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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 19 September 6, 1938

And Now Czechoslovakia!

And Now Czechoslovakia!

We are often told either that Britain has no foreign policy or that she has frequently been humiliated in recent years but the falsity of both these views becomes clear when we see the effect on world politics of the known nature of the next war between great powers. There are three reasons why the wars in Spain and China will not serve as models for the Second World War (though they show the direction of change in methods of warfare): firstly, there are comparatively few planes in use and most of them are obsolescent; secondly, the air raids are conducted for purposes of practice and experiment rather than of destruction; and, thirdly, the invaders have an interest in limiting the damage in countries they propose to occupy. In the Second World War the military objective and the prize will not be the same; the military objective will be a European country and the prize a worldwide empire (saved or won). The belligerents' aim will not be to conquer, but to destroy all she can; no acquisitive considerations will temper the fury of the attack. We all know what a major European war will be like in these circumstances. There will be no warning; thousands of bombers will make flight after flight to enemy towns with high-explosive, incendiary, gas and bacteriological bombs. There is no defence against the bombing plane. Hostilities will last only a few days.

British Foreign Policy.

Now see what light this throws on British foreign policy. Take first the strategic aspect of the Abyssinian and Spanish wars. One of the strategic factors involved is the control of the Mediterranean. Although Italy is now a powerful nation, although she controls Tunis, Libya, most of Spain and part of Abyssinia, the British navy can keep Italian shipping bottled up in the Mediterranean for the duration of the next war. It is true that British shipping could not pass through the narrow straits that separate Italy from the African coast; but for the duration of the next war (and longer) Italy could close these straits even if she had no colonies and possessed only a dozen submarines and a hundred bombers. So we see that Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean has not been changed by Italy's growth to power and her conquests in Abyssinia and Spain.

Another strategic consideration is the "encirclement" of France. In a geographical sense a fascist victory in Spain will mean encirclement, but it will have little military significance, for in an attack on France, neither Italy nor Germany will need Spanish air bases. Similarly, London is much nearer to Germany than 'to Spain and is actually nearer to Italy than to Spain. (If that amazes you, consult your atlas).

War-mongers on the left, point out that fascist aggression is giving Italy and Germany access to the raw materials they would need for a long war. But the Foreign Office knows how long the next war will last and knows that this is no strategic gain.

Colonial Interests.

Similarly, in the economic field: Britain had trivial colonial interests in Abyssinia and comparatively unimportant ones in Spain. She has thrown other people's babies to the fascist wolves. The fascist states must expand or bust. We have seen that Britain has had no imperialistic (i.e., strategic or economic) reason for opposing their expansion; it remains to see why she does not want them to bust.

The British ruling class has not forgotten that in 1918 revolution swept Europe, it has not forgotten the post-war temper of the English people, rising to its height in the movement that forced the abandonment of Poland in 1920. The interest of the ruling class in fostering reaction in its appropriate forms at home and abroad has quickened in the permanent crisis [unclear: capitalism], when at any time a war or a cyclical depression may create a revolutionary situation. In such a situation the eloquent example of a Left government in a European country might just make the difference between revolution and no revolution, So in 1935, when Italian fascism was largely discredited at home and Italian industry was desperately in need of expanding markets, the rulers of Britain tricked their electors and permitted a colonial war firstly to divert the attention of the Italian people and secondly to provide a market for munitons and capital goods and to reduce unemployment by conscription and colonial public works.

Similarly when the invasion of Spain in 1936 drove the liberal government to the left, Britain decided that the government must not win. And the government is bound to lose, for when Italy and Germany have consolidated their economic stranglehold on rebel territory, Britain will allow them to send in enough men and armaments and munitions to win the war in a week or two.

Who now can say that Britain has no foreign policy or that she has been humiliated? Her position has not deteriorated strategically, she has lost no colonies, she has preserved reaction on the Continent.

Britain's Aim.

In the light of tills policy let us examine the British attitude to Czechoslovakia. In the first place, Britain would prefer a fascist dictatorship to a democratic government even of the right, for who can foretell the result of the next elections? Secondly, Britain has no colonial interest in the country. Thirdly, the absorption of Czechoslovakia would give Germany no strategic advantage for the new kind of war if she wages it westward, but would give her an enormous strategic advantage in a war against the U.S.S.R. by providing advanced bases and by exterminating one of Russia's two European allies. The incorporation of Czechoslovakia in the Reich would thus bring nearer the realisation of the secret dearest wish of the British ruling class.

But Czechoslovakia will fight unless she is appreciably weakened before the crisis comes; and if she fights. France and Russia will fight: and if France fights. Britain will fight, even though Russia would be an ally, for a Germany that had defeated France would be too strong to be controlled by Britain's manipulations of the balance of power.


So if Germany marches to-morrow. Britain is at war. But Britain doesn't want to fight Germany yet: she wants Germany first to attack the U.S.S.R. France could easily be bought off or paralysed by a parliamentary crisis. If the attack falls Germany becomes a minor power and Britain reconciles herself to the impregnability of Russia. If the attack succeeds Britain thanks God for the end of Bolshevism and either bullies Germany into disgorging most of the spoils (as she did Japan in 1895) or else leads the rest of Europe in an attack on her in her weakened post-war state, annihilates her and then splits her own allies into two camps and settles down to control Europe for the next decade by the balance of power technique.

So Britain's aim at present is to prevent France from fighting Germany over Czechoslovakia, and the way to do that is to weaken Czechoslovakia's military position enough to ensure that if she does insist on defending herself when the moment comes, France will think she's too weak an ally to be worth fighting for.

You watch Runciman persuade Benes to cripple his own country.