Romanian politician Nicolae Titulescu gained his international reputation as Romania’s permanent delegate (1920-1936) to the League of Nations, and was elected as president of the international organization in 1930 and 1931, the only one to hold this position twice. He was part of the Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, was plenipotentiary minister in London (1922-1927) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1927-1928 and 1932-1936). His brilliant oratorical talent, but also extensive knowledge on international matters allowed him to carry out a prodigious diplomatic activity. Titulescu supported the fight against revisionism, the preservation of the borders as provided by the Paris Peace Treaties, and the establishment of good neighbourly relations between states.
With the rise of Nazism in Germany, at a time when other politicians didn’t pay too much attention to it, Titulescu took concrete political action. He signed in London, in 1933, in the name of the Romanian government, the convention for the definition of aggression, and made remarkable efforts to arrange the signing of a Balkan pact.
On February 9, 1934, the Foreign Ministers of Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania and Turkey signed the Pact of the Balkan Agreement in Athens. Romania was trying to secure its eastern borders, worried by the rapprochement between Turkey and the USSR. Thus, according to the first article of the Pact, the signatory states mutually guaranteed the security of all Balkan borders. However, one can see an essential difference regarding the conceptions between the Romanian and Yugoslav positions, on the one hand, and the Turkish one, on the other. While the former saw in this alliance an extension of the Little Entente, under Turkey’s guarantee, the latter saw the deal as a way of ensuring security in the Balkans, during which time its forces could be employed in other regions. In its relation with the USSR, Turkey was nonetheless reserved.
Shortly after Hitler took power, there was even a plan to create a directorate of France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy (the “The Four-Powers Pact”) intended to regulate relations between the signatories. The vigorous reaction of the Little Entente- especially through Titulescu’s voice- and of Poland, who felt threatened by possible revisions of the peace treaties, led to the non-application of the Pact.
“I want peace”
Nicolae Titulescu declared: “The foreign policy I adhered to had only one goal: not to prepare for war, but to prepare a network of alliances so that the war would become impossible. (…) I want peace. For this we need alliances and amity with all peoples without distinction. I declare that anyone who guarantees the borders of Romania and those of our allies is our rightful ally. (…) I do not give anyone the right to interfere in our inner affairs; on the contrary, I ask that the directives of our internal policy be purely Romanian. With this conception and in this spirit I have led the country’s foreign policy and I affirm that I have guaranteed it independence, in regards to foreign interference, which has never been overcome in the past”.
Historian Florin Constantiniu wrote: “The discussions between Titulescu and Litvinov, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR, were typical as the former attempted to obtain, through legal arguments, the recognition of the union of Bessarabia with Romania, while the latter, with the skill of the cynical representative of a totalitarian regime, determined not to respect any commitment, made his interlocutor believe that he succeeded in his efforts. Titulescu was not the only victim of Soviet diplomacy, which played perfectly the role attributed by Stalin: to demonstrate the attachment of the USSR to a policy of collective peace and security, to impede the actions of revisionist states aimed at dislocating the Versailles system”.
The Romanian diplomat was convinced that only by attracting the USSR to a system of collective security, supported by the strength of France and Britain, could “a Soviet-German pact to eliminate Poland” be avoided. Titulescu believed, and Litvinov let him believe that after a gentleman’s agreement in 1934, by which the USSR pledged not to raise the “question” of Bessarabia, the matter was almost resolved. His conviction was strengthened especially after the signing of a mutual assistance treaty (1935) between USSR and France followed by another with Czechoslovakia. But on July 21, 1936, in Montreaux, in the draft protocol of a mutual assistance treaty between Romania and the USSR, the Dniester was mentioned as the limit beyond which the Soviet troops would intervene in Romania’s aid in case it was attacked, and after conclusion of military operations, pledged to withdraw. However, the protocol was not equivalent to the conclusion of a treaty, and it was merely one of Moscow’s many underhanded political ploys.
The failure of Titulescu’s policy
In the meantime, things were beginning to change rapidly and drastically in Europe. On March 7, 1936, Germany remilitarized the Rhineland. As long as Germany’s “door” (the Ruhr) remained open, France’s eastern allies (Poland, the Little Entente) were convinced that Paris could help them in the event of a conflict with Germany. The remilitarization of the Rhineland changed the military balance. Berlin fortified the Ruhr and German guns now had in their sights Strasbourg. France lost access to the heartland of German industry. But perhaps what was worse was the passivity with which France viewed the German action, which raised the concern of its eastern allies.
The remilitarization of the Rhineland led to the failure of the collective security policy and exposed Titulescu to both external and internal criticism. The rapprochement with the USSR which was initiated by Titulescu was increasingly criticized both in Bucharest and Warsaw, Poland regarding it as a weakening of the 1921 alliance. Italy did not forgive Titulescu for the firmness with which he condemned Rome’s aggression against Ethiopia, and King Carol II of Romania was irritated by the initiatives of his Foreign Minister who acted as if he were in control of Romania’s foreign policy.
On August 29, 1936, Titulescu was removed as the head of the Foreign Ministry of Romania, and the failure of the collective security policy made the treaty of mutual assistance with the USSR unnecessary. Moscow used this as a pretext to declare itself free from the 1934 gentleman’s agreement.
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I.G. Duca, Memorii [Memoirs], vol. I, Expres Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.
The Count of Saint-Aulaire, Însemnările unui diplomat de altădată: În România: 1916-1920 [The testimonies of a former diplomat: In Romania: 1916-1920], Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2016.
Constantin Argetoianu, Memorii [Memoirs], Humanitas, Bucharest, 1992.
Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [A sincere history of the Romanian people], Encyclopaedic Universe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa