21 AUGUST 1936, Page 14


Commonwealth and Foreign


THE Trade Pact that has just been concluded between Germany and Lithuiania will no doubt somewhat relax the acute tension that has existed between these two Countries since the trial of the Memel terrorists. It will be remembered that until then trade and political relations between Germany and Lithuana were very close, and that not only was Germany Lithuania's best customer, but that she also undoubtedly supported Lithuania's bitter anti-Polish attitude that has prevailed since the seizing of Vilna episode. Notwithstanding all this, Germany was continuously fomenting trouble in the Memel district, and it is hardly likely that the new Trade Pact will put an end to activities of this kind. The fact that the Germans have stipulated the right of conducting a large proportion of their purchases in Lithuania (especially of pigs—a key industry) through their own local Nazi organisa- tions is a fairly clear indication of their intentions. Moreover, the impending trial of a huge Nazi espionage organisation, directed and financed by the German Consulate in Memel, may very easily prejudice the renewal of trade relations between the two countries from the very start. All this, however, has comparatively little bearing on the general situation in the Baltic. It is relatively unimportant whether the commercial or even political relations between Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia and Germany are good or bad. The main problem of Eastern Europe, so far as the Baltic States are concerned, is that of Germano-Russian relations. A clash between Russia and Germany would inevitably turn the territory of these small countries into one great battlefield. They have endured that scourge before, not once, but many times, and for several centuries. What can they do to safeguard themselves against being drawn into a conflict that is not of their making and in which their position would be very largely that of an unwilling pawn ?

In the Rappallo days, when there existed a sinister and highly dangerous close collaboration between the Soviets and Germany, the position of Poland and the Baltic States was precarious, because it was possible for Berlin and Moscow to " squeeze " these countries in more ways than one. And, of course, there was always the danger of Bolshevism. But since the advent of Hitler, and his open threats to Soviet Russia, the position in North-Eastern Europe has completely changed, and has acquired unprecedented tension. Whether one believes that Germany's admitted " Drang nach Osten" will take shape in an adventure first in the South-East of Europe (i.e., Vienna, Prague and the Ukraine), or in the North-East (i.e., Danzig, Memel, Poland and the Baltic) there seems little doubt that sooner or later North-Eastern Europe will be involved. The Governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are fully aware of it. They are watching the situation, and are taking such precautionary measures as their limited means and the size of their countries will allow. Moreover, they are very active on the diplomatic front, and there too important adjustments are rapidly taking place.

The Baltic States will certainly remain neutral in the Germano-Russian conflict as long as they can. Up to a point, they even welcome the parallel re-militarisation of both countries, for they deem themselves safer when the forces of Russia and Germany are more or less equally balanced than if one of them had an obvious military superiority over the other. But while it was easy to theorise about all these things when the danger of an aggression seemed far remote or only hypothetical, the rapid shifting of the European scene has brought /he explosive possibilties—always latent in. the Baltic—much nearer to reality. The Danzig affair and the German-Austrian agreement have a direct bearing on this. As far as Danzig is concerned, the matter is now an affair between Poland and Germany, neither of which wishes at the moment to prejudice the wider issue of their so-called friend-

ship on account of developments in Free City. Yet A may easily happen that, despite the obvious disinclination of both parties to come to blows over a problem that is vital to each

of them, events may force Hitler or the Poles to take, action. If, for instance, Hitler decides to proceed with the Nazification of Austria only in slow degrees, the completion of the ." con-.

quest of Danzig" may appear desirable ; again the local Nazis there, drunk with the success of Herr ,Greiser's performance in Geneva, may get out of hand and go too far even for the

Poles. On the other hand, Hitler may decide ta leave both Austria and Danzig alone for a little while and to, look for a diversion somewhere else.

And after Danzig, what is there that he can do .in North- Eastern Europe—with reasonable hope of success, yet not immediately involving him in a world war ? He can. obviously

attempt to seize Memel, of course, or Klaipeda, to. give it its proper Lithuanian name. The mere detail of a Trade Pact is hardly likely to stop him if he decides on that course of action.

If Hitler attempts a coup in Klaipeda, as he easily might, there is little doubt that the Lithuanians will resort to arms. They could scarcely do anything else, for surrendering the port of Klaipeda—on the development of which they have spent millions—would be analogous to the Poles giving up Gdynia, i.e., nothing short of national suicide. Moreover, the Lithuanians are courageous people, and up to now have not been afraid of standing up to either of their formidahle neigh- bours—Germany and Poland.

If Lithuania became involved, it is hard to see how Latvia and Estonia could remain neutral, even though there is no binding obligation on them to take part in such a conflict. In fact, in order to avoid this, the military alliance that unites the latter two countries was not extended to Lithuania. While willing to co-operate with Kaunas, both Tallinn and Riga have always made it clear that the Baltic Entente can only become a real alliance between the three countries, if Lithuania clears up her relations at least with Poland. But, however hard Estonia and Latvia may try to limit their responsibilities, it is obvious that the integrity of Lithuanian independence is a matter of direct concern to them, and not only to them, but also to Soviet Russia.

It must be realised that, far from cherishing any expansionist aspirations in the Baltic, Russia today is only too happy to have this barrier of small countries between herself and Germany : she will go a long way to maintain it. The Bolsheviks certainly no longer want to establish a Communist system, in the Baltic, and have every interest to contribute as much as they can to the political, military and economic consolidation of these countries. In fact, relations between Moscow and the Baltic capitals have never been better than just at present, and while the dictators of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are ruthlessly suppressing even the very shadow of Communism in their own countries, they are quite prepared, or indeed anxious, for the friendship of the Soviets.

At the time when the Baltic Republics were born, the sceptics prophesied that without the Russian hinterland these small countries would soon prove an economic impossibility. More than fifteen years have elapsed since, and have shown 'this contention to be entirely false. Indeed it is quite remarkable how well Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have got on economically without Russia, and to what extent they have built up their foreign trade. relations with the rest of the world—especially with Great Britain. On the other hand, the growth of the Hitler menace to their independence has brought about a considerable political rapprochement between these States and Russia. Both sides realise the advantages of cooperation, and neither is at .the moment threatening the other.

The international situation these days is full of paradoxes. One of them is that the abdication by France and England of all their responsibilities is driving half the States of Europe into the arms of Hitler. But another paradox, which is even more significant, is that Hitler is driving the three small Baltic Republics into the arms of Russia.