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The commitment to France

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BerichtGeplaatst: 19 Mei 2008 5:29    Onderwerp: The commitment to France Reageer met quote


Our prompt entry into the European War in 1914 was necessitated by our commitment to France. This commitment was not known to the people; it was not known to Parliament ; it was not even known to all the members of the Cabinet. More than this, its existence was denied. How binding the moral engagement was soon became clear. The fact that it was not a signed treaty had nothing whatever to do with the binding nature of an understanding come to as a result of military and naval conversations conducted over a number of years. Not only was it referred to as "an obligation of honour" (Lord Lansdowne), "A compact " (Mr. Lloyd George), "An honourable expectation " (Sir Eyre Crowe), "the closest negotiations and arrangements between the two Governments " (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), but Lord Grey himself has admitted that had we not gone in on France's side (quite apart from the infringement of Belgian neutrality), he would have resigned. That he should have pretended that we were not "bound" has been a matter of amazement to his warmest admirers, that the understanding should have been kept secret has been a subject of sharp criticism from statesmen of all parties. No more vital point stands out in the whole of pre-war diplomacy, and the bare recital of the denials, evasions, and subterfuges forms a tragic illustration of the low standard of national honour, where war is concerned. which is accepted by statesmen whose personal honour is beyond reproach.

It will be remembered that the conversations which involved close consultations between military and naval staffs began before 1906. The first explicit denial came in 1911. The subsequent extracts can be given with little further comment.

"MR. Jowett asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, during his term of office, any undertaking. promise, or understanding had been given to France that, in certain eventualities, British troops would be sent to assist the operations of the French Army."

MR. McKINNON WOOD (Under-Secretary, for Foreign Affairs): "The answer is in the negative." (House of Commons, March 9, 1911.)

SIR E. GREY "First of all let me try to put an end to some of the suspicions with regard to secrecy --- suspicions with which it seems to me some people are torturing themselves, and certainly worrying others. We have laid before the House the Secret Articles of the Agreement with France of 1904. There are no other secret engagements. The late Government made that agreement in 1904. They kept those articles secret and I think to everybody the reason will be obvious why they did so. It would have been invidious to make those articles public. In my opinion they were entirely justified in keeping those articles secret because they were not articles which commit this House to serious obligations. I saw a comment made the other day, when these articles were published, that if a Government would keep little things secret, a fortiori, they would keep big things secret. That is absolutely untrue. There may be reasons why a Government should make secret arrangements of that kind if they are not things of first rate importance, if they are subsidiary to matters of great importance. But that is the very reason why the British Government should not make secret engagements which commit Parliament to obligations of war. It would be foolish to do it. No British Government could embark upon a war without public opinion behind it, and such engagements as there are which really commit Parliament to anything of the kind are contained in treaties or agreements which have been laid before the House. For ourselves, we have not made a single secret article of any kind since we came into office." (House of Commons, November 27, 1911).

The whole of this is a careful and deliberate evasion of the real point.

Nothing was clearer to everyone in Great Britain in August 1914 than that our understanding with France was a "secret engagement which committed Parliament to obligations of war."

Mr. Winston Churchill, in a memorandum to Sir E. Grey and the Prime Minister, August 23, 1912, wrote: "Everyone must feel who knows the facts that we have the obligations of an alliance without its advantages and, above all, without its precise definitions" (The World Crisis, vol. i, p. 115).

In 1912 M. Sazonov, the Russian Foreign Minister, reported to the Czar :

"England promised to support France on land by sending an expedition of 100.000 to the Belgian border to repel the invasion of France by the German Army through Belgium, expected by the French General Staff.

LORD HUGH CECIL: ... There is a very general belief that this country is under an obligation, not a treaty obligation, but an obligation arising owing to an assurance given by the Ministry. in the course of diplomatic negotiations, to send a very large force out of this country to operate in Europe.

MR. ASQUITH: "I ought to say that it is not true". (House of Commons, March 10th 1903.)

SIR WILLIAM BYLES asked the Prime Minister "whether he will say if this country is under any, and if so, what, obligation to France to send an armed force in certain contingencies to operate in Europe; and if so, what are the limits of our agreements, whether by assurance or Treaty with the French nation".

MR. KING asked the Prime Minister "(i) whether the foreign policy of this country is at the present time unhampered by any treaties, agreements, or obligations under which British military forces would, in certain eventualities, be called upon to be landed on the Continent and join there in military operations; and (2) whether in 1905, 1908, or 1911 this country spontaneously offered to France the assistance of a British army to be landed on the Continent to support France in the event of European hostilities."
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BerichtGeplaatst: 19 Mei 2008 5:31    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

MR. ASQUITH : As has been repeatedly stated, this country is not under any obligation not public and known to Parliament which compels it to take part in any war. In other words, if war arises between European Powers, there are no unpublished agreements which will restrict or hamper the freedom of the Government or of Parliament to decide whether or not Great Britain should participate in a war. The use that would be made of the naval and military forces if the Government or Parliament decided to take part in a war is, for obvious reasons, not a matter about which public statements can be made beforehand". (House of Commons, March 24, 1913).

SIR EDWARD GREY: I have assured the House, and the Prime Minister has assured the House more than once, that if any crisis such as this arose we should come before the House of Commons and be able to say to the House that it was free to decide what the attitude of the House should be; that we have no secret engagement which we should spring upon the House and tell the House that because we had entered upon that engagement there was an obligation of honour on the country. . . . I think [the letter] makes it perfectly clear that what the Prime Minister and I have said in the House of Commons was perfectly justified as regards our freedom to decide in a crisis what our line should be, whether we should intervene or whether we should abstain. The Government remained perfectly free and a fortiori the House of Commons remained perfectly free". (House of Commons, August 3rd, 1914).

Yet all preparations to the last detail had been made, as shown by the prompt, secret, and well-organized dispatch of the Expeditionary Force.

As far back as January 31st , 1906, Sir Edward Grey had written to our Ambassador at Paris describing a conversation with M. Cambon.

"In the first place, since the Ambassador had spoken to me, a good deal of progress had been made. Our military and naval authorities had been in communication with the French, and I assumed that all preparations were ready, so that, if a crisis arose, no time would have been lost for want of a formal engagement."

Lord Grey writes in his book, Twenty-Five Years (published in 1925), with regard to his declaration in August 1914:

"It will appear, if the reader looks back to the conversations with Cambon in 1906 , that not only British and French military, but also naval, authorities were in consultation. But naval consultations had been put on a footing satisfactory to France in 1905, before the Liberal Government had come into office. The new step taken by us in January 1906 had been to authorize military conversations on the same footing as the naval ones. It was felt to be essential to make clear to the House that its liberty of decision was not hampered by any engagements entered into previously without its knowledge. Whatever obligation there was to France arose from what those must feel who had welcomed, approved, and sustained the Anglo-French friendship, that was open and known to all. In this connection there was nothing to disclose, except the engagement about the north and west coasts of France taken a few hours before, and the letters exchanged with Cambon in 1912, the letter that expressly stipulated there was no engagement. One of the things which contributed materially to the unanimity of the country (on the outbreak of war) was that the Cabinet were able to come before Parliament and say that they had not made a secret agreement behind their backs. Viscount Grey, receiving the Freedom of Glasgow January 4, 1921. Reported in "The Times."

His constant repetition of this assurance is the best proof of his natural and obvious doubt that it was true.

But he continues the attempt at self-exculpation years after in his book, "Twenty-Five Years". Outlining the considerations in his mind prior to the outbreak of war:

(3) That, if war came, the interest of Britain required that we should not stand aside while France fought alone in the west, but must support her. I knew it to be very doubtful whether the Cabinet, Parliament, and the country would take this view on the outbreak of war, and through the whole of this week I had in view the probable contingency that we should not decide at the critical moment to support France. In that event I should have to resign. . . .

(4) A clear view that no pledge must be given, no hope even held out to France and Russia which it was doubtful whether this country would fulfil. One danger I saw. . . . It was that France and Russia might face the ordeal of war with Germany relying on our support; that this support might not be forthcoming, and that we might then, when it was too late, be held responsible by them for having let them in for a disastrous war. Of course I could resign if I gave them hopes which it turned out that the Cabinet and Parliament would not sanction. But what good would my resignation be to them in their ordeal ?

After quoting the King-Byles questions, June 11th, 1914, he says:

"The answer given is absolutely true. The criticism to which it is open is that it does not answer the question put to me. That is undeniable. Parliament has unqualified right to know of agreements or arrangements that bind the country to action or restrain its freedom. But it cannot be told of military and naval measures to meet possible contingencies. So long as Governments are compelled to contemplate the possibility of war, they are under a necessity to take precautionary measures, the object of which would be defeated if they were made public. . . . If the question had been pressed, I must have declined to answer it and have given these reasons for doing so. Questions in the previous year about military arrangements with France had been put aside by the Prime Minister with a similar answer.

"Neither the Franco-British military nor the Anglo-Russian naval conversations compromised the freedom of this country, but the latter were less intimate and important than the former. I was therefore quite justified in saying that the assurances given by the Prime Minister still held good. Nothing had been done that in any way weakened them, and this was the assurance that Parliament was entitled to have. Political engagements ought not to be kept secret; naval or military preparations for contingencies of war are necessary, but must be kept secret. In these instances care had been taken to ensure that such preparations did not involve any political engagement."

In the recently published official papers Sir Eyre Crowe, in a memorandum to Sir Edward Grey, July 31, 1914 says:

"The argument that there is no written bond binding us to France is strictly correct. There is no contractual obligation. But the Entente has been made, strengthened, put to the test, and celebrated in a manner justifying the belief that a moral bond was being forged. The whole of the Entente can have no meaning if it does not signify that in a just quarrel England would stand by her friends. This honourable expectation has been raised. We cannot repudiate it without exposing our good name to grave criticism.

"I venture to think that the contention that England cannot in any circumstances go to war is not true, and that any endorsement of it would be political suicide."

This is the plain common-sense official view which Sir E. Grey had before him. To insist that Parliament was free because the "honourable expectation" was not in writing was a deplorable subterfuge.

Lord Lansdowne, in the House of Lords on August 6, 1914, after referring to "Treaty obligations and those other obligations which are not less sacred because they are not embodied in signed and sealed documents," said:

"Under the one category fall our Treaty obligations to Belgium. . . . To the other category belong our obligations to France --- "obligations of honour which have grown up in consequence of the close intimacy by which the two nations have been united during the last few years."

The idea that Parliament was free and was consulted on August 3rd also falls to the ground as a sham, owing to the fact that on August 2nd the naval protection of the French coast and shipping had been guaranteed by the Government. Parliament was not free in any case, owing to the commitments, but this made "consultation" and parliamentary sanction an absolute farce.

As The Times said on August 5th, by this guarantee Great Britain was

"definitely committed to the side of France"; and M. Cambon, the French Ambassador, in an interview with M. Recouly, said: "A great country cannot make war half-way. The moment it has decided to fight on the sea it has fatally obligated itself to fight also on land."

A Press opinion of the commitment may be given:

"Take yet another instance which is fresh in everyone's recollection, viz. the arrangements as to the co-operation of the military staffs of Great Britain and France before the war. It was not until the very eve of hostilities that the House of Commons learned anything as to the nature of those arrangements. It was then explained by Sir Edward Grey that Great Britain was not definitely committed to go to the military assistance of France. There was no treaty. There was no convention. Great Britain, therefore, was free to give help or to withhold it, and yet, though there had been no formal commitment, we were fast bound by every consideration of honour, and the national conscience felt this instinctively, though it was only the invasion of Belgium which brought in the waverers and doubters. That situation arose out of secret diplomacy, and it is one which must never be allowed to spring again from the same cause. For we can conceive nothing more dangerous than for a Government to commit itself in honour, though not in technical fact, and then to make no adequate military preparations on the ground that the technical commitment has not been entered into." ("Daily Telegraph", September 1917.)

Lord Haldane frankly admits, in "Before the War", what he was doing in 1906. He says that the problem which presented itself to him in 1906 was "how to mobilize and concentrate at a place of assembly to be opposite the Belgian frontier, a British expeditionary force of 160,000."

MR. LLOYD GEORGE (speaking of the beginning of the war) : We had a compact with France that if she were wantonly attacked, the United Kingdom would go to her support.

MR. HOGGE: We did not know that!

MR. LLOYD GEORGE: If France were wantonly attacked.

AN HON. MEMBER: That is news.

MR. LLOYD GEORGE: There was no compact as to what force we should bring into the arena. . . . Whatever arrangements we come to, I think history will show that we have more than kept faith.

(House of Commons, August 7, 1913.)

In spite, then, of Lord Grey's assurances of the freedom of Parliament, it becomes clear that had Parliament taken the other course, Great Britain would have broken faith with France.

Some foreign opinions may be given:

In the French Chamber, September 3, 1919, M. Franklin Bouillon, criticizing the Triple Alliance, suggested in 1919 between French, British, and American Governments, declared that France was better protected by the Anglo-French understanding of 1912, "which assured us the support of six divisions," and --- upon an interruption by M. Tardieu --- agreed that the "text" of the understanding did not specify six divisions, but that staff collaboration had "prearranged everything for the mobilization and immediate embarkation of six divisions."

In April 1913 M. Sazonov reported to the Czar:

"Without hesitating, Grey stated that should the conditions under discussion arise, England would stake everything in order to inflict the most serious blow to German power. . . . Arising out of this, Grey, upon his own initiative, corroborated what I already knew from Poincaré, the existence of an agreement between France and Great Britain, according to which England engaged itself, in case of a war with Germany, not only to come to the assistance of France on the sea, but also on the Continent by landing troops.

"The intervention of England in the war had been anticipated. A military convention existed with England which could not he divulged as it bore a secret character. We relied upon six English divisions and upon the assistance of the Belgians". (Marshall Joffre before a Paris Commission, July 5, 1919).

A comparison of the successive plans of campaign of the French General Staff enables us to determine the exact moment when English co-operation, in consequence of these promises, became part of our military strategy. Plan 16 did not allow for it; Plan 16a, drawn up in September 1911, takes into account the presence of an English Army on our left wing. The Minister of War (Messimy) said:

"Our conversations with General Wilson, representing the British General Staff at the time of the Agadir affair, enabled us to have the certainty of English intervention in the event of a conflict." The representative of the British General Staff had promise of the help of 100,000 men, but stipulating that they should land in France because, as he argued, a landing at Antwerp would take much longer". (From "La Victoire," by Fabre Luce).

"The British and French General Staffs had for years been in close consultation with one another on this subject. The area of concentration for the British forces had been fixed on the left flank of the French and the actual detraining stations of the various units were all laid down in terrain lying between Maubeuge and Le Cateau. The headquarters of the army were fixed at the latter place". (Lord French's book on the war, 1919.)

As to the danger of the secrecy which was the cause of the denials and evasions, three quotations may be given.

MR. BONAR LAW: . . . It has been said --- and I think it is very likely true --- that if Germany had known for certain that Great Britain would have taken part in the war, the war would never have occurred. (House of Commons, July 18, 1918).

LORD LOREBURN, in "How the War Came", says: "The concealment from the Cabinet was protracted and must have been deliberate."

MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN: . . . "We found ourselves on a certain Monday listening to a speech by Lord Grey at this box which brought us face to face with war and upon which followed our declaration. That was the first public notification to the country, or to anyone by the Government of the day, of the position of the British Government and of the obligations which it had assumed. . . . Was the House of Commons free to decide ? Relying upon the arrangements made between the two Governments, the French coast was undefended --- I am not speaking of Belgium, but of France. There had been the closest negotiations and arrangements between our two Governments and our two staffs. There was not a word on paper binding this country, but in honour it was bound as it had never been bound before---I do not say wrongfully; I think rightly".

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR : "It should not have been secret".

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: "I agree. That is my whole point, and I am coming to it. Can we ever be indifferent to the French frontier or to the fortunes of France ? A friendly Power in possession of the Channel ports is a British interest, treaty or no treaty.... Suppose that engagement had been made publicly in the light of day. Suppose it had been laid before this House and approved by this House, might not the events of those August days have been different ? . . . If we had had that, if our obligations had been known and definite, it is at least possible, and I think it is probable, that war would have been avoided in 1914". (House of Commons, February 8, 1922).

There can be no question, therefore, that the deliberate denials and subterfuges, kept up till the last moment and fraught as they were with consequences of such magnitude, constitute a page in the history of secret diplomacy which is without parallel and afford a signal illustration of the slippery slope of official concealments.

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Woonplaats: Binnen de Atlantikwall en 135 km van het WO1-front

BerichtGeplaatst: 06 Jun 2008 17:19    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Interessant stuk. Hieruit zou je de conclusie kunnen trekken dat de Britse regering uitdrukkelijk oorlog met Duitsland wilde. Immers, de Duitse tijger zou waarschijnlijk aan het Westfront in zijn hok gebleven zijn als deze geheime afspraak openbaar geworden zou zijn. WO1 is dus begonnen door Duitsland, maar uitgelokt door Engeland...
"Setzen wir Deutschland, so zu sagen, in den Sattel! Reiten wird es schon können..... "
"Wer den Daumen auf dem Beutel hat, der hat die Macht."

Otto von Bismarck, 1869
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