1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/League of Nations
LEAGUE OF NATIONS.—The Covenant of the League of Nations, incorporated in the Peace Treaty in 1919, was perhaps the most remarkable of all the direct results of the World War.
The League of Nations may be regarded as a necessary result of the development of human society in political organizations. It is not an abnormal achievement of human idealism—a great leap in advance beyond the achievements of the present age, outstripping the practical needs and requirements of the world. On the contrary, it is a practical method for achieving practical ends which are of importance to every citizen of every country. The demand for an international organization to prevent war has often been made in the last four centuries after any great European conflict. Fundamentally, this demand is that the relation of these States among themselves shall be subjected to something analogous to the system of law and order to which men have subjected themselves within the smaller units in which they live. It is an illustrative commentary on the maxim of the Roman lawyers—ubi societas ibi lex. But the purpose and the content of these rules for the conduct of their relations—the lex—necessarily depend on the nature of the units of the society and on the nature of their relations. When Grotius, for example, wrote his famous work on the Law of Nations, he was writing of a Society of States whose intercourse was disturbed by the continual outbreak of hostility. Indeed, Europe had been convulsed by the Thirty Years' War for a whole generation prior to the publication of his work. Thus it was natural and indeed inevitable that the rules which Grotius produced for the guidance of the Society of States, as he knew it, amounted to little more than a code of laws for the better conduct of war. He did indeed sketch the outlines of a law for the pacific relations of States, and in the following century and a half his successors developed to some extent what he had begun. But only after the Napoleonic wars was the first serious attempt made to establish an organized system of conducting international affairs with a view to the avoidance of war. To Alexander of Russia's scheme of a Holy Alliance we need only briefly allude. Though admirable in intention it was rejected as “sublime nonsense and mysticism” by Castlereagh, and it eventually degenerated into a mere prop of despotism supported by the empires of Central Europe and France. But the work of Castlereagh is worthy of closer attention. He tried to substitute for the chaotic political methods of the past a system of diplomacy by conference, confining his efforts, however, to the Great Powers; though he desired to make their attitude to the Smaller Powers one of “influence rather than authority.” He provided his “Conference of Ambassadors” with an organized plan of work and with a secretariat, and he supplemented it by occasional Conferences of the Principal Statesmen of the Concert. His Conference of Ambassadors continued to sit in one form or another for almost six years, and he held four or five of his Conferences of Principal Statesmen.
Later in the 19th century Castlereagh's work bore fruit in the European Concert, which proved on a number of occasions to be an effective instrument for the joint settlement of Balkan problems and for the maintenance of European peace. But at the time, and for the purpose for which he had created it, Castlereagh's system of diplomacy by conference almost completely failed. It did so because it never had in it the seeds of life. Its members differed fundamentally on all the greater issues of international politics; while some of them were independent and autocratic sovereigns, subject to no control, and without the pressure behind them of a general democratic will for peace. Indeed the paramount cause of failure, not only of the vague and mystic ideas of Alexander, but also of the more practical and definite schemes of Castlereagh, was that they were not backed by the force of a strong, persistent, instructed public opinion.
Since the Napoleonic wars, forces have been at work which have slowly changed the economic condition of the world—knitting its many parts together, and making more and more possible an international political organization, which shall exist side by side with the economic organization already created. The first of these forces is the revolution in communications which has occurred in the course of the last century, and which has brought the most remote parts of the world nearer to each other than neighbouring towns were a hundred years ago. The second of the forces—in a sense it is the result of the first—is the remarkable raising of the standards of civilization through the coöperation of mankind in ever larger groups and in enterprises conceived and conducted on an ever greater scale. To-day no part of the world can live without the rest; and a greater proportion of the world's commerce is conducted by vast international companies. Thus we have a general community of interests between human beings living in different States. It was evident before the World War—and if it were not, the war proved it to demonstration—that the interests of any one civilized country are indissolubly bound up with those of every other country, and no sensible statesman will ever again base his policy on the principle that his country will gain by another's loss.
Nor is this community of interests between peoples confined to their material well-being. It extends to every sort of scientific, political and moral activity in which men coöperate for the progress of their race. The revolution in communications, which is still in progress, rapidly destroying the factors of space and time, has rendered possible a development of warfare which has changed its whole character, and rendered it universal in a sense never hitherto imagined. Withal, “science,” as Lord Esher remarks, “sleepless, restless and revolutionary, is exploring every day new methods of destruction, and opening up avenues to novel tactics, rendering certain that war in the future will be waged with weapons hitherto undreamt of, fought in the air and under the water by contrivances which will render those of 1918 as obsolete as gunpowder rendered bows and bills.” Thus it is not too much to assert that another world war would almost certainly throw mankind back into the dark ages. For these among other reasons some sort of international organization for the conduct of the relations of States is essential, if the human race is not to abandon the hopes and the ideals for which it has striven during centuries of progress.
Essential Conditions.—With the reasons for the failure of the earlier scheme of a century before, and with the nature of modern national States in our minds, we can perhaps now proceed to lay down the essentials of a league of nations.
It may be taken as commonly accepted that the purposes and objects of a league are the following:—First, the maintenance of peace. Second, and as a corollary to the first, the solution of international disputes by methods of law, if and when the necessary law exists; when it does not, their solution by political methods, by public debate, by impartial investigation and by conciliation on the basis of the accepted canons of right and justice. Third, the promotion of international coöperation wherever necessary or useful, between States and between the citizens of different States. The promotion of such coöperation will imply the development of rules and the general acceptance of common machinery and common practice in ever wider spheres of international activity. Further, a first principle which must be borne continually in mind is that the fundamental basis of all law, and the primary condition of all political organization, is the consent of those who are to obey it. And an important and relevant corollary of the proposition is that the force, even the united force, of the greater or more powerful members of a society cannot in the long run coerce the will, or replace the consent, of the others. It is useless, therefore, to plan any organism which depends on the coöperation of the powerful States, but which will not also receive the willing acceptance and coöperation of the great body of other States.
An examination of the results of these limiting conditions, and of the lessons to be drawn from historical experience, and of the accepted objects which it is desirable that a league should achieve, will perhaps indicate to us without further discussion the minimum of rules and of machinery which is essential.
In the first place, then, there must be rules laying down the conditions of membership of the League. As the members of the League, in order to carry out the objects which they agree upon, must give reciprocal undertakings, they must have some guarantee that those with whom they associate themselves are willing and able to carry out what they promise. Next, it is essential that all the members should enter into agreements to meet in full conference from time to time. Third, it will in practice be necessary, and even in theory it is most desirable, that there should be some smaller organ than the full conference of all the members, which in the current business of the League, and when executive action is required, can represent the whole body of the members. It is evident that the composition of such an executive organ will—in a society in which members are so unequal in size, population and power—involve most difficult problems of representation. And a further consequence of any attempt to organize international affairs through regular conferences of all the members of the League, and through a smaller executive organ, is the necessity for a secretariat which shall be charged with the duty of preparing the work of the organs of the League, which shall act as a central exchange for information among members of the League and shall organize the central and technical services for conferences and for the meetings of the executive organ. The secretariat would also have to keep the records of the League, supervise the execution of the League's decisions and in general act as an organizing agency for the promotion of international coöperation. It is, perhaps, theoretically possible that these duties 'should be fulfilled by means of national secretariats attached to the representatives who compose the full conference or the executive organ of the League; but there are great practical advantages in an international secretariat whose members are individually independent.
The above represents the minimum machinery that is essential to the effective working of any league. We must next consider the minimum mutual obligations which the members of the League must assume if it is to prove an effective instrument for the maintenance of peace.
It is evidently essential that every member must agree that it will not go to war with any other member without previously submitting the dispute to peaceful methods of settlement, either through the instrumentality of the League or otherwise. Further, and as a corollary to this first undertaking, there must be a second one providing for common action against members who break this fundamental agreement. What the nature of this common action must be is a matter for discussion; but it must at the least provide for united and energetic moral pressure by the whole body of the League against the recalcitrant member. It may well be argued that in the world as it is to-day this united moral pressure should be supported in whatever way may be possible by united material pressure as well. What in any case is essential is to find some means of bringing home to every citizen of a member which breaks its League agreements the universal disapprobation of the other members. Thirdly, it is practically, if not theoretically, necessary to lay down in advance some method, or methods, for the settlement of disputes by peaceful means. Great elasticity may be left as to the nature of these methods, and as to the choice of method which the parties to a dispute may adopt. But the agreements of the League should include plans for settlement by conciliation, or arbitration, or judicial verdict; and these plans should be based on the essential principles by which alone moral pressure can be brought to bear on individuals or on Governments—that is to say, on strictly impartial inquiry into the merits of disputes, and on full publicity for the contentions of the parties and for the proceedings by which settlement is attempted.
It is further essential that the agreements of the League should include the automatic abrogation by members of all treaties or undertakings which are not consistent with their obligations as members of the League. No general organization such as a league of nations can operate or inspire confidence in its members if the undertakings to which they agree by their membership are overborne or superseded by other inconsistent agreements which they may enter into with individual States.
The organization and the undertakings indicated seem to constitute the minimum that can serve as the basis of any effective international organization for the prevention of war. Beyond this minimum, there are other things not absolutely essential, but highly desirable. For example, in the plans laid down for the settlement of disputes, it is necessary to make provision for settlement by conciliation, by arbitration and by judicial verdict. The last of these alternatives implies a court of international law. It is true that such a court might be set up ad hoc for any dispute in which it is required. But it is preëminently desirable that a permanent court of international justice should be established as part of the machinery of the League. Only such a permanent court can guarantee the full, absolute and unquestionable impartiality without which States will not submit their disputes to its jurisdiction. Further, such a court appears to be a necessity if we are to achieve the development of international law as an increasingly important factor in the relations between States.
Again, it is highly desirable, though it is not theoretically essential, that the agreements of the League should provide that any dispute, or any circumstances affecting the peace of the world, should be a matter of general concern to every member, so that any member may be within its right in demanding the consideration of any such matter by the organs of the League. Interdependence of States had so far advanced during the course of the 19th century that this principle received some slight and tentative recognition in the international conventions for the peaceful settlement of international disputes drawn up by the conferences at The Hague. But the principle needs full recognition and application if countries are to be prevented from drifting into armed conflicts which, in these times, certainly will involve the interests of their neighbours.
And lastly, it is desirable, though again not essential, that the League should be given the necessary powers to enable it to act as the coordinating agency for the international activities of its members in all the multifarious spheres hitherto governed by international bureaux, by general treaties, and by other forms of official and unofficial coöperation.
Features of the League.—Impartial consideration of the Covenant of the League, first signed by the 32 signatories of the Treaty of Versailles, and accepted and acted upon by the 48 States who in 1921 were members of the League, will show that it embodies every one of the features which have been enumerated as the essentials of an effective league. It may further be said that where the Covenant goes beyond the essentials it does so in a way which was intended to make, and does make, for greater completeness and efficiency.
Article 1 of the Covenant consists of the rules of membership. It stipulates that the original members of the League shall be the signatories to the Covenant and such other States named in the annex thereto as shall accede to it without reservation; and that any fully self-governing State, dominion or colony may become a member if its admission is agreed to by two-thirds of the members, and provided that it shall give effective guarantees of its sincere intention to observe its international obligations and shall accept the regulations of the League in regard to its military forces. Article 1 also makes provision for the withdrawal after two years' notice of any member who wishes to abandon its membership. These rules constitute a statement of the principles concerning membership that are essential if the members of the League are to have confidence that their mutual undertakings will be carried out.
With regard to agreements to meet in conference, Articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Covenant stipulate for the creation of an assembly consisting of three representatives of each member of the League, and for a smaller council consisting of representatives of four Great Powers and of four smaller ones. The Covenant does not lay down the intervals at which these bodies shall meet: it merely stipulates that the Assembly shall meet at stated intervals and from time to time as occasion may require; and that the Council shall meet in the same way, and at least once a year. It leaves these questions to be dealt with in whatever rules of procedure the Council and the Assembly may respectively consider it wise to adopt.
The question of representation of the members at the Assembly was one which naturally involved serious difficulties. It was solved by according to every member an equal right to send three representatives. There was considerable discussion when the Covenant was being drafted as to whether three was a sufficiently large number. In practice this point has been dealt with in a way indicated later on.
The question of representation on the Council was still more difficult. A definite preponderance of influence in international affairs had been recognized prior to the war on the part of the Great Powers of the world. It was inevitable, and surely right, that the Great Powers who are members of the League should be accorded permanent representation on its principal executive organ, and this has been done. The representation of the smaller Powers—an exceedingly difficult matter—was dealt with in a way which in practice seems likely to prove quite satisfactory, namely by providing that the four non-permanent members of the Council shall be selected by the Assembly from time to time in its discretion.
Articles 6 and 7 provide for the necessary secretariat, and for the nomination of a secretary-general who shall make all the appointments to the secretariat with the approval of the Council, and who shall act as secretary at all the meetings of the Assembly and of the Council. These Articles also provide that every position in the secretariat shall be open to women.
So much for the institutional organization of the League as it is established by the Covenant.
With regard to the agreements not to resort to war, which are included above among the essentials, the Covenant embodies practically everything that any responsible authority had advocated as practicable. By Article 12 the members agree that if there should arise between them any dispute likely to lead to a rupture, they will submit the matter either to arbitration or to inquiry by the Council, and they agree that they will in no case resort to arms until three months after an award has been made by the arbitrators or a report has been made by the Council. Article 12 thus not only embodies an agreement not to go to war without previous recourse to peaceful methods of settlement for disputes, but also lays down two alternative procedures by which, through the agency of the League, settlement can be effected. The first is ambiguously referred to as “arbitration,” but it is evident from Articles 13 and 14 that the use of the word “arbitration” is a loose one, and that what is really intended is recourse to legal decision. For Article 13 proceeds to give a definition of disputes which the members recognize to be “generally suitable for submission to arbitration”; and this definition is textually that agreed to by various high authorities in international law as the best that can be devised for disputes which may be called “juridical,” i.e. suitable for decision by means of legal verdict. Further, while Article 13 leaves the parties free to choose any court or board of arbitration to which they may agree for the judicial settlement of their disputes, Article 14 nevertheless charges the Council with formulating, and submitting to the members of the League for adoption, plans for the establishment of a permanent court of international justice which shall be competent to hear any dispute of an international character which the parties thereto submit to it. While, therefore, these two Articles leave great elasticity, it is evident that the intention was to lay down a normal legal procedure, and to secure the establishment of a permanent international court to which the parties should, in the normal course, take disputes of a legal nature. There is, moreover, at the end of Article 14 a clause which greatly increases the value of the Permanent Court. This clause provides that the Court may also give an advisory opinion upon any dispute or question referred to it by the Council or by the Assembly. It is evident that in the course of a dispute one party may maintain that a whole or a part of the question at issue is juridical in nature, and should be determined on legal grounds. If one of the parties put forward such a contention and were able to support it by sound arguments, there is no doubt that the Council would act on the final clause of Article 14 and would submit the question to the Court for an advisory opinion; and it is to be particularly noted that they could do this as a matter of procedure, and, therefore, by a majority vote. If, then, a litigant should bring to the League a dispute in which it believes the law to be on its side, it will be able to demand, even if the other party does not agree, that the Council shall secure on the juridical questions at issue an advisory opinion from the Court: and the Court in rendering this opinion will give the Council the elements for a decision which would have all the force of a legal verdict.
Thus, while avoiding the pitfall of “obligatory arbitration,” which very few of the States of the world at the present time are ready to accept, the Covenant includes provisions which go very far towards securing that all international disputes of a genuinely legal nature shall be determined by legal methods.
With regard to the other alternative method provided for the settlement of disputes, which members agree to by Article 12, that is to say, inquiry by the Council, Article 15 lays down in considerable detail the procedure which is to be adopted. It provides that any party to a dispute can oblige the League to take cognizance of it by giving notice to the Secretary-General, who is then obliged to make all the necessary arrangements for a full investigation and consideration thereof. The parties undertake to communicate to the Secretary-General as promptly as possible statements of their case, with all the relevant facts and papers. The Council is then given discretion to endeavour to effect a settlement of the dispute, and it is provided that if its efforts are successful, a statement shall be made public giving such an account of the dispute and of the settlement arrived at as the Council may deem proper. If the Council fails to settle the dispute, it is to make a report setting forth the merits of the dispute and the recommendations which the Council thinks would be suitable for a settlement, and this report is to be published. A report may be made either unanimously or by a majority vote, and any individual member of the League which is represented on the Council has a right to make its own public statement concerning the dispute and the conclusions which it draws from them. There is a further provision in Article 15 to the effect that if such a report is agreed to by the Council unanimously, with the exception of the representatives of one or more of the parties to the dispute, the members of the League—including the parties—agree that they will not go to war with any party to the dispute who complies with the provisions of the report. This is a most important additional limitation of the right of members to resort to arms. Article 15 also provides for an appeal to the Assembly, conditional on its being made within 14 days after the submission of the dispute to the Council. If a dispute is so referred to the Assembly, the Assembly is to deal with the matter in the same way as the Council, with this exception, that if a report is agreed to in the Assembly by all the members of the League represented on the Council, and by a majority of the other members of the League, exclusive in each case of the representatives of the parties to the dispute, the report shall have the same force as a unanimous report agreed to by the Council. In other words, the members of the League must not go to war with any of the parties to the dispute which accept it. These Articles, then, provide two, or rather three, methods by which disputes can be settled by peaceful means through the agency of the League. The first of these methods provides for legal verdicts, when such verdicts are possible and useful; the second provides for arbitration by some other tribunal agreed to by the parties to a dispute; and the third, for settlement by the political agency of the Council or the Assembly, in accordance with procedure based on the principles of full publicity and strict impartiality. It may perhaps be observed that publicity will of itself ensure impartiality; for it is not conceivable that a council, acting as the representative of the whole body of the League and in circumstances of utmost publicity, should conduct its inquiries into a dispute in any way not consistent with the strictest fairness to all the parties concerned.
Articles 12 to 15 also make provision for the next essential of a league—united pressure by all the members against any of their number which disregards its undertakings. In providing for a public report by the Council on the merits of a dispute and for the publication of its recommendations as to a settlement, the Covenant lays down a method which, in practice, must exert the strongest moral pressure on any State which in defiance of Article 12 is disposed to go to war. Anyone who knows how great a factor in the conduct of international affairs the public opinion of the Society of States was, even prior to 1914, will realize that such a verdict of the organized opinion of the world is bound to be a weapon of great power.
But the Covenant goes beyond this, and provides in Article 16 that, if any member of the League in contravention of its agreements resorts to arms, such a member is ipso facto “deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League,” and the other members are obliged to prevent all financial, commercial or personal intercourse between the nationals of the Covenant-breaking State and the nationals of any other State. It was difficult in the disturbed condition of the world during 1919-21 to realize just what would be the effect of such a complete economic and financial boycott in times of normal peace. But it is not too much to say that no civilized State would, in 1914, have ventured to declare war had it been threatened by such a universal boycott as Article 16 stipulates.
It may be held that in providing for such a universal boycott, the Covenant goes beyond the essentials of a league. It may even be held that it goes beyond what is practicable and wise. Certainly it is a matter which will give rise to the gravest problems, and on which, indeed, the League had in 1921 already found it necessary to appoint a commission to determine the precise obligations of the members and to recommend the machinery required for their fulfilment. But it must be remembered that Article 16 only comes into force in the case of a State insisting on going to war without waiting for any attempt at peaceful settlement such as is provided for in Articles 12, 13 and 15, or where the agreed tribunal or a unanimous council have given a decision which has been accepted by the other party. In other cases ultimate resort to war is envisaged as possible.
And the Covenant goes even further than this in making provision for pressure on recalcitrant members of the League.
Article 16 further lays down that in addition to the blockade, which is an automatic obligation of all the members of the League, the Council shall consider and shall recommend to the several Governments concerned, what effective military, naval or air forces members of the League shall severally contribute to the armed forces to be used to protect the Covenant. In other words, while leaving again the greatest possible elasticity, and while laying no positive obligation on any member to contribute military force, the Covenant yet definitely foreshadows united military action against a Covenant-breaking State.
To turn to another matter, the Covenant provides by Article 20 for the abrogation of treaties, obligations and understandings which are inconsistent with its own terms, and thus meets, in yet another particular, the essentials of a league.
How far, and in what respects, does the Covenant go beyond what we have recognized to be these essentials?
To begin with perhaps the most important point of all, there are the much-discussed provisions of Article 10. This Article has been very generally misunderstood. It has been widely proclaimed as containing the central and essential obligation of the whole Covenant—an obligation, moreover, which most States are unlikely to accept in practice and which, indeed, they would be right in refusing. This is quite untrue. As a matter of fact the great objection to it is that it has little actual effect while appearing to mean a great deal. It does not create, as has been thought, an obligation on all the members of the League to maintain by force of arms the existing territorial and political arrangement of the world. It does indeed guarantee the members against external aggression which would impair their territorial integrity or political independence. But this guarantee is only to be enforced, if at all, as the Council acting unanimously shall agree. In practice the protection against sudden and unjust attacks provided by Articles 12-16 will be much more useful. Article 10, when closely examined, will be found to be little more than a rather clumsy assertion that territorial or political changes ought not to be made by aggressive warfare. Such changes, if required, should be made under Article 19, which enables the Assembly to reconsider treaties which have become obsolete or dangerous to peace.
It may perhaps with more show of reason be said that, by the provisions of Article 8 on the subject of armaments, the Covenant introduces something which is extraneous to an agreement to preserve the peace. But the history of the 20th century has already demonstrated that if you prepare for war you will have war; that increase of armaments in one country provokes increase of armaments in other countries, and that if rivalry in preparation for war continues, within a certain time war will break out. Unless the rivalry in armaments can be prevented, any league of nations, however it be constituted, will fail. Doubtless complete disarmament is not practicable or probable at an early date. But an agreement not to engage in unlimited competition on the development of armaments is absolutely necessary to the peace of the world. The Covenant deals with the matter in a way which is preeminently practical and sane. It recognizes that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and directs the Council to formulate plans for such reduction for the consideration of the several members of the League. In other words, the members agree to coöperate in working out a general international plan embodying scales in accordance which with their armaments shall be limited or reduced. Further, the members agree that they will, through the League, endeavour to take measures for abolishing the evil effects of the private manufacture of armaments and material of war, and they agree to exchange full information as to their armaments, their preparations for war, and the condition of their industries which may be adapted to warlike purposes. Lastly, by Article 23 they agree that, subject to conventions to be arranged, the international traffic in arms, admittedly one of the minor contributing causes of war, shall be placed under the League's supervision.
These are only general principles. In themselves they would be of small value. But the Covenant, by Article 9, establishes a Permanent Commission to advise the Council in working them out in detail and securing their effective application. It may fairly be hoped that this machinery will in time enable the members of the League to give effect to the purpose of Article 8; and if so, great strides will undoubtedly be made towards the disarmament which everyone desires. In this respect, as in others, the authors of the Covenant were careful not to travel too fast; they laid foundations on which those who were to wield authority in the League could later build.
By providing in Article 18 for the publication of all treaties, the Covenant again goes beyond essentials. Yet no reasonable man can doubt that, under the diplomatic system which prevailed before 1914, secret treaties of alliance, directly by mere existence and indirectly through mistrust which they created, were one of the serious causes of international conflict.
Article 22 of the Covenant introduces a new principle into international affairs which is certainly extraneous to the central purpose of a league. The mandates system which it creates is a great experiment in the government by advanced peoples of backward territories and races. The main principles are simple. The Article is based on the proposition that backward peoples and territories are not for the future to be exploited for the exclusive benefit of those who govern them; that, on the contrary, their interests and well-being constitute a sacred trust of civilization, and that the way in which they are ruled is a matter of interest to the world at large. The Article therefore lays down that in the government of such territories the interests and progress of the inhabitants must be the guiding purpose of the administration. The methods by which their interests are to be protected and their development secured vary, of course, in every case with the nature of the territory and the character of the people concerned. But in every case the fundamental principles are the same; and to secure the observance of them the Covenant imposes on the mandatories a duty to make annual reports for submission to a permanent mandates commission; which is, in turn, to report to the Council. Here, again, the Covenant relies on publicity and public opinion as a guarantee that Article 22 will be faithfully carried into effect.
With regard to international coöperation, the Covenant in Articles 23 and 24 goes a great deal further than might be considered essential. It provides in general terms for the establishment of a labour organization (which in fact has been elaborated separately by another agreement); for the equitable treatment of commerce; for the development of freedom of transit; for League supervision of the traffic in arms; for League action in matters of public health; and for the general supervision by the League of all official, and also, if necessary or useful, of unofficial, international offices established for international purposes of general interest. There is no need to deal in detail with the provisions of these Articles. Their general effect is to make the League what it is clearly desirable that it should be—a central organism through which international activities of every sort can be coördinated and when useful assisted by the Council and the Secretariat. There can be no doubt that the result of this must be to prevent waste of effort and promote efficiency in the conduct of international business of every kind.
In the last place the Covenant, by Article 26, provides a method by which it can itself be amended; and this, it may be held, is not an essential of a league. It is true that the Covenant might have been regarded as an ordinary international treaty, valid, as most treaties are now made, for a certain fixed period, at the end of which it might have been renewed or changed by the ordinary methods. But it was precisely because the authors of the Covenant did not regard it as an ordinary international treaty that they provided a special means for amendment; and there can be no doubt-that morally Article 26 is of great significance, and that practically it may prove to be of great constitutional value. It still leaves it difficult to secure amendment of the terms of the Covenant. It can only be done if all the members of the Council and the majority of the members of the Assembly are agreed. But the fact that amendment is definitely envisaged is in itself important, and the proceedings of the Amendments Commission established last year by the first Assembly, which will report for the acceptance of the next Assembly certain amendments of importance, have demonstrated the essential soundness of the conception of Article 26.
Generally, it may be said that when the Covenant goes oeyond the essential features which are necessary to any effective league to preserve peace, it does so with one of two objects in view. Either it is with the purpose of giving real life to the machinery which it establishes: of bringing the international forces actually at work into effective coöperation, in order that members of the League may be brought closer together, and the League itself be strengthened and have the vitality that comes from continuous and varied work; or else it is with the purpose of removing those deep-seated causes which public opinion has recognized as having led to war. It is not by chance that the Covenant contains more or less elaborate provisions concerning armaments, the traffic in arms, annexation by conquest, the avoidance of unfair economic competition, imperial rivalry in the exploitation of backward countries, secret treaties and alliances. It is because these things have led to war in the past that the Covenant seeks to deal with them in a practical and effective way, to the end that war may be rendered less probable in the future.
It has already been said that the authors of the Covenant confined themselves to laying down the essentials of the organization which they considered the League required and the general rather than the detailed obligations to which they thought that members of the League must agree. Elasticity is one of the chief “notes” of the whole machinery of the League. The Council and the Assembly have been free to develop their own methods and systems as they chose, to appoint committees and commissions at their discretion, and to draw up codes of procedure which they could themselves change, and have thus been able to give to the general principles of the Covenant a free development on sound lines.
It is in pursuit of this same elasticity that in several cases the Council is charged to carry into execution plans which the authors of the Covenant felt to be essential, but which they were not themselves, for lack of time and for lack of expert technical advice, able immediately to develop. Much good has been done under these provisions.
It will perhaps be worth while to examine more in detail the working of the Covenant in action, and to examine it under three separate aspects: the first, the institutions of the League considered as political machinery; the second, the working of the Covenant in connexion with disputes; and the third, the activity of the League in the promotion of international coöperation.
The League in Action.—Of the two principal organs of the League, the Council was naturally the one which, up to the summer of 1921, had the best opportunity of proving in practice its working value. Meeting at Geneva, in the first 18 months of its existence, it held 13 sessions, many of which lasted a fortnight. Its members therefore had time to prove by experience whether or not the conception of the Council, as set forth in the Covenant, is right or not. There is probably no statesman who has sat as a member of the Council who would deny that it is an institution which has proved a success.
In its working there were, of course, great difficulties to be overcome. The first and most important of these was that of representation of the Governments entitled to seats on the Council. How was it to be—by ambassadors, by Cabinet ministers, by prime ministers? There is an evident difficulty in expecting a prime minister to give up so much time as the members of the Council had to give up during 1920-1 to their duties. There are no less solid objections to allowing the representation of members by ambassadors. Nevertheless, for far-distant countries—such as China and Japan—it is obvious that their coöperation can only be secured by representatives permanently residing in Europe, which, in practice, means their ambassadors; and of course the solution adopted by the European countries had varied. It is a matter which the Covenant leaves every country free to decide for itself. For the ordinary conduct of the affairs which come within the consideration of the League the solution acted on by Great Britain is probably the best one, namely that it should be represented by a Cabinet minister, whose duties are primarily to deal with all League of Nations business. He must act in close coöperation with the Foreign Office, even if he is not, as perhaps he should be, directly attached to it. When matters of first-class political or general importance are under discussion, it is eminently desirable that prime ministers or foreign ministers should themselves attend, and, if the League is to succeed, it will at great crises be essential that they should do so.
In a great deal of its work the Council required expert and technical study to enable it to take decisions, and to this end it adopted in a large number of cases a plan of appointing special temporary commissions to study the matter under discussion and to make a report. In practice this plan worked admirably. A striking example is the commission which prepared the project for the International Court of Justice. The Council appointed this commission, consisting of nine of the most eminent jurists in the world, and provided it with an expert secretariat. The Commission invited proposals, examined numerous schemes laid before them, prepared a detailed plan and submitted it, unanimously, for the consideration of the Council. The Council examined it, amended it in important particulars and presented it, in turn, to the Assembly. The Assembly again amended it, adopted it, and signed it in the form of an International Convention. It is a remarkable example of how the Council, by delegating technical work and by then taking the necessary political action on technical reports, can achieve results which, without the League, could not have been achieved.
The Council also adopted another method of delegating authority, namely, by the appointment of high commissioners. It appointed Dr. Nansen to act on its behalf in securing the repatriation of nearly half a million prisoners-of-war in Russia and Central Europe, who, 18 months after the Armistice, were still without prospect of being able to reach their homes. Dr. Nansen was able to coördinate the action of Governments, to obtain an international loan, to induce Governments and voluntary philanthropic societies to act harmoniously together, and, in general, to secure effective international coöperation in a sphere in which such coöperation could certainly have been achieved by no other means.
The Council also had to solve the problem of carrying on the detailed work and providing for the day-to-day decisions required by some of the administrative, or quasi-administrative, tasks which were entrusted to it. It solved this difficulty by entrusting its president with authority to take current decisions, in conjunction with the Secretary-General, and to exercise his own discretion as to when and how he must consult his colleagues by telegram or otherwise on any given matter. Thus, by means of a permanent secretariat, the difficulties of time and space are minimized.
On the whole it may be said that most of the very different tasks confided during its early existence to the Council were executed with a remarkable degree of unanimity and efficiency. The machine worked even better than it was expected to work and the advantages of continuous coöperation and discussion among the members were made increasingly plain.
The Assembly, considered as a political machine, was no less successful than the Council. Its first meeting was, indeed, a great event in the history of the world. No man could say beforehand what manner of thing it would prove to be. It might have been like previous international Conferences— remarkable for ill-prepared work, for formalism, and confused debate, or it might even have ended in disorder and sterility. Such was not the case. On the contrary, on the basis of the admirable preparatory work accomplished by the Council and the Secretariat, a very great amount of constructive work on the organization of the League and its subsidiary bodies was done. Some international agreements of the first importance were made. Compared with national parliaments the Assembly must be ranked very high, both for the order and interest of its debates— in spite of the difficulty of interpretation—and for the amount which it accomplished in the comparatively brief period of five weeks for which it sat. Most important of all, it created an international spirit, and an atmosphere of conciliation and coöperation, which were certainly unique in the history of international conferences, and augured well for the future of the League.
At the beginning of its labours the Assembly was bound to be faced by very difficult problems of its own internal organization. Obviously a great many items of its long agenda would have to be thrashed out in committee before they could be dealt with by the Assembly at large. It was also obvious that every country represented might wish to take part in any or all of these detailed preliminary discussions. That is to say, every country might wish to be represented on any, or all, of the Committees which the Assembly might set up. The following device was therefore adopted: the whole of the agenda was divided into six groups, and each of the groups was entrusted to a separate Commission. On each of these Commissions every member of the League had the right to one representative. Thus each delegate could serve on two of the Commissions (since each member can have three representatives), or could nominate a substitute to take his place. This system resulted in six Commissions which theoretically might each consist of 42 members, but at which, in practice, there was an attendance of from 25 to 40 members. These Commissions were not too large for the effective conduct of business; and yet they satisfied the legitimate desire of every country to be heard at all stages of every debate. In practice the Commissions studied the business put before them in great detail, and with great efficiency, and laid before the Assembly reports which, for the most part, were adopted as they stood. For some work it was of course necessary for the Commissions to appoint smaller Sub-Committees; but this in no way destroyed the control of every member over the detailed conduct of business.
For the general organization of the work of the Assembly, a central Committee or Bureau was appointed. This consisted of the President of the Assembly, the President of each of the six Commissions, and six other members elected by the Assembly at large. This body was responsible for settling the order of the agenda and for dealing with any current questions which arose. The system worked to the satisfaction of everyone. In its conduct of detailed practical business, no less than as a forum of international opinion, the Assembly fulfilled the best hopes that had been placed in it.
The Secretariat similarly proved in practice to be a sound working instrument. In many ways its task was more difficult even than that of the Council and of the Assembly. In accordance with the spirit of the Covenant, it was built up on lines as truly international as is consistent with the efficient conduct of its work. Over 20 nationalities were represented among its members, and yet the whole staff worked together harmoniously in pursuit of common ends. It was divided into sections, following the general division of the work which has been entrusted to the League. It is in no sense a rival to the Foreign Offices. It proved an efficient agency for the preparation of the work of the Council and of the Assembly, and for the execution of their decisions. Its work is greatly comph'cated by the fact that both French and English are official languages, and by the difficulties of maintaining continuous contact with 48 different and distant States. Its work was none the less carried out in a spirit of devotion and with a degree of economy which earned the high approbation of a special Committee of Inquiry appointed by the Assembly.
The provisions of the Covenant with reference to disputes (Articles 11-17) had not yet been] put into application sufficiently for a conclusive opinion to be formed on them. But there was sufficient experience of their working to make it fair to claim that they are based on sound principles.
The Articles relating to the legal settlement of disputes had hardly as yet been tested. The plan laid down in Article 14 for the creation of the Court worked well. It is worthy of special note that nine States had by the middle of 1921 already agreed to give the Court obligatory jurisdiction in all juridical disputes which might arise between them.
Apart from this, one legal question was solved in 1921 by the League, which would have been referred to the Court had it been in existence. This was the question of the competence of the League to deal with the Åland Is. dispute. Finland claimed that the islands lay entirely within its sovereignty, and that therefore the League could not deal with the matter. As there was no Court, the Council referred this contention to a Commission of three eminent international lawyers, a Frenchman, a Dutchman and a Swiss. This Commission made an elaborate report and produced so great a body of convincing legal argument in support of the League's competence that their decision was never for one moment questioned even by Finland, against whom it went. It was a good demonstration of the value of judicial methods; and it indicates the great authority which the International Court may be expected to wield.
The provisions of the Covenant for the settlement of disputes by political methods (Article 15) had more extensive trial. Three disputes of first-rate importance had been dealt with by the League by Aug. 1921—the Åland Is. dispute, between Finland and Sweden; the Vilna dispute, between Poland and Lithuania; and the Albanian frontier dispute, between Albania, Serbia and Greece. Of these the first in date and importance was that of the Åland Is. It was laid before the League in the month of June 1920, at a moment when there was great tension between the parties tension which in the opinion of a good many competent judges was very likely to result in war. The Council's conduct of the matter afforded an illustration of the working of almost every provision in the Covenant that relates to the settlement of disputes. To begin with, the matter was brought to the League by the action of a third party—Great Britain—under the terms of Article 11; no better example could be wished for of the value of this Article. Next, the question of the legal competence of the League was referred by the Council, under Article 14, for an advisory opinion to a Commission of jurists representing the International Court. Next the Council appointed a political Commission of persons of high international authority, and of impeachable impartiality, to investigate the contentions of the parties and the merits of the dispute. This Commission spent several months on its inquiries, and passed a long time among the Åland Islanders themselves. As a result, they produced a remarkable report, against parts of which the Swedish Government strongly protested, but which nevertheless was recognized by public opinion as a fair and statesmanlike presentation of the facts and merits of the problem, and as a wide and practicable proposal for its solution. This report was published for the examination of the world at large as soon as it was laid before the Council. The matter was finally dealt with by the Council at its 13th session. The substance of the Commission's report was adopted as the Council's decision, and this in turn was accepted by all the parties. The Åland Islanders, whose representatives were themselves heard by the Council, secured guarantees from Finland amounting almost to autonomy, while the Swedish-speaking population of Finland secured protection, which, without the intervention of the League, they would not have done. Thus a very probable war was averted, and a path to friendly coöperation between close neighbours was opened. Such was the result of the full application of the new methods of delay, publicity and impartial investigation which the Covenant provides.
The history of the Council's conduct of the Vilna dispute between Poland and Lithuania is less satisfactory. The matter was rendered far more difficult from the start by the fact that, immediately it was referred to the League, the Polish forces of Gen. Zeligowski executed a coup de force and occupied the area in dispute. The Polish Government repudiated Gen. Zeligowski, but have since tacitly admitted their responsibility for his actions. There are provisions in the Covenant which might have been applied to induce Poland to remove Zeligowski's forces from the territory he had unlawfully invaded. These provisions were not applied. Moreover, had greater publicity been given to the conduct of the dispute by the Council in its early stages, the parties would have found it difficult to maintain their unreasonable, and on some points unjustifiable, course of action. But, in spite of these difficulties and mistakes, the Council nevertheless succeeded in preventing the outbreak of war. If even induced the parties to continue direct negotiations under the presidency of a distinguished member of the Council. It unanimously adopted recommendations at its 13th session, which, if the parties accepted them, seemed likely to lead to the settlement of the dispute by methods of peaceful negotiation and not by force of arms. Thus, even when the Council fails to avail itself of its full powers under the Covenant, it may still, as a result of the moral authority which it possesses, achieve very important results.
With regard to the promotion of international coöperation (Articles 8 and 9, 23, 24 and 25 of the Covenant) the League had done perhaps the most convincing and successful work of its early history. Reference may be made to the principal activities it engaged in. The first was the Brussels Financial Conference of 1920, which resulted in the formation of economic and financial Advisory Committees, and the preparation of a scheme for the financial and economic rehabilitation of Austria. The next was the Transit Conference, held at Barcelona in the spring of 1921, which drew up a number of conventions and recommendations on transit by sea, by river and by railway. The work of this Conference was prepared in the greatest detail by a League Committee, acting under the authority of the Council, and the results which it achieved, including the establishment of a Transit Committee, on which 14 different countries were represented, were of an encouraging kind. Another Conference, on the regulation of the white slave traffic, was held in June 1921, and was attended by a far greater number of States than any other similar Conference before, and achieved results of great importance which were shortly to be embodied in the form of a convention. With regard to the allied subject of opium, the Assembly appointed a Committee which has begun its work for the supervision of the traffic in drugs in a systematic way, on the basis of which a machinery of supervision and control will in due time be worked out.
In another order of ideas, the League acted as the coördinating centre of international action in various matters in which such action could not have been achieved except through the League and its Secretariat. As an example may be cited the repatriation of prisoners-of-war already referred to. Another was the campaign against typhus in central Europe, carried out by means of a central fund raised by members of the League and administered under the authority of an Epidemics Commission appointed by the Council. Such administrative international action is unique in the history of international relations, and there seems no reason why it should not be extended advantageously in the future.
There is one other matter which should be mentioned in connexion with this aspect of the League's work—the protection of racial and religious minorities. A great number of treaties have been signed in the last 70 years or so, in which provision has been made, and solemn obligations undertaken, for the protection of such minorities, particularly in central and south-eastern Europe. It is unfortunately true that these treaties have been of very little worth. But by a series of new treaties, to which practically every State in central and south-eastern Europe has given its consent, the protection of these minorities is now placed under the authority of the League. When it is remembered how very mixed are the populations of the new States created by the Treaties of Peace, and how strong are the national feelings left by the war, it cannot be doubted that, if the League succeeds in securing the effective protection of minorities, it will do much to remove a very potent cause of trouble.
With regard to the League's work for disarmament, in addition to the Permanent Commission to which reference has already n made, the Assembly recommended to the Council that it should adopt again the plan to which it had had resort in connexion with the project for the Court of International Justice; and accordingly the Council appointed a Temporary Mixed Commission, consisting of military men, of politicians, of economists, of employers and of workmen, to study in more detail the application of Article 8, and to propose plans for the adoption of the. Council and of the Assembly. This Commission had only just begun its work in the summer of 1921.
As a result, then, of the general review which has been given of the Covenant in action, it may fairly be held that in technical spheres the results which the League had achieved up to the middle of 1921 had been good. In political matters they had, whenever the Covenant had been acted upon, been no less good. But only too often the Governments of the members of the League and the members of the Council had failed to apply the provisions of the Covenant to matters of political importance with which it was intended that the League should deal. Until the members of the League use the methods of the Covenant for dealing with all international questions of first-rate political importance which arise, the League cannot have that full authority by means of which alone it will be able at times of crisis to prevent the outbreak of great world wars. If the members of the League do use the methods of the Covenant, experience justifies the belief that they will secure the effective settlement of their disputes, and that in doing so they will calm the passions and mitigate the hatreds which otherwise are calculated so gravely to menace the peace of the world.