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indecision, of an internal conflict of opinion in
England itself, of a half-hearted and often un-
reasoning and unprincipled support of the Otto-
man Empire, varied by denunciations of Turkey
in which real liberalism and democratic feeling
were inextricably mixed with the old short-
sightedness and the old fear of foreign commit-
ments. Looking back on British policy during
the forty years since the European Powers set
their signatures to the Treaty of Berlin, the
historian may well echo the words of the
prophet : " How long halt ye between two
opinions ? ' The vacillations of July, 1914,
when British statesmen dared not commit their
country to a European war arising out of a


Balkan question, and the subsequent failures
of our diplomacy at Constantinople, at Sofia
and at Athens, were only the logical conse-
quences of past indecisions and half realised

What is true of the Eastern question is true
also of our policy in Western Europe. Through-
out the nineteenth century, our attitude
towards foreign relations has been marked by
the same characteristics, and has produced the
same impression in Europe. The rise of
Germany hardly stirred our pulse. In 1864,
a British ambassador had no answer to the
Russian Chancellor who declared that it must
henceforth be understood that England would
never go to war for an affair of honour. Later,
in face of the approaching storm of 1870,
British statesmen " w r ere like watchers of a
game whose eyes have strayed from the board."
The account given by Lord Acton of the attitude
of the British Cabinet on the eve of the Franco-
Prussian war is characteristic : " The Ministry
were divided. Bright would do nothing for
Belgium ; Lowe did not care what happened
to Germany ; Lord Granville asked himself
what would be the position of England with
the French at Berlin; Cardwell, at the War
Office, estimated that they would get there in
about six weeks. All agreed that the Germans
had no chance and that it would be doing them
a service to get them out of this scrape. They
were taken by surprise/'

But at least, it may be urged, there was one
exception to these manifold sins of omission.


Surely the attitude of Britain towards the
Italian Risorgimento was wholly admirable. It
is true that our instinct here was right ; it is
true, indeed, that our sympathy with Italy in
the day of her trial is still a living force in
Europe. But no one who has read Cavour 's
correspondence with his ambassador in London,
and who has seen in it the manner in which
foreign politicians and diplomatists thought it
worth while to play upon the weaknesses of
British statesmen and to take advantage of the
cross-currents of British politics, can bring
himself to look back with special pride even on
the policy of Lord Palmerston and Lord John
Russell, or on the diplomatic friendship between
Cavour and Sir James Hudson. They had not
really taken the measure of the foreign situa-
tion ; they were swayed by sentiments which
were none the less unsatisfactory foundations
of policy because they were noble and dis-
interested. Above all, they had not the
courage of their convictions. They were con-
tent to applaud the patriots of Italy ; they
were satisfied with the knowledge that English
ideas and methods of government had trained
Cavour, that Britain had given an asylum to
Mazzini and had feted Garibaldi. They left it
to France, and, at the last, to Prussia really to
accomplish Italian unity, and when Italy repaid
her debt to Bismarck by entry into the Triple
Alliance, Gladstone could only lament im-
potently what he regarded as an evil con-
federacy with a reactionary Caesarism, while
British Conservatives seem actually to have


encouraged, if they did not even promote, the

In a word, British statesmanship has often
been right about Europe. It has often inter-
vened for a moment on the right side, but it
has never been willing to hold in its hands or
to follow for more than a brief moment the
threads of policy which it has taken up and
fingered. In the European family of nations
our character and our history have made us
amateurs and preachers. Even when we have
judged and acted rightly wehave never been ready
to keep in repair the walls that we have built,
or to maintain the policies we have inspired.

It is important to go a little deeper into
the causes of this traditional British attitude
and to note some of its results. One dominant
cause has probably been our preoccupation
with our overseas possessions. Strategically
and politically, our attention has been diverted
from Europe by the consideration of the safety
and well-being of our Empire. Our policy
in the Near East has always been an Asiatic
rather than a European policy. Bismarck
deliberately played upon this British charac-
teristic with great success. His was the impulse
behind the Russian advance in Asia, whereby
he reckoned on turning our eyes from Belgium
to the frontiers of India. He encouraged our
occupation of Egypt, relying on the discord
which would thus be sown between us and
France. The British Empire, and especially
the British route to India, became the charter
of a free hand for Germany in Europe.


But this is only half the story. There has
always been a great body of sentiment in
England which has not been so exclusively con-
cerned with questions of imperial security.
British " imperialism ' and the basing of
British foreign policy on strategic considera-
tions has been for many years the target of
liberal criticism in our own country. These
critics have seen the defects of the doctrine of
the balance of power, but they have failed really
to influence British foreign policy because they
have ignored the equal weakness of their own
sentiment of humanitarian selfishness. They
have not, indeed, been conscious of the selfish-
ness, but they have never been prepared to
bring British power actively to bear upon the
causes they have advocated. They have con-
tributed to British strength because in many
European countries, in Italy and in Bulgaria,
they have identified British public opinion
with an attitude of sympathy towards popu-
lar aspirations. But they have not thereby
gained the respect or the reliance of European
statesmen, even in democratic countries. They
have bidden us support the rights of oppressed
nationalities, not by intervention, but by
standing aside, or at most by guaranteeing
a free field and no favour. The Italian people
have an instinctive affection for the people
of Britain, but Italian statesmen cannot but
remember that, if a British government used
its negative influence to keep the seas open
for the expedition of the Thousand, they
had to rely upon imperialism in the persons


of Napoleon III and of Bismarck to lay the
real foundations of united Italy in 1859 an( *
1866. There is a point where this sentimental
irresponsibility for we can call it nothing
else amounts to a betrayal. It leads the
weak to mistake verbal sympathy for a pro-
mise of active support ; too often it only avails
to " fan the fires of hell, by the claim it makes
for a helpless race of the freedom to rebel."
There is a point, moreover, where it leaves
British statesmanship in an impasse between
conflicting national claims, all theoretically
supported by British public opinion in the
past, but incompatible with each other in
practice. Its highest achievements are in the
nature of the Balkan Conference at London in
1913 the patching up of momentary com-
promises which open no avenues towards a
permanent settlement. Our diplomacy at Sofia
and Athens in 1915 was not so much wrecked
on the rock of Disraeli's imperialism, as suffo-
cated in the swathes of cotton wool which years
of indecision and shirking had wrapped round
British diplomac}'.

Any writer on such subjects who knows the
course of events during the first year or two
years of the war must long for a pen capable of
conveying some impression of the tragedy of
British failure in Eastern Europe. Liberalism
the word is not used in its party sense, but as
the best name available for a phase of national
thought which has affected the course of all
British governments, and has largely deter-
mined the character of our Foreign Office had


contributed one great asset to our policy.
Alone, among all the nations of the world,
we were regarded by every small state in
Europe, and especially in the Balkans, as
unselfish and disinterested. It was to us alone
that M. Pasic and M. Venizelos looked for leader-
ship among the Allies. It was to us that
every independent Bulgarian looked for help in
counteracting the tendencies of King Ferdinand's
personal diplomacy. Our position in Rumania
was hardly less strong. Yet that which they
looked for we were powerless to give. Leader-
ship was the one thing that we refused, the
one thing for which liberal thought had never
fitted us,

The identification of British foreign policy
in recent years with liberalism may seem a
curious paradox to some critics of secret diplo-
macy, but it is true. The tradition of our
whole civil service, and not least of the Foreign
Office, is not Tory but Whig. The mild sym-
pathy with continental liberalism and national-
ism which marked the school of Canning,
Palmerston, Russell, and Granville still lives
in the Foreign Office. British liberalism has
left Whig doctrines far behind in domestic
politics, but has never advanced much beyond
them in judging international relations. It is
only very recently that liberal schools of
thought in England have begun to desert the
cause of nationality, and even now they have
not faced the issue between nationality and
internationalism which is dividing Europe before
their eyes, Even the Labour Party has inherited


the same tradition, and the manifesto of the
Inter-Allied Labour Conference at London
in 1918 has some claim to be regarded as
a final endorsement of the pure doctrine of

If this was our record during the earlier
part of the war, it must be confessed that
our recent course during the Peace Conference
has not been such as to restore European
confidence in our firmness or in our leader-
ship. It is not so much a question of the
negotiations of statesmen. The fundamental
policy of a country is determined by the in-
stincts of its people. Our prestige in Europe,
after our early mistakes in the war, grew
with the growth of our military power. Since
November, 1918, the overwhelming instinct of
the British people has been towards the most
rapid possible disbandment of that power, and
it is remarkable that the Government which
introduced, and the Parliamentary majority
which voted, the Military Service Act, have
alike in great measure failed to support it
by any such survey of our policy, by any
such estimate of the European situation, as
Bagehot long ago called for in the words already
quoted. The arguments in favour of that Act
were, indeed, on this basis overwhelming, but
they have not been advanced.

If this silence has aroused the suspicions of
honest ignorance and played into the hands of
faction, the responsibility rests mainly with the
statesmen who, armed with an overwhelming
case and backed by a willing people, have been


content to leave the field of political con-
troversy free to those who are ever ready to
exploit the passing grievances of citizens to the
advantage of party or of personal notoriety.
A Government which defends its foreign policy
in war and peace, on the platforms of a general
election and on the benches of the House of
Commons, by feats of brilliant impressionism,
cannot complain if its own weapons are turned
against itself. Once more, indeed, the interests
of the British Empire, the peace of the world,
and the political future of the human race are
being decided between one set of politicians
who will not take the trouble to explain and
another who will not take the trouble to think.
In such cases the greater sin is always that of
the Government if it fails in its duty of refining
political controversy by the steadying influence
of knowledge.

If we wish to see ourselves through the eyes
of the European nations at the Peace Confer-
ence, if we wish to focus British policy for a
moment by the professions that Britain has
made at Paris, let us attempt to reconstruct
the speech in which a British statesman, fully
impressed by the course of events on the con-
tinent and by the problems agitating the mind
of its peoples, might have been expected to
move the second reading of the Military Service
Bill in the House of Commons at the end of
February. He would not have rattled his
sword against Germany, he would not have
enlarged on indemnities ; but he might, perhaps,
have spoken somewhat as follows :


" An Allied Commission, representing five
Great Powers and nine small nations, has just
laid publicly on the table of the Plenary Peace
Conference the draft constitution of the League
of Nations. Your representatives at Paris have
laboured to produce this draft ; public opinion
throughout the country has applauded it as the
first fruits of a clean and unselfish victor} T . Its
articles impose serious obligations on the people
of this country, which I will not touch on now,
but before they can come into effect w r e have
other and immediate duties to discharge. The
League is not yet in being, and I would ask the
House to consider what is the present situation
of those who are to be its members and what
the state of those regions of the world where
it is primarily designed to establish and guarantee

11 Of the nine small nations whose representa-
tives collaborated in the preparation of this
draft, three, and those the greatest ' small,'
indeed, only by comparison with the Great
Powers Poland, the Czecho-Slovak Republic,
and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and
Slovenes, are not yet in being. Two of these
are still fighting in their debatable lands : the
Jugo-Slavs against the Austrians in Carinthia,
the Poles against the Ukrainians in Galicia,
against the Germans in Posen, and against the
Red Army on their eastern frontier. Poles and
Czecho-Slovaks are even on the verge of an
internecine war in Teschen. To-morrow Fiume,
Klagenfurt, or Assling might well become the
scene of a collision between Italians and Jugo-


Slavs. More dangerous still is the situation in
Hungary, where at any moment the forces of
social revolution and of nationalism may com-
bine in an attack on the new Czecho-Slovak
Republic and on Rumania or, conversely, may
become the object of an aggressive movement
by those States, impelled by fear or ambition.
Two of the other smaller Allies represented on
the Commission Rumania and Greece are
about to receive increases of territory and
population which must transform their whole

" In all these cases it is vital that the new
States, whether now first created or radically
transformed, should come into their heritage
in an orderly and peaceable manner, carrying
over into their future no bitterness and no
blood-feuds. How is this transition to be
accomplished ? The peoples who have been
our eneifties are in ferment. Their future is
uncertain. It is still possible that the terms of
peace worked out in Paris may be opposed by
organised resistance, and we have to provide
against that ; but the greater danger is that
they may be wiped out by anarchy. If German
troops in Silesia and West Prussia, disregarding
the orders of the new and struggling Govern-
ment of Weimar, should determine to defend
those territories against annexation by the
Poles, whom they despise ; if Hungary should
lapse into revolutionary risings against Ruma-
nians, Czechs, and Croats ; if Bulgarian and
Turkish bands should conduct a guerrilla warfare
in Thrace against the Greeks and in Macedonia


against the Serbs what authority is the new-
born League of Nations to bring to bear against
the disturbers of the peace? One thing we
cannot do. We cannot be content to leave the
enforcement of the terms of peace to local
action ; we cannot simply give our interested
allies a free hand to take the territories allotted
to them. They are our allies, but in many
cases their history and character, their course
and stage of development are different from ours.
They not only have the ambition of youth ;
they inherit also a long legacy of private and
public hatreds, and the territorial claims that
they are making even now at Paris exceed
what we shall in justice be able to write into
the treaty. Our terms of peace may be harsh,
but at least their aim is justice ; will the British
people be content to see justice turned into
the vengeance of blood-feuds or the opportunity
for aggression ? The deep-seated anti-Semitism
of Poland, to quote but one example, has already
given rise to accusations and counter-accusa-
tions, to undoubted acts of violence, and to a
general atmosphere of racial antipathy, boycott,
and petty persecution, which constitutes a
danger to the peace of the world. Britain will
be responsible before all other nations for the
ordered police work of the settlement, because
it is to us that all the peoples affected look
unanimously as the only possible provisional
administrator and policeman. It is incumbent
upon us especially to forestall these dangers in
the only way that they can be forestalled
by creating certainty for our Allies, for the


populations to be redeemed by the settlement,
and for our enemies themselves certainty that
the law to be given at Paris shall ' run in fixed
and known channels/ deflected neither by
obstacles nor by passions.

" And, if this is true of the problems that
face us in central Europe, it is tenfold more
true of those that await us farther east, in
Russia and in Asiatic Turkey. Russia itself
lies beyond the scope of our direct action ; we
have commitments there, legacies of our war
policy, which remain to be liquidated, but no
soldier enlisted under this Bill can be used
in Russia. The Russian revolution is, how-
ever, a flood which knows no political or ethnic
frontier, and we cannot, unfortunately, disclaim
responsibility for its effects on the Baltic States,
on Finland, and on Poland possibly also on
Rumania and on other Central European
territories. Whatever may be the final judg-
ment of wise men on Bolshevism, it shares one
characteristic with all the social revolutions of
history that it has loosed all passions and
sanctioned all hatreds. As men responsible for
the peace of the world to-day, there is only
one thing that concerns us in all the accusations
and counter-accusations of aggressions and
atrocities which rage round the history of the
last few months in Finland and in the other
border populations of the former Russian
Empire. Fear and injustice have cut so deep
on both sides that on both sides judgment is
clouded and power unbridled. Impartial
authority embodied in armed force can alone


delimit the provisional frontiers of the new
States and provide a breathing space for the
establishment of the elements of stable adminis-
tration. This is not the policy of the ' cordon
sanitaire ' against Bolshevism, for Bolshevism
does not seek to penetrate Central and Western
Europe in the knapsacks of the Red Army, and
no political frontiers or military police will
obstruct the advance of its propaganda and
intrigues. All we can or desire to do is to
rescue these border States from the aftermath
of an anarchy as alien to them, for the most
part, as was the Czarist regime.

' In regard to Russia, however, the people
of this country may well say that they have
never deliberately assumed responsibilities which
by the true principle of democratic diplomacy
they can be called on now to redeem. Our
alliance with the old Russia and our ambiguous
relations with the new were not of their choosing.
Traditionally the British people sympathise
neither with absolutism nor with unbridled
revolution. Their instinct is to allow social
ferment to work itself out in its own way.
They desire to meddle with the Commissaries
at Moscow as little as their fathers wished to
interfere with the Committee of Public Safety
in Paris a century and a quarter ago. But the
same cannot be said of Turkey. If there is
one thing that the people of this country have
grown to desire as an axiom of international
politics, if there is one deep-seated instinct
among them which has worked steadily athwart
the temporary policies of their statesmen, it is


the ending of Turkish rule over non-Mohammedan
populations, whether in Europe or in Asia.
This is the goal to which the war in the East
has led us, even against our will. We cannot
draw back now, though now we can count the
cost. If the Ottoman Sultan is to be confined
to a Turkish State in Western and Central Asia
Minor, stripped of his control of the Straits, of
his seat at Constantinople, of his possessions in
Smyrna and its hinterland, and of his rule over
Armenian and Syrian Christians ; if, further,
as the inevitable result of this break-up of the
political power of the Ottoman Caliphate, the
Arabs of the Hedjaz, Syria, Palestine, and
Mesopotamia demand, and have fought at our
side for, independence from Turkish rule; if,
finally, we are to redeem the one pledge given
by our statesmen in the last five years which
has, incomparably more than any other, caught
the imagination of the British people the
promise of a Jewish national home in Palestine
how shall we ensure that this sweeping dis-
memberment of an Empire to which the eyes of
all Islam, in our own territories as elsewhere,
have been directed for centuries, shall not be
the signal for further bloodshed and disaster ?
Turkey's military power may be gone, but she
still retains two weapons massacre and intrigue.
Her people throughout Asia Minor are armed ;
she still holds in her hands the threads of an
Oriental diplomacy which stretch into every
corner of the Moslem world. On the day that
these decisions are announced from Paris, the
instinct of every Turk will be to kill a Christian,


and the call to insurrection in the cause of
Islam may well run from Cairo to Bokhara,
stir every frontier tribe from Quetta to Gilgit,
echo through the mosques of India, and, per-
haps, even thrill the ranks of our Indian army.
All who know Asia Minor, the American mission-
ary and the European student of Eastern
politics alike, warn us that the indispensable
preliminary to any announcement of the terri-
torial reconstruction of these regions is a
military occupation, strong enough to repress
disorder and carry the new states through the
days of transition. To fail in this would be a
worse betrayal of the subject races over which
the Turk has ruled so long than if the Allies
had never, in their reply to President Wilson
two years ago, solemnly declared their liberation
as one of the chief aims of the war.

" These, then, are our immediate responsi-
bilities ; what are our present resources ? Our
armies, reduced but still effective, are on the
Rhine ; they still occupy Palestine, Syria, and
Mesopotamia, but our white troops there,
wearied out by the hard conditions of their
service, need and deserve to be replaced and
strengthened ; we have a force in Constanti-
nople, fully occupied there and not available
for employment beyond the limits of Turkey in
Europe ; we have a small force doing police
and railway duty in the Caucasus ; a mere
handful of British soldiers still show our flag
on the Adriatic ; at Archangel and Murmansk
British troops are entangled in a defensive war
which is merely the legacy of our original


attempt a year ago to recreate the eastern
front against Germany. But, with the one
exception of the immobile force at Constanti-
nople, in the whole vast stretch of disputed
and unsettled territory from Helsingfors to
Kavalla and from Fiume to Lake Van there is
not a British soldier or a British gun. We
cannot move a man in all this region to enforce
submission on our enemies or moderat'on on our
Allies. Already Poland laughs at our remon-
strances and disregards our advice. Already
in a dozen places new wars are smouldering.

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Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 3 of 20)