Appendix 3
Speech in the Chamber of Representatives by M. Spaak,
Minister for Foreign Affairs,
on April 29th, 1937


M. SPAAK, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.--
Last Saturday M. Laroche, Ambassador of France, and Sir Esmond Ovey, Ambassador of Great Britain, handed me the Franco-British Declaration which you will no doubt have read in the newspapers.

I should like, however, to remind you of it, for I want you to


have its terms in your minds while I am speaking. It reads as follows:

"In accordance with instructions received from their respective Governments, His Majesty's Ambassador and the Fr Ambassador have the honour to make the following communication to the Belgian Government:

"1. The Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the French Republic have not failed during the last few months to give their full attention to the desire of the Belgian Government to have the international rights and obligations of Belgium clarified in certain respects where this is rendered necessary by her geographical position and by the delays which may still occur before the negotiation and conclusion of the general Act intended to replace the Treaty of Lausanne.

"2. The Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic, being anxious to give full expression to their sympathy with this desire of the Belgian Government, have agreed to make the following declaration:

"3. The said Governments have taken note of the views which the Belgian Government has itself expressed concerning the interests of Belgium, and more particularly--

  1. "The determination expressed publicly and on more than one occasion by the Belgian Government: (a) to defend the frontiers of Belgium with all its forces against any aggression or invasion, and to prevent Belgian territory 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; (b) to organize the defence of Belgium in an efficient manner for this purpose;

  2. "The renewed assurances of the fidelity of Belgium to the Covenant of the League of Nations and to the obligations which it involves for Members of the League.

"4. In consequence, taking into account the determination and assurances mentioned above, the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic declare that they consider Belgium to be now released from all obligations towards them resulting from either the Treaty of Locarno or the arrangements drawn up in London on March 19th, 1936, and that they maintain in respect of belgium the undertakings of assistance which they entered into towards her under the above-mentioned instruments." (Hear, hear!)


"5. The Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic agree that the release of Belgium from her obligations, as provided for in paragraph 4 above, in no way affects the existing undertakings between the United Kingdom and France."

I handed the two Ambassadors the following reply on behalf of the Government:

BRUSSELS, April 24th, 1937.


"The Royal Government has taken note with great satisfaction of the declaration communicated to it this day by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It thanks the Government of the United Kingdom warmly for this communication.

"I have the honour, etc."   (More signs of approval.)

I think it only right to add to my own expression of satisfaction the expression of Belgium's gratitude. For some months I have found in British and French statesmen--Mr. Eden as well as M. Blum and M. Delbos--and also M. Laroche and Sir Esmond Ovey, for I must not forget these good servants of their own countries who are also great friends of ours--the most loyal and complete spirit of understanding and collaboration. (Hear, hear!)

Mr. Eden said the other day at Brussels:

"Every country has different problems to face. Every country has its own internal troubles; every country has special difficulties for which a special solution is necessary. In these circumstances, we must--each in so far as we are concerned--make allowances if we are to make any progress."

How could we fail to arrive at a solution when the statesman with whom we discuss our problems is inspired by such conciliatory wisdom?

M. Blum and M. Debos showed no less foresight, and what has happened in the last few days is therefore really the result of understanding and mutual confidence between France, Great Britain, and Belgium.

I should like to tell you all once more in public--you who represent the nation--that while it is true that we have been released by our great neighbours from certain legal obligations, they have acquired a new title to our friendship and gratitude. (Loud applause.)

Six days ago, then, an important change was made in our international status.

The first question we must answer is this: Were there any


reasons why we should try to define and specify our international rights and duties in a new form? I do not think there can be the slightest doubt as to the importance, the absolute necessity, of doing so.

To be sure of this we have only to remind ourselves of what our status was before. We have only to compare the period when it was thought out with to-day.

Belgium was happy to sign the Treaty of Locarno, and I sincerely believe she was right to sign it, for she obtained something that was essential to her security--the guarantee of France, Great Britain, and Italy.

However, the Treaty of Locarno imposed on us certain obligations which, though we were able to support them ten years ago, now seem to be far too onerous.

By the Treaty of Locarno, Belgium guaranteed to maintain the territorial status quo arising out of the frontiers between Germany and France and also the inviolability of those frontiers.

Thus, Belgium guaranteed France against a possible German attack; but--and many Belgians seem to have forgotten this--she also guaranteed Germany against a possible French attack.

By the Treaty of Locarno, despite the fundamental differences in our situation and in our available resources, we adopted exactly the same attitude and obligations in Western Europe as did our greater neighbours.

That was unquestionably daring. It is true that the atmosphere in Europe, as well as certain special circumstances, were such as to explain and justify our boldness.

The Germany of that time was almost disarmed, and there was reason to hope that the world would be wise enough to seek salvation in concerted and controlled disarmament. That hope is to-day disappointed--temporarily, I hope--but truth compels us to admit that Germany has again become a great military nation, and that in all countries throughout the world the armaments race has begun again with an intensity never before equalled.

That is the first fundamental defence between 1920 and 1937.

In 1925, there was a demilitarized zone. Article 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles were still effective. Article 1 of the Treaty of Locarno referred specifically to them. There is no need for me to emphasize the importance of the demilitarized zone for our military security in the event of a German attack.

In 1936, Germany reoccupied the demilitarized zone, reversing the former situation and facing us with a new fact.

How could we fail to take account of it in formulating our international status?


Lastly, in 1925 Germany was preparing to enter the League of Nations, and we were preparing to welcome her, knowing full well that her presence at Geneva would enhance the League's prestige and make it more effective.

Germany was ready in 1925 to accept the obligations and duties to which we subscribed when we adhered to the Covenant; her policy was to be based on the same principles as ours, and that was an important factor in our security.

Germany has now left the League; unfortunately, the hour for her return has not come yet. This fact must also be taken into account.

This simple reminder of the past, this simple comparison between 1925 and 1937, brings out the difference between the problems facing us to-day and the problems that faced us twelve years ago. It explains why different solutions are justified.

The story would,l however, be incomplete if I omitted the events of March 7th, 1936. In reoccupying the demilitarized zone, in repudiating the Treaty of Locarno, Germany placed France, Great Britain, Italy, and Belgium in a difficult situation.

In London, the three countries most directly concerned sought means of meeting the situation. They made arrangements which they themselves regarded as provisional. Above all--and I think I may pay them this tribute--they never lost heart, in spite of their very understandable bitterness and disappointment. They set to work again without losing hope, but with the determination to aim at peace, whatever happened.

They resumed their negotiations; they reformulated their proposals; they tried once again to create confidence and a spirit of understanding.

The work they had undertaken was long and exacting; it was arduous; it required time. I still firmly hope that one day it will be successful.

Yet the provisional system adopted in London was particularly burdensome for a small country. France and Great Britain quite understood this; they both felt, with us, that the agreement reached in March 1936 to meet a new situation that had arisen unexpectedly should be reviewed and readjusted.

Belgium was legitimately anxious to return at once to a more normal international status, a status better adapted to her resources and traditions.

The Prime Minister and I have often tried to explain these ideas. The King gave new force to them in his speech of October 14th, and public opinion has almost unanimously approved of them.


What are the principles on which our foreign policy is based?

I should like to remind you of them 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. (Hear, hear!)

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.

But apart from this we also want to contribute towards the collective organization of peace, towards the formulation of an international law. In spite of failure, in spite of disillusionment, we should like to feel that one day wisdom and reason will prevail. That is why we are faithful to the League of Nations and why we offer it our loyal collaboration.

All this we have said over and over again. France and Great Britain heard and understood; in their joint declaration they defined our foreign policy in terms not a single word of which do I need to alter:

"The said Governments have taken note of the views which the Belgian Government has itself expressed concerning the interests of Belgium, and more particularly--

  1. "The determination expressed publicly and on more than one occasion by the Belgian Government: (a) to defend the frontiers of Belgium with all its forces against any aggression or invasion, and to prevent Belgian territory 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; (b) to organize the defence of Belgium in an efficient manner for this purpose;


  1. "The renewed assurances of the fidelity of Belgium to the Covenant of the League of Nations and to the obligations which it involves for Members of the League."

Having thus defined our foreign policy, France and Great Britain of their own accord took a twofold decision. They released us from the guarantees we had given them in Locarno and London, and they maintained the guarantees they had given us.

That is our new position. I very sincerely believe that it represents an improvement on which we can congratulate ourselves.

Why an improvement? Because it is simple; because it is clear; because we now know exactly what our obligations are; because from now on there is only one ground on which we can be forced to make war; one ground about which there can be no discussion, no controversy; one ground about which we should all be united and resolute--the defence of our territory against an enemy attack. (Hear, hear!)

The declaration of April 24th is not a treaty in the strict sense. It is a spontaneous act on the part of France and Great Britain, but it is justified by the definition of our foreign policy. It follows that if one day we use our freedom to modify our policy, France and Great Britain will be entitled to withdraw their guarantee.

There can be no doubt as to these principles.

I therefore sincerely believe that everyone will admit that we are in a stronger position to-day than we were before, since, while we are released from some of our obligations, we retain all our rights.

But this brings me to the possible objection of those who feel we are being selfish, those who, in the language of international law, affirm that we have failed to be loyal to the principles of collective security and mutual assistance.

Frankly I do not agree. But if we are to make ourselves heard and understood, we must break down the barrier, tear away the screen of language, and get to the facts.

If collective security is a notion that implies that all States, whatever their size, whatever their strength or their traditions or their geographical situation, must adopt the same attitude, must subscribe to the same undertakings, if it means that Belgium's policy must be identical with the policy of France, Great Britain, or Germany, then I say collective security is a vague ideology which can never be of any service, for its deeply opposed to the facts and possibilities. (Hear, hear!) But if collective security


means that to promote the common welfare of all peoples, the organization and maintenance of peace, each State must do its utmost to play its part in so far as its resources permit, then I agree, and I would add that that is Belgium's position. For what is important is not what undertakings we give, but what undertakings we keep. And I repeat once more that in organizing our national defences, in making a great military effort, in not quibbling about what form aggression against us may take, in facing the cruel risks that all this entails, Belgium is giving Europe everything she can give, everything that Europe can legitimately ask of her. (Hear, hear!)

That, then, is how Great Britain and France and Belgium have settled for themselves the obligations of the past.

There remains the future.

The efforts begun during the past few months will continue. The Franco-British Declaration makes this clear. It particular, an immediate solution was sought and found for certain problems, seeing that the negotiations for a Western pact may take some time.

Belgium intends to take part in these negotiations. The Government is well aware that the work will not be completed until formulas have been found that are acceptable to Germany.

I have already explained how much importance I attach to the last declaration of the German Reich. It testified to a state of mind which we cannot but approve; it suggests possibilities which I have no intention of abandoning. The difficulties are not insurmountable. The state of mind with which we approach them is a fundamental factor in success or failure. The state of Europe is better to-day than it was six months ago, and the Franco-British Declaration is a new factor making for appeasement.

It is a fact that most European statesmen have a good-will towards peace, and we must have confidence.

We have passed the first stage. I envisage the stage we are now approaching with optimism. That is all I need to say about the Franco-British Declaration.

There remain two problems which are not dealt with in the declaration. But I should like to say a few words about them, for I know Belgian public opinion and European public opinion are interested. I refer to the interpretation of Article 16 of the Covenant and to what is known as the question of General Staff agreements.

I shall have very little to say about Article 16, for I think it is for the Assembly in Geneva to give an official interpretation of


the texts. But in view of the present discussions, the Chamber will expect me to express some opinion on it.

Moreover, I hope what I am going to say will help to clear up a problem which will only become more confused and difficult to solve if we are unduly cautious and subtle.

Here I am following the example of M. de Graeff, the honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, who has just made important and noteworthy declarations in the Netherlands Parliament.

The most important and most difficult part of Article 16 is the paragraph before the last dealing with the right of passage: The Members of the League of Nations "will take the necessary steps to afford passage through their territory to the forces of any of the Members of the League which are co-operating to protect the covenants of the League."

How and when would this operate?

It is quite extraordinary--and I might almost say disquieting--that so important a text, the application of which may produce serious consequences, should still be left open to individual interpretation.

As far as the Belgian Government is concerned, there are two conditions fundamental to affording the right of passage through our territory. The first is that on no hypothesis could passage be afforded without the consent of Belgium. The second is that Belgium could only give her consent in the case of joint action.

There does not seem to me to be any serious doubt as to these two conditions.

The first is the only possible interpretation compatible with our full sovereignty, the only interpretation compatible also with our public law.

This is so obvious that I do not need to demonstrate it.

The second condition--that there must be joint action--follows from the text itself.

I would not, of course, go so far as to maintain that joint action means the effective participation of all the Members of the League of Nations without exception; but iut does mean, if we are to be reasonably satisfied, that our neighbours must participate.

Those are the main ideas I hope to defend at Geneva when the question is raised there. (Hear, hear!)

In so far as General Staff agreements are concerned, my reply will be clear. The Franco-British Declaration of April 24th closes for use the period that might be described as the era of military agreements, and I am glad of it. (Hear, hear!)

Here some explanation is called for.

I am glad of it, not because these agreements were bad, but


because in spite of facts, in spite of affirmations ten times, twenty times, repeated by all my predecessors, they lent themselves, both at home and in Europe, to confusion and mistrust.

To some of use they were proof of our enfeoffment to one of our great neighbours. Others regarded them as an essential factor in our national defence. Each view was a false as the other.

Now these military agreements are done away with, I solemnly repeat again that they were not political; that they in no way impaired our independence; and that the spirit in which they were conceived was always the spirit in which they were applied.

That being so, where are we now?

The merit of the Franco-British Declaration, as I have said already--and I now repeat it-=-is to have clarified the situation. For us to-day there is only one possible ground for war--national defence.

The military problems of our responsible authorities are therefore now freed of any superfluous complications due to our responsibility for guarantees.

The problem is simplified--it is a purely technical problem.

Our foreign policy is now in line with what we can do in the military sphere.

We are free to deal quite independently with the technical problem; we have not agreed, and we shall never agree, to the slightest interference, the smallest restriction.

Once again we give a formal undertaking: whatever we ought to do to ensure the national defence, within the lines laid down above, will be done.

That is the end of this unduly lengthy declaration. I have nothing of importance to add to it.

The Government of national coalition and renewal has set itself the task, with the support of your confident co-operation, of making Belgium more prosperous, more socially developed, and more strong.

It is convinced that in attaining to the stage of foreign policy I have just described, it has made a useful contribution to that end.

It awaits and expects your approval. Your approval will crown its efforts, and once again the world will have the spectacle of a free people, magnificently confident of the destiny of the Fatherland. (Loud applause.)


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