No. 25: Speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at Chatham House
Editor's Note: The following content is a transcription of a period document or a collection of period statistics. It may be incomplete, inaccurate, or biased. The reader may not wish to take the content as factual.29 Jun 1939
ww2dbaseWHEN I look back to the speech which I delivered at the Chatham House Dinner in June a year ago, I am conscious, as we all are, of the great changes that have taken place. A year ago we had undertaken no specific commitments on the Continent of Europe, beyond those which had then existed for some considerable time and are familiar to you all. To-day we are bound by new agreements for mutual defence with Poland and Turkey: we have guaranteed assistance to Greece and Roumania against aggression, and we are now engaged with the Soviet Government in a negotiation, to which I hope there may very shortly be a successful issue, with a view to associating them with us for the defence of States in Europe whose independence and neutrality may be threatened. We have assumed obligations, and are preparing to assume more, with full understanding of their causes and with full understanding of their consequences. We know that, if the security and independence of other countries are to disappear, our own security and our own independence will be gravely threatened. We know that, if international law and order is to be preserved, we must be prepared to fight in its defence.
In the past we have always stood out against the attempt by any single Power to dominate Europe at the expense of the liberties of other nations, and British policy is, therefore, only following the inevitable line of its own history, if such an attempt were to be made again. But it is not enough to state a policy. What matters is, firstly, to convince the nation that the policy is right, and secondly, to take the steps necessary for that policy to succeed. I believe that at no time since the War has there been such national unity on the main essentials of our foreign policy, and that with this spirit of unity goes a deep and widespread determination to make that policy effective. But I believe, too, that among all classes of our people who, in virtue of their common citizenship, are being called upon to defend their country, and the causes for which it stands, there is an increasing desire to look beyond the immediate present, and to see before them some goal for which they would willingly sacrifice their leisure and, if need be, their lives.
We are already asking for great sacrifices from all ages and classes in the call for national service. In one way and another, every man and woman has a part to play, and I know is prepared to do so. The immense effort that the country is making in equipping itself for defence at sea, in the air and on land is without parallel in peace time. We have an unchallengeable Navy. Our Air Force, still undergoing an expansion which has outstripped all expectations of a few months ago, has now nothing to fear from any other. I have little doubt that its personnel, in spirit and in skill, is superior to all others. Our army, once derided, but which survived to prove its worth so that it made a boast of that derision, is, no doubt, small in comparison with that of some other countries. But, as happened once before, we are creating here also a powerful weapon for the defence of our own liberty and that of other peoples. With every week that passes, that effort gains momentum, and on every side of life, political, administrative, industrial, we have abundant evidence of how firmly this national effort is driven and supported by the people's will. Behind all our military effort stand the British people, more united than ever before, and at their service their wealth and industrial resources. These, again, are the object of contemptuous reference, but they have been earned by the labour, skill and courage of our people. None of this formidable array of strength will be called into play except in defence against aggression. No blow will be struck, no shot fired. Of the truth of that, everyone in this country is convinced. I believe, myself, that most people in other countries really accept it in spite of the propaganda that dins into their ears the contrary. What is also now fully and universally accepted in this country, but what may not even yet be as well understood elsewhere, is that, in the event of further aggression, we are resolved to use at once the whole of our strength in fulfilment of our pledges to resist it.
These great changes in our national life could not, indeed, be brought about, were they not backed by deep conviction, which is immensely strengthened by what we hear and read almost daily from other parts of the world. We are often told that, though once we were a great nation, our ways are now old-fashioned, and that our democracy has no life in it. We read the mischievous misrepresentations of our actions and of our motives, which some people in countries holding a different international philosophy from our own think fit to make. We read them with resentment, knowing that they are false and knowing that those who make them know it, too. These things do not pass unnoticed here, nor, I may say, do provocative insults offered to our fellow-countrymen further afield. I can say at once that Great Britain is not prepared to yield either to calumnies or force. It may afford some satisfaction to those who have pronounced our nation to be decadent to learn that they themselves have found the cure-and one most effective. Every insult that is offered to our people, every rude challenge that is made to what we value and are determined to defend, only unites us, increases our determination and strengthens our loyalty to those others who share our feelings and aspirations. Over a large part of the world the old standards of conduct and of ordinary human decency, which man had laboriously built up, are being set aside. Things are being done to-day which we can hardly read without amazement; so alien are they to our conception of how men should deal with their fellow-men. Rules of conduct between nations are overridden with the same callous indifference as rules of conduct between man and man.
The first thing, therefore, which we have to do is to see that our own standards of conduct do not deteriorate. On that point there must be-and I know there is-complete national unity. We respect our fellow-men. We know that without that there can be no real self-respect either for individuals, or, in the long run, for nations. The day that we lose our respect for our fellowmen, our democracy would have lost something on which its vitality depends, and would justly become what our critics like to think it, moribund, and dead, for it would, indeed, have lost the right to live. If, then we hold fast to these principles, what is the application of them to our foreign policy? At a time when our aims are being constantly misrepresented, it is perhaps well to restate them boldly and with such plainness of speech as I can command. And I would try to deal briefly both with our aims in the immediate present, and our aims in the future; what we are doing now and what we should like to see done as soon as circumstances make it possible.
Our first resolve is to stop aggression. I need not recapitulate the acts of aggression which have taken place, or the effect they have had upon the general trust that European nations feel able to place in words and undertakings. For that reason, and for that reason alone, we have joined with other nations to meet a common danger. These arrangements we all know, and the world knows, have no purpose other than defence. They mean what they say-no more and no less. But they have been denounced as aiming at the isolation-or, as it is called, the encirclement-of Germany and Italy, and as designed to prevent them from acquiring the living space necessary for their national existence. I shall deal with these charges to-night, and I propose to do so with complete frankness.
We are told that our motives are to isolate Germany within a ring of hostile States, to stifle her natural outlets, to cramp and throttle the very existence of a great nation. What are the facts? They are very simple and everybody knows them. Germany is isolating herself, and doing it most successfully and completely. She is isolating herself from other countries economically by her policy of autarky, politically by a policy that causes constant anxiety to other nations, and culturally by her policy of racialism. If you deliberately isolate yourself from others by your own actions you can blame nobody but yourself, and so long as this isolation continues, the inevitable consequences of it are bound to become stronger and more marked. The last thing we desire is to see the individual German man, or woman, or child suffering privations; but if they do so, the fault does not lie with us, and it depends on Germany and Germany alone whether this process of isolation continues or not, for any day it can be ended by a policy of co-operation. It is well that this should be stated plainly so that there may be no misunderstanding here or elsewhere.
I come next to Lebensraum. This word, of which we have not heard the last, needs to be fairly and carefully examined. Every developed community is, of course, faced with the vital problem of living space. But the problem is not solved simply by acquiring more territory. That may indeed only make the problem more acute. It can only be solved by wise ordering of the affairs of a country at home, and by adjusting and improving its relations with other countries abroad. Nations expand their wealth, and raise the standard of living of their people by gaining the confidence of their neighbours, and thus facilitating the flow of goods between them. The very opposite is likely to be the consequence of action by one nation in suppression of the independent existence of her smaller and weaker neighbours. And if Lebensraum is to be applied in that sense, we reject it and must resist its application. It is noteworthy that this claim to "living space" is being put forward at a moment when Germany has become an immigration country, importing workers in large numbers from Czecho-Slovakia, Holland and Italy to meet the needs of her industry and agriculture. How then can Germany claim to be over-populated? Belgium and Holland, and to a less extent our own islands, have already proved that what is called over-population can be prevented by productive work. The wide spaces and the natural resources of the British Empire and the United States of America were not able to save them from widespread distress during the great slump of 1929 to 1932. Economically the world is far too closely knit together for any one country to hope to profit itself at the expense of its neighbours, and no more than any other country can Germany hope to solve her economic problems in isolation. It is no doubt impossible at present for us to foresee the day when all trade everywhere will be completely free. But it is possible to make arrangements, given the opportunities, which would greatly enlarge the area of freedom. Through co-operation-and we, for our part, are ready to cooperate-there is ample scope for extending to all nations the opportunity of a larger economic life with all that this means, which is implied in the term "Lebensraum."
If the world were organised on such lines, neither Germany nor Italy need fear for her own safety, and no nation could fail to profit from the immense material benefits which the general application of science has brought within universal reach. But no such society of nations can be built upon force, in a world which lives in fear of violence, and has to spend its substance in preparing to resist it. It is idle to cry peace where there is no peace, or to pretend to reach a settlement unless it can be guaranteed by the reduction of warlike preparations, and by the assured recognition of every nation's right to the free enjoyment of its independence. At this moment the doctrine of force bars the way to settlement, and fills the world with envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness. But if the doctrine of force were once abandoned, so that the fear of war that stalks the world was lifted, all outstanding questions would become easier to solve. If all the effort which is now devoted to the senseless multiplication of armaments, with the consequent increase of insecurity and distrust, were to be applied to the common peaceful development of resources, the peoples of the world would soon find an incentive to work together for the common good; they would realise that their true interests do not conflict, and that progress and well-being depend upon community of aim and effort. The nations would then be in a position to discuss with real promise of success both political grievances and economic difficulties, whether in the international or colonial field.
This brings me to say something about the principles of our colonial administration. There was a time when in the British Empire, as elsewhere, colonies were regarded merely as a source of wealth and a place of settlement for Europeans. You have only to read any of the colonial literature of those days to see for how little counted the rights and welfare of the natives. But during the last half century a very different view has gained ground, a view which has been finely expressed in Article 22 of the Covenant, namely, that the well-being and development of "people not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world" is "a sacred trust of civilisation."
That trust has been steadily fulfilled since the War in the case of the Mandated Territories, on which the operation of the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant has conferred immense benefits. The British Commonwealth is fully aware of the heavy responsibility resting upon it to see that, through respect for these principles, continuity and development is assured to the native populations. The mandatory system, in fact, derives from exactly the same inspiration as that which governs British colonial administrative policy. We have applied the same principles to India and Burma, where they are now steadily at work on a scale that twenty or thirty years ago would have seemed far beyond the bounds of reasonable expectation. Within the last few years we have seen the transformation of Eire into a separate and independent member of the British Commonwealth, enjoying with our other partners of the Empire full Dominion status. For many years we tried, as the phrase went, to hold Ireland, under the mistaken belief, which is to-day invoked to justify the subjection of Czecho-Slovakia, that it was indispensable to our national security. But we have now realised that our safety is not diminished, but immeasurably increased, by a free and friendly Ireland. And so both here and in every country for which we have been responsible we have steadily moved in one direction. The whole picture is a significant and faithful reflection of British thought, projected into political form, and expressing itself, through history and now, in the development of institutions. We recognise, as the United States have recognised, that self-government should be the ultimate goal of colonial policy, a goal which is near or distant, according to the capacity of the peoples concerned to manage their own affairs. In one of your own studies, "The Colonial Problem," the type of research which enhances the name and reputation of Chatham House, you have considered the question whether colonies pay. You drew attention to the benefits of cheap imports which the consumers of a country possessing colonies obtain as the result of the relatively low cost of production of certain commodities in colonial territories. But under an international system, under which the present trade barriers were to a great extent abolished, those benefits, already shared as they are to a considerable extent by many countries not possessing colonies, would be shared still more widely. On all sides there could be more free and ready access to markets and raw materials of the world; wider channels of trade down which would flow the goods which nations require to buy and sell. Such are some of the possibilities within everybody's reach.
How does all this affect our wider problems? One of the most significant facts in world history is the extent to which the principle of trusteeship has come to be adopted in the British Commonwealth during the last thirty years, and there is surely something here that can be used for the great benefit of mankind. Can we not look forward to a time when there may be agreement on common methods and aims of colonial development, which may ensure not only that the universally acknowledged purpose of colonial administration will be to help their inhabitants steadily to raise their level of life, but also that colonial territories may make a growing contribution to the world's resources? On such an agreed foundation of purpose we hope that others might be prepared with us to make their contribution to a better world. If so, I have no doubt that in the conduct of our colonial administration we should be ready to go far upon the economic side, as we have already done on the political side, in making wider application of the principles which now obtain in the mandated territories, including, on terms of reciprocity, that of the open door. Whatever may be the difficulties of the colonial problem, or of any other, I would not despair of finding ways of settlement, once everybody has got the will to settle. But, unless all countries do, in fact, desire a settlement, discussions would only do more harm than good. It is, moreover, impossible to negotiate with a Government whose responsible spokesmen brand a friendly country as thieves and blackmailers and indulge in daily monstrous slanders on British policy in all parts of the world. But if that spirit, which is clearly incompatible with any desire for a peaceful settlement, gave way to something different, His Majesty's Government would be ready to pool their best thought with others in order to end the present state of political and economic insecurity. If we could get so far, what an immense stride the world would have made! We should have exorcised the anxiety which is cramping and arresting business expansion and we should have brought back an atmosphere of confidence among nations and assurance for the future among the youth of this and every other European country. Our next task would be the reconstruction of the international order on a broader and firmer foundation. That is too large a topic for me to embark upon this evening, but I should like to commend it to your thinking.
We must ask ourselves how far the failure of the League was due to shortcomings in the Covenant itself, or how far it was the absence of some of the greatest countries at every stage of its history that has crippled both its moral authority and strength. Is it beyond the political genius of mankind to reconcile national individuality with international collaboration? Can human purpose rise high enough to solve the riddle? An examination of the history of the Covenant may perhaps disclose that some of its obligations were too loose and others too rigid. It has been suggested, for instance, that some system of specific regional guarantees for the preservation of the peace would be more effective than the indefinite but universal obligations of Articles 10 and 16, and it is not impossible that the grouping of the Powers as it exists to-day, instead of dividing Europe, might be so moulded as to become the embryo of a better European system.
That is one side of the problem. But it is not enough to devise measures for preventing the use of force to change the status quo, unless there is also machinery for bringing about peaceful change. For a living and changing world can never be held in iron clamps, and any such attempt is the high road to disaster. Changes in the relations, needs, and outlook of nations are going on all the time. And there is no more urgent need, if we are ever to find a workable system of international organisation, than to invent peaceful means by which such changes can be handled. To-day when the European nations, forgetful of their common civilisation, are arming to the teeth, it is more important than ever that we should remind ourselves of the essential unity of European civilisation. European minds meet across political frontiers. With the same background of knowledge, with the same heritage of culture, they study the same problems; the work of the great masters of science, and literature or art is the common property of all peoples; and thinkers in every land exchange knowledge on equal and friendly terms. Truly is a divided Europe a house divided against itself. Our foreign policy must, therefore, constantly bear in mind the immediate present and the more distant future, the steps we are now taking and the goal to which they are meant to lead.
I have strained your patience, but if you will allow me a few moments more I will endeavour to pick up the threads of my thought and perhaps make a few points more explicit. British policy rests on twin foundations of purpose. One is determination to resist force. The other is our recognition of the world's desire to get on with the constructive work of building peace. If we could once be satisfied that the intentions of others were the same as our own, and that we all really wanted peaceful solutions-then, I say here definitely, we could discuss the problems that are to-day causing the world anxiety. In such a new atmosphere we could examine the colonial problem, the questions of raw materials, trade barriers, the issue of Lebensraum, the limitation of armaments, and any other issue that affects the lives of all European citizens.
But that is not the position which we face to-day. The threat of military force is holding the world to ransom, and our immediate task is-and here I end as I began-to resist aggression. I would emphasise that to-night with all the strength at my command, so that nobody may misunderstand it. And if we are ever to succeed in removing misunderstanding and reaching a settlement which the world can trust, it must be upon some basis more substantial than verbal undertakings. It has been said that deeds, not words, are necessary. That also is our view. There must be give and take in practical form on both sides, for there can be no firm bargains on the basis of giving something concrete in return for mere assurances. None of us can in these days see very far ahead in the world in which we live, but we can and must always be sure of the general direction in which we wish to travel. Let us, therefore, be very sure that, whether or not we are to preserve for ourselves and for others the things that we hold dear, depends in the last resort upon ourselves, upon the strength of the personal faith of each one of us, and upon our resolution to maintain it. ww2dbase
The British War Bluebook; courtesy of Yale Law School Avalon Project
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