Peace Or War?
( Originally Published 1932 )
THE future of Europe will depend before all things on whether Europe is to remain at peace for the next ten years. On that there are diverse views. Lord Cecil, speaking at the league of Nations Assembly in September 1931, expressed the opinion that never at any period in the world's history had war seemed more remote than it was at that moment. A few weeks later Signor Mussolini, whom it would be a profound mistake to reresent as a stormy petrel seeking trouble, made a speech which was interpreted as meaning that he saw war imminent. Between those contrasted estimates every observer of events can make the choice for himself. Superficially occasions for war in Europe are all too visible. There is the discontent of the defeated nations over their of territory, sullen and relentless in the case of Germany, fiercer and more vocal in the case of Hungary. But Germany has, egards her western frontiers, endorsed by the voluntary act of Locarno the renunciation she made under duress at Versailles, and though Stresemann, who declared she would never seek to make changes in the east by war, is dead, his pledge must be taken to represent the official policy of Germany, until such time at any rate as Herr Hitler's party finds itself in power. With one reservation. There is a formidable danger overhanging Europe as these words are being written, and Europe seems far too little conscious of it. Germany and some of her former enemies, France in particular, are accusing one another of tearing up the Treaty of Versailles. Germany declares, in the language of fact rather than of menace, that she is incapable of continuing her reparation payments. France charges her with definitely repudiating her obligations. In another sphere Germany, having carried out the measure of disarmament imposed on her by the treaty, accuses France and other States of disregarding the implicit pledge they gave to follow Germany's example when Germany had led the way. There are two situations here that may lead to serious trouble. If Germany defaults on her reparation payments without previous agreement with her creditors, particularly France once more, the question of measures of coercion will arise. Last time there was a default France marched into the Ruhr and staved there for over two years. That adventure was not so profitable as to encourage a renewal of it, but the tension the situation envisaged would create as between France and Germany would unquestionably be full of menace.
The same is true of the crisis likely to arise in the event of Germany contending, in regard to armaments, that since the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles had failed to carry out their moral (and according to some interpretations their legal) obligations to disarm, Germany was liberated from her own undertakings and free to increase ber armaments above the specified limit. That is a far from improbable development, and any attempt to carry the threat into effect would precipitate a much more critical situation than any default on reparations. France would at once contest the legality of the act, and though the matter might be referred, as it should be, to the Permanent Court at the Hague for a ruling on the juridical question, feeling on both skies of the Rhine would be stirred so deeply that some spontaneous outbreak, leading probably enough to more extensive trouble and possibly to actual war, might be looked for at any moment. Whether the drift is in fact in that direction will no doubt be known soon after this volume is in circulation, but the contingency must be taken into account in any complete survey of the possibilities of war in Europe.
Then there is Hungary, who shows no more sign of acquiescing in her fate than she did ten years ago, but so long as the Little Entente holds together to discharge its primary purpose of keeping Hungarian ambitions in check no Hungarian Government is likely to commit the folly of aggressive action or to succeed in such a venture if it does. Bulgaria in the Balkans is no less restless, but the same odds are ranged against her there as hold Hungary in leash. Unaided she can do nothing to extend the limits the Treaty of Neuilly imposed on her.
But suppose Bulgaria is not unaided ?
And Hungary ? And Germany ? There is one quarter only from which aid could come apart from Russia, and Russia is a separate story. Italy is the possible ally of the defeated States, and for the theory that she might be disposed to make common cause with them a plausible case might be constructed. Italy as a nation is ambitious.
The characteristics the Fascist régime displays at home must find their reflection in occasional demonstrations on the international stage. It speaks well for the restraint of Italy's leaders that those demonstrations are not 'more frequent and more disturbing than they are. The role of Italy, if she cared to assume it and the temptation is plainly present to her mind—is obviously that of leader of a bloc in opposition to France.
Various considerations might dispose her to that. It would, to begin with, minister to her prestige. That probably matters as much as anything to a formidable section of Fascist opinion. In the second place there are numerous and serious grounds for friction between Italy and France. There is a natural rivalry between the two principal States of continental Europe west of Russia —for Italy herself at any rate would certainly claim a place above Germany in the hierarchy.
There are real and long-standing differences between the two countries over Italy's desire to expand into, and gain a certain status in, the French protectorates in northern Africa.
There is, not unconnected with that, France's alarm at her almost stationary birth-rate, and Italy's campaign for babies and yet more babies, which has given her almost the same population as the French. France stands at 42,000,000. Italy is just under that today and proposes to stabilise at 60,000,000.
There are difficulties on both sides about the position of the $800,000 Italian agricultural workers in south-eastern France. There is bitter resentment on the Italian side at the freedom of speech and writing accorded to anti-Fascist refugees in France. There is sustained indignation at France's refusal to admit the right of Italy to naval parity with herself, particularly when it is certain that for financial reasons Italy would not build up to France's level, and sustained irritation at the compulsion thus laid on Italian taxpayers to spend money they can ill afford in building ship for ship with France so as to fall no further behindhand in the race.
None of these factors by themselves, nor the whole combined, constitute a cause of war, but they do serve to concentrate the Italian mind on the possibility of war, and dispose the Italian leaders to consider where, in such an eventuality, external support might be found. For France, it must never be forgotten (Italy least of all countries is likely to forget it), is head of a European bloc, and it is only as part of a rival bloc that any individual State could venture to take up arms against her. Italy's associates in such a case are clearly enough marked out, and she has already begun to gravitate towards them.
They are the countries with a particular grievance against France or the peace treaties France is determined to enforce. They are, in short, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria the latter now linked to Italy by a union, for what that may be worth, between the royal houses, and sharing to the full Italian hostility towards Jugoslavia.
A colourable case could thus be made for a war between an Italian bloc and a French. But no more than colourable. In the first place there is no equality of strength.
Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria are all disarmed, and Italy is no match for France by land or sea. Secondly, and more important, there is no reason to believe that Italy has any serious thought of war. Italian foreign policy has evolved considerably in the last few years and always in the direction of stability and peace. That accounts for the increasingly cordial relations that have undoubtedly been developing with Great Britain. Signor Mussolini, it is true, has a unique gift for preaching peace and fulminating war in one and the same speech, and sometimes exercises it, but Italy's persistent pressure for the reduction of naval armaments, and her initiative in proposing the armaments truce at Geneva in 1931, are not less significant evidences of her con- sidered policy if they are attributed to no higher motives than pure self-interest.
There are no doubt other possible causes of war in Europe minority difficulties, for example. But there the same considerations a ply as to the question of territorial changes.
The nations with grievances, just or imagined, are those who were not only conquered but disarmed, and the conclusion once again emerges that those who have the desire to change the existing order in Europe have not the power to do it, and those who have the power have not the desire, for the order that exists is the order the States with power have established. These conditions are no basis for peace in the true sense, if by real peace is meant the absence of all inclination to war, but they do at least guarantee warlessness in Europe for a period, and that period forms the interval that provides an opportunity for laying the foundations of true stability. The interval is not eternal. The war-spirit if it persists cannot be for ever suppressed.
Nations in desperation will fight against hopeless odds and no one knows where a war so begun may end.
If any serious student of European affairs were asked to put his finger on the spot where war, if war does come, would first break out, he would almost certainly plant it, not as before 1914. in the Balkans, but at some point on the German-Polish frontier probably just about where the so-called Polish Corridor is narrowest. To say that is very far from predicting that war sill some day break out in or about the Polish Corridor. There is no reason why anything of the sort should happen. But that is the kind of danger present to anxious minds. The movement in Germany of revolt against the Treaty of Versailles, and in particular against the loss of Danzig and East Prussia and Upper Silesia, has gained new force and new expression under such leaders as Hitler and Hugenberg. An armed incursion of Hitlerites into the Corridor would be madness if it involved a contest between a band of irregulars and all the military force Poland could call up to resist them. But it is a madness of which young hotheads, heated to higher temperatures still by too stimulating sabbatical rhetoric, might not be incapable ; and if such a raid received too much popular support, or the measures taken against it by the Poles were too ruthless, it might be difficult for the German Government to keep itself and the army out of the conflict. What action France would take in such a case is certain. Definite treaty obligations bind her to Poland. What Russia would do is far less certain. And just what application the Treaty of Locarno would have in the circumstances is more problematic still.
Now this is an imaginary case. It is most unlikely to be more than imaginary. Which means, in view of the choice of the Corridor dispute as the most probable cause of war in Europe, that war in Europe is not probable in any future it is easy to foresee. And in fact it is not. There are at least three good reasons for that, and no doubt plenty of others a little less good. One, the military predominance enjoyed by the group of States whose interest it is to keep the existing order unchanged, has already been mentioned.
A second is the economic and financial stringency from which almost every State in Europe, certainly every potential violator of the peace, is suffering. On the face of it they are in no condition to sustain the burden of war for a week—though it is arguable that a country's very desperation might drive it into war, on the principle that things are so bad that there is nothing more to lose.
The third is the probability that so far as European States are concerned the League of Nations would be strong enough to prevent war. The League's power to preserve peace in Europe will not be proved till it has succeeded in staving off a war in which at least one Great Power would have been engaged. It may be claimed that it did that at Corfu in 19235 but the issue there was too complex, and the jurisdiction too divided, to make it wise to cite the Corfu case as a precedent. Much more recently the League as had to deal with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.
Again the issue was very far from simple and opinions differ as to how far the League succeeded or failed in its endeavours. But whatever allowances are made, or conclusions reached, it is difficult to maintain that the Manchurian affair will have increased the confidence of weak States in the League's ability to protect them from a stronger. In spite of that the League does mean a good deal to European States. All of them west of Russia are members of it. Most of them have sat at one time or another on its Council. None of them ever absents itself from the Assembly.
All attend the so-called Commission of Enquiry for European Union (more simply the European Commission), inaugurated on M. Briand's initiative for the discussion of questions of purely European interest.
Those Americans are wrong who justify their attitude of detachment from Geneva by the contention that the League as a whole is a European affair. It is not. But at the same time, the League's main concern in its early years has, for obvious reasons, been with European questions, and that has made it a peculiar reality to European States. They are accustomed to have recourse to Geneva for every kind of purpose, and the collective good sense of Europe concentrated at Geneva should be equal to stamping out the first sparks of a possible European War.
But to say that of a Europe organized through the League of Nations is to leave one factor of the first importance out altogether.
How far is Soviet Russia a danger to European peace ? The question is even harder to answer than it seems, for it means fore-shadowing the future of a State and a system whose destiny is, more than that of any other in the world, incalculable. Russia today is no menace to peace. The last thing she desires is war, for 100 per cent. of her energies is devoted to the supreme task of carrying through the Five Years' Plan. The plan is very far from a failure, but not even an official °Soviet propagandist would claim that it has so far succeeded that Russia could already equip herself to face the terrific strain of a first-class war in days when it is no longer men that count in war but machines. But what when the five years have expired ? Will Russia not feel herself ready for war then ? The first answer to that is that at the end of the five years the Five Years' Plan will not have been carried through. Sixty per cent of it may have been, perhaps even seventy ; certainly not more. The second answer is that when the Five Years' Plan has been executed, or is officially declared to have been executed, it will inevitably be succeeded by another, perhaps of five years again, perhaps of only three or two, designed to raise the standard of life for the Russian people. The idea of that second plan will still throw the idea of war into the background.
But eventually ? What about the spread of the world revolution ? The question admits of no certain answer, but it opens up interesting fields of speculation. If the Five Years' Plan and its successor or successors justify hope, and the standards of comfort and prosperity in Russia rise, what will become of the urge towards revolution ?
" Let me have men about me that are lean and hungry "—the prophet of revolution may well demand. Full stomachs make bad revolutionaries and full purses worse. It is arguable (though not a great deal could be staked on the assumption) that till the Five Years' Plan is through, Russia will not be capable of fighting on any large scale and that when it is through she will not want to fight. This, moreover, must be said, in justice, of Russia. In every disarmament discussion she has invariably declared herself ready to accept the most drastic proposals for the reduction and limitation of armaments, and has herself formulated proposals so sweeping that it was difficult to persuade any one to take them seriously. The Soviet Government may, as many of its habitual critics have loudly insisted, be entirely insincere, but till other States have taken Russia at her word, accepted her standards of armaments and challenged her to observe them herself, no one is in a position to prove her insincere or convict her of hypocrisy. On the whole there is reasonable ground for concluding that the leading members of the Communist Party have, as M. Litvinoff indicated in a speech at Geneva in 1931, abandoned the early dream of the almost immediate establishment of the Communist system the world over and accepted the idea of the co-existence of two opposed and irreconcilable conceptions of society, And M. Lunacharsky, then Commissar of Education, was probably voicing a conviction that has since become more general in Russia when he observed a few years ago that the war Moscow had in view was a war of ideas ; the world would be converted to Communism, not coerced.
In one aspect the danger of Russia being involved in war is more serious. Such tension as exists today between Moscow and other capitals arises from economic causes. There is deep and widespread hatred of Soviet doctrines, and the émigres from Czarist Russia still exercise a certain influence here and there. But that counts for little beside the friction caused by the alleged unfairness of Russian competition in world markets. There are genuine difficulties here, and they may as well be frankly recognised.
Russia, as result of the exhaustion caused by the war, prolonged by the operations of Koltchak, Denikin, and other champions of the old régime, and the hopeless disorganisation due to the revolution, was practically kept out of the world markets for years after the rest of the warring States had settled down to normal commercial relations.
There was no longer Russian wheat available, so Canada and the United States and Australia and the Argentine grew more. They grew all the world wanted, and when Russia a year or two ago began exporting again she found the market already glutted. So with oil.
So with timber and other commodities. She could only sell her products—and it was life and death to her to sell them in order to buy machinery to carry out the Five Years' Plan by undercutting rival producers and threatening them with ruin. Hence the demand everywhere for special discrimination against Russian goods, and the measures a number of countries have actually taken to keep imports from Russia out or subject them to special disabilities. Russia does not take kindly to such discrimination. At the hands of countries like Great Britain or France or Italy she may have to submit to it if it is imposed, but there is always the danger that she may take against some lesser State attempting it measures so sharp as to end, intentionally or otherwise, in actual war.
Such a development is not among the probabilities, but when the possible occasions of war are under examination this one cannot be entirely ruled out.
From one other fertile cause of past wars the Europe of the future promises to be immune. Wars of religion and wars of have no longer to be seriously feared. Both religion and race, no doubt, figure largely in the minority problem, and it is arguable that there is more danger of war in minority discontents than in anything else. But minority grievances, if it cannot be claimed that they secure any complete redress at Geneva, at any rate secure sufficient consideration there to make the Geneva procedure an adequate safeguard against actual war.
Such religious differences as do cause tension between States today are no longer antagonisms between Catholic and Protestant, as they were in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (one or two incidents in the recent history of Czechoslovakia form a minor exception), but between Catholic and Orthodox, which is another way of saying that they are confined to the east of Europe. In that guise they perpetuate to some extent, but in a mitigated form, the old rivalry between Teuton and Slav that bulked so large among the varied causes of the World War. PanSlavism and Pan,-Germanism are alike to all appearance dead. Russia, as protector of the Slays of the Balkans, has disappeared, and the powerful Austro-German bloc, with penetration of the Balkans as an incident in the advance to Bagdad its constant aim, has no longer the power or the desire to pursue such objectives. Nationality is overshadowing race as a political factor, in spite of the prominence the Anschluss—union between Germany and Austria assumes from time to time. But the motive there is at least as much political and economic as racial.
If therefore it is necessary, as it seems to be, to base the discussion of future developments in Europe either on the assumption that there will be another European war at an early date or on the assumption that there will not, the latter is clearly to be chosen.
War is possible, but peace is more probable. There will be something more definite to say about that when the result of the Disarmament Conference of 1932 is known, for though armaments may not be among the major causes of war they are emphatically the chief keeps the idea of war Nations have nerves sometimes more, as every student of mass psychology knows, and ments are dangerous playthings for a nervous nation to keep, handling,. Consequently a reduction of armaments would At. relegatlon of the war idea, therefore of the war danger, to the back ground, while the failure to secure general reductlon would charge the air with suspicions ' alarms and convince half the States Europe that the other half were insisting on maintainin their military and naval equipment they had a definite intention all either be farther away at end of the Disarmament Conference.