29 MAY 1936, Page 4


BETWEEN now. and the meeting of the League of Nations Council on June 16th, a period of little more than a fortnight, decisions whose gravity can hardly be exaggerated will have to be taken by the Governments of the principal countries of Europe. Statesmen arc rightly exposed to criticism, but some sympathy can be accorded them at this juncture as they face responsibilities that cannot be evaded. And the common citizen, whether he feels called on to criticise or approve or make suggestions or keep silent, can at least resist the temptation to increase the perils of the situation by fostering the assumption that war at no distant date is inevitable. The idea of war is being forced on the public mind everywhere by the immensity of the expenditure on defence measures—which in most cases would serve equally for attack. In this country the Chancellor of the Exchequer has issued the sinister warning that for an indefinite future the claims of education and every kind of social reform will have to give way to the demands of the fighting services. Every man and woman paying income-tax find their personal lives affected already by the war- menace, by having less of their earnings available not merely for pleasures but for their own necessary self-development.

But that does not mean that war is inevitable. In the case of Great Britain, whose armaments no one fears, reasonable strength may well be the best safeguard of peace. In a morally-ordered world weakness does not invite attack, but in a day when national aggrandisement has become the religion of certain countries adequate prepara- tion for resistance may be the only way to make actual resistance unnecessary. The peacefully minded nations of Europe arc more than strong enough, so long as they are resolved to act in concert, to deter any acquisitive Power from giving rein to its ambitions. There need be no disingenuous reticence about the fears of Europe. They centre on Germany, --a Germany which has lowered its standard of life almost intolerably in order to find resources to make itself once more the most powerful State on the Continent, a Germany with unconcealed and unsatisfied desires for expansion. There may be unjust implications in that estimate. Herr Hitler may be sincere when he declares that Germany aims at no forcible acquisition of new territories. In any case it is inconceivable that the Fiihrer should risk a second defeat of his country and the certain downfall of himself and his party by an aggression that would bring into the field against him Great Britain, France, Russia, and two at least of the three countries of the Little Entente. Germany, of course, regards that association of States as encircling her to her detriment. Actually, it impedes her in nothing but aggressive expansion, and in that it is likely to succeed sufficiently to enable the idea of anything like an early war to be dismissed. There is at least a respite, and the good citizen in every country will employ it not to create a disastrous psychology of fatalism, but to denounce talk of inevitable war and to labour afresh to buttress the tottering fabric of peace. But that will nOt solve the statesmen's immediate problems. Those problems are created by the policies of two Dictators, each with a lively consciousness of the possibilities of playing off the other against what may for convenience (though Italy is still technically a member of the League) be termed the League States. Herr Hitler on March 7th made what he claimed to be a firm proposal for the estab- lishment of peace in Europe for a quarter of a century. The sincerity of his project was not questioned, but there were obvious ambiguities in it which had to be -resolved; and he has now before him a series of questions submitted by Mr. Eden regarding doubtful points in the plan. The German reply to the questions is not expected for some time yet, and it is obvious that Herr Hitler, who has always declared that he would make no decision on such matters as the return of Germany to the League of Nations till the Abyssinian question was settled, is still waiting to see how far Great Britain and France propose to embroil themselves with Italy over the maintenance or intensification of sanctions. Troubled waters always offer an irresistible temptation to the enter- prising fisherman. That fact remains a perpetual spectre in the background while the-future of sanctions is being discussed by national Cabinets, and it will be lurking in the wings throughout next month's discussions at Geneva. Where, with all the cards apparently in the hands of the opportunists, is a firm basis for policy to be found ?

The broad answer to that question is that the Coven- ant of the League of Nations still provides the only firm basis—and in Great Britain in particular it must never be forgotten that the Covenant, enshrining as it does accepted principles set out in black and white, provides the only common and agreed basis of foreign policy between this country and the Dominions. But to say that the League must be defended does not solve the problem of how it can be best defended. Violations of the Covenant cannot be shamelessly condoned. Italy, who desires to return to respect- able society as a member of the League Council, a partner in the Stresa Front and quite possibly in some new Mediterranean Pact, ought to be formally ex- pelled from the League of Nations unless she accepts in Abyssinia a settlement which the League can approve. But should sanctions be pushed to the point at which a desperate and half-ruined Italy would prefer open war to strangulation ? Is that to be urged in face of the possibility, if not the likelihood, that in such a case Germany would immediately seize the opportunity to realise her ambitions in Central Europe ? And would League States as a whole con- tinue to bear loyally the sacrifices imposed on them by a continuation of sanctions ? If not, would it do the League more harm or less for sanctions to peter out unofficially than for them to be formally called off now that Italy's conquest of Abyssinia is to all appearance achieved ?

That in effect is the agenda for next month's Coun- cil meeting at Geneva. But there are other issues which may or may not be on the order-paper. M. Leon Blum has declared that his new Government in France will'endeavour once more to make the dis- armament question a reality.. If even the--first step in that direction, such as the conclusion of a Western Air Pact, were possible, the stimulus to confidence would be immense. The economic and financial problems which every expansionist nation cites aS the justification for its ambitions have been left untouched, in spite of the hopes raised by Sir Samuel Hoare's speech at Geneva last September. War will never be averted by a-policy of negation, • particularly when it expresses itself in rearmament. The causes of war must be attacked resolutely and tirelessly: That, palpably, is not being done. To that extent the 'Statesthen'are failing.: In such matters the Assembly of the League of Nations has a way of being firmer and more constructive than the Council, thanks to tla4 presence there of a number of non-Council State to share responsibility. A long-term policy is difficult to frame at this moment. The wise short-term policy would be to keep sanctions in full force till September-, when the Assembly can decide their future, and occupy the interval with intensive preparations, in concert with Germany, for discussions on how the economic and financial ills of the world can be alleviated. '