The Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) to the Secretary of State, [Extracts], BERN, January 27, 1936.


The Council session has reached a satisfactory termination with creditable work done in certain items of the agenda. However, the most interesting feature of the session was the revelation of an evolution in the concern with which different questions are regarded. Three months ago the thoughts of the statesmen of Europe were concentrated on Africa; the Abyssinian question was paramount. A month ago a phase of that question, namely the military situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, was the focus of all thought. Today a further evolution has fixed the minds of these men on the intensity of the rearmament of Germany, leading to the realization of the implications throughout the whole of Europe of the return of Germany as a first class military power.

Representations of Great Britain have brought about undertakings in respect to assistance from the Mediterranean Powers which, together with Britain's vigorous military effort, have taken the edge off the apprehension with which a number of Britishers regarded the threat to their strategic position in Egypt and the possibility of an assault by Mussolini. They believe now that time is working for them. They believe that however stout an effort the Italians are making from a military point of view, nevertheless this effort is exceedingly costly, and that the sanctions already in effect are rapidly curtailing Italy's resources and ability to maintain the present effort. Hence they can turn their minds to the question of German rearmament, a question which causes them more profound concern-if not more immediate concern-than a threat by Mussolini.

I cannot conceal from myself the belief that the actual application of an embargo on petroleum by the League States will be dependent largely upon the decision of the United States Congress in respect to the Neutrality legislation. I hope that no step will be taken here which will make the League's action appear to be openly dependent upon ours. A number of the men influential in this matter are convinced that it would be a mistake to do so. Nevertheless, I doubt whether the embargo will be applied by the League States unless they feel that in some way the supply from the United States will not replace that which they cut off. The reverse also appears true. If the United States curtails its shipments, the States of the League will feel it not only expedient, but morally imperative to put on the embargo. Since sending you my cables Nos. 363 and 364, Vasconcellos, the President of the Committee of Eighteen, has come to see me. He believes that while Eden's methods may seem less aggressive, his determination in respect to sanctions has not diminished. I need not recapitulate the arguments for the necessity of the establishment of the oil sanction. Suffice it to say that in the minds of most of the Delegates, it is the test of strength between the League of Nations and Mussolini and must be established as a precedent for use against Germany, if necessity arises.

The extension of the idea of collectivity into a series of military guarantees against the risk involved in the application of sanctions is the most recent step in increasing pressure against the aggressor. It is of the highest importance and cannot fail profoundly to affect the future relationships and political development of Europe. You will remember that Aloisi termed such action a military alliance against Italy in the Mediterranean, and deplored the fact that the League of Nations could be led by England to assume this shape. Germans who have talked to me during this session take an analogous position. They point out that nobody hides the fact that the present action against Italy is in the nature of a rehearsal for action against Germany. They feel convinced that once it has been proved that the League can take the form of a military alliance, the threat of that alliance will be used as a means of coercion against Germany, after this Italian question is liquidated. They recognize that though the phrases used are against Italy, the instrument itself is being forged for eventual use against their own country. Hence the Italians and the Germans are inspired by like apprehension and by like mistrust of what they both deem to be a form of coercion. This in contrast to the League conception, namely, that the military agreements are precautionary only against possible Italian retaliation.

As to whether this manifestation of force in regard to Italy, together with the possibility of such a manifestation in respect to Germany will be effective in bringing Germany to a mood of negotiation is a question of psychological appreciation. Certainly Paul Scheffer of the BERLINER TAGEBLATT, a believer in international co-operative action, makes no secret of his conviction that what he calls a threat of force will have results on Germany completely the opposite of what it is designed to effect. The overwhelming opinion of the representatives of other States here is, however, to the contrary and we can only hope that the future will show that they are right.

There is indisputable evidence of the magnitude and intensity of the German effort in military preparation. There may be question as to the exact stage of the development of this preparation but there is no doubt that it is on a scale to cause alarm and that it proceeds with a rapidity which none of the democratic States can equal. The ability of a dictator to devote practically the entire resources of his country to armament cannot be matched by democratic countries in times of peace. Rightly or wrongly, the idea is becoming prevalent that German rearmament on this scale and in this tempo can be designed only for the purposes of aggression. I believe that in making this statement I am reflecting the profound conviction of most of the statesmen on this Continent.

It seems to be generally believed that there will be no German aggression towards the west. Germany will presumably make every effort not to give Great Britain apprehension as to the Low Countries. Her present policy is predicated on not giving offense to Great Britain. Many French themselves appear to believe that they need fear no attack on their eastern frontier or through Belgium and Holland. If Germany does contemplate aggression, it is generally expected that it will be to the east or down the Danube.

I have gone into this speculation, Mr. Secretary, with no desire to be alarming but because it is a reflection of the type of thought that is occupying the minds of those on the Council. It is the type of ought that has led to a feeling of apprehension which has brought about the conviction that only by an agreement with Germany, both of a political nature and for the limitation of armaments, can a cataclysm be avoided. It is a time in which wisdom and statesmanship are needed on this Continent as never since the end of the War.

I am, my dear Mr. Secretary,

Respectfully yours,


Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 306-10.

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Interwar Period Page