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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anthony Eden: A Firm Policy

Anthony Eden gave this speech in 1938 when he resigned his Foreign Affairs post in the Chamberlain cabinet.

There are occasions when strong political convictions must override all other considerations. Of such an occasion, only the individual himself can be the judge.

The objective of foreign policy in this country is and must always be the maintenance of peace. If, however, peace is to be enduring, it must rest on foundations of frank reciprocity and of mutual respect. It follows that we must be ready to negotiate with all countries, whatever their forms of government, in order to promote international understanding. But we must also be watchful that, in our conception of such negotiations and in the method by which we seek to further them, we are, in fact, strengthening, not undermining, the foundations on which international confidence rests.

The immediate issue is whether such official conversations (between the British and Italian governments) should be opened in Rome now. In my conviction, the attitude of the Italian government to international problems in general, and this country in particular, is not yet such as to justify this course. The ground has been in no respect prepared. Propaganda against this country by the Italian government is rife throughout the world. I am myself pledged to this House not to open conversations with Italy until this hostile propaganda ceases. Moreover, little progress in fact, though much in promise, has been made with the solution of the Spanish problem. Let me make it plain that I do not suggest and would not advocate that the government should refuse conversations with the Italian government, or indeed with any other government which shows any disposition to conversation with us for betterment of international understanding. Yet we must see that the conditions in which these conversations take place are such as to make for the likelihood, if not for the certainty, of their success. In my view, those conditions do not exist today.

In January of last year, after difficult negotiations, we signed an Anglo-Italian agreement. Within a very few days -- indeed, almost simultaneously -- a considerable consignment of Italians left for Spain. It may be said that this was not a breach of our understanding; but no one, I think, will contend that it did not run counter to its spirit. The same agreement contained a specific clause dealing with the cessation of propaganda, yet propaganda was scarcely diminished for an instant.

Then last summer the Prime Minister and Signor Mussolini exchanged letters, and after that for a few days relations between our two countries took a marked turn for the better. There ensued the incidents in the Mediterranean, with which the House is familiar.

My submission is that we cannot run the risk of further repetition of these experiences.

We must agree not only on the need for withdrawal (of the foreign fighters now in Spain), but on the conditions of withdrawal. We have had assurances enough of that in the past. We must go farther, and show the world not only promises but achievement.

We cannot consider this problem except in relation to the international situation as a whole. We are in the presence of progressive deterioration of respect for international obligations. It is quite impossible to judge these things in a vacuum. This is the moment for this country to stand firm, not to plunge into negotiations unprepared, with foreknowledge that the obstacle to their success has not been resolved.

Agreements that are worth while are never made on the basis of threats, nor, in the past, has this country been willing to negotiate in such conditions.

It has never entered into my conception to suggest that the Italian forces alone should be withdrawn from Spain, but only that the Italian government should agree to, and carry out with others, a fair scheme for the proposed withdrawal of all forces from Spain.

I am conscious why I stand here, and why my colleagues take another view. If they are right, their chances for success will certainly be enhanced if their policy is pursued through another Foreign Secretary.

I should not be frank with the House if I pretended it is an isolated issue between the Prime Minister and myself. It is not. Within the last few weeks, upon one of the most important decisions of foreign policy, which did not concern Italy at all, the difference was fundamental. Moreover, it recently has become clear to me, and, I think to him, that there is between us a real difference in the outlook and method.

Of late the conviction has steadily grown upon me that there has been too keen a desire on our part to make terms with others, rather than that others should make terms with us. This has never been the attitude of this country in the past. It should not, in the interests of peace, be our attitude today.

I do not believe we can make progress in European appeasement -- more particularly in the light of the events of the last few days -- if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure.

I am certain in my own mind that progress depends, above all, on the temper of the nation, and that temper must find expression in a firm spirit. That spirit, I am confident, is there. Not to give voice to it is, I believe, fair neither to this country not to the world.

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