British Note of January 13, 1917, amplifying the Entente Reply to President Wilson's Peace Note

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > British Note of January 13, 1917, amplifying the Entente Reply to President Wilson's Peace Note

British Note of January 13, 1917, amplifying the Entente Reply to President Wilson's Peace Note1

     In sending you a translation of the Allied note I desire to make the
following observations, which you should bring to the notice of the
United States Government.
     I gather from the general tenour of the President's note that, while
he is animated by an intense desire that peace should come soon and
that when it comes it should be lasting, he does not, for the moment
at least, concern himself with the terms on which it should be ar-
ranged. His Majesty's Government entirely share the President's
ideals; but they feel strongly that the durability of the peace must
largely depend on its character and that no stable system of interna-
tional relations can be built on foundations which are essentially and
hopelessly defective.
     This becomes clearly apparent if we consider the main conditions
which rendered possible the calamities from which the world is now
suffering. These were the existence of a Great Power consumed with
the lust of domination in the midst of a community of nations ill-
prepared for defence, plentifully supplied, indeed, with international
laws, but with no machinery for enforcing them, and weakened by
the fact that neither the boundaries of the various States nor their
internal constitution harmonized with the aspirations of their con-
stituent races or secured to them just and equal treatment.
That this last evil would be greatly mitigated if the Allies secured
the changes in the map of Europe outlined in their joint note is
manifest, and I need not labour the point.
     It has been argued, indeed, that the expulsion of the Turks from
Europe forms no proper or logical part of this general scheme. The
maintenance of the Turkish Empire was, during many generations,
regarded by statesmen of world-wide authority as essential to the
maintenance of European peace. Why, it is asked, should the cause
of peace be now associated with a complete reversal of this traditional
     The answer is that circumstances have completely changed. It is
unnecessary to consider now whether the creation of a reformed
Turkey, mediating between hostile races in the Near East, was a
scheme which, had the Sultan been sincere and the Powers united,
could ever have been realized. It certainly can not be realized now.
The Turkey of "Union and Progress" is at least as barbarous and is
far more aggressive than the Turkey of Sultan Abdul Hamid. In the
hands of Germany it has ceased even in appearance to be a bulwark
of peace, and is openly used as an instrument of conquest. Under
German officers Turkish soldiers are now fighting in lands from which
they had long been expelled, and a Turkish Government controlled,
subsidized, and supported by Germany has been guilty of massacres
in Armenia and Syria more horrible than any recorded in the history
even of those unhappy countries. Evidently the interests of peace and
the claims of nationality alike require that Turkish rule over alien
races shall, if possible, be brought to an end; and we may hope that
the expulsion of Turkey from Europe will contribute as much to the
cause of peace as the restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France, of
Italia Irredenta to Italy, or any of the other territorial changes in-
dicated in the Allied note.
     Evidently, however, such territorial rearrangements, though they
may diminish the occasions of war, provide no sufficient security
against its recurrence. If Germany, or rather, those in Germany who
mold its opinions and control its destinies, again set out to dominate
the world, they may find that by the new order of things the adven-
ture is made more difficult, but hardly that it is made impossible. They
may still have ready to their hand a political system organized through
and through on a military basis; they may still accumulate vast stores
of military equipment; they may still perfect their methods of at-
tack, so that their more pacific neighbours will be struck down before
they can prepare themselves for defence. If so, Europe, when the
war is over, will be far poorer in men, in money, and in mutual good-
will than it was when the war began, but it will not be safer; and the
hopes for the future of the world entertained by the President will be
as far as ever from fulfilment.
     There are those who think that for this disease international treaties
and international laws may provide a sufficient cure. But such per-
sons have ill learned the lessons so clearly taught by recent history.
While other nations, notably the United States of America and
Britain, were striving by treaties of arbitration to make sure that
no chance quarrel should mar the peace they desired to make perpetual,
Germany stood aloof. Her historians and philosophers preached the
splendors of war; Power was proclaimed as the true end of the State;
the General Staff forged with untiring industry the weapons by
which at the appointed moment Power might be achieved. These
facts proved clearly enough that treaty arrangements for maintaining
peace were not likely to find much favour at Berlin; they did not prove
that such treaties, once made, would be utterly ineffectual. This
became evident only when war had broken out; though the
demonstration, when it came, was overwhelming. So long as Germany
remains the Germany which, without a shadow of justification, over-ran
and barbarously ill-treated a country it was pledged to defend, no
State can regard its rights as secure if they have no better protection
than a solemn treaty.
     The case is made worse by the reflection that these methods of
calculated brutality were designed by the Central Powers, not merely
to crush to the dust those with whom they were at war, but to intimi-
date those with whom they were still at peace. Belgium was not only
a victim — it was an example. Neutrals were intended to note the out-
rages which accompanied its conquest, the reign of terror which fol-
lowed on its occupation, the deportation of a portion of its population,
the cruel oppression of the remainder. And, lest the nations happily
protected, either by British fleets or by their own, from German armies
should suppose themselves safe from German methods, the submarine
has (within its limits) assiduously imitated the barbarous practices of
the sister service. The War Staffs of the Central Powers are well
content to horrify the world if at the same time they can terrorize it.
If, then, the Central Powers succeed, it will be to methods like these
that they will owe their success. How can any reform of international
relations be based on a peace thus obtained? Such a peace would
represent the triumph of all the forces which make war certain and
make it brutal. It would advertise the futility of all the methods on
which civilization relies to eliminate the occasions of international dis-
pute and to mitigate their ferocity.
     Germany and Austria made the present war inevitable by attacking
the rights of one small State, and they gained their initial triumphs
by violating the treaty-guarded territories of another. Are small
States going to find in them their protectors or in treaties made
by them a bulwark against aggression? Terrorism by land and sea
will have proved itself the instrument of victory. Are the victors
likely to abandon it on the appeal of neutrals? If existing treaties
are no more than scraps of paper, can fresh treaties help us? If
the violations of the most fundamental canons of international law
be crowned with success, will it not be in vain that the assembled
nations labour to improve their code? None will profit by their rules
but the criminals who break them. It is those who keep them that
will suffer.
     Though, therefore, the people of this country share to the full the
desire of the President for peace, they do not believe that peace can be
durable if it be not based on the success of the Allied cause. For a
durable peace can hardly be expected unless three conditions are ful-
filled. The first is that the existing causes of international unrest should
be as far as possible removed or weakened. The second is that the
aggressive aims and the unscrupulous methods of the Central Powers
should fall into disrepute among their own peoples. The third is that
behind international law and behind all treaty arrangements for pre-
venting or limiting hostilities some form of international sanction
should be devised which would give pause to the hardiest aggressor.
These conditions may be difficult of fulfilment. But we believe them
to be in general harmony with the President's ideals, and we are confi-
dent that none of them can be satisfied, even imperfectly, unless peace
be secured on the general lines indicated (so far as Europe is con-
cerned) in the joint note. Therefore it is that this country has made,
is making, and is prepared to make sacrifices of blood and treasure
unparalleled in its history. It bears these heavy burdens, not merely
that it may thus fulfil its treaty obligations, nor yet that it may secure
a barren triumph of one group of nations over another. It bears
them because it firmly believes that on the success of the Allies depend
the prospects of peaceful civilization and of those international reforms
which the best thinkers of the New World, as of the Old, dare to
hope may follow on the cessation of our present calamities.
I am, with great truth and respect, Sir, your Excellency's most
obedient, humble servant,

                                                  ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR.

1The Times, London, January 18, 1917