René Massigli (22 March 1888 – 3 February 1988) was a French diplomat who played a leading role as a senior official at the Quai d'Orsay, and was regarded as one of the leading French experts on Germany.
The son of a Protestant law professor, Massigli was born in Montpellier in the southern French department of Hérault. He joined the French foreign service during the First World War. During World War I, Massigli served in the Maison de la Presse section of the Quai d'Orsay in Bern, Switzerland, where he analyzed German newspapers for the French government. In the spring of 1919, Massigli was sent on several unofficial missions to Berlin to contact German officials about the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In May 1919, Massagli had a series of secret meetings with various German officials in which he offered on behalf of his government to revise the peace terms of the upcoming Treaty of Versailles in Germany's favour in regards to territorial and economic clauses of the proposed treaty. Massigli suggested "practical, verbal discussions" between French and German officials in the hope of creating "collaboration franco-allemande". During his meetings, Massigli let the Germans know of the deep divisions between the "Big Three" at the Paris Peace Conference, namely Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau. Speaking on behalf of the French government, Massilgi informed the Germans that the French considered the "Anglo-Saxon powers", namely the United States and the British Empire to be the real post-war threat to France, argued that both France and Germany had a common interest in opposing "Anglo-Saxon domination" of the world and warned that the "deepening of opposition" between the French and the Germans "would lead to the ruin of both countries, to the advantage of the Anglo-Saxon powers". The French overtures to the Germans was rejected by the latter because the Germans regarded the French offers to be a trap to trick them into accepting the Versailles treaty "as is" and because the German foreign minister, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau thought that the United States was more likely to soften the peace terms then France.
Massigli served as the secretary-general for the Conference of Ambassadors between 1920 and 1931 before becoming the head of the Quai d'Orsay's section dealing with the League of Nations. Using a pseudonym, Massigli wrote an article in the L'Ere Nouvelle newspaper in March 1920, in which condemned "the revival of militarism" in Germany as represented by the Kapp Putsch, predicated that the Reichswehr would never accept democracy, but claimed that there was a genuine desire for democracy among the German people. In another series of articles published in June 1920, Massigli articulated what he regarded as the central dilemma of France's German policy; namely to insist upon a too forceful enforcement of Versailles would undermine German moderates, but at the same time, enemies of democracy were strong in Germany, that German democracy might fail even if the treaty were revised and thus to loosen Versailles would make the task of any potential future anti-democratic government in Germany easier.
During his time at the Conference of Ambassadors, Massigli was closely involved in the disputes about Upper Silesia, the Memelland, the Vilnius/Wilno dispute, the borders of Austria and Hungary, and the enforcement of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles (the section that dealt with disarmament). In the early 1920s, Massigli was known for his vigorous efforts to enforce Part V, and attempted to thwart German efforts to violate Part V. In Massigli's view, the French should be moderate in the enforcement of Versailles, but in return, the Germans must obey all of the articles of Versailles, above all Part V. As Massigli wrote: "The touchstone for Germany is the execution of the Treaty, or at least, since I am prepared to believe that certain of its clauses cannot be applied, to give evidence of goodwill in its execution. The starting point must be the disarmament of the Reichswehr". In September 1923, during the Ruhr crisis, Massigli was sent to the Rhineland to report to Paris on the viability of the Rhenish separatist movement, and what support, if any, France should offer the separatists. Massigli was very cool in his assessment of the Rhenish separatists, whom he described as badly organized and lacking in popular support, and advised against support for a Rhenish Republic.
Starting in the mid-1920s, Massigli came to relax his views, and started to advocate reconciliation with Germany, though not at the expense of French security. In 1925, Massigli played a major role in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Locarno. Though welcoming Gustav Stresemann's initiative in renouncing claims upon Alsace-Lorraine as a very important step for peace, in private Massigli was troubled by the refusal of the Germans to give similar guarantees for their neighbors in Eastern Europe, especially Poland or to abide by the terms of Part V. A close friend and associate of Aristide Briand, Massigli worked strongly in the late 1920s for Franco-German détente. However, Massigli never lost any of his concerns about the Reichswehr, and felt that Franco-German rapprochement should best take place within the broader framework of European integration and collective security. As Massigli later told the historian Georges-Henri Soutou "Briandism had the great merit of drawing a good number of European states towards the French viewpoint." In accordance with these views, Massigli played a major role in working behind the scenes in the talks that led to Germany joining the League of Nations as a Council permanent member in 1926. For Massigli was open to revising Versailles within Germany's favor, but only within the context of multilateral organizations like the League of Nations. In 1929–1930, Massigli worked closely with Briand in his project for creating a European "federation" that many have seen as a prototype for the European Union.
From 1930 on, Massigli was intimately involved in the preparatory work for the World Disarmament Conference scheduled to open in 1932. The increasing divergence between German demands for gleichberechtigung ("equality of armaments") (i.e. abolishing Part V) and the French demand for sécurité ("security") (i.e. maintaining Part V) together with the strains in Franco-German relations imposed by the abortive Austrian-German customs project of 1931 left Massigli increasing disillusioned with the Weimar Republic. In 1931, Massigli advised the Premier Pierre Laval before his summit with the German Chancellor Dr. Heinrich Brüning that France should offer a bail-out for the collapsing German bank system only if the Germans were prepared to forgo the demand for gleichberechtigung at the upcoming World Disarmament Conference. Dr. Brüning refused the French conditions at his summit with Laval. Massigli was a prominent player at the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva, and helped to write famous "Barthou note" of 17 April 1934 issued by the Foreign Minister Louis Barthou that helped to terminate the conference. Massigli was especially opposed to the Premier, Édouard Herriot's acceptance in December 1932 "in principle" of gleichberechtigung, predicating correctly that it would lead to opening the door for German rearmament.
In 1933, Massigli was appointed the Deputy Political Director at the French foreign ministry. During the 1930s, Massigli was a leading member of the so-called "Protestant clan", namely a group of Protestants who held high offices in the Quai d'Orsay. As a diplomat, Massigli was noted for his efficiency and his crisp, lucid writing style. In general, Massigli was identified with as an advocate of "firmness" in dealing with the new German government, and in note of 11 December 1933 argued that the main thrust of German policy would be to keep Franco-German relations in good state in exchange for French acceptance of German expansionism into Eastern Europe before turning west for a final showdown with France. Unlike his superior, the Secretary-General of the Quai d'Orsay, Alexis Leger, Massilgi was more open to enlisting Italy as an ally against Germany. During the crisis caused in March 1936 by German remilitarization of the Rhineland, Massigli urged that Paris use the crisis as a way of strengthening French ties with the United Kingdom and Belgium and the League of Nations. Massigli especially hoped to use the Rhineland crisis as a way of securing the British "continental commitment" (i.e. an unequivocal British commitment to defend France via an expeditionary force of the same size as the British Expeditionary Force of World War I). After meeting with the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden in London in March 1936, Massigli was angry with what he regarded as the feeble British response to the Rhineland remilitarization. Massigli regarded the vague British promise to come to France's aid in the event of a German attack coupled with staff talks of very limited scope as a most unsatisfactory substitute for the "continental commitment". On 17 March 1936, Massigli expressed his worries about the possible consequences of the Rhineland crisis when he complained to General Victor-Henri Schweisguth the concept of international co-operation was collapsing in the face of the German move into the Rhineland, that the League of Nations was losing all of its moral authority and that "if all this isn't repaired immediately, we stand on the verge of a complete change in policy and a return to continental alliances" At least in the respect that the there was least some hope of maintaining good Anglo-French relations led Massigli to see at least some silver lining in the Rhineland crisis. In 1937, he was promoted the Political Director of the Qui d'Orsay upon the recommendation of Alexis Leger.
During the crisis in 1938 occasioned over Czechoslovakia, Massigli was not in sympathy with his government's policy, and in private deplored the Munich Agreement as a disaster to France. In September 1938, Massigli followed the Premier, Édouard Daladier to Munich as part of the French delegation, and upon his return to Paris, witnessing the vast cheering crowds, he wrote in a letter "Poor people, I am overwhelmed with shame." After the Munich Agreement, Massigli wrote in memo that "Far from bringing Germany back to a policy of co-operation, the success of her method can only encourage her to persevere in it. The enormous sacrifice conceded by the Western powers will have no counterpart: once more we will be reduced to an act of faith in the peaceful evolution of the new Pangermanism." In August 1938, Massigli argued to the British Chargé de Affairs, Campbell what he saw as the significance of Czechoslovakia as way of blocking German expansion into Eastern Europe. However, Massigli felt given various economic and strategic concerns, that France could not go to war over Czechoslovakia without British support, and should that support not materialize, then it would be best for the French to explain the strategic state of affairs "frankly" to Prague. Massigli felt that in the event of a German attack, then France should not automatically declare war as the Franco-Czechoslovak alliance of 1924 required, but instead Paris should present the hypothetical German-Czechoslovak war to the League of Nations Council, and then wait until the Council decided if the war was a case of aggression or not. Massigli saw the Czechoslovak crisis as a way of strengthening Anglo-French ties and on 17 September 1938, Massigli wrote a memorandum in which stated:
"If the British Government pushes us along the path of surrender, it must consider the resulting weakness of French security, which on numerous occasions, has been declared inseparable from British security. To what extent might a reinforcement of the ties of Franco-British collaboration compensate for this weakening in the common interests of the two countries? This is a matter to which the attention of the British leaders should be drawn."
Relations between Massigli and his superior in 1938, Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet were very poor and his memoirs, Bonnet lambasted Massigli quite severely. For his part, Massigli accused Bonnet of seeking to alter the documentary record in his favor. On 19 October 1938, Massigli was sacked as Political Director by Bonnet who exiled him to Turkey as Ambassador. An Anglophile, Massigli's removal meant a weakening of those officials in the Quai d'Orsay who favored closer ties to Britain.
During his time in Ankara, Massigli played an important role in ensuring that the Hatay dispute was resolved in Turkey's favor. Massagli felt that the best way of ensuring a pro-Western tilt in Turkey was to accede to the Turkish demands for the sanjak of Alexandretta (modern İskenderun). During his talks with the Turkish foreign minister, Şükrü Saracoğlu, Massigli was hindered by the continual poor state of his relations with Bonnet. In addition, Massigli faced much opposition from Arab nationalists and the French High Commission in Syria, who were both opposed to ceding the sanjak of Alexandretta. When the talks over Hatay began in February 1939, Massagli went for weeks without negotiating instructions by Bonnet, and thus was only able to complete the Hatay negotiations on 23 June 1939. Though Massigli was appalled by the Turkish chantage (blackmail) of concentrating troops on the Turkish-Syrian frontier and sending raiders over the border as a way of pressuring the French into handing over Alexandretta, he felt that it was better to turn over Alexandretta as a way of winning Turkey over, and allowing France to focus on opposing Germany.
Massigli argued to his superiors in Paris that it was Germany, not Turkey that was the major danger to France, and having a large number of French troops in Syria to guard against a Turkish attack was simply an unneeded distraction. Moreover, Massigli maintained that if France did not return Alexandretta and a Franco-German war broke out, than Turkey would probably invade Syria to take back Alexandretta. But Massigli continued if France did return Alexandretta, than Turkey would at very least maintain a pro-Allied neutrality and in a best case scenario fight on the Allied side. During his talks with the Turks, Massigli was often attacked by Les Syriens, an influential Roman Catholic lobbying group who believed strongly in France's mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission) in the Middle East, and were stoutly opposed to giving up Alexandretta as a betrayal of France's mission civilisatrice. Most of the Les Syriens were Anglophobes, who saw Britain rather than Germany as the main enemy of France. Massigli for his part held the Les Syriens in contempt, arguing that France could not be distracted by adventures in the Middle East with Germany on the march. In March 1939, Massigli visited the headquarters of the French High Commission in Beirut, and bluntly stated that Turkey was not as the High Commission were claiming seeking to annex all of Syria, and were only seeking Alexandretta. Massigli was able during his talks with the Turks to persuade his hosts to stop sending irregulars over the Turkish-Syrian frontier to attack French troops. During his negotiations with Saracoğlu, the Turks suggested a ten-year alliance of Turkey, Britain and France in exchange for the French handing over Alexandretta. When the Turkish offer became public, it provoked a major outcry from the Les Syriens.
On 24 March 1939, Saracoğlu told Massigli that Britain and France should do more to oppose German influence in the Balkans, which was followed on 29 March by an offer of a Franco-Turkish alliance which would into effect provided the British also joined. In April 1939, the deputy Soviet Foreign Commissar Vladimir Potemkin during a visit to Turkey told Massigli that the aim of Soviet foreign policy was to bring into line a "peace front" to oppose German expansionism comprising Britain, France, the Soviet Union and Turkey. In 1939, Massigli was heavily preoccupied with competition with the German Ambassador Franz von Papen in an effort to secure Turkish adherence to the Allied side in the event of war breaking out. As part of the effort to increase French influence on the Turkish government, Massigli arranged for the visit of General Maxime Weygand to Turkey in early May 1939, which was made into a state event. During Weygand's visit, the Turkish President İsmet İnönü told the French that he believed that the best way of stopping Germany was an alliance of Turkey, the Soviet Union, France and Britain; that if such an alliance came into being, the Turks would allow Soviet ground and air forces onto their soil; and that he wanted a major programme of French military aid to modernize the Turkish armed forces. Massigli was most disappointed when the British sent a mere Brigadier instead of an Admiral to offer military aid to the Turks, remarking sorely that "The Turks respect the Royal Navy; they no longer believe in the British Army." In July 1939 Massigli argued that if the British and French were able to offer a stabilization fund for the Turkish pound, it would undercut German economic influence in Turkey and tie Turkey to the West. Later in July 1939, Massigli was able to play a major part in arranging for French arms shipments to Turkey and later in August to have an Anglo-French stabilization fund created to help with Turkey's economic problems. The signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August 1939 undid much of Massigli's effects as the Turks always believed that it was essential to have the Soviet Union as an ally to counter Germany, and the signing of the German-Soviet pact undercut completely the assumptions behind Turkish security policy. Through Massigli was often hampered by his poor relations with Bonnet, the efforts of the Les Syriens, and the stingily attitude of the French Treasury towards supporting Turkey, the British historian D.C. Watt argued that Massigli was an outstanding able ambassador who did much to successfully advance French interests in Turkey in 1939.
World War Two and the Cold War
In October 1939, the furious rivalry between Massagli and von Papen finally ended with the conclusion of a mutual security pact between the United Kingdom, France and Turkey. However, as Massagli admitted in his memoir of time as ambassador in Ankara, La Turquie devant la Guerre, his triumph proved to be an ephemeral one as the Turks chose to interpret Clause Two of the Anglo-French-Turkish alliance in such way as justifying remaining neutral. However, Massigli contended that while he failed to bring Turkey into the war on the Allied state, he at least foiled von Papen's efforts to bring Turkey into the war on the Axis side.
In August 1940, Massigli was removed by the Vichy government as Ambassador to Turkey. After his firing, Massigli returned to France and was in contact with several Resistance leaders in the Lyon area, most notably Jean Moulin. In January 1943, Massigli escaped to London and served as Charles de Gaulle's Commissioner for Foreign Affairs (in effect the Free French foreign minister) in 1943–1944. In 1943, Massigli opposed the visit of the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nuri as-Said Pasha to Algeria after a summit with the Prime Minister of Egypt, Mustafa el-Nahhas Pasha, on the grounds that such visit would encourage Arab nationalist sentiment in French North Africa, would give the impression that France was aligning itself with one fraction centered around as-Said Pasha and might weaken the electoral chances of pro-French Lebanese nationalists in the upcoming Lebanese elections. In January 1944, at the conference called by General de Gaulle to consider the post-war fate of the French African colonies in Brazzaville in the French Congo, Massigli strongly urged that representatives from the protectorates of Tunis and Morocco and the government of Algeria not be allowed to attend the conference. Massigli's advice was not ignored.
In the spring of 1944, Massigli on the behalf of General de Gaulle presented an offer to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden for a "Third Force" in the post-war world standing between the Soviet Union and the United States that was to comprise the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, who to integrate their defense and economic policies and jointly control the western half of Germany. The British were not initially interested in the proposal, while de Gaulle was always cool to the idea of British involvement in the "Third Force" concept, and had only agreed to British participation to allay Belgian concerns about post-war French domination. Moreover, de Gaulle had imposed as a precondition for British participation that London should support France annexing the Ruhr and Rhineland regions of Germany after the war, a demand the British rejected.
In 1944, de Gaulle decided that the Anglophile Massigli was too pro-British for his liking and demoted him to Ambassador to London. From August 1944 until June 1954, Massigli was the French Ambassador to the Court of St. James's. In August 1944, Massigli lobbied Winston Churchill for allowing a greater French role in the war in the Far East as the best way of ensuring that French Indochina stay French after World War II had ended. In November 1944, when Churchill visited Paris, he presented to de Gaulle his offer for an Anglo-French pact, which Massigli urged the General to accept, but which de Gaulle refused. During his time in Britain, Massigli was very much involved in the debates about the Cold War and European integration. Massigli was strongly opposed to the vision of European federation of Jean Monnet. Instead he urged the creation of an Anglo-French bloc which would serve as the basis for a federation of Europe. In 1954–1956, Massigli served as the Secretary-General of the Quai d'Orsay. As Secretary-General, Massigli played a major role behind the scenes in resolving the 1954 crisis in trans-Atlantic relations caused by the rejection by the French National Assembly of the European Defence Community treaty. In 1956, Massigil retired. His memoirs, Une Comédie des Erreurs, were published in 1978. He died in Paris on 3 February 1988 a month short of his 100th birthday.
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- La Turquie devant la Guerre: Mission a Ankara 1939–1940, Paris: Plon, 1964.
- Une Comédie des Erreurs, 1943–1956 souvenirs et réflexions sur une étape de la construction européenne, Paris: Plon, 1978.
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- Duroselle, pp. 217–218
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- Schuker, Stephen "France and the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, 1936" pp. 206–221 from The Origins of the Second World War edited by Patrick Finney, Arnold Press, London, United Kingdom, 1997 p. 239
- Ulrich, p. 145
- Adamthwaite, p. 150
- Vaïsse, p. 233
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- Watt, p. 73
- Adamthwaite, p. 328
- Watt p. 286.
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- Watt pp. 308–309.
- Watt p. 310.
- Watt p. 617.
- Purcell, p. 153
- El-Solh, p. 194
- Shipway, p. 30
- Loth, p. 5
- Kratoska, p. 237
||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (July 2010)|
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- Duroselle, Jean Baptiste France and the Nazi Threat: The Collapse of French Diplomacy, 1932–1939, New York Enigma Books, 2004 ISBN 1-929631-15-4
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- Watt, D.C. How War Came : The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938–1939, New York : Pantheon Books, 1989, ISBN 0-394-57916-X.
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