A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 57
were ranged into two hostile camps, and a different set of circumstances had arisen. How did this affect the position of Great Britain. Had the country in 1839 given a collective or an individual guarantee to Belgium? The terms of the treaty mentioned above seem to indicate that the guarantee was a collective one, but the earl of Clarendon, who as foreign secretary examined the question in 1867, expressed the opinion that it was an individual one. But if the civil law has any bearing on the matter, his point is of little moment. A collective guarantee does not cease to be binding upon a particular signatory because one or more of the other signatories decline to meet their liability.
These varied opinions may be said to cancel each other out, leaving the issue one of practical politics, and as such it was treated by Sir Edward Grey in his memorable speech in the House of Commons on the afternoon of Monday, August 3. He said:
- I ask the House from the point of view of British interests to consider what may be at stake. If France is beaten in a struggle of life and death, beaten to her knees, loses her position as a great Power, and becomes subordinate to the will and power of one greater than herself — consequences which I do not anticipate, because I am sure that France has the power to defend herself with all the energy and ability and patriotism which she has shown so often — still, if that were to happen, and if Belgium fell under the same dominating influence, and then Holland, and then Denmark, then would not Mr. Gladstone's words come true, that just opposite to us there would he a "common interest against the unmeasured aggrandisement of any Power?" And that Power would be opposite to us. It may be said, I suppose, that we might stand aside, husband our strength, and, whatever happened in the course of this war, at the end of it intervene, with effect, to put things right and to adjust them to our own point of view. If in a crisis like this we run away from those obligations of honour and interests as regards the Belgian treaty, I doubt whether, whatever material force we might have at the end, it would be of very much value in face of the respect that we should have lost.
- And I do not believe, whether a great Power stands outside this war or not, it is going to be in a position at the end of this war to exert its superior strength. For us, with a powerful fleet, which we believe able to protect our commerce, to protect our shores, and to protect our interests if we are engaged in war, we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer if we stand aside. We are going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war, whether we are in it or whether we stand aside. Foreign trade is going to stop, not because the trade routes are closed, but because there is no other trade at the other end.