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150 Mr M. MacDonald, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Circular Cablegram B73 LONDON, 22 March 1938, 11.32 p.m.


Following for Prime Minister:-

Will no doubt have seen from press telegrams Prime Minister [1]
has undertaken to make in the House of Commons on Thursday [2] a
comprehensive statement on the international situation. This
statement must, of course, include an intimation as to the
attitude of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in
relation to the possibility of future aggression by Germany
against Czechoslovakia. In the present state of international
tension it is clearly desirable that the attitude of this country
should be made clear at the earliest possible moment. The whole
position has been under close examination here during the last few
days, and I hope to telegraph the terms of the proposed statement
after the meeting of Cabinet tomorrow (Wednesday). [3]

The provisional conclusions reached by the Government are as

'The existing obligations of His Majesty's Government in the
United Kingdom in connection with a possible attack on
Czechoslovakia are comprised in-
(1) Their obligations under the Covenant as a member of the League
of Nations.

Although in the present circumstances [the ability of] the League
to fulfil all the functions originally contemplated for it is
reduced nevertheless His Majesty's Government in the United
Kingdom will do their best to fulfil their obligations. as a
member of the League of Nations within the measure of their
capacity, and to the extent to which common action can be secured;

(2) Their obligations as a signatory of the Treaty of Locarno as
re-affirmed by the arrangement drawn up in London on 19th March,
1936. [4]

For reasons connected both with domestic politics and with our
association with the other parts of the British Commonwealth which
preclude us from surrendering our liberty of decision in advance,
we cannot assume any further commitments in Europe beyond those
embodied in the Covenant of the League and the Treaty of Locarno
which, in our view, are not the means to contribute to the
maintenance of peace in Europe.

In particular we could not go so far as to state what action might
be taken in the event of an attack on Czechoslovakia by Germany.

At the same time if war broke out, it is impossible to say where
it might not end or what Governments might not become involved.

The military position of Czechoslovakia has been seriously
weakened by the incorporation of Austria in the Reich. The absence
of fortifications along the former Czechoslovakian-Austrian
frontier lays the heart of Czechoslovakia open to German attack.

There is little hope therefore that military operations against
Germany by France and the Soviet Union could be made effective in
time to prevent military occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany.

The restoration of Czechoslovakia would therefore have to await
conclusion of a victorious campaign against Germany by those who
had taken up arms in Czechoslovakia's defence. The war in any case
would be likely to be long and if we became engaged we would not
be in a position to contribute at the outset such forces as would
help to secure an early victory. Our main contribution in early
stages would be exercised by economic pressure, by means of sea
power which would be slow in operation and tardy in its effects.

We feel therefore that every possible step should be taken both by
the French Government and by His Majesty's Government in the
United Kingdom to help to remove the causes of friction or even of
conflict by using their good offices with the Czechoslovak
Government to bring about a settlement of the questions affecting
the position of the German minority such as would be compatible
with ensuring the integrity of the Czechoslovak State while
retaining that minority within the frontier of Czechoslovakia. We
propose to urge upon the French Government that this matter is one
for joint and early consideration between the two Governments'

It is proposed to ask our Ambassador in Paris [5] to speak on the
above lines to the French Government after meeting of Cabinet
tomorrow at which precise terms of aide-memoire which he may leave
with that Government as well as of statement for Parliament will
be decided.

1 Neville Chamberlain.

2 24 March 1938.

3 23 March 1938
4 See Document 29, note 3. On 19 March 1936 after Germany had
withdrawn from the Locarno system, the United Kingdom affirmed
that its obligations to France and Belgium had not lapsed.

5 Sir Eric Phipps.

[AA : A981, GREAT BRITAIN 8B, ii]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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