27 NOVEMBER 1936, Page 4


THE speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary at Leamington last Friday could hardly have been bettered. Mr. Eden's definition of the ultimate aims of British policy—democracy and freedom at home and peace abroad—and his more detailed exposition of the method of applying that policy in Europe, will command the almost universal assent of his countrymen. There is a minority, no doubt, which prefers that we should be a cipher in the affairs of Europe. Mr. Eden prefers that we should be a factor, and a factor making resolutely for peace. What we aim at, moreover, is a peaceful Europe, not merely a Britain remaining temporarily and precari- ously at peace while the rest of the continent is torn by conflict. It is a goal whose attainment requires both resolution and sacrifice. We challenge no nation's creed so long as the actions which the creed dictates affect its own citizens alone ; the Foreign Secretary most rightly insisted that uniformity of regime is not a condition of international co-operation. But if the dictatorships are tempted to think they can apply with impunity in the international sphere that rule of force which has supplanted the rule of justice within their . frontiers, the maintenance of peace is beyond all hope. Let a combination of two or three totalitarian States he obviously stronger than any probable combination that may oppose it and the temptation may well prove irresistible. Democracy at this crisis must play, at whatever sacrifice, the part of the strong man armed.

But if British policy stands for democracy and freedom it follows as the night the day that the citi- zens of this country will only consent to use their arms for purposes they understand and approve. Mr. Eden has defined those purposes in words to which small exception can be taken. This country Will never engage in a war contrary to the provisions of the League Covenant and the Kellogg Pact. It will fight, if need be, to defend its shores and the territories of the Commonwealth ; to defend France or Belgium or Egypt or Iraq under the terms of its known engagements with those countries ; or equally to defend Germany against attack by any other signatory of a new Locarno to which she was a party. And it would hold itself entirely free to assist, under the terms of the League Covenant, a victim of aggres- sion anywhere. Further than that, says the Foreign Secretary, it is impossible to go, for no nation can incur automatic obligations except where its vital interests are Concerned. That familiar and question- begging phrase might without disadvantage have been omitted, for the decision as to what " vital interests " are is as arbitrary and controversial as definitions of " national honour." The provision in an annexe to the Locarno Treaty, that a State can only be expected to take military action under Article XVI of the Covenant to an extent compatible with its military situation and geographical position, confers all reasonable freedom of action or inaction.

But in fact the manifold contingencies that may arise in the present. confusion of international relations are not to be provided against by legal formulae. What Mr. Eden was rightly _concerned about was to make it clear that this country is bound by certain definite obligations which it will in all circumstances honour, and that outside these its indifference to acts of injustice and aggression is by no means to be counted on. To give the impression that it was would be the quickest way of plunging Europe into a war from which we could never hope to hold permanently . aloof. That the risk of such a war exists' is undeniable, and the greatest part of the risk derives from the possibility that the dictatorships may believe themselves powerful enough in combina- tion to impose their will on Europe as they have imposed it on their own peoples. It must be made plain that they are not. That and that alone-is the justification for the armaments programme on which this country has reluctantly but unhesitittingly embarked.

No one in Europe or out of it can believe that British armaments, if they were increased tenfold, would be used. for any aggressiVe purpose. They are necessary because aggression and the destruction of the equilibriuni in Europe hai been repeatedly threatened by the attitudes and -speeches of national leaders in certain countries. War is not inevitable. To call it so is to come near making it so. There need be no fatal cleavage in Europe. There need be no War of ideas. Opposing ideas • can co-exist. Above all there is no excuse for War on the plea that Germany is being encircled. No nation. cherishes 'designs on Germany. No nation claims any rights and privileges for itself that Germany is not entitled to share. No reasonable grievance which Germany puts forward will be refused a fair hearing and honest consideration. There is no reason why international co-operation should not be perfectly possible ' between a' demo- cratic Britain and France, a Nazi Germany, a Fiscisi Italy and a Communist or Socialist RuSsia.

But it must be co-operation in which every State respects the rights of every other, in which rules of order governing the relationS of independent States are recognised and honoured and if need be enforced—co-operation, in a word, on the basis and within the framework of the League of Nations, till some better basis is laid or some better framework devised. Those are principles which must be prei claimed and may have to be defended, and. the more resolved thiS country among others shows itself to defend them the less danger there is of their being seriously challenged. To that truth the country is slowly awakening, and any attempt to accelerate the process is salutary. For that reason the new movement for the " defence of freedom and peace " with which Mr. Churchill's name is particularly associated is on the face of it a development to be welcomed. Its aims can be indicated in three para- graphs from the brief statement of principles it has issued : " The cause of ordered freedom is in danger. Peace itself is in jeopardy. The foes of both arc vocal, organised and strong." .

" The central mass of temperate, tolerant humanity must not be found feeble in action and leadeiship. Part. liamentary Governments of self-ruling peoples,. need, therefore, to know they are upheld by the resolute will of citizens who are ready to stand for the rights of man and for justice among the nations."

" Great Britain must be strong to bear her part in banning war from the life of nations, so that well- guarded peace may lighten the burden of the peoples and offer to States great and small just redress for proved wrong. British leadership and action may yet save peace and civilisation."

There are dangers to be avoided. Such a movement must not be anti-German, or anti-Italian or anti- anything. Its aim must be the creation of a free, united and peaceful Europe. Subject to that its appeal is such as promises to evoke an impressive response, for in language that no man can misunderstand it calls on a great democracy to display that quality which the greatest of all democrats defined in ageless words—firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right. And right can he both strong and victorious.