18 AUGUST 1939, Page 4

THE WAR OF NERVES T HE prediction that a period of

crisis was in imme- diate prospect is not being belied, the Berchtes- gaden conversations of last week-end and repeated contact between Count Csaky, the Foreign Minister of Hungary, and members of the German Cabinet being the outstanding signs. Not much is known of what happened at Berchtesgaden, but what is known is instructive. The meeting between Herr von Ribbentrop and Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minis- ter, was arranged, it appears, at the instance of the latter. That is suggestive, in view of Italy's known reluctance to be dragged into a war about Danzig. Count Ciano, it further appears, was at pains to communicate his plans to Warsaw, and ask whether he could transmit any message from the Poles. That is still more sugges- tive, even though the Poles' answer was that what they had said they had said. There is obvious importance, too, in the fact that Count Ciano should have gone on unexpectedly to a long interview with Herr Hitler, who had invited, and received, a visit from Dr. Burckhardt, the League of Nations High Commissioner at Danzig, the previous day. There is very little importance, on the other hand, in the fact that " loo per cent. agree- ment " between the German and Italian negotiators was clamantly asserted. The very volubility of the protesta- tions serves to throw doubt on the percentage. In any case no one has seriously counted on detaching Italy from Germany before a war.

What do the Berchtesgaden talks portend? Coming as they do at the precise moment when German military mobilisation, ostensibly for the purpose of manoeuvres, reaches its peak, they are no doubt intended among other things to play their part in the " war of nerves." That war, however, is not going conspicuously well for Germany. There is no sign of shaken nerves in Britain or France or Poland. The resolution of those States to stand firm against further aggression was taken last March, and it has not weakened since. Indeed, the growing naval, military and air power of the three Powers, and the increasing prospect of an understanding with Russia, are good reasons why it should be strengthened. But the technique of the Nazi Powers is stereotyped, and the organised vociferations of the news- papers of the two countries are a matter of course. Their intention—to intimidate the world in general—is as plain as its futility. They do, to all appearance, affect nerves in Germany, but they affect none outside. There is, of course, always the possibility that the clamour of the papers is a smokescreen. It is another feature of Herr Hitler's technique to direct attention to one danger-spot and strike in another. His next move may be against Hungary and Rumania, not Danzig. The effect on our own position would be the same, for we are pledged to support Rumania as we are pledged to support Poland.

What, on the whole, is most probable is a move at Danzig in some form falling short, in the first instance, of war. It is important, therefore, to be clear in advance what room for an accommodation over the future of the Free City exists. It is with Poland that the decision must lie, for we are pledged to support her if she feels it essential to fight for her independence—in no sense an imprudent offer, for a country which knows that her own soil will be the battlefield if war comes will not

wage war while any alternative is open. Certain alter- natives are open. Poland has always recognised that Colonel Beck, as long ago as March, made proposals regarding Danzig to the German Government, but re- ceived no reply. The incorporation of Danzig in the Reich, as the Germans demand, is palpably impossible. The population, no doubt, is 90 per cent. German, but a doctrine of self-determination which ruled out all con- siderations of geography, economics and strategy would be little removed from lunacy. Danzig in the hands of a hostile Germany could stifle Poland by closing the two egresses—Danzig itself and Gdynia—through which 65 per cent. of Poland's export trade (in value ; 75 per cent. in volume) passes. That was why the experts at the Peace Conference insisted that Danzig must be given to Poland outright and preferred to be overruled by the politicians rather than modify their recommenda- tion. As things stand the Free City (which is in fact a territory of 75o square miles, with a considerable agri- cultural hinterland) is self-governing in all internal matters. Poland's rights, however, are important, and any modification of them would need serious discussion. By the Peace Treaty Danzig lies within the Polish Customs Union ; Poland is entitled to free use and ser- vice of the harbour, docks and wharves, with the right to develop them where necessary, and to full control of through railways (as opposed to local light railways) and postal, telegraphic and telephonic communication be- tween Poland and Danzig ; Poland also • has charge of the foreign policy of the Free City. The relationship is determined in fuller detail by the Constitution of the Free City, which dates from 1922.

This arrangement is perfectly workable. It has, in fact, worked admirably during periods, before 1933, when Social Democrats were in power in Danzig. National Socialism, with its aggressive nationalism, has changed all that, but even today some modifications of the existing status of Danzig could, as the Polish Govern- ment has always admitted, be discussed with a German administration in which confidence could be placed. That is the crux of the situation, and it is questionable whether in present circumstances any fruitful discussions are possible at all. It is conceivable that a foundation might be laid by Dr. Burckhardt, the nominee of the League of Nations, whose function it is—or was when such things were feasible—to adjust differences between Poland and the Danzig Senate. If it is galling for Dan- zigers to be dependent on Polish rather than German diplomatic protection when abroad, an adjustment on that point could be made. If Herr Hitler decided, as seems not impossible, to confer German citizenship on all Danzigers, that need not form a casus belli, provided always—this is vital, fundamental and indispensable— that the rights conferred on Poland under the Treaty of Versailles remained intact. In no circumstances could the militarisation of Danzig be tolerated, for heavy guns in the Free City's territory could completely dominate the port of Gdynia and the Polish coast be laid under blockade in a day.

It is worth while examining the situation thus in detail, to provide an adequate basis for appraising Herr Hitler's probable demands, though the probability that his real aim is no mere Danzig settlement but the domination of Poland has to be fully recognised. And

even if the hope of some settlement did dawn, the diffi- culty of obtaining guarantees of any value that the de- militarisation clauses of the Constitution would be observed might be insuperable. But both British and Polish spokesmen have rightly declared at all times for an agreement on Danzig if an agreement can be reached on any reasonable basis, and it is a fact of capital im- portance that Poland in any discussions with Germany would be at no disadvantage on the ground of inferior military strength, since Britain and France are pledged to defend her independence. Unfortunately, there is little reason for supposing that Herr Hitler is in the mood for discussion. He prefers the more spectacular method of ultimatum, and either his Tannenberg speech on the 27th or the Nuremberg speech on September 3rd may provide the occasion for it. The choice between peace and war lies with him, and his knowledge of our own growing strength, which we have rightly refused to dissipate in face of the provocations in China, and the prospect of being faced by Russia as well as the Western Powers, may turn the scale against war. It not, we must await whatever comes.