« PreviousContinue »
Council of Four, and the Council of Foreign Ministers, the official title of the Council of Five (popularly nicknamed “The Big Four” and “The Little Five”), I made the following note on the subject of secret negotiations:
“After the experience of the last three months [JanuaryMarch, 1919] I am convinced that the method of personal interviews and private conclaves is a failure. It has given every opportunity for intrigue, plotting, bargaining, and combining. The President, as I now see it, should have insisted on everything being brought before the Plenary Conference. He would then have had the confidence and support of all the smaller nations because they would have looked up to him as their champion and guide. They would have followed him.
“The result of the present method has been to destroy their faith and arouse their resentment. They look upon the President as in favor of a world ruled by Five Great Powers, an international despotism of the strong, in which the little nations are merely rubber-stamps.
"The President has undoubtedly found himself in a most difficult position. He has put himself on a level with politicians experienced in intrigue, whom he will find a pretty difficult lot. He will sink in the estimation of the delegates who are not within the inner circle, and what will be still more disastrous will be the loss of confidence among the peoples of the nations represented here. A grievous blunder has been made.”
The views, which I expressed in this note in regard to the unwisdom of the President's course, were not new at the time that I wrote them. Over two months before I had watched the practice of secret negotiation with apprehension as to what the effect would be upon the President's influence and standing with the delegates to the Conference. I then believed that he was taking a dangerous course which he would in the end regret. So strong was this conviction that during a meeting, which the President held with the American Commissioners on the evening of January 29, I told him bluntly — perhaps too bluntly from the point of view of policy — that I considered the secret interviews which he was holding with the European statesmen, where no witnesses were present, were unwise, that he was far more successful in accomplishment and less liable to be misunderstood if he confined his negotiating to the Council of Ten, and that, furthermore, acting through the Council he would be much less subject to public criticism. I supported these views with the statement that the general secrecy, which was being practiced, was making a very bad impression everywhere, and for that reason, if for no other, I was opposed to it. The silence with which the President received my remarks appeared to me significant of his attitude toward this advice, and his subsequent continuance of secret methods without change, unless it was to increase the secrecy, proved that our judgments were not in accord on the subject. The only result of my representations, it would seem, was to cause Mr. Wilson to realize that I was not in
sympathy with his way of conducting the negotiations. In the circumstances I think now that it was a blunder on my part to have stated my views so frankly.
Two days after I wrote the note, which is quoted (April 2, 1919), I made another note more general in character, but in which appears the following:
“Everywhere there are developing bitterness and resentment against a secretiveness which is interpreted to mean failure. The patience of the people is worn threadbare. Their temper has grown ragged. They are sick of whispering diplomats.
“Muttered confidences, secret intrigues, and the tactics of the 'gum-shoer' are discredited. The world wants none of them these days. It despises and loathes them. What the world asks are honest declarations openly proclaimed. The statesman who seeks to gain his end by tortuous and underground ways is foolish or badly advised. The public man who is sly and secretive rather than frank and bold, whose methods are devious rather than obvious, pursues a dangerous path which leads neither to glory nor to success.
“Secret diplomacy, the bane of the past, is a menace from which man believed himself to be rid. He who resurrects it invites condemnation. The whole world will rejoice when the day of the whisperer is over."
This note, read at the present time, sounds extravagant in thought and intemperate in expression. It was written under the influence of emotions which had been deeply stirred by the conditions then existing. Time usually softens one's judgments and the passage of events makes less vivid one's impressions. The perspective, however, grows clearer and the proportions more accurate when the observer stands at a distance. While the language of the note might well be changed and made less florid, the thought needs little modification. The public criticism was widespread and outspoken, and from the expressions used it was very evident that there prevailed a general popular disapproval of the way the negotiations were being conducted. The Council of Four won the press-name of “The Olympians,” and much was said of “the thick cloud of mystery” which hid them from the anxious multitudes, and of the secrecy which veiled their deliberations. The newspapers and the correspondents at Paris openly complained and the delegates to the Conference in a more guarded way showed their bitterness at the overlordship assumed by the leading statesmen of the Great Powers and the secretive methods which they employed. It was, as may be gathered from the note quoted, a distressing and depressing time.
As concrete examples of the evils of secret negotiations the “Fiume Affair” and the “Shantung Settlement” are the best known because of the storm of criticism and
protest which they caused. As the Shantung Settlement was one of the chief matters of difference between the President and myself, it will be treated later. The case of Fiume is different. As to the merits of the question I was very much in accord with the President, but to the bungling way in which it was handled I was strongly opposed believing that secret interviews, at which false hopes were encouraged, were at the bottom of all the trouble which later developed. But for this secrecy I firmly believe that there would have been no “Fiume Affair."
The discussion of the Italian claims to territory along the northern boundary of the Kingdom and about the head of the Adriatic Sea began as soon as the American Commission was installed at Paris, about the middle of December, 1918. The endeavor of the Italian emissaries was to induce the Americans, particularly the President, to recognize the boundary laid down in the Pact of London. That agreement, which Italy had required Great Britain and France to accept in April, 1915, before she consented to declare war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, committed the Entente Powers to the recognition of Italy's right to certain territorial acquisitions at the expense of Austria-Hungary in the event of the defeat of the Central Empires. By the boundary line agreed upon in the Pact, Italy would obtain certain important islands and ports on the Dalmatian coast in addition to the Austrian Tyrol and the Italian provinces of the Dual Monarchy at the head of the Adriatic.
When this agreement was signed, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary was not in contemplation, or at least, if it was considered, the possibility of its accomplishment seemed very remote. It was assumed that the Dalmatian territory to be acquired under the treaty to be negotiated in accordance with the terms of the Pact would, with the return of the Italian provinces, give to Italy naval control over the Adriatic Sea and secure the harborless eastern coast of the Italian peninsula against future hostile attack by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The boundary laid