Prime Minister Lloyd George on the British War Aims
British War Aims
Statement by the Right Honourable
David Lloyd George
January Fifth, Nineteen Hundred and Eighteen
Authorized Version as published by the British Government
New York: George H. Doran Company
When the Government," said Lloyd George, "invite organized labor in this country to
assist them to maintain the might of their armies in
the field, its representatives are entitled to ask that
any misgivings and doubts which any of them may
have about the purpose to which this precious
strength is to be applied should be definitely cleared,
and what is true of organized labour is equally true
of all citizens in this country, without regard to
grade or avocation. "When men by the million are being called upon
to suffer and die, and vast populations are being
subjected to the sufferings and privations of war on
a scale unprecedented in the history of the world,
they are entitled to know for what cause or causes
they are making the sacrifice. It is only the clearest,
greatest and justest of causes that can justify the
continuance even for one day of this unspeakable
agony of the nations, and we ought to be able to state
clearly and definitely, not only the principles for
which we are fighting, but also their definite and concrete application to the war map of the world.
"We have arrived at the most critical hour in this
terrible conflict, and before any government takes
the fateful decision as to the conditions under which
it ought either to terminate or continue the struggle,
it ought to be satisfied that the conscience of the nation is behind these conditions, for nothing else can
sustain the effort which is necessary to achieve a
righteous end to this war.
"I have, therefore, during the last few days taken special pains to ascertain the view and the attitude of representative men of all sections of thought and opinion in the country. Last week I had the privilege, not merely of perusing the Declared War Aims of the Labour Party, but also of discussing in detail with the labour leaders the meaning and intention of that declaration. I have also had an opportunity of discussing this same momentous question with Mr. Asquith and Viscount Grey. Had it not been that the Nationalist leaders are in Ireland engaged in endeavoring to solve the tangled problem of Irish self-government, I should have been happy to exchange views with them, but Mr. Redmond, speaking on their behalf, has, with his usual lucidity and force, in many of his speeches, made clear what his ideas are as to the object and purpose of the war.
"I have also had the opportunity of consulting certain representatives of the great dominions overseas.
"I am glad to be able to say, as a result of all these
discussions, that, although the Government are alone
responsible for the actual language I propose using,
there is national agreement as to the character and
purpose of our war aims and peace conditions, and
in what I say to you to-day, and through you to the
world, I can venture to claim that I am speaking, not
merely the mind of the Government, but of the
nation and of the empire as a whole.
"We may begin by clearing away some misunderstandings and stating what we are not fighting for.
We are not fighting a war of aggression against the
German people. Their leaders have persuaded them
that they are fighting a war of self-defence against
a league of rival nations bent on the destruction of
Germany. That is not so. The destruction or disruption of Germany or the German people has never
been a war aim with us from the first day of this
war to this day. Most reluctantly, and indeed quite
unprepared for the dreadful ordeal, we were forced
to join in this war in self-defence. In defence of
the violated public law of Europe, and in vindication
of the most solemn treaty obligation on which the
public system of Europe rested, and on which Germany had ruthlessly trampled in her invasion of
Belgium, we had to join in the struggle or stand
aside and see Europe go under and brute force triumph over public right and international justice. It
was only the realization of that dreadful alternative
that forced the British people into the war.
"And from that original attitude they have never
swerved. They have never aimed at the break-up of
the German peoples or the disintegration of their
state or country. Germany has occupied a great
position in the world. It is not our wish or intention
to question or destroy that position for the future,
but rather to turn her aside from hopes and schemes
of military dornination, and to see her devote all her
strength to the great beneficent tasks of the world.
Nor are we fighting to destroy Austria-Hungary or
to deprive Turkey of its capital, or of the rich and
renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace, which
are predominantly Turkish in race.
"Nor did we enter this war merely to alter or
destroy the imperial constitution of Germany, much
as we consider that military, autocratic constitution
a dangerous anachronism in the Twentieth Century.
Our point of view is that the adoption of a really
democratic constitution by Germany would be the
most convincing evidence that in her the old spirit of
military domination had indeed died in this war, and
would make it much easier for us to conclude a broad
democratic peace with her. But, after all, that is a
question for the Gerrnan people to decide.
"It is now more than a year since the President of
the United States, then neutral, addressed to the bel-
ligerents a suggestion that each side should state
clearly the aims for which they were fighting. We
and our allies responded by the note of the tenth of
"To the President's appeal the Central Empires
made no reply, and in spite of many adjurations
from their oppoltents and from neutrals, they have
maintained a complete silence as to the objects for
which they are fighting. Even on so crucial a matter as their intentions with regard to Belgium, they have uniforrnly declined to give any trustworthy
"On the twenty-fifth of December last, however,
Count Czernin, speaking on behalf of Austria-Hungary and her Allies, did make a pronouncement of a
kind. It is, indeed, deplorably vague. We are told
that it is not the intention of the Central Powers to
appropriate forcibly any occupied territories or to
rob of its independence any nation which has lost its
political independence during the war. It is obvious
that almost any scheme of conquest and annexation
could be perpetrated within the literal interpretation
of such a pledge.
"Does it mean that Belgium, and Serbia, Monte-negro and Roumania will be as independent and
as free to direct their own destinies as the German
or any other nation? Or does it mean that all man-
ner of interferences and restrictions, political and
economic, incompatible with the status and dignity
of a free and self-respecting people, are to be imposed? If this is the intention then there will be
one kind of independence for a great nation and an
inferior kind of independence for a small nation. We
must know what is meant for equality of right
among nations, small as well as great, is one of the
fundamental issues this country and her Allies are
fighting to establish in this war. Reparation for the
wanton damage inflicted on Belgian towns and villages and their inhabitants is emphatically repudiated.
"The rest of the so-called 'offer' of the Central
Powers is almost entirely a refusal of all concessions.
All suggestions about the autonomy of subject nationalities are ruled out of the peace terms alto-
gether. The question whether any form of self-government is to be given to Arabs, Armenians or
Syrians is declared to be entirely a matter for the
Sublime Porte. A pious wish for the protection of
minorities 'in so far as it is practically realizable' is
the nearest approach to liberty which the Central
statesmen venture to make.
"On one point only are they perfectly clear and
definite. Under no circumstances will the 'German
demand' for the restoratlon of the whole of Germany's colonies be departed from. All principles of
self-determination or, as our earlier phrase goes, government by consent of the governed, here vanish into thin air.
"It is impossible to believe that any edifice of permanent peace could be erected on such a foundation
as this. Mere lip-service to the formula of no annexations and no indemnities or the right of self
determination is useless. Before any negotiations
can even be begun, the Central Powers must realize
the essential facts of the situation.
"The days of the Treaty of Vienna are long past.
We can no longer submit the future of European
civilization to the arbitrary decisions of a few negotiators striving to secure by chicanery or persuasion
the interests of this or that dynasty or nation. The
settlement of the new Europe must be based on such
grounds of reason and justice as will give some promise of stability. Therefore, it is that we feel that
government with the consent of the governed must
be the basis of any territorial settlement in this war.
For that reason also, unless treaties be upheld, unless
every nation is prepared at whatever sacrifice to honour the national signature, it is obvious that no treaty
of peace can be worth the paper on which it is
"The first requirement, therefore, always put forward by the British Government and their Allies,
has been the complete restoration, political, territorial and economic, of the independence of Belgium, and such reparation as can be made for the
devastation of its towns and provinces. This is no demand for war indemnity, such as that imposed on
France by Germany in 1871. It is not an attempt to
shift the cost of warlike operations from one belligerent to another, which may or may not be defensible. It is no more and no less than an insistence
that, before there can be any hope for a stable peace, this great breach of the public law of Europe must
be repudiated and, so far as possible, repaired. Reparation means recognition. Unless international
right is recognized by insistence on payment for injury done in defiance of its canons it can never be a reality.
"Next comes the restoration of Serbia, Montenegro
and the occupied parts of France, Italy and Roumania. The complete withdrawal of the alien armies
and the reparation for injustice done is a fundamental condition of permanent peace.
"We mean to stand by the French Democracy to the death in the demand they make for a reconsideration of the great wrong of 1871, when, without any regard to the wishes of the population, two French provinces were torn from the side of France and incorporated in the German Empire. This sore has poisoned the peace of Europe for half a century and, until it is cured, healthy conditions will not have been restored. There can be no better illustration of the folly and wickedness of using a transient military success to violate national right.
"I will not attempt to deal with the question of
the Russian territories now in Gemm occupation.
The Russian policy since the revolution has passed so rapidly through so many phases that it is difficult to speak without some suspension of judgment as to what the situation will be when the final terms of European peace come to be discussed. Russian accepted war with all its horrors because, true to her traditional guardianship of the weaker communities of her race, she stepped in to protect Serbia from a plot against her independence. It is this honourable sacrifice which not merely brought Russia into the war, but France as well. France, true to the conditions of her treaty with Russia, stood by her ally in a quarrel which was not her own. Her chivalrous respect for her treaty led to the wanton invasion of Belgium; and the treaty obligation of Great Britain to that little land brought us into the war.
"The present rulers of Russia are now engaged without any reference to the countries whom Russia brought into the war, in separate negotiations with their common enemy. I am indulging in no reproaches; I am merely stating facts with a view to making it clear why Britain cannot be held accountable for decisions taken in her absence and concerning which she has not been consulted or had her aid invoked.
"No one who knows Prussia nd her designs upon Russia can for a moment doubt her ultimate intention. Whatever phrases she may use to delude Russia, she does not mean to surrender one of the fair provinces or cities of Russia now occupied by her forces. Under one name and another -- and the name hardly matters -- these Russian provinces will henceforth be in reality part of the dominions of Prussia. They will be ruled by the Prussian sword in the interests of Prussian autocracy, and the rest of the people of Russia will be partly enticed by specious
phrases and partly bullied by the threat of continued war against an impotent army into a condition of complete economic and ultimate political enslavement to Germany.
"We all deplore the prospect. The democracy of
this country means to stand to the last by the de mocracies of France and Italy and all our other Allies. We shall be proud to fight to the end side by
side with the new democracy of Russia, so will
America and so will France and Italy. But if the
present rulers of Russia take action which is independent of their Allies we have no means of intervening to arrest the catastrophe which is assuredly
befafling their country. Russia can only be saved
by her own people.
"We believe, however, that an independent Poland comprising all those genuinely Polish elements who desire to form part of it, is an urgent necessity for the stability of Western Europe.
"Similarly, though we agree with President Wilson that the break-up of Austria-Hungary is no part of our war aims, we feel that unless genuine self-government on true democratic principles is granted to those Austro-Hungarian nationalities who have long desired it, it is impossible to hope for the removal of those causes of unrest in that part of Europe which have so long threatened its general peace. <p> "On the same grounds we regard as vital the satisfaction of the legitimate claims of the Italians for union with those of their own race and tongue. We also mean to press that justice be done to men of Roumanian blood and speech in their legitimate aspirations. <p> "If these conditions are fulfilled Austria-Hungary would become a power whose strength would conduce to the permanent peace and freedom of Europe, instead of being merely an instrument to the pernicious military autocracy of Prussia, which uses the resources of its allies for the furtherance of its own sinister purposes. <p> "Outside Europe, we believe that the same principles should be applied. While we do not challenge the maintenance of the Turkish Empire in the homelands of the Turkish race with its capital at Constantinople, the passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea being internationalized and neutralized, Arabia, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine are in our judgment entitled to a recognition of their separate national conditions. What the exact form of that recognition in each particular case should be need not here be discussed, beyond stating that it would be impossible to restore to their former sovereignty the territories to which I have already referred. <p> "Much has been said about the arrangements we have entered into with our Allies on this and on other subjects. I can only say that as new circumstances, like the Russian collapse and the separate Russian negotiations, have changed the conditions under which those arrangements were made, we are and always have been perfectly ready to discuss them with our Allies. <p>
- With regard to the German colonies, I have repeatedly declared that they are held at the disposal of a conference whose decision must have primary regard to the wishes and interests of the native inhabitants of such colonies. None of those territories are inhabited by Europeans. The governing consideration, therefore, in all these cases must be that the inhabitants should be placed under the control of an administration, acceptable to themselves, one of whose main purposes will be to prevent their exploitation for the benefit of European capitalists or governments. The natives live in their various tribal organizations under chiefs and councils who are competent to consult and speak for their tribes and members and thus to represent their wishes and interests in regard to their disposal. The general principle of national self-determination is, therefore, as applicable in their cases as in those of occupied European territories.
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