Arms spending controversy
Catalogue reference: FO 371/1985

[This Document is the Property of His Britannic Majesty's Government.]
No. 1.
Sir V. Corbett to Sir Edward Grey. - (Received January 15.)
(No. 6.)
Munich, January 13, 1914.
          THE Chancellor of the Exchequer's energetically phrased denunciation of the "organised insanity" of modern armaments has excited intense interest in Germany. Every paper has reported his words, and also the comments of the British press thereon.
          But it is one of the advantages of the Press Bureau that, except in he case of the Social Democratic journals, it can dictate what events shall be commented on and what shall not. In the present case those who direct it have apparantly decreed that comment would be out of place, and their astuteness has been amply rewarded by the press controversy in England, which has been fully reported here.
          Nothing could make pleasanter reading for the average German than the information, from English sources, that the British Cabinet is hopelessly divided on the question of the next navy estimates. In the present instance this satisfaction has not been denied him.
          The Prime Ministers, both of Bavaria and Wurtemberg, have spoken to me on the subject, and both asked if Mr. Lloyd George's words implied a split in the Cabinet. I replied in both instances to the effect that England was the country of free discussions, that the Cabinet was a large one, and that without doubt differences of view must occasionally arise between Ministers charged with different functions, but we had the Prime Minister's assurance that the present Cabinet was absolutely united, and, as far as I could see, Mr. Lloyd George had done nothing more than voice the opinion not only of the Government but of the vast majority of Englishmen when he condemned the present insensate expenditure. We had, I reminded their Excellencies, for the last ten years been in favour of calling a halt in naval expenditure, and Mr. Churchill had even made concrete proposals in that sense. The Chancellor had said nothing new.
          It is perhaps a pity that Mr. Lloyd George should have drawn a distinction between foreign naval and military armaments with its suggested indifference to the interests of France, and it is certainly to be deplored that other public speakers should have dealt on the sixteen to ten standard, which was never, as far as I recollect, formerly laid down by the First Lord as a permanently desirable one. Comparisons are always invidious, and frequently, as in the present case, offensive. The arrogant talk, in which we used to indulge, of so many keels to one was not only absurd in itself, but by goading German pride was, I am confident, one of the most potent causes of the success of the German Navy League.
           At a time when the statesmen of England and Germany have done so much to bring about a more friendly feeling between the two countries, when not only the German taxpayer but the various Federal Governments are beginning to feel the pinch of increased taxation; when, moreover, the Zabern incident has brought the military and civil, or in other words the aristocratic and democratic, elements in the Empire into sharp conflict; at a moment, therefore, which is the most favourable that has ever occurred for the development of an internal movement for the restriction of unremunerative expenditure, it would be deeply to be regretted if the speeches of politicians or newspaper controversies in Great Britain should lead the Germans to believe that the British Government were wavering in their determination to maintain at all costs armaments adequate to guarantee the safety of our possessions and our trade.
          As I have already had the honour to report, no specifically hostile feeling to Great Britain exists, or has ever existed, in South Germany, and, since the "Wehrbeitrag" has begun to be exacted, the conviction has been brought home both to the well-to-do classes, who are our trade rivals, and to the Finance Ministers of the various States that some limit must be put to naval and military expenditure. This view is not shared by naval and military men, and their influence would again make itself felt the moment there was reason to believe that the British Government were unable to exact any more sacrifices from the British people.
          The London and provincial papers that proclaim that the supporters of the Government will stand no more taxation for armaments are so far from contributing to strengthen our presently improved relations with Germany, that they only serve to encourage the class in this country, which I believe to be diminishing, but which is unhappily still far from uninfluential, that sees in the British Empire an opponent to German development with whom an armed struggle is sooner or later inevitable.
                                                                                                        I have, &c.

close window
back to top of page back to top