The Little Entente was an alliance formed in 1920 and 1921 by Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia with the purpose of common defense against Hungarian revision and the prevention of a Habsburg restoration. France supported the alliance by signing treaties with each member country.
The first attempts seeking a mutual defense of the successor states of Austria-Hungary took place at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The most remarkable and ardent proponent of the certain alliance binding the successor states was Edvard Beneš who served as Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935. Beneš played the crucial role in establishing the Little Entente to such extent, that he was regarded as its real founder. The Project of this alliance also clearly reflected his belief in necessity of democratic development for Czechoslovakia and other European states as well.
The obvious aim of the alliance proposed by Beneš was to prevent the resurgence of Hungarian power and the restoration of the Habsburg Monarchy. The real purpose of the Little Entente followed a much broader pattern. The alliance was designed to stop any encroachments on the independence of the member states committed by any European power. This meant that Beneš intended to gain the respect of both Hungary and other powers such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In addition, the Little Entente was to strengthen the influence of its member states in international deliberations.
Another interpretation explaining the background of the forming of the Little Entente could be based on considerations concerning a new balance of power in Europe after World War I. France planned to contain a possible German aggression by forming an arrangement composed of German neighbours. Before World War I, Russia served as a suitable ally for the mentioned purpose. The end of World War I left France with the Soviet Union not willing to be a French ally. Thus France sought alternative states neighbouring Germany and having close ties to France. As the Little Entente fulfilled these conditions, France strongly supported its formation.
A collective defense arrangement was signed in Belgrade on August 14, 1920, during a convention between Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The treaty guaranteed mutual assistance in the event of an unprovoked attack launched by Hungary against any stipulator. Ratifications were exchanged in Belgrade on February 10, 1921. Subsequently, Beneš suggested participation in the emerging alliance to Romania on August 17, 1920, but his offer was rejected by the irresolute Romanian government. Although the mentioned treaty was signed, it did not serve as a regular allied convention.
The allied conventions which formed the Little Entente were signed in order as follows:
- The treaty between Czechoslovakia and Romania signed on April 23, 1921, in Bucharest. Ratifications were exchanged in Bucharest on May 27, 1921. The treaty was prolonged by a supplementary protocols signed on May 7, 1923, June 13, 1926, and May 21, 1929.
- The treaty between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and Romania signed on June 7, 1921 in Belgrade. The treaty was prolonged by supplementary protocol on May 21, 1929.
- The treaty between Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes signed on August 31, 1922, in Belgrade. Ratifications were exchanged in Belgrade on October 3, 1922. The treaty was prolonged by additional protocols signed on September 19, 1928 and May 21, 1929.
The mentioned conventions encompassed almost identical terms as the treaty from August 14, 1920. Again, it was stated that in the event of an unprovoked attack employed by Hungary against a certain stipulator other parties should provide mutual assistance. In addition, the treaties defined the mutual assistance via a special military convention which was to be signed. Until such a convention came into force, interim measures were to be taken. The member states of the Little Entente also pledged themselves to cooperation in terms of foreign policy towards Hungary.
- All those conventions were replaced by a comprehensive treaty of alliance between the governments of Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, signed in Štrbské Pleso (now Slovakia) on June 27, 1930, and entered into effect "immediately", in the phrasing of article 6. This treaty created a regular consultative structure for the Little Entente, and made it compulsory for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the parties to meet at least once a year. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on October 3, 1930. Ratifications were exchanged in Prague on November 25, 1930.
During its formation, the Little Entente had to prove its determination of being a safeguard against any restoration sponsored by Habsburgs. Firstly, Charles I of Austria returned to Hungary from Switzerland on March 26, 1921. He reclaimed the Hungarian throne, but this action earned neither the support of Miklós Horthy, nor consent of the Little Entente. Thus Charles was forced to leave the country on April 1, 1921. On October 20, 1921, he nevertheless returned to Hungary and renewed his claims. The situation was complicated by the fact that Charles managed to gain the support of a certain part of the army.
The Little Entente reacted promptly under the guidance of E. Beneš. Its member states began to mobilize its armies and the threat of direct involvement from them was imminent. Moreover, other European powers expressed their opposition to Charles's restoration attempts. Under these circumstances the Hungarian government defeated Charles's followers and arrested him on October 24, 1921. This was followed by Hungarian reluctance to deprive Charles of his titles and increasing danger of a military incursion of the Little Entente into Hungary. Finally, the Hungarian government passed an act abrogating Charles's sovereign rights on November 10, 1921.
Although the thwarted restoration of Habsburgs posed an unambiguous success of the Little Entente, the events following this peak of the Entente's cooperation showed increasing tensions within the alliance. The Genoa Conference which was held from April 10 to May 19, 1922, highlighted the divergences of opinion among the member states of the Little Entente. The problem arose from the possible recognition of the Soviet Union by its European counterparts. As Czechoslovakia was mainly an industrial state, it was prone to normalize its relations with the Soviet Union and therefore to recognize the new formed state. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes together with Romania were agriculture-based countries not interested in economical cooperation with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, all member states participating in the Little Entente congruously considered the Soviet Union as the threat.
In the 1920s, France as the decisive supporter of the Little Entente pursued its policy towards tightening the alliance. Hence this power launched a series of friendship treaties aimed at forging the relations between France, Czechoslovakia, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and Romania. The mentioned treaties were signed as follows:
- The Treaty of Alliance and Friendship between France and Czechoslovakia, signed on January 25, 1924, in Paris. The treaty was concluded for an unlimited time.
- The Treaty of Friendship between France and Romania, signed on June 10, 1926 in Paris. Originally, the treaty was concluded for 10 years, but it was extended for another 10 years on November 8, 1936.
- The Treaty of Friendship between France and Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, signed on November 1, 1927 in Paris. Originally, the treaty was concluded for five years, but it was extended on November 10, 1932 and December 2, 1937.
These treaties obliged the parties to consult their foreign policies, foremost the security matters of the involved states.
The inevitable consequence of the successful performance of the Little Entente was its institutionalisation. Guided by this purpose, the Pact of Organisation, also called The Little Entente System or The Reorganisation Pact, was signed in Geneva on February 16, 1933, providing a legal framework for a permanent collaboration among the member states. According to that treaty, a Permanent Council together with a Permanent Secretary were to be established. The former body was designed for periodical meetings attended by the foreign ministers of the three countries, while the latter one was to provide a day-to-day routine operations of the Little Entente. The meetings of the proposed Council were to be held in the capitals of the member states at least three times per year, thus enhancing a regular harmonization of foreign policies pursued by the given countries. Moreover, by implementation of the Economic Council into the organisation structure of the Little Entente the member states declared their will to coordinate its economic interests too.
The successful performance of the Little Entente resulted in its institutionalisation. Guided by this purpose, the Pact of Organisation, also called The Little Entente System or The Reorganisation Pact, was signed in Geneva on February 16, 1933. Ratifications were exchanged in Prague on May 30, 1933, and the treaty became effective on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on July 4, 1933. The treaty was delivered by Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member states - Bogoljub Jevtić for Yugoslavia, Nicolae Titulescu for Romania, and Edvard Beneš for Czechoslovakia. The aim of the Pact of Organisation was to provide a legal framework for a permanent collaboration among the member states. This objective was to be reached by an establishing of new institutions operating on behalf of the member states within the Little Entente. The main instruments of collaboration were:
- The Permanent Council. This body was to consist of the ministers of foreign affairs of the three respective countries or of the special delegates appointed for that purpose. Decisions of the council were to be brought unanimously. The council was designed to meet at least three times per year. The mentioned meetings were to be held in each of the member states and in Geneva during the session of the League of Nations.
- The Secretariat of the Permanent Council. This body were to perform day-to-day routine operations of the Little Entente. In addition, a certain section of the secretariat was aimed to function permanently in the seat of the League of Nations.
- The Economic Council. By implementation of the council into the organisation structure of the Little Entente the member states declared their will to coordinate its economic interests too.
The resurgence of German power after 1933 had gradually undermined French influence in the Little Entente countries.
The Little Entente began to break down in 1936 and disbanded completely in 1938. One of its last important acts was to permit Hungary to re-arm itself in the Bled agreement of 22 August 1938. France had seen the Little Entente as an opportunity, in the interests of French security, to revitalize the threat of a two-front war against Germany.
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