April 25, 2017

1933. Second World War is Unlikely to Happen, Says Expert

War Less Expected Than We Think
Nazi "Grand Tattoo" ceremony in Nuremberg marking the end of the 7th Party Congress on September 16, 1935 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise of fascism. In 1933, Dr. Earle B. Babcock of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace made the case that, despite the tensions afflicting Europe, another major war was unlikely to take place in the near future due to increasing international political cooperation and economic interdependence. He highlighted the Balkan States and Franco-German relations as examples.

From The New York Times, December 3, 1933, pp. 1, 8:
Finds War Less Expected In Europe Than We Think
Dr. Babcock Declares No Government or Responsible Statesman Wants It and Reports Gains in Organizing Peace
Assistant Director of European Centre, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

On my return to the United States after long residence and extensive travel in Europe, I have been surprised to find that there seems to be more doubt in this country about the possibility of maintaining peace and more fear that war is inevitable than exists in Europe. Most authoritative opinion there seems to me to be steadily and increasingly confident that war is not on the immediate horizon. From time to time, to be sure, incidents take place which give rise to rumors and furnish aid and comfort to those elements in all countries which have special interest in fomenting discord and distrust. The statements, which are made from time to time in America by returning travelers to the effect that war is inevitable in the near future because all Europe desires it, appear to me unfounded, misleading and subversive.

The truth is, no European people and no government or responsible statesman in Europe today desires war or feels that a war under present conditions offers any promise of correcting existing injustices, dissatisfaction and misery. These facts should be borne in mind by those who, because of their fear regarding the stability of peace, are doubtful about the possibility of world economic recovery.

A Question of Strength

It is, of course, unwise to play the role of prophet and no one can foresee what the situation will be in ten, fifteen or twenty years. It is, however, safe to say, I think, that so long as the countries which are opposed to a new Armageddon because they would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by it are so strong, and those which on account of their grievances and sufferings might in desperation have recourse to violence because they feel that anything is preferable to their present condition, are weak, there is no danger of a general conflagration. It is true that at some point in the future, unless the necessary machinery and technique for the solution of international disputes are set up and enabled to function, the age-long principle that the final arbiter is war will again triumph. The question is whether in the intervening years of grace these agencies can be organized on a firm foundation or not.

Progress Being Made

After all, in spite of the complexity of detail and the varied interests and points of view involved, which on the surface appear baffling and hopeless, there are certain general principles that are simple enough when disengaged from the confusion of thought now so prevalent concerning them. In spite of apparent chaos, selfish interests and a disconcerting growth of nationalistic feeling everywhere apparent, my own conviction is that constant and definite progress is being made along fundamental and constructive lines which may be built into the foundations of the edifice of peace. It is obvious that I can attempt here merely to indicate a few of these encouraging developments. They are only important if the general thesis be correct that through positive, vigorous and persistent effort alone can, to quote Nicholas Murray Butler, the "ideal of human liberty, justice and the honorable conduct of an orderly and humane society," upon which durable peace must rest, be attained. There is no need, in Europe, at least, to insist upon the brutality, wastefulness and stupidity of war and to point out the advantages of peace. The horror of the recent world conflict and its consequences are still so evident that such negative and high-pressure propaganda is futile.

What is now needed is not the pledge of young men to refuse to fight even in defense of their own country, but a determination on their part to contribute in every way possible to finding a substitute for fighting. It must not be forgotten that the mere suppression of war, essential though it be, will not correct injustices and well-founded grievances. The old conception of the inherent right of any people to have recourse to war for the purpose of redressing wrong and injury is now clearly seen to be open to two main objections: First, the obvious danger of permitting one party to a dispute to decide that armed conflict is justified and to provoke the struggle, and, secondly, the obvious uncertainty that the outcome would relieve and not aggravate the conditions previously existing.

Aristide Briand, after signing the Pact of Paris at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris on Aug. 27, 1928, remarked, "We have now declared peace. Our remaining task is to organize it." Experience has shown that the organization of peace presents great difficulties which can only be overcome when the public opinion of the world recognizes the soundness of certain contentions about which there is as yet no general agreement, although they seem to me axiomatic. First, the analogy between the State in the community of nations and the individual in the State is complete in so far as security and freedom of action are concerned. Second, in an environment of disorganized, uncontrolled anarchy the individual or the nation must depend upon his or its own strength to resist aggression. It has taken many centuries for the civilized nations to solve imperfectly the problem of the relations of the individual to the State. It is not surprising that in the few years which have elapsed since the end of the great war the more complicated problem of working out a successful association of nations which will accomplish the same purpose has not been completed.

Mobilization of Opinion

An optimistic or pessimistic attitude as to the future must be based, it seems to me, on the conviction that progress is being made toward this great end or that we are further from its realization now than a few years ago. The curious and false notion that an agreement on the part of any country to throw its influence against an aggressor nation means sending its young men to fight in distant lands must be eliminated. It is precisely to prevent such an unfortunate occurrence that the overwhelming power of world opinion should be mobilized in favor of a united stand against aggression.

That an agreement to take automatic and speedy action against the law-breaking nation on the part of all the civilized nations is possible in the near future does not seem likely. Therefore, M. Briand proposed a European Federal Union, both economic and political, in order that the European countries could bring about a return of prosperity in an atmosphere of security and confidence. It now appears undeniable as he had in mind, which, of course, could not be a United States of Europe, is not immediately possible. It has long been my conviction that regional understandings and ententes must precede the ultimate European union just as a European federation of some sort will come before world organization for peace, which is the final goal.

Under the guidance and direction of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler the European Centre of the Carnegie Endowment has taken for several years an active interest in the drawing together of certain of the smaller European States into larger groups wherever there are sufficient economic solidarity and common interests to make such a development practicable.

A Balkan Example

As an illustration of what can be accomplished along these lines and the method of procedure, I may cite the rapprochement among the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula, which I have personally observed for the last four years. I recently returned from attending the meetings of the Fourth Balkan Conference, held at Saloniki from Nov. 5 to 12. The first conference met at Athens in October, 1930, the second at Istanbul in 1931 and the third at Bucharest in 1932. I have had the privilege of being present at all of these reunions, to which delegates selected from many fields of activity came from each of the six Balkan States, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, Turkey and Yugoslavia. At each conference notable progress has been made in the fields of economic and political cooperation. The fourth conference met several weeks later than was originally proposed because of recent remarkable diplomatic activity in the Balkans, the results of which it seemed advisable to observe.

First, at Angora the Greek and Turkish statesmen signed a new Greco-Turkish pact strengthening the friendship and cooperation existing between the two countries since the first agreement was ratified, three years ago. The new and striking features of this pact are the actual guarantee of the present frontiers and the clause promising consultation and united action in all international negotiations. The importance of these agreements is not confined to the two States directly concerned, but they have aroused keen interest throughout the Balkans and have powerfully stimulated the movement toward a Balkan union.

Visits Viewed as Proof

Proof of this wider interest is furnished by the visits of King Alexander of Yugoslavia, first to King Carol of Rumania and then to King Boris of Bulgaria, next to the President of the Turkish Republic and finally to Greece. Soon afterward, M. Titulescu, the Rumanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, went to Sofia, Angora and Athens. As a result of these conversations a pact of friendship and arbitration has been signed by Turkey and Yugoslavia, and important rapprochements have taken place between Greece and Bulgaria, as well as between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The greatest significance of all these developments lies in the fact that they show a realization on the part of the Balkan peoples of the necessity of mutual cooperation for the maintenance of peace and the organization of economic solidarity.

At the fourth conference the draft of a Balkan pact, which the Bulgarians refused to discuss a year ago, was signed by the heads of all delegations, although Bulgaria made certain reservations. While this action had no official character, the project will now be presented to all the governments concerned.

The fourth conference also registered important progress in the vitally important field of economic cooperation: Development of communications, collaboration in social and hygienic policy, intellectual rapprochement, a partial Balkan customs union, an inter-Balkan Chamber of Commerce, etc.

Consequences Are Important

The actual accomplishment along the above lines is not the most significant development in the Balkans. The gratifying and remarkable change in public opinion in all the Balkan States from latent hostility to a friendly policy of conciliation and a friendly settlement of difficulties, the preparing the way for the notable official action due to the diplomatic movement indicated above and the knowledge spread among the Balkan States about each other are the finest achievements of these annual conferences and the constant activity which is carried on in the intervals between them. The Carnegie Endowment has closely followed and encouraged this movement from its inception, because of our belief that the spirit and attitude shown in these discussions, the resolutions which have been passed and the technique that has been developed, may well serve as a model for similar agreements elsewhere. It must be remembered that the attempt to create a Balkan union will have important consequences for the whole of Europe. These understandings, because of the improvement in economic and financial conditions, the restoration of confidence in the stability of the areas concerned and the resulting improvement in economic and financial conditions will have an importance extending beyond the regions themselves.

When one recalls the centuries during which the Balkan Peninsula was a centre for the Continental bitterness and the cradle of wars, the fact is amazing that it has now become the theatre in the world today where the most constructive, carefully planned and promising attempt to organize peace is being worked out. Even in Macedonia, which presents the most difficult problems, the bloody massacres which occurred so frequently in the past have now ceased.

The States that border on the Baltic Sea, which formerly belonged to Russia, because of their pre-war history and the ancient rivalry of Russia and Germany for supremacy afford an interesting problem and opportunity. The important convention signed last July in London by all the neighbors of Russia with the Soviet Republic defining aggression so definitely that there can be no doubt in the future as to the facts and the recent statements of both the Polish and the German Governments that they will attempt to bring about no territorial changes in the status quo except within the framework and provisions of the peace treaties, have prepared the way for an economic union of Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the basis of friendly cooperation with the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Poland, the interest and importance of which may prove to be quite comparable to the Balkan Entente.

Possibilities of Anschluss

The complex and difficult problems presented by the situation of the Danubian States are perhaps the most pressing at the present time. Unless they are solved before many months have passed, the Anschluss, i.e. the domination of Austria by Germany with all its implications, which would break up Czechoslovakia and quickly draw Hungary and ultimately most of Mitteleuropa into the German orbit, can hardly be avoided. The obvious solution would be an economic confederation of Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia that would relieve the dire distress prevailing in the first two countries as well as the extended unemployment in the latter. Whatever may be justly said against the political weaknesses and absurdities of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, as an economic unit it worked fairly well. But here as elsewhere, the obvious steps to take from the economic point of view are made difficult for political reasons, chiefly because of dissatisfaction with the present frontiers and the large minorities which have always existed.

Whether important peril will postpone their demands for frontier rectifications until the present crisis has passed is well nigh impossible to foresee. There is reason to believe, however, that the turning of Yugoslavia and Rumania toward the Balkans will enable the third member of the Little Entente, Czechoslovakia, to remove the trade barriers between itself and Hungary and Austria. Then friendly commercial agreements could easily be made with Germany on the one hand and Italy on the other, and the danger of violence and upheaval in this whole vast region would disappear.

Contributions to Friendship

I therefore reiterate my belief, often expressed in the past, that such regional understandings as have been described above, because of the improvements which they would bring in economic and financial conditions and the restoration of confidence which they justify in the stability of peace, will contribute powerfully to that ultimate reconciliation of France and Germany without which no permanent peace in Europe is possible.

In paraphrase of an often-quoted remark of Elihu Root, I may say without fear of contradiction that there is no problem in Europe so serious that it cannot be peaceably solved if those two great peoples see eye to eye, and there is no dispute so trivial that it cannot become the cause of war if they are not in agreement.

In spite of the withdrawal of Germany from the League of Nations, an act which in my opinion was taken largely for reasons of internal politics, and the truculent statements in the Nazi official program, I am confident that Mr. Hitler does not at present want international complications of any kind and least of all war. For many years Germany's efforts and energies will be completely absorbed by her internal difficulties and the rebuilding of her material resources and moral prestige. The improved relations between Germany and Poland, which are the result of the conciliatory attitude of the German Chancellor, may well be extended now to Franco-German relations.

German Demand Neutral

The demand of Germany for equality of armament is natural and justifiable. It is intolerable to a proud people that its extensive frontiers should be defenseless against possible attacks from its neighbors and that it should be subject to the pressure which may be exerted because of this defenseless condition. Recent refusals of equality of armament, granted in theory but withheld in fact, is due to the conviction that ultimately Germany would use the relative superiority which she would obtain because of her industrial organization and chemical industry, either through disarmament of the other nations or by her own rearmament, for the purpose of obtaining by force what she has failed to get by other means.

The official announcement that Germany intends to incorporate ultimately into the Third Reich those portions of the neighboring countries which contain German minorities, beginning with the whole of Austria, has caused consternation everywhere and has provoked military demonstrations in Switzerland, Belgium and elsewhere. That there would be general resistance to such a plan cannot be doubted, but the excitement which the announcement of the plan has caused is due mainly, I think, to the failure to take into account the internal situation in Germany and the circumstances under which it was formulated. We must remember that the strength of Germany today, financial, naval and military, is relatively very inferior to what it was in 1914.

Furthermore, she has no alliances upon which she could count, the danger of the Anschluss and the Nazi regime in Germany having weakened the sympathies for her of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Little Entente and Poland are prepared to defend themselves vigorously and effectively. Although France has greatly reduced the size of her army and the length of military service and the entire nation is opposed to any war, she feels now relatively secure behind the great fortifications erected along the Franco-German frontier. Even admitting that there may have been considerable rearmament in Germany and that this may continue, the German Military Staff after its latest experience is not likely to take any chances or to countenance a new war until it is practically certain of a rapid victory, knowing well that a prolonged conflict would ruin both victors and the vanquished.

Saar Basin a Big Factor

Germany and France are in many ways natural allies, each contributing what the other lacks, and they are not rivals in industry or agriculture. When the Saar basin has been returned to Germany there will be no territorial dispute, as Mr. Hitler himself has said, between the two countries. The only things that keep them apart are the humiliation to which Germany has been subjected by the Treaty of Versailles and the fear of France of future aggression on her part. Germany objected to the military and territorial clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, as well as those dealing with reparations. Many of her objectives since the armistice have been attained. Control of armaments in Germany by an inter-allied commission has disappeared. The allied troops have left the Rhine and reparation payments have been substantially canceled.

Direct negotiations between the German and French Governments can do much to give the German people the future satisfaction they require and to which they are entitled. I believe that France will respond to the conciliatory and friendly attitude of Mr. Hitler and that the necessary effort will be made on both sides to reach an agreement. This will, of course, take time. One of the obstacles in the way of action by France is the difficulty of forming a Cabinet which can command a stable majority in the Chamber of Deputies in the Senate. This is not due to any disagreement about the foreign policy of the country.

Followed Briand Plans

In fact, in spite of severe and unjust criticism of the policies of M. Briand which have appeared in the nationalistic press, every French Foreign Minister and every government since his hand left the helm have followed the lines he laid down. A reading of the Parisian press gives a false idea of the attitude of the French people on international questions. Such provincial papers as Le Petit Marseillais and La Dépêche de Toulouse give a fairer picture of the opinions and aspirations of the French people. The difficulty in forming a stable government is due to the perennial conflict between French foreign and financial policies. The French people and Parliament are becoming constantly more liberal in questions of foreign policy but they are rigidly conservative where financial matters are involved. MM. Herriot, Daladier and Sarraut, all members of the Radical Socialist Party, which is the most powerful in France at the present time, are in substantial agreement and have the approval of Parliament in their foreign policy, but they cannot get support for their fiscal policy in a chamber where a majority of the Deputies belong to the Radical Socialist and Socialist parties.

It is essential that Great Britain, France and Italy remain in that close and effective collaboration which will be required during an indefinite period to bring about an understanding between Germany and France. The last obstacle to direct negotiations between the governments of these two countries, the fear of France that she will alienate by such action her former allies and friends, has disappeared. The Italian Duce does not approve of an adjustment of these questions as at present constituted. By direct agreement with Germany, Poland has given the example to France as to how to proceed. The Little Entente is not unfavorable to anything which will lessen its fear of German aggression and the closing part of the great speech of Stanley Baldwin in the House of Commons on Nov. 27, as reported in The New York Times, contains noble words, giving unstinted approval of, and offering generous cooperation in France in her great adventure.

"We want France to get in direct touch with Germany and we will do all in our power to help those two nations to reach an understanding," he said.

Under League Auspices

"After this when the governments of the other countries have had these bilateral parallel discussions on this grave question we hope and expect that disarmament proceedings will be resumed on the lines of the British convention under the auspices of the League. To France I would say this: They and we are inheritors and possessors of great and ancient civilizations. If what we have preserved and what we have to give to the world should be lost, then in my opinion the world would not be worth living in. Our interests are very close; our friendship with France is tried and secure. I hope she may be side by side with us in this struggle for a secure peace which they want from their souls as much as any man in this country."

This I believe to be the most significant and the most eloquent statement that any British statesman has made for many months. If it be true that no durable peace can be obtained in Europe without a Franco-German reconciliation it is equally true that this new understanding is impossible without the cordial collaboration of Great Britain. The next step would be a reorganization of the League of Nations, which will naturally and easily follow the above understandings. General reduction of armaments can then be obtained and the organization of peace will be well under way. This prospect is of such fundamental importance for the United States as well as for Europe that even slow and interrupted progress toward its fulfillment should be a cause of thanksgiving. We can reasonably hope and believe that we are nearer the goal now than at any time since the great war.