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LORD HALDANE'S DIARY OF NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN GERMANY AND
ENGLAND IN 1912
Lord Haldane's visit to Germany in the month of February, 1912, in order to reach an agreement on the part of Great Britain and Germany upon the naval program of each country, was a failure. This was inevitably so, because Germany, on the one hand, insisted upon its naval program, which included a new squadron, and a law by virtue whereof its fleet should be materially increased; and because Great Britain, on the other hand, was determined to make such additions to its navy as would meet the German increase, and preserve the standard of superiority upon which Great Britain believed its safety depended. The Conference therefore broke up.
There was, however, an understanding that negotiations were not to drop; that Lord Haldane, upon his return, would privately inform the Imperial German Chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg, concerning the naval program; and that an attempt should be made in both countries to reach an agreement of a kind calculated to prevent war between them; to define the duty of neutrality, and in the event of war, to hit upon some method of localizing the conAict.
The German Ambassador, Prince Lichnowsky, was friendly, but as he himself has admitted in his “Memorandum,” he did not have influence at home, and Germany apparently preferred to communicate with the British Government through Count Metternich.
The preoccupation of Germany seemed to be to obtain a free hand for any adventure which it might care to undertake in the future, and to have Great Britain tie its hands in so far as Germany was concerned, and it is believed that the “formula” of the Imperial German Chancellor, drafted early in 1912 for Lord Haldane, shows better than almost any document hitherto published the intent of Germany at that time to prepare itself for an approaching war. This document and the negotiations in connection with it were issued August 31, 1915, by the Foreign Office in the form of a statement “respecting the Anglo-German negotiations of 1912.”
The formula already referred to, as submitted early in 1912 by the Imperial German Chancellor, is as follows:
1. The high contracting parties assure each other mutually of their desire of peace and friendship.
2. They will not either of them make or prepare to make any (unprovoked) aitack upon the other, or join in any combination or design against the other for purposes of aggression, or become party to any plan or naval or military enterprise alone or in combination with any other power directed to such an end, and declare not to be bound by any such engagement.
3. If either of the high contracting parties become entangled in a war with one or more powers in which it can not be said to be the aggressor, the other party will at least observe toward the power so entangled a benevolent neu. trality, and will use its utmost endeavor for the localization of the conflict. If either of the high contracting parties is forced to go to war by obvious provocation from a third party, they bind themselves to enter into an exchange of views concerning their attitude in such a conflict.
4. The duty of neutrality which arises out of the preceding article has no application in so far as it may not be reconcilable with existing agreements which the high contracting parties have already made.
5. The making of new agreements which render it impossible for either of the parties to observe neutrality toward the other beyond what is provided by the preceding limitation is excluded in conformity with the provisions in Arti. cle 2.
6. The high contracting parties declare that they will do all in their power to prevent differences and misunderstandings arising between either of them and other powers.1
A little examination will show that this proposed agreement is what is called in law a “unilateral contract."
The first article stating that each country is desirous of peace and friendship with the other may be dismissed as the ordinary platitude of a preamble. The second seems fair upon its face, inasmuch as neither country is to enter into combination against the other “for purposes of aggression.” Here, however, the difficulty begins, inasmuch as what may be aggression to one is not necessarily aggression to the other, and as in the absence of any definition, and also in the absence of any superior or authoritative interpretation, each would necessarily decide for itself. The nation placing a premium upon good faith might be bound; the party subordinating good faith to its real or alleged advantage might have a free hand. Throughout the present war the Imperial German Government has insisted that it has acted in self-defense, not aggressively, whereas Italy, the third member of the Triple Alliance, has refused to be bound by that treaty because the act of Germany beginning the war was aggressive, not in self-defense. The third article is open to the charge of uncer
1 New York Times, June 2, 1918, Sec. 5, p. 4.
tainty, due to the presence therein of aggression. However, a new element appears. This is "benevolent neutrality,” which is to be maintained by the party at peace, when the other has become entangled in a difficulty with one or more powers “in which it can not be said to be the aggressor.” In addition, the party at peace was to "use its utmost endeavor for the localization of the conflict." While it might be unfair to assume that Germany, in 1912, had in contemplation the situation of August, 1914, it is not unfair to remark that the language contained in this article applied, without straining, to such a state of affairs. Germany would have been free; Great Britain would have been tied and bound to observe "a benevolent neutrality" while Serbia was thrown to the dogs. The fourth article, like all the other articles, is fair upon its face, but unfair in its application. Nothing could seem fairer than that neither nation should be required to observe neutrality if it had entangling alliances requiring other action. Germany had such treaties ; Great Britain did not, so that Germany would be free while Great Britain would be bound, if the treaty was not to be “a scrap of paper." The Triple Alliance was a treaty; the Entente was not an obligation. In the same way, article five, while outwardly fair, is unequal in its application inasmuch as Germany already had treaties of a kind which Great Britain would be forbidden by that article to make, thus perpetuating an inequality between the two. And article six, binding each of the contracting parties to prevent differences between them and other powers, was in the general, as well as in the special, interests of Germany and Great Britain.
Sir Edward Grey very properly refused the proposed formula, inasmuch as his duty was to preserve, not to betray British interests. Pressed by Count Metternich for a counter-proposal, he submitted, on March 14, 1912, and with the approval of his colleagues of the Cabinet, the following:
England will make no unprovoked attack upon Germany, and pursue no aggressive policy toward her.
Aggression upon Germany is not the subject, and forms no part of any treaty, understanding, or combination to which England is now a party, nor will she become a party to anything that has such an object.?
This formula appeared inadequate to the Count, who suggested the following alternative additional clauses :
2 The New York Times, June 2, 1918, Sec. 5, p. 4.
England will therefore observe at least a benevolent neutrality should war be forced upon Germany; or
England will therefore, as a matter of course, remain neutral if a war is forced upon Germany.3
Sir Edward's proposal, as well as Count Metternich's counterproposal, were based upon acceptance of British views in the matter of the naval program.
Sir Edward naturally disapproved of the counter-proposal, explaining that “if Germany desired to crush France, England might not be able to sit still, though, if France were aggressive or attacked Germany, no support would be given by his Majesty's Government or approved by England."* The real object of the German proposal appears to have been as he said, “to obtain the neutrality of England in all eventualities, since, should a war break out, Germany would certainly contend that it had been forced upon her, and would claim that England should remain neutral.”5 The facts are unfortunately with Sir Edward.
Negotiations, however, did not drop, and eventually Sir Edward proposed as a further formula that "the two powers being mutually desirous of securing peace and friendship between them, England declares that she will neither make nor join in any unprovoked attack upon Germany."6 To this he added the clause denying aggression on the part of Great Britain. In submitting this draft, Sir Edward explained that the use of the word “neutrality” might create a wrong impression, and that it would better therefore be avoided, and that, in any event, the substance of the agreement was more accurately expressed by the words “will neither make nor join in any unprovoked attack."
The British proposal was unsatisfactory to the Imperial German Chancellor, who stated that the increase of the German navy could only be halted by “an agreement guaranteeing neutrality”; as Count Metternich explained, "of a far-reaching character and leaving no doubt as to any interpretation."?
The up-shot of the whole matter is thus stated by Sir Edward Grey :
A few days afterward Count Metternich communicated to Sir Edward Grey the substance of a letter from the Chancellor, in which the latter said that, as
3 The New York Times, June 2, 1918, Sec. 5, p. 4. 5 Ibid.
4 Ibid. 7 Ibid.
the formula suggested by his Majesty's Government was from the German point of view insufficient, and as his Majesty's Government could not agree to the larger formula for which he had asked, the Novelle [the bill then pending for the increase of the German navy) must proceed on the lines on which it had been presented to the Federal Council.8
Thus “the hope of a mutual reduction,” to use Sir Edward Grey's language, “in the expenditure on armaments of the two countries,” failed.
Lord Haldane's mission proved abortive, and negotiations between the two governments following the visit were likewise abortive, but they are worth recounting as showing that in 1912 Great Britain wished to avoid war, and that Germany wished to bind England to neutrality if war should break out.
JAMES BROWN SCOTT.
8 The New York Times, June 2, 1918, Sec. 5, p. 4.