BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY
By John Gunther
BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY, by John Gunther, from his Inside Europe, published by New York, Harper and Brothers, 1937, pp. 224, 225.
John Gunther, foreign news reporter for the Chicago Daily News, of America, has worked for his newspaper in almost every country of Europe. He then made a trip around the world and expected to put out a new book Outside Asia very much along the lines of his Inside Europe.
British foreign policy, which is extraordinarily constant, changing little （as Sir Samuel Hoare recently said） from generation to generation, is based, broadly speaking, on the concept of the balance of power with Britain holding the balance. “All our greatest wars,” Sir Austen Chamberlain put it, “have been fought to prevent one great military power dominating Europe, and at the same time dominating the coasts of the Channel and the ports of the Low Countries.” Trevelyan has said, “From Tudor times onwards, England treated European politics simply as a means of insuring her own security from invasion and furthering her designs beyond the ocean.” In modern times, following this policy, Britain has tended, when France was stronger than Germany, to support Germany; when Germany was stronger than France, to support France. Since the war the League of Nations has been a convenient mechanism to this end; if the League ceases to serve British purpose, Britain ignores it. Since with great shrewdness in 1919, Britain obtained the entrance of the Dominions （and India） into the League as separate states, she is always able to dominate its deliberations. Before the war it was a cardinal principle of British politics not to commit the nation to any action on the Continent in regard to hypothetical future contingencies. Locarno, the apex of the balance of power policy, changed this. All these considerations are, of course, dominated by the principle of Pax Britannica; Britain, a great trading nation, wants peace. When the sanctions crisis arose, as Walter Duranty put it, “the British did not want a war to such a degree that they were prepared to fight to avoid it.”
Another and a very curious minor factor should be mentioned. It causes much puzzlement to observers on the Continent. The British think even of foreign policy as a sort of game. Unlike the Germans or the French, to whom politics is a matter of life or death, the British are capable of extreme detachment in the direction of their complex foreign affairs. Europe is a sort of stage;the play that is going on is a play. And if someone misses his cue, or blunders with his lines, the average Briton always assumes that the drama is merely a rehearsal, and can be played over again—better.
Roughly there are two groups in the foreign office. The first comprises the pro-Leaguers who are idealists. They hope through a system of collective security to bring Germany into the amicable concert of great powers. They view war as a literal horror; the Abyssinian crisis meant to them the collapse of moral law in Europe. The second group, mostly represented by older men, are willing enough to give the League a bit of rope, but they distrust the efficacy of the collective security principle, and put their hopes in （1） a powerful navy, and （2） isolationism. The opinions of this group served to encourage Germany, because isolation—noninterference in Europe—is tantamount to taking the German side.
Sir Samuel Hoare, English statesman, secretary of state for India, foreign minister （1935）, then first lord of the Admiralty, often spoken of as the next prime minister.
Sir Austen Chamberlain, English statesman, approaching his eighties, has filled practically every great political office in England.
the Channel, the English Channel, separating England from Europe.
the Low Countries, Holland and Belgium.
Trevelyan, George Otto （1838-1928）, English politician, biographer, and historian.
Tudor times, the times of the English sovereigns from Henry VII to Elizabeth, from 1485 to 1603.
hypothetical future contingencies, thing that may happen in the future but based on a supposition that may not be founded on truth.
Locarno, the Pact of Locarno, a set of treaties concluded at Locarno in 1925, with France, Germany, and Belgium, as chief parties, and Great Britain and Italy as guarantors, intended to secure the inviolability of the frontiers and other safeguards of peace. Locarno is in Switzerland.
apex, highest point, culmination.
Pax Britannica, the peace of Britain, the abstention from war enforced on States subject to the British Empire.
sanctions crisis. When Mussolini made use of the Walwal Incident of December 5, 1934, to descend upon Abyssinia, especially after October 3, 1935, Britain countered by proposing that sanctions （penalties） might be applied to Italy for violation of the Covenant of the League of Nations. But sanctions started slowly and failed.
Walter Duranty, newspaper observer who has written extensively, especially on Russia, his Duranty Reports Russia being extensively quoted.
extreme detachment, standing absolutely aloof from and being completely unaffected by surroundings, opinions, etc.
misses his cue, forgets to speak when he is supposed to speak in a play; misses the moment when he should come in.
blunders with his lines, makes mistakes when speaking his lines in a play.
rehearsal, a preparatory performance of a play or other entertainment.
the pro-Leaguers, those in favor of the League of Nations.
the Abyssinian crisis, precipitated when Italy attacked and took over control of Abyssinia.
isolationism, Britain standing apart, isolating herself, not having anything much to do with other nations, not entering into pacts with other nations.
tantamount, equivalent to.
- On what concept is British foreign policy based?
- Before the war, what was the cardinal policy of British politics?
- What very curious minor factor should be mentioned?
- What are the two groups in the foreign office?