12 JANUARY 1940, Page 5


THERE is no social unit in Europe today so small that it may not become at any moment the centre of interest and a turning-point in the major struggle— military or economic. At the start, all eyes were upon Danzig. Later, Holland and Belgium seemed danger- points. Today it is Finland ; tomorrow it may be Sweden ; soon the turn may come of one of the Balkan States. The nervous tension stretches to every remote corner of the Continent, and never was it more important for the statesman to keep the whole scene under his scrutiny, and to have a clear policy in relation to all Europe and each of its parts. Russian policy in regard to Finland has an obvious bearing upon Russian policy in regard to the Balkans, and that brings us to the momentous part that the Balkan countries, separately or together, may play in preserving themselves from Russian or German aggression.

In that region the activities of Italy may prove a decisive factor in limiting the area of open war. The meeting between the Italian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers at Venice last week-end seems to have carried a stage further the efforts which the Italian Government is making to induce the Danubian and Balkan States to put aside their differences. The particular objective at that meeting appears to have been to persuade Hungary not to push too far her claims for immediate territorial revision against Rumania, and not to attack Rumania if Rumania is attacked by Russia, since the most pressing danger to both countries is that of Soviet aggression. A British commentator might have added that the danger from Germany is as great as that from Russia. But perhaps that goes without saying. The advice which Italy is offering to the Balkan States is wise advice which could not fail to meet with approval in this country. At this juncture it is of the utmost importance that the British Government should make it clear that it has not the least intention of seeking to bring any Balkan country into the war. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that to do so would be contrary both to Britain's wishes and to her interests. In the last war, when Austria and Germany were invading Serbia, and the Balkans had been from the start a theatre of war, the position was fundamentally different. Germany secured the aid of Turkey and Bulgaria, and the Allies subsequently won the adherence of Rumania. But no such situation will present itself in this war unless Germany or Russia attacks a Balkan country. Italy is anxious to prevent any aggression in the Balkans, which she pictures as coming from Russia. This country is equally anxious to prevent it, though Germany is the aggressor with whom we are more directly concerned.

This, of course, does not mean that the general European policy which determines Italy's attitude to the Balkans is the same as ours. That is obviously not the case. Italy would probably prefer that there should be a balance of power in Europe in which neither Germany nor the Allies should become supreme, whereas we from the nature of the case desire the crushing of the Nazi regime. Italy has vital economic interests in the eastern Mediterranean, and it is natural that she should look for a great expansion of trading activities in the Danubian and Balkan countries. Her political and economic ambitions there are inseparable. For us the Balkan countries have assumed an abnormal importance mainly because we desire to deny the exploitation of them to the Germans.

It may well be that the war will be decided not by its battles but by the Allied success or failure in depriving Germany of adequate means of subsistence. Russia is a partner with whom she has to keep step not only to share the spoils but to outmanoeuvre her in the process of partition. Russia appeared to score the first point in this double-crossing partnership when she barred Germany's way to Rumania. But if Russia, at present frustrated in Finland, should be in a position to proceed against Sweden, it is likely enough that Germany would feel forced to join in the aggression in order to share the spoils and secure her access to Sweden's iron ores. Again, if Russia demanded the cession of Bessarabia and invaded Rumania, is it not almost certain that her dis- trustful partner would march simultaneously, if only to retain her hold on the indispensable markets of the Balkans ? And vice versa, if Germany initiated the attack in the South-East, would not Russia behave exactly as she behaved in Poland, and occupy strategic positions in the invaded country?

Thus when Italy speaks to the Balkan Powers of the danger which threatens them from Bolshevik Russia it is impossible for us not to recognise that Germany is a part of that danger. It could not be to Britain's interest to draw one or two only of these small States into our war, for if the Balkans were divided our help could not be effectual and they would fall an easy prey to the aggressors. On the other hand, if the Balkan States could so far put aside their differences as to present a common " peace front," neither Russia nor Germany would dare to attack, and the question would not arise. Therefore because peace in the Balkans and not war is to the British interest, if for no other reasons, this country is bound to view with satisfaction Count Ciano's efforts to reconcile Hungary and Rumania, and to share the hope expressed in Rome that when King Carol announced the Rumanian intention to hold Bessarabia at all costs, his silence about Transylvania indicated readiness to negotiate with Hungary.

None the less, intensive British activity is necessary in the Balkans, more perhaps than in any other neutral country. It is a vital war aim to diminish the economic pressure which Germany has always been capable of applying there, and to make it worth while for the South-Eastern countries to trade elsewhere. Our successful blockade of Germany in the west will only lead to a complete economic victory if we can sub- stantially diminish her trade outlets in other directions. From the point of view of winning the war it makes no difference to the Allies whether Balkan exports are diverted from Germany to Britain or to any other country so long as it is not an enemy country. It should be an essential part of our war task and our war expendi- ture to enable the Balkan States to dispose of as much as possible of their produce to Allied or neutral countries, and to take goods from them in return. These States are well-disposed to the Allies. Now is the moment for pressing our advantage, and for co-operating economi- cally with any neutral whose interests may happen to coincide with ours.