Allies war aims

1918-02-13 - Lord Arthur Balfour


Is not this dwelling upon the word "only" one of the most unreasonable perversions of a public document? You say the task before us is war. Does that mean that the task of reconstruction is not also before us? Of course that is before us. Of course 174 the tasks before us are not only concerned with war: they are concerned with diplomacy, with reconstruction after the War, with all the vast problems which the world will have to attempt to solve, and which, I think, will prove themselves almost as difficult of solution as the problems presented by the War itself. The word "only," so far as it is my business to deal with this sentence of the Versailles Conference, is not capable of bearing the weight the hon. Gentleman puts upon it. He goes the length of suggesting that because the word "only" appears in the Versailles Resolution, therefore diplomacy has nothing more to do with the situation—no efforts shall be made by any of the beliigerent countries to come to terms. That is not the view of the Government. The view of the Government is that at present the attitude of the Central Governments shows that diplomacy at the present moment is entirely out of court so far as they are concerned. It is they who have banged the door; it is they who have shut it; it is they who have laid down clearly by the mouth of their Chancellor, and, if that be more authoritative, by the mouth of their Kaiser, that they are as far removed as they were three years ago from accepting those ideals to which President Wilson has given classic expression, but which represent the common view of America, of England, and the Allies by whose side America and England are fighting.

If that is true, what is the use of criticising the Government for not using the methods of diplomacy? The methods of diplomacy are only of use when you deal with people who are prepared to come to terms. The Central Powers have openly shown that they do not mean to come to terms. At all events, Germany has shown this. The difference of tone, not of substance, between Count Hertling's speech and Count Czernin's may show that Austria is more nearly in a reasonable frame of mind than her all powerful ally, but to suggest that even Count Czernin's speech indicates that Germany is prepared to come to terms appears to me to be extravagant in the highest degree. After all. this War is not coming to an end until Germany and the Allies are prepared to go into Council together over the terms of peace. Has Germany, who knows our terms, shown the slightest desire at any moment to make that approach which would render 175 a council of the nations of value? There are some Gentlemen who talk—I do not know whether they think in the same way —as if the mere summoning of people round a table were a method of arriving at peace. It is only a method of arriving at peace if before they meet round the table there is a certain community of ideas and aims which enable discussion between them to settle the outstanding details. But if they meet round that table with differences fundamental and irreconcilable, then the meeting round the table only makes matters worse, and not better. It accentuates differences; it does not emphasise agreements, and peace, and the interests bound up with peace, are further off than ever.

When some of my hon. Friends criticised in a kindly spirit, but who criticised the Government this evening for their diplomatic procedure, they took occasion to emphasise their view that one of the objects of this War was the destruction of militarism. That is a phrase with which we are all very familiar, and it has been used to-night, I think, by my hon. Friend who spoke earlier in the evening, and I think by others. Is there anything in Count Hertling's speech which suggests that the end of militarism is near in Germany? The most microscopic examination, the friendliest investigation has not shown any symptoms of that character. On the contrary, their successes—I will not call them their military successes; fighting had very little to do with it—but their successes on the Eastern Front have at once shown what has been throughout the true German military spirit— "Add to our territory; secure our commercial expansion by acquiring a controlling influence over this or that great area; make our borders secure by getting this or that alien population under our control." That was German policy three years ago. That is the German policy, so far as I understand the Kaiser and Count Hertling, at the hour at which I speak. How much that policy has behind it the true spirit of the German nation I cannot say, but, so far as outward marks go, so far as the declarations of responsible statesmen go, I see not a hair's-breadth of variation from their old ambition of getting what they call a German peace, and all of us know that a German peace has one meaning, and one meaning alone: it is a peace which will make every other nation subservient to Germany.