On Thursday at Stresa, Italy, the heads of the English, French and Italian nations will gather for a conference similar to that which Sir Edward Grey was so anxious to call during the crucial days of 1914. A brief appraisal of the present international situation will not be amiss.
First of many important factors to be considered at the conference is a Germany rearming as fast as her patriotic zeal and scientific ingenuity will permit. It is impossible to give much credence to the several statements and speeches issuing from the Foreign Office that the reason for the rearming is purely peaceful. The fact of the matter seems to be that Hitler is intent upon putting into effect several of the plans which readers of his book considered too fantastic ever to be seriously considered. Behind the armament race now under way in Germany, say the Soviets, is a projected Germanization of Central Europe. Though temporarily rebuffed by Danzig, Nazis are not likely to be discouraged when their goals are so ambitious.
That Germany's expansion is almost certain to be to the East is important to note, since England's reaction is bound to be different than if Hitler announced his intentions of capturing Alsace-Lorraine, Belgium, Holland, etc. So long as hostilities are to take place in the East, Britain is concerned only indirectly, and can hardly be expected to enter into alliances with France and Italy which commit her beyond all recall. To use a phrase dear to Grey, "British public opinion would never sanction" such a commitment. Britain is unlikely to do more than express her strong disapproval of recent events in Germany. She will doubtless indulge herself, through the mouths of Sir John Simon and Ramsay MacDonald, in many pious wishes, none of which, because of the armament situation, are possible of solution.
Strangely enough, France's position in the existing crisis is diplomatically weak. Though she may count on the almost unconditional support of Mussolini in a defensive alliance, it is safe to assume she will not succeed in what she doubtless inwardly desires, a "defensive war" against Germany, before the latter is too strong to be beaten, and has wooed France's Central European allies from her.
The cornerstone of Mussolini's foreign policy may be said to be Austrian independence. All other issues are subordinate to it, and to ensure it he is willing to come to blows with Hitler. At the moment, France and Italy are enjoying the fruits of a real understanding, but even more fickle than woman is Italian diplomacy, and unless France ca noffer her temporary ally material deserts, she will lose a valuable friend.
Many observers believe little in the way of realistic results can come from the Stresa Conference with Russia absent. Certainly, no binding agreements can be reached without her adherence. At any rate, her stand is well-known to all. She is definitely alarmed by Hitler's disarmingly frank disregard of Treaty obligations; she does not trust him for a moment, and would be only too happy to enter into any pact which gave her a certain ally in the event of German invasion.
And so once again the nations are consulting over a common enemy. Except for the fact that Germany is alone in her questionable glory, she is the object of the fear and distrust of all Europe. That any concrete results will emerge from either Stresa or the subsequent Council meeting in Geneva is highly dubious. For the tragedy of Europe, today as in 1914, is that there is no man with a sufficiently long view to appreciate that the only path to peace lies in collective action, that in crises such as the present, nations must submerge their selfish interests and pool their resources, or else run the risk of being submerged individually by another wave of nationalism and militarism that in the past has had but one result.