Leaders & Controversies

Transcript: Source5

Telegram from Antony Eden, the British Minister for League of Nations Affairs, on French attitudes, September 1935
(Catalogue ref: PRO 30/69/621)

Source 5a


Decypher. His Majesty’s Council (Geneva).

24th September 1935.

D. 2.15 a.m. 24th September 1935.


R. 4.50 a.m. 24th September 1935.


No.165 (L/N)




Following from Mr. Eden.


It may be useful if I now attempt assessment of the present situation with regard to Italo-Abyssinian dispute as viewed from Geneva.

There is no sign of any weakening in overwhelming support for the Covenant which was feature of debate in Assembly nor any sign that members of the League would be unwilling to shoulder their obligations should situation demand it.

The only nation which has shown a marked lack of enthusiasm for effective action under the Covenant is France. French preoccupations are result of two causes:

(a) Their eyes are constantly turned towards Germany and they cannot bring themselves to take any step which could conceivably weaken a united front against the German peril. Conviction so strongly held in England that failure of League to act firmly this time would fatally weaken it in any future crisis that might arise, does not appeal to them with equal force. For though French are clear sighted they are not long sighted.

Source 5b

(b) Their support of the League does not rest on a conception of a code of international law. They regard it mainly as an instrument of French policy to be used when it is convenient to France. In present crisis they are uncertain whether it is convenient. They are driven therefore to a series of manoeuvres object of which is not to antagonise Italy while keeping League alive for another crisis when it may be of value to them. This is explanation of Monsieur Laval’s perpetual tacking to and fro. Eventually however they will be obliged to take sides and it is becoming obvious that they will be driven in the end to support the League. For failure to do so would not mean merely destroying the whole system of collective security but antagonising England. This would be too high a price to pay for support of a régime in Italy which even if Abyssinian adventure succeeds is only too probably tottering of economic reasons to its fall. They have also no doubt been powerfully impressed by concentration of our fleet in the Mediterranean. For years now foreign nationals have under-rated both our strength and our will to use it. They now wake up to find that we are powerful and determined.

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