29th March, 1928


My dear P.M.,

In the 'Times' of March 15th there appeared an important article by Seydoux, a well-known Frenchman of great ability, who was in their Foreign Office and is now connected with one of the big Paris banks in an important capacity. [1] He writes with great frankness about the Franco-German rapprochement which he says is proceeding very rapidly. He points to the Franco-German Commercial Agreement [2] and shows how it has been followed by commercial arrangements between many individual industries, which he infers will end by French and German industry and trade becoming interlocked as one bloc-and that political understanding between the two countries will follow. He implies that this tendency is to the detriment of Great Britain. [3]

His article might well be a contribution to the series of opinions that I have been gathering on the influence of international finance and trade on the question of international peace or war.

I send his article with the resulting continental comments in another letter by this mail, which I think it may interest you to see.

This is the type of important subject on which one finds that there is no opinion worth the getting in the Foreign Office. They appear to regard any injection of financial or commercial questions into the rarified sphere of international politics as an attempt at getting oil and water to mix.

If, as Seydoux suggests, Great Britain has missed the opportunity of taking her 'proper place' in the continental economic system, and if we have 'allowed' France and Germany to embrace to the extent that there is no room for us in their entwined arms, then I think that there is explanation and reason for her action in the unconscious tendency of British thought to look to the Empire for her future rather than abroad. Each Imperial Conference has made it clear to His Majesty's Government that it favours lessened instead of increased European commitments and entanglements.

Restrained but constant publicity has been given to this desire on the part of the Empire.

Still, I think Seydoux's article a most interesting and important one.

I was surprised and interested a few days ago, in conversation with Hankey [4], when he said that he sometimes had periods of wondering whether we were well advised in these islands to adopt the policy of involving ourselves in Europe's troubles to the extent that we do, rather than an isolationist policy. I could not get him to say that he thought it was possible for Great Britain to be isolationist, but he gave one enough to let one suppose that he would like to see the consequences investigated more fully.

This arose out of my asking him what he thought about Seydoux's article.

I send by this mail a brief history of the disarmament question in the last year that I have put together. I have had both Hankey, the Foreign Office man concerned, and the Director of Plans at the Admiralty [5] read it, and with minor alterations they agree that it is a fair picture. It is short and shorn of detail. You may care to look through it.

The lack of any progress towards limitation of armaments seems to me to be the most grim tragedy of the post-war period. Events and tendencies seem to be shaping themselves in such a way that another conflagration is far from impossible. Nobody wants it but apparently nobody can stop it.

Nations seem to regard disarmament much in the same way as people regard going to a dinner party-they don't want to arrive till the other guests are there too.

Few things distress and irritate me more than a half-hour spent with the Foreign Office or Admiralty people when I go to ask them the inside story of what has happened recently at disarmament negotiations. We try and bargain with the French by agreeing to support them in their ideas about maintaining land armaments, in return for their supporting us against America on naval matters.

Sordid and hopeless.

I set myself the unwelcome task in this last ten days of reducing to a simple running story the history of the two disputes which have lately been put up to the League Council under Article II of the Covenant, as threatening 'to disturb international peace'.

These are the Polish-Lithuanian dispute [6] and the Roumanian- Hungarian dispute. [7]

I have had my rendering of them both checked by the Foreign Office who made minor alterations to my drafts. I send them both by this mail. I don't suggest that you should read them as neither dispute is sufficiently grave to be a potential source of war in the near future. But if you wanted a little light reading ...

I also submit by this week's mail a contribution to the gaiety of nations in the shape of a monograph on the negotiations with Persia. [8]

The extreme necessity for cautious wording of diplomatic documents is the thing that makes them so tiresome to read and difficult to absorb. I have to inflict a great deal of cross-examination on the Foreign Office people and wade through masses of documents to produce a simple, free-and-easy story of any negotiations that enables anyone not completely conversant with the subject to grasp the gist of it all without a headache.

The tendency of all specialists is to introduce a lot of mumbo- jumbo into the written word. They seem to delight in making everything appear as difficult and complicated as possible. My self-appointed job to a great extent is simplification.

In returning a draft to me on one of the subjects that I am dealing with this week, the man concerned in the Foreign Office says: 'I have made a few minor alterations and remarks in the margin. If I may say so, you have produced a simple straightforward and withal true story of this complicated subject.

I imagine that it is for your official people in Australia. You will realise that if any "outside" use is to be made of it, it will have to be covered up in much more cautious language.' The loss of Gregory [9], Vansittart [10] and O'Malley [11] to the Foreign Office, and the consequent reshuffling, has left the Department in my opinion (and in Hankey's, which is more to the point) in a state of weakness that is more pronounced than at any time that I remember it. Sir Ronald Lindsay [12] (who is replacing Tyrrell [13]), I believe, although a very good man in many ways is said not to be on the level of Sir Eyre Crowe [14] or Sir William Tyrrell from the point of view of 'brains'. Knowing the individuals in the Foreign Office as I do, and running one's eye down the list, there are very few whom one would pick out as first-rate men.

I send by this mail a brief (one page) summary of the report of the Anti-Aircraft Research Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which will not be of interest to you. An interesting point, however, came to me in connection with their work. Probably the most secret part of their researches is in connection with the development of pilotless aeroplanes controlled by wireless by 'mother' aeroplanes from the air or by wireless from the ground. One of the ideas is to use them to ram hostile air formations. We have developed them to a greater extent than other nations, mainly by reason of the most secret nature of the work. When Nungesser [15] attempted to fly from France to America and was lost, one of these Ram machines (as the pilotless aircaft are called) got away from its 'mother' and fell in the sea and was wrecked off Land's End. The remains were found and not unnaturally were thought to be those of Nungesser's machine, and it took some ingenuity to cover the business up!

There is a short but important despatch about Japan and China that you should read amongst the Foreign Office print that I send-by this mailChina, Section 1 of March 10th.

I have written to Sir Neville Howse [16] by this mail-a general, personal letter about the External Affairs Department, its life and times.

I am glad to learn that the Air Board in Australia are apparently now in favour of His, Majesty's Government asking officially if Group Captain Freeman [17] may accompany Sir John Salmond on the Air Mission to Australia. [18] I know Freeman and I know that his presence would ensure a better done job than his absence. And as this Air enquiry is an important one for Australia, I think it is a pity to spoil the ship for a little tar, or, to modernise and make more apropos the simile-to spoil the aeroplane for a little dope.

I am, Yours sincerely, R.C. CASEY

1 Jacques Seydoux, formerly Assistant Director of Political and Commercial Affairs in the French Foreign Office.

2 Signed on 5 August 1926.

3 In the same article Seydoux also noted that Britain's failure to modernise her industry had worsened her competitive position vis- a-vis Germany.

4 Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the Cabinet.

5 Captain W. A. Egerton.

6 A flare-up in perpetually hostile relations: Lithuania refused to accept Polish sovereignty over Vilna or to allow transit to Poland-Latvia trade, claimed to be in a state of war with Poland and refused to enter commercial or diplomatic relations with Poland. Poland, never enthusiastic about Lithuanian independence, applied pressure to obtain Lithuanian acceptance of existing frontiers. Squabbling continued until 1938 when, under threat of Polish invasion, Lithuania was forced to enter into diplomatic relations with Warsaw.

7 The Hungarian Peace Treaty signed at Trianon in June 1920 allowed Hungarians in territory now awarded to, among others, Roumania to opt for Hungarian citizenship and residence while nevertheless retaining their property in Roumania. This extraordinary provision immediately caused trouble when, in 1921, Roumania instituted land reforms which included the expropriation of absentee owners' property. Subsequent diplomatic conflict between Hungary and Roumania dragged on for years, involving various League of Nations bodies. In 1927, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, had tried to effect a settlement but had had little success.

8 Persia at the time was using tariff arrangements and the British desire for right of way over Persian territory for a Cairo-Karachi air service as levers to obtain British acceptance of the termination of 'capitulations'-the extraterritorial privilege whereby British citizens in Persia were not subject to Persian courts. Britain and Persia concluded mutually agreeable settlements on these three questions in May 1928.

9 J.D. Gregory, dismissed from his post as Assistant Under- Secretary for involvement in currency speculation.

10 Robert Vansittart, now Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.

11 Owen O'Malley, First Secretary at the Foreign Office, permitted to resign for involvement in currency speculation but readmitted a year later.

12 Ambassador to Germany but in July to replace Sir William Tyrell as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office.

13 Sir William Tyrrell, about to vacate the post of Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office to become Ambassador to France.

14 Permanent Under-Seceretary at the Foreign Office from 1920 until his death in 1925.

15 French aviators Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli disappeared after leaving Paris for New York on 8 May 1927, in a Levasseur biplane.

16 Commonwealth Minister for Health and for Home and Territories.

17 W.R. Freeman, Deputy Director of Operations and Intelligence at the Air Ministry 1927-29.

18 See note 1 to Letter 112.