25th March, 1926


(Due to arrive Melbourne-24.4.26)

My dear P.M.,

I feel that it would be very cold porridge to confine myself to a dreary reiteration of the suggestions and countersuggestions that made up the Special March Assembly of the League. A mere catalogue of the efforts made to get Germany in and to slam the door on as many other Council aspirants as possible would not, I think, be very instructive. [1] Anyhow, you have been kept well informed by telegraph of the day to day ebb and flow of the negotiations.

I propose, therefore, to confine this letter to some observations that seem to me to be of interest, on the assumption that you know the general thread of the story.

Broadly speaking, the first week of the Session was confined to dealing with Poland's efforts to get a seat of some sort on the Council-Brazil and Spain on the one hand and Sweden on the other being rather vague dangers lurking in the background. Only when the Polish difficulty had been overcome by Sweden and Czechoslovakia offering to resign their non-permanent seats and (it was hoped) be replaced by Poland and Norway, did people realise that an even greater menace to a settlement existed in the shape of Brazil.

Great Britain's and France's entanglements with Poland and Spain, combined with a misunderstanding (no worse, I think) at Locarno as to the conditions under which Germany was to join the Council of the League, were together responsible for the start of the trouble.

When Spain and Brazil recognised the strength of the cards they held, they both resorted to open blackmail to gain their ends.

The open evidence of blackmail on the part of Spain was contained in the fact that she sent her Ambassador at Stockholm to inform the Swedish Foreign Office that if they persisted in their intention of blackballing Spain for a permanent seat on the Council, she (Spain) would cancel their mutual trade agreement.

Brazil's threat, which she implemented, was that unless she were given a permanent seat on the Council, she would blackball Germany.

The whole episode was calculated to make a very bad impression on anyone who looks to the honour and fairmindedness of the individual members of the League to do the right and decent thing in any big future crisis.

One result that one hopes will come out of it all is that the Council will in future not be so ready to take so much on themselves in secret session. Secret round table diplomacy with a lot of people round the table has had its first big failure. The 'light and air' that the League is meant to shed on negotiations was absent at this session.

The views of a large number of the smaller States were expressed by Nansen [2] (Norway) when he said in his speech at the final meeting of the Assembly that 'the machinery of the League had not been used at all and that it had been attempted to do the business by private conversations and without any public sessions at all of either the Council or the Assembly'. A number of representatives of the smaller States have undoubtedly been very annoyed at being summoned to an Assembly at which a matter of great importance to the League was under discussion, and then not being given an opportunity to do more than listen to the rumours that escaped from the closed doors of the private Council meetings.

However, the answer that I have been given when I have put this point of view to members of the British Delegation is as follows:-

That the subject which dominated the first week of this session was the question between France and Germany over the introduction of Poland, and that this was preeminently a question of such delicacy that it could not be discussed and any equitable solution arrived at in public session without arousing a storm of public opinion in France adverse to Germany. It was only towards the end of the Assembly that it was realised that the real bar to a solution was Brazil and that her attitude was not mere bluff that could easily be liquidated. It is admitted that if Brazil and Spain had been the only difficulty, their blackmailing tactics would have been more easily disposed of in open session, when the public opinion of all the disinterested world could have been allowed to concentrate on them.

The opinion of responsible members of the League Secretariat is that the negotiations have been allowed to come to an end too soon and before all the means at the disposal of the League had been exhausted. Major Abraham [3], an Englishman of considerable ability in the Political Section, thinks that something might have come of a resolution of the Assembly to refer the matter back to open session of the First Committee, let them work on it for three days and have them report again to a Plenary Session of the Assembly. It is a matter of opinion whether any good could have come of this or whether this would not have merely resulted in recriminations aimed at Brazil which would have brought her friends and semi-supporters out into the open, and so widened the breach instead of bridging it.

One quite obvious outcome of the whole thing is that Chamberlain [4] will emerge with very much lowered prestige. He played Locarno for all it was worth between November and now until people were rather tired of the sentimentality contained in his invoking of the 'Locarno spirit'.

Presumably this spirit of sweet reasonableness led him to pledge himself, morally at least, to Spain and to a lesser extent to Poland. This was the beginning of his undoing. The completion of his undoing to my mind has been the stubborn insistence of an ultra-honest man on implementing his promise to Spain. This undoubtedly heightened the hopes and steeled the resolve of Spain to use every artifice to bring off a permanent seat for herself, as she realised that she would never have a better opportunity.

This selfish activity on Spain's part induced similar activity on the part of Poland and Brazil. The broadcast statement that H.M.G.

was not opposed to additional Council seats gave heart and hope to all three, prolonged their insistence on having their claims heard, and created this deadlock position by reason of each country advertising its claims and allowing the satisfaction of their claims to become a matter of national honour.

If Great Britain had taken up a firm position in the first place that she would, at this Assembly, back no claims except Germany's, I don't think this trouble would have eventuated, as public opinion in Spain, Poland and Brazil would never have been encouraged to crystallise. This was the undoubted opinion of the F.O. (in reality, if not in word), of the Cabinet, of the country and of the Dominions. However, Chamberlain flew in the teeth of the gale of public opinion and induced the Cabinet to give him what he called 'room to manoeuvre', which meant a mandate to back Spain as long as he could and, if he failed, to let her down as lightly as possible.

The German point of view cannot altogether be said to be without justification. She may have been wrong to have tacitly assumed at Locarno that no one else except herself would be elected to the Council in March. Chamberlain says that the matter was never discussed. If she honestly thought that she was to have come into the Council as it then existed, then she may rightly have thought that she was being tricked when she saw France leading in Poland by the hand and Great Britain Spain at the same time.

Theoretically, a dominating Latin group in the Council can effect nothing if Germany is there to block it by preventing unanimity.

But such a cabal of anti-German opinion on the Council would undoubtedly tend to thwart Germany and would no doubt attempt to make her the black sheep of the League by pointing to her as being the obstructionist on the Council time after time.

It is a matter for speculation as to the extent to which other powers secretly backed Brazil. There is a strong feeling that Italy was at her elbow. I have never heard any more convincing argument to back this view than that Mussolini is known to be impatient of the League and presumably would rejoice at anything that undermined its authority and prestige. The League curbed his activities at Corfu and might be expected to do so again, if his policy of expansion ever took active shape. Also, Brazil is a large and growing field for Italian emigration. Rumour in certain quarters says that the Marquis Theodoli (Chairman, Permanent Mandates Commission) was the agent provocateur for Italy in the matter and, if nothing else, was the spreader of rumour that heartened the Brazilians.

Then there is the theory that France was secretly behind Brazil.

There is some circumstantial evidence of this but I think that it is rather too Machiavellian to be credible.

Several responsible men on the Secretariat, whom I know well enough to hear their real opinion, consider that the blame should not fall wholly on Brazil (whom they nevertheless consider very unworthy opportunists), but must be shared by Great Britain and France, who were the directing heads of the negotiations and who they consider allowed themselves to be out-manoeuvred.

The Secretariat generally are at the moment very depressed and consider that the League has had a great setback. They think that it is doubtful now if the Economic Conference or the Preliminary Disarmament Conference will come to anything in view of the loss of face of the League in the eyes of the world, and in particular, in view of the absence of Germany whose cooperation it was hoped would have been secured in both these investigations. Personally I think they are rather unduly depressed at their first big setback and that they will see matters more calmly in a month or so's time.

I cannot bring myself to believe that Briand [5] was even indirectly pleased at Germany being turned away from Geneva.

Rumour was not slow to lay some subtle machinations at his door, but I think, after talking to numerous people about it, that it is all nonsense. Briand is very far from being a Poincare. [6] I firmly believe that Briand was as honestly grieved as Chamberlain at the Geneva failure.

As to Chamberlain himself, one cannot but be very sorry for him.

As time went on at Geneva and difficulty after difficulty presented itself, like heads bobbing up at an Aunt Sally booth, he got more and more worried and distraught. He never has had the gift of clear-cut concise language, and he became less and less able to explain the position shortly and to marshal all the factors for the Dominion representatives. His talks at the combined British Delegation meetings became longwinded stories of detailed negotiations out of which it was difficult to pick the main thread of the story. I was myself frequently unable to correlate the story, as I had it hour by hour from his staff, with his long drawn-out version of it as he retailed it himself.

At one meeting, at which all he really had to tell us was that the Germans stood firm, and that he was at a loss as to what to do next, he got quite emotional and went into an explanation of how he saw the achievement of his life of which he was most proud- Locarno-crumbling to pieces. If one wanted any confirmation of it, I am now more than ever convinced that he is far from being a heaven-sent Foreign Secretary -much as one is conscious of-and tries to avoid-the common failing of all of us to kick a man when he is down.

I am, Yours sincerely, R. G. CASEY

1 See note 6 to Letter 54.

2 Fristhof Nansen, Arctic explorer and already renowned for his work in resettling refugees after the 1914-18 war. His complaint was that the Locarno powers had monopolised (and kept secret) discussion on the admission of Germany and on the question of Council membership, leaving other Assembly delegates powerless.

3 Captain Edgar Abraham had served with the secretariat of the British War Cabinet, the Supreme War Council and the Paris Peace Conference.

4 Sir Austen Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary.

5 Aristide Briand, French Prime Minister.

6 Raymond Poincare, French Prime Minister in 1924 and again from July 1926 to July 1929.