Palestine Post: Editorial

Palestine Post 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Palestine Post 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Today’s General Staff Conversations When the Locarno Powers met a fortnight ago to decide upon the suitable response to Germany’s breach of the Pact, the only practical measure – as opposed to the exchange of Notes – which was agreed upon was to convene at an early date the heads of the Defence Staffs of France, Italy, Belgium and Great Britain, who were to discuss the joint defence measures which must be resorted to in the case of certain eventualities. These Staff Conversations are to begin today. In the nature of things their outcome must be secret, yet this does not lessen the interest and particularly the anxiety which these talks have provoked both in Germany and in the non-defaulting Locarno Powers.
Germany has protested against the move. To her the Staff Talks appear – and not without reason – as a concerted hostile act, a grossly ungracious reaction to Herr Hitler’s European peace plan, and an outright refusal to respond to the German gesture in the spirit in which that gesture was made: while Herr Hitler speaks of peace her neighbours reply by investigating their military resources and devices; while the Fuehrer laboriously drafts his peace pact, the other Powers let their thoughts play on unprovoked German aggression and measures of retaliation.
There has also been considerable criticism of the proposed Staff Talks in British circles. This criticism has been most strongly voiced by Mr. Lloyd George. He points out that such Staff Conversations as these – which have as their object the drafting of joint military and naval schemes to be put into operation in certain prescribed conditions – may easily wreck in advance the peace efforts of diplomacy when the real emergency arises. He maintains that it was the existence of such joint General Staff plans which precipitated armed action in August 1914; whereas if those plans had not existed or had not been so rapidly and automatically brought into play, the efforts of the various statesmen might well have guided policy to a more peaceful goal. The fate of nations ought not (this argument concludes) to be left to the mercy of professional soldiers who, by their academic treatment of hypothetical situations, can forestall the best endeavours of the statesmen in the moment of crisis.
Both the German and the non-German objections to the Staff Conversations were dealt with last week by Mr. Eden in his statement to the House of Commons.
He insisted that the Staff Talks would involve no political undertaking (nor any obligation regarding the organisation of national defence,” and that no military plan could become operative unless French or Belgian territory were actually invaded. Therefore, as regards German objections, the Staff Talks ought to be beyond criticism since they have in mind a future action which Germany vows she will be the last person to adopt. British opinion on the whole would welcome the abandonment of these Staff Talks as a sign of the return of confidence and sanity in the European situation; but since these talks themselves have as their ultimate purpose the promotion of confidence on the French side of the Rhine – where confidence has received such an unpleasant jolt by Germany’s egotistic gesture – and since the talks envisage action which Germany, the hypothetical aggressor, loudly and indignantly disavows, the talks have to be accepted with good grace as a disagreeable necessity.
Historical precedents should not be pressed too strongly. To say that the Great War came about as the automatic consequence of ready-made military arrangements is to see only a small side of the whole question. Moreover there is only a superficial parallel between the circumstances of today and those before 1914, and there is no parallel whatever between the Staff Talks then and now.
Even Mr. Lloyd George has failed to prove his case that in 1914 military actions dictated or even anticipated subsequent national policy; and we have Mr. Eden’s assurance that the national policy now in the making will in no way be influenced by the Staff Talks: the talks “cannot be considered as in any way prejudicing the settlement which we all wish to realise.”
There is yet another possible justification of the Staff Talks. In 1914 the explosion came about largely because of German doubt as to what Great Britain would do when the Belgian frontier was violated. There is now no longer doubt. It cannot be forgotten that scarcely more than a year ago, when the Saar territory was restored to Germany, Herr Hitler said that that wiped out the only outstanding question on his western frontier. But a month ago Herr Hitler suffered from second thoughts and showed that something else wanted wiping out – hence the march on the Rhine. The present Staff Talks may not be valueless in the cause of peace if they help to prevent Herr Hitler from indulging in yet third thoughts.