(The Labour Leader,
February 4, 1915)

   In the records of political hypocrisy we doubt if there is anything more complete or more dishonest than that of the British Tory Party, regarding
Belgium, and we give today a proof which must make honest men stand aghast and fill decent citizens with disgust. On February 4, 1887, The Standard published a letter and leading article, both of which we reproduce below. At that time The Standard was the official organ of the Tory Government; its editor was a bosom friend of Lord Salisbury, and every pronouncement of this character which appeared in it was to all intents and purposes a Government statement. It will be noted that in the leading article "Diplomaticus" is described as being a person of high authority, and his letter has been regarded as official by writers on diplomatic history like M. Milovanovitch (Traites de Garantie au XIX Siecle, Paris (1888), p. 465).



Standard, Friday, February 4, 1887

To the Editor of The Standard:

Sir:—Military experts are of the opinion that France has spent so much money, and spent it so well during the last sixteen years in providing herself with a fresh military frontier, that a direct advance by the German armies into France, past the new fortresses and forts that have been erected and linked together, would be, even if possible, a very hazardous undertaking.

But if Germany was, or considered itself to be, provoked into a struggle of life and death with France would Prince Bismarck, with the mighty forces he can set in motion, consent to be baffled by the artificial obstacles to which I have alluded, so long as there existed a natural and undefended road by which he could escape from his embarrassment?

Such a road or way out does exist. It lies on Belgian territory. But the neutrality of Belgium is protected by European guarantee and England is one of the guarantors.

In 1870 Earl Granville, then at the head of the English Foreign Office, alive to this danger, promptly and wisely bound England to side with France if Prussia violated Belgian territory and with Prussia if France did so.

Would Lord Salisbury act prudently to take upon himself a similar engagement in the event of a fresh conflict between these two countries? It is for Englishmen to answer the question. But it seems to me, as one not indifferent to the interests and greatness of England, that such a course at the present moment would be unwise to the last degree. However much England might regret the invasion of Belgian territory by either party to the struggle, she could not take part with France against Germany (even if Germany were to seek to turn the French flank by putting its armies through the Belgian Ardennes) without utterly vitiating and destroying the main purpose of English policy all over the world.




But, it will be asked, must not England honor its signature and be faithful to its public pledges? I reply that your Foreign Minister ought to be equal to the task of meeting this objection without committing England to war. The temporary use of a right of way is something different from a permanent and wrongful possession of territory; and surely England would be easily able to obtain from Prince Bismarck ample and adequate guarantees that, at the close of the conflict, the territory of Belgium should remain intact as before?

You will see, sir, that I raise, in a very few words, an exceedingly important question. It is for the English people to perpend and pronounce. But it is high time they reflected on it.

I am, sir, your obedient servant, "DIPLOMATICUS."

Upon this, The Standard, in a leading article, wrote as follows:


Standard Leading Article, February 4, 1887

We are reminded this morning, by a correspondent who speaks with high authority, that while we are all wondering how long it will be before a fresh conflict breaks out between France and Germany, Englishmen are shutting their eyes to a question closely, and perhaps inevitably, allied with that contingent event, and affecting the interests of this country more vitally than they could be affected even by any probable result from the struggle between those two powerful States. In the event of war between Germany and France, and in case either Germany or France were to disregard the neutrality of Belgian territory, what ought England to do? That is the question and he indicates pretty plainly a reply with which, we may at once say, we do not believe the English people will be disposed to



quarrel. In order, however, to enable them to respond to the inquiry with full knowledge and deliberate judgment, it is necessary to lay before them the facts and the contingencies of the situation somewhat more amply and more in extenso than is done by "Diplomaticus." On the declaration of war by France against Prussia in 1870, Earl Granville, as we all know, with more promptness and decision than he usually displayed, sought to secure respect for Belgian territory by notifying that, should either combatant ignore the neutrality secured to it by public treaty, England would side actively with the other combatant. It may be said, why cannot the same course be pursued once more in the event of a similar condition of affairs coming into play? The answer is that a similar condition of affairs no longer exists. In the first place, in 1870 neither of the combatants had any pressing necessity to resort to a violation of Belgian territory in the execution of their military designs. The territory of Germany was avowedly vulnerable in several places, and France was so assured of her military superiority—that no precautions had been taken against the possibility of France being invaded. . . . Metz and Strassburg are now German fortresses; and no one requires to be told that Germany has neglected no precautions or expedients to render the invasion of the territory of the Father-land a difficult if not an impracticable undertaking. Armed to the head for offense, Germany is likewise armed to the heel for defense. She is more invulnerable than Achilles, for there is no point uncovered.

How stands it with France as regards defense against invasion? . . . Not only does France possess a first line of fortresses, contiguous to German territory, in Belfort, Epinal, Toul, and Verdun, but all four are linked with each other in succession by another line of detached forts . . . a direct advance by the German armies into France by the new fortresses and forts that have been




erected and linked together would be, even if possible, a very hazardous undertaking. There are, however, two other ways of entering France from Germany. One is through Switzerland, the other is through Belgium. Both are what is understood by "neutral territory," but the mountainous character of Switzerland renders access to France through its passes more arduous and less accessible than through the territory of Belgium. In case the German armies found themselves practically prevented from engaging in offensive military operations against France by the admirable line of defense with which she has provided herself, would Prince Bismarck and the great soldiers whom he would inspire consent to be thwarted by the inviolability of Belgium as guaranteed by European treaty? "Diplomaticus" puts the question with undiplomatic bluntness. He forbears from answering it, and so must we. But it will be obvious to everybody that there is a possibility, a danger, of Germany not being willing to be debarred from invading France by an obstacle that has grown up since the treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium was signed. Our readers will at once perceive that the situation is absolutely different from the one that existed in 1870 when Earl Granville quickly and cheerfully imposed on England the obligation to take part against either combatant that violated Belgian soil. Neither combatant was much tempted to do so, and thus the engagement assumed by England—a very proper one at the time—was not very serious or onerous and saved appearances rather than created responsibility. Now the situation is entirely changed. If England, with a view to securing respect for Belgian territory, were to bind itself, as in 1870, to throw its weight into the balance against either France or Germany, should either France or Germany violate Belgian ground, we might, and probably should, find ourselves involved in a war of giants on our own account.



We think that "Diplomaticus" understands the English people when he hints his suspicion that such a result would be utterly alien alike to their wishes and to their interests. For over and above the fact that, as we have seen, the temptation to violate Belgian territory by either side is much greater than it was in 1870, the relations of England with European Powers have necessarily and naturally undergone considerable modification during that period. We concur with our correspondent in the opinion he expresses that for England and Germany to quarrel, it matters not upon what subject, would be highly injurious to the interests of both. Indeed, he is right when he says that the main outlines of our policy would be blurred and its main purposes embarrassed, if not defeated, were we suddenly to find ourselves in a state of hostility to Germany instead of one of friendliness and sympathy. No doubt if Germany were to outrage the honor or disregard the interests of England we should be ready enough to accept the challenge thrown down to us. But would the violation of Belgian territory, whether by Germany or France, be such an injury to our honor and such a blow to our interests? It might be so in certain circumstances and it would assuredly be so if it involved a permanent violation of the independence of Belgium. But, as "Diplomaticus" ingeniously suggests, there is all the difference in the world between the momentary use of a "right of way," even if the use of the right of way be, in a sense, wrongful, and the appropriation of the ground covered by the right of way. We trust that both Germany and France would refrain even from this minor trespass. But if they did not? If one or the other were to say to England, "All the military approaches to France and Germany have been closed, and only neutral approaches lie open to us. This state of things is not only detrimental but fatal to our military success, and it has arisen since the treaty guaranteed the sacredness of






the only roads of which we can now avail ourselves. We will, as a fact, respect the independence of Belgium, and we will give you the most solemn and binding guarantees that at the end of the conflict Belgium shall be as free and independent as before," if Germany (and of course our hypothesis applies also to France) were to use this language—though we trust there will be no occasion for it—we cannot doubt what would be the wise and proper course for England to pursue, and what would be the answer of the English Government. England does not wish to shirk its true responsibilities. But it would be madness for us to incur or to assume responsibilities unnecessarily when to do so would manifestly involve our participation in a tremendous war.

That week The Spectator, the organ of the respectable classes, commented upon these pronouncements as follows:

Spectator, Saturday, February 5, 1887

News of the Week

. . . the general idea is that England will be kept out of this war. . . . That she will try to do so we do not doubt, but there is the Belgian difficulty ahead. Our guarantee for her is not a solitary one, and would not bind us to fight alone; but there are general interests to be considered. The probability is that we shall insist on her not becoming a theatre of war but shall not bar—as indeed we cannot bar—the traversing of her soil.

We think that these documents prove the grave statements by which we introduced them.





(The Labour Leader, February 11, 1915)


The article we published recently from The Standard appeared in its issue of February 4, 1887. That afternoon the Pall Mall Gazette, then edited by Mr. Stead, whose aggressive Liberalism on the subject of small nationalities and sacredness of treaties is well known, published the following article:


"Pall Mall Gazette," February 4, 1887

England and Belgium.

Are we bound to intervene?

There is no guarantee.

The Standard this morning gives special prominence to a letter signed "Diplomaticus" on the neutrality of Belgium. It also devotes its first leading article to the subject. The gist of these utterances may be summed up in two propositions: (1) England is under a treaty of obligation to defend the neutrality of Belgium; (2) But circumstances have altered since the contraction of the said obligation, and as against Germany, at any rate, England must pocket its pledges, and allow France to be invaded through Belgium without protesting or interfering.

Considerable importance is likely to be attributed to these conclusions abroad owing to its being understood that The Standard is at present the Governmental Salisburian organ. Each of the propositions laid down by our contemporary is, it will be seen, likely to be taken hold of. Germany might read the second as an invitation to invade France through




Belgium; France might read the first as an admission of our obligation to prevent, or rather to punish, such an infringement of neutral territory, if we dared.

It becomes important, therefore, to point out that The Standard's argument rests on a false assumption. We do not for the present argue whether in the contingencies contemplated it would be England's interest to intervene by declaring war against whichever belligerent might violate the neutrality of Belgium; we confine ourselves to the preliminary statement essential for clearing up the case—that it is not England's obligation to do so.

The origin of the mistaken views prevailing on the question is undoubtedly a confusion between the Special Treaty of 1831 and 1839 which it temporarily superseded. By the treaty of 1870 the obligation of England was, of course, clear and specific. Here is the pledge which was given in the identical treaties concluded mutatis mutandis with both France and Prussia:

"Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland declares that if during the said hostilities the armies of France (or Prussia) should violate the neutrality of Belgium, she will be prepared to co-operate with his Prussian Majesty (or the Emperor of the French) for the defense of the same in such a manner as may be mutually agreed upon, employing for that purpose her naval and military forces to ensure its observance."

  There could be no doubt about that pledge; but then it expired twelve months after the conclusion of peace. At the expiration of that period, so the treaty continued:

"The independence and neutrality of Belgium will, so far as the High Contracting Parties are respectively concerned, continue to rest as heretofore on the first article of the Quintuple Treaty of the 19th of April, 1839."


Now, what some people do is to read this treaty of 1839 by the light of the more specific treaty of 1870, and to deduce from the former the same obligation on the part of England to intervene against any infringement of Belgium's neutrality as was contained in the 1870 treaty.

This, however, is a completely untenable proceeding. The treaty of 1839 must stand on its own legs, and these, it will be seen, are by no means very strong. The following are the terms of its second article:

"His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia, His Majesty the King of the French, Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, His Majesty the King of Prussia, and His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, declare that the articles hereby annexed to the treaty concluded this day between His Majesty the King of the Belgians and His Majesty the King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, are considered as having the same force and value as if they were textually inserted in the present act, and that they are thus placed under the guarantee of their Majesties."

Here, then, we are sent off from the treaty between the Great Powers to the treaty between Belgium and the Netherlands. The seventh article of this treaty (which is identical with the same article of the 1831 treaty) runs:

"Belgium will form, within the limits indicated in 1, 2, and 4, an independent and perpetually neutral State. She will be bound to observe this same neutrality toward all other States."

In this treaty it will be seen there is nothing about any guarantee; all that can be elicited from it, and from the one cited as referring to it, is this, that this clause is placed under the guarantee of "their said Majesties," that is, England, Austria, France, Germany and Russia.




But that is not all. This constructive guarantee must be considered in relation to the party to whom it was given—namely to the Netherlands. For the treaty of 1839 was one between the five Powers on the one hand and the Netherlands on the other; and what the five Powers did was to guarantee to the Netherlands the treaty contracted between it and Belgium, one clause of which treaty said that Belgium should form, "an independent and perpetually neutral State" and should "be bound to observe such neutrality toward all other States."

In the treaty of 1831, it is true, there was a further article guaranteeing the execution of all preceding articles (including, therefore, the one just cited in similar terms from the 1839 treaty) to the King of the Belgians, but in the 1839 treaty, on which the independence of Belgian is now said to rest, Lord Palmerston omitted any such guarantee.

There is, therefore, no English guarantee to Belgium. It is possible, perhaps, to "construct such a guarantee; but the case may be summed up as follows: (1) England is under no guarantee whatever except such as is common to Austria, France, Russia, and Germany; (2) that guarantee is not specifically of the neutrality of Belgium at all; and (3) is given not to Belgium but to the Netherlands.


Pall Mall Gazette, February 5, 1887


The attempt of the Morning Post to prove that this country is under a guarantee to Belgium to defend its neutrality is highly unsuccessful. "The treaty of the 15th of November, 1831," it says, "was cancelled by treaties of the 19th of April, 1839, but the provisions regarding the neutrality of Belgium remained intact." This, as we pointed out yesterday, is not the case. The treaty of 1831


was with Belgium, and the execution of its articles (including one which provided for the neutrality of Belgium) was guaranteed to the King of the Belgians. But in the treaty of 1839, though the article asserting the neutrality of Belgium remains, the guarantee disappears. It is the more surprising that the Morning Post should be at such pains to prove that there is still a guarantee, since the only action it would in any case recommend being taken on it is a platonic protest. To construe a non-existent guarantee in order to have the privilege of uttering an unavailing protest is surely the very superfluity of futility.

But the line taken by the Morning Post is perhaps not quite so absurd as that which The Standard yesterday suggested, and a correspondent repeats this morning. We are to construct the guarantee and are then to declare our obligation to defend the neutrality of Belgium against all corners. But when any particular corner infringes that neutrality we are to grant him a special dispensation. The Standard and its correspondent speak only of giving this dispensation to Germany; what is to be allowed to Germany could not be denied to France. Our defense of the neutrality of Belgium would thus be never today but always every other day; it would be asserted against anyone in general, but withdrawn against anyone in particular. With such absurdities staring them in the face, it is surprising that our contemporaries do not take the trouble to ascertain that the guarantee which they are so ingeniously but unheroically whittling down does not in fact exist at all.


We wonder if national honour was held in less esteem in 1887 than in 1914. That cannot be the explanation of these articles and of the professions of Liberal and Tory politicians at the present moment. We have a shrewd suspicion that the real


explanation is that in the minds of these politicians national honour is merely an affair of party convenience, that "circumstances" caused our diplomatists in 1887 to take one view, whereas in 1914 they caused the same gentlemen to take another view. The unsophisticated man in the street is steady all the time. He has an instinctive sense of what is right and what is wrong, and we shall have neither consistency nor honour in foreign politics until means are adopted which will enable him to control them. He is now a mere victim in the hands of Foreign Offices which muddle their business and the power to involve his life and his honour in whatever they say or do.