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334 Memorandum by Mr J. D. L. Hood, External Affairs Office, London

LONDON, 1 November 1938 Received n.d. [due 10 December 1938]


Between the end of 1933 and the end of 1936 there were constant exchanges with the German Government designed to bring about a 'European settlement'. They all failed, for various reasons of which the chief and the singly sufficient, was that Hitler did not want a European settlement. This is quite clear from the imprecisions and evasions with which he met every attempt of the United Kingdom to clinch anything more than a two-sided agreement, even when founded on one of his own 'offers'. Admittedly, Hitler has always spoken in reproach of what he calls the rejection of these offers, but this can only be self-deception. hi the light of what has happened, it is only too obvious that they would if acted on have been incompatible with the realization of the Nazi foreign programme.

2. Not only did Hitler not want a European settlement precisely because it was his aim to unsettle Europe, but he showed also a manifest dislike of this diplomatic idea temperamentally. If he felt it to [be in] his interest to negotiate, or appear to negotiate, he preferred to do so on one thing at a time, avoiding thereby any unforeseen restriction on his future freedom of action. Conversely, he has always refused to be specific about his intentions. He has proved himself, that is to say, a supreme opportunist with the faculty of usually accomplishing more than he had in mind to do at first.

3. It was, therefore, a mistake, though one that was hardly avoidable at the time, to attempt to bring Germany into discussion on the basis that consideration of one point entailed more or less vaguely in the future consideration of others. This was what happened time and again; proposals for an armaments convention (1934) were linked with the return of Germany to Geneva and guarantees of good behaviour in Eastern Europe; similar aspirations wrapped up the plan for a Western air pact in 1935; in 1936 the efforts to reach a new Locarno agreement foundered likewise on the desire to make them the preliminary to something else. Given that the United Kingdom Government in these years had no choice, politically speaking, but to keep in step with France and were ruled as to public opinion here by League of Nations idealism, they cannot be blamed entirely for the subsequent failures. But it remains the truth that on the whole they failed to realize in time that there was no will in Germany for a general settlement and that the attempt to conduct affairs as if there was one could only be an irritant.

4. There was not, however, a complete lack of any alternative.

Study of the period also shows that Nazi policy, while too dynamic to be confined to any 'collective' system, could at some points at least have been diverted or blunted by very simple methods, for Hitler seems to have been consistently ready to come to arrangements on specific matters where a basis for arrangement existed, i.e., where the other party was in a position to withhold its contribution. Thus with the non-aggression pact with Poland, the guarantee of Belgian independence, the naval agreement with England, and thus it might have been with an arms convention up to 1934. After that time the Versailles Powers could offer Germany no comparative level of land or air armament which she could not reach with impunity on her own account.

5. Furthermore, advantage might have been had from anticipation in certain cases where the eventual outcome was not in doubt, e.g.

the Saar. Here Hitler was given a quite unnecessary opportunity for scoring a success simply because the French insisted on the plebiscite.

6. From the whole period, the deduction is plain. By calculation of what were immediate German interests, by the use then of a bargaining position wherever it existed (and rigid restraint from the attempt where it did not), and, above all, by doing this in time, a series of agreements with Germany on individual questions would have been possible. Each would have been, as those actually concluded were, one less reason for conviction on the part of Hitler that he had no choice but to act, whenever he saw the opportunity, on his own arbitrary decision. And his arbitrary decision has usually led to his taking more than need have been conceded in the first place.

7. Admittedly, this policy of piecemeal accommodation would not have led Hitler, and would not now lead him, to depart from the main lines of the programme of 'Mein Kampf'. But that programme has been shown to be highly flexible, both as to time and as to the choice of objectives, and it is clearly to the interest of the countries concerned to moderate as the chance offers the rate and manner of its execution. Short of complete passivity and on the assumption, proved by the experience of 1933-36, that Nazi Germany will consistently refuse to accept any general limitations on future action, there is indeed no other course open except that of a preventive war.

8. The prospect is not an agreeable one and in particular it falls far short of the hopes sometimes expressed of a 'real understanding' between Germany and the British Commonwealth. The possibility of that need not be entirely ruled out, but it is bound to be remote so long as there is suspicion that the long- term Nazi ambition is the domination of Europe with a view to extending the process to the Near and Middle East and so long as the regime is prepared to offer war as readily as in the case of the Sudeten Germans. Exactly because these are the circumstances, however, the conduct of British relations with Germany on the lines suggested above becomes essential. It may be taken as certain that the present directors of German foreign policy will push to the utmost every advantage they may conceive themselves to have over this country, that they will follow this course where it leads them, even if it may involve eventually a direct challenge to British influence and interests, and that they will then not hesitate to bring about war (there would be plenty of ways of getting round assurances to the contrary) as soon as the moment seems opportune. Their record is such that even the'alliance' with England which Goring [1] at one time proposed could be no guarantee against this. The conclusion surely is that the only course left is to treat with Hitler on his own ground and by his own methods, taking one question at a time.

9. Although there is nothing in this policy that could be represented as merely hostile or obstructive to Germany, the result could therefore hardly pass even as that Anglo-German political settlement which has often been looked for as the natural sequel to the agreement with Italy. But the fact must be faced that the basis for such a settlement does not exist, for the reason that Hider has no need of it. Just as in the 1933-36 period he was able to elude every attempt to bring Germany back into the Geneva system because France and England were never in a position to offer a compelling inducement to the contrary, so at the present time he is unlikely to make a gratuitous surrender of the undoubted bargaining superiority which Germany enjoys in relation to this country. An AngloGerman 'settlement' would be expected on the British side to include, with other matters, an arms convention and guarantees of the exclusion of the threat of force from future German diplomacy; it would be surprising if Hitler found it worth while to concede so much in return for mere British goodwill, especially as the maintenance of the present balance of military strength is well within German capacity for some years to come. 10. The omission of colonies from this estimate is deliberate. Opinion may differ on the point, but the prevailing evidence suggests that the return of colonies to Germany, under whatever form, could not be used to extract terms from Hitler on something else. There should be no illusion about this. A colonial settlement is desirable (in conformity with the policy outlined above) before Germany decides the question by arbitrary means; it can and should be hedged round with the most stringent conditions designed to dispose of the issue finally; but to imagine that it could be made to bring about a wider settlement is utterly unrealistic. In this question, as in others in the past, the Germans win engage their 'honour' whenever it is convenient to do so, with results destructive of the normal give-and-take of diplomacy that are only too well-known.

11. It may be objected that if, accepting these facts, we discard the hope of bringing Germany under her present leaders into line with those Powers whose chief interest is the avoidance of war and adopt instead as a short-term policy the expedient of diverting and braking German expansion whenever we are in a position to do so, then Anglo-German relations will merely be back to the uneasy and sterile state which led to the conflict of 1914. But such an argument overlooks a fundamental difference between that period and the present. Whereas then British policy turned on the doctrine of the European balance of power, it has now to take into account the views of the Dominions, which are quite ready to accept the fact of German domination of the Continent east of the Rhine. This acknowledgement is not in itself, of course, enough to avert eventual war, but it does offer a condition on which the Third Reich and the British Commonwealth can live together, provided always that specific differences as they arise are handled from the British side resolutely enough to discourage Nazi opportunism.

12. The Commonwealth Government have throughout been disposed for co-operation with Germany, in full recognition of the status of the German nation and irrespective of the nature of its Government. Now that such a disposition is finally beside the point, for nothing could be clearer than the indications since the Godesberg meeting [2] of the resolve of the present Nazi regime to utilize its military superiority in all future transactions, the question is how their influence can be most usefully exercised in the future. The above conclusions, if they rightly represent the position and because they are not at the moment very widely home in mind in this country, provide the answer. The issue here is still commonly regarded as being between those who hold that the present danger can only be met by a combination of Powers against Germany and those who are confident that an Anglo-German settlement, securing the general peace, can be had by new methods of approach. The chances that the former idea will prevail can, of course, be ruled out for the time being, but it is to be feared that the disappointment of exaggerated hopes built on the latter will eventually bring about a reaction in just that direction.

There is therefore a strong case for presenting a feasible middle course in time.

1 Hermann Goring, German Minister for Air.

2 Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler, 22-23 September 1938.

[AA : A981, GERMANY 39, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History