By HAROLD NICOLSON
THE Foreign Office have for generations adopted what might seem a singular system in moving their employees from one post to another. The man who, after ten years in China, has acquired some smattering, not of Cantonese only, but also of Kuinhua and Wu, is sent suddenly to represent his country in the Republic of Panama ; conversely a man who has spent his early life in Latin America is, on being transferred to the Foreign Office, set down to deal with the problems of the Scandinavian States. This system, which to many appears empirical, is in fact based on long experience of the effect upon the British temperament of resi- dence abroad. It has been found that a man who has lived for several years either in Athens or Helsinki tends to " identify " him- self with Greek or Finnish politics and to acquire for the country in which he has resided fervent affection or fervent dislike, either of which emotions diminishes the value of his advice and judge- ment. It might be contended, perhaps, that the stages of constant disinfection through which our diplomatists are passed renders them so neutral as to become impervious, not to passions only, but also to ideas: but at least they are discouraged from identifying them- selves with causes which, however noble, bear little relation to the needs and interests of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Even more disturbing is the effect upon the itinerant journalist or poli- tician of some chance or temporary association with a small and distant country. If he be a vain man, his vanity is flattered by discovering that in Ruritania he is regarded as a person of infinitely greater eminence than he had ever been in Kettering or Tomes ; and if he be an idealist, his idealism finds a far more satisfactory vent in espousing the Ruritanian under-dog than it had ever found in sponsoring boys' dubs in Battersea.
* * * * More curious, even, is the effect upon the visiting Englishman of personal contact with the politics and problems of the Near and Middle East. The same man who, when visiting India or East Africa, would retain unperturbed his Whitehall view of the Con- gress Party or of the tribal difficulties of the Bantu or the Masai, will, when brought into contact with the politics of a country out- side our own area of responsibility, suddenly develop extreme partisan emotions. Instead of approaching these problems from the central focus of British interests, he will approach them from the detached focus of purely local interests. His altruism will become so in- flamed as to tempt him to espouse some foreign requirements with greater vehemence than he had ever devoted to British require- ments, and his enthusiasm will become infected with a sense of personal mission and a conviction of extreme moral righteousness. A further psychological phenomenon can also be observed. The Englishman who for the first time .visits the Middle East is apt to be fascinated by the blend which it offers between the unknown and the known, between the exotic and the familiar, between the mysterious and the understandable. Before the last war it was Turkey which exercised this unbalancing effect upon the travelling Englishman ; he was apt to attribute to the "clean-fighting Turk" qualities of chivalry which were not confirmed by the experiences of the Kut garrison ; and to attach to Pan-Islamism a vague and imponderable significance which seemed to lose its reality when the Khalifate was, without a murmur, suppressed. The place of the Turks in our imagination has now been filled by the Arabs. It is they who, with considerable dexterity, arouse and exploit our vanity, our affections and our fear of the unknown. It is they who tempt us to forget at moments that we are primarily Europeans. *• * * * I should be the last to deny that it is a major British interest to gain and to retain the friendship of the Arab world. Yet if we approach the problems of the Levant with the sole desire to appease Arab susceptibilities we may find, not merely that our focus be- comes distorted, but that we are insensibly committed to courses which are in fact dishonourable and disadvantageous. In regard to Palestine, we are committed by the Balfour Declaration and the White Paper. In regard to Syria and the Lebanon—in which areas serious difficulties may at any moment arise—we are also bound by pledges which it is important to remember. When, on June 8, 1941, General Catroux proclaimed the independence of the Syrian and Lebanese republics, he added the following important rider : —" Your status of independence and sovereignty will be guaranteed by a Treaty which will also define our mutual relations." This proclamation, with all that it implied, was publicly and officially endorsed by our Ambassador in Cairo. In August of the same year an exchange of letters took place between Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (at that time our Minister in the Middle East) and General de Gaulle. "Great Britain," wrote Mr. Lyttelton, "has no interest in Syria and the Lebanon, except to win the war. We have no desire to encroach in any way upon the position of France. . . . We freely admit that France should have the predominant position. in Syria and the Lebanon over any other European Power. It is in this spirit that we have always acted." In acknowledging this letter, General de Gaulle took note of our disinterestedness and of the fact that Great Britain " admits, as a basic principle, the permanent and privileged position of France." This assurance was reaffirmed by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on September 9, 1941. " We recognise," he. said, "that among all the nations of Europe the position of France in Syria is one of special privilege and that in so far as any European countries have influence in Syria, that of France will be pre-eminent." * *. * * These pledges were given at a moment when we desired to obtain the assistance of the Free French, and the support of French opinion, in securing that the Levant Republics should not be used by our enemies as a base of attack upon Egypt or Iraq: it would be highly dishonourable, now that the danger is removed, to contend that our promises did not apply to a situation in which the two Republics would be completely independent. If we had some reservation in mind we should have stated it frankly at the time: the pledges given in 1941 conveyed, and were intended to convey, the impression that Great Britain desired France to conclude with Syria and the Lebanon treaties similar to those which govern our own relations with Egypt and Iraq. If the Levant Republics are today unwilling to conclude such a Treaty with France, then it is for the French . to seek an agreed settlement by direct negotiation ; our own attitude in the matter must remain governed by the pledges which, in a moment of difficulty and danger, we publicly gave to France. In order to get our focus correct it is useful to transpose the situation into other terms. Supposing (as might well have happened) that in 1941 we ourselves had still occupied a mandatory position in Iraq: supposing that England had been invaded and London occupied ; supposing that at the time of Reshid Ali's pro-German rebellion the United States Legation at Baghdad had openly espoused the cause of Reshid Ali ; supposing that the United States Govern- ment had given us pledges even half as definite as those which in 1941 we gave to France ; and supposing that thereafter the. State Department had construed those pledges as meaning something wholly different—then I am convinced that public opinion in this country would have felt that America had behaved with perfidy and lack of faith. . * * * * •
Our position in Europe after the war will be one of immense difficulty: our moral responsibility will be greater than ever, whereas our physical power will be less. The gap between our responsibilities and our strength can only be filled by confidence. The whole world realises that in certain areas we are not strong enough to impose our own conceptions of right and wrong ; this fact should render us doubly scrupulous in maintaining confidence in those areas where our writ still runs. The confidence of Western Europe is more important to us than any other consideration; if we behave like a Balkan state, we shall become one.