arrangements made between the Belgian and French General Staffs; they were purely defensive and technical, they did not constitute a diplomatic instrument, and they came into operation only when and if Belgium so decided. However, in order that there should be no misunderstanding on this point, Belgium decided that the arrangements should be revised, and negotiations in that sense were completed early in March 1936.

By an irony of fate, the signatures to the new arrangement were exchanged on March 6, 1936 -- only one day before the Rhineland was occupied by German troops. Thus, at the precise moment when Belgium and France were entering an agreement in conformity with the spirit and letter of Locarno, that Pact was being openly violated by Germany. The German violation had no justification in any action by Belgium. She had been completely loyal to her partners in the Pact, and particularly to Germany; yet it was Belgium for whom the appearance of German troops in the Rhineland entailed the most serious consequences.

The shadow of war seemed suddenly to have fallen across Europe. Representatives of France, Italy, England and Belgium -- all the Locarno signatories who had remained faithful to their obligations -- assembled in conference, first in Paris, then in London. Almost at once a divergence between the English and French points of view became apparent. France seemed disposed to resort to arms, if necessary, to enforce the terms of the treaty. M. Sarraut, it will be remembered, made a strong speech to that effect over the radio. But the British Government, supported almost unanimously by British public opinion, was unwilling to contemplate the use of force to prevent the Germans from installing troops in German territory. In the end, the London Conference offered Germany terms under which the conflict could be settled. Meanwhile, foreseeing the possibility that Germany might not accept, the Conference provided for a strengthening of the bonds between the Locarno signatories.

Belgium entered whole-heartedly into this arrangement. It had the advantage of avoiding an immediate war; it emphasized the unity of France and England; and it paved the way for a general settlement later on. Yet it obviously was nothing more than a provisional solution. Another general agreement would later have to be put in the place of the Locarno Pact. The Belgian representatives at the London Conference did not hesitate to state this. They saw that time was working against an equitable, peaceful and permanent solution. In their view, the London Agreement was a temporary one and should result either in leading Germany to make a new agreement or in paving the way for some other solution. But months passed and nothing happened. The Powers followed the traditional policy of "wait and see," while Germany's attitude became more and more rigid.

This course of events did not please Belgium. She tried to make her more powerful neighbors realize that the passage of time was modifying the Agreement and that such a provisional situation could not last indefinitely. Gradually she came to see that the policy of the Great Powers went counter both to her own best interests and to the methods by which she thought peace could best be maintained. On October 14, 1936, then, Belgium reached an important decision. On that date the Council of Ministers met under the presidency of King Leopold III. The King made a solemn address in which he indicated plainly what course the country should take. The Government decided to assume full political responsibility for this speech and to publish it.

Contrary to what has often been said, Belgium was not returning to the same position of neutrality which had been imposed upon her by the Powers in 1839 as one of the conditions of her national existence. That position carried several advantages and guarantees; but it also implied a sort of "handicap" or inferiority. Belgium's independence as a sovereign state was limited, for she could not adopt a foreign policy of her own choice; no matter what the circumstances, she was compelled to remain neutral.

Naturally, in 1936 Belgium had no desire to revert to any such status. Nor did she wish to make a declaration of so-called "voluntary neutrality." For either those words were devoid of sense, or else they meant that the country promised to remain neutral. Such a promise would have to be kept; it would therefore constitute a limitation on the country's freedom of action and hence a diminution of its independence.

In certain circumstances some countries may find it in their own best interest voluntarily to adopt a policy of neutrality. But Belgium was not in that position. The attitude she took was merely a continuation of what had been her desire ever since the World War -- namely, to be completely and absolutely herself. It was wrongly described abroad as Belgium's "new policy" and sometimes was erroneously confused with "neutrality." It was more correctly summed up in two words: independence and equilibrium.

The word independence meant that Belgium accepted no limitations on her freedom of action and undertook no engagement of any kind outside the Covenant of the League of Nations. The word equilibrium meant that Belgium had no intention of pulling other people's chestnuts out of the fire, of entering the orbit of any other country, or of favoring the exclusive interests of any other country whatsoever -- particularly one of the Great Powers.

Such was the purport of the King's speech and of its publication by the Belgian Government. The implication was clear that the country no longer wished to be held to the London Agreement. Belgium had accepted the heavy responsibilities involved in the Agreement only because they were temporary. She felt that so much time had elapsed that the Agreement had lost its meaning and that she therefore was justified in deciding to put a formal end to it.


The Belgian Government immediately set about mending its diplomatic and military fences. First, it explained at great length to the other signatories of the London Agreement why it had decided to withdraw. After discussions conducted in the best spirit, France and Britain came to an understanding and solemnly stated their position in what is known as the "Brussels Declarations." In this document France and Great Britain formally released Belgium from her obligations under the Pact of Locarno and the London Agreement but still recognized their obligations to help her under the terms of those two treaties. The fact that they continued to guarantee her territorial integrity meant that they must come to her aid if she was attacked, but that she was under no reciprocal obligation. Of course, the two Powers subscribed to terms which were so advantageous to Belgium knowing the latter's frequently expressed determination to defend herself against any attack and her desire to remain faithful to the Covenant of the League. However, this was not a sine qua non. The two Powers merely recognized the fact of Belgium's attitude. Belgium was left to decide when the guarantee would become operative and to appeal to her guarantors if she felt herself in danger. Her independence was complete. Obviously there was a vast difference between this and neutrality, voluntary or imposed.

The Belgian Government's desire for an equilibrium naturally required that it accept a similar guarantee from Germany. Negotiations to this end culminated in the Declaration of October 13, 1937, in which Germany reconfirmed her pledge to respect the inviolability and integrity of Belgium under all circumstances. She also declared her willingness to lend assistance to Belgium if the latter were attacked. This spontaneous gesture by Germany once again set the seal of German sanction on the restoration of the cantons of Eupen and Malmédy to the Belgian mother country following the World War. However, there was one reservation in the German Declaration. The obligation to respect the integrity of Belgium would cease should that country coöperate in military operations against Germany. This proviso might so well have been taken for granted that it can hardly be called a reservation and in no way modified the Declaration.

The Belgian Government took "due notice" of the German Declaration, and the German Government in turn "duly noted" the Belgian Government's quite proper expression of its point of view regarding independence and the defense of Belgian territory. But no condition attached to the obligations assumed by Germany. Belgium assumed no corresponding obligations, but reserved her complete freedom of action.

Belgium's intention in entering into these agreements was to remain aloof from armed conflicts between the Great Powers. She had to make this intention known in such fashion as to allow of no misunderstanding. That is why the policy of independence and equilibrium was stated in formal terms. All of Belgium's responsible authorities repeatedly declared in the clearest manner that anyone who tried to force a way through the country -- whether by land, sea or air -- would be resisted.


It was not enough for Belgium to wish to keep out of possible conflicts between her more powerful neighbors; she had to be prepared to make her wish respected. She therefore had to marshal all her resources, both military and economic.

An inevitable consequence of King Leopold's speech was a marked increase in Belgium's military establishment. The period of military service was more than doubled; the number of officers was increased by one fourth; the army estimates in the ordinary budget were increased by several hundred millions of francs; while the supplementary budget provided considerable outlays for arms and fortifications. All these measures emphasized the defensive character of Belgian military policy.

In the opinion of most technical experts it would be practically impossible for any army to force its way through Belgium rapidly. Thus an invasion of Belgium, by consuming much valuable time, would be a manœuvre of little or no strategic value. Moreover, both the Germans and the French have fortified their own frontiers facing Belgium. Since neither country fears a Belgian invasion, these defenses can be directed only against a third Power whose armies might attempt to march through Belgium. They added to Belgium's security by making it still more difficult for a hostile army to use Belgian territory as a military corridor.

At the time of the Munich crisis, Belgium was probably one of the countries least threatened by war. The Government nevertheless ordered important measures of mobilization. Comparatively speaking, the number of men which it mobilized at that time was one of the highest in Europe. The wise precaution permitted Belgium to demonstrate to all and sundry that she would stop at nothing to preserve her territorial inviolability. In so doing she not only loyally fulfilled her international duties but increased her chances of keeping out of war. Action of a similar sort but on a still more massive scale demonstrated the same determination at the start of the crisis which gripped Europe in August this year.


Logical and clear as Belgium's policy was, various doubts could not be prevented from arising, both at home and abroad, concerning the country's international position. In what I have written so far I have tried to be strictly historical; I have merely described events, refraining as much as possible from interpreting them. With my American readers especially in mind, I should now like to express a personal opinion about certain causes and effects, subject to the natural reservations necessary when one discusses things still in the process of evolution.

In 1939, for reasons which I do not pretend to fathom, people abroad suddenly began to attach an increasing significance to the difficulties arising from the existence of two national languages in Belgium -- French and Flemish. These difficulties are genuine. But they have always existed. And while the diversity inherent in any country where two languages and two cultures live side by side may create serious problems, it also creates cultural riches: it broadens our horizons, it promotes our intercourse with other peoples, and it facilitates the interplay of ideas and emotions. It has enabled men living on a poor soil and without natural frontiers to preserve their political independence, their personality and their common nationality through many vicissitudes. That the difficulties which accompany these advantages wax and wane at different moments, that they change their character, that sometimes they are exclusively linguistic and sometimes predominantly cultural, that at certain periods one group is the more dynamic of the two -- all this, to my way of thinking, is natural, normal and inevitable.

Relations between the Flemish and the Walloons have unquestionably undergone many changes since the World War. But at the present time my personal belief is that almost all legitimate Flemish grievances have been redressed. This is not to say that all difficulties have been eliminated. Recently it became the Walloons who complained, sometimes correctly, of attacks on their rights -- or, rather, of irritating pinpricks. Admittedly the situation has not been satisfactory. Those who have examined it dispassionately know that practical and relatively simple solutions exist. And though there will always be difficulties they are not of such a character as to endanger the solidity of the state or in themselves to shift Belgian foreign policy in one direction or the other.

At one time I might have felt tempted to prove this statement by a long theoretical argument. Today, however, I need only quote the results of the elections held a few months ago. Belgium is generally admitted to be one of the most liberal states in the world, preserving all the fundamental liberties of the past century -- freedom of the press, of speech, of meeting, and so forth. Under such conditions electoral results are particularly significant. In the last elections two parties holding extreme views on the language issue participated -- the Walloon Party and the Flemish Nationalists. The former were newcomers; and they received only a fraction of one percent of the votes. The latter -- though they had many years of experience and though they were very active and violent -- received only 7.93 percent of the total votes cast. I might add that, despite their exaggerations, the Flemish Nationalists for the most part confine themselves to advocating federalism. Now personally I believe that federalism is contrary to Belgian traditions and needs and that its adoption might put the country in mortal danger. Nevertheless, others may perfectly well hold a different opinion without in any way being traitors at heart.

What I have just said is confirmed by two other indications. In the cantons of Eupen and Malmédy, restored to Belgium by the Treaty of Versailles, the pro-Belgian parties defeated the others, despite a particularly active pro-German propaganda. As for the Rexists, whose extremism everyone knows and who are open admirers of the totalitarian philosophies, they lost 17 out of their 21 deputies.

There also was agitation in certain influential circles in recent months in favor of a closer understanding with The Netherlands. This idea has gradually ripened. The relations of the two countries have steadily become closer and friendlier. The formation of a defensive bloc, uniting the economic and military forces of Belgium and The Netherlands, would obviously alter the equilibrium of forces in Western Europe and would increase the chances that both would be able to stay out of wars between neighboring states. At the moment when I write these lines, this idea seems to have come either too soon or too late. But perhaps an occasion for it will appear.

Other suggestions have been turning up here and there in the Belgian press, indicating a parti pris on some question of general principle, or perhaps revealing a sentimental preference for the position taken up by our former allies. But it should be noticed that in no case have these suggestions gone so far as to envisage any break with the policy of independence described in these pages. Nobody, as I write, has yet favored an alliance which would mix Belgium in wars where her vital interests were not directly at stake.

The Belgian people have faith in their army, small, perhaps, when judged by Great Power standards, but nevertheless strong and resolute. And they trust, at least up to a certain point, in the effectiveness of our national policy of independence and equilibrium. Should this trust prove to have been exaggerated, one finds in every citizen, regardless of the social stratum to which he belongs or the language which he speaks, a single and universal determination: "If we are attacked, we shall defend ourselves."

Every Belgian knows that we owe our present national existence to the fact that we resisted in 1914. The course of events in Central Europe in 1938 and 1939 demonstrated that, in certain circumstances, audacity -- which means, if necessary, the struggle of one man against ten -- is the only form of prudence for a small nation. A great merit of our policy of independence and equilibrium has been that it showed every Belgian that the sole reason for which he would be called upon to fight would be to defend his country and his home. For this he will fight, to a man, and to the end.

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