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DUTCH AND BELGIAN
Effect on European
(By Mr. Winston Churchill, P.C., M.P.),
In this article, Mr. Winston Churchill discusses the policies of Holland and Bel- gium in the light of Germany's armaments policy. He raises the question whether
the Belgian authorities have acted in the interests of national independence, or whether they are not almost acquiescing in the ultimate absorption of Belgium by
LONDON, May 8.
The position of the two small ancient countries lying on the North Sea shore, about the mouth of the Rhine and the Scheldt, has recently attracted serious
Both Holland and Belgium are the posses- sors of great and rich colonial domains, and are the neighbours of Germany. Both natur- ally feel deep anxiety at the unceasing pro- gress of German armaments, at the breach of Treaty obligations which carried the Ger- man armed forces into the Rhlneland, and also at the activities of Nazi propaganda among their own peoples.
It is satisfactory that Herr Hitler should have offered "to recognise and guarantee Bel- gium and Holland as inviolable neutral ter-
But this assurance has not removed their fears. Such hesitation is easy to understand when we remember that the inviolability of Belgian neutrality was guaranteed by Ger- many before the late war, not merely in a speech or public declaration, but by solemn formal treaty; and that nevertheless the German General Staff for many years be- fore the war perfected in full peace, in cold blood and minute detail, the Schlieffen plan, the essence of which was the violation of Bel- gian neutrality and the invasion of France through Belgium by that road; and that this was carried out unquestioningly and with ruthlesa severity.
It is believed that had the Great War been postponed for two years the right-handed sweep of the increasing German armies would have passed through Holland as well as through Belgium. But In 1914 Holland was spared and preserved a strict neutrality, fav- ourable in many ways to Germany, while all the time the entire Dutch male population stood to arms along their dykes.
The response which the Dutch Govern- ment, under the leadership of its remarkably prudent, resolute chief, Dr. Colijn, made to Herr Hitler's assurance was a model of dig- nity. The Netherlands Government informed the German Government that, while gratified by this expression of goodwill, "we would not be prepared to conclude an agreement with any country on the inviolability of our territory. Such inviolability is for us axio- matic, and therefore cannot form the sub- ject of any treaty which we may conclude."
Both the Dutch and the Belgians are in- creasing their forces and fortifying their frontiers. They use for this purpose the mod- ern resources of concrete blockhouses, of elab- orate preparations to blow up roads and bridges, and above all the inundations which have played so large a part in their past history.
The fate of Belgium has long been judged of vital consequence for Great Britain. For 400 years in four successive great wars we have prevented the Low Countries from fall- ing into the control of a great military power; be it the Spain of Phillp II. or the France o' Louis XIV., or the France of Napoleon, or the Germany of William II.
A few days ago in conjunction with France we renewed our guarantee to Belgium in the most precise form.
There is no doubt that a German invasion of Belgium would be the signal for a general European war, involving from its very first moment the British Empire, and therefore, in spite of the past, everyone must welcome Herr Hitler's assurances.
Nevertheless, the value of those assurances will be greatly enhanced by every preparation made by Belgium and her joint guarantors to impose the strongest deterrents upon the over- running of Belgian territory.
The Belgians have, however, in fear of their great and rapidly-arming neighbour, wished to confine their efforts strictly to the defence of their own soil. They no longer pledge them- selves as under the Franco-Belgian agree- ment of 1920, or the Treaty of Locarno, to come to the assistance of France. They give no reciprocal guarantee of coming to the aid of the two protecting Powers. This change of attitude has been induced not only by the armed advance of German forces and road
terminals to the Belgian frontier, but also by the pro-Nazi spirit fostered, particularly among the Flemings, by the Rexist leader, lately re- buffed in Brussels.
King Leopold and his able Prime Minister, Van Zeeland, felt that they could better unite the whole nation for the defence of Belgium upon the basis of a policy of strict inde- pendence, and that this would give them more safety even than prior arrangements with France and Great Britain. Their decision is. of course, subject to the obligations of the Covenant of the League, which expressly forbids any signatory to remain impartial as between an aggressor and a victim.
REGRETS AND MISGIVINGS.
It would be idle to pretend that this change in Belgian policy has not caused some regrets and misgivings to both of the guaranteeing Powers. It would be obviously impassible for Belgium or Holland to defend their frontiers against the mighty tide of a German invasion. Should such evils come upon us, which God forfend, the only sure defence in present circumstances will be salt water and the French fortress lines. That line is now being drawn alone; the French frontier behind Belgium.
The endless succession of brilliantly con- ceived fortifications, upon which and through which the mobile French armies will fight and manoeuvre, will soon leave Belgium outside its rampart. On the other hand, the develop- ment of great roads, railway sidings, and air- fields is proceeding ceaselessly opposite Bel- gium along the German frontier.
Only the future can show whether the de- cision of Belgium has been right in the interests of her national independence, and whether they are not almost acquiescing be- forehand in their absorption by an aggressive German empire.
It does not seem, however, that France and Great Britain have lost very much by the change in Belgian policy. If, as the Belgians hope, their Integrity is respected in a war by Germany, that will certainly be a great help to France. She will not have to hold in force the long stretch of her frontiers which abut on Belgium. This will greatly lessen the strain upon the French defence.
But this fact only makes one feel more doubtful whether in a life and death struggle these happy conditions will prevail. So far
as Great Britain is concerned, the over- running of Belgium by Germany would of course bring their air bases definitely nearer to England for the wholesale bombing of London and other great cities. But then the increas- ing range and speed of airplanes has already reduced the safety space so greatly that it is
doubtful whether any substantial new danger will have been created.
What a pity it is that all the peoples, great and small, who are anxious and alarmed to- day do not bind themselves together, in pur- suance of the Covenant of the League, to resist and also to attack the aggressor who- ever he may be! For then there might well be established a confederacy so strong and active that aggression would not be worth while, that war would be prevented, and we might enjoy in peace and plenty the sunshine of a brighter age.
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