Speech in the Senate by M. Spaak,
Minister for Foreign Affairs,
on April 16th, 1940
M. SPAAK, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.--I feel sure that the Senate will understand that I should like to make a short statement at the beginning of this debate.
For nearly eight months, Western Europe has been under arms. Millions of men mount guard round our frontiers and challenge one another.
Ten days ago two nations, two friendly nations, were drawn into the turmoil.We are following Norway's efforts all the more sympathetically, in that she was always a great lover of peace and was loyally neutral. (Hear, hear.) (Applause from all parties.)
She was therefore in much the same position as ourselves. Her sentiments were our sentiments.
This country had enriched our European civilization by its labour, but its social legislation, by the sum of progress it represents; and in many ways we liked to think of it as a model.
Some of us might have had doubts as to its warlike qualities.
What strikes me most in Norway's heroic stand is that love of peace, respect for neutrality, the often-repeated desire to spare one's country the horrors of war do not in any way diminish but rather heighten fierce determination to defend the soil of the Fatherland when it becomes necessary. (Loud applause from all parties.)
To other countries Norway's attitude will be a lesson and an example. This war, which is spreading, this war which is affecting the most innocent, this war which strikes at those who least deserve it, forces us to consider our own position, to consider what we have done--in a word, to take our own bearings.
I, like all of you no doubt, have often thought during the past few months about our foreign policy during the past five years.
Once again the other evening I reread the different diplomatic documents concerning Belgium and the declarations accompanying them.
And once again I arrived at the reassuring conviction that our foreign policy had been perfectly loyal and clear, perfectly correct. (Hear, hear.)
Few countries can have defined their objectives so clearly; confined themselves to promises they could be sure of keeping; enlightened their neighbours as to their intentions. There was not--there is not--any change, any element of surprise. Whatever happens, nobody can say Belgium deceived them. (Further marks of approval.)
On April 29th, 193, I said in the Chamber:
"What are the principles on which our foreign policy is based?
"I should like to remind you of them once again. We want first and foremost to find a formula for uniting our people. We do not want to make sacrifices for the sake of a specifically Walloon or specifically Flemish ideology. We want a policy that is solely and exclusively Belgian. We want a policy firmly rooted in our national traditions, a policy which will help us to play our part in Europe.
"Belgium has no direct interests outside her own frontiers; she has no ambition other than to remain what she is; she seeks nothing; she asks nothing of anyone but peace.
"But--and this is both her misfortune and her greatness--she has for centuries been a European battlefield, a highway for
invasion for all the conquerors. Her rôle, the rôle entrusted to her, one she must fulfil, is to close up on all sides and in all directions the way of invasion; to erect so many barriers and create so many difficulties on the battlefield of Europe that even the boldest are deterred.
"That is why our military policy is so closely bound up with our foreign policy. If Europe has more confidence in us to-day, it is not only because of our loyal attitude. It is because a few months ago, for the first time in our history, we all together shouldered the heavy burdens demanded of us."
Two years later, on June 8th, 1939, M. Pierlot in his turn summarized our chief aspirations:
"The main object of our policy of independence, in so far as it rests with us, is to preserve our country from the scourge of war. Belgium is a resolutely pacific country. She is determined not to take up arms except against an aggression directly aimed at her vital interests. In other words, the only ground for war that we would accept is national defence. But in such a case, we are ready to make every sacrifice, because more important than peace are liberty and honour." (Loud cheers.)
These few sentences of which you have just signified your approval, these principles which you have ratified by your votes, still hold good to-day.
In 1935 the Treaty of Locarno was torn up and the last illusion about the League of Nations was shattered. We were faced with this dilemma: an alliance with the Great Powers or independence.
We did not want an alliance, whatever our sympathy with our possible partners, for it would have made of us mediocre followers, it would have involved us in an international policy that we were not strong enough to apply; it would have led us irresistibly to war.
We wanted to remain ourselves, to remain, as far as possible, masters of our fate. We wanted in so doing to play the part which geography and history have assigned to us in Western Europe. We dreamed of being a crossroads where all the great currents of civlilzation might peacefully cross one another. We have told everybody what we should like to be, what we want to do. It is a good thing, it is useful, to recall to-day that France, Great Britain, and Germany solemnly proclaimed that this policy was justified.
Our neighbours who, at the beginning of the present conflict, solemnly confirmed their determination to respect our territory, have themselves summed up in terms we cannot but accept certain principles underlying our policy.
They have taken note of our determination expressed publicly and on more than one occasion to defend the frontiers of Belgium with all our forces against any aggression or invasion, and to prevent Belgium from being used, for purposes of aggression against another State, as a passage or as a base of operations by land, by sea, or in the air.
Though we have concluded no treaty, in the actual meaning of the word, with France, Great Britain, or Germany, we have entered into a moral undertaking to which we intend to adhere, so long as the situation in Western Europe remains what it is to-day.
International law, international morality, have sustained violent blows in recent times. In spite of all, they remain a refuge for small nations, and, whatever the transgressions of others, Belgium would never be justified in breaking her word.
We shall never give up our chief claim to consideration--our loyalty.
The discreet policy we have adopted is justified by our general desire to avoid war, but also by our more definite desire to avoid becoming once more the battlefield of Europe.
Those in other countries who judge us severely or give us advice, those at home--happily they become fewer every day--who disapprove of the Government's policy, have not understood what will happen to us if this policy fails.
As early as October 14th, 1936, the King said: "In the absence of a defence system of her own, capable of withstanding the invader, the invasion would penetrate deeply into Belgium at the very beginning and she would be devastated at once. Afterwards friendly intervention might, of course, ensure final victory, but in the process the country would suffer ravages such as would be infinitely worse than those of the war of 1914-18."
No country wants war; no country would agree to be a field of battle.
The Scandinavian countries showed this during the Finnish war. The Balkan countries are wise and sensible, and do not risk lighting afire that would, they realize, assume devastating proportions.
The great belligerent countries themselves have taken their precautions.France has her Maginot line; Germany has her Siegfried line; Great Britain has the sea.
Behind this triple belt, they can face the idea of war because they feel safe. Belgium could not build ramparts on her threatened frontiers: it would have been out of proportion to her resources. She did what she could in the military sphere, and she is happy
to have done so, but she sought rather to complement her security in the diplomatic field.
I do not want to paint a picture of the horrors our country might have to endure if it were involved in war--it would be only too easy to do so. But I venture to say that our fate would be worse than that of any other belligerent. This alone is sufficient justification for our efforts, and I am not ashamed of egoism, the sacred egoism which inspires me when I am fighting to spare Belgium an ordeal she has not deserved. (Loud applause.)
All these ideas, all these principles, were ours before the war. We have been guided by them for the past eight months, and we still believe in them.
I am glad to say we have not had a single incident with the belligerents that has led to a really serious situation.
Twice only--at Nivelles at the beginning of the war and, more tragically, at St. Hubert a few weeks ago--we have had to deplore some injured and one dead. Each time our rights were fully recognized; each time we were compensated for the damage done.
In a very difficult situation, placed as we are between great neighbours engaged in a formidable struggle, we stood firm without flinching. There was, I swear, no provocation, no boasting; nor was there any lack of firmness and dignity.
What helps us, what has saved us so far--I shall never weary of repeating--is our loyalty. Here, as in the economic and military spheres, we have done everything we could and everything we should.
We have brought the country's fighting strength up to the highest pitch, and we have never lost sight of the fact that at present we must depend first and foremost on ourselves.
The public is anxious, and I can quite understand that. Their anxiety makes them too ready to listen to certain rumours. We must, by displaying calm, help them to overcome this tendency. Belgians can be sure that the Government will not accept any suggestion calculated to change our policy, a policy approved by the vast majority of the people.
We have a very difficult task ahead of us; our responsibilities are very heavy. The whole future of Belgium is at stake. We are therefore entitled to ask for your confidence and your help.
We are also entitled to ask you to show that national discipline which is so necessary to-day. We in the Government have sympathies and friendships too, but far above friendship is duty. Love of friendship is very precious, and we all would willingly give ourselves up to it. The path of duty is rougher; yet we must choose it.
Above all, we must protect our people; we must spare them
war; we must save our children; we must safeguard our towns and our countryside.
Our duty as leaders--our duty as men--is above all to preserve peace.
It is also our duty, should our independence or our vital interests be threatened, to be strong enough effectively to defend them.
The country desires peace; the country desires neutrality. The country will do its duty all the better if it is compelled to do so, if it has the deep conviction, the absolute assurance, that its leaders have done their utmost to preserve peace and neutrality.
That is our duty--our difficult but splendid duty.
If you are only willing to help us, we shall succeed. (Loud applause, except from the Communists.)
Table of Contents