CHAPTER XXIII
THE STRESA SILENCES

At the Stresa Conference (April 11-14), the Ethiopian question was never officially discussed. It is obvious that "silence in the face of undisguised Italian preparation for war" was bound to be interpreted by Mussolini "to mean that Great Britain, like France, was content to regard the African adventure with benevolent eyes".1

Sir Charles Petrie writes that at Stresa, "for some reason which has not been satisfactorily explained, no mention of Abyssinia was made, with the result that the Duce drew the not-unnatural inference that Great Britain was not interested".2 As a matter of fact, the explanation is there and wholly satisfactory: the written Chamberlain-Mussolini agreement of December 1925,3 and the verbal Laval-Mussolini agreement of January 10, 1935. Nobody explicitly approved of what everybody knew Mussolini was planning. All abstained from embarrassing him. "On s'est abstenu de le gêner", Laval was reported to have said. But omission may carry the same responsibility as commission.

A few months later, Sir Samuel Hoare, who in June had succeeded Sir John Simon as Foreign Secretary, was asked in the House of Commons (1.vii.35) whether there was any basis for the "rumour" that "at Stresa" assurances had been given to Mussolini on behalf of France that Italy would have a free hand in Abyssinia so far as France was concerned, and that the British delegates were aware of these assurances and had said nothing with regard to them, thus giving passive assent to a policy of that kind. Sir Samuel Hoare answered that there was "no foundation whatever" for the report that "at Stresa" "the British Government and the French Government had given some kind of undertaking to the Italian Government under which they were supposed to be prepared to give the Italian Government a free hand in Abyssinia". He added that "the question of Abyssinia was never discussed between the delegates of the three Governments at Stresa". As for France, "it was for the French

____________________
1
Carr, International Relations, p. 224.
2
Life and Letters of Austen Chamberlain, II, 49.
3
It seems that Sir Charles did not find any information about this agreement in Sir Austen's papers, and therefore he does not breathe a word about it, although it had been made public in 1926. He is informed, however, that the British-Italian agreement went back to 1891 ( Life of Neville Chamberlain, p. 263), though the 1891 document had been superseded by the Treaty of 1906 and the agreement of 1925. Nobody in England in 1935 seemed to be acquainted with the Chamberlain- Mussolini agreement of 1925.

-191-

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