No. 232 NAI DFA 26/75

Extract from a letter from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Ass. /15) (Confidential)

Geneva, 25 August 1934

[matter omitted]

General Political Background

The fifteenth Assembly meets with clouds hanging over Europe almost as dark as those of August 1914. The year 1914 saw a Europe armed to the teeth and racked with deep-seated antagonisms. There was no known method of settling without fighting such problems as the naval rivalry between England and Germany, the passion of France to regain Alsace-Lorraine (not to speak of avenging Sedan), and the struggle between Russia and Austria for the hegemony of the Balkans. So the war eventually broke out, and the problems were settled, at enormous cost to victors as well as vanquished by simply reversing them by a peace bequeathing to the future the problems of a further competition in armaments; a Germany, an Austria and a Hungary with many an Alsace-Lorraine to recover, and an Italy struggling with a Germany and a Yugoslavia for an over-riding influence in a South Eastern Europe more balkanised than before. Fortunately, today, the position is different in one important aspect: in 1914 all Europe was armed to the teeth; now a part of Europe is disarmed. This fact alone keeps the Europe of 1934 from being comparable to 1914. The unreadiness of the defeated States for adventures in the field is the main factor against an outbreak of hostilities.

The outstanding features of the political situation is that belligerents of the war are sharply divided into those who are determined to keep what they have won, and those who are endeavouring to work up to a situation in which, by force if necessary, they may be able to regain what they have lost. The relations between Germany and France are more strained than they have been since France invaded the Ruhr in 1924.

Not all the European problems bequeathed by the Peace are evident in the international situation of today, but three outstanding danger points may be noted as possibly the spear-heads of the trouble: Austria, the Saar, Memel. Austria was left by the Peace Treaties as practically a single city, with an insufficient hinterland. Her mutilation left her as an uneconomic unit, and consequently for want of hope of recovering something of what she had lost the younger generations in particular desired union with Germany, a desire that was lavishly fostered by a Reich beginning to consolidate herself. The victors in the war have succeeded so far in negativing the Anschluss. France does not want an enlarged Germany. Italy has proved that she is determined at all costs to keep Germany from the Brenner Pass. And Czechoslovakia with about 3 million Germans in her territory has a very practical fear of being almost completely surrounded by her powerful neighbour, and of being cut off completely by an active enemy from her ally Yugoslavia. At the same time a complication of interests may be noted. Yugoslavia sees with trepidation the increase of Italian influence in Austria and is consequently inclined, notwithstanding her alliance with France, to lean towards Germany as counteraction against the Italian moves on her northern frontier. To the Serbs an Austria acquired by Germany would be more welcome than an effective political combination of Italy - her real enemy - Austria and Hungary. It would, at any rate, be the lesser evil.

Such is the position today in Europe - a resurrected Germany, which despite the poverty of the country and the military clauses of the treaties is spending lavishly on armaments on land, sea and air, and antagonisms which must eventually lead to an outbreak. In the present state of inequality of armaments, a deliberate attack by one State on another is unlikely, but, as one of the Reviews has put it, the danger lies in the mass of inflammable material scattered about, and the number of irresponsibles who are playing with the matchbox.

As for the Saar, the June Agreement between France and Germany seemed to ensure a bloodless plebiscite, but the uncertainty caused by recent German events makes that position less certain than it was. In view of the overwhelming number of Germans in the territory, it is difficult to conceive that anything but a decisive vote will be cast for return to Germany. The methods being pursued, however, render the keeping of the peace more and more difficult.

The position at Memel has strained once again very actively the relations between Germany and Lithuania, and the Government of the Reich some time ago drew the attention of France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan to the alleged violation of the Statute of Memel by the Lithuanian Government. There were questions of the abrogation of school autonomy; a new law for the protection of the State (against Nazis); the dissolution of the Diète, and other acts tending to deprive of their rights the Germans of the territory.

The most serious feature of the international situation is that the major problems left by the Treaties are as little likely to be solved peacefully as the problems of 1914. The upper dogs seem determined to maintain the status quo, and indeed it is urged that any attempt at revision would be almost as sure to provoke an outbreak as the maintenance of the existing position. The peaceful measures to secure such maintenance by way of security pacts are no doubt in the circumstances admirable, but they are only calculated as an expedient, with or without the acquiescence of the defeated States, to keep things as they are: they take no account of the root causes of the trouble. That is the criticism I think which could be levelled against them. It is the fact that, notwithstanding the provisions of the Covenant of the League and the fact that so many statesmen see the necessity for revision of the Treaties, the fundamental problems are not carried to the League for solution. It is time that those statesmen who acknowledge the dangers should be challenged to say how far they are prepared to go in a sincere effort to abate them. The growing economic stress in Europe renders such abatement more than ever urgent. Unfortunately some of the Great Powers which seemed a year or so ago to be anxious for a détente, find themselves forced back almost into a position of intransigency by the methods pursued across the Rhine.

The Bolivia-Paraguay dispute proceeds as before, but for the rest of the world there is little danger there. With the Russo-Japanese trouble it is different, and at the moment it seems that there might at any time be an out-break - in the neighbourhood of 'Manchukuo'. In a war between the U.S.S.R. and Japan, the Soviets would doubtless give a better account of themselves than would have been possible even a year ago. The Japanese will hardly, however, embark on adventures so vital to them without taking good care that the odds are in their favour. A war in the Far East between Japan and an active Member of the League would provide interesting problems for Geneva, and the defeat or serious preoccupation of Russia might also provide serious problems around the Baltic.

On the whole the international situation is as disturbed as it well could be. But unreadiness appears for the moment to be a safeguard.

[signed] F.T. Cremins

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