REVIEW of REVIEWS

Demilitarize Rhine Region

Peace of Europe Cannot Be Built on Shifting Sands of Mistrust, So Noted Soldier Advocates Novel Idea

BRIG.-GEN. E. L. SPEARS August 15 1925
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Demilitarize Rhine Region

Peace of Europe Cannot Be Built on Shifting Sands of Mistrust, So Noted Soldier Advocates Novel Idea

BRIG.-GEN. E. L. SPEARS August 15 1925

Demilitarize Rhine Region

Peace of Europe Cannot Be Built on Shifting Sands of Mistrust, So Noted Soldier Advocates Novel Idea

BRIG.-GEN. E. L. SPEARS

A PROJECT for establishing the security of Europe on firmer foundations by demilitarizing permanently the whole region of the Rhine, with the consent of Germany and France and under the control of the League of Nations, is advocated by BrigadierGeneral E. L. Spears, C.B., M.C., in a thoughtful article in the Review of Reviews. General Spears, who fought with great distinction in the earlier part of the war and who was head of the British Military Mission in Paris from 1917 to 1920, argues that “it is a waste of time to build the peace of Europe in the shifting sands of mistrust.” The world, he says, has had the spectacle “of vast moral guarantees being established to which lip service has been paid by governments whilst they tip-toed off as fast as they could to establish something they could really appreciate, understand and believe in; something tangible like a military pact.”

After reviewing the possible objections which would be put up by both France and Germany to such a demilitarized zone as he advocates, General Spears continues in part:

A real attempt to meet these difficulties by an admixture of moral and physical guarantees has been made in the proposals for the Western Security Pact, but the difficulties of carrying this out have been shown. What is necessary is to devise something feasible, something tangible, a physical guarantee not necessarily dependent upon pledges given mistrustfully by one nation to another.

Thanks to the League of Nations, it is possible to conceive of a physical guarantee that would fulfil these requirements. But, of course, as a preliminary step all the participating nations would have to be members of it.

The people of this country are beginning to realize that the whole of French policy since the war has been actuated by fear, fear of Germany’s growing numbers and strength in comparison to the numbers and strength of France which are diminishing. Germany on her side also fears France. The problem, therefore, is how to provide security.

If the apprehensions of France are analysed it becomes at once obvious that her anxiety is concentrated on the Rhine. During the Peace Conference she claimed that the Allies should maintain an army permanently on the Rhine, and only abandoned this for a military pact offered by England and America. When this pact collapsed, owing to its nonratification by America, she endeavored to make up for this loss by negotiating treaties with Germany’s eastern neighbors. Her desire is to be able to defend her soil by sending, in case of trouble, an army to hold the Rhine, as she sees in that river a great and powerful line of defence for herself. Her desire to hold the Rhine is based upon the fear that Germany might use the Rhine as a screen behind which to mobilize her armies, and might use the Rhine bridgeheads as sally-ports from which to attack her, thereby placing her in the same unfavorable position as in 1914.

If, therefore, Germany is deprived of the possibility of mobilising behind the Rhine and of using the greatest system of strategic railways in the world, expressly built for aggressive warfare against France, if Germany is prevented from seizing the Rhine bridges, French fears will have been met and French opinion, which knows full well that a permanent occupation of the Rhine is impossible, will be only too glad to accept this guarantee, once it is made effective.

It is suggested that this can be done, and these effective guarantees can be given if the League of Nations is made responsible for the demilitarized zone laid down by the Treaty of Versailles, and takes such measures as will make it absolutely impossible for the zone to be invaded without involving the most severe penalties.

The articles of the Treaty of Versailles read as follows:

Article 42. Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications

either on the left bank of the Rhine or on the right bank to the west of a line drawn fifty kilometers to the east of the Rhine.

Article 43. In the area defined above the maintenance and the assembly of armed forces, either permanently or temporarily, and military manoeuvres of any kind, as well as the upkeep of all permanent works for mobilisation, are in the same way forbidden.

To make these clauses effective, it is essential in the first place that the League should have a resident commission within the zone which would see that the demilitarization was effectively and permanently carried out. This commission would also have as its duty to see that the railways within the zone were so dealt with as at no time to be adapted to the uses of mobilisation or transport of troops.

It is suggested that an area ten kilometers in width on the French side of the Franco-German frontier as far as Strasbourg, should be demilitarized, and that the same regime should be applied to the department of the Haut Rhin which has no military importance. If this were done, there would be a measure of reciprocity, and similar measures to those applied on German territory could be applied to French territory, and equivalance thus created. League formations would work on French as well as on German territory, and lines of access to the demilitarized zone on the French side would be as carefully guarded as those on the German side. If the bridges over the Rhine were watched, so would be the bridges and tunnels on the French side. Germany would not alone have to bear the whole weight of responsibilitv of Articles 42 and 43; for what must be kept in mind on the German side is that, if such a measure is not carried out, Germany will have to bear without any alleviation a purely unilateral arrangement which, whilst pressing very heavily upon her, does not even have the advantage of making France feel secure. Furthermore, if an arrangement such as this supplementary to the treaty is not come to, it is easy to see how much friction will be caused. The French will always be suspicious of what Germany is doing within the area, and yet the treaty gives them no right of supervision. Germany will be forever reminded of her obligations under these clauses—reminders bound to lead to tension which, in periods of crises, might become very dangerous.

An arrangement such as the one advocated would have the great advantage of appealing to the Dominions. Their reluctance to be involved in any European entanglements is well known, and their tendency has been to bring pressure upon us to keep out of Europe to a very dangerous extent. Nothing will alter the fact that we are a European nation, and the withdrawal of the safeguard we represent in European politics would most certainly be disastrous. This plan offers a way out since we should only be acting in case of necessity within the League, of which the Dominions are members. Their zeal for the League is well known and was proved at the time of the Greco-Italian crisis. They would be far less reluctant to sanction an arrangement such as the one suggested than any pact or guarantee outside the League.

Finally, if we suggested such a plan, we should do a great deal to re-establish our prestige in Europe which has suffered many setbacks since the Peace Conference. We have had no power to influence French policy, and our influence on the League Council itself has often been small. All this would be forgotten if we took the lead in a matter of this kind, which if once established would depend largely for its value upon the fact that we had subscribed to it. As the most powerful nation not directly concerned, guaranteeing the vital -zone between France and Germany, we should be placed in a position where our counsels could be neither disregarded nor overlooked.