The policies of Hitler and Mussolini had put the Conservative government of England in a difficult position. The complete defeat of Franco would open undreamed of vistas to the new course of development in Spain and give a powerful impulse to the work of social reconstruction already begun. A decisive victory for Franco must, however, on the basis of all reasonable presumptions, work out even more disastrously and greatly strengthen the political position of Italy and Germany in Europe. On the one hand it might be even more dangerous to the English monopolies in Spain than a social revolution, which might under the circumstances perhaps be obliged for a longer or shorter term to make certain concessions to foreign capital in order to avoid a violent clash with foreign powers. On the other hand, moreover, it could but entail for England and France political consequences of unpredictable scope. In his speech of June 27th in Wurtzburg, Hitler had expressly stated that Germany had the greatest interest in Franco's victory, as she urgently needed Spanish ore for the carrying out of her four year plan. In the official report this passage in Hitler's address was, it is true, greatly softened, to wipe out the bad impression in England; but they knew there anyway what the game was being played for. The excited debate over the Spanish situation in the English Lower House showed this very clearly. In 1935 Germany had drawn vast supplies of iron and copper ore from Spain; but the military preparations in England greatly reduced the supply from this source.
But Italy is, if possible, even more interested in the natural resources of Spain than is Germany. Her production of iron and steel runs at present to a million tons a year, while three million tons are needed annually for her actual requirements, and the deficiency has to be made up from abroad. Spain, however, produces every year seven million tons of iron. Under these circumstances one can easily understand how Mussolini's mouth must water for the rich iron deposits of the Basque provinces.
But in the present struggle of the great European powers over Spain not only the treasures of her soil and her mines are involved, but much besides. A decisive victory for Franco would throw Spain completely into the arms of Italy and Germany and give to the power policies of Mussolini and Hitler a point of support that would put England and France in the greatest danger. The domination of the Spanish coasts by a combined German and Italian fleet with suitable harbor facilities for the air-forces of both countries, would cut France off from her colonies and greatly imperil the transport of French colonial troops from North Africa in case of war, if it did not make it utterly impossible. This is apart from the fact that a Fascist neighbor beyond the Pyrenees would make the defense of the French frontier much more difficult.
For England, moreover, the strategic position of Gibralter would in such a case have lost its value. And a limit would also be put on England's domination of the Mediterranean, and English hegemony in the Near East would be deprived of its strategic basis. Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and even India would be directly threatened, and the supplementing of nationalist propaganda in those countries by a well devised Italian propaganda would do the rest. They're not going to forget Mussolini's speech to the Lybians, in which he played himself up as the protector of Islam and the movement for Arabian unity, so very quickly in England.
And in this situation lies the explanation of England's whole attitude on the Spanish question. It determined the so-called "neutrality policy" of the English and French diplomats, which seems unintelligible only to those who think that the present struggle between two different power groups in Europe is concerned only with abstract problems like democracy and Fascism. To one who is naive enough to judge the thing from that point of view the seeming blindness of the English and French statesmen must of course cause a severe headache; but he will not have understood the heart of the question at all.
Political catchwords like Fascism and democracy will perhaps play a part in the coming war, just as the slogan, "war of democracy against Prussian militarism," served its purpose in the World War. That Russian tsarism was then on the side of "militant democracy" might, to be sure, have seemed rather suspicious even to the credulous, if in that great era of hypocrisy one's own thoughts had still been able to play any part at all.
No, the conservative potentates on the Thames are neither blind nor slow of understanding. Who says they are, deceives himself and others, and proves by it only that he himself is blind to facts as they are. Those men know very well indeed what they are doing. They may miscalcuate and be taken by surprise by events, which in the last analysis are stronger than their fine-spun diplomatic network; for the hazardous game of dictators is just as incalculable as is revolution, which has its own logic. But they really are not blind.
The tactics of English diplomacy has always been to play one power against the others in order to maintain England's hegemony on the Continent. These tactics were determined by the position of world power of the British Empire. England could keep her hold on her colonies, scattered over every continent, only so long as she was able to guarantee them protection against foreign attack. But this is possible only so long as English prestige in Europe remains unshaken. The instant when England loses her political influence in Europe there will be no more certainty of the internal cohesion of her world empire.
As long as the sea supplied natural fortifications for the mother country and the English coast could be protected against any attack from without by a strong fleet, it was relatively easy for the English holders of power to maintain their dominant position in Europe. And besides, the tremendous economic superiority of the British Empire put into the hands of her statesmen the necessary instrument for exercising an effective influence on the policies of the continental states and preventing a strong anti-British coalition on the Continent. Napoleon had experienced that to his sorrow. But by the conquest of the air and the tremendous development of modern war technique the old status has been completely altered and an invasion of the British Island Empire is entirely within the realm of the possible, provided a strong alliance of the great powers of Europe should combine for the purpose.
For this reason England is today more than ever dependent upon strong alliances to meet this peril. In this connection the helmsmen of the English state are not worried at all over the choice of allies, so long as they serve her purpose. That is the reason why the whole English foreign policy since the World War, from Sir John Simon to Anthony Eden, has been just a simple sabotage of the so-called "League of Nations" which kept her hands free for the alliances which would offer her the greatest advantage in any given circumstances.
English diplomats pursued these same tactics with relation to the Spanish question from the very beginning, after having first rendered France and Prussia compliant to their purpose. On the one hand they left no means untried to make a victory for the social revolution in Spain impossible; on the other hand they permitted the government in Valencia just enough support to prevent a quick victory for Franco, which just at the moment could but be of great advantage to Italy and Germany. It is to the interest of England and France that the murderous war shall take its course until, at the proper moment, it can be ended by a compromise which shall give to neither side the possibility of dictating the terms of the peace which they wish to force upon the Spaniards from without.
The longer the war lasts the harder it must become for Hitler and Mussolini to continue their support of Franco, the more completely will the material resources of Germany and Italy be drained with time and the two powers weakened for a world war. It is very well known that economic development in Germany and Italy during the last two years has taken on a character that is leading them at constantly increasing speed toward a catastrophe. But Franco is wholly dependent upon the assistance of the two Fascist states as long as he refuses to accede to the secret conditions offered by England and France. Today he is demanding from his allies 125,000 more men, five hundred flying machines, fifty batteries of artillery, with a corresponding number of tanks, so that he may be able to open a new offensive against Madrid, and at the same time on the Teruel front. The struggle for Bilbao cost him 20,000 men and twenty percent of his war supplies.
Even if Germany and Italy should decide to render him this further aid, that will not alter the general situation. England and France will then take the Valencia government under their arm to restore the disturbed equilibrium. The Loyalist offensive which was instituted on the Madrid front and in the south immediately after the fall of Bilbao is the best proof of this.