In the summer of 1925 the German foreign minister Gustav Stresemann proposed that France, Germany and Belgium should recognize as permanent their frontiers that was agreed at Versallies. This included the promise not to send German troops into the Rhineland and the acceptance that Alsace-Lorraine was permantely part of France. The French foreign minister, Aristide Briand, agreed with Stressemann's proposals and along with Austen Chamberlain signed the treaty. However, as Germany refused to guarantee its eastern frontiers France sought to give Poland and Czechoslovakia they security they required by signing treaties with them.
The French foreign minister, Aristide Briand, agreed with Stressemann's proposals and along with Austen Chamberlain signed the treaty. However, as Germany refused to guarantee its eastern frontiers France sought to give Poland and Czechoslovakia they security they required by signing treaties with them.
The Treaty of Locarno was signed in October 1925. This enabled Germany to be admitted to the League of Nations.
At the moment of initialling the treaties that have here been drafted will you allow me to say a few words in the name of the Chancellor and in my own. The German delegates agree to the text of the final protocol and its annexes, an agreement to which we have given expression by adding our initials. Joyfully and wholeheartedly we welcome the great development in the European concept of peace that has its origin in this meeting at Locarno, and as the Treaty of Locarno, is destined to be a landmark in the history of the relations of States and peoples to each other. We especially welcome the expressed conviction set forth in this final protocol that our labours will lead to decreased tension among the peoples and to an easier solution of so many political and economic problems.
We have undertaken the responsibility of initialling the treaties because we live in the faith that only by peaceful cooperation of States and peoples can that development be secured, which is nowhere more important than for that great civilized land of Europe whose peoples have suffered so bitterly in the years that lie behind us. We have more especially undertaken it because we are justified in the confidence that the political effects of the treaties will prove to our particular advantage in relieving the conditions of our political life. But great as is the importance of the agreements that are here embodied, the treaties of Locarno will only achieve their profoundest importance in the development of the nations if Locarno is not to be the end but the beginning of confident cooperation among the nations. That these prospects, and the hopes based upon our work, may come to fruition is the earnest wish to which the German delegates would give expression at this solemn moment.
At the moment when the work begun at Locarno is concluded by our signature in London, I should like to express above all to you, Sir Austen Chamberlain, our gratitude for what we owe you in the recognition of your leadership in the work that is completed here today. We had, as you know, no chairman to preside over our negotiations at Locarno. But it is due to the great traditions of your country, which can look back to an experience of many hundred years, that unwritten laws work far better than the form in which man thinks to master events. Thus, the Conference of Locarno, which was so informal, led to a success. That was possible because in you, Sir Austen Chamberlain, we had a leader who by his tact and friendliness, supported by his charming wife, created that atmosphere of personal confidence that may well be regarded as a part of what is meant by the spirit of Locarno. But something else was more important than personal approach, and that was the will, so vigorous in yourself and in us, to bring this work to a conclusion. Hence the joy that you felt like the rest of us, when we came to initial those documents at Locarno. And hence our sincere gratitude to you here today.
In speaking of the work done at Locarno, let me look at it in the light of this idea of form and will. We have all had to face debates on this achievement in our respective Houses of Parliament Light has been thrown upon it in all directions, and attempts have been made to discover whether there may not be contradictions in this or that clause. In this connection I say one word! I see in Locarno not a juridical structure of political ideas, but the basis of great developments in the future. Statesmen and nations therein proclaim their purpose to prepare the way for the yearnings of humanity after peace and understanding. If the pact were no more than a collection of clauses, it would not hold. The form that it seeks to find for the common life of nations will only become a reality if behind them stands the will to create new conditions in Europe, a will that inspired the words that Herr Briand has just uttered. '
I should like to express to you, Herr Briand, my deep gratitude for what you said about the necessity of the cooperation of all peoples - and especially of those peoples that have endured so much in the past. You started from the idea that every one of us belongs in the first instance to his own country, and should be a good Frenchman, German, Englishman, as being a part of his own people, but that everyone also is a citizen of Europe, pledged to the great cultural idea that finds expression in the concept of our continent. We have a right to speak of a European idea; this Europe of ours has made such vast sacrifices in the Great War, and yet it is faced with the danger of losing, through the effects of that Great War, the position to which it is entitled by tradition and development.
The sacrifices made by our continent in the World War are often measured solely by the material losses and destruction that resulted from the War. Our greatest loss is that a generation has perished from which we cannot tell how much intellect, genius, force of act and will, might have come to maturity, if it had been given to them to live out their lives. But together with the convulsions of the World War one fact has emerged, namely that we are bound to one another by a single and a common fate. If we go down, we go down together; if we are to reach the heights, we do so not by conflict but by common effort.
For this reason, if we believe at all in the future of our peoples, we ought not to live in disunion and enmity, we must join hands in common labour. Only thus will it be possible to lay the foundations for a future of which you, Herr Briand, spoke in words that I can only emphasize, that it must be based on a rivalry of spiritual achievement, not of force. In such co-operation the basis of the future must be sought. The great majority of the German people stands firm for such a peace as this. Relying on this will to peace, we set our signature to this treaty. It is to introduce a new era of cooperation among the nations. It is to close the seven years that followed the War, by a time of real peace, upheld by the will of responsible and far-seeing statesmen, who have shown us the way to such development, and will be supported by their peoples, who know that only in this fashion can prosperity increase. May later generations have cause to bless this day as the beginning of a new era.
The Locarno discussion arose from exchanges of notes between the British Empire, France and Germany over the summer of 1925 following German foreign minister Gustav Stresemann's 9 February proposal for a reciprocal of his country's western frontiers as established under the unfavourable 1919 Treaty of Versailles, as a means of facilitating Germany's diplomatic rehabilitation among the Western Powers.
At least one of the main reasons Britain promoted the Locarno Pact of 1925, besides to promote Franco-German reconciliation, was because of the understanding that if Franco-German relations improved, France would gradually abandon the Cordon sanitaire, as the French alliance system in Eastern Europe was known between the wars. Ε] Once France had abandoned its allies in Eastern Europe, thereby creating a situation where the Poles and Czechoslovaks having no Great Power to protect them from Germany, would be forced to adjust to German demands, and hence in the British viewpoint would peacefully hand over the territories claimed by Germany such as the Sudetenland, the Polish Corridor, and the Free City of Danzig (modern Gdańsk, Poland). Ζ] In this way, promoting territorial revisionism in Eastern Europe in Germany’s favor was one of the principal British objects of Locarno, making Locarno an early instance of appeasement .
Treaty of Locarno - History
Treaty of Locarno
Text of the Locarno Pact between Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Italy
The President of the German Reich, His Majesty the King of the Belgians, the President of the French Republic, His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Emperor of India, and His Majesty the King of Italy
Anxious to satisfy the desire for security and protection which animates the peoples upon whom fell the scourge of the war of 1914-1918 Taking note of the abrogation of the treaties for the neutralisation of Belgium, and conscious of the necessity of ensuring peace in the area which has so frequently been the scene of European conflicts
Animated also with the sincere desire of giving to all the signatory Powers concerned supplementary guarantees within the framework of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the treaties in force between them
Have determined to conclude a treaty with these objects, and have appointed as their plenipotentiaries:
[Names of the participating diplomats appears here in the original document]
Who, having communicated their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows:
The High Contracting Parties collectively and severally guarantee, in the manner provided in the following Articles, the maintenance of the territorial status quo resulting from the frontiers between Germany and Belgium and between Germany and France, and the inviolability of the said frontiers as fixed by or in pursuance of the Treaty of Peace signed at Versailles on June 28, 1919, and also the observance of the stipulations of Articles 42 and 43 of the said treaty concerning the demilitarised zone.
Germany and Belgium, and also Germany and France, mutually undertake that they will in no case attack or invade each other or resort to war against each other.
This stipulation shall not, however, apply in the case of:
(1) The exercise of the right of legitimate defence, that is to say, resistance to a violation of the undertaking contained in the previous paragraph or to a flagrant breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the said Treaty of Versailles, if such breach constitutes an unprovoked act of aggression and by reason of the assembly of armed forces in the demilitarised zone immediate action is necessary
(2) Action in pursuance of Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations
(3) Action as the result of a decision taken by the Assembly or by the Council of the League of Nations or in pursuance of Article 15, paragraph 7, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, provided that in this last event the action is directed against a State which was the first to attack.
In view of the undertakings entered into in Article 2 of the present treaty, Germany and Belgium, and Germany and France, undertake to settle by peaceful means and in the manner laid down herein all questions of every kind which may arise between them and which it may not be possible to settle by the normal methods of diplomacy:
Any question with regard to which the Parties are in conflict as to it respective rights shall be submitted to judicial decision, and the parties undertake to comply with such decision.
All other questions shall be submitted to a conciliation commission. If the proposals of this commission are not accepted by the two Parties, question shall be brought before the Council of the League of ns, which will deal with it in accordance with Article 15 of the covenant of the League.
The detailed arrangements for effecting such peaceful settlement are the subject of special Agreements signed this day.
(1) If one of the High Contracting Parties alleges that a violation of Article 2 of the present Treaty or a breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the treaty of Versailles has been or is being committed, it shall bring the question at once before the Council of the League of Nations.
(2) As soon as the Council of the League of Nations is satisfied that violation or breach has been committed, it will notify its finding without delay to the Powers signatory of the present Treaty, who severally agree that in such case they will each of them come immediately to the assistance of the Power against whom the act complained of is directed.
(3) In case of a flagrant violation of Article 2 of the present Treaty or of a flagrant breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the Treaty of Versailles by one of the High Contracting Parties, each of the other Contracting Parties hereby undertakes immediately to come to the help of the Party against whom such a violation or breach has been directed as soon as the said Power has been able to satisfy itself that this violation constitutes an unprovoked act of aggression and that by reason either of the crossing of the frontier or of the outbreak of hostilities or of the assembly of armed forces in the demilitarised zone immediate action is necessary. Nevertheless, the Council of the League of Nations, which will be seized of the question in accordance with the first paragraph of this Article, will issue its findings, and the High Contracting Parties undertake to act in accordance with the recommendations of the Council, provided that they are concurred in by all the Members other than the representatives of the Parties which have engaged in hostilities.
The provisions of Article 3 of the present Treaty are placed under the guarantee of the High Contracting Parties as provided by the following stipulations:
If one of the Powers referred to in Article 3 refuses to submit a dispute to peaceful settlement or to comply with an arbitral or judicial decision and commits a violation of Article 2 of the present Treaty or a breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the Treaty of Versailles, the provisions of Article 4 of the present Treaty shall apply.
Where one of the Powers referred to in Article 3, without committing a violation of Article 2 of the present Treaty or a breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the Treaty of Versailles, refuses to submit a dispute to peaceful settlement or to comply with an arbitral or judicial decision, the other Party shall bring the matter before the Council of the League of Nations, and the Council shall propose what steps shall be taken the High Contracting Parties shall comply with these proposals.
The provisions of the present Treaty do not affect the rights and obligations of the High Contracting Parties under the Treaty of Versailles or under arrangements supplementary thereto, including the Agreements signed in London on August 30, 1924.
The present Treaty, which is designed to ensure the maintenance of peace, and is in conformity with the Covenant of the League of Nations, shall not be interpreted as restricting the duty of the League to take whatever action may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of the world.
The present Treaty shall be registered at the League of Nations in accordance with the Covenant of the League. It shall remain in force until the Council, acting on a request of one or other of the High Contracting Parties notified to the other signatory Powers three months in advance, and voting at least by a two-thirds' majority, decides that the League of Nations ensures sufficient protection to the High Contracting Parties the Treaty shall cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of one year from such decision.
The present Treaty shall impose no obligation upon any of the British dominions, or upon India, unless the Government of such dominion, or of India, signifies its acceptance thereof.
The present Treaty shall be ratified and the ratifications shall be deposited at Geneva in the archives of the League of Nations as soon as possible.
It shall enter into force as soon as all the ratifications have been deposited and Germany has become a Member of the League of Nations.
The present Treaty, done in a single copy, will be deposited in the archives of the League of Nations, and the Secretary-General will be requested to transmit certified copies to each of the High Contracting Parties.
In faith whereof the above-mentioned Plenipotentiaries have signed the present Treaty.
Done at Locarno, October 16, 1925.
11/27 – Treaty of Locarno
On this day in 1925, the German parliament ratified (signed into law) the Treaty of Locarno. Signed by France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and England, the treaty had three main goals: solidify Europe’s post-WWI borders, get Germany into the League of Nations (the failed predecessor to the United Nations) and fully demilitarize the Rhineland – Germany’s industrial region. Organized by German foreign minister Gustav Stresemann, the treaty was designed to restore Germany’s reputation as a European power and reassure the other European nations. The treaty was seen as a victory for all involved – it improved the standing of Germany’s Weimar government, guaranteed France’s safety and bound all participants into a mutual protection pact.
Stresemann won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1926 for his efforts, but the success of Locarno infuriated the growing Nazi (National Socialist German Worker’s Party) at home in Germany. Nazis felt that Locarno emasculated their country and unfairly punished Germans for WWI – an effort that had begun with the unpopular Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The Treaty of Locarno was viewed as a resounding success for the new international order and ushered in a new era of European cooperation. But the hatred it inspired in Nazis and other nationalist groups shows the deep, hidden divide that was growing under the surface of European society during the 1920s and 30s. The clash between globalist cooperation and nationalist fury defined that era – and it may come to define our present.
German Denunciation of the Treaty of Locarno
This is the third time, in the short period of eighteen months during which the Soviet Union has been a Member of the League of Nations, that its representative on the Council of the League has had to speak on the subject of a breach of international obligations.
The first time was in connection with the infringement by Germany of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty. The second time was on the occasion of the Italian-Abyssinian conflict. The third, to-day, is in consequence of the unilateral infringement by Germany of both the Versailles Treaty and the Locarno Pact.
In all three cases the Soviet Union was either formally disinterested because it took no part in the treaties which had been infringed, as in the case of those of Versailles and Locarno, or, as in the case of the Italian-Abyssinian conflict, its own interests were not in the least affected.
These circumstances have not ill the past prevented, and will not in the present case prevent, the representative of the Soviet Union from taking his place among those members of the Council who register in the most decisive manner their indignation at a breach of international obligations, condemn it, and support the most effective measures to avert similar infringements in the future.
This attitude of the Soviet Union is predetermined by its general policy of struggling for peace, for the collective organization of security and for the maintenance of one of the instruments of peace-the existing League of Nations. We consider that one cannot struggle for peace without at the same time defending the integrity of international obligations, particularly such as have direct bearing on the maintenance of existing frontiers, on armaments and on political or military aggression. One cannot struggle for the collective organization of security without adopting collective measures against breaches of international obligations.
We do not, however, class among such measures collective capitulation in face of the aggressor, in face of an infringement of treaties or collective encouragement of such infringements, and still less collective agreement to a bonus for the aggressor by adopting a basis of agreement, or other plans, acceptable or profitable to the aggressor.
We cannot preserve the League of Nations, founded on the sanctity of international treaties (including the Covenant of the League itself), if we turn a blind eye to breaches of those treaties, or confine ourselves to verbal protests, and take no more effective measures in defense of international undertakings.
We cannot preserve the League of Nations if it does not carry out its own decisions and pledges, but, on the contrary, accustoms the aggressor to ignore its recommendations, its admonitions or its warnings.
Such a League of Nations will never be taken seriously by anyone. The resolutions of such a League will only become a laughing-stock. Such a League is not required, and I will go further and say that such a League may even be harmful, because it may lull the vigilance of the nations and give rise to illusions among them which will prevent them from themselves adopting the necessary measures of self-defense in good time.
The responsibility of the League of Nations and of its directing body, the Council, is all the greater the more simple is the breach of international obligations under discussion. The characteristic feature of all the three cases I have just mentioned is their simplicity-simplicity in the sense that the establishment of the very fact of a breach of international obligations represented no difficulty and could arouse no disputes and differences. When I speak of the absence of disputes and differences, I do not, of course, have in mind the particular State which is accused of breaking treaties. Such a State will naturally always either deny the breach or, at any rate, invent all kinds of arguments to justify its action. One cannot conceive of a case in which such a State would openly declare that it has no justification and that it alone is to blame, and no one else.
The question under discussion at the present session of the Council even surpasses the preceding cases by its simplicity, in the sense I have indicated. Here we find, not only a substantial infringement of treaties, but the ignoring of a particular clause in a treaty, providing a method of settling disputes which may arise in the event of an alleged or actual infringement of the treaty.
Before drawing final conclusions as to the German Government’s actions, I think only just to take into account all that has been said by Mr. Hitler in justification of these actions, or in deprecation of their significance.
The German Government asserts that France was the first to break the Locarno Treaty in the spirit and the letter, by concluding a Pact of Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. It applied for an explanation to the other Locarno Powers-namely, Great Britain and Italy. One must imagine that, if these Powers had agreed with the German thesis that the Franco-Soviet Pact is incompatible with the Locarno Treaty, Germany would have utilized their conclusions to the utmost. But, as these powers came to a different conclusion, Germany peremptorily declares that France, Great Britain, Belgium and Italy- i.e., the other Locarno Powers-are interpreting the Locarno Treaty incorrectly, and that the only correct interpretation is her own. Without doubt this is an extremely convenient method of resolving disputed international questions-when a country, convinced of the injustice of its case, confers upon itself, first the functions of a judge in its own cause, and then those of sheriff’s officer.
That the German assertion of the incompatibility of the Franco-Soviet Pact and the Locarno Treaty will not hold water follows with absolute clarity from the entirely defensive character of the Pact. The whole world knows that neither the Soviet Union nor France has any claims to German territory, and that they are not striving to change the frontiers of Germany. If Germany undertakes no aggression against either France or the Soviet Union, the Pact will not begin to operate. But if the Soviet Union becomes the victim of an attack by Germany, the Locarno Treaty gives France, as any other Member of the League, the unquestionable right to come to the assistance of the Soviet Union. In this event, an unmistakable definition of the aggressor is facilitated by the absence of a common frontier between Germany and the Soviet Union. If the German armed forces cross the boundaries of their own country, and pass through the States and the seas dividing the two countries in order to invade the territory of the Soviet Union, the German aggression will be quite apparent, and vice versa.
I know that there are people who really do see a particular expression of Germany’s love for peace in the offer to France and Belgium of a pact of non-aggression for twenty-five years, to be guaranteed by Great Britain and Italy. These people forget that the Locarno Treaty which Germany has just torn up represented just such a pact of non-aggression, with the same guarantees, and its validity was not for twenty-five years, but for an indefinite period. The other difference was that the Locarno Treaty included supplementary guarantees for France and Belgium, in the shape of a demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. Thus the alleged new proposal made by Germany amounts to the maintenance of that same Locarno Treaty, but with a reduction in its period of validity, and with a diminution of the guarantees for Belgium and France which they enjoyed in virtue of the old Locarno Treaty. But these limited guarantees which Mr. Hitler is now proposing might be offered to France and Belgium by the guarantors of Locarno, if they so desire, even without Germany’s consent and participation. Thus, Mr. Hitler’s proposal amounts to this: that while depriving France and Belgium of certain guarantees with which they were provided by the Locarno Treaty, he wants to retain for Germany all the benefits of that treaty in their totality.
But Mr. Hitler’s “love of Peace” does not stop at this. He is ready to sign pacts of non-aggression, not only with France and Belgium, but with his others, without anybody else’s guarantee. The Soviet Union has itself signed Pacts or non-aggression with all its neighbors (excepting Japan, which rejects such a pact up to this day). But the Soviet Union has always attached great importance to the point that these pacts should not facilitate aggression against third parties. We therefore always included in these pacts a special clause, freeing either of the contracting parties from any obligations under the Pact if the other Party commits an act of aggression against a third State. Such a clause, however, will be absent from the pacts proposed by Mr. Hitler, according to the model which he has indicated. A without such a clause, the proposed system of pacts reduces itself to the principle of localization of war which is preached by Mr. Hitler. Every State which has signed such a pact with Germany is immobilized by her in the event of Germany attacking a third State.
This proposal of Mr. Hitler’s gives me the impression that we are faced with a new attempt to divide Europe into two or more parts, with the object of guaranteeing non-aggression for one part of Europe in order to acquire a free hand for dealing with other parts. As I have already had to point out at Geneva, such a system of pacts only increase the security of the aggressor and not the security of peace-loving nations.
Presuming, however, that the “peace-loving proposals I have enumerated will not be reckoned sufficient compensation for a breach of international laws, Germany expresses her readiness to return to the League of Nations. In common with other Members of the League, we sincerely regret the incompleteness of the League, and the absence from it of some great countries, particularly Germany. We shall welcome the return into its midst of Hitler’s Germany as well, if and when we are convinced that she has recognized those fundamental principles on which the League rests, and without which it would not only cease to be an instrument of’ peace, but eventually might be transformed into its opposite. Among these principles, in the first place, are the observance of international treaties, respect for the inviolability of existing frontiers, recognition of the equality of all Members of the League, support of the collective organization of security and renunciation of the settlement of international disputes by the sword.
Before concluding, let me express the hope that I shall not be misunderstood, and that the conclusion will not be drawn from what I have said that the Soviet Union is proposing only registration, condemnation, severe measures and nothing else that it declares itself against negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the serious dispute which has arisen. Such a conclusion would present a completely false picture of our conception. We are not less, but, on the contrary, more, interested than others in the maintenance of peace, both to-day and for decades to come, and not only in one area of Europe, but throughout the whole of Europe and all over the world. We are resolutely against anything that might bring a war nearer by even a single month. But we are also against hasty decisions, dictated rather by excessive fear and other emotions than by a sober reckoning of realities-decisions which, while represented as eliminating the causes of an imaginary war to-day, create all the premises for an actual war to-morrow. We stand for an international agreement which would not only consolidate the existing foundations of peace, bill, if possible, would likewise create new foundation. We stand for the participation in such an agreement of all the countries which so desire. But we object to the idea that withdrawal from the League of Nations, brutal infringement of international treaties and saber-rattling should confer upon a State the privilege of dictating to the whole of Europe its conditions for negotiations, of selecting the participants in those negotiations to suit its convenience, and of imposing its own scheme for an agreement. We are against negotiations proceeding on a basis which disorganizes the ranks of the sincere partisans of peace and which must inevitably lead to the destruction of the only inter-State political the-the League of Nations. We are of the opinion that the sincere partisans of peace are no less entitled than the breakers of treaties to propose their scheme for the organization of European peace. We are for the creation of security for all the nations of Europe, and against a half-peace which is not peace at all but war.
But, at whatever new international agreements we might desire to arrive, we must first of all ensure their loyal fulfillment by all those who participate in them, and the Council of the League must declare its attitude towards unilateral infringements of such agreements, and how it intends and is able to react against them. From this standpoint the greatest possible satisfaction of the complaint made by the French and Belgian Governments becomes of exceptional importance. Taking cognizance of this, I declare in the name of my Government its readiness to take part in all measures which may be proposed to the Council of the League by the Locarno Powers and will be acceptable to the other Members of the Council.
Source: League of Nations, Official Journal (April 1936), p. 319.
The Locarno discussion arose from exchanges of notes between the British Empire, France and Germany over the summer of 1925 following German foreign minister Gustav Stresemann's 9 February proposal for a reciprocal of his country's western frontiers as established under the unfavourable 1919 Treaty of Versailles, as a means of facilitating Germany's diplomatic rehabilitation among the Western Powers.
At least one of the main reasons Britain promoted the Locarno Pact of 1925, besides to promote Franco-German reconciliation, was because of the understanding that if Franco-German relations improved, France would gradually abandon the Cordon sanitaire, as the French alliance system in Eastern Europe was known between the wars. [ 7 ] Once France had abandoned its allies in Eastern Europe, thereby creating a situation where the Poles and Czechoslovaks having no Great Power to protect them from Germany, would be forced to adjust to German demands, and hence in the British viewpoint would peacefully hand over the territories claimed by Germany such as the Sudetenland, the Polish Corridor, and the Free City of Danzig (modern Gdańsk, Poland). [ 8 ] In this way, promoting territorial revisionism in Eastern Europe in Germany’s favor was one of the principal British objects of Locarno, making Locarno an early instance of appeasement [ dubious – discuss ] .
What’s the context? 1 December 1925: signing the Locarno Treaties
1 December 2015 marks the 90th anniversary of the formal signing of the Locarno Treaties at the Foreign Office in London. Named after the town in Switzerland where the treaties had been negotiated a few months earlier, their aim was to bring peace and security to Europe. However, as the British diplomat Harold Nicholson later wrote: ‘The Heavenly alchemy of the Locarno spirit, the triumphant splendour of those autumn days, did not prove of long endurance.’ The success of these negotiations, however fleeting, owed much to the good rapport between Foreign Ministers who would dominate European diplomacy for the rest of the 1920s: Austen Chamberlain (United Kingdom), Aristide Briand (France) and Gustav Stresemann (Germany).
Left to right: Gustav Stresemann, Austen Chamberlain and Aristide Briand at the Locarno negotiations.
Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R03618 @WikiCommons
Europe after the First World War was an unsettled place. Germany was still aggrieved by the Treaty of Versailles and wanted revisions. However, the Germans were still excluded from many diplomatic negotiations. France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Poland, on the other hand, feared a revival of German military power and wanted their borders to be guaranteed against a future German invasion. French anxieties about a resurgent Germany, greater in population size and industrial capacity, were heightened by a settlement of the reparations question through what was known as the Dawes Plan (1924).
In 1923 and 1924 two efforts to secure the peace through the League of Nations failed. First to fail was the Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance (1923) which would have bound all member states to assist a victim of aggression. Second to fail was the Geneva Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (1924), which aimed to tie together security and disarmament with compulsory arbitration of disputes. Both were rejected by the British government following objections to obligations of military assistance and economic sanctions.
The diplomatic puzzle of European security therefore remained unsolved. France wanted a formal military alliance with Britain, hoping to avoid the uncertainties of British commitment to securing peace on the continent in the years leading to the First World War. However, the British were uneasy about extending existing defence commitments and instead wanted disarmament, hoping to avoid an arms race which many argued had led to the First World War.
On 9 February 1925, the German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann proposed a mutual guarantee for the permanence of the Franco-German frontier and the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. After initially hesitating, the Francophile British Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain, supported the idea as a way to allay French fears of a resurgent Germany. The essence of this Pact of Mutual Guarantee was that if one country violated another’s agreed borders, neutral countries would enforce them militarily. The guarantee was subsequently broadened to include the German border with Belgium.
Through the summer of 1925 the shape of the agreement was thrashed out. Still, much diplomatic haggling lay ahead of the statesmen as they gathered at Locarno on the northern tip of Lake Maggiore in southern Switzerland to finalize the agreement. The site was chosen by Stresemann for its neutrality, relative freedom from press scrutiny and proximity to Italy should Benito Mussolini, the Italian Prime Minister, wish to join the party to bask in the glory of a successful outcome (which he duly did). The location worked its magic as strolls about town, luncheons and even a boating excursion saw the resolution of the remaining sticking points. On 16 October, Chamberlain’s sixty-second birthday (a coincidence deliberately engineered by the British delegation), they initialled the agreement at the Locarno town hall.
On Chamberlain’s invitation, the Locarno delegations reconvened on 1 December 1925 in London for a formal signing in the Foreign Office’s Reception Suite which was later renamed the Locarno Suite. The recent death of Queen Alexandra could not dampen the jubilation at what many hailed as the beginning of ‘the Great Peace’. Indeed, in 1926 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Stresemann and Briand for their efforts on Locarno. The previous year it had been shared between Chamberlain for his promotion of the treaty and the American Charles Dawes for his work on the reparations settlement.
The Foreign Office Reception Room today where the Locarno Treaties were formally signed on 1 December 1925
The Locarno Treaties included arbitration treaties between Germany and France, Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia. However, there was to be no ‘Eastern Locarno’. Instead there were new treaties of mutual assistance between France and Poland and France and Czechoslovakia to make up for the failure to obtain any German guarantee of its eastern frontiers. Most importantly, the Rhineland Pact obliged Britain and Italy to act against any violation of the existing borders between Belgium and Germany, and France and Germany and provided for arbitration to settle future disputes. These five Rhineland powers foreswore war with each other (except that France would aid Poland in the event of German aggression). Once Germany joined the League of Nations (as it did in 1926) violations of this pact and subsequent arbitration procedures would be referred to the League Council.
The big winner of the Locarno negotiations and Treaties was Germany which was once again a respected power. Germany had not only prevented the formation of an alliance directed against itself but had gained from important concessions on the terms of the Versailles Treaty such as on disarmament, reparations, and the threat of occupation.
The big losers at Locarno were France and its east European allies. France lost its power to enforce the Versailles settlement. If French troops again marched into the Ruhr, as they had done in 1923, Britain and Italy would be called on to come the Germany’s aid against France. France could do little if Germany did what the French most feared, defaulted on reparations and its commitment to disarmament. Poland and Czechoslovakia ended up with no German guarantee of their territorial gains from the peace treaty. Briand had got what he could, including, crucially for him, a British guarantee of the frontiers and peace of Europe.
Britain emerged from Locarno holding the balance of peace in Europe, but its ability to guarantee the security of the Rhine frontier was minimal. Its army was an imperial one, scattered across the globe. The force available for intervention on the European continent, much as before the First World War, was too small to cope with the sophistication and speed of modern warfare. However, Britain’s naval and financial muscle was enough for now to dissuade the French and Germans from conflict.
However, Chamberlain’s fervent desire for peace brought harmony only in the short term. The so-called ‘Spirit of Locarno’ never truly held. Despite Stresemann’s triumph, the Locarno guarantee of Germany’s Western Frontier only fuelled its growing revanchism and revisionism. At the same time the Locarno treaties undermined the League of Nations. With the Wall Street Crash in 1929 and the ensuing global economic depression, the optimism and sense of security which characterised the latter half of the 1920s ended. But it is important to remember that for a period there was a global belief that future wars could be prevented and conflicts could be resolved by peaceful, diplomatic means.
Suggestions for further reading:
Sally Marks, The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918-1933 (Basingstoke: 2003)
Treaty of Locarno - History
From left to right, Gustav Stresemann, Austen Chamberlain and Aristide Briand during the Locarno negotiations
Between Ocotber 5-16 ,1925 a conference was held in Locarno Switzerland between the great powers of Europe. The conference was a result of communitcation between the French and British Foreign ministers and their German counterpart. Seven treates resulted and were signed in London on December 1. The treates that were signed guaranteeing peace in Europe. The pacts included a treaty of mutual guarantee of the Franco- German and Belgian-German borders. The treaties, which covered many potentially disputed areas, served to provide Europeans a sense of security.
The French occupation of the Ruhr had created renewed tensions in Europe. It also had developed a desire among both the French and the German to find a way to ensure future peace. The French desired a permanent alliance with Great Britain. Winston Churchill, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in England, traveled to Paris in early 1925. French President Gaston Doumerge told him that the only way to ensure the future peace of Europe was to create an unbreakable bond between Britain and France. Churchill responded by saying, "The only real security against the renewal of war would be a complete agreement between England, France, and Germany. That alone would give the security that we are all seeking and that alone would enable the commerce of Europe to expand to such dimensions that the existing burdens of debts and reparations would be supportable and not crushing."
Churchill recognized that Germany would rearm at some point and felt that if the disputes between France and Germany were not resolved, eventually, there would be another war in which Britain would be drawn into. Despite some opposition, Churchill's position was accepted. The Germans were also receptive wanted to return to the world stage as equals. The French had no choice but to go along.
The final treaties were negotiated in Locarno, Switzerland, between October 5-16, 1925. The agreements were formally signed in London on December 1.
The most crucial agreement negotiated in Locarno was the Rhineland Pact between Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, and France. Under the agreement, Germany formally recognized its Western border as negotiated under the Versaille Treaty. Germany, France, and Belgium further pledged not to attack each other, while Great Britain and Italy acted as guarantors vowing to come to the defense of any party that was attacked. Additional agreements included Germany agreeing to arbitration over any border dispute with France and Belgium and Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The Treaties of Locarno significantly improved the atmosphere in Europe between 1925-1930. During that period, people referred to the Spirit of Locarno in which tensions between the major powers in Western Europe decreased markedly.
The Spirit of Locarno: Illusions of PactomaniaCourtesy Reuters
For five years between 1925 and 1929, a certain portion of mankind, like those parched travelers in the desert who think they have glimpsed the oasis which will save them, believed the gate to lasting peace was at hand. This, as we now know, was only a mirage. But such a mirage had never before existed. People had never believed so fervently in the blessings of peace, or hoped so passionately that peace would be perpetual. Optimism rose to new heights. "Away with cannon and machineguns: instead, conciliation, arbitration, and peace!" At the meeting of the League of Nations on September 10, 1926, when Germany, recently defeated, was received as a member, the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand touched a new intensity of emotion with these celebrated words.
We have not yet reached the fiftieth anniversary of that ephemeral period of hope. The last of its principal actors, the French statesman Joseph Paul-Boncour died in March 1972 at the age of 99 years but the period might well belong to another century, or another planet. International historiography has long since taken possession of the subject. The release of the German, British and American archives, the approaching release of the French and the Italian, and the release of the archives of the League of Nations (which we owe in particular to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), in addition to hundreds of memoirs and personal accounts, offer an inexhaustible source of material which constellations of young historians are currently attacking. However, the essential outline of the whole is clear. The reader will, I hope, allow me to aim at a general view of the period, pointing out its essential characteristics: noble illusions and grave errors.
The year 1924 marks a turning point in international relations. Up to that time, the French and British governments, the most directly affected, had very little faith in the League of Nations. Each year, in September, they dispatched delegations to the League that were characterized more by brilliance than effectiveness. France sent René Viviani, a sonorous orator, and Leon Bourgeois, the Pope of radicalism, who in 1910 had written a book, "Toward a Society of Nations," which had made him the French expert on the subject, although he was in the main a solemn but lazy man. In 1924, after the election of a Chamber of Deputies "of the Left," Aristide Briand, Edouard Herriot and Joseph Paul-Boncour made their first appearances at Geneva. The first Labour government in England also decided to take the Geneva organization seriously. It seemed as if the sour and brutal policies of the immediate postwar period had come to an end: the policies personified by Poincaré, a believer in the pitiless "execution" of treaties, the man who, to be sure of German reparations payments, seized the productive Ruhr basin.
Henceforth, the atmosphere evolved from "execution" to conciliation in an agreeably steady manner. Negotiation replaced force. To be sure, collective security had not become automatic. The Geneva Protocol of 1924 would have been able to achieve this by making arbitration obligatory and making it possible to identify an aggressor. Edouard Herriot's formula, "Arbitration, security, disarmament," was the logical conclusion to this process. Disarmament, in the French view, could be undertaken once security was assured. However, in the eyes of the British, it was through disarmament that security would be reached. In the end, this contradiction was responsible for the failure of the protocol. When the Conservatives returned to power, with Austen Chamberlain in the Foreign Office, they refused to ratify the protocol, under pressure from the dominions, as well as opposition from United States, which viewed it as a kind of "Holy Alliance" which might undermine the Monroe Doctrine.
But at the time this failure seemed unimportant, simply a matter of postponement. Other fruitful agreements were signed. In the summer of 1924, the agreements of London permitted the adoption of the Dawes Plan, which had been prepared by experts to facilitate the payment of reparations. Germany, in effect, accepted without any pressure a provisional plan of five years to start paying reduced reparations. A flood of private American capital would provide the necessary funds. To be sure, the Germans were not particularly pleased with this agreement. But Gustav Stresemann, who was in charge at the Wilhelmstrasse from December 1923 until his death on October 3, 1929, was, like the later Walter Rathenau, a partisan of the policy of fulfillment. The cancellation of the unjust clauses of the Diktat of Versailles would not be achieved by opposition to the French, but rather by demonstrating German loyalty in the execution of those very clauses. And, in fact, by adopting the Dawes Plan, the Germans obtained the evacuation of the Ruhr.
At this point, the most likely way for Germany to improve its position was to enter the League--a proposition which required many months of public discussion, for German opinion demanded concessions. Principally, this meant the cancellation of Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, which seemed to affirm Germany's war guilt. That was a question which haunted all Germans and supplied the ultranationalists with fuel to maintain the fires of hate. However, Stresemann was a realist: economic prosperity, progress toward "Gleichberechtigung" (equal rights) were well worth a lessening of insistence on Article 231, Before Germany's entrance into the League an intermediate stage was reached. In October 1923 the famous treaties of Locarno were signed. Germany freely admitted that it would not invade the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. Thus, there would never again be an August 1914, or, inversely, an invasion of the Ruhr. The United Kingdom and Italy stood as guarantors. If the treaty were violated, the Council of the League of Nations would immediately take up the matter further, if the violation were "flagrant," the victim of the aggression and the guarantors were empowered to undertake military operations without waiting for the opinion of the Council
Did this not mean that peace was assured? The French felt that it would be even more secure if there were also an "Eastern Locarno," if Germany would also guarantee its borders with Czechoslovakia and Poland. But Stresemann did not wish this at any price. He had implicitly agreed to the renunciation of Alsace-Lorraine, but the Polish Corridor, Danzig and Upper Silesia were another matter. And the British, certain that they would never go to war over Danzig, discreetly supported Stresemann in his resistance.
From that point, one can pass from the regional to the universal. Eleven months of negotiation, illuminated by the "spirit of Locarno," resulted in the admission of Germany to the League of Nations. Committed to Locarno and to the League Covenant, Germany had taken a decisive turn toward pacifism. It capitalized on this by requesting the expected evacuation of the occupied zones and the re-annexation of the Saar without waiting for the plebiscite of 1935. These two points had been under negotiation since the famous interview at Thoiry between Briand and Stresemann in September 1926. On the first point, the anticipated evacuation, Stresemann triumphed at the Conference of The Hague, a few weeks before his death. In exchange for the adoption of a new reparations plan, the Young Plan, drawn up not for five years (as the Dawes Plan had been) but for 58 years, the last of the occupied zones, the areas surrounding Coblenz and Mainz, would be evacuated in 1930-a remarkable and admirable evidence of faith in treaties!
This success can be largely explained by an earlier event-the signing of the Pact of Paris (the Briand-Kellogg Pact) on August 27, 1928. The history of this incredible episode is well known. As the French parliament had refused to ratify the Mellon-Berenger accords of April 1926, on the payment of French war debts to the United States, Briand was trying to pacify American public opinion by some spectacular gesture. Advised by Professor James Shotwell of Columbia, he proposed, in April 1927, on the tenth anniversary of American entry into the war, that the United States and France mutually renounce war-an undertaking which, given the state of U.S.- French relations, meant nothing in practical terms. But, as a consequence of the influence of a pacifist radical, Salmon O. Levinson, on Senator Borah, and Senator Borah's influence on Secretary of State Kellogg, the American response was a proposal to extend the treaty to all nations of the world. Briand accepted, in a spirit of resignation rather than enthusiasm, and war was duly outlawed, except for military sanctions undertaken by the League. Stresemann lost no time in taking advantage of this situation. As soon as the pact was signed, with the current (and future) peaceful character of Germany as the basis of his position, he called for the departure of those whom he had referred to in a private letter to the German Crown Prince as "our stranglers."
Thus, within a five-year period, a network of treaties and accords was established. In September 1929, opposite Stresemann, for whom this was to be the last Geneva session, Briand launched a new initiative. Speaking to the 27 European members of the League (nearly half the total membership of 61 states), he proposed that they establish among themselves "some sort of federal link."
However, all of this was to break down like a house of cards. "Black Thursday," October 24, 1929, precipitated the stock market crash on Wall Street, which was the prelude to the most serious economic crisis capitalism had yet faced. In 1930, Europe was only indirectly affected. Nevertheless, within three years the entire political effort and attitude symbolized by Locarno was to crumble. On September 14, 1930, 104 Nazi deputies were elected to the Reichstag, as opposed to the 14 in 1928. Hitler would have 13 million supporters by the spring of 1932, and 230 deputies in the elections of July 31. On January 30, 1933, the aged President, Field Marshal Hindenburg, badly advised by Franz von Papen, would name Hitler Chancellor of the Reich. After 1930, Briand's proposal for a European union would founder in the face of British and Italian opposition. Despite the Briand-Kellogg Pact, Japan invaded Manchuria in September 1931. In the same month, England was to devalue the pound sterling, also putting an end to 80 years of free exchange.
Powerless against Japan, the League of Nations was equally unable to bring the conference on disarmament to a successful conclusion in the face of Hitler's will to rearm. In October 1933, Germany withdrew from the disarmament conference and from the League. In the same year, Mussolini began to think of taking Ethiopia by force as a colony in which to settle an Italian population. Since the end of 1932, there had been no more reparations payments and no more repayments of European war debts to America. Roosevelt, who assumed power during the tragic month of March 1933, planned to resolve the American crisis at the national level, and, despite the opposition of the U.S. Secretary of State Cordull Hull, extinguished the last hope of a stabilized international economy by torpedoing the London Economic Conference. The débâcle was total. "It will be His Majesty the Cannon who speaks," prophesied Mussolini.
We must not in our sad hindsight lightly dismiss the system symbolized by the word "Locarno," but, rather, try to get to the core of the principles on which Locarno was built.
The year 1924-the year in which British and French leaders finally became interested in the League and began to put some hopes in it-was the year in which the deaths occurred, within a week of one another, of the two men who had done most to demolish the system of a European equilibrium: Lenin and Woodrow Wilson. Let us leave aside Lenin and the avatars of an isolated Soviet Union in which Stalin was building "Socialism in a single country." For the West, Wilson's destiny had been to plant a seed which would bear fruit only after him. Before Wilson, the Great Powers assigned themselves special rights. They managed the affairs of smaller countries. And among themselves, if conciliation and negotiation did not produce desired results, there was always recourse to the other solution: the force of arms. Since, after the French defeat of 1871, Europe had been divided into two groups of opposing alliances, the shock of a military clash, if it came, would have, as the German memorandum of July 24, 1914 foresaw, "incalculable consequences," The deaths of millions of young men had just demonstrated the ultimate result of the "balance of power."
What Wilson had longed for with all his heart was, on the one hand, the equality of small and great nations, and on the other, through the League, a means of avoiding final confrontations. During the opening years of the twenties, he had failed, not only in the American Senate but in Europe as well, where Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Bonar Law, Millerand, Poincaré and Mussolini saw little of value in his principles. But by 1924 the situation had changed. Macdonald, Briand, Herriot, Paul-Boncour, Beneš, Politis, Titulescu and legions of other influential statesmen were saturated with Wilson's ideas, Stresemann, more nationalist than Wilsonian, repudiated, out of sincerity or expediency, the idea of revenge by force. This new generation-squeezed between the traditionalists who regretted diplomacy in the style of Bismarck or Delcassé and the audacious cynics who were to produce fascism-sincerely tried to build a Wilsonian Europe, and for a while even thought it was being successful. And in the United States itself, if the Republicans in power were "nationalists," Wilsonian "internationalists" also influenced a sizable portion of public opinion.
These men, of whom Briand is probably the best example, had based their conception of security on optimism, taking the League as a framework of action. "The League," wrote Paul-Boncour, "was a massive attempt at international democracy." He goes on to say: "Briand was marvellously skilled in manipulating this institution . he played on his voice as if it were a violoncello. Anyone who has not heard him winding up a debate at his place in the Council, yielding only on secondary points, but maintaining all the essentials, does not know the best of Briand's talent."
It was really a question of an entirely new diplomacy, replacing the traditional secret negotiations conducted by expert and cynical career ambassadors. This new diplomacy was open and slow, embellished by long speeches but offering statesmen periodic personal encounters and a means of becoming acquainted, which sometimes produced genuine friendships transcending national boundaries. Specifically, if the earliest efforts of the League were far from promising (the affairs of Vilna, Memel and Corfu), it enjoyed an obvious success in the settlement of the bloody Greco- Bulgarian incidents of October 1925, and it governed the Saar efficiently. Its top bureaucrats played an inconspicuous but effective role in securing the protection of minorities, working to overcome social disasters and securing safeguards for labor. What was, in fact, the system at its apogee could be seen, for a time, as a promising beginning.
Neither the League nor the diplomacy of Locarno can be considered responsible for the prosperity of 1925 to 1929. However, there was a kind of prefiguration of the future Bretton Woods system in the sense that the League contributed to the financial restoration of certain countries whose economies had been dislocated by the war. Prepared by Jean Monnet, the Assistant Secretary-General, the Brussels economic conference (September 24 to October 8, 1920) had tried to regulate monetary disturbances. These efforts produced the "Economic Committee," and the "Financial Committee," composed of well-known experts, whose common secretary was Sir Arthur Salter. Many countries benefited from his advice. In a recent book, "Banker's Diplomacy," B. H. Meyer demonstrates that if the central banks played the decisive role, the monetary restoration of Poland, Jugoslavia and Rumania owed a certain amount to the "Economic Committee" of the League. Austria, too, received help which permitted her to restore her economy. The Italian delegate, Tittoni, proposed at Geneva that the natural riches of the entire universe be held in common, under the absolute control of the League. An economic conference was held in 1927, a favorable year? for currencies were stable again and budgetary stability was the rule rather than the exception. This conference denounced economic nationalism and fixed as its objectives "the return to free international trade, the primordial condition of prosperity." Was it not possible to believe that such a philosophy might gradually alter the general attitude? Even in strongly protectionist countries like the United States of that time, a liberal philosophy deriving from President Wilson's Point Three had been adopted by influential persons, in particular by Cordell Hull.
But optimism, faith in human nature, hopes of progress and peace manifested themselves, above all, in a multiplicity of formal agreements. We have mentioned the most celebrated of these, Locarno and the Briand-Kellogg Pact. Faith in contracts had never been stronger. Treaties of peace, of commerce, of alliance, public and secret, had certainly existed in large numbers during the three preceding centuries. But what appeared now, and seemed to be developing, was something different: treaties limiting armaments (Washington, 1921 London, 1930) pacts of nonaggression pacts of arbitration treaties of recognition of governments (particularly regarding the Soviet Union).
The so-called Diktats of 1919-1920 were succeeded by treaties that often were freely negotiated and then signed by equals. Italy, for example, although Fascist, participated in this "pactomania," sometimes of course with tongue in cheek. To consider only those treaties reached by Italy between 1924 and 1929: in October 1925, the Locarno agreements on December 6, 1926, an agreement with the United Kingdom ceding Djaraboub to Libya the exchange of Anglo-Italian letters between December 16 and 20, 1926, on the subject of Ethiopia in September 1926, a treaty of friendship and technical assistance with Yemen on September 16, 1926, a treaty of friendship with Rumania on November 27, 1926, a pact of friendship and security with Albania on April 4, 1927, an Italian-Hungarian treaty of friendship on November 22, 1927, a treaty of defensive alliance with Albania on May 30, 1928, a treaty of friendship with Turkey on August 2, 1928, an agreement of conciliation and arbitration with Ethiopia on September 23, an Italo-Greek treaty of friendship.
The Soviet Union signed treaties still more systematically: January 20, 1925, an agreement with Japan December 17, a Russo-Turkish treaty of neutrality April 24, 1926, with Germany, the celebrated Berlin treaty of friendship, neutrality and nonaggression August 31, 1926, a Russo-Afghani agreement September 28, 1926, a treaty of friendship and neutrality with Lithuania March 9, 1927, a treaty (which was not ratified) with Latvia October 1, 1927, a treaty with Persia February 9, 1929, the Moscow agreement on the Litvinov protocol, the adhesion of the Soviet Union, Poland, Rumania and Latvia as well as Turkey, Lithuania and Estonia to the Briand-Kellogg Pact.
These lists, though incomplete, demonstrate how widely European treaties were multiplying-from the most insignificant and often self-serving to the most exacting. It was as if the universe were following the example of William Jennings Bryan, the great Commoner, for whom the signing of agreements, no matter how fragile, was a mania.
The impulse of pactomania was to survive through the 1930s, even as the system on which it was based was breaking up. Hitler, who had no concern for sworn agreements or the sanctity of treaties, exploited the fondess of his future adversaries for pacts. He rarely violated a treaty without the simultaneous offer of some grandiose nonagression pact which was to cover the next 25 years. Everyone fell victim to this maneuver, from Poland in 1934 to Russia in 1939, with the lamentable treaties of nonaggression signed by Great Britain (September 30, 1938), and France (December 6, 1938). For the Fuhrer, all this was a smokescreen.
Consider a traditional democracy like France: despite her links with Czechoslovakia and Poland, in 1938 she violated her word and abandoned her ally Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 entered the war unready for the undertaking, theoretically to help her ally, Poland, but knowing full well that with an army organized entirely for defense, she could not, in fact, deliver any help.
Signing numerous treaties is a manifestation of faith in the word of others. It is also a presumption that one will oneself have the courage and strength to keep a sworn obligation. At the time of Locarno, there was a readiness to believe in fundamental human goodness. "Locarno," Austen Chamberlain wrote toward 1935, "remains a curtain of safety for Europe. To cast any doubt on its validity would be to encourage hopes and ambitions which could be realized only by war." Alas, does the suppression of doubt as to another's good faith guarantee that good faith? Stresemann considers the same question in one of his last speeches in September 1929: "International understanding is often a labor of Sisyphus. The rock which one thought one had pushed to the summit rolls to the bottom once more, and one feels close to despair. It is, therefore, essential to have faith."
In its totality, the spirit of Locarno was less a spirit of "world public opinion," than it was a reflection of the common attitudes of a group of influential men for whom Geneva was the center: ministers, ambassadors, high international civil servants, journalists, writers, a few academics, members of numerous national and international associations which supported the League, certain religious groups and so on. Their aim was to avoid war, to consolidate peace. Their means were open discussion, generous proposals and the signing of pacts, using over and over again the words "peace," "security," "reconciliation," "rapprochement," "accord," "understanding," "hope," "progress," "future," "humanity," "union." They believed, as Stresemann expressed it in the speech already cited, that "Anyone who looks back with his mind's eye at these recent years, and who is not deliberately blind, must agree that international understanding has progressed. This progress must continue."
To understand the collapse of the Locarno world order, three themes must be touched upon: the narrowness of the political base, the persistence of nationalism, and the errors of economic policy.
The world of the League, as distinct from that of the United Nations following the "package deal" of 1955, was narrow. The Soviet Union thought of the Geneva organization as an association of its adversaries which was planning to encircle and destroy it. To be sure, the illness of Foreign Commissar Chicherin in 1928, and the growing influence of Litvinov, would lead Soviet Russia to modify its policies and to join the League in 1934. But it was already too late. The Soviet Union was of no great concern to the men at Geneva, except to the Germans, who used it to strengthen the Soviet resistance to the West. In France, Briand was always indifferent to Russia, and the first steps toward a Franco-Russian rapprochement could not be undertaken until after his death. As for the United States, there was never a majority of Senators in favor of adhering to the Geneva organization. The exclusion of the two potentially most powerful countries in the world sharply limited the effectiveness of the system, even if the two great countries were associated with certain of its undertakings: the Briand-Kellogg Pact and the conference on disarmament.
There was, also, an immense universe of silence comprising the innumerable peoples subject to empires. All of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, with few exceptions, followed destinies imposed on them by distant European leaders. Today, the genuine reactions of these people, or at least of their élites during the colonial period, are studied with passion. Actually, there can be no doubt that the success or failure of the League in Corfu, Bulgaria, the Saar, or Chaco interested these élites very little. Their aspirations to equality, either through assimilation (e.g. the "Jeune Algérie" movement) or by gaining independence, were unknown to the public at large as well as in Geneva. Political Europe was unaware that a world was preparing to be born.
But-and this is equally important even in countries which were members of the League-large segments of the public showed skepticism and even hostility toward it. In addition to communist sympathizers who emphasized the "bourgeois" and "capitalist" character of the League, there were the nationalists who were more preoccupied with power and prestige than with peace, and the traditionalists, who wished to return to the old principles of European equilibrium based on a concert of great powers and bilateral alliances. Thus, it can be said that only a minority of public opinion, recruited from the moderate Left, supported the policies of Locarno.
In a curious book entitled "Locarno without Dreams" which the French political writer Alfred Fabre-Luce, known as an adversary of Poincaré and a partisan of the League, published in 1927, he enumerates its basic weaknesses and contradictions: "Opposition between the principles of the League and its geographical extent" "Opposition between its general organization and the regional agreements it authorized" "Opposition between Justice and Treaties" "Opposition between the League as executor for the victors and the League as an organ of reconciliation" "Opposition between the absolute prohibition of war and the incomplete organization for the peaceful settlement of conflicts" "Opposition between the Spirit of the League and some of its methods of action." It was an effective summary of the narrowness of the international organization's political base.
In Germany, nationalism appeared in a virulent form. But Fabre-Luce was not correct in referring to the League as the executor for the "victors." Was not maintenance of the status quo as produced by the treaties of 1919-1920 the easiest way of maintaining the peace? But all Germans thought these treaties unjust and they believed that, by acting as though the treaties were just, the French practiced a pernicious nationalism also. Briand had made concessions, but as a compromise, "en zig-zag" as Fabre-Luce remarks.
Let us cite Pascal, and we shall understand the dilemma of the League vis-à-vis the nationalists: "Unable to force obedience to justice, it has been made just to obey strength unable to strengthen justice, strength has been justified, so that justice and strength are one, and peace exists, which is the sovereign good."
A world in which all international dealings would be regulated by contracts, and in which contracts would be faithfully observed, could be an intellectual paradise for jurists and something less than that for great masses of humanity. For the origin of contracts is sometimes more important than their appointed value. And in international society, a contract is almost always a transaction based on force. The victor imposes his will on the vanquished. A world in which victory invariably reflects the will of God would be a fortunate world indeed. We know, alas, that this is never the case. A peace treaty, therefore, usually implies advantages for the victor, founded principally on the maxim "Vae victis!" The victor may adopt a variety of attitudes: he may spare the vanquished, as Bismarck spared Austria in 1866, to avoid pushing it into dangerous alliances or he may satisfy a desire which he feels is perfectly just, but which the vanquished may feel with equal sincerity is perfectly unjust. (An example is Bismarck's annexation of Alsace and Lorraine because their German dialects seemed to him to make them part of Germany. The French could accept this Diktat only with indignation because the will of the Alsatians and Lorrainers to remain French seemed to them a higher criterion of nationality than language.) Or the victor can go even further and satisfy his own interests without any concern for justice (for example, the partition of Poland, simply because it was weak, by Hitler and Stalin in 1939).
In any case, a treaty can arouse in the vanquished a passionate discontent, and a more or less violent desire for revenge. A treaty may be not only unjust in itself, but also a cause of war and of violence. And it is no use saying that time will settle everything. In certain cases, as we have seen in Ireland, violence can flare up again at the very moment that certain essentials seem to have been settled.
To a believer in totalitarian government, ready to subordinate all other values to his doctrine, sworn agreements count for nothing when the balance of power changes, he will eagerly seek to profit from the change. This is true of both the confirmed nationalist and the confirmed racist, Bismarck, whom one may certainly call, if not a nationalist, at least a confirmed Prussian, made the following remark to an Austrian diplomat: "Austria and Prussia are both states too large and important to be linked by the text of a treaty. They can be guided only by their own interests and by their own convenience. If a treaty blocks the way to realizing these interests and these conveniences, the treaty must be broken." This would also do very well for a Marxist-Leninist, who expresses relations between powers in terms of the class struggle. Stalin observed the treaties negotiated in 1920 and 1921 between Bolshevik Russia and its neighbors to the West only in so far as it seemed to him impossible to break them. When the possibility arose, in the summer of 1939, he did not hesitate in accomplishing a great maneuver, skillfully, he imagined he relied on a confirmed enemy, detested by all mankind, to recover the Russian territories lost at Brest-Litovsk.
For the Western democracies, respect for a treaty is a far more certain value than for a totalitarian state. If a Western democratic statesman follows the consequences of this idea to its logical conclusion, as President Wilson wanted to do, he tries to make sure that the contract is fair, so that the vanquished will adopt it and abandon the idea of revenge. The difficulty is that there is as yet no objective criterion as to what is fair. One can sometimes achieve success by trial and error, or perhaps because one has some help from geography and history. Certainly the Treaty of the Pyrénées of 1659 between France and Spain was a good one because, apart from the exceptional crises of the Revolution and the Empire, the frontier has remained stable for over three centuries. In that case, too, there was a winner and a loser.
In the case of Wilson, it was incomparably more difficult. To be sure, the principles involved were sound, establishing as they did the equal rights of large and small nations, setting frontiers along "clearly recognizable" lines of nationality, not to speak of creating the League. Unfortunately, in many areas the lines of nationality were not at all "clearly recognizable." In many parts of the world, two peoples can equally passionately lay claim to the same district as an integral part of their nation. Certain American historians have a tendency to believe that the peace of Versailles would have been more just if Wilson had not been obliged to struggle with Clemenceau. But, in fact, on every point of disagreement between the two men-the Saar, the political separation of the Rhineland-Clemenceau yielded, holding fast only for the temporary occupation of the Rhineland. And this, too, was to be evacuated in advance, by 1930, three years before the advent of Hitler. What seemed unacceptable to every German, and sustained a sense of exasperation which favored the Nazi rise to power, were two points on which Wilson and Clemenceau were always in agreement: Article 231, which seemed to affirm German guilt, and the famous Polish Corridor, which derived directly from Wilson's Point Thirteen, according to which a reconstituted Poland should have access to the sea.
If, therefore, it is very difficult to arrive at "fair" contracts, one of the preoccupations of democratic societies must be to find a way of ameliorating contracts which are unsatisfactory. Treaties are not eternal, unless, as Mussolini put it, one wishes to say that the world is dead. Even for a democrat, treaties are not eternal. Democratic jurists have introduced the notion "Rebus sic stantibus" (if conditions remain the same). And, of course, conditions never remain the same forever.
It was easy to see, between the two wars, that the Treaty of Versailles was not perfect. But the two principal democracies responsible for it, France and England, had adopted contradictory attitudes toward it. For a long time France clung to the notion of a full "execution" of the treaty. Then she made concessions-but "too little and too late." England was converted to the idea of concessions by the spring of 1919, and undoubtedly this attitude, shared by the French Left, and later by Briand, was the wiser. But the English sank into incoherence in their desire to maintain and even systematize their policy of concessions after Hitler took power. This was "appeasement." Nothing is more significant than the reaction of Anthony Eden, head of the British Foreign Office, to Hitler's reoccupation of the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland, in March 1936. This, he observed, was "a heavy blow to the sancity of treaties." But, he added immediately, "Fortunately, there are grounds for hope that this will not lead to war."
Some of Eden's successors came to think that any blow struck by Hitler against the Versailles treaty, or for the annexation of German-speaking populations, was, in the end, justified. It was only Hitler's method which was to be condemned. Therefore, the original contract having been broken, the dictator must be persuaded to sign a new one. Hitler understood this attitude so well that he coupled his acts of international violence, as we have seen, with spectacular proposals for example, treaties of nonaggression for the next 25 years. Thus, on one side, Hitler tried to pacify the democracies by offering them treaties which he was prepared to violate as soon as the balance of forces shifted. On the other, the English felt they could persuade Hitler that his methods were bad, and so offered him treaties designed to convert him to an attitude more respectful of treaties. Of course, the results were the opposite of what had been hoped, and, ultimately, Secretary of State Stimson's approach of not recognizing the fruits of aggression was the more rational.
The greatest weakness of the system we have described is also the least well known. It is the mediocrity of economic policy, or, to put it more precisely, the failure of policy to reflect economic reality.
The decade of the twenties had been, for the West, and particularly for the United States, a decade of unbridled capitalism. For Hoover, who was largely responsible for this situation, first as Secretary of Commerce, and then as President, optimism was the rule. "American individualism" implied the possibility of each citizen's making a fortune. For capitalists, it also implied the possibility of acting without constraints imposed by the state, and even with the protection of the state in the form of low taxes and high import duties.
On the international level, contrary to the ideas of Wilson, and later of Cordell Hull, there was disorganized competition and protectionist egoism. In Europe, more or less the same methods were followed, although here and there the international cartels were able to impose some sort of order. The International Agreement on Steel, adopted on September 30, 1926, fixed the production quotas of Germany, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Saar. But that was an exceptional instance. On the whole, nothing was available to control production, overproduction and credit, except a sanctimonious faith in the excellence of economic laws.
This faith had another consequence. It was considered essential that debtors repay their war debts. To encourage repayment, the Hoover administration established a principle according to which countries which had not settled their debts, or the citizens of those countries, were not eligible for American loans. These stipulations, between 1925 and 1930, oriented available American capital toward Germany, thus enabling it to pay reparations during the five years of the Dawes Plan. But when the crisis came, and American funds were withdrawn, Germany was no longer able to pay reparations. The ex-victor countries could no longer pay their debts. This situation arose in 1932, and we know how much these difficulties helped poison relations between Europe and the United States.
Monetary errors were added to protectionist egoism. Drawn after the war into a world of inflation until then unknown, European leaders committed almost every possible error. By retying the pound sterling to gold at its 1914 parity, Winston Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, condemned England to an indefinite period of a million unemployed. By counting on reparations to make up her budget deficits, France lived until 1926 in a state of permanent monetary crisis. As for Germany, the destruction of the mark in 1923 certainly enriched a few powerful businessmen, but impoverished the salaried class, wiped out all small savings and created conditions of misery ideal for Nazi recruitment. The relative wisdom of the years 1925 to 1929 (balanced budgets and more or less stable currencies) was accompanied by a total absence of control of production and of credit, as if the state, having become wise for a time, was allowing producers the right to go mad.
When the crisis of overproduction developed no one was prepared to deal with it. In monetary matters, the world, instead of engaging in mutual assistance, split into three groups, the countries which had devalued (principally the United Kingdom and the United States) the countries of the "Gold Bloc" (principally France), stupidly clinging to monetary parity and trying to lower their prices by a deflation productive of discontent and countries with total currency control (principally Germany). This absence of international solidarity was almost as catastrophic for the world as the advent of Adolf Hitler.
One might summarize these "economic errors," of which only a very incomplete list is given here, by saying that the politicians, either through ignorance or illusion, were unaware of the invasion of politics by economic considerations. The Great War had formidably heightened the economic responsibilities of governments, but these had recoiled before the new reality. They managed their budgets as they had before 1914, leaving to private interests, notably to banks, the particulars of running their economies. The French, English and German banks, all-powerful before 1914, investing all over the world, had drawn back into themselves. A French law of 1918, which was operative for ten years, even forbade investments in foreign funds, an extraordinary contrast to the proud economic imperialism of France at the beginning of the century.
The banks did not know how to fill the void left by governmental economic incompetence. And the central banks-the Bank of England of Sir Montagu Norman, the Reichsbank of Dr. Hjalrnar Schacht, the Banque de France of Robineau and then Moreau, instead of considering themselves instruments in the service of the common good, sought above all to preserve their private character and their independence vis-à-vis the state. The fabulous economic and financial ignorance of Aristide Briand, a typical statesman of the "Locarno generation," should not blind us to the fact that his partners, Austen Chamberlain, Frank B. Kellogg and even Gustav Stresemann were hardly more competent than he.
Thus, in a world where the state was becoming responsible for the economy, the politicians did not try to adapt to their new responsibilities and the banks did not help them. The economic conjuncture looked good, and once again, an excess of optimism led to the belief that it would remain good indefinitely.
The spirit of Locarno was a beautiful dream-a dream of reconciliation and peace based on fidelity to sworn engagements. From that pleasant but somewhat absurd dream came the plunge into the abyss of horror. And, of course, between the spirit of Locarno and the spirit of Lebensraum, the choice is not difficult. At least let us share with the men of Locarno, already belonging to such a distant day, a faith in the progress of humanity. It is simply that after 50 more years of experience, our faith is less naïve and more anxious.