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Title: Secret Diplomacy: How Far Can It Be Eliminated?

Author: Paul S. Reinsch

Release date: March 2, 2021 [eBook #64671]

Language: English

Credits: Charlie Howard and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



The Common Law in the Early American Colonies, 1899.

World Politics at the End of the Nineteenth Century as Influenced by the Oriental Situation, 1900.

Colonial Government, 1902.

Colonial Administration, 1905.

American Legislatures and Legislative Methods, 1907.

Intellectual Currents in the Far East, 1911.

International Unions, 1911.

An American Diplomat in China, 1913–1918, 1922.







The principal conclusions based on the material contained in this book were presented by the Author at a joint meeting of the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association, in his address as President of the latter, on December 28th, 1920.


  Introduction 3
I. Eighteenth Century Diplomacy 22
II. Old Diplomatic Correspondence 36
III. After the Congress of Vienna 45
IV. Napoleon III, Disraeli, Bismarck 58
V. Triple Alliance Diplomacy and Morocco 70
VI. Entente Diplomacy 84
VII. The Crisis of 1914 102
VIII. The Secret Treaties of the War 116
IX. Hopes for Improvement Deferred 129
X. The Destruction of Public Confidence 136
XI. Parliament and Foreign Affairs 149
XII. The Public and Diplomacy 166
XIII. A Survival of Absolutism 181
XIV. Recent American Experience 194
  Conclusion 211
  Index 225


Is secret diplomacy the evil spirit of modern politics? Is it the force that keeps nations in a state of potential hostility and does not allow a feeling of confidence and of wholehearted coöperation to grow up? Or is it only a trade device, a clever method of surrounding with an aura of importance the doings of the diplomats, a race of men of average wisdom and intelligence who traditionally have valued the prestige of dealing with “secret affairs of state”? Or is it something less romantic than either of these—merely the survival from a more barbarous age of instincts of secretiveness and chicane acquired at a time when self-defense was the necessity of every hour?

It is quite patent that the practice of secret diplomacy is incompatible with the democratic theory of state. Even in the Liberal theory of state it finds little favor, although that is disposed to grant a great deal of discretion to the representatives who are given the trusteeship of public affairs. Yet the essential idea of Liberalism, government by discussion, includes foreign4 affairs within its scope fully as much as those of purely domestic concern. In applying to public affairs the experience of private business it is often argued that as the directorate of a corporation could not be expected to transact its business in public, even so diplomatic conversations are not to be heralded from the house tops. How far this particular analogy between private business and public affairs will hold, is a point we shall have to examine later. At first sight the planning of private enterprises and the consideration of benefits and losses, can hardly furnish completely satisfactory rules for the conduct of public affairs, particularly those involving the life and death of the persons concerned. Stockholders would be reluctant to allow such matters to be determined by a board of trustees in secret conclave.

Divesting ourselves of all prejudices, even of righteous indignation against plainly unconscionable practices, we shall try to examine and analyze the action of great diplomats and to see to what extent really important results achieved by them have depended upon the use of secret methods. In the 18th Century, diplomacy was still looked upon as a sharp game in which wits were matched, with a complete license as to the means pursued;5 provided, however, that embarrassing discovery must be avoided, in other words, that the exact method of deception must be so closely guarded that only the results will show. The great diplomats of the beginning of the 19th century—Metternich, Talleyrand, Pozzo di Borgo—while they talked much about humanitarian principles, continued to play a barren game of intrigue. Napoleon III, that master of devious statecraft, will always be cited by excoriators of secret diplomacy as an abhorrent example—a man undone by the results of his own plotting. Bismarck indeed prided himself on looking down upon petty secret manœuvering and cast a certain amount of contempt on the whole diplomatic business; he often disconcerted his opponents by an unaccustomed frankness. Yet the orientation of his statesmanship was based upon the idea of helping history to find a short-cut to her aims through masterful plotting. He took the reins out of the hands of Providence.

But let us return to our first question: “Is secret diplomacy the evil spirit of modern politics?” It is indeed worth inquiring how far our secretive methods in foreign affairs are to blame for the pitiful condition in which the world finds itself to-day. No doubt there is a general belief6 that secret diplomacy and ever-increasing armaments led Europe into the terrible destruction of the Great War and that the continuance of such methods is chiefly to blame for the deplorable condition since the Armistice. There may be deeper causes, but these evidences are so obtrusive that they naturally attract most attention and are given most blame for the evils we endure. It is plain that secret diplomacy is a potent cause for continued distrust, fear and hate. There are few statesmen that would not shrink from deliberately planning and staging a war. Yet they nearly all participate in methods of handling public business from which it is hardly possible that anything but suspicion, fear and hatred should arise. Distrust is planted everywhere. There is no assurance of what is the truth; true reports are questioned; false reports, believed. All motives are under suspicion. The public conscience and will are beclouded; nothing stands out as reliable but stark military force.

It would seem that we have learned very little from the war. The same dangerous and unhealthy methods continue to be used with inveterate zeal. The result is that suspicion has now grown up among those who fought side by side and who shed their blood together. Realizing7 the fundamental importance of basing international life on sound opinion and fair dealing, the framers of the League of Nations tried to secure the publicity of all international agreements. Yet this moderate provision of the covenant has not been obeyed by some of the strongest contracting powers. Some outsiders, indeed, such as Russia, have quite willingly published their treaties and furnished them to the bureau of the league.

That the first act of peace-making was to shut the door of the council chamber in the face of the multitudes who had offered their lives and shed their blood for the rights of humanity was a tragic mistake. In the defense of secret procedure, published on January 17, 1919, it was said “To discuss differences in the press would inflame public opinion and render impossible a compromise.” So all connection between the great public that was paying the price of the game and the benevolent elder statesmen who thought they would shoulder the burden of responsibility alone, was cut off. The men in the council chamber were not strengthened in this great crisis by a feeling of intimate touch with a strong and enlightened public opinion. The public itself was disillusioned; suspicion and contempt were the natural result. The bald statements given to the press concerning8 the negotiations did not satisfy any one. Most of what was going on became known to outsiders. But its authenticity was so uncertain and it was so commingled with mere rumor that the public soon gave up in despair. It will be important to inquire as to what is the proper perspective between confidential deliberation and publicity of results, in conferences, which are becoming the usual agency for discussing and settling international affairs.

When secrecy is confined merely to the methods of carrying on negotiations, its importance for good and evil is certainly not so great as when the secrecy of methods includes concealment of aims and of the agreements arrived at. We could imagine that even a statesman who seeks the closest relationship with public opinion, even a Lincoln, could not at all times eliminate all use of confidential communications. But the temper of the whole system of foreign affairs is a different matter; and any broad effort to conceal the tendency of action or its results is certainly productive of evil, no matter how salutary or beneficial it may seem to the men employing it at the time.

But, it is said, we must trust to experts. International relations are so intricate and have so9 many delicate shadings that they elude the grasp of the ordinary man, and can be held together and seen in their proper relations only by the comprehensive and experienced mind of the seasoned statesman. There is, however, a distinction which ought to be noted. The public relies in most cases unreservedly upon expertship in matters of engineering, science, accounting, business management, and even in medicine, though in the latter with a feeling of less complete security. In all these cases we know that the processes applied and the methods pursued are demonstrable, and mathematically certain to produce the results anticipated. But in the affairs of international politics into which the human equation and other inexactly calculable factors enter, there is no such mathematical certainty which can be tested and ascertained by any group of experts. It is all a matter of wisdom in choosing alternatives, and we may well doubt whether any man or small group of men, under modern conditions of life and public state action, can be wiser in such matters by themselves than they would be if they constantly kept in direct touch with public opinion. Society, when properly organized, will have at its disposal on every question of importance, groups of men who have expert knowledge. Expertship10 in foreign affairs is not confined to the foreign offices or the chanceries; many thoughtful men observing and thinking intensely, traveling widely, seeing foreign affairs from an independent angle, have opinions and judgments to contribute that the officials cannot safely ignore. In an inquiry of this kind we shall have to consider the broader setting of diplomacy as a part of public life within the nation and throughout the world. The element of secrecy is appropriate only when we consider diplomacy as a clever game played by a small inner privileged circle; it appears out of place in a society organized on a broader basis. As a matter of fact the defense of secrecy, from the point of view of the inner politics of the state, resolves itself almost entirely into an opinion that the ignorance and inexperience of the people does not fit them to judge of foreign relations. That, it must be confessed, does not seem to be a very sound or convincing basis for the choice of methods of public action in a modern state.

But the real strength of the argument for secrecy comes when the external aspects of state action are considered. Then there is, on the surface at least, an apparent justification for secretiveness, in the interest of a closely knit society engaged in competitive struggle with similar11 societies and obliged to defend itself and to safeguard its interest by all available means.

Regarded in its broader aspects there are two conceptions of diplomacy which are quite antagonistic and which have divided thinkers since the time of Machiavelli and Grotius. These two great minds may indeed be considered as typifying the two tendencies and expressing them in themselves and through the sentiments which their thought and writings have engendered in their successors.

We have the conception of diplomacy as working out a complex system of state action, balancing and counterbalancing forces and material resources and giving direction to the innermost purposes of the state. It is probable that all professional diplomats are more or less enchanted by this ideal. Up to the great war, Bismarck was generally considered the ablest master of diplomacy, and his action seemed to supply short-cuts for historical forces to work out their natural aims. Nationalism was the word of the day and the creation of the German national state, foreordained as it seemed by the laws of history, was accelerated by the masterful action of the great diplomat. But we are now able to see wherein lay the limitations of this method as applied by12 Bismarck. Notwithstanding his grasp of historic principles of development, he did not, after all, work in unison with broad natural forces, but relied on his power to dominate other men through forceful mastery, with dynastic associations. He was a superman rather than a great representative of a people’s aspirations. So while he proclaimed the truthfulness of his diplomacy, it was nevertheless kept essentially as his own and his master’s affair and business, rather than the people’s. The base of his policy was narrow. He understood nationalism from a Prussian point of view. He severed Austria from Germany, and then antagonized France by taking Lorraine; far more important still, he failed to strengthen German relations with Central Europe and thus made it later seem necessary for Germany to go on to the sea and thus to arouse the apprehensions and enmity of England. Thus while he himself would probably have in the end avoided confronting the entire world as enemies, the foundations he had laid did not provide a safe footing for the more ordinary men who followed him. His diplomacy, once considered so great, had contained no adequate and sound foundation for permanent national life. Such have been the results of the most distinguished and successful work of manipulative13 diplomacy during the Nineteenth Century.

What then shall we say of the justification of wars brought about as a part of such a system; under which statesmen consider it quite natural to contemplate “preventive war” and to assume responsibility for wholesale slaughter because their plan of action seems to reveal a necessity for it. The idea of conscious planning, or striving to subject national and economic facts and all historic development to the conscious political will,—that conception of diplomacy is synonymous with the essence of politics and will stand and fall with the continuance of the purely political state. Manipulative, and hence secret, diplomacy is in fact the most complete expression of the purely political factor in human affairs. To many, it will seem only a survival of a hyper-political era, as human society now tends to outgrow and transcend politics for more comprehensive, pervasive and essential principles of action. We need not here rehearse the fundamental character of politics as a struggle for recognized authority to determine the action of individuals, with the use of external compulsion. Politics is a part of the idea of the national state seen from the point of view of a struggle for existence among different political organizations, in which14 one class originally superimposed its authority upon a subject population and in which, after authority is firmly established within, political power is then used to gain advantages from, or over, outside societies. It is Machiavelli as opposed to Grotius who gives us the philosophy of this struggle. The narrowness of this basis for human action and the direful effect of conscious and forceful interference with social and economic laws, is now beginning to be recognized.

But there is also a broader conception of diplomacy which is influencing the minds of men although it is not yet fully embodied in our daily practice. This conception looks upon humanity, not as a mosaic of little mutually exclusive areas, but as a complex body of interlocking interests and cultural groups. As this conception gains in strength, the center of effort in diplomacy will not be to conceal separatist aims and special plots, but to bring out into the clear light of day the common interests of men. The common work for them to do in making the world habitable, in dignifying the life of men and protecting them against mutual terror and massacre,—that ideal of coöperation and forbearance, is as yet only partially embodied in our international practices, although it arouses the fervid hopes of men15 throughout the world. Whether a system of local autonomy combined with full coöperation and free interchange of influences can be brought about without the exercise of an overpowering influence on the part of a group of allied nations, is still doubtful. But if it should be achieved, then plainly the old special functions of diplomacy will fall away and administrative conferences will take the place of diplomatic conversations. When Portugal became a republic, the proposal was made to abolish all diplomatic posts and have the international business of Portugal administered by consuls. That would eliminate politics from foreign relations.

Diplomacy in the spirit of Grotius has always had its votaries even in periods of the darkest intrigue, but there has only recently come into general use a method of transacting international business which favors open and full discussion of diplomatic affairs. Such business will be dealt with less and less in separate negotiation between two powers; there will generally be more nations involved, and conferences and standing committees or commissions will be at work, rather than isolated diplomats. Indeed, international conferences are still largely influenced by the old spirit of secretive diplomacy. Yet the practice16 of meeting together in larger groups is itself inimical to the strict maintenance of the older methods and we may expect a natural growth of more simple and direct dealings. It will be interesting to watch the use of the older methods of diplomacy under these new conditions and to see how far and how fast they will have to be modified in order to bear out the underlying principle in human development to which action by conference responds.

The Washington Conference of 1921 afforded the first notable occasion for bringing into use open methods in diplomatic discussion. Secretary Hughes in his introductory speech struck a keynote hitherto not heard in negotiations on international matters. A new era seemed to have dawned in which great issues and all-important interests could be discussed openly and decided on their merits. A great wave of enthusiasm passed over the public. But it cannot be said that the temper of this auspicious opening was sustained throughout. As the conference descended from general declarations to important questions of detail there was an unmistakable reversion to old methods, which obstructed the straightforward aims of Secretary Hughes. Even the generous initial proposal of the American government was17 made by one of the powers a trading subject. The result was that some of the attendant evils of secret diplomacy invaded even this conference, and that the public soon became somewhat confused as to its object and purposes, through an abundance of guesses which put a premium on the sensational imagination. It must be said that the temper of the press, encouraged by the manner in which the Conference had been inaugurated, was one of restraint and responsibility. Viewing the questions which were before this Conference, there can be no doubt that the very problems about which there was hesitation and exaggerated secretiveness, were exactly those which could have been best judged of by the well-informed public opinion. One could not avoid the conclusion that the fear of publicity is in all cases inspired by motives which cannot stand the test of a world-wide public opinion.

At the present day, as yet, the fatal circle has not been broken: secret diplomacy, suspicion, armaments, war. We had thought that we should escape from it quite easily, after the terrible sacrifices laid on mankind and the light which had been flashed on us in that darkness. But the passions which had been stirred up and the fear and terror which had been aroused in that dire18 experience may for some time yet serve to strengthen the reactionary forces in human affairs, and retard those which tend to liberate humanity from terror and suffering. But it is lack of leadership toward better things, that is most to blame.

To America, to the government and the people, the elimination of secret dealings in international affairs is nothing short of a primary interest. The entire character of our foreign policy is inspired with, and based upon, the belief in open dealings and fair play. We have a broad continental position which makes secret plotting and devious transactions unnatural, inappropriate and unnecessary. Our national experience of one hundred and fifty years has expressed itself quite spontaneously in proposals for the peaceful settlement of international disputes by discussion, for the improvement of international relations through conferences, and in the great policies of the Open Door, which means commercial fair play, and the Monroe Doctrine, which means political fair play to the American sister republics. A policy such as this has nothing to seek with secret methods and concealed aims.

To tolerate secrecy in international affairs would mean to acquiesce in a great national danger.19 For good or ill we can no longer conceive ourselves as isolated. Our every-day happiness and permanent welfare are directly affected by what other nations do and plan. Continued secrecy would mean that we should feel ourselves surrounded by unknown dangers. We should have to live in an atmosphere of dread and suspicion. We could find peace of mind only in the security of vast armaments. In international affairs we would be walking by the edge of precipices and over volcanoes; our best intentioned proposals for the betterment of human affairs would be secretly burked, as in the case of Secretary Knox’ plan of railway neutralization in Manchuria. Our rights would be secretly invaded and our security threatened, as at the time when England and France agreed with Japan that she should have the North Pacific islands, behind our backs, though our vital interests were involved. In all such matters secrecy will work to the disadvantage of that power which has the most straightforward aims and policies. America cannot willingly submit to such a condition. It is unthinkable that with our traditions of public life and with our Constitutional arrangements, we should ourselves play the old game of secret intrigue; it is for us to see, and to the best of our power20 and ability to assure, that it will not be played in the future by others.

Nations will respond to the call for absolutely open dealings in international affairs, with a varying degree of readiness and enthusiasm. We are perhaps justified in saying that wherever the people can make their desires felt they will be unanimously for a policy of openness. The English tradition of public life would also be favorable to such a principle of action, were it not that such special imperial interests as the British raj in India frequently inspires British diplomacy with narrower motives and with a readiness to depart from open dealings from a conviction that imperial interests so require. The Russian Soviet government in giving to the public a full knowledge of international affairs, was at first inspired primarily by a desire to discredit the old régime. But it is also undoubtedly true that the hold which this government has on the party which supports it, is in a measure due to the fact that all foreign policies and relationships are freely reported to, and discussed in, the party meetings and the soviets. No matter what the aims of this government may be, it cannot be denied that it has strengthened itself by the openness of its foreign policy. The Chinese people21 have manifested a deep faith in public opinion and their chief desire in international affairs is that there shall be open, straightforward dealings so that all the world may know and judge. Through all their difficulties of the last decade they have been sustained by this faith in the strength of a good cause in the forum of world-wide public opinion.

The peoples of the Continent of Europe undoubtedly would welcome a reign of openness and truth, for they have suffered most from secret dealings in diplomacy. But those who govern them find it difficult to extricate themselves from the tangle of intrigue. As President Wilson expressed it:

“European diplomacy works always in the dense thicket of ancient feuds, rooted, entangled and entwined. It is difficult to see the path; it is not always possible to see the light of day. I did not realize it all until the peace conference; I did not realize how deep the roots are.”

During the eighteenth century, diplomatic action was dominated entirely by the tactics and stratagems of war. Diplomacy was a continuous struggle for political advantage and power, seeking to accomplish the purposes of war through keen intriguing; it was war pursued in the council chamber. The temper of diplomacy was not that of a commercial transaction, or of coöperation in the works of peace and betterment; but it was intent upon selfish advantage—power, prestige, preferment, and all the outward evidences of political success. It did not have the conscience of peaceful enterprise and coöperation, but on the contrary emulated the keen, restless, alert, and all-suspecting spirit of the military commander in action. All the ruses, deceptions, subterfuges, briberies and strategies which the struggle for existence in war appears to render justifiable, diplomacy made use of. It was essentially a political secret service informed with the spirit of life-and-death competition. As,23 among individuals in that society, all action was dominated by the constantly overhanging hazard of private duel, bringing into life something of the keenness and cruelty of the tempered blade; so among nations warlike rivalry inspired all political action. War was either going on or impending and being prepared for; humanity was living true to the old adage: “Man a wolf to man.”

Diplomacy was personal in that the ambassador was held to be an alter ego of the monarch. It was surrounded with the glamor of high state and important enterprise, and inspired with a great pride of office. The fact that he represented absolute power in its contact with the absolute power of others, gave the diplomat a sense of high importance. The monarchs, themselves, were generally governed by personal motives and considerations. They looked upon politics as a keen game for personal or family power in which populations of subjects, territory, and war indemnities were the stakes, and human lives the pawns; the highest happiness and good fortune of the subject was supposed to be the right to die for his king. The diplomatic representatives quite naturally fell into the same way of regarding affairs of state from the viewpoint of political24 power to be gained, maintained and constantly increased. It was a rather narrow game as seen by the rank and file of the diplomatic world; only a few far-seeing and statesmanlike minds could at that time appreciate the broad underlying human foundation of all political action.

Such broader insight would often have been a real obstacle to the success of the keen and clever player of the game. The mastery of underlying principles which made Grotius famous for all ages did not contribute to his success as a diplomat. The wheel of fortune turned fast, and fleeting advantage had to be caught by quick, clever though often superficial, machinations. Even as late as 1830, John Quincy Adams observed that deep insight and unusual ability was something of a hindrance to a diplomat. Yet the keen edge of the successful diplomats of the powdered wig period is in itself one of the noteworthy qualities of that sociable though unsocial age.

Throughout this period Machiavelli’s Prince may be taken as the fitting commentary on political action. The men of this age had not yet grown up to the realization which Machiavelli already had of the nature and importance of the national principle; but Machiavelli’s thought concerning the means by which, in a period of unrest25 and sharp rivalry, political power may be established, built up and preserved, with total disregard of every feeling and ideal and the single-minded pursuit of political success,—that thoroughly explains the spring of action of this period.

In reading the memoirs and letters of this time, one will encounter a great many protestations of conventional morality, as well as an understanding of human nature and a comprehensive grasp of the details of international rivalry. But far-seeing ideals of wisdom, moderation, and justice, and of human coöperation will not frequently be met with; there is no searching vision of realities. Nor will one gain from these memoirs very specific information about the actual methods of doing diplomatic business. These methods, even the particularly unscrupulous ones, were probably considered almost as natural processes, to be passed by without mention. But incidentally, one may receive hints, even in the correspondence of the most correct and guarded diplomat, sufficient to reconstitute their current manner of thought and action.

We encounter there all the artifices of a secret service versed in the stratagems and tricks through which information can be obtained,—the stealing of documents, bribery of public officials,26 general misrepresentation and deceit. Matters are often so inextricably complicated that it must have required the greatest effort to remember what each participant in that particular intrigue knew or was supposed not to know, what he could be told and what must be kept from him. These are still the more venial methods; but when the welfare of the state required, it might even be necessary, as in the case of war, to dispose of inconvenient and obstructive individuals by wrecking their reputation or even by putting them out of the way altogether.

Even the learned and dignified authorities on international law could not entirely ignore the methods employed in actual diplomatic intercourse. Grotius held that “amphibologies”—a term apparently coined by him to designate statements, which could be understood in several ways—were admissible, except in certain cases where there existed a duty to unmask, as in matters involving the “honor of God,” or charity towards a neighbor, or the making of contracts, or others of like nature. His successor, Vattel, draws a distinction between a downright lie, “words of him who speaks contrary to his thoughts on an occasion when he is under obligation to speak the truth”; and a “falsiloquy,” which he considers27 venial, and which is “an untrue discourse to persons who have no right to insist on knowing the truth in a particular case.” This distinction gives a rather ample latitude to the discretion of a diplomat in the matter of truthfulness. According to the good and learned Vattel, the duty of any one to tell the truth was binding only towards another who had the right to demand that the truth be spoken. In his day, very few people indeed could claim the right of demanding an insight into diplomatic affairs, so that his rule did not put the diplomat under a very severe moral constraint. Even to the present day there have been known individual envoys whose utterances plainly are made in the spirit of Vattel’s distinction.

Callières, who wrote on the Practice of Diplomacy, in the year 1716, is full of admiration of all that a shrewd, clever diplomat may accomplish in stirring up trouble and confounding things generally in the state to which he is accredited. To the question, “What can be achieved by a negotiator?” Callières answers, “We see daily around us its definite effects—sudden revolutions favorable to a great design of state, use of sedition and fermenting hatreds, causing jealous rivals to arm, so that the third party may rejoice (ut tertius gaudeat), dissolution by crafty means of the closest28 unions. A single word or act may do more than the invasion of whole armies, because the crafty negotiator will know how to set in motion various forces native to the country in which he is negotiating and thus may spare his master the vast expense of a campaign.... It frequently happens that well chosen spies contribute more than any other agency to the success of great plans. They are not to be neglected. An ambassador is an honorable spy because it is his function to discover great secrets. He should have a liberal hand.” That admiration of successful deceit and mental cleverness in obtaining results that could only be gained by force through great sacrifice of life, inspired also the Italian admiration for clever deceit, such as shown by Machiavelli in his eulogy of Pope Alexander VI for his unrivaled eminence in prevarication.

It is remarkable that the famous witticism of Sir Henry Wotton that “an ambassador is a person sent abroad to lie for the good of his country,” did not occur to some one much earlier; but though the bon mot had not been coined, the idea itself was quite familiar. Louis XI quite bluntly instructed his embassies, “If they lie to you, lie still more to them.” But through all this period29 the virtue of sincerity and of truthfulness also had their admirers: Callières, speaking of the successful diplomat, says, “Deceit is but the measure of smallness of mind and intelligence. A diplomat should have a reputation for plain and fair dealing and should observe the promises he has made.” It may, however, be suspected that the good writer here contemplates the dangers of unsuccessful deceit and of too transparent ruses, rather than the positive value of truth itself.

James Harris, Lord Malmesbury, who was certainly conversant with all the ins and outs of eighteenth century diplomacy, wrote in a letter of advice (April 11, 1813) addressed to Lord Camden: “It is scarce necessary to say that no occasion, no provocation, no anxiety to rebut an unjust accusation, no idea, however tempting, of promoting the object you have in view, can need, much less justify, a falsehood. Success obtained by one is a precarious and baseless success. Detection would ruin, not only your own reputation for ever, but deeply wound the honor of your Court.” In this sage advice, too, the dominant idea seems to be that detection is ruinous. The homage which is thus paid to the ideal of truth and sincerity is compatible with the use of quite opposite methods provided they are successful30 and so cleverly guarded that they are not discovered.

However, at all times there must have existed, among the people at large and even among those playing the game of politics, men who had a natural inborn desire for truth and a simplicity of nature which brought them closer to the true underlying forces than were the common run of courtiers and politicians. The ever recurring admiration expressed for the diplomacy of Cardinal d’Orsat, the envoy of Henry IV to the Pope, indicates a real appreciation, even among the profession, of high standards of straightforwardness in diplomatic negotiations. Cardinal d’Orsat seems to have disdained all shallow devices of deceptive cleverness. He relied upon simple reasonableness and honesty in proposing an arrangement mutually beneficial, to win after others had exhausted all possible tricks and stratagems. In discussing diplomacy, Mably says that such methods alone are calculated to secure positive and permanent results while the devices of clever deceit can only serve to delay and confuse.

Several statesmen have discovered that the telling of the actual truth often exerts a somewhat befuddling effect on diplomats, so that they may easily be misled by telling them real facts31 which they will interpret in a contrary sense. This method has usually been associated with the name of Bismarck who on one occasion said, “It makes me smile to see how puzzled all these diplomats are when I tell them the truth pure and simple. They always seem to suspect me of telling them fibs.” The discovery had, however, been made by many statesmen before Bismarck. As early as 1700, de Torcy had arrived at the conclusion that the best way of deceiving foreign courts is to speak the truth. Lord Stanhope said quite complacently that he could always impose upon the foreign diplomats by telling them the naked truth, and that he knew that in such cases they had often reported to their courts the opposite to what he had truthfully told them to be the facts. At a later date, Palmerston also prided himself on being able to mislead by the open and apparently unguarded manner in which he told the truth. It would, however, manifestly be difficult to use this method successfully more than in spots; it would have to be interspersed from time to time with a judicious amount of prevarication, in order to throw the other party off the scent.

To appear simple and true has always been greatly desired of diplomats. Count Du Luc,32 French Ambassador to Vienna, said in a letter, “My great desire, if I may be permitted to speak about myself, is to appear simple and true. I flatter myself that I possess the latter qualification; but you know my method of manœuvering.” The appearance of frankness has indeed been most valuable to diplomats in all ages; though one naturally suspects the man who in and out of season explicitly declares and protests that virtue. Diplomatic frankness is a part of that elaborate and complicated system of self-control and coolness together with a mastery of all the outward expressions of different affections and passions, which notable diplomats have sought to achieve. It would not take an expert to advise against pomposity. Callières counsels, “Be genial. Avoid the sober, cold air. An air of mystery is not useful.”

In that century in which keenness and cleverness were so intensively cultivated with the high pitch of the personal duel transferred to affairs of state, the complete self-control of diplomats, their quickness and their gift of taking advantage of any favorable turn in the situation, are certainly worthy of admiration, as we reanimate in our minds the life portrayed in these old memoirs and letters. Occasionally a mishap occurs like33 that of the British Minister, Mr. Drake, who boasted to Mehée de la Touche of the very careful precautions he had taken to guard his secret correspondence; which vainglory resulted quite disastrously to his collection of secrets. Instances of delightful cleverness and cool-headedness are frequent. Cardinal Mazarin, who in his methods and principles was quite the opposite to Cardinal d’Orsat and who was particularly free from any scruples whatsoever concerning the truth, won his first striking diplomatic success through a ruse. What a quick mind and daring spirit his, when on his first mission to the court of the Duke of Feria, as a very young man, he attained his object so completely. How otherwise could he have ascertained the true opinion of His Highness on the matter of great importance to the Court of France which Mazarin was especially sent to ascertain, as there were great doubts about it and the duke entirely unwilling to express himself? A keen observer, Mazarin had soon learned that the duke was irascible and unguarded when in anger; but few would have followed him in suddenly, out of the clear sky, deliberately, so stirring the duke to anger that he, entirely off his guard, blurted out things which unmistakably gave a clue to his real opinions on34 the important matter of state in question. What a vivid satisfaction the young man must have had, which, however, he needs must carefully conceal to feign grief and despair because he had been hapless enough to arouse the ill will of His Highness. Mazarin was throughout his life noted for a perfect command of the expressions of all the moods, sentiments and passions, used by him at will so that it was impossible for any one to penetrate his mask. The same achievement was attained in a notable manner by the great diplomats of the old school, Talleyrand and Metternich, who held the stage at the beginning of the nineteenth century; and it has been emulated in greater or less perfection by successive generations of Ministers, Counselors, and Secretaries.

When Cromwell had allowed himself to be tangled up in double-faced negotiations with the Spanish and the French courts of which the latter had obtained complete knowledge, the French envoy, DeBass, very cleverly rebuked him for the inconstancy and disingenuousness of his action. The envoy related to Cromwell in complete detail, but as an “unauthenticated report,” all the facts of the dubious negotiation, and then asked the Protector kindly to extricate him from this labyrinth. Cromwell was entirely taken aback and35 took his departure abruptly on urgent business, leaving his secretary to make excuses. The star performance of Metternich was when Napoleon, returning from a hunt in a fit of heated excitement, in the presence of the other foreign representatives, rushed up to him shouting, “What the deuce does your Emperor expect of me?” Metternich replied with the greatest composure, “He expects his ambassador to be treated with respect.”

The correspondence of diplomats of the eighteenth century is full of interest because of the particular intimacy which characterized social life at that time. But we receive from it also direct and invaluable information on the spirit and methods of diplomacy. The correspondence from St. Petersburg at the time of Catherine the Great gives a complete picture of the less noble features of diplomatic life and action. At that Court, presided over by a woman of great ambition whose every movement and mood the diplomats felt necessary to take into account and carefully to calculate, at a time when England and France as well as other nations were involved in almost constant hostilities, the sharpest characteristics of eighteenth century diplomacy came to the surface. Politics is seen as a game of forfeits and favors in which wars were made for personal and dynastic reasons and territories traded off in the spirit of the gamester without regard to natural or ethnic facts, or the welfare of the population.


A letter written near the beginning of Catherine’s reign, addressed by Sir George Macartney to the Earl of Sandwich, most strikingly illustrates the character of the period. The British Minister first reports that M. Panin, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, had signed a treaty of alliance with Denmark, contemplating war with Turkey. By a most secret article, Denmark promises “to disengage herself from all French connections, demanding only a limited time to endeavor to obtain the arrears due to her by the Court of France. At all events, she is immediately to enter into all the views of Russia in Sweden, and to act entirely, though not openly, with her in that kingdom.” The writer then reports that it is the ardent wish of the Empress “to make a common cause with England and Denmark, for the total annihilation of the French interest there (in Sweden). This certainly cannot be done without a considerable expense; but Russia, at present, does not seem unreasonable enough to expect that we should pay the whole.” The amount necessary absolutely to prevent the French from ever getting at Stockholm again is suggested. As the Swedes are highly sensitive because of their dependent situation in recent years, the Russian Court desires “that we and38 they should act upon separate bottoms, still preserving between our respective Ministers a confidence without reserve. That our first care should be, not to establish a faction under the name of a Russian or of an English faction; but, as even the wisest men are imposed upon by a mere name, to endeavor to have our friends distinguished as the friends of liberty and independence.” The Minister then reports that an alliance with Russia is not to be thought of unless by some secret article England would agree to pay a subsidy to Russia in case of a Turkish war (Turkey happened at the time to be in alliance with England). The Minister relates that a similar proposal which was put up to the King of Prussia by a Russian official who was his mortal enemy and who hoped greatly to embarrass him thereby, was unexpectedly and quite blandly accepted by Frederick II. The letter closes with the earnest entreaty on no account to mention to M. Gross, the Russian Minister in London, the secret article of the treaty which his own Government had just concluded with Denmark.

The correspondence of James Harris, Lord Malmesbury, is a particularly full and continuous account of court and diplomatic life in the eighteenth century. In describing his diplomatic39 struggles in a Court in which everything turned round the whims and ambitions of an unscrupulous woman who had come to the throne through putting out of the way its rightful occupant, the vicious practices of the day are presented in all their corruption and deceitfulness. Before going to Russia, Sir James Harris was Minister at Berlin. He paints the character of Frederick the Great in the following words: “Thus never losing sight of his object, he lays aside all feelings the moment that is concerned; and, although as an individual he often appears, and really is, humane, benevolent, and friendly, yet the instant he acts in his Royal capacity, these attributes forsake him, and he carries with him desolation, misery, and persecution, wherever he goes.” A German scholar of the period, an admirer of the great monarch, used the following language: “The art, till then unknown in Europe, of concluding alliances without committing one’s self, of remaining unfettered while apparently bound, of seceding when the proper moment is arrived, can be learnt from him and only from him.” These descriptions of the political character of Frederick II set forth the essential political factor as it was understood at the time and as it has been understood by a continuous line of statesmen40 from Machiavelli to the present. As in physical science, every factor has to be disregarded except those essential to the experiment which is being conducted, so in the intensive politics of the modern state, in the mind of such men, abstraction is made from all sentiment, virtue and quality, to the sole pursuit of a closely calculated political effect. The same German scholar credits Frederick the Great with a superior straightforwardness. That quality, however, is manifested by such a man mostly on occasions where he is so sure of himself and of his plans that he can challenge the worst attempts of his enemies to upset them and can confound them utterly by flinging his plans in their faces, as did Bismarck at a later time. A startling and fearless frankness is one of the characteristics of political genius.

But to return to the correspondence of Lord Malmesbury. All the devices and foibles of the profession at that period are there mirrored. When he (still as Sir James Harris) reports the coming of a new French Minister to St. Petersburg, he expresses the hope that the new envoy will not be so difficult to deal with as the present chargé d’affairs, “who, though he has a very moderate capacity, got access to all the valets de41 chambre and inferior agents in the Russian houses, who very often conjured up evil spirits where I least of all expected them.” A little later he reports to the British Foreign Minister, Lord Stormont, as follows: “If, on further inquiry, I should find, as I almost suspect, that my friend’s (Prince Potemkin) fidelity has been shaken, or his political faith corrupted, in the late conferences, by any direct offers or indirect promises of reward, I shall think myself, in such a case, not only authorized but obliged to lure him with a similar bait.” He reminds His Lordship of the fact that Prince Potemkin is immensely rich and that, therefore, perhaps as much may be required as de Torcy offered to the Duke of Marlborough (two million francs).

In a letter of June 25, 1781, Sir James Harris, writing to the same Minister, speaks of having obtained information of the conclusion of a secret treaty between Russia and Austria from the confidential secretary of a Russian minister. He adds: “I trust I shall keep him to myself, since I have lost almost all my other informers by being outbid for them by the French and Prussians.” He adds that it is painful to him that the secret service expenses come so very high but he explains that the avid corruption of the court42 is ever increasing and that his enemies are favored by the fact that they can join in the expense against him, their courts moreover supplying them most lavishly. He adds: “They are also much more adroit at this dirty business than I am, who cannot help despising the person I corrupt.”

The Foreign Minister of Russia at this time, and for many years before and after, was Count Panin. It was then suspected and is now known that he was firmly bought by Frederick II. But there has been some doubt as to whether he entered upon this corrupt relation behind the back of Empress Catherine or at her bidding. It is known that she often encouraged her ministers at foreign courts to accept bribes and apparently to sell themselves to foreign governments, because through the relationship of confidence thus established they might gather information useful to their own government. This is one of the many ways in which the game of corruption tended to defeat itself.

As far as the letters of this period deal with diplomatic policies they are no more reassuring than when they relate the details of diplomatic practice. On August 16, 1782, Sir James Harris made a long confidential report to Lord Grantham.43 He observes that Count Panin is powerfully assisting the King of Prussia, the French Minister is artful and intriguing, working through Prince Potemkin and the whole tribe of satellites which surrounded the Empress, whom he calls “barber apprentices of Paris.” He then unfolds his own policy of winning the favor of the Empress for England by giving her the island of Minorca as a present. His idea had been adopted by the British Foreign Office and he writes, “Nothing could be more perfectly calculated to the meridian of this Court than the judicious instructions I received on this occasion.” He decided,—hand in hand with the proposed cession of Minorca,—to designate the Empress as a friendly mediatrix between England and Holland; he says: “I knew, indeed, she was unequal to the task but I knew too how greatly her vanity would be flattered by this distinction.” Farther on he reports how, gradually, after several British Ministers had incurred the ill humor of Catherine, Fox and the present Minister of Foreign Affairs have finally found favor and smoothed the road for Sir James. He hopes that all these great efforts and sacrifices may result in “lighting the strong glow of friendship in Her Imperial Majesty in favor of England.” At this distance a slim result of so44 much effort. The characterization of Catherine with which he closes, few historians would now accept.A

A “With very bright parts, an elevated mind, an uncommon sagacity, she wants judgment, precision of ideas, reflection, and l’esprit de combinaison.”

American diplomats had their first taste of European diplomatic methods in 1797, when Pinckney, Gerry and Marshall were sent to France on their special mission. Every attempt at delay and mystification was practised on them. After various secret agents had tried the patience of the Americans and had finally come out with the plain demand of Talleyrand for a million francs as the price for peace and good relations, they resolutely turned their back on Paris. Meanwhile Pitt was seriously considering buying peace on similar terms.

The convulsions of the French revolution and the Napoleonic conquests did not seem materially to affect the principles and practices of diplomacy. When the Congress of Vienna met to rearrange the state of Europe, it was guided by men who still looked upon diplomacy entirely in the manner of the 18th century, when, in the words of Horace Walpole, “it was the mode of the times to pay by one favor for receiving another.” The idea of restoring the balance of Europe or patching up the rents and cracks in the old system which had been so severely shaken was the purpose which animated these men. They viewed everything from the dynastic interests of their respective rulers and traded off lesser kingdoms and slices of territory with the same spirit of the gamester that has always characterized the absolutist diplomacy.

Of the three master minds of the Congress of Vienna, Talleyrand, Metternich and Pozzo di46 Borgo, it may indeed be said that they illustrated both the qualities and the vices of the old diplomacy in a superlative degree. The last named has characterized Talleyrand as “a man who is unlike any other. He wheedles, he arranges, he intrigues, he governs in a hundred different manners every day. His interest in others is proportioned to the need which he has of them at the moment. Even his civilities are luxurious loans which it is necessary to repay before the end of the day.” Talleyrand, himself, has said: “Two things I forbid—too much zeal and too absolute devotion—they compromise both persons and affairs.” He did not, indeed, betray his great master Napoleon, he only quitted him in time.

Metternich, who resembled Talleyrand in the complete self-control of a passionless diplomat, had a long and brilliant, but essentially sterile, career. His correspondence shows a keen and luminous spirit with a great mastery of detail, and capacity for manipulating the human pawns; but there is no deep insight, no real constructive policy. Indeed, he supported Alexander I in his efforts for a Holy Alliance or sacred league among nations, but it was conceived in such a form that it would not have interfered with the47 traditional game of diplomacy. Metternich indeed often pays his compliments to the ideal, as when he praises the league as resting on the same basis as the great Christian society of man, namely, the precept of the Book of Books, “Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.” But the details of his policy were governed entirely by the barren principles of balance of power and legitimacy, and showed an utter disregard for the natural and ethnic facts underlying government. Metternich indeed himself at times realized the vanity of political intrigue, as when he wrote to his daughter from Paris in 1815, “This specific weight of the masses will always be the same, while we, poor creatures, who think ourselves so important, live only to make a little show by our perpetual motion, by our dabbling in the mud or in the shifting sand.”

When Alexander himself left the realm of vague ideals and descended to details, his impulses often took a form somewhat like the proposal made to Castlereagh at Vienna, “We are going to do a beautiful and grand thing. We are going to raise up Poland by giving her as king one of my brothers or the husband of my sister.” The British statesman does not seem to have been immediately carried away with this generous design.


It was consistent with the character and temper of the Congress of Vienna that there flowed in it innumerable currents and counter-currents of intrigue. In January, 1815, the representatives of England, France and Austria agreed upon a secret treaty of alliance, directed against Russia and Prussia. When Napoleon returned from Elba he found this document and showed it to the Russian Minister before tearing it up.

The first half of the nineteenth century was dominated by the principles that had prevailed at Vienna. In the details of diplomatic intercourse, indirection, bribery and deceit continue to prevail although in a less flamboyant fashion than in the eighteenth century. As the principle of nationalism comes more clearly to emerge, the secrecy of diplomatic methods is distinguished from the secrecy of diplomatic policy with increasing condemnation of the latter; a greater sense of responsibility to the nation as a whole begins to show itself, and the traditional resources of diplomacy are no longer quite adequate.

Nevertheless, the diplomatic literature of the age still looks upon diplomacy as essentially a tactical pursuit, conditioned by the continuous enmity of states. The French writer, Garden, in his Traité de diplomatie, gives the following49 elucidation: “Put on this plane, diplomacy becomes like a transcendent manœuvering of which the entire globe is the theater, where states are army corps, where the lines of combat change unceasingly, and where one never knows who is a friend, and who is an enemy. It is a political labyrinth in the midst of which ability alone is capable of moving with ease and without being smothered by detail.”

The memoirs and anecdotal literature of the period afford numerous instances of the persistence of that desire for cleverness in dealing with secrets, which often brings about amusing incidents.

At the time when Frankfort was the capital of the North German Confederation, the Austrian government provided its representative there (Count Rechberg) with duplicate instructions; one to the effect that he must exhaust every energy to maintain the most friendly and mutually helpful relations with Prussia; the other of quite the opposite tenor. The former was to be shown to the Prussians. Unfortunately, at the critical moment the Austrian Minister showed the wrong letter to Bismarck, who guessed the situation; suppressing his amusement as best he could, Bismarck tried to console the embarrassed Austrian50 by promising not to take any advantage of the slip.

A Prussian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Manteuffel) had hired a police agent to sneak into the French Embassy in order to secure some documents there. When he delightedly showed one of the letters secured to General Von Gerlach, the latter said: “I could have written you ten such letters for what this cost you.”

Disraeli, in a letter to his sister, spoke of the Danish Minister at London as his secret agent in the diplomatic corps.

There were also more innocent means of gaining advantages such as are practised in many other branches of human enterprise. For instance, Labouchere relates his discovery, when attaché at Washington, that Secretary Marcy was put in a terrible ill-humor whenever he lost at whist. Upon a hint from Labouchere, the British Minister managed thereafter regularly to lose in his games with Marcy who was immensely pleased at “beating the British at their own game.” Labouchere adds: “Every morning when the terms of the treaty were being discussed we had our revenge and scored a few points for Canada.”

There was all this time an increasing tendency to discount the importance of the traditional arts51 of diplomacy and to believe that a great deal of this carefully nurtured secrecy was merely a trick of the trade. Bismarck expressed himself in the following language on diplomatic literature: “For the most part it is nothing but paper and ink. If you wanted to utilize it for historical purposes, you could not get anything worth having out of it. I believe it is the rule to allow historians to consult the Foreign Office archives at the expiration of thirty years (after the date of despatches). They might be permitted to examine them much sooner, for the despatches and letters, when they contain any information at all, are quite unintelligible to those unacquainted with the persons and relations treated of in them.” In reporting this statement, Labouchere observes: “If all foreign office telegrams were published they would be curious reading.”B He also52 relates how his youthful efforts at secret diplomacy were received by the Foreign Office. He had succeeded at St. Petersburg in being able quite regularly, through the assistance of a laundress, to get from the government printing office loose sheets of confidential minutes of State Council meetings. When Lord John Russell discovered the method in which this interesting information was obtained, he put a stop to the simple intrigue; Labouchere concludes his account of this experience thus: “For what reason, I wonder, did Russell imagine diplomacy was invented?”

B He writes that when “I was an attaché at Stockholm, the present Queen, the Duchess of Ostrogotha, had a baby, and a telegram came from the Foreign Office desiring that Her Majesty’s congratulations should be offered, and that she should be informed how the mother and child were. The Minister was away, so off I went to the Palace to convey the message and to inquire about the health of the pair. A solemn gentleman received me. I informed him of my orders, and requested him to say what I was to reply. ‘Her Royal Highness,’ he replied, ‘is as well as can be expected, but His Royal Highness is suffering a little internally, and it is believed that this is due to the fact of the milk of his nurse having been slightly sour last evening.’ I telegraphed this to the Foreign Office.”

The term “secret diplomacy” is during this period used in a special sense, referring to a secret intrigue on the part of a monarch or minister without the knowledge of those who have the public responsibility in the matter. Earlier monarchs often played their own game without informing their ministers and attempted to keep the threads of foreign intrigue in their own hands. Louis XV did great injury to his country by pursuing this method.

Napoleon III was a great offender in this respect. Not only was his international policy prone to unscrupulous attempts and proposals, but he acted in these matters frequently without informing those who were responsible before the53 country. Most of his secret advances to Bismarck were made entirely on his own responsibility; he did not inform the Foreign Minister, Ollivier, of the fateful instructions to Benedetti to the effect that he should demand of Prussia assurances that no German prince should ever again be suggested for the Spanish throne; his Mexican policy, too, was worked out by himself, in conjunction with the Duc de Morny and Jecker, the banker, rather than with his ministers. The disastrous consequences of the secret diplomacy of Napoleon III will be reverted to later on.

It has also repeatedly happened that envoys have incurred a strong suspicion of playing a political game of their own without the authorization or even the knowledge of their Foreign Minister. While a diplomatic representative in taking such action risks disavowal and dismissal, yet the temptation felt by a strong-willed man who is confident that he knows the local situation and the needs of his country there better than any one else, has often been too powerful to be resisted. When the unauthorized action has been successful in gaining some advantage, it has generally been condoned.C But though the home54 government is at all times able theoretically to disavow unauthorized actions of its foreign representatives, yet the latter through their self-willed acts may have set in motion forces which can no longer be controlled. Very often also doubt and confusion is cast on the real causes of important events and a general feeling of suspicion is thus generated.

C Frequently, indeed, ministers have been encouraged to make certain démarches “on their own account”; if successful, they could be sanctioned after the event. Such is the procedure which Palmerston criticized in a letter to Lord Clarendon (May 22, 1853):

“The Russian Government has always had two strings to its bow—moderate language and disinterested professions at Petersburg and at London; active aggression by its agents on the scene of operations. If the aggressions succeed locally, the Petersburg Government adopts them as a fait accompli which it did not intend, but cannot, in honor, recede from. If the local agents fail, they are disavowed and recalled, and the language previously held is appealed to as a proof that the agents have overstepped their instructions.”

One of the most self-willed of British Ministers was Stratford Canning (Lord Stratford de Redcliffe). It is generally accepted that his personal diplomacy at Constantinople, where he began his diplomatic career in 1808 and where he ended it in 1858 after various intervening missions, was one of the causes which brought on the Crimean war. After reciting that Lord Stratford constantly held private interviews with the Sultan and did his utmost to alarm him, urging him to55 reject accommodation with Russia, and promising him the armed assistance of England, John Bright stated that all this was done without instructions from the home government. Lord Clarendon wrote: “He is bent on war and on playing the first part in settling the great Eastern question.” When the war came on, Lord Granville wrote: “We have generals whom we do not trust, and whom we do not know how to replace. We have an Ambassador at Constantinople, an able man, a cat whom no one cares to bell, whom some think a principal cause of the war, others the cause of some of the calamities which have attended the conduct of the war; and whom we know to have thwarted or neglected many of the objects of his Government.”

Labouchere, who served under Lord Stratford in 1862, wrote afterwards that the despatches of Stratford during the Crimean war could not be recognized as the originals from which Mr. Kinglake drew his material for a narrative of the ambassador’s career.D He thought that Stratford’s great power at Constantinople was due to his long56 stay there which made it necessary for the Turks to remain on good terms with him. Labouchere also claims that Lord Stratford misled his own government by getting the Sultan to publish certain reform decrees which he would send home as evidence of good government, never explaining that such decrees were entirely dead letters.

D Labouchere wrote: “Lord Stratford was one of the most detestable of the human race. He was arrogant, resentful and spiteful. He hated the Emperor Nicholas because he had declined to accept him as Ambassador to Russia and the Crimean war was his revenge. In every way he endeavored to envenom the quarrel and to make war certain.”

The danger and disadvantage of having a diplomat or ruler inject his personal ambitions and dislikes into his diplomacy have, unfortunately, been frequently exemplified. With respect to the causes of the Crimean war, it will be remembered that Napoleon III had a personal grudge against Emperor Nicholas who had addressed him “Sire and Good Friend” instead of “Brother” as is customary among monarchs. Though Napoleon answered him, acknowledging the compliment implied from the fact that one may choose one’s friends but not one’s brothers, yet he never forgot the slight.

Lord Palmerston as Foreign Minister quite openly regarded himself as a power independent not only of Parliament but of the Cabinet itself, and not bound to consult his colleagues provided he could justify himself later before the House of Commons. But when in December, 1851, he had entirely on his own responsibility approved the57 coup d’état by which Napoleon III made himself emperor, Lord John Russell instantly dismissed him and thus vindicated the rule that the Foreign Minister must always pay regard to the joint responsibility of the Cabinet.

In 1861 a select committee of Parliament on the diplomatic service was appointed. It took evidence, among other things, on the existence of “secret diplomacy” in the British service. By this term was understood private correspondence or private action affecting the conduct of public affairs, which did not become part of the record in the ministry. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, the Earl of Clarendon, Lord Cowley, and Lord John Russell, all gave evidence with respect to the conduct of business by private correspondence. They all seemed to agree that private correspondence between the Foreign Minister and the individual representatives abroad was useful and even necessary for supplementing the formal instructions and reports. But they stated their belief that whenever any such private correspondence should begin to affect the actual conduct of public affairs it would certainly get into the record; if, however, it should come to nothing, then it might not be referred to in public despatches.

We have so far been dealing primarily with the methods of diplomacy. During the old régime both the methods and the general policy of diplomatic action were controlled by the secret councils of the monarch and of a few ministers. With the growth of representative government public opinion began to concern itself more directly with foreign affairs. There grew up gradually, although with many relapses and with many breaks of continuity, a consensus that while the methods of diplomatic action might be secret, the general trend of policy should regularly be laid before the representatives of the people who should also be informed of any individual action involving the responsibilities of the nation. When, therefore, in contemplating the history of the last one hundred years, secret diplomacy is spoken of in condemnatory terms, the attempted secrecy of national foreign policy, rather than of methods, is usually thought of. When important engagements are undertaken which involve the nation in59 responsibility to others, particularly for the use of armed forces; when by a series of specific acts a tendency is given to foreign policy which is not avowed to the representatives of the people; then there exists secret diplomacy in a reprehensible sense. A further method of concealment works through a false statement of motives. Often narrowly selfish action has been camouflaged with the avowal of noble aims and high ideals; or there has been fencing for position in order that at the beginning of a war the opprobrium of being the assailant could be thrown on the other party. Undoubtedly sometimes statesmen may persuade themselves of the presence of high motives in matters in which their specific action or that of their successors, working with the same materials, takes on a contrary direction.

At the conclusion of the Crimean war, Lord Palmerston wrote to Lord Clarendon (March 1, 1867) as follows:

“... the alliance of England and France has derived its strength not merely from the military and naval power of the two states, but from the force of the moral principle upon which that union has been founded. Our union has for its foundation resistance to unjust aggression, the defence of the weak against the strong, and the maintenance of the existing balance of power. How, then, could we combine to become60 unprovoked aggressors, to imitate in Africa the partition of Poland by the conquest of Morocco for France, of Tunis and some other state for Sardinia, and of Egypt for England? And, more especially, how could England and France, who have guaranteed the integrity of the Turkish Empire, turn round and wrest Egypt from the Sultan? A coalition for such a purpose would revolt the moral feelings of mankind, and would certainly be fatal to any English Government that was a party to it. Then, as to the balance of power to be maintained by giving us Egypt, but we do not want the burden of governing Egypt, and its possession would not, as a political, military, and naval question, be considered, in this country, as a set-off against the possession of Morocco by France. Let us try to improve all these countries by the general influence of our commerce, but let us all abstain from a crusade of conquest which would call upon us the condemnation of all other civilized nations.”

This program of liberal principles applied to foreign affairs, of high-toned and high-minded diplomacy, one reads with mixed feelings in view of the things which have come thereafter.

In the period between the Crimean and the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon pursued a policy, or a series of policies, which fitly illustrate the worst features of secret diplomacy. In 1858 Napoleon III obtained from Cavour a promise that Savoy and Nice should be ceded to France. These arrangements, made without the knowledge61 or the desire of the French people, involved Napoleon in the war of 1859 and led to a fatal weakening of his position. In 1864 Napoleon secretly suggested to Prussia that she might take Schleswig-Holstein, thus greatly encouraging her to undertake the war of 1864. France at this time was under treaty obligations to Denmark which made such action doubly dishonest. When the war between Austria and Prussia broke out in 1866, Napoleon concluded a secret treaty with Austria which contained a bargain that he would assist Austria to recover Silesia in return for a cession of Venetia to Italy, to compensate the latter for Savoy and thus to eradicate the evil effects of the arrangement of 1858. As this treaty became known, it absolutely alienated Prussia from France. At the same time Napoleon had secretly demanded from Prussia the cession of the Rhenish Palatinate which belonged to Bavaria; this would mean of course that Prussia and France together would first have to take it from Bavaria. Bismarck secretly informed Bavaria of this demand and thus turned her decisively against Napoleon; so that he was enabled to make secret treaties of alliance not only with Bavaria but with Wurtemberg and Baden for their military support in case of war. Napoleon had thus62 managed unwittingly to bring about the coalition of German states which proved disastrous to him in 1870. Had the French government known of these three German treaties, it would probably have avoided war; as it was, France did not know that she would have all Germany against her. In 1866 Napoleon, through Benedetti, submitted to Bismarck a draft treaty according to which, in case the French Emperor should decide to send his troops to enter Belgium, the King of Prussia would grant armed aid to France and support her with all his forces, military and naval, in the face of and against every other power which might in this eventuality declare war. Though this draft treaty, which became known in Great Britain and caused high excitement there, was not adopted in this form, a secret compact was made between France and Prussia in 1867, one article of which stated that Prussia would not object to the annexation of Belgium by France. The fact that both of these powers had signed the treaty of 1839, guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium, aggravates the noxiousness of this conspiracy. Early in 1870 Napoleon was secretly negotiating with Austria with a view to a joint war against North Germany. The negotiations were in progress when the war of 1870 broke out. Probably63 Bismarck was informed of what was going on and was therefore the more anxious to face at once what he considered an inevitable war. As already stated, Napoleon did not communicate to his responsible minister his decision to require of the King of Prussia the absolute assurance that no German prince should ever again be nominated for the throne of Spain. In doing so he put himself in a position where Bismarck could manœuver him into a dilemma from which there seemed no exit except war.

This was done by the famous editing of the Ems dispatch through which, taking advantage of King William’s permission to modify and eliminate, Bismarck gave to the report sent by the king the appearance that nothing further could be said between the king and the French envoy and that therefore the only alternative to the French was retreat or war. This act illustrates one of the most terrible dangers of secret diplomacy in that just at the time when inflammable material is at hand in abundance, one word or phrase may give a decisive turn to developments and force an issue, in a certain direction, without allowing a chance for calm consideration of all that is involved.

Bismarck considered that the unification of64 Germany required a war because only thus could the feeling of unity among the German people, until then divided into numerous small states, be molded into political oneness. But in bringing on the Franco-Prussian war, no matter how inevitable he might consider such a struggle, he was too confident of his ability to play the part of a Providence and to cut short the slow processes of historic development. Therefore, though he attempted to work in the interest of outstanding national factors, his policy was not of a nature to develop that public confidence in the aims of his nation on which alone a statesman can permanently build. His was the diplomacy of authority, often announcing its aims with great frankness, indeed, but always retaining the old method so that the public mind remained often in the dark. His politics directed German development into a dangerous course. He abhorred German disunion, but tried to cure it with means too forceful and artificial. The solutions brought about further problems. The taking of Alsace-Lorraine was the cause of future war. In 1871, Bismarck offered Mulhouse to Switzerland secretly, but the gift was declined. In the years after 1871, Bismarck always threatened Parliament65 with the danger of war whenever he wanted to put anything through.

The Russo-Turkish war of 1878, being in its nature a conflict about the merits of which only vague ideas could be current among the Western nations, produced a whole nest of secret treaties. The treaty of San Stefano itself was kept secret by Russia and Turkey. The British Foreign Secretary in a diplomatic note which was much admired at the time, demanded that the treaty must be submitted to the European powers.

Meanwhile a second secret treaty had been made between Russia and Austria wherein, as is customary in such transactions, “compensations” were distributed out of property belonging to neither of the contracting parties, at the cost of somebody else; it was agreed that Austria should have Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile the British Foreign Office, though it had just declaimed in indignant tones against the secret terms of San Stefano, made an agreement, equally secret, with Russia (May 30, 1878), concerning the points on which Great Britain would insist in the final adjustment. Through the wrongful action of an employee of the Foreign Office this agreement leaked out and a summary of it was66 published on May 31st. When questioned in the House of Lords, the Marquis of Salisbury, who at all times had a well-deserved reputation for sincerity, nevertheless qualified the statement in the Globe as “wholly unauthenticated and not deserving of any confidence on the part of the House of Lords.” The full text of the agreement was published by the Globe on June 14th, and when challenged by Lord Rosebery concerning his dementi, Lord Salisbury calmly stated: “I described it as unauthentic simply because it was so, and because no other adjective actually described it, and I shall be able to state why I so described it.” The explanation which followed was, however, quite lame, and consisted mainly in stating that the document as published did not give a complete view of the situation. The impression produced by these tactics was far from favorable. Lord Granville, with a great deal of justice, wanted to know “where the House of Lords would have been had it not been for the immoral action of the man who gave the secret treaty to the newspaper. They would have had blue books and copies of instructions, protocols and other documents, but they would have been perfectly duped as to the way in which the government had actually proceeded.”


But there followed another, a fourth secret treaty, growing out of the Turkish situation, an agreement between Great Britain and Turkey concluded on June 4th, at Constantinople. As a result of erroneous information having been telegraphed from Constantinople by Mr. Layard, the British envoy, to the effect that in spite of the armistice the Russians were moving on Constantinople, a large war credit was voted in the British House, although against the opposition of the Liberals under Gladstone and Bright. Orders were also given to the Indian Government to send troops to Cyprus. A secret treaty was then concluded in which Great Britain received a protectorate over Cyprus in return for the engagement on her part to protect the Asiatic domains of Turkey. Never was the blood of a nation without its own knowledge and consent risked in a more doubtful adventure than in this famous transaction of Lord Beaconsfield. Gladstone, on July 20th, analyzed the treaty as providing for three things: the occupation and annexation of Cyprus, the defense of Turkey in Asia against any attempt Russia may make (“to go two thousand miles from your own country, alone and single handed, in order to prevent Russia making war at any time upon Turkey in Asia”), and68 responsibility for the government of Turkish territory in Asia; and all that was undertaken without the consent and knowledge of the British people, to be done at their expense by the blood of their children. Mr. Gladstone concluded: “There is but one epithet which I think fully describes a covenant of this kind. I think it is an insane covenant.”

Disraeli had formerly said of Palmerston: “With no domestic policy, he is obliged to divert the attention of the people from the consideration of their own affairs to the distraction of foreign politics. His scheme of conduct is so devoid of all political principle that when forced to appeal to the people, his only claim to their confidence is his name.” The same language could with equal justice have been applied to Beaconsfield himself. His speeches in defense of his foreign policy are usually a superficial appeal to imperialist passion, and deal in such phrases as “What is our duty at this critical moment?” “To maintain the empire of England.” (Loud cheers.) “Empire” is taken for granted as covering everything desirable, but the actual relationship of these adventurous foreign policies to the welfare and true development of the English people is never reasoned out.


While Beaconsfield had opposed the first Afghan war, he readily changed his views when he came into power and began the second war in 1878 on the avowed ground that the Ameer had refused to receive a British mission. But with a sudden change of tactics, at a dinner at the Mansion House on November 9, Lord Beaconsfield solemnly announced that the war had been made because the frontier of India was “a haphazard and not a scientific one.” Yet a little before, when condemning the first Afghan war, he had described the frontiers of India as “a perfect barrier.” He did not give to any organization of public opinion a chance to influence him in this matter, or even to be heard. On December 9, Lord Derby said in the House of Lords: “We are discussing, and we know we are discussing, an issue upon which we have no real or practical influence.”

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the dominating development in the diplomacy of Europe was the actual formation of the two great alliances—the Triple Alliance created by Bismarck, and the Russo-French Alliance which had come into being in 1896 as a counterpoise to the former. The treaties upon which these alliances rested were made secretly; they were part of an authoritative policy based on the theory of balance of power. The texts of the Triple Alliance Treaty were not published until after the beginning of the Great War. The so-called Counter-Insurance Treaty with Russia by which Bismarck attempted to stabilize the situation and isolate France through a mutual neutrality agreement between Russia, Austria and Germany, was one of the most characteristic examples of complicated methods followed by the old diplomacy; it was, of course, also kept secret. When after71 Bismarck’s retirement the German Government did not renew this secret treaty, it made possible a fundamental change in the grouping of powers with the result that Russia, after a very short interval, identified herself with France in the Dual Alliance.

While Bismarck had been in control of German diplomacy, the main lines of German foreign policy were kept quite clear and their general direction was definite, no matter how complicated and indirect were the means frequently applied to carry it out. Emperor William II sought to free himself from the tutelage of the powerful Chancellor, but from then on the orientation of German diplomacy was far from definite. No one could be clear where its main objective lay; it seemed to seek expansion of influence in Asia Minor, the Far East, Morocco, South Africa, and almost everywhere, even with the inclusion of South America. Germany appeared to have many irons in the fire, although meanwhile she did not make much progress in any specific direction. This uncertainty of her diplomatic aims in an increasing manner aroused the apprehension of her neighbors; none of them felt any assurance about what Germany actually wanted. That her actual wants may not have been unreasonable,72 that she herself apparently did not know exactly which of her interests should predominate, did not help matters; all those who had more possessions than she felt themselves endangered, and a general suspicion and lack of confidence resulted.

In the years after the Chino-Japanese war the German Government showed a great desire to play a prominent part in Far Eastern affairs. Thus, it took the lead in bringing about the joint intervention of Russia, France and Germany, which obliged Japan to surrender Port Arthur, a part of the spoils of war just taken from China. The three powers who had thus come to the rescue, however, forthwith proceeded to exact from China an enormous commission for their good offices, and forced her to make to them grants of lease-holds and other concessions, in which was included the very territory that they had rescued from Japan. In this keen onset, which amounted to an attempt to divide up the Chinese Empire, Great Britain in her turn also participated. The Far Eastern situation was rendered decidedly unstable, and the frantic and unorganized resistance of the Boxer levies was the result.

After the settlement of these troubles, in 1901, the German Government, as we now know, tentatively suggested the formation of an alliance73 including Great Britain and Japan. This proposal shows how far German diplomacy at the time had departed from the fundamentals of policy under Bismarck. Japan proceeded most assiduously to work on this suggestion, but Germany was left out when the highly important Anglo-Japanese Alliance was secured by the Japanese Minister in London. Negotiations between Great Britain and Japan were carried on with the greatest secrecy. Lord Lansdowne himself seems at one time to have been very anxious for prompt action; he said to Count Hayashi, as reported by the latter, that “there was great danger in delay, as the news of the proposed treaty might leak out and objections might then be raised.”

It is significant that while Lord Lansdowne and Count Hayashi were in the depth of their negotiations, Marquis Ito, on his return journey from the United States, proceeded to Russia and, entirely in opposition to the express judgment of Count Hayashi, “plunged into conversations on the most delicate of matters” at St. Petersburg. In fact, the Japanese Government allowed almost identical secret negotiations to be carried on in London and St. Petersburg at the same time. Count Hayashi considered this procedure as implying “a lack of faith and a breach of honor.”74 When the Anglo-Japanese treaty had been actually signed it was, through the indiscretion of some official, published in Japan three days too soon. The Japanese Foreign Office promptly denied its existence, and Baron Rosen, the Russian Minister at Tokyo, who no doubt knew of the Ito negotiations at St. Petersburg, very emphatically denied the very possibility of such a treaty. The effect on Russia of the truth when it became known there, can be readily imagined. In the Anglo-Japanese treaty, England, which had recently joined in the solemn guarantee of the integrity of China and of the independence of Korea, made engagements scarcely consistent with either.

Lord Rosebery, in a public address, October, 1905, expressed his sense of the great importance of this treaty. “The treaty,” he said, “is an engine of tremendous power and tremendous liability. Whatever else is certain, this at least is sure, that it will lead to countless animosities, many counter intrigues, and possibly hostile combinations. But I want to point out to you the enormous importance of the engagements in which this treaty involves you, the reactions which it will cause elsewhere, and to bid you to be vigilant and prepared, and not negligent, as75 sometimes you are, of the vast bearings of your foreign policy.”

The German Emperor, having failed to obtain a treaty with England, now turned to his Russian cousin with the design of inducing him to make an alliance. The Willy-Nicky correspondence which was published by the Russian Revolutionary Government in 1917, as well as the memoirs of Isvolsky, give us a complete insight into the action of William II in this matter. The correspondence shows that Emperor William neglected no means of arousing resentment and suspicion of England in the mind of Nicholas, particularly in attempting to show a complicity of England with Japan in the war against Russia. In November, 1904, William proposed the immediate signature by Russia, without the knowledge of France, of a defensive treaty of alliance, evidently directed against Great Britain. France was to be invited to join after the signature by Germany and Russia. The Czar, however, insisted that he could not entertain this proposal without first submitting it to his ally. William, in a long telegram, argued insistently upon the danger of informing France before the signature. He said: “Only the absolute, undeniable knowledge that we are both bound by the treaty to give76 mutual aid to each other, can induce France to exercise pressure upon England to remain tranquil and in peace, for fear of placing France in a dangerous situation. Should France know that a German-Russian agreement is simply in preparation and not yet signed, she would immediately inform England. England and Japan would then forthwith attack Germany.” Therefore, William concluded that if the Czar should persist in refusing to sign the treaty without the previous consent of France, it would be better not to attempt making an agreement at all. He stated that he had spoken only to Prince Buelow about it, and that as undoubtedly the Czar had spoken only to Count Lamsdorff, the foreign minister, it would be easy to keep it an absolute secret. He then congratulated the Czar on having concluded a secret agreement of neutrality with Austria. As a matter of fact, Count Lamsdorff had not been informed by the Czar of the Emperor’s proposal.

In the summer of 1905, Emperor William returned to the charge, taking advantage of the discouragement of the Czar due to many external and internal troubles resulting from the Japanese war. He visited the Czar at the Island Bjorkoe in July, and used every resource of his personal77 influence to prevail on Nicholas. This time he succeeded, and the two sovereigns signed a secret treaty of alliance, which contained four articles to the following effect:

(1) If any European state shall attack either of the empires the allied party engages itself to aid with all its forces on land and sea.

(2) The contracting parties will not conclude a separate peace.

(3) The present agreement comes in force at the moment of conclusion of peace between Russia and Japan, and may be denounced with one year’s notice.

(4) When the treaty has come into force Russia will take the necessary steps to inform France and to propose to her to adhere to it as an ally.

On this occasion the Emperor was accompanied by Von Tschirsky, who soon after became German Foreign Minister and who countersigned the agreement. The Russian Foreign Minister was not present but Admiral Birileff, the Minister of the Navy, was called in to countersign the Czar’s signature. After his return to St. Petersburg, the Czar allowed fifteen days to pass before informing Count Lamsdorff. When informed, the Czar’s advisers took a very strong position against the agreement, with the result that78 notwithstanding the insistent arguments of Emperor William, who in his telegram signed himself “Your friend and ally,” the treaty was never given full force. William strongly appealed to the gratefulness of the Czar for having stood by him during the Japanese war, at a time when, “as afterwards the indiscretions of Delcassé have shown, although allied to Russia, France had nevertheless made an agreement with England to attack Germany without warning, in time of peace.” The latter phrase gives the effect upon William’s mind of all he knew or believed to know about the arrangements concluded between France and Great Britain concerning Morocco.

The Moroccan intrigues and secret negotiations, during the first decade of the twentieth century, contributed in no small measure to rendering international relations strained and generating a general sense of insecurity and suspicion. In July, 1901, a protocol was signed between the Sultan of Morocco and the French Government in which the latter declared its respect for the integrity of Morocco. At the same time M. Delcassé began secret negotiations with Spain for a delimitation of spheres of influence in that country. In September, 1902, the first Franco-Spanish secret treaty concerning Morocco was given its79 final form. It was, however, not ratified because of British opposition at the time. In 1904, the formation of the Anglo-French Entente agreement, in which the French Government declared that it had no intention “of altering the political status of Morocco,” was accompanied by the conclusion of a secret understanding concerning Morocco which was not revealed until 1911. According to the terms of that agreement the British Government was to be informed of any understanding on Morocco which might be concluded between France and Spain. These two countries, in fact, on October 3, 1904, consummated a convention for the partition of Morocco into spheres of influence. A copy of this secret agreement was given to Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Minister, who wrote, in acknowledging it: “I need not say that the confidential character of the Convention entered into by the President of the French Republic and the King of Spain in regard to French and Spanish interests in Morocco is fully recognized by us, and will be duly respected.”

The German Government, which had been ignored, now suggested the holding of an international conference. After considerable opposition the conference met at Algeciras, in February,80 1906. The Powers represented there again solemnly recognized the independence and integrity of Morocco. Meanwhile, various incidents were brought on by the actions of French and Spanish commissaries in Morocco. The French parliament repeatedly reiterated its intention to observe the act of Algeciras, particularly in the declaration of February, 1909, regarding Morocco, in which declaration Germany joined. In 1911, events happened which induced a serious European crisis. The French Government undertook military operations against Fez, the capital of Morocco, on the ground that the foreign colony there was in danger. In reply to questions in the House of Commons, Sir Edward Grey confirmed that such measures were being undertaken by the French Government “for the succor of Europeans in Fez.” He added: “The action taken by France is not intended to alter the political status of Morocco, and His Majesty’s Government cannot see why any objection should be taken to it.”

The facts of the Fez affair have been thus described by the French publicist, Francis de Pressensé:

“At this point the Comité du Maroc and its organs surpassed themselves. They organized a campaign of81 systematic untruth. Masters of almost the entire press, they swamped the public with false news. Fez was represented as threatened by siege or sack. A whole European French Colony was suddenly discovered there, living in anguish. The ultimate fate of the women and children was described in the most moving terms.... At all costs the Europeans—the Sultan, Fez itself must be saved.... As ever from the beginning of this enterprise, the Government knew nothing, willed nothing of itself.”

While these events were happening, the Foreign Offices both in Paris and London failed to give any information concerning the aims which underlay the action taken. On May 23d, Mr. Dillon in the House of Commons asked to what extent England was committed to this “ill-omened and cruel expedition.” The Foreign Secretary replied, “We are not committed at all.” The French Foreign Minister declared at the same time that he had never heard of any treaty with Spain concerning Morocco.

When the international crisis came to a head suddenly in July, 1911, through the disconcerting action of the German Government in sending a war vessel to Agadir, the public was totally taken by surprise and was absolutely in the dark as to the issues and interests involved as well as to the commitments which had been made by the British82 and French foreign offices. The text of the secret treaty between France and Spain had, however, now been secured by the Paris papers Le Temps and Le Matin. This revelation led to party attacks on secret diplomacy in the British House of Commons and in the French Parliament. Baron d’Estournelles de Constant, in February, 1912, said:

... “Why was the French Parliament told only half the truth when it was asked to pass its opinion upon our arrangement with England? Why was it allowed to suspect that this arrangement had as its complement and corrective some secret clauses and other secret treaties? It is this, it is this double game towards Parliament and towards the world which becomes morally an abuse of trust.... Now the whole effort of the arrangement of 1904 appears to-day in its truth and in its vanity. It was a treaty of friendship with England recognizing the freedom of our political action in Morocco and also proclaiming our will to respect the integrity of that country; that was what the public knew and approved. But the public was ignorant that at the same time, by other Treaties and by contradictory clauses hidden from it, the partition of Morocco between Spain and France was prepared, of that Morocco of which we guaranteed the integrity.”

In the House of Commons, Mr. John Dillon charged that “the Foreign Office policy has83 become during the last ten years progressively more secret every year. For ten years the foreign policy of this country has been conducted behind an elaborate screen of secrecy.”

As the commitments of the British Government gradually became more and more known the question arose as to how deeply and extensively Great Britain had been involved in continental affairs. Lord Rosebery, who was uninformed, with the rest of Parliament and the public, as to the actual details, said in a speech at Glasgow in January, 1912:

“This we do know about our foreign policy, that, for good or for evil, we are now embraced in the midst of the Continental system. That I regard as perhaps the gravest fact in the later portion of my life. We are, for good or for evil, involved in a Continental system, the merits of which I do not pretend to judge, because I do not know enough about it, but which, at any rate, may at any time bring us into conflict with armies numbering millions, and our own forces would hardly be counted in such a war as they stand at present.”

Lord Rosebery realized perhaps more fully than most of the leaders of English public life the complications adherent to what had already become public knowledge at the time.


Meanwhile the government, in Parliament, confined itself to plain denials whenever the matter of international undertakings and obligations of a general nature was brought up. The denials could be justified from the point of view that the situation as stated by the uninformed questioner in Parliament, in each case did not exactly correspond to the facts. But the impression created by such denials that no serious obligations had been incurred was, as the result showed, entirely misleading.

On March 8, 1911, Mr. Jowett asked in the House of Commons whether any undertaking, promise or understanding had been given to France that in certain eventualities British troops would be sent to coöperate with the French army. The Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs replied: “The answer is in the negative.” On December 6, 1911, the Prime Minister said:

“As has been stated, there were no secret engagements with France other than those that have now been published, and there are no secret engagements with any foreign Government that entail upon us any obligation to render military or naval assistance to any other Power.”

Upon another occasion Mr. Yerburgh, M.P., inquired:


“May I ask whether or not we are to understand that the Government arrived at no decision upon this particular question? Is the right honorable gentleman not aware that this new definition of the two-Power standard is a question of supreme importance, and that in arriving at our standard of naval strength previous Governments had regard to the power of the fleets of other countries?”

The Prime Minister replied only:

“I think this question shows the inconvenience of dealing with these matters by way of question and answer.”

In December, 1912, Lord Hugh Cecil made the following inquiry:

“There is a very general belief that this country is under an obligation, not a treaty obligation, but an obligation arising out of an assurance given by the Ministry in the course of diplomatic negotiations, to send a very large armed force out of this country to operate in Europe. That is the general belief. It would be very presumptuous of any one who has not access to all the facts in possession of the Government—”

The Prime Minister interrupted him with: “I ought to say that it is not true.” Lord Cecil thereupon expressed his satisfaction for having elicited this explanation, “because,” he stated, “it was certainly widely believed that the87 Government has engaged in a military policy of an adventurous kind and that if such a policy had actually been contemplated by the Government it would involve a very serious consideration of the military resources of the country.” As a matter of fact, the latter was a just conclusion from the actual situation as it really existed, notwithstanding the denial by the Prime Minister.

In March, 1913, when during the discussion of the Navy estimates, the Mediterranean situation came up, Lord Beresford suggested that Mr. Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) must be trusting to France the duty of guarding the Mediterranean. Mr. Churchill had said in the course of these discussions: “In conjunction with the Navy of France, our Mediterranean Fleet would make a combined force superior to all possible combinations.” Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke referred to this as a remarkable statement, and one “somewhat difficult to reconcile with the recent pronouncement of the Prime Minister as to our understanding with France in the matter of armaments.” He added: “In one case we have the Prime Minister repudiating an obligation on our side of any kind, and in the other we have the First Lord of the Admiralty relying for the safety of our Eastern Empire, our trade and our88 food supply, upon the assistance which he presumes will be ready at any moment to be given to us by France.”

On March 24, 1913, Mr. Asquith, Prime Minister, made a comprehensive answer to a question of Sir W. Byles in the following terms:

“As has been repeatedly stated, this country is not under any obligation, not public and known to Parliament, which compels it to take part in a war. In other words, if war arises between European Powers, there are no unpublished agreements which will restrict or hamper the freedom of the Government or Parliament to decide whether or not Great Britain should participate in a war.”

In August, 1913, Lord Haldane made a statement to the effect that the very friendly relationships with France rendered the situation in the Mediterranean most satisfactory. On June 11, 1914, this same general matter was up again for discussion. Sir Edward Grey, in answering a question, referred back to the statement made by Mr. Asquith on March 24, 1913, and added: “It remains as true to-day as it was a year ago.”

The nation was meanwhile left entirely in the dark with respect to the actual matter of the relationships which had developed between Great Britain and France, and it was only after the89 Great War had broken out that Sir Edward Grey, in his speech of August 3, 1914, gave to Parliament some account of what had actually happened.

The first important step in the new international policy of Great Britain was taken immediately after the Liberal Government had been formed on December 12, 1905. It appears that Sir Edward Grey consulted in this matter particularly Mr. Asquith and Lord Haldane, informing the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, but not his other Cabinet colleagues. The above three men were the leaders of the Liberal Imperialist faction, and it is not at all certain that in an aggressive foreign policy they would have been at that moment readily followed by their whole party.

When in consequence of the attempted division of Morocco, relations between France and Germany became somewhat strained, Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Minister, made communications to the French Ambassador to the effect that, while no promises could be given to any Foreign Power, yet in Sir Edward Grey’s opinion, if war was then forced upon France on the question of Morocco, public opinion in England would rally to the material support of France. Sir Edward Grey, as90 related in his own words, said: “I made no promises and I used no threats, but I expressed that opinion.” The accuracy of that opinion has been questioned, in view of the temper of the House of Commons elected at a time when resentment at the imperialist war in South Africa was powerful.

On the basis of the statement made by Sir Edward Grey, the French Government said to the British Foreign Minister, as reported by him:

“If you think it possible that the public opinion of Great Britain might, should a sudden crisis arise, justify you in giving to France the armed support which you cannot promise in advance, you will not be able to give that support, even if you wish it when the time comes, unless some conversations have already taken place between naval and military experts.”

Sir Edward Grey saw merit in this proposal and agreed to it. He authorized that conversations should take place, but with the distinct understanding that nothing which would bind either Government should occur. However, the holding of conversations between two Powers concerning military coöperation is in itself a sufficiently serious matter out of which expectations and relationships are apt to arise that cannot be overlooked in future action. The Cabinet was not informed of the authorization given by Sir91 Edward Grey until later. He did not state how much later.

We know from official sources that Colonel Barnardiston proceeded to Belgium and had interviews with the Chief of the Belgian General Staff concerning combined operations in the event of a German attack directed against Antwerp. Colonel Barnardiston confided to the Belgian Chief of Staff that his Government intended to move the British base of supplies from the French coast to Antwerp as soon as the North Sea had been cleared of all German warships. When the Belgian documents were published in Germany, it was attempted by the press to represent these conversations as an actual convention. These consultations occurred during the first quarter of 1906.

From an official source comes the statement that in July, 1911, the British Government informed the German, that on certain contingencies, Great Britain would support France (if Germany should demand the whole of French-Congo and Agadir as a naval base). What actually happened at this time has never been fully revealed.

In April, 1912, the British military attaché at Brussels informed the Belgian General Jungbluth that Great Britain had 160,000 men available for92 despatch to the continent, and added that the British Government in certain contingencies during recent events would have immediately landed troops on Belgian territory.

About this time the Cabinet had a discussion of the whole situation and of the special relationship with France; and it was decided that there should be some definite expression in writing, of the latter. Accordingly, in November, 1912, an exchange of notes took place between Sir Edward Grey and the French Ambassador. The British Foreign Minister wrote the following letter:

Nov. 22nd (1912).

My dear Ambassador:

“From time to time in recent years the French and British Naval and Military experts have consulted together. It has always been understood that such consultation does not restrict the freedom of either Government to decide at any future time whether or not to assist the other by armed force. We have agreed that consultation between experts is not and ought not to be regarded as an engagement that commits either Government to action in a contingency that has not yet arisen and may never arise. The disposition, for instance, of the French and British fleets respectively at the present moment is not based upon an engagement to coöperate in war. You have, however, pointed out that if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power it might become essential to know whether it could in that event depend93 upon the armed assistance of the other. I agree that if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power, or something that threatened the general peace, it should immediately discuss with the other whether both Governments should act together to prevent aggression and to preserve peace, and, if so, what measures they would be prepared to take in common. If these measures involved action, the plans of the General Staffs would at once be taken into consideration and the Governments would then decide what effect should be given to them.”

A reply from the French Ambassador accepted this understanding.

Side by side with the Anglo-French military and naval collaboration, there went the making of joint plans by France and Russia which culminated in the Franco-Russian military convention of August, 1912. At the same time Russia had pressed upon France the need of increasing her army by raising the term of service to three years. Concerning the new disposal of the French fleet, according to the desires of Russia, President Poincaré stated to Ambassador Isvolsky in November, 1912:

“This decision has been made in agreement with England, and forms the further development and completion of arrangements already made previously between the French and English staffs.”


Thus the chain of coöperation was completed, and England was effectively tied up with the situation in the Balkans, in which only Russia had a primary interest.

Meanwhile, the repeated denials previously set forth kept the British Parliament and public from all knowledge of the exceedingly important relationships which were growing up between the Naval and Military establishments of Great Britain and France.

How these relationships, though only partially known and suspected, were looked upon by outsiders is shown from expressions in the reports of Belgian diplomats. Count de Lalaing wrote from London in 1907: “England is quietly pursuing a policy opposed to Germany and aimed at her isolation.” Baron Greindl wrote from Berlin in 1908: “Call it alliance or what you will, the grouping constitutes, none the less, a diminution of Germany’s security.” Baron Guillaume wrote, in 1911, from Paris: “I have less faith in the desire of Great Britain for peace. She would not be sorry to see the others eat one another up.” These expressions are not, of course, evidences of British policy, but simply of the impression which whatever leaked out concerning that policy, made upon outside diplomats.


In his clear and convincing analysis of the situation created by the gradual formation in secret, of these relationships, Lord Loreburn brings out the following points: Through the communications with the French Ambassador and military and naval conversations concerning plans for joint action, France was encouraged more and more to expect that Great Britain would stand by her in arms if she were attacked by Germany. Such a policy of a defensive understanding with France, no matter how right in itself, was obviously a new departure of tremendous importance. Its execution and effectiveness could be assured only if understood by Parliament as a national policy, with all the risks involved, so that proper preparations could be made. Parliament was, however, never warned of the danger England stood of being thrown suddenly into a European war. Had Germany been told in July, 1914, that Great Britain would support France and Russia, the war would undoubtedly have been prevented; but while the ministers had in fact incurred moral obligations over against France, they had not assured themselves of the necessary Parliamentary support and could therefore not make a statement involving such risk as the above declaration to Germany would have created.


Of Sir Edward Grey’s speech of the 3rd of August, 1914, Lord Loreburn says:

“This remarkable speech began with an elaborate effort to prove that the House of Commons was perfectly free to determine either for peace or war. It ended with a passionate declaration that this country would be disgraced if we did not declare war, and the reasoning of the speech proved that Sir Edward Grey had committed himself irretrievably. It left the House of Commons convinced that it had in honor no choice but to join France in arms. It is an epitome of the reasoning by which Sir Edward Grey had been brought to believe that he could say and do what he said and did without limiting his freedom of action. But if this is legitimate we ought not to keep up the pretense that we are a self-governing nation in foreign affairs.”

Thus a minister, to whom national intrigue and duplicity were essentially foreign, who was trusted by his country and who wanted peace, was brought by the methods of secret diplomacy into a position where he had actually incurred the moral obligation to assist another country without having the power for peace which the ability to avow that relationship openly, to take the responsibility, and to confront Germany therewith, would have given him.

As early as November, 1911, Lord Lansdowne, one of the founders of the Entente, in speaking of the secret agreement of 1904 concerning97 Morocco, which had then just become known to the public, had admitted that in such a case the promise of purely diplomatic support might easily bring on the obligation to assist in other ways; that an entente cordiale creates close relationships between two countries; and that, should one of them get into difficulties without its guilt, it would expect to receive support.

The moral responsibilities in which the Foreign Minister had involved the British Government were not simple, nor did they exist against France alone. Because of the Franco-Russian alliance the relationship established between Great Britain and France virtually involved sharing in the defense of France against the consequences of her alliance with Russia, as the subsequent events showed; any serious situation arising in the Balkans and affecting Russian interests would thereafter involve France, and through her, Great Britain. Accordingly, the effect of this policy was to make the peace of Great Britain depend upon, and to involve it with, the complex struggle for influence in the Balkans.

After Sir Edward Grey’s speech of August 3rd, Mr. T. Edmund Harvey, M.P., said: “I am convinced that this war for the great masses of the countries of Europe is no peoples’ war. It98 is a war that has been made by men in high places, by diplomatists working in secret, by bureaucrats out of touch with the people, by men who are a remnant of an older evil civilization.”

Lord Loreburn sums up his indictment of secret diplomacy in the following language: “Secret diplomacy has undergone its ‘acid test’ in this country. It had every chance. The voice of party was silent. The Foreign Minister was an English gentleman whom the country trusted and admired, who was wholly free from personal enmities of every kind, and who wanted peace. And secret diplomacy utterly failed. It prevented us from finding some alternative for war, and it prevented us from being prepared for war, because secret diplomacy means diplomacy aloof from Parliament.” The issue is here quite clearly stated. Those who see in the methods and spirit of the old diplomacy the chief cause of war, do not hold, on the one hand, that secret diplomacy involves at all times and in all cases unscrupulous plotting. But they believe that the method of dealing with foreign affairs as a mysterious matter, fit to be handled only by the select, and the reliance on a policy of bargains and compensations, with the aim thus artificially to maintain a balance of power, may be blamed for99 this great catastrophe; for they stood in the way of dealing with great public affairs in a sounder manner, that is, with more regard of the actual public interest and of the underlying racial and popular factors.

Those British critics who have attacked this method as practised in their own country before and during the war, do not thereby mean to impute to British statesmen a major share in the responsibility for the war. The high-mindedness and public spirit of the responsible statesmen is recognized by all fair critics, and most of them imply that Great Britain has far less to fear from this system than have nations with less responsible governments and a less sound tradition of statesmanship. They attack the system as a whole as it exists throughout European diplomacy, and as it has been used by the British Government.

From the point of view of historic evidence, and of strict reasoning from cause to effect, a great deal of doubt still remains as to how far secret diplomacy in itself,—that is, the failure to publish to parliament and the people, details of the situation as it developed,—could properly be considered the specific cause of the war; no matter how definite may be our judgment and belief100 that the secrecy and tortuousness of foreign policy are bound to generate an air of uncertainty and suspicion which will so greatly favor militarist intrigues and influence as to render the making of wars far more easy than they would otherwise be, were time and opportunity given to the public to consider the details of a critical situation. Yet it might be difficult to prove by historic evidence, the specific proposition that the war of 1914 was directly due to the fact that the development of international affairs was quite generally kept from the knowledge of the public. Nevertheless, unquestionably the atmosphere of secret diplomacy is a medium exactly suited to the most baneful influences.

Viscount Haldane has made a strong defense of the policy of Sir Edward Grey. He asserts that “the failure of those who had to make the effort to keep the peace, does not show that they would have done better had they discussed delicate details in public.” He continues: “There are topics and conjunctures in the almost daily changing relations between Governments as to which silence is golden. For however proper it may be in point of broad principle that the people should be fully informed of what concerns them vitally, the most important thing is that those to whom101 they have confided their concerns should be given the best chance of success in averting danger to their interests. To have said more in Parliament and on the platform in the years in question, or to have said it otherwise, would have been to run grave risks of more than one sort.” This defense, however, also makes certain assumptions, particularly the underlying one that the war was not to be avoided by any method. It is based on the traditional concept of foreign affairs which considers that it is best to leave them at the discretion of a few initiated and responsible officials. There can be no question that from the highest plane conceivable under the older ideas and norms of diplomacy, the conduct of foreign relations by Sir Edward Grey must be considered as a model of sagacity and caution. But when Lord Cromer describes the secret arrangements concerning Morocco as “a wise measure of preventive diplomacy,” it is not easy to follow him.

If secret diplomacy exhibits its drawbacks even in a country where parliamentary government is so highly developed as in England and where political intelligence and independence of judgment exist, we shall not be surprised at the continuous prevalence of devious methods in diplomacy in countries where the conduct of foreign affairs is considered quite frankly a matter only for the initiated, and where little pretense is made of an appeal to public opinion except in the sense of holding it in subjection by vague general ideas of national danger, necessity, and honor. The main faults of German diplomacy were due to its bureaucratic point of view and its lack of contact with public opinion, both at home and abroad. It was distinctly an expression of the authoritative will of the state, guided by a supposed inner knowledge of its dangers and needs, but without any real effort to strengthen itself through contact with the public mind. The Reichstag was indeed occasionally informed of foreign developments,103 perhaps as frequently as in England, but there was no real mutual influence between the nation and the officials conducting foreign affairs. As has already been pointed out, German diplomacy failed to reassure either the neighbors or the people of Germany; its lack of clear objectives was puzzling and disquieting. It was also hurt by its constant, evident dependence on what should have been only the very last resort—military force. A further disquieting characteristic of German politics was that there seemed to be a cynical approval of certain courses of action which might indeed resemble what some other nations were doing, but which were treated by the latter rather as regrettable necessities. Thus there is, for instance, the conception of Realpolitik, of which Frederick the Great’s statement is an extreme instance: “Before declaring my intentions I consider on the one side the adverse incidents which I must risk; on the other, the good fortune which I might hope; and after thorough consideration of pro and con, I decide for war.”

Coming now to the fateful crisis of 1914, it would appear that at this time a great danger was allowed to grow up without the men in control of the government giving themselves a full account as to the fatal probabilities involved,104 whereas the parliament and the public remained entirely uninformed. Germany had always more or less backed her Austrian ally in the Balkan policy of the latter. Bismarck had indeed been very cautious in this respect, and had been fully aware of the danger inherent in such a policy, of committing Germany through giving Austria too much head. When the Servian question became acute, the heads of the German Government were indeed so reckless in encouraging strong Austrian action as to justify the impression that they desired to push Austria-Hungary into a conflict. It would, however, appear, from a full study of all the data which is now possible, that the Kaiser and Bethmann-Hollweg were quite optimistic in believing that the conflict could be localized and that the solution could be left to Austria and Servia. When it was beginning to become quite clear that Russia would in this instance not stand aside and that therefore France, too, would be thrown into the conflict, the German Chancellor began to make belated efforts to induce Austria to accept the mediation of the Powers on the basis that Belgrade should be occupied to assure compliance with the Servian promises. The Austrian premier, Count Berchtold, however, was not inclined to reverse his engines. He took advantage105 of the encouragement given to Austria in the first place, to persist in an irreconcilable attitude toward Servia. The documentary material which has so far been published, shows that Berchtold insinuated to the Russian and British embassies that he was favorable to mediation; meanwhile, he did not answer the proposals to that effect made from Berlin, but in fact stubbornly pursued his stern policy against Servia. In turning a deaf ear to all proposals of mediation at this time, Berchtold gave the militarists at Berlin and Petrograd the control of the situation.

Berchtold had inherited the Balkan policy of Aehrenthal, who had in 1909 carried out the ambition of laying the two Slavic Provinces, Bosnia and Herzegovina, “at the feet of Emperor Francis Joseph at his Sixtieth Jubilee.” Count Berchtold himself was not considered a man of strong initiative; he vacillated and was undecided upon questions of great moment; he, however, displayed great stubbornness on the fatal point that the “honor” of Austria-Hungary did not permit of any mediation with Servia. Count Forgach, who was his chief adviser, hated Russia and Servia intensely, and it is believed that he was very influential in spurring Count Berchtold to aggressive action. Countess Leutrum106 holds him responsible for the war, “next to Aehrenthal.” The German Ambassador at Vienna, Von Tschirsky, also harbored a great deal of personal resentment against Russia. There would appear to be great reason to doubt whether such efforts as Bethmann-Hollweg made to urge moderation upon Berchtold were strongly emphasized by the personal influence of the German ambassador. Count Czernin states that all of Herr von Tschirsky’s private speeches at this time were attuned to “Now or Never,” and he asserts that the German ambassador declared his opinion to be “that at the present moment Germany was prepared to support our point of view with all her moral and military power, but whether this would prove to be the case in future if we accepted the Serbian rebuff appears to me doubtful.” Count Czernin believes that Tschirsky in particular was firmly persuaded that in the very near future Germany would have to go through a war against France and Russia, and that he considered the year 1914 would be more favorable than a later date. Count Czernin adds: “For this reason, because first of all he did not believe in the fighting capacity of either Russia or France, and secondly, because—and this is a very important point—he was convinced that he could bring the107 Monarchy into this war, while it appeared doubtful to him that the aged and peace-loving Emperor Francis Joseph would draw the sword for Germany on any other occasion where the action would center less round him, he wished to make use of the Servian episode so as to be sure of Austria-Hungary in the decisive struggle. That was his policy, and not Bethmann’s.... I am persuaded, however, that Tschirsky, in behaving as he did, widely overstretched his prescribed sphere of activity. Isvolsky was not the only one of his kind.”

It is not the purpose of this essay to enter into the difficult question of the specific guilt for bringing on the war of 1914. However, in examining the quality and methods of contemporary diplomacy it is not possible to avoid considering some of the phases of this difficult question. The documents and other evidence which have recently been published, make it appear that Bethmann-Hollweg, when the terrible crisis was actually at hand, honestly attempted to bring about a moderation of the course pursued by Austria. The original belief of the German statesman itself could, however, be accounted for, only on one of two alternative reasons, either because of an unbelievable lack of foresight, or the conviction that a threatening attitude would again, as in 1909, be108 successful, and that Russia would not dare to follow up her constantly declared interest in the Servian situation. And if worst should come to worst, “well then,” the German leaders seemed to think, “now will be better than later.” No matter what reasonable occasion German statesmen had during the years leading up to the war to fear a hostile policy on the part of neighboring governments, yet their attitude and action at a critical time shows uppermost in the minds of these statesmen and diplomats, a narrowly tactical, primarily bureaucratic, view of the factors involved. There was always present in the background the notion of the necessity of a preventive war. Those who make the actual decision to begin a war without any immediate provocation making it plainly defensive, who begin it because of contingent dangers in the future, no matter how great, take a very serious responsibility. As has been said, the indicative “Germany made war,” is far more apt to leave a powerful impression in the record of history than the subjunctive, “If Germany had not made war then the others would have done so later on.”

The fact that military action against Servia would probably involve Russia and thus set in motion the complete chain of international forces109 involving Europe in a world war, that is, the futility of the attempt to localize the struggle in Servia, is practically admitted in the statement of the German White Book, issued August 3, 1914, to the following effect: “We were aware of the fact that warlike undertaking against Servia would bring Russia into the war and that therefore our duty as an ally might entangle us likewise. We could, however, not advise our Ally to yield in a manner incompatible with its dignity, nor could we deny our assistance at this difficult moment.”

Austria-Hungary had judged that it would be incompatible with its dignity and honor to submit the Servian matter to arbitration. This illustrates a very characteristic feature of contemporary diplomacy, still adhering to the traditions and prejudices of the past. The term “honor” is one that is not translatable into terms which can be reasoned about. It is in fact a direct descendant of the conception of “honor” during the eighteenth century, in the code of the duelist. Men constantly translate the concepts of their private life into public affairs, and to these men who at Vienna, Petersburg and Berlin, had the destiny of the world in their hands, honor was an indefinable term which could be felt but not110 discussed. In practice, when applied to human affairs of the utmost importance, it cannot be distinguished from the character of the personal duel, in which the conception of justice was entirely subordinate. When it was said that Austria-Hungary found arbitration “beneath its dignity,” there was speaking the mentality of the Feudal junker who considers himself too noble to appeal to a court against a peasant neighbor, but prefers to send his servants to give him a thrashing. The honor of Austria-Hungary is of such a special kind in the mind of these men that it does not suffer arbitration, but sees in war the only possible satisfaction. In this as in many other points, secret diplomacy is a superstition of the past. As late as May, 1916, the Pester Lloyd, a semi-official paper, declared: “Even if the Russian Government had stopt its mobilization, which it had secretly begun notwithstanding all its hypocritical assurances, nevertheless Austria-Hungary would not have gone to any conference but would have insisted without interference from third parties to settle its affairs with Servia in consonance with the future security of Austria-Hungary.” It would appear plain that the Austrian leaders wanted war, but with Servia alone; trusting that the formidable power of their111 great ally would again block outside intervention.

Thus when we look at the men in whose hands at this time such a fateful power of decision was placed, we find them, as the great crisis approaches, themselves stunned by the enormity of the forces about to be unchained, seeking still and hoping for some fortunate escape; yet guided in their specific action, not by a general masterly grasp of the entire situation, such as is ordinarily expected of the diplomatic superman, but just by details happening to be most prominent in their mind, such as the incompatibility of arbitration with the honor of Austria, or the personal judgments and inclinations of individual diplomats. As to a correct estimate of how the forces would work out, as to foresight of determining factors, these men showed no unusual ability; in fact, the guess of the intelligent man on the street would have been as safe as their judgment. They stood on too narrow a base; they believed that Italy would remain neutral, that England would not enter the contest, and later that the United States would never engage in hostilities. When we consider the mental attitude of the controllers of foreign affairs in all countries during this long period of secret manipulations, we can find nothing sacrosanct about the deductions and judgments112 of secret diplomacy; in fact, the lack of contact with public opinion and the deeper forces of life, is everywhere painfully apparent. A Swiss writer has stated: “The World War is the work of a small minority of men in power. Their power rests on the principle of authority, and on the erroneous supposition of wisdom and foresight exceeding the average. The means of maintaining this erroneous supposition is secret diplomacy, which deprives the people of all possibility of insight and control in the most momentous questions. The result of this system is the ruin of Europe.” It is too great a risk to take, to leave in the hands of individual men, no matter how highly gifted personally, the control of such forces and the playing of such chances.

In Russia, the conduct of foreign affairs under the Empire was in the hands of a narrow group of men of special training and experience, but without an element of responsibility to the public at large, except that involved in the general results of diplomatic policy. It is a notable fact that during the nineteenth century only six men held the position of foreign ministers in Russia. This is by far the longest average tenure in any country. Sazonov, who became foreign minister in 1911, further emphasized the esoteric character113 of foreign policy by definitely divorcing it from home affairs. He did not consult with the Council of Ministers, but only with men of his own chosen environment, a select group of a few collaborators. Russian foreign policy was therefore controlled by a very small clique, representing the traditions of secret diplomacy, and playing at a game of chance, though never so shrewdly, with the lives, fortunes and interests of vast populations. In the Balkan states Russian diplomacy had for a long time applied all its arts in order to establish the predominance of Russian influence. The secret alliance between Servia and Bulgaria was nurtured by Russia evidently with the desire of raising a barrier to the eastward expansion of Austrian influence. In 1912, the fear was entertained that the alliance might spend its main efforts against Turkey instead of Austria. At this time a loan was arranged for King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, the funds for which were advanced by the Czar. The Russian Foreign Office was fully informed concerning the Balkan alliance, which commenced the war in 1912 with Russian assent and encouragement. What direction the thoughts of Russian diplomats were taking, is apparent from a remark of Sazonov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Servian Minister,114 on April 29, 1913, reported by the latter as follows:

“Again Sazonov told me that we must work for the future because we would acquire a great deal of territory from Austria. I replied that we would gladly give Bulgaria Monastir (Bitollia) if we could acquire Bosnia and other territory of Austria.”

A Belgian diplomat, in a report written from Berlin in 1913, says that notwithstanding the great Russian influence in the Balkans, Russian diplomacy had vacillated a great deal there since the beginning of the Balkan war; he goes on to say: “In a moment of confidence the French ambassador spoke particularly concerning the influence which M. Isvolsky has maintained, who has a personal desire of revenge against Austria-Hungary, and takes great pains to spoil the game whenever there is any appearance of Austrian success.” (Baron Beyens to the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, March 18, 1913.)

When the great crisis came on, the diplomacy of Russia worked in close connection with the militarists. The irreconcilable stubbornness of Count Berchtold greatly strengthened the hands of the militarists, both in Petersburg and Berlin, and virtually put the decision in their hands. The Russians did their part to bring on the war by115 first ordering mobilization and making that mobilization general almost immediately. The facts concerning this matter have become known. On July 29, 1914, General Janushkevich, the Russian Minister of War, under directions from the Foreign Minister Sazonov, gave the German military attaché his word of honor as a soldier, to the effect that “no general mobilization had taken place, or was desired.” At the very time, he had with him the Czar’s mobilization order. During the night of July 29th, the Czar gave directions to suspend the execution of the order for general mobilization. Generals Janushkevich and Sukhomlinoff, with the approval of M. Sazonov, made the momentous decision to go on with the execution of the order, in disregard of the Czar’s command. It is quite evident that this action made the peaceful settlement of the crisis far more difficult, and gave full control into the hands of the military party in Berlin. As late as July 31, M. Viviani told the German Ambassador at Paris that he was in no way informed of a general mobilization in Russia. The Russian militarists had got away.

While the war lasted, the demands of self-protection required the careful concealment of negotiations and policies from enemy knowledge. But though it is easy to understand the need of secrecy at such a time, yet the spirit displayed in these negotiations had but little in common with the ideals professed in the same breath. Moreover, there was a lack of complete sincerity among the Allies themselves, and particularly was there a concealment from some of them of important facts and agreements affecting their interests. However, the most baneful effect of secret diplomacy during the war is found in the undermining of public confidence in a moral foundation of public action. As Lord Loreburn says: “It was not wholesome that while our people were stimulated to unparalleled exertions by a parade of lofty motives there should be at the same time in existence agreements of this kind, of which no public mention could be made, and from which little has resulted except the right of foreign Powers to117 demand their fulfilment on our part.” That at a time when the people in the vast armies were actually fighting for ideals of freedom and peace, common to humanity, the chief care of responsible statesmen should have been the division of prospective spoils, did certainly not lay solid foundations for peace.

Japan in her action with respect to Shantung and in secretly making the twenty-one demands on China, was first in the attempt to utilize the great struggle for narrowly selfish gain, in this case not entirely at the expense of the enemy but of a neutral and of her allies. Nor did other governments keep themselves free from the temptations of prospective conquest, with the risk of making war interminable and putting the world face to face with revolution, anarchy and famine. As early as February, 1915, the Russian Foreign Minister informed the French and British ambassadors of the territorial acquisitions which Russia desired to make through the war, including a great part of Turkey in Europe and in Asia. The French and British Governments expressed their readiness to agree, provided a number of claims made by France and England were satisfied. Italy entered the war, as is well known, on condition of her claims for territorial annexations118 being satisfied. She agreed to the Russian demands on the same condition.

On March 9, 1916, the Russian Foreign Minister instructed the Russian Ambassador at Paris to the following effect: “It is above all necessary to demand that the Polish Question should be excluded from the subjects of international negotiation, and that all attempts to place Poland’s future under the guarantee and control of the Powers should be prevented.” Thus did the Russian Government attempt secretly to lock the door against any chance of Poland regaining her lost national rights. The entry of Roumania in 1916 led to additional arrangements. These agreements were kept strictly secret and the millions who were laying down their lives in the war had no conception of this intricate web of bargains.

An effort to settle at a time when the Allies were united in their main aim in the furnace heat of the war, questions which might divide them when peace had come in sight, could be understood; and that such agreements should be kept secret during the war, might have been considered a necessity. However, the necessity of war in this case was stretched to cover arrangements which in themselves went diametrically contrary to the publicly professed principles for which the119 war was being fought, and gave rise to the just suspicion that in several cases at least, very specific advantages had been the controlling incentive for entering the war. But these agreements have aroused the greatest resentment because they were in several cases directed against the interests of third parties, and particularly because when the United States was making its enormous and unselfish sacrifices, these treaties were kept from its knowledge. That the American Government should not have been informed of the secret treaties made at the instance of Japan in which American interests were most seriously affected, and that just after these agreements had been concluded the statesmen who had been closely connected with acceding to these arrangements on the part of Great Britain, at the price of the British control of the islands of the South Pacific, came to the United States to stimulate the practical devotion there to the cause of the Allies, is a fact that will unfortunately help to give munition to those who are unfavorable to any real friendly understanding between the two great English-speaking powers. The secret commercial policy pursued by Great Britain during the war is also justly subject to severe criticism as giving food and subsistence to the growth of deep120 suspicion on the part of even the most faithful of friends.

The secret treaties relating to the division of territories in Europe did not come to the knowledge of the public until 1918. At that time they were republished by one or two British papers, but were suppressed by the remainder. The treaties were, however, distributed in innumerable copies by their own governments among the troops of the Central Powers in order to stimulate them to fight in a spirit of self-defense. It is reported from various reliable sources that the Slovenes were the most eager to fight, of any part of the Austrian army, after the Pact of London had become known to them, with its various promises to Italy.

The secret assurances which had been given to Italy in the Compact of London were probably the cause of prolonging the war, with its enormous slaughter, for more than a year. In the Spring of 1917, secret negotiations were pursued between the Emperor of Austria, the President and Premier of France, and the British Prime Minister. The intermediaries in these negotiations were the Bourbon Princes Sixtus and Xavier, brothers of the Empress of Austria. The negotiations were carried on from Switzerland121 with a confidential envoy of the Emperor of Austria. Only the Emperor, the Empress and the Duchess of Parma were in the secret. Count Czernin, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs at this time, at first knew only of the general fact, not of the details. A note of Count Czernin, with a secret personal note written by the Emperor, were brought to Prince Xavier and taken by him to Paris. The proposals in Count Czernin’s note related to the restoration and indemnification of Belgium, and the German renunciation of Alsace-Lorraine, which “Austria-Hungary naturally would not oppose.” Count Czernin stated that Austria-Hungary could not make a separate peace; that it had no idea of crushing Servia, but needed guarantees against such affairs as led to the murder at Sarajevo; that Austria-Hungary had no desire of crushing Roumania, etc. The secret addenda made by the Emperor, without the knowledge of Count Czernin, stated: “We will support France and exercise pressure on Germany with all means [in connection with Alsace-Lorraine]. We are absolutely not in Germany’s hands; it was against Germany’s will that we did not break with America.”

When President Poincaré received the Prince’s122 report he stated that the secret note afforded a basis for discussion, that he would communicate the two notes, with arrangements of absolute secrecy, to the Premier, and inform the Czar by personal letter, as well as the King of England, and Mr. Lloyd George, “who is a discrete man.” But the President thought that Italy would be the stumbling block. After this interview the Princes proceeded to Vienna for a personal interview with the Emperor, which took place on the night of March 23rd. The Emperor discussed the whole situation, saying that Servia was naturally the friend of Austria, and that all that Austria needed was the suppression of revolutionary propaganda there. He stated that one of the Entente Powers was secretly conversing with Bulgaria; Bulgaria does not know that the secret has leaked out. “It has not much importance, because all these dreams of empire of the East will have to end in the status quo, or very nearly that.” Count Czernin later joined in the conversation, which is described as “rather glacial.” He expressed his belief that peace must be made at any price, and that it might be necessary for Austria to secure a divorce from Germany because the latter would never abandon Alsace-Lorraine. After a second visit, the Emperor123 gave Prince Xavier an autographed letter, enjoining absolute secrecy because “an indiscretion would force him to send troops to the French front.” The autographed letter of Emperor Charles, dated March 24th, contains the following proposals: That he will support the just French claims to Alsace-Lorraine by all means, using all his personal influence with his allies; Belgium and Servia are to be restored to full sovereignty; Belgium is to secure indemnities for her losses; and Servia is to have access to the Adriatic Sea. On the basis of this letter, discussions took place among the men concerned in France and in England. But Italy remained the obstacle.

Another trip was taken by Prince Xavier to Vienna, where he met the Emperor on May 8th. The question now was, What compensations should Austria receive for ceding its territory to Italy in accordance with the Pact of London? Count Czernin joined the meeting and on the following day prepared a memorandum, which was based upon the principle, “Austria-Hungary can cede no territory without compensation; but if the territorial question is arranged, then a separate peace with the Entente might be concluded.” When the matter was taken up again at Paris, the Italian difficulty remained. M. Ribot strongly124 adhered to the idea that without Italy, no result could be had. Meanwhile, the unsuccessful Italian offensive of July, 1917, had supervened, and the war had to go on for another sixteen months, although the acceptance of the proposals of the Emperor would undoubtedly have brought it to an early end.

Count Czernin has given in his book, In the World War, an unimpassioned and coldly-balanced view of the diplomacy of the time. He does not relate the details of the secret negotiations of 1917, but he evidently did not approve of the manner in which they were carried out because their effect was to suggest to the Entente a willingness of Austria-Hungary to separate from her allies, without strengthening her position in any way. In a letter written to Count Tisza in the summer of 1917, Czernin said: “It is possible to turn and steer the Entente course if thought feasible; but then courage would be needed to make the turn fully. Nothing is more stupid than trifling with treachery and not carrying it out; we should lose all ground in Berlin and gain nothing either in London or Paris.”

The policy pursued by Japan throughout the war made use of all the devices of secret diplomacy for the attainment of ends narrowly125 national. After having possessed herself of Tsing-tau, with a marked cold-shouldering of her British allies, Japan set about an attempt to arrange things in China so that no effective resistance might be offered there to Japan’s expansionist desires. In January, 1915, the Japanese minister in an interview with the President of China, after enjoining the strictest secrecy on the pain of most disagreeable consequences, proposed the famous twenty-one demands. That it should have been attempted to dispose of matters so fundamentally important, involving the national rights of a population of 350,000,000 people, through demands secretly forced upon a President, at a time when the national representative body did not function,—that is one of the startling facts of modern history. Strange as it may seem, the Japanese Foreign Office had apparently persuaded itself that secrecy could be maintained in a matter of such transcendent importance. For when contrary to that expectation and in accordance with nature and with the salutary fact that, after all, such tremendous issues can not be thus secretly disposed of, the facts of the case began to leak out, categorical denials were made by the Japanese Foreign Office and by various embassies. In this case, those who had the right to126 object to the disposal of important interests in which they themselves had a share, were not mere neutrals or outsiders but the allies of Japan, engaged in a life and death struggle at the time. As the twenty-one demands aimed at the establishment of a predominant position in China through control of finance and armament, every other nation there interested would have been adversely affected by the proposed arrangement. The Chinese, though isolated, would not immediately yield to the threatening attitude of their neighbor and the negotiations were strung out over months. Though they were assiduously kept secret, the nature of the transaction in general and in detail became quite well known outside, so that the results could not be kept hidden; yet the whole procedure constituted an affirmation that it was proper to deal with the destinies of a people in a secret council chamber, where the demandant backed by strong military forces, confronted the first official of a vast, peaceful but unmilitant nation, which would never in the world agree to such procedure and the resultant undertakings. Japan did indeed get certain concessions, but at the cost of making her diplomacy and policy universally suspected on account of the methods which had been used.


The policy of Japan at the time did not look with favor upon China associating herself with the Allies. Démarches which were made to bring about the entry of China into the alliance were negatived by Japan. This in itself might have been based on sound reasons, yet the real inwardness of this policy was revealed at the time when the United States had broken off relations with Germany and when the Chinese Government in the days immediately thereafter was considering whether to follow the example of the United States. From a report of the Russian Ambassador at Tokio concerning an interview with the Foreign Minister of Japan, which took place on February 10, 1917, we learn that the Minister for Foreign Affairs alluded to a rumor that an attempt might be made to induce China to join the Allies to the extent of breaking off relations with Germany. The Foreign Minister said in effect: “It would be unwise and dangerous to attempt to bring China to the side of the Allies unless we can be sure that it can be carried through. This is, however, doubtful. Yet the Japanese Government is willing to undertake the task of inducing China to take the step. But before making any such proposal, the Japanese Government desires to be informed as to the attitude128 of the Russian Government in the matter of Shantung and the Pacific Islands. Will the Russian Government support Japan at the Peace Conference in these matters?” The Russian ambassador was requested to get the opinion of his government on this point. In other words, in return for a commission paid largely by China herself, the Japanese Government was ready to permit that China should join the Allies in the Great War. It was assumed by the Foreign Minister that Japan’s persuasion should be necessary to induce China to take this step; but in fact, at the very time when this conversation between the minister and ambassador was going on, the Cabinet of China was in the all-day session from which resulted the decision to follow the United States in breaking off relations with Germany. This step was taken without compulsion, urgency or the promise of advantages, upon a careful consideration of the underlying conditions and equities, without assurances of gain, merely in the expectation of fair treatment as an ally and associate.

The world has not yet recovered from the surprise and disillusionment which overcame it when the secret treaties of the war became known and when it became evident that they would be made the basis of the Treaty of Peace. The secrecy of the procedure of the Peace Conference—which had been heralded as an assembly of the peoples for carrying out and making permanent those great principles for which men had grimly and silently suffered and died and which had been eloquently voiced by the American President—seemed to be so complete a return to the old methods of diplomacy that from the day when the muzzle was clamped on, public faith in the conference and its results was shaken. The motives of the men who made this decision were probably good. It was their desire that the work should be rapidly accomplished and should not be confused by divided counsels. But again the results of the secret method are hardly apt to increase confidence in its usefulness as a procedure for130 dealing with the affairs of the peoples of the world in such a manner as to place them upon a sound and lasting foundation.

The solemn document which was prepared for the information of the newspaper men on the decision of the peace conference to enforce secrecy, did not satisfy any one. To the public there seemed to be no larger principle at issue than that, on this occasion if ever, open covenants should be openly arrived at, and it was feared that if the peace conference did not base its action upon an appeal to public opinion, no adequate solution could be found at all. When the treaty itself had been framed, it was sedulously kept secret until distributed by the French paper Bonsoir. The deliberations of the Council of Five were secret beyond all precedents in public action. No secretaries were admitted and no official minutes were kept, nor were there communications to the public through the press. Doctor Dillon’s description of the Five as “a gang of benevolent conspirators, ignoring history and expertship, shutting themselves up in a room and talking disconnectedly,” unfortunately appears not entirely untrue; particularly as to the ignoring of history and expertship, which was quite patent, although from the nature of things we131 cannot exactly know how disconnectedly the Five talked.

Unfortunately, after the war the use of secret diplomatic policy has continued without noticeable diminution. The details of certain situations make one feel as if we are after all only a generation removed from the eighteenth century. These matters are so recent and still so controversial that I do not desire to enter upon them in any detail.

It is, however, surely to be regretted, that it should have been found necessary to surround the mandates with peculiar secrecy. This institution was conceived in a desire to create a trusteeship in behalf of the world in general and for the particular benefit of the populations comprised in the mandates. Not only has the assignment of certain mandates given rise to great popular resistance indicating that the local populations were far from ready to trust their interests to a foreign mandatory, but the fact that these arrangements are so carefully guarded with secrecy comes near to destroying all hope that there is any intention to handle them otherwise than from the imperialist point of view and for the benefit of the mandatory.

Among the many things that have happened132 since the armistice, the Franco-Hungarian intrigues are specially to be noted as emphasizing the great danger of secret methods, in which a government runs the risk of being committed by persons, irresponsible or not properly controlled, into embarrassing and harmful situations. We know of these particular facts through confidential reports discovered and published, officially recognized by certain governments, though formally denied by the Magyar Cabinet. These papers give working details of what was already known in general terms concerning reactionary Hungarian intrigues in Czecho-Slovakia and Austria, including preparations for an armed uprising, and other assistance to monarchists. French interests were at the same time active in Hungary. They made an agreement for a leasing of the Hungarian state railways for fifty years. According to this contract, the Hungarian Government is bound to consult the diplomatic representative of the French Government concerning every measure which may have a bearing on any clause of the agreement. A political compact was simultaneously initialed in which the French Government withdrew its opposition to universal military service in Hungary, and that country was to be assisted in boundary rectifications at the133 expense of Czecho-Slovakia and Roumania. A third agreement provided for the sending of a Hungarian army against Soviet Russia under French command. These agreements were undoubtedly accepted by many people as fully concluded. The Magyar Premier in open session of the national assembly boasted of having achieved an alliance with France; the same understanding was also accepted by certain Paris newspapers. The French Government, however, did not sanction what secret negotiators had prepared in Hungary and disavowed the agreements, with the exception of the lease of the Hungarian railways. This illustrates how in times of unsettlement and sharp national rivalry, representatives on the spot or agents of powerful interests in close touch with the home government may by secret means try to bring about arrangements which the conscience of their nation does not approve and which serve merely to generate suspicion and distrust.

There is reason to believe that the draft of a secret treaty between France and Yugo-Slavia which was published in 1920 by the Idea Nazionale was at the time actually being considered by the two governments concerned. One of the points of the proposed treaty was that upon the declaration of war between France and any Mediterranean134 power, Yugo-Slavic troops would be massed along the hostile boundary according to previously determined plans. In connection with this provision the representatives of France made the following suggestion: “In case of a conflict it would be better that the Yugo-Slavic troops, instead of massing on the hostile frontier, should rather provoke a ‘Casus Belli’ on the part of the nation at war with France. Otherwise their intervention might bring on the interference of other powers.” The proposed arrangements, even though not adopted by the two governments, nevertheless illustrate the methods acceptable to secret diplomacy, but which open public opinion would never sanction.

Whatever we may think about the exact share of the blame for having brought on the great catastrophe which should be attributed to secret methods and policies, we cannot have any doubts about their influence since the armistice. Whether or not secret diplomacy brought on the war, it certainly has not ended it. War still exists, not only when actual hostilities are going on, but in the whole temper of international affairs—continuing enmity, continuing armaments, unending waste of human effort. Thus, for one thing, the entire Near Eastern situation remains unsettled.135 As an expert on this troubled region has said: “The principle of settlement as revealed by these treaties is fundamentally wrong. The East must be resuscitated, not exploited.” But be it East or West, there is the same return to the old game of balancing off gains and changing boundaries, without consideration of the rights of the respective peoples. The costly mistakes of the Congresses of Vienna, Paris, and Berlin are being repeated.

Our historical survey of diplomatic policy and practice does not hold much assurance that the evils of secret diplomacy have very appreciably waned since the eighteenth century. The cruder methods of deception and corruption which were at that time employed would indeed now be considered beneath the dignity of diplomats; although it is unhappily true that some of the most despicable tricks, such as stealing correspondence and placing informers in houses to be watched, are still practised occasionally. However, it may be said that while in general the trade-secrets of diplomacy have lost greatly in prestige, the spirit of diplomatic action itself has not yet been brought into accord with democratic ideals.

A secret service attached to the diplomatic establishment is still considered useful by some governments. It is, however, certainly very doubtful whether the results thus obtained in the nature of accurate information, are at all commensurate to the expense and to the constant danger of being137 misinformed through secret agents who think that they must earn their pay. My own observation leads me to believe that people who use secret service information are frequently confused and worried by an abundance of unauthenticated reports brought to them; they would have been far better off without backstairs information, relying on the fundamental facts and on knowledge which can be obtained only by seeking the confidence of the men who control public action. Secret service gossip may often give the key to the aims and desires of an individual person, and if one is willing to appeal to motives through corrupt and deceitful means, the information may be actually useful. However, he whose policy rests upon an essential reasonableness and mutual benefit, can afford to disregard such gossip.

We might distinguish between a secrecy which is vicious in itself, and one that pursues beneficent objects. The former seeks to conceal the presence of harmful motives and projects, to confuse and mislead people to their disadvantage, and in general, to play on weakness and ignorance. The other keeps secret its plans and negotiations which in themselves have honest motives, from a desire to prevent interference with their prompt and complete realization. Opinions as to the character138 of a policy may differ widely and those who secretly advance a policy generally condemned by many, may perhaps claim credit for honest purposes. This type of secrecy is common. Unfortunately, though it may advance a good object, it incidentally has an evil influence upon public confidence. It must be confessed that the distinction here pointed out is difficult to apply in practice in a thoroughly objective manner, because there are probably among diplomats very few indeed who do not persuade themselves at least that the means applied by them are designed to achieve useful purposes.

A good example of how stratagem may be used for a laudable purpose is found in the action of William J. Buchanan, American Minister to Argentina, in adjusting the Chili-Argentinian boundary dispute. Buchanan, one of the most original of American diplomats, had nothing whatever of the suave manipulator of the old school of diplomacy. He was direct to the verge of bruskness, yet his ability to go straight to the essential point, and his mastery and bigness, made him highly successful as a negotiator. In this particular case, Buchanan had been designated, together with a Chilian and an Argentinian representative, on a commission to settle boundary questions and139 requested to make a preliminary report. He agreed to act only on the following conditions: That because of the complexity and difficulty of the questions involved, it would be necessary to report on the suggested boundary by sections, that each section should be voted upon as reported by him, and that a majority vote on each section should be decisive. This proposal was accepted. After a careful investigation, Buchanan made his report, and it was found that on each section the suggested boundary was carried by two votes against one; the American always voted in the affirmative; the Chilian and Argentinian, as in the particular section the allotments seemed favorable or unfavorable to their respective country. In accordance with the terms agreed upon, the entire report had thus to be accepted, and all the thorny problems of long-standing boundary controversies were settled. Had Buchanan not used this stratagem it is very unlikely that the report as a whole would have been accepted, as each of his associates would have felt that he could not vote for a report containing arrangements for giving up specific tracts of territory which his country had hitherto always insisted upon retaining. By this clever arrangement Buchanan made it possible for them to vote against such relinquishment in140 each case without defeating the project as a whole; but if he had revealed to them his plan at the beginning, the object could not have been achieved.

This incident illustrates that a complete solution will often be accepted as satisfactory although it may contain details which, by themselves, would have been resisted to the last. It may be said that the disadvantage of public discussion lies in the emphasizing of such points of opposition, and the obscuring of the general reasonableness of a solution.

Mr. Balfour in his defense of the secrecy of diplomatic intercourse, says that the work of diplomacy is exactly similar to the work which is done every day between two great business firms. He then argues that, in all such relationships, it is unwise to air difficulties in public. Bismarck used the more homely illustration of a horse trade, the participants in which should not be expected to tell each other all they know about the prospective bargain. That view is putting diplomacy on a rather lowly footing. One might expect a somewhat different temper among men dealing with momentous public affairs than the bluff-and-haggle of a petty private transaction. Yet such tactics have actually been found useful in diplomacy.141 Mr. Balfour is on sounder ground when he says, “In private, in conversations which need not go beyond the walls of the room in which you are, both parties may put their case as strongly as they like and no soreness remains,” but “directly a controversy becomes public, all that fair give-and-take becomes difficult or impossible.” This, of course, implies a somewhat low estimate of public intelligence and self-control, of which more later.

The greatest vice of a secret diplomatic policy, working in the dark and concealing international undertakings, lies in the inevitable generating of mutual suspicion and the total destruction of public confidence among the different countries which compose the family of nations. No nation is so bad as imagination, confused and poisoned by secrecy and by the suggestion of dire plottings, would paint it. Agreements and understandings which do not exist at all are imagined, the nature of those which actually have been made is misjudged, and animosities are exaggerated; thus the public is quite naturally put in that mood of suspicion and excitement which renders it incapable of judging calmly when apparently startling facts suddenly emerge.

Secret diplomacy destroys public confidence,142 however, in a still more insidious manner: by the practice of using a language of ideal aims and humanitarian professions in order to conceal and veil the most narrowly selfish, unjust and unconscionable actions. The conventional language of diplomacy still carries in it many of the phrases and concepts instilled by the false idealism of the eighteenth century, to which at that time diplomacy gave lip worship. The most disconcerting performances of this kind are the profuse and reiterated declarations promising the maintenance of the sovereignty, independence and integrity of certain countries, when in fact the action really taken was quite to the contrary effect.

The diplomacy of Japan has manifested peculiar expertship in the use of phrases that are associated with some wise public dispensation or arrangement and which have a calming effect—to cover action not remotely in fact contributing to such beneficent providences. The sovereignty, integrity and independence of a neighboring country are guaranteed in solemn terms at the very moment when force, intrigue and every tricky artifice are secretly employed to destroy them. “Strong popular demand” is alleged as a reason for harsh action abroad, in a country where the expressions of public opinions as well as policy143 itself are controlled by a narrow group, with absolutist authority. There is so much talk of “frank discussion” that every one is put on his guard as soon as the word “frank” is uttered.

The “peace of Asia,” a “Monroe Doctrine for Asia,” the “Open Door,” “greatest frankness,” “hearty coöperation with other powers,” are heralded at times when the context of facts makes a strange commentary. But while such a discrepancy is very strident in a country where military absolutism wields control over diplomacy, with a grudging obeisance to representative forms, yet other countries are by no means free from this hypocrisy. What blasted promise of equity in all that succession of declarations concerning Korea, China, Persia, parts of Turkey, and Morocco. What confusion of political ideals in supporting Denikin, Wrangel, and Horthy as defenders of “representative government.”

When Russia and Japan, in response to Secretary Knox’ Manchurian proposal had made their secret arrangements to defeat his policy, Great Britain, though it had made many reassuring protestations at Washington, nevertheless had secretly acquiesced (to cite a Russian diplomatic paper) in the “recognition of our (Russian) sphere of influence in Northern Manchuria,144 Mongolia, and Western China, with the exception of Kashgar, as well as the undertaking not to hinder us in the execution of our plans in these territories, and herself to pursue no aims which we should have to regard as incompatible with our interest.” And it was also stated that Great Britain, in return, was to receive “recognition of her freedom of action and her privileged position in Tibet.” This was in 1912.

Thus were the solemn declarations relating to the Open Door and the integrity of China applied in action.

Subsequent departure from the letter and spirit of such declarations may indeed sometimes be excused on account of changed circumstances; but frequently it is quite apparent to those who know what is going on, that such well-sounding declarations are made for public consumption, at the very time when the contrary action is taken secretly.

This is indeed nothing less than a crime against the public opinion and conscience of the world, which cannot be condemned in terms too strong. It shows a thorough contempt of the people, who are supposed to be either of so little intelligence or of so short a memory that such vain professions may succeed in veiling the true inwardness145 of political intrigue. This practice tends to engender thorough confusion in the public mind as to standards of right and justice in international affairs; it shakes the basis on which alone sound international relations can grow up; as, indeed, all social relations must rest upon confidence in an underlying justice and equity.

Closely allied to the practice of making public declarations in international affairs which do not correspond with the specific action taken, is the control of the press and the censure of news. This is indeed a matter which transcends the subject of diplomacy, because a system of press control and censure is often applied by other departments of the government than the diplomatic branch. As far as foreign affairs are concerned, it is used in an effort to support foreign policy, and it therefore shares the same defects which inhere in the old diplomacy. Like secret diplomatic control, it is accounted for on the assumption that the people cannot be trusted with the entire truth, and that carefully selected portions of the truth have to be put forth in order to make them ready to support the policy considered necessary by the leaders. This involves the assumption of an enormous responsibility by a few leaders in determining by themselves what the public interest146 requires and instead of relying on the strength naturally to be gained from a spontaneous public opinion, to attempt to fashion that opinion for specific purposes. Press control and censure, with the incomplete and warped information which it implies, is one of the evil accompaniments considered necessary in the conduct of a war, for the safety of the combatant nation. The principle that strategic information must be kept secret is extended, at such times, out of all reason. After hostilities have actually been concluded, this practice tends to subsist and to continue the evils of misinformation and confusion in the public judgment. The manner in which all news emanating from the Balkan and Near Eastern countries has been censured since the war, has made it impossible for the public of the world to form a just conception as to what is there going on. Control of the press and censorship likewise resulted in such confusion in the public mind concerning the problems of Russia, that there remained no reliable basis for a policy which would facilitate the restoration of more normal conditions there, in a sympathetic spirit with the struggles and difficulties of the Russian people.

On account of the natural fact that men are147 apt to be influenced in their action unconsciously through persons with whom they have constant associations, it is a matter of no mean importance that the armament interests should have been so strongly represented in many capitals by men of high professional and social standing, always on the ground, eager to advance the business in military supplies. In many capitals, very close relationships have grown up between the diplomatic officers and the representatives of the great armament firms. As a mutual apprehension of excessive preparation for war greatly stimulates these industries, it is not surprising that their representatives do not exert themselves to prevent occasional war scares. In fact, highly misleading information on war plans has often been given out, as in the case of a representative of the Coventry Ordnance Works, who in 1909 informed the British Government of excessive shipbuilding by Germany. The news was later found to be erroneous; but new orders had been given in Great Britain, and through action and reaction armaments were stimulated elsewhere. The close connection of the Krupp Iron Works with the German Government and with associations favoring aggressive foreign action is well known.


It has often happened that what represents itself to be a national interest and enlists diplomatic and political support in that way, is really only the enterprise of individuals to make profits. The men who support it with their best energies and talents are not villains, but their method of assuming a great national interest where only a tradition, a prejudice or a private plan of profit are involved, renders their doings far from beneficial to the commonweal. Similarly, those who operate on the principle that the public mind must be nourished with certain carefully selected facts and kept from the knowledge of others, may have honest motives, but their ideas of public action are obsolete or deserve to be so, as they are left over from the absolutist régime in politics.

In considering the relation of legislative bodies, and of the public opinion therein represented, to the conduct of foreign affairs, it will be useful to glance briefly at the relevant historical facts. When the United Colonies of America formed a separate political organization from the mother country, the conduct of foreign affairs was entrusted to a committee of Congress, a successor to the Committee of Secret Correspondence. In 1781 a Secretaryship for Foreign Affairs, with a permanent department, was created and in 1782 the conduct of foreign affairs was regulated in the following terms:

“All letters to sovereign powers, letters of credence, plans of treaties, conventions, manifestoes, instructions, passports, safe conducts, and other acts of Congress relative to the department of foreign affairs, when the substance thereof shall have been previously agreed to in Congress, shall be reduced to form in the office of foreign affairs, and submitted to the opinion of Congress, and when passed, signed and attested, sent to the150 office of foreign affairs to be countersigned and forwarded.”

Congress therefore retained a very close control over this matter; a control which under the Constitution passed to the Senate, though in a restricted form. In no other country did a legislative committee participate in the conduct of foreign affairs with similar power and influence. The policy of the arrangements under the Constitution is explained by John Jay in the Federalist as follows:

“It seldom happens in the negotiation of treaties, of whatever nature, but that perfect secrecy and immediate despatch are sometime requisite. There are cases where the most useful intelligency may be obtained, if the persons possessing it can be relieved from apprehensions of discovery. Those apprehensions will operate on those persons whether they are actuated by mercenary or friendly motives; and there doubtless are many of both descriptions, who would rely on the secrecy of the President, but who would not confide in that of the Senate, and still less in that of a large popular assembly.”

Jay’s explanation is dominated by the conception which the eighteenth century had of the functions of diplomacy and the conditions of its work. The constitutional system as conceived at that time151 implied (1) Full power of negotiation in the President, (2) Taking counsel with the Senate, (3) Formal ratification of treaties by the Senate, and publication thereof as parts of the law of the land. The system has been highly praised by European publicists as reconciling the maintenance of confidential relations with publicity of the results, in that treaties are given the character of laws.

In the course of the nineteenth century there occurred many instances resulting in a growing practice of making special agreements by the Secretary of State alone, without the advice and consent of the Senate. When President Roosevelt in 1905 attempted to deal with the Dominican situation in this manner, the Senate objected and insisted that all international agreements of any kind must be submitted to its action. The system of the United States, however, actually permits of the current conduct of foreign affairs without information to the people or even without constant and complete information to the Senate which is, moreover, usually preoccupied with matters of internal legislation.

In England, the mother of Parliaments, we might expect that there should have been a constant effort at parliamentary control of foreign152 affairs, with strong remonstrance when effective control was denied; yet on account of the specific nature of the system of Cabinet government, such has not been the case. Under the two-party system as it exists in England the conduct of foreign affairs is always in the hands of a minister trusted and supported by the majority in the Lower House. Even if the minority should attempt to censor the conduct of foreign affairs as being carried on apart from the knowledge and active consent of the House, the majority whose leaders form the Cabinet which is managing things, will always prevent such a vote from succeeding. Only in case of a cabinet going absolutely and openly counter to the policy of its own party in Parliament could a real conflict of this nature arise; and such a contingency is itself impossible, because of the party control exercised by the cabinet.

According to the theory of the Stuarts, the management of foreign affairs belonged entirely to the Crown which had not at that time been put in commission. In 1677 the House of Commons objected to granting money for alliances and for wars, unless the matter in question had been previously communicated to it. Charles II, however, declared the conduct of foreign affairs to be the153 Crown’s fundamental prerogative in which it must remain free from direct control of Parliament. William III was in fact to a very large extent his own Minister for Foreign Affairs. With the introduction of responsible Government under the Hanoverians, however, the situation changed. The dominant party being represented by the ministers was quite ready to submit to their guidance in matters of foreign affairs. It was the opposition who occasionally attacked the government on its foreign policy, and particularly the opposition in the House of Lords. In a Lords’ protest of March 26, 1734, it was urged that “the interposition of the British Parliament would be more effectual than the occasional expedients of fluctuating and variable negotiations.” In 1740 it was moved that a select committee consisting of peers should be appointed to inquire into the conduct of the Spanish War. The motion was rejected. Another Lords’ protest in the same year opposes the argument that absolute secrecy is essential because this claim is often used in bar of all inquiries. Such secrecy is “much oftener the refuge of guilt than the resort of innocence.”

Wyndham, in 1733, on a motion calling for certain letters of instructions, argued for the necessity of giving such information to Parliament.154 He asked how could members of the House of Commons judge of the estimates to be laid before them as a provision for national safety if they did not know by what danger the nation was confronted. The motion, however, was rejected.

When Pelham was criticized in the House for not having informed Parliament of the preliminaries of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle he argued: “If Parliament should encroach upon the prerogative of the Crown, by assuming a right to make peace or war, and to inquire into foreign transactions under negotiation, our affairs will be reduced to a dangerous predicament; for no foreign State will negotiate with our ministers, or conclude any treaty with them, either political or commercial.” This is an argument often made in the eighteenth century to show the unwisdom of Parliamentary control. The change of ministers following party changes in the House, and the fact that the Foreign Minister would not by his own word be able to give complete assurances to foreign governments, were considered to put the British Government under a disadvantage in negotiations. It was therefore considered undesirable that negotiations should be submitted to the control and sanction of Parliament. Walpole had stated the matter in the following words:


“Therefore while our happy constitution remains entire, while the Parliament meets but once a year, and does not continue assembled above three or four months in the twelve, it is impossible for either House of Parliament to intermeddle, much less to prescribe to the Crown, in any affairs relating to peace or war, without exposing the nation to imminent danger.”

Throughout the nineteenth century Parliament interfered very little with the conduct of foreign affairs. The minister for foreign affairs or the premier would from time to time give information or make a systematic discourse on foreign affairs and it was understood that the House would be kept informed concerning the aims and tendencies of the Government’s foreign policy. Specific questions were asked by members but not frequently. The nature of the British system would have rendered unmeaning any struggle for control between the House and the Cabinet.

The manner of keeping Parliament and the public informed on foreign affairs was discussed. The Earl of Clarendon spoke of the practice of laying before Parliament official information in the Blue Books. He stated:

“I am perfectly certain there is always laid before Parliament a very fair and complete view of the transactions between this country and any other to which those papers may relate. I know that foreign Governments156 rather complain of our Blue Books, and to a certain extent they may curtail some of the communications that are made to our foreign Ministers, but I should be extremely sorry to see our system of publication of diplomatic papers in any way curtailed, or different from what it is; of course, there must always be care taken not to compromise individuals for the information they have given, but I believe it is an immense advantage to this country that our despatches and diplomatic transactions should be known, because if they have the approbation of Parliament and of the country, the Government then has the whole weight of public opinion in its favor, and it is that which gives such strength to our policy and to our opinions in foreign countries.”

That is a very statesmanlike presentation of the advantages of constant public knowledge of foreign policy in giving the government a secure base of intelligent support.

When dissatisfaction or doubt was felt by large numbers concerning the foreign policy of the government, as in 1857 and again in 1878 after the concealment of the Schuvalof agreement, complaint was frequently made in Parliament and in the press to the effect that Parliament on the one hand was not given a chance to acquire a complete knowledge of foreign policy, and on the other it was not sufficiently alert and active in using its opportunities for control. In 1886 the following resolution was moved:


“That in the opinion of this House it is not just or expedient to embark in war, contract engagements involving grave responsibilities for the nation, and add territories to the Empire, without the knowledge and consent of Parliament.”

Like other similar resolutions, it did not pass. Mr. Gladstone opposed it on the ground that the House of Commons under existing arrangements actually possessed all necessary power of control and that the passage of this resolution would mean simply that the House of Lords would share this power with it.

In 1885 when Earl Granville had objected to public criticism of negotiations which were still in progress between Russia and Great Britain regarding Afghanistan, Lord Salisbury made the following interesting and important statement with respect to the relations of foreign policies to public opinion, which in temper resembles that of Lord Clarendon cited above:

“The noble Earl seemed to me to lay down a doctrine which we cannot pass unnoticed, when he says it is the duty of an Opposition not to canvas or condemn the conduct of the Government, if by so doing it should have the effect of discouraging friends and allies in other parts of the world. That seems to be a very far-reaching doctrine, and one which it is impossible to assent to.... If we are of opinion that the course of public158 affairs is going ill, and that our Government has mismanaged, that faults are being committed and dangers are being incurred, we have no absolute Sovereign to whom we can appeal in order to correct the evil; our absolute Sovereign is the people of this country, and it is they, and they alone, who can bring a remedy to the mischief which is going on. You have a form of Government which in many points is purely democratic, and you must take it with the incidents which naturally adhere to it, and one of these incidents is publicity of deliberation. The Cabinet is the people, and their deliberations are conducted in the open field. If they are to be rightly informed, you must deal fully and frankly with the subjects which form the basis of their determination. It is, no doubt, a drawback so far as it goes, but it is a drawback you must face, and you cannot help it if Foreign Powers overhear, so to speak, the privileged communications between you and those by whose verdict you must stand. You cannot suppress the argument because somebody else outside hears it and you may be adversely affected by it....”

The concealment of important obligations and the growing secrecy of diplomatic affairs during the first decade of the Twentieth Century brought on many expressions of dissatisfaction in the House of Commons. After the secret agreement concerning Morocco became known, Mr. John Dillon expressed himself as follows, in a speech in the House of Commons in September, 1911:

“I do not believe any representative assembly in the history of the world has ever been called upon to159 discuss a matter so vital and so far-reaching as that which the House of Commons has before it to-day to consider, and with so absolute a lack of information.... The House was summoned for this discussion to-day without any papers whatsoever.... We ought at all events to have had an account of diplomatic correspondence between the four great Powers intimately interested in the question of Morocco, as is customary to be given to the House of Commons on such an occasion. This would have enabled members of the House before the debate commenced, to form a really well-grounded judgment upon the whole matter. We have heard a good deal to-night of the secrecy of the Foreign policy of this country. It is no use attempting to deny it. Those of us who have been a long time in this House, and can remember the methods of the Foreign Office twenty-five years ago, know as a matter of fact, which cannot be successfully denied, that the Foreign Office policy has become during the last ten years progressively more secret every year. Until this present year this has gone on, when the intense pressure of Foreign Affairs and the danger of war has forced the hands of the Minister to give some time for the discussion of Foreign Office affairs. For ten years the Foreign policy of this country has been conducted behind an elaborate screen of secrecy. Some of us pointed out years ago that the secrecy of Foreign Affairs was the inevitable and logical result of that new departure which was heralded about ten years ago, and which we heard praised once more on the floor of this House to-night. I refer to what is known as the policy of the continuity of the Foreign policy of this country; of the withdrawal of the Foreign policy of this country from the sphere of party politics.”


At the same session Mr. Swift MacNeill expressed himself very strongly on the subject of withholding information from Parliament, in the following terms:

“From generation to generation, you have allowed treaties involving the highest international obligations—involving questions of peace and war—to be taken absolutely out of the hands of the House. It is no exaggeration to say, so far as international policy is concerned, you have rendered the House as little effectively powerful as any man walking over Westminster Bridge. Over and over again treaties involving matters of life and death, involving questions of first-class importance, have been ratified behind the back of Parliament.... The people themselves must be allowed to know all about this diplomacy and what it is. And there should be no secrecy in regard to high diplomatic statecraft about it. The House of Commons is sample judge of what is discreet and what is indiscreet, and it is a complete absurdity for others to treat us as children or for us to allow ourselves to be so treated in matters of such high international importance as those involving questions of peace and war.”

Sir Edward Grey in his reply stated that secrecy up to a certain point was necessary and that particularly the ratification of treaties could not be previously discussed. He then made the very significant remark that not until the House of161 Commons “was really free to devote itself to discussions of imperial affairs would it get control.” In other words as long as the House of Commons remains a body occupied primarily with domestic and local legislation it cannot spare the attention necessary for an effective control of foreign policy.

Early in 1914, evidence was taken by a select committee on House of Commons procedure. Mr. Balfour during these discussions rather emphasized the need of secrecy in dealing with foreign affairs. He thinks that such matters should not be aired too frequently in the House of Commons, because indiscreet speeches, which can be perfectly appraised in the House, may make bad blood when reported. Diplomatic conversations must be kept confidential if you are to work the European system at all. But though the House of Commons does not and cannot know the current details of international negotiations, it is not uninformed. This plainly is the language of a statesman to whom the idiosyncrasies of the European system are so familiar that they seem to be the only natural state of affairs. The statement is made from the point of view of the expert who rather resents any sort of interference on the part of the less well informed.


In March, 1918, it was moved in the House of Commons:

“That, in the opinion of this House, a Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs should be appointed, representative of all parties and groups in the House, in order that a regular channel of communication may be established between the Foreign Secretary and the House of Commons, which will afford him frequent opportunities of giving information on questions of Foreign policy and which, by allowing Members to acquaint themselves more fully with current international problems, will enable this House to exercise closer supervision over the general conduct of Foreign Affairs....”

Mr. Balfour expressed himself quite in length on this motion and further elaborated the ideas which he had put forward in 1914. In a speech delivered March 19th, he gave what is probably the most complete and persuasive exposition of the value of traditional methods in diplomacy:

“... A Foreign Office and a Diplomatic Service are great instruments for preventing, as far as can be prevented, and diminishing, even when you cannot prevent, friction between States which are, or which ought to be, friendly. How is the task of peace-maker—because that is largely the task which falls to diplomatists and to the Foreign Office, which controls diplomatists—to be pursued if you are to shout your grievances from the housetop whenever they occur? The only result is that you embitter public feeling, that the differences between the163 two States suddenly attain a magnitude they ought never to be allowed to approach, that the newspapers of the two countries agitate themselves, that the Parliaments of the two countries have their passions set on fire, and great crises arise, which may end, have ended sometimes, in international catastrophes.... Office officials, or officials of any Department,—to expend some of their energy in getting ready for cross-examination, you will really be destroying the public service. There is nothing on which I feel more strongly than that. They are not accustomed to it, and they ought not to be accustomed to it.... I do not hold the view that antique methods are pursued by diplomatists which no man of common sense adopts in the ordinary work of every-day life. On the contrary, the work of diplomacy is exactly the work which is done every day between two great firms, for instance, which have business relations, or between two great corporate entities which have interests diverging or interests in common. If you are a man of sense you do not create difficulties to begin with. You try to get over all these things without the embitterment which advertisement always brings with it. It is when you begin to press your case in public that antagonism arises. In private—in conversation which need not go beyond the walls of the room in which you are,—you can put your case as strongly as you like, and the gentleman with whom you are carrying on the discussion may put his case as strongly as he likes, and if good manners are observed and nothing but fair discussion takes place no soreness remains and no one is driven to ignore the strong points of his opponent’s case. Directly a controversy becomes public all that fair give-and-take becomes either difficult or impossible.... But if all you mean ... is that it is wrong for the nations164 of the world to find themselves hampered in their mutual relations by treaties of which those countries know nothing, that, I think, is an evil. I do not say that there have not been secret treaties which were inevitable; but I do say that, if they are necessary, they are a necessary evil. Please remember that two nations make a treaty together for their mutual advantage. Both are desirous of passing it. One nation says, ‘It is against our interest that this treaty should be made public at present.’ The other says, ‘We do not like being committed to any treaty the terms of which we cannot make public at once.’ Which is going to prevail?... It does not rest with any single Foreign Office, British or other. It is always an arrangement between two—possibly three or four, Foreign Offices. You cannot lay down—and I do not think you would be wise to lay down, an absolute rule that under no circumstances, and for no object, could you so far concede the point as to say that a treaty is to be made which is not to become public property. I am perfectly ready to admit that that is not a process which, to me, is a very agreeable one. To reduce secret treaties to the narrowest possible limits should, I think, be the object of every responsible statesman who has the control of foreign affairs. Beyond that I do not feel inclined to go. I do not see any signs of a grasp of the true realities of life in the Motion before us. You should have your control over those who manage your affairs, but it is not the kind of control which the honorable Member wishes to set up with his Committee of forty or fifty. It is quite a different control. You must know, broadly speaking, what the general lines of policy are, and I maintain that that is thoroughly known with regard to foreign affairs at this moment by every man in this House who takes the165 trouble to think. The general lines on which we are proceeding are thoroughly known.”

This argument brings out all the strong points of the system of secret diplomacy under the existing conditions of international politics, but it contains no hint that these conditions need improvement. They cannot, as a matter of fact, be improved until some strong nations, even at the risk of disadvantage to themselves, take the lead in placing diplomatic affairs on a broader basis.

In consequence of the startling developments in diplomacy which preceded and accompanied the great war, the relation of democracy to diplomacy has been earnestly discussed of late, particularly in Great Britain.

When considering this important matter, the distinction between the methods of diplomacy and diplomatic policies should be borne in mind for the sake of clearness of thought. The development of public opinion, the disappearance of purely dynastic aims of state action, and the constantly broadening outlook of political life, have led to the elimination of most of the cruder methods of deception and intrigue. But two questions still remain: Should diplomatic negotiations be carried on in the public view, that is with constant and full information given to the public or parliament, on all important details? and, Should the diplomatic policy of a democratic government at all times be kept fully before the representative bodies, and the public?


Most discussions which favor the use of secret diplomacy, refer to the presumed necessity of confidential methods of negotiation. But there are some publicists and statesmen who believe that the policy of foreign affairs itself can best be handled by responsible statesmen keeping their own counsel and giving to the public only a general adumbration of the trend of policy. These two questions are constantly mixed up in current discussion; and their absolute separation is indeed difficult. Thus, a strictly secret diplomatic policy will naturally accentuate the secrecy of the methods employed. Abstractly considered, it would be quite possible to have the foreign policy of a country determined by public action, and still to surround diplomatic negotiations with secrecy. But if the substance of the policy were definitely known in detail, the secrecy of methods would lose much of its effectiveness.

The use of such methods is defended from two points of view; from that of the trader who looks for a better bargain through not having given away his entire hand at the beginning; and from that of the builder who desires to work quietly without interruptions from an excitable public, who desires to avoid difficulties and smooth away168 contrasts which publicity would tend to exaggerate.

There is an ex post facto publicity of diplomatic policy. If this is afforded as soon as a new situation has arisen or a new agreement has been created, some of the harm of secrecy is avoided. In such a case the statesmen, cabinet, or conference, practically give assurance that, if allowed to work quietly on a certain problem, they will produce a solution which will commend itself in general to the sense of equity of the nation or nations concerned; although the sum total of the arrangement may contain details which, considered by themselves, would be unacceptable and which might have interfered with the making of an accord, if unduly emphasized or given publicity during the negotiations.

Mr. Balfour in his speech of March 19, 1918, which has already been referred to, indeed speaks quite convincingly of the advantage of confidential relations and of secrecy in negotiations, but he goes so far as strongly to deprecate a demand for information on the part of Parliament. In that he certainly shows a measure of anti-democratic bias, as when he says, “Do not suppose that we can do the work better by having to explain it to a lot of people who are not responsible.169 That is not the way to get business properly done.” He therefore rejects the idea of a parliamentary committee of control in the matter of foreign relations. He agrees, however, that the existence of secret treaties is an evil, although he thinks that it may be at certain times necessary, because the associated treaty power may desire it. He is mildly deprecatory, at best.

Count Czernin, speaking to the Austrian delegations on June 24, 1918, concerning President Wilson’s fourteen points, stated that he has no objection to the introduction of the principle of “open covenants,” although he confesses that he does not know by what means effective adherence thereto can be assured. Concerning diplomatic negotiations, which he treats simply as a matter of business, he points out the advantages of secrecy from the point of view of trading. Moreover, if there were full publicity, the general public might passionately oppose every action involving any concession as a defeat. This would not be conducive to peaceable relations.

There are those who believe that the chief evils of secret diplomacy would be avoided if ample opportunity were given for discussion in representative assemblies, if there were a parliamentary committee keeping constantly in touch with170 the conduct of foreign relations, and if treaties and declarations of war could not be made without the consent of the national legislature. Some advocates of democratic control go so far as to reason that a decision to make war and thereby to order the shedding of human blood, should not be made without a national referendum vote.

On the other hand, those opposed to all publicity of diplomatic affairs argue that international policies cannot be determined in the market place. They hark back to DeTocqueville, who holds that as democracy cannot be expected to regulate the details of an important undertaking, it is particularly unqualified to deal with international matters where secrecy, discretion, and patience are required. Followers of this opinion believe that the conduct of foreign affairs is best placed quite unreservedly in the hands of responsible statesmen, who have greater information, larger experience and more self-control than the average of humanity. They generally have in view the preservation of national interests, under conditions of peace if possible; they will not be inflamed by exciting incidents, but will keep these in proper subordination to the general plan. Such details, if made public, would easily lead to occurrences that would upset the results of wise planning.171 As Lord Cromer has said, it is such untoward chance incidents which cannot be controlled that are to be feared, rather than any deliberate plotting on the part of diplomats. Such responsible statesmen always remain accountable for the general results of their policy; they are conscious of the importance of their trust, and therefore are a safer repository of discretionary powers than a general committee.

Back of these arguments, however, there usually lies the conviction that the public is superficial, easily swayed, excitable and altogether delighting more in the hurrah of war than in the humdrum of peace. It might be remarked that if such had actually been the case, the most recent experience of the people with war has probably given them a different idea of the attractiveness of that kind of excitement; unless indeed the mass of humanity are irremediably and forever fools, when taken in the aggregate.

The sensational character of the daily press must be considered in this connection. The news value of normal, peaceable developments is very small. It is therefore a godsend to the newspapers when something extraordinary happens, particularly in international affairs. For this reason, the daily news frequently presents an172 untrue or warped picture of the actual situation. Gilbert Murray asks what people are referred to by those who demand popular control of diplomacy; are they the people of educational societies, or of the music halls? The public is not homogeneous, or so organized as to give expression to convictions on current affairs which have been maturely considered. It lacks the leisure and training for penetrating superficialities and going to the bottom of difficult questions. Lord Cromer believes in general that democracies are not peaceful, and he refers particularly to the American democracy for proof; Lord Lytton said, “Governments are generally for diplomacy, the people for war.”

Men of all shades of opinion are agreed that the people are not greatly interested in foreign affairs, and the opponents of proposals of democratic control argue that it would be useless to create machinery for action where there exists no interest, nor purpose to act.

It is quite true that the public during the nineteenth century seemed less interested in foreign affairs than during the eighteenth. At the earlier time, diplomacy was a fascinating, personal game, about which the wiseacres in the coffee houses were eager to make their criticisms and173 prognostications. When the middle class came to power in the nineteenth century, it was primarily interested in economic and other domestic questions, and was satisfied to leave the conduct of foreign affairs to statesmen and diplomats. The constantly growing political consciousness of the public at large was concentrated chiefly on questions of internal politics and reform. Foreign affairs, as they reached the public, were thought of still from the point of view of the onlooker, rather than of him who actually had to bear the brunt of the burden. Those who had to bleed and die when hostilities had been brought about, never had any chance, nor determination, to influence the course of diplomacy leading up to wars.

With such a general apathy of the public, it was not surprising that diplomacy should cling to its caste privileges, should try to preserve its discretionary powers, and should often attempt deliberately to keep people in the dark. “In the public interest” is the curtain beyond which no one may peer. Even in the American Government, particularly during and since the war, foreign affairs have been handled with what would ordinarily seem insufficient information to the public; in fact, with occasional putting forth of174 misleading and entirely partial information, or the refusal to furnish information even when requested by those having official responsibilities. This is a notable change, as up to 1914 it was substantially true that the United States had no diplomatic secrets.

While from the point of view of traditional diplomacy, and of international relations as they were up to the Great War, it seems quite natural that democratic control should be thought by many to be unpractical; and while indeed no one can flatter himself that through a change of method the conduct of international affairs could suddenly be rendered more wise and entirely effective towards the public welfare, yet I cannot avoid the conclusion that there is a wrong orientation in the emphasis of the need of secrecy and of the unfitness of the people to deal with problems of foreign affairs. The belief in the unfitness of the people in this matter appears to be the result of a preconceived notion as to the overpowering difficulty, complexity and almost sanctity of foreign affairs. Modern governments are based on the principle that all legislation must meet the test of public criticism and rest on public consent; certainly it cannot be argued that matters of the incidence of taxation, the175 proper organization of credit, and the determination of commercial policies, are less complex and intricate than are foreign affairs. It is indeed true that it is difficult for one nation thoroughly to appreciate in detail the conditions of life in another. This truth should have its greatest value in dissuading a nation from meddling with the internal affairs of another, even from good motives. Those international questions which are apt to produce war may indeed relate to intricate matters, but the essential point is always the contention for power, influence or commercial advantage, and it is not apparent why the public in general should be unfit to judge as to whether national treasure and life are eventually to be spent in huge quantities to bring about, or to prevent, any such shifting of power or influence.

It is, however, because the motives involved are so largely connected with class interests, or survivals of pride of race, that those concerned in them are eager to deny the fitness of the general public, which if called on to decide would put into the foreground the question, “How does the control of this or that group of capitalists in Morocco, for instance, or the greater or smaller influence of Austria or Russia in Servia, affect the daily life and welfare of our people?” It is176 certainly true that questions of peace and war have never definitely been reasoned out on that basis. There has always been the assumption that certain things were essential to national prestige and could not be questioned; it is only when the actually existing broader base of national political life is organized also for active control of foreign affairs, that these considerations will have their full weight. Only the most exceptional statesmen could lift themselves out of the narrow groove of tradition and precedent; and more exceptional still, in fact all but impossible, is the capacity of one man to represent in himself in just proportion, all the interests and feelings of a nation.

Infallibility cannot be expected in the handling of foreign affairs, whether under a broad discretion of statesmen or under strict democratic control. There will always be an alternative of wisdom and rashness, constructive planning and headlong action, carefulness and negligence. But past experience has certainly established beyond peradventure of doubt that secret diplomacy is not infallible, and particularly that diplomacy acting under absolutist traditions, as in Germany before the war, may make the most fatal mistakes of judgment and of policy. Balfour said: “I177 do not think the Government in June, 1914, had the slightest idea that there was any danger ahead.” A remarkable statement, when we consider the actions and reactions of secret diplomacy during the decade preceding the war. It has been quite truly said that diplomacy is far more eminent in autopsy than in diagnosis. M. Cheradame somewhat severely observes, “The typical diplomat lives in a world of his own. His information is rarely obtained by direct observation of people and facts.” And while ordinarily men of exceptional talents are selected for the difficulty position of Minister for Foreign Affairs, yet all considered, it is hard to believe that were decisions on the essential matters of international life made on a broader basis, and influenced more by a direct action of public opinion, the result would be less wise.

Active participation of the people in the making of momentous decisions regarding foreign affairs, is denied either under the assumption that the people might not be ready to face the fateful test, or, by the majority, with the thought that the people are too excitable and rash to be trusted with such far-reaching decisions. While it is indeed easy to generate warlike excitement among the masses, it must be remembered, when such a178 charge of rashness is made, that the people have never been currently informed of the development of international dangers, but usually at a critical time shreds of information have been flashed on them, designed or at least apt to stir up all their atavistic love of fight and fear of attack. Even thus, the greatest noise is made usually by those who do not in the event of hostilities actually have to risk their blood and bones.

It stands to reason that if honestly kept informed about international relationships, the people would be far less prone to sudden excitement. Very few people indeed appear to doubt that had the decision of war or no war been laid before the peoples of Europe in 1914, with a full knowledge of the facts, the terrible catastrophe would never have come about. As Mr. Lowes Dickinson has said, if the people had been allowed to share the apprehension and precautions of the diplomats before 1914, there would have been quite a simple and clear question before the English people, for one. It could have decided whether it would pursue a policy that might lead at any moment to a general European war, or to take the alternative which Sir Edward Grey later spoke of, namely, “to promote some arrangement, to which Germany could be a party by which she could be179 assured that no aggressive or hostile policy would be pursued against her by France, Russia and ourselves, jointly or separately.” Without the support of the people, kept in line by fear of hidden dangers, not even the militarists of Germany could have forced military action.

One of the first acts of the Russian Soviet Government was to announce its hostility to secret diplomacy. When it first published the secret treaties and documents of the Czarist Government, its motive was, as shown by Trotsky’s declaration made at the time, thoroughly to discredit the management of affairs under the old régime. In the same connection, it announced its own purpose of conducting foreign affairs in the open. Such seems indeed to have been its general practice with respect to the announcement of policies, though its agents continued to use underground methods. One thing, however, the Soviet Government is evidently trying to bring about, namely, a broad public interest in the conduct of foreign affairs. It desires the Russian people, and more particularly the members of the ruling Communist Party, to be currently informed about the progress of international affairs and about arrangements concluded. Observers report that at the meeting of the provincial soviets the first business180 ordinarily taken up is the reading and discussion of a report on international relations sent by the central government. We have no means to check up the truth of these reports; but this effort to interest the broad mass of the population in the outward relations of the state is certainly worth notice. The expectation is encouraged that the reason for acts relating to foreign affairs will be explained, particularly when sacrifices are demanded.

Those who view the modern state as a purely predatory organization,—for exploitation within and without,—point to the methods, practices and results of diplomacy as one of the plainest indications of the sinister nature of the political state. Such criticism cannot be safely brushed aside as utterly unreasonable; it should rather call forth a searching inquiry as to whether, as a matter of fact, the conduct of foreign affairs could not and should not be brought into greater consonance with genuinely democratic principles, and be placed on the sound basis of well-informed public support.

No matter what opinion one may hold with respect to the necessity of secret diplomacy, it must be recognized that this practice involves a very narrow conception of the active scope of democracy. It is in fact a historical survival from the period of the absolutist state; or in other words, that aspect of the modern state which deals with182 foreign affairs has retained the character of absolutism. It is a superstition, in the picturesque sense of that word used by Lowell, when he defines it as “something left standing over from one of the world’s witenagemotes to the other.” In this case, indeed the most recent witenagemote approached the question and proposed a step in advance towards its solution. But the difficulty still persists.

In its relations with other states, the state is considered to be absolute, not bound by any laws, responsible only for its own security, welfare and progressing influence. The struggle for political power still exists among states, in essentially the same keenness and rigidity with which it appeared to the eyes of Machiavelli. The importance of world-wide human relationships, and of international coöperation in scientific and economic life, has indeed been brought forth and given its place in the public mind; but because of the manner in which the conduct of international affairs is actually handled, the feeling thus generated does not have much chance to influence action at critical times, when the people are startled and excited by the sudden revelation of dangers, which awaken in them all the bitter feelings engendered by the past struggles of mankind.


This survival is given strength by class interests, pride of race, and by the manipulations of plutocratic control. Where affairs are handled by a narrow circle of men, no matter how high-minded and how thoroughly conscious of their public responsibility, yet with the necessary limitations of the human mind, they cannot but be influenced at every turn by the opinions of others with whom they are actually in contact; so that in decisions on these momentous matters, the thing which is concretely present is very often an interest comparatively narrow in itself, and related to the public welfare only by a series of remote inferences which are accepted at their face value. The most successful statesman of the nineteenth century said that the whole Balkan question was not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier; yet his successors in power risked the very existence of the nations of Europe for one phase of that question.

Powerful interests will always have means, formal or informal, to lay their needs and desires before the men in power. They may indeed be very important and may deserve special attention, but unfortunately, many cases have happened in which their point of view has been adopted without making sure that there existed a184 general public interest sufficiently important to warrant taking the risks involved.

A diplomatic caste recruited from a certain class of society, trained in the traditions of authority, in contact all the time with men of similar views and principles, cannot in the nature of things free itself from the limitations of such environment and such training.

From the personal point of view diplomacy has adhered to the belief in the superior intelligence, ability and foresight in the handling of foreign affairs, on the part of those who by inherited traditions and special experience may be said to belong to a caste distinguished from the mass of humanity. Some one has said, there is a great danger in that there exists a caste of people who have taken the making of history as their profession; who still cling to the erroneous idea that the manipulation of large masses of people, the redistribution of territories, and the modification of the natural processes of grouping and settlement, is history. But such people who believe they are making history are really obstructing it. Even so unusual a man as Bismarck, working as he did on a great national problem, did not gain lasting success in action whereby he endeavored to anticipate the developments of history.185 The artful contrivance and harsh, ruthless execution of many of his plans left a heritage of evil to the world; but the greatest evil lay in the example given by so successful a man in making it seem that history could actually thus be made. The attitude which is taken in behalf of such men, in claiming for them a completely free and full discretion in controlling foreign affairs, recalls a statement made by H. G. Wells concerning a British leader: “He believes that he belongs to a particularly gifted and privileged class of beings to whom the lives and affairs of common men are given over—the raw material for brilliant careers. It seems to him an act of insolence that the common man should form judgments on matters of statecraft.” The diplomats of the old school indeed do require the people, but only as material with which to work out their grandiose projects. Their view not too distantly resembles that of the German militarists to whom ordinary humanity existed only for one purpose, “to do their damn’d duty.”

We should naturally expect to find the greatest secrecy and the most callous use of secretive methods, where absolutism remains most completely established. In the last remaining absolutism, that of Japan, these expectations are186 fulfilled, both as regards carefully-guarded secrecy of all diplomatic action, and the habitual use of well phrased declarations of a theoretical policy, announced for public consumption, but bearing only a Platonic relation to the details of actual doings. But more liberally governed states have not by any means all freed themselves from this practice, even to the extent of faithfully keeping the representative bodies, and the public, informed of the true character and aims of important national policies.

During the discussions of the last few years, a great many remedies for this state of affairs have been suggested. The Constitutional practice of the United States has been taken as a model in England in the suggestion that there should be a representative committee on foreign affairs in the House of Commons, which should keep in constant touch with the diplomatic officials and supervise the conduct of foreign relations; that there should be at least two days given to the discussion of the Foreign Office Vote; that there should be full reports made on the progress of all important negotiations; and that treaties and alliances should not be concluded, nor war made, without a previous authorization on the part of Parliament. The last formal proposal of this187 kind was the motion made in March, 1918, in the House of Commons, the opposition to which by Mr. Balfour has already been alluded to. That he should object particularly to the prying into foreign affairs on the part of persons “not responsible,” and by “politicians,” that the proposed committee of the House of Commons should be thus characterized, throws light on the prejudices involved; but it also reveals the absurdity of the present arrangement from the point of view of free government. In France there has existed, since 1902, a standing committee on foreign and colonial affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

When he was premier, in 1920, Signor Giolliti introduced a bill carrying the following provision: “Treaties and International understandings, whatever be their subject and character, are valid only after they have been approved by Parliament. The Government of the King can declare war only with the approval of the two Chambers.” The ministry of Giolliti fell before this sound measure could be passed.

It may be questioned whether many of the arrangements suggested could be more than palliatives, as long as an intelligent and constant public interest in foreign affairs has not been aroused, and as long as the absolutist aspect of foreign188 policy continues. The suggestion that war should not be made without a previous national referendum, has indeed logic on its side from the point of view of the democratic theory of state, but it has thus far not entered into the state of practical consideration.

The most important remedy as yet attempted is the provision in the Covenant of the League of Nations, that all treaties shall be made public. No greater encouragement, indeed, could be given to the growth of confidence and the destruction of baneful suspicions and fears, throughout international life, than if it were possible to assure the nations of the world that all engagements imposing international obligations of any kind whatsoever would be made known immediately upon their conclusion. This provision of the Covenant has already gone into force, and numerous new treaties have been submitted, even by governments who are not as yet members of the League. But certain governments have delayed compliance in cases where treaties are known to have been made secretly. As there is no specific sanction for this provision in the Covenant, and as actually binding agreements can be made without taking the form of a treaty or convention, this remedy is not in itself powerful enough to remove the189 evil. If two or three states are willing to keep an engagement secret at the risk of later incurring a certain amount of opprobrium when the fact is discovered, there is no means as yet available for obliging them to abandon such course. Nevertheless, this provision of the Covenant constitutes a great advance in the work of placing the public business of the world on the only sound basis, and cultivating that confidence upon which depends the future immunity of mankind from constant danger of suffering and destruction. It will, however, not be a real remedy until the nations agree actually to outlaw all secret agreements as a conspiracy against the general welfare and safety.

The other important advance made in the Covenant is found in the provisions for the investigation of any cause of conflict before hostilities shall be resorted to. If after the first shock of excitement, which accompanies the revelation of a serious international crisis, public opinion can be given a certain space of time to inform itself, then it may indeed be hoped that a different temper will control the giving of the fateful doom of war. As Count Czernin has stated, on the night of August 4, 1914, between the hours of nine and midnight the decision as to whether England190 would come into the war, lay with the German Government. A system under which such tremendous issues have to be decided in such a manner, is absurd to the verge of insanity.E

E A German writer puts the blame for the outbreak of the war on the telegraph. He says that if there had been no telegraphic communication between the capitals, the fatal crisis would not have arisen; there would have been time for reflection and a decision to make war would never have been taken in blood.

While the above arrangements, if they could be effectively carried out, would undoubtedly serve to moderate the evils which now result from the conduct of international affairs on so narrow a basis, yet it is difficult to expect from them more than relatively superficial results. It is only if a new spirit can be developed among the nations, and if the absolutist conception of the state as far as it still remains, can be transformed into something more consonant with the complexity and delicacy of human relationships, that we may hope to hail the dawn of a new era. It would be as great a transformation as that which separates the Pagan from the Christian ideal. Mankind is still somewhat blinded by the glitter and pageantry of the absolutist state; the pride of power manifests itself now particularly in foreign intercourse. When Portugal became a republic, it191 desired at first to abolish the entire diplomatic establishment, and to allow all international business to be done by the consuls. That proposal may have resulted from an instinctive feeling that there was something incompatible between a really free community, and the sense of absolute power embodied in diplomacy.

A change can be brought about only when the underlying unity of mankind is more intensely felt and when the common interests in science, commerce, industry and the universal language of art are valued at their true importance to the welfare of the people of all nations. Joint effort in the constructive work of developing resources, particularly in the tropics, will make it possible for vastly increased populations to live in comfort on their present sites, without the need of crowding each other. A higher valuation of humanity, a more just proportion in the influence permitted different interests, a keener scrutiny of traditions and watch-words—all this is necessary. Men and women to-day feel an intense apprehension, when they think of the fate of their children in a world in which the unreasoning prejudices and unenlightened practices that have recently again come to the fore in international life should prevail, leaving mankind in a dazed192 confusion, and pushing the people from time to time into wholesale slaughter with ever more horrible instruments of destruction. They feel also that if secret policies, engendering fears and suspicion, are to continue to be the dominant factor, then all improvement in human welfare, education and science, will have to be in a large measure postponed to the preparation of constantly more formidable engines of death. One cannot but remember the worst imprecations of the Greek tragic poets and philosophers, on the miserable destiny of man. In fact, if we should have to believe that no better way could be found to manage the vital interests of mankind, a great natural catastrophe, which would extinguish once and for all the miserable breed on this planet, would almost appear in the light of a redemption.

But we cannot believe that the peoples of the world will be so foolish as to allow themselves to remain in this condition and not to find their way to a reorganization of public affairs which will make such a haphazard and perilous situation impossible. It seems plain that the idea of the state and of state action will have to be transformed in accordance with the greater self-consciousness of humanity which has developed in the last century, or the desire to scrap the193 political state and to find some more adequate and natural form of organization will rapidly gain in strength. Meanwhile, there is a need of the formation of a great freemasonry of all publicists, political men and teachers of the people, united in the resolve to know and make known the essential elements in current international affairs, to arouse the public to a sense of the importance of these matters to their every-day life, and to support the men more directly responsible for the conduct of foreign policy, with an intelligent, searching, reasonable and broad public opinion.

Up until a recent date Americans could contemplate the play of secret diplomacy in Europe and Asia with a feeling of entire aloofness, as belonging to a political society which had neither need nor inclination to utilize such methods. Our unmenaced continental position, the natural protection and separation implied in distance and ocean boundaries, and the conscious intention of keeping clear of international entanglements, all contributed to make the foreign policy of the United States entirely public and straightforward. The fathers of the Constitution had established the sound principle that treaties are the law of the land. This not only involves mature consideration of a treaty before it is made, but publicity as well. The American people have known at all times what obligations had been incurred, and the world had the same information. There has been no room for guesswork and suspicion.

The instructions which were issued to John Jay when he was sent as special envoy to England195 in 1794 lay down the following rule of conduct: “It is the President’s wish that the characteristics of an American minister should be marked on the one hand by a firmness against improper compliances, and on the other by sincerity, candor, truth and prudence, and by a horror of finesse and chicane.” These straightforward words began a tradition which has ever since animated the American diplomatic service. When after the Spanish war, under Secretary Hay, American diplomacy entered more fully into world-wide problems than in any previous era, the expression “the new diplomacy” was currently used in a laudatory sense to designate what Hay had implied when in a public address he had declared the Golden Rule to be the cardinal principle of American diplomacy—an ideal which makes secrecy and intrigue unnecessary.

In order to give the public an opportunity of informing itself concerning the conduct and development of foreign affairs, the United States Government has from an early date published an annual collection of diplomatic correspondence. Since 1861, this publication is known as Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. It was formerly published within two or three years of the year to which it related, but196 during the war this interval was considerably extended. The precedents and principles elaborated in the diplomatic correspondence of the United States have been collected, codified and published in a very important and useful compendium by Francis Wharton, under the title of Digest of International Law. This work was expanded, amplified and brought down to date by Prof. John Bassett Moore, under the same title, in 1906. It is of the highest importance, not only as a repository of diplomatic and legal precedent, but as a definite and public record of the position taken by the American Government on all international questions that had arisen up to the date of its publication. The preparation of such digest on the part of other governments is highly to be desired for the purpose of clarifying international law and policy, and for giving them a sound basis of reason and experience upon which the people and governments may rely. The fact that a precedent reported in this digest, might be cited against the American Government as an admission, does not imply a disadvantage which would at all offset the benefits resulting in general from public knowledge.

With respect to the details of negotiation, there are confidential relationships which have always197 been observed by the American Government. Ordinary considerations of courtesy require that those who may speak to us frankly in confidence shall not be made to suffer by being quoted and thus perhaps be exposed to misunderstanding and criticism. On our part, in preparing a sound basis of action, favorable as well as unfavorable matters have to be considered; yet there is ordinarily no need of publicly advertising the shortcomings of individuals and governments as set forth in reports on such unfavorable matters. Such considerate action is not based on a desire to mislead or to take advantage, but to save unnecessary irritation. For the purpose of permitting complete freedom of discussion and of criticism without the risk of giving offense, the United States Senate, as a matter of its ordinary procedure, goes into secret session when discussing a treaty submitted to it. There have, however, been several exceptions. Thus, for instance, the debates on the Bayard-Chamberlain Fisheries Treaty of 1888, on the Taft arbitration treaties of 1912, and on the Nicaragua Treaty of 1916, were carried on, and concluded, in open session. Many senators are in favor of making this the common practice.

Before the war, as Prof. John Bassett Moore,198 whose knowledge of the records is unequaled, said to me, the State Department had no secrets whatsoever, with the exception of personnel reports. We, too, however, can depart from a well-established tradition, as is shown by our diplomatic history during the war. I do not believe it will ever be charged that in any matter big or little the American Government sought narrow, selfish advantages. Secrecy due to such motives, there was none. There was no American policy or enterprise that needed concealment, apart from military policies and strategy during a war. When I glanced over at the end of my mission in Peking the extra-confidential cable correspondence, I was inwardly amazed by the entire lack of anything that really needed concealing, in that closely guarded dossier.

Yet American diplomacy did during the war fall somewhat under the spell of the traditional methods still in vogue in Europe. We were not a party to any secret engagements for the division of spoils after the war, although from the time of the peace conference on, the influence of the American Government was exercised mostly in secret, and the agreements subsidiary to the general settlement were secretly signed. These did not contain any apportionment of advantage to199 the United States, but on the contrary were supposed to contain the nearest approach to the equitable ideas of American policy which was, under existing conditions, obtainable. But throughout this trying period the conduct of American diplomacy did not rest on the foundation of a continuous, frank appeal to the public opinion of our own nation or of the world.

Even before the armistice some very important matters were dealt with in this fashion. Though the permanent importance of the Lansing-Ishii note as affecting in a concrete and specific way the definition of rights and policies in the Far East is very doubtful, yet in its immediate effect under all of the circumstances of the time, this was certainly a noteworthy document to issue from the American foreign office. Yet, its conception and execution was absolutely surrounded with secrecy so that not even the high officials normally consulted in such matters, with the exception of the Secretary of State himself, were informed as to what was coming. This secrecy worked entirely in the interest of the Japanese government. By privately giving out the agreement in Japan and in China before the date when its publication had been agreed upon, the Japanese government succeeded to a certain extent and for a time, in giving200 this matter the appearance of a great Japanese diplomatic victory and of a highly important concession on the part of the United States.

It is not necessary to recall the general disillusionment that came about when President Wilson agreed to the policy of secrecy at the peace conference. Undoubtedly this decision was based on the motive to secure, with a promptness required by the stress of the times, a settlement which would in general commend itself to the sense of justice of the world, although it might necessarily contain details which, if published by themselves, would cause lengthy public discussion and delay the final solution. If such an expectation was entertained, it was not as a matter of fact fulfilled in the results of these secret consultations. The method adopted did not favor the broad and permanent view, but rather the more shortsighted bargaining in which the old diplomacy excels. In their solutions neither the consultations of the peace conference, nor the subsequent diplomatic negotiations among the Allies, got beyond the old methods of bartering the destinies of small and weak peoples, which had been used by the Congresses of Vienna and of Berlin with disastrous results. The various conferences of 1919 to 1920 recorded a complete201 return to the system of secret diplomacy, to such an extent that it appeared constantly as if the plenipotentiaries feared to let their doings be known. Even when there was no reason from any point of view for concealment, information came out in a roundabout fashion which left the public mind confused; as for instance in the giving out of a decision regarding the fate of Constantinople, and in the reports concerning the text of President Wilson’s Adriatic memorandum which were current before its publication.

From the entanglements of this procedure American diplomacy did not keep itself free, nor did it, at this time, assist the world in finding a more straightforward method more in accord with American political experience.

The disadvantages of secret methods of transacting public business have been brought home to the American people through several incidental matters of no small importance. It evidently was the intention of President Wilson to reserve American rights as to the Island of Yap which is a vital link in the chain of cable communication between America and the Far East, and a reservation of this kind is indicated by references in the official minutes, though not by a written protocol. Without the knowledge of the United States,202 the Council of the League of Nations later disposed of the mandate for all of the North Pacific Islands. As this action was secret, it could not be known whether the American interest bearing on Yap Island had been safeguarded or not. It was stated as late as January 26, 1921, that the American Government was not in possession of the greater part of the minutes of the Peace Conference. Notwithstanding the protests of the United States, Japan based her claim to the North Pacific Islands on the secret treaties made during the war.

The secrecy of the peace conference, and the revelations before and during its sessions, concerning the secret treaties for the division of the spoils, produced a great disillusionment in the public mind. The fact that the United States though asked to make enormous sacrifices in the common cause had been kept in the dark concerning at least some of these treaties, and particularly of those which affected its own interest, did not inspire the American public with any confidence in the general conduct of affairs among the nations.

After the adjournment of the conference the American President and Government still continued to take a part in the various attempts to settle203 outstanding questions, particularly with respect to the Adriatic. When President Wilson towards the end of February, 1920, addressed a note to the allied powers concerning the Adriatic settlement, the documents and negotiations which had gone before were entirely unknown to the public. On December 9, 1919, an agreement had been signed by Great Britain, France and the United States, Undersecretary Polk signing for the latter. On January 9th, the British and French premiers had agreed with the Italian premier on a modified plan of settlement. On February 10th, the American Secretary of State wrote a note containing President Wilson’s objections to the plan of January 9th. The allied premiers replied to this note on February 18th. All these agreements and this correspondence were kept secret, nor was President Wilson’s final answer given out for some time; only more or less accurate prognostications appeared in the press.

The American Government at this time was at a disadvantage in not participating in the negotiations directly; the American ambassador at Paris was invited from time to time to hear what the conference of premiers cared to tell him, but the proceedings of the conference were apparently204 not transmitted to the American Government. The British press at the time quite generally expressed great dissatisfaction with the methods followed by the diplomats. The Westminster Gazette wrote: “The whole of both peoples is acutely concerned in the result. We must, therefore, register a protest against the manner in which the negotiations are being conducted. They are being carried on in secrecy, only broken by unreliable rumors, by the three principal governments. The peoples have a right to know what is being done in their name, so that they may be able to protest, if need be, against decisions which may affect their future relations.” The Times protested: “We are not going to stand by and have our friendship and relations with America jeopardized by the proceedings of a triumvirate sitting behind closed doors. The American democracy, we imagine, will not be less resolved to assert their rights and stifle this effort at secret diplomacy.”

At this time Mr. Bonar Law, the government spokesman in the House of Commons, denied absolutely that a harsh and uncompromising reply had originally been drafted to President Wilson’s despatch, and that it had subsequently been changed through the influence of Viscount Grey205 and Lord Robert Cecil. The Times characterized this denial as “an example of verbal quibbling which inferior intelligences mistake for diplomacy,” and maintained that “though it may be verbally true, it conveys and is designed to convey what is untrue”; and the Daily Mail stated that the country owed a debt of gratitude to Lord Grey for his activities in the matter. This all illustrates on how insecure a foundation, and with what chances of confusion, public opinion has to work in matters of foreign affairs where the practices of the old diplomacy are followed.

The American people at this time very nearly lost patience with the entire business, and turned away from European affairs with complete disgust. This is the most outstanding effect produced by the secret diplomacy of Europe as far as the American people are concerned. The danger now is that their feeling of disgust and confusion, and their impatience with the selfish and shortsighted manipulations of European diplomacy, will over-emphasize the desire of America to live by and for herself alone. If such a mood and temper should prevail, it would be a great loss to America and to the world. At no time has the world needed America more than at present, not so much from the point of view of direct206 economic assistance, as on account of the fact that American experience, principles and ideals constitute at the present time the hope of the peoples of the whole world; and America could, if she desired, exercise an enormous influence in making the popular desire for such action active, vital and fruitful.

But even aside from the general confidence which is felt by the peoples of Europe and Asia in the character and ideals of the United States, there are a great many specific contributions which America could make to the solution of European problems. No matter how much we shall desire during the next decade to hold aloof from Europe and to concentrate on our own affairs, nevertheless, should European affairs go radically wrong through a constant denial and deception of the hopes and aspirations of the people for honest and sensible solutions, America in the end will again have to share the burden thus laid on the shoulders of mankind.

The fundamental American principle that treaties have the force and status of law contains in itself the promise of solving some of the worst troubles of the world, if it could be generally applied. America should continue, for her own safety and that of the world, to use her whole207 influence for making that principle a part of the universal public law. No international engagement shall be binding unless ratified by a representative body, and published to all the nations. Otherwise it shall be absolutely void, and shall not give rise to any rights or obligations; in fact, an attempt to make an agreement contrary to these conditions shall be considered an act hostile to the peace of the world. That should be the recognized law.

Nothing shows so clearly how human development has halted at this point, as the fact that it should still require an argument to show the necessity of publicity and lawfulness with respect to the most essential interests of the vast populations that make up the international family.

The record and constant practice of the United States, as well as her great actual and potential power, fit her above all others to be a leader in the establishment of this principle. The American nation possesses a great moral capital in the confidence and trust that the peoples of the world repose in it. No matter if unsympathetic chanceries should plot to prevent America from making her influence felt in the affairs of the world, no matter how European diplomacy may occasionally sneer at American idealism, the peoples208 themselves, great and small, including particularly those areas so immensely important—Russia and China—would willingly look to America for leadership and guidance, with complete trust and confidence. When this is fully realized, we shall also be able to judge how vitally what America stands for in the world will be strengthened by a constant adherence to open and straightforward methods in international intercourse.

But America herself, it will be said, cannot fundamentally change the spirit that animates foreign policies, and bring about the universal use of honest and open practices. We are living under a system which is the result of historic forces that have not yet fully spent themselves and which put the potential enmity among nations in the foreground.

I do not believe that it is necessary to shut our eyes to reality and to seek recourse in a Utopian policy, in order to escape the menace inherent in current international practices. If America will only not fall in line with the absolutist tradition in diplomacy, but will emphasize at all times, with all her influence, those principles of international conduct which our natural freedom from entanglements has permitted us to develop as of actual experience, America will contribute in a most209 potent manner to the realization of that new spirit which must surely come to deliver humanity. That spirit is not a mere ideal,—it is fortunately already present in much of international practice; but it needs constantly to be followed up and supported in order that it may become the customary and instinctive guide, superseding such prejudices as are still current which favor tortuous manipulation and perpetuate an uninformed and confused state of the public mind.

In order to fulfil this promise and destiny the United States would have to rely in the first place on the inherent merit of her ideals and principles of action, and on the support which they will receive from the approval of the peoples of the world. As far as organized governments go, as distinguished from the people, some will be more inclined than others to coöperate with the United States in a reform of international practice. There is no question but that the great majority of governments will thus coöperate, though some of the most important may for a time be left on the other side.

With those peoples and governments who are in language, political traditions and general impulses most closely related to us, there should grow up a particularly strong feeling of confidence210 making all our intercourse absolutely open. There certainly need not be any secrets between the United States and the great commonwealths of Canada and Australia. Our interests, our condition, our institutions, all make for the closest understanding. Through them there may be also realized that harmony which ought by every normal reason to exist between the United States and the English people, and which is disturbed only from time to time when the policy of the British government is determined more from the point of view of the supposed needs of the British Empire in India, than of that of the true tradition of the English-speaking world. I do not think of treaties or of alliances, but of something much stronger—an intimate understanding among peoples, based on mutual trust and confidence, and the consciousness of a common destiny, common purposes, and a common belief in the things which alone will prevent civilization from extinguishing itself in senseless hatreds.

In modern diplomacy there still persists the image of the chess players intent on their complicated game, planning each move with long foresight of all the combinations that could possibly be organized by the opponent. In the popular image, too, the great diplomat is conceived as spinning a complicated web of actions and relationships in which every detail is subordinate and subservient to a general dominant purpose. Then comes the international publicist and with ingenuity still more refined than that of the imagined diplomat, he reasons out the innermost ambitions that dominate and inspire the makers of foreign affairs. So it has remained possible for the most extravagant imaginary constructions to be put forth in volumes of sober aspect, which purport to give the key to diplomacy or to expose the pernicious ambitions of this or that foreign office. It has become a game in which nothing is impossible to the constructive imagination.

To any one familiar with the usual methods of foreign offices and of diplomatic representatives,212 the idea that foreign affairs are really handled in this manner, like mental legerdemain, becomes quite grotesque. Complicated manipulations with respect to movements far in the future, looking to still more distant results,—that kind of diplomatic planning exists more in the imagination than in the actual conduct of foreign affairs. In the majority of cases foreign offices meet each situation as it arises, relying indeed on precedents and having certain underlying aims and purposes, but giving most attention to the facts immediately present and often satisfied with anything that will ease a troublesome or embarrassing situation. Foreign offices indeed differ greatly in the definiteness and constancy of their objectives and the completeness with which they subordinate details to central aims. The Russian foreign office always had the reputation of great continuity of policy; it gave the central place to fundamental objectives to which problems that arose from day to day could be referred; and thus it solved them with a cumulative effect upon the advancement of its political aims.

From the point of view of the older traditions of diplomacy, there would be a decided advantage in definiteness of plan and in the harmonious subordination of all details to the main idea. However,213 the advantage of this method is frequently defeated through the narrowness of the objects aimed at, when diplomatic policy is conceived in this manner. Immediate purposes may indeed be achieved more readily, but the permanent results will usually be barren or lead ultimately to conflicts of forces. In such a system there is too much abstraction from the multiform forces of actual life; and while those who pursue it may flatter themselves that they are making history, they are not often building in accordance with natural and historic forces.

The concept of diplomacy which has been criticized in these pages does not exclude the possibility of immediate brilliant success; but its ineffectiveness appears when we view it over longer periods of history. It is built on too narrow a foundation. We have seen that even with the greatest statesmen, any plan of action conceived in this manner has such positive limitations that the very success in executing such policies through a shrewd play of diplomatic forces, conjures up new dangers and difficulties. The wisdom of no man nor small self-contained group of men is at present sufficient to measure the needs of society and to transform its impulses into effective action. A broader basis for policy is needed. But214 the greatest weakness of the old method lies in the fact that just at the very times when men are most in need of confidence and of a spirit of reason and sane judgment, this mode of action leaves the public mind in confusion, excitement and the darkest fears.

If democracy means anything, its significance for the welfare of humanity must lie in the value of allowing constantly more and more minds to participate in the great things of the world. Not only would such participation seem to be a natural right of the human mind but also the things most worth while can be achieved only when the ablest and best can freely lend their efforts. To all this a narrow system of secret management by a limited hierarchy is hostile. The old diplomacy rests entirely on skepticism as to the wisdom and self-control of the people. The people are merely material for statesmanship. This conception is blind to the fact that everything that is great in modern life has arisen through the freedom with which talent may manifest itself wherever found and that in all pursuits of humanity that are worth while, innumerable minds coöperate, in a degree as warranted by their capacity to bring about sound action and improvement. The older diplomacy assumed that the people215 furnished only passive material for statesmanship to work upon, and it saw in the public only potentialities for vague and general influences which statesmanship in turn was to mold and utilize. The greatest distance it went, was to admit that national policy must rest on popular instinct; a principle which is quite compatible with the practice of secret diplomacy. When we come to talk of political instincts, however, we are dealing with one of the vaguest and most indefinite concepts known to thought. These instincts may be interpreted and given active expression as it suits any diplomatic policy. Unfortunately the “instincts” most to the fore are not usually helpful to calm and sound action. In international affairs, an instinctive dislike or hatred of anything different has again and again been made the basis of aggressive action, stirring up otherwise peaceful populations to warlike and murderous intent. Great national policies may often truly be said to rest on instinct in the sense that undivided popular support is given to a policy from a variety of motives which are not clearly reasoned out but which all express themselves in an overpowering impulse which may be called instinctive. Thus the Monroe policy in which the most fundamental motive is the desire for peace216 and for the safety of the continental position of the American nation, may be said to rest on the instinct of self-preservation.

But it is quite plain that unless what is here called instinct can be transformed into an intelligent, wise and discriminating public opinion, such instinct is but a shifting sand, affording material which may be molded into any desired form by an ambitious policy working through suggestion and propaganda. Instinct can be transformed into a true public policy only through publicity and through the training of large groups of men to see things with true eyes and to judge with reason and wisdom. Here is the crux of the matter. Secret diplomacy treats all except the inner official ring as outsiders and “persons without responsibility.” Among these outsiders there may be numerous persons actually better qualified than the officials themselves, through experience and thought, to judge of international affairs. No one can here assume infallibility. Safe counsel can come only if the entire intelligence and moral sentiment of a nation can find expression and if its fittest individuals can concentrate their attention upon every great problem as it arises. A sound, just, wise public policy without publicity cannot be imagined. To consider publicity an217 evil, to consider it as impeding the proper flow of international influences and obstructing the solution of international difficulties, appears as an unbelievable perversion when we consider the true implications of such a thought.

It is therefore inestimably important that the facts of international life, the materials out of which policies are formed, should be known freely and fully to the public of every nation. The manipulation of international communications for political purposes is the most sinister and dangerous part of the system with which secret diplomacy is entwined. According to this theory it is not only not good for the people to know everything but they must also be made to know things about the truth of which we need not bother our heads but which will stimulate the passions and arouse the instincts our policy desires to work upon. Thus the void left by secrecy, by a concealment of the true nature and character of internationally important matters, is frequently supplied by an intelligence service carrying distorted and colored versions of facts; all this confuses and discourages the public mind to such an extent that it becomes unable to sever fact from fiction and to form a consistent and firm judgment.

The abolition of secret diplomacy is not a matter218 of agreeing to have no more secrets. It is a matter of arousing among the public so powerful a determination to know, so strong a sentiment of the value of truth, such a penetrating spirit of inquiry, that the secrets will fade away as they always do when the importance of a situation is really understood by a large number of people.

Meanwhile it need not appear futile to work for the positive elimination of secrecy. No one can doubt that the provision of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which requires that all treaties shall be made public, is salutary and that its enforcement would greatly increase public confidence. But it is necessary to go beyond this and to outlaw any agreement which is kept secret, by making it the public law of the world that no rights or obligations can be founded on such attempts against the peace and common welfare of the nations.

The personal relationships of diplomacy also require attention. The spirit of the Diplomatic Service should be transformed in accordance with the modern organization of society. The most essential weakness of caste diplomacy lies in the fact that it does not provide means for a sufficient contact among the peoples of the world. Contact is maintained only within a narrow class.219 The diplomatic fraternity lives in its own realm of precedences, rivalries and traditions. To confine the intercourse and interchange of influences so narrowly, is a great weakness of our present political system.

The diplomatic office should be conceived as having the function to represent not only the special national interest of the respective country, but also, on an equal plane, its participation in all the activities and interests which are common to the nations of the world. The legations and embassies should be provided with a personnel of attachés not only for political and military affairs, but for commerce, education, science and social legislation. All these matters are already dealt with to some extent by common action among the nations. The sending of ministers as delegates to international technical conferences has often been criticized as importing into such conferences the narrow, separatist point of view of diplomatic politics. It should be exactly the other way; participation in such conferences ought to impart to diplomats a broad spirit of coöperation instead of a desire to maintain intact a theoretical isolation. That is the essence of the matter. As long as it is supposed that by jealously scrutinizing every international relationship220 from the point of view of abstract political independence, and assuming that it is best to make the very least possible contribution of energy and coöperation, the national interest can be most promoted; so long will diplomatic action continue on a strained basis, always being painfully conscious of the potential enmity among nations. But when it is realized that in nearly every case the national interest, or the interest of the people of the nation which ought to be synonymous therewith, is best advanced by whole-souled coöperation in constructive work in commerce, industry, science and the arts, then the political factor of diplomatic rivalry will assume more just proportions as compared with the other interests of humanity.

This borders upon a very broad subject dealing rather with general international policy than with the specific problems we were considering; and yet we ought to be aware of this background. We need not give up our conviction that the autonomy of the national state must be preserved and that each political society shall dispose of its own affairs within its borders as its wisdom and judgment may dictate, free from intervention from without. But complete freedom of local self-determination can rest only upon a universal221 recognition of that right in all others, in a spirit of confidence and security engendered by the absence of intrigue and secret ambitions. In a still greater measure does the happiness of the national state depend on free and full coöperation with all others in all pursuits, activities and interests common to humanity and in making the earth a place for dignified and happy human life. Unless diplomacy looks forward to this and helps to bring it about, it will remain ensnared in the old practices which ever lead only to barren results.

Lincoln’s simple faith in the people has not yet been adequately applied in international affairs. International action has shown the impersonal character of calculated manipulations coldly disposing of the rights and lives of millions with cruel callousness. The last great war has made us consider the relation of war sacrifices to the daily welfare of the people. A great deal of the prevailing unrest in the world is undoubtedly due to a lack of confidence that great affairs are being handled with wisdom and with regard to the true, lasting welfare of the people themselves. It is difficult to reduce to personal terms relations so abstract and general as those obtaining in international affairs. We think of the armies in222 serried ranks and are impressed with the impact of their force and the great feats it may accomplish. But we are too apt to forget the individual destiny carried in every breast, the human feeling in every heart, among all the millions that make up this engine of power and destruction. Human welfare rather than human power has not yet been made the constant and overshadowing aim of diplomacy. That will be done only when the people themselves demand that international affairs shall be dealt with in a different spirit and with other methods. Then we shall have policies that can be avowed and understood by the people who bear the burden and who pay the bill.

The questions which we have been considering are not distinct and isolated but are bound up with all that goes toward a more adequate organization of modern society. Even in the industries, men are no longer satisfied with a narrowly centralized control. They call for information and accountability, they claim a share in management, at least of an advisory or consultative nature. All who contribute in bearing the risks of industry demand to be kept informed of the policies and actions of the management. In ever extending circles men share in the responsibility for action taken in their name. It is a truism223 that risk is diminished and tends to disappear as it is distributed over greater and greater numbers. Under our present political system nations are carrying a tremendous risk in international affairs—they are risking their wealth, the lives of their citizens, their own very existence. The responsibility for bearing these risks and for arranging the conditions of safety is now too narrowly centralized. It is an elementary demand of safety that it should be more widely distributed, that a larger number of competent and representative minds should take part in carrying this burden. And they should at all points be supported by a well-informed public opinion throughout the nation.

But there is a condition that lies still deeper. The popular psychology cultivated under the narrow aims of nationalism has exhausted itself in international matters in dislike and hatred of everything alien and of all that lies beyond the national pale. Such a state of mind is ever ready to act the bull to any red rag of newspaper sensationalism. So, the inside managers of diplomatic affairs may still say with some justification, “Open discussion would too much excite the public mind.” This fundamental condition cannot be suddenly purged of all its potency for evil.224 Only by gradual degrees may an attitude be brought about within the national communities which will be more just to the outside world and to everything that is strange and unaccustomed. What the great imaginative writers of the first half of the nineteenth century accomplished in breaking down social prejudices and abuses will have to be done for humanity by a new host of inspired molders of human sentiment. We may not get rid of artificial hostilities now still nurtured by nationalism, until ideals of international goodwill and fellowship have been expressed in the form of human experience and portrayed as part of the struggles and triumphs of the individual human soul. Patient, sound, upbuilding influences shall have to work powerfully on the masses of men, and on their leaders, before we may finally overcome the evils that express themselves in practices inherent in a system such as that we call “secret diplomacy,” before the world may be made an abode of mutual confidence and helpfulness instead of a house of imprisonment, suspicion and terror.

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Dickinson, G. L. Democratic Control of Foreign Policy. Atlantic, August, 1916.

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Metternich. Memoirs.

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Murray, Sir Gilbert. Faith, War and Policy. 1917. Part 6.

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Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalanced quotation marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left unbalanced.

The index was not checked for proper alphabetization or correct page references.

Page 225: The “č” in “Goričar” may have been printed with a breve ( ̆ ), not with a caron ( ̌ ).