A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 56

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THE FATEFUL THIRTEEN DAYS


Whether, in the event of none of the guaranteeing Powers choosing to cooperate with us, Belgium could reasonably expect Great Britain to undertake single-handed a war against great continental Powers is a question into which other elements enter than the strict construction of the treaty and on which we shall not presume to give an opinion. During the progress of this war Great Britain signed a treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium, but this was only for a limited period, and when it expired the position became the "as you were" one of 1839.

The events of the period between the Franco-Prussian and the Great Wars did not make the position of Great Britain any clearer. Had any of these happenings affected in any way the liability incurred under the treaty of 1839? Was Great Britain, or any other signatory Power, obliged singly to take up arms to avert or avenge the violation of Belgium's neutrality? From time to time these and other points were raised, and in 1908, when the entente with France was in being, Sir Edward Grey, the secretary for foreign affairs, asked his advisers to give him an opinion on the following questions:

How far would England's liability under the treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium be affected if: 1, Belgium acquiesced in the violation of her neutrality; 2, if the other guaranteeing Powers, or of them, acquiesced?

The answer was that "Great Britain was liable for the maintenance of Belgian neutrality whenever Belgium or any of the guaranteeing Powers are in need of, and demand, assistance in opposing its violation."

Such was the view of the high officials of the foreign office, but it was not universally accepted. In his book, "A Short History of the Great War," Professor A. F. Pollard states that "the treaty of 1839 which regulated the international situation of Belgium merely bound the five great signatory Powers not to violate Belgian neutrality without obliging them individually or collectively to resist its violation." Other historians held the same view, but it did not pass without challenge. With some show of reason its opponents asked what a guarantee of this kind was worth. If the Powers who signed the treaty of 1830 had intended nothing more than this it was hardly worth their while to put their signatures to the document. Surely they understood that guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium meant using their utmost might to resist its violation, nothing more or nothing less. The underlying assumption, however, of this opinion was that the Powers acted in concert, but in 1914 they

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