No. 584 NAI DFA 27/18

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S. 7/11/14) (Secret)

Geneva, 23 October 1931

China and Japan

There was a public session last night of which you will have seen reliable newspaper reports. The Japanese delegate referred to the presence of an American at the table and made a declaration of policy regarding friendship between his country and the United States of America.

The Draft Resolution (already forwarded to you) was then read and the Chinese delegate asked for an adjournment until he had received instructions from his Government. The Japanese said he would like to make a more profound study of the document. There is at present no anticipation that he will accept it. The Council adjourned until this evening.


With reference to the Committee procedure I showed the draft statement1 first to Mr. Madariaga and said I was most anxious that it should contain nothing in any way reflecting on Mr. Lerroux. He thanked me for the courtesy, and entirely concurred in my proposed action.

I then spoke to Mr. Massigli (as representing Mr. Briand), showed him the statement and asked him to let the President know that it would be made only at a secret meeting. He promised to let Mr. Briand know.

I talked to Mr. Braadland (Norway) about the matter and said that in the absence of my Foreign Minister I would very gladly support him if he would care to take the lead. He said he felt a difficulty about it as he had already been speaking to the Secretary-General on the question! I then told him what I proposed to say and while he said it was an entirely accurate reflection of his views he did not suggest supporting me. Fotitch (Yugoslavia) also agreed. Sokal (Poland), (whom I had informed that if there was no secret session before the adjournment I would send a note to the President enclosing the statement and explaining that I could not make it in public but would be glad if it were within his competence to ask the Secretary-General to put it on record for future reference), said that he thought a secret session was preferable. I thereupon had passed a note to Sir Eric Drummond saying that one or two of us thought there should be a secret session.

Immediately the public meeting adjourned Mr. Massigli told each of us (save the Japanese, Chinese and America) that tea would be served in the S.[ecretary] G'[eneral]s room. When tea had been served the President looked round the table and said he understood that someone had a communication to make. I did not know if our affair was the only one and waited a moment. The Secretary-General then said to the President that there must have been a misunderstanding - so I came in at once. I introduced the statement somewhat differently but it was in substance what I had sent to you. I added that, of course, neither of the Presidents concerned had done anything in the slightest way deviating from the authorisation they had received from the Council.

Mr. Madariaga followed, and in the absence of his chief, recalled what had happened at the first Council meeting. He, of course, took full responsibility for the action of Mr. Lerroux and he believed, and I would agree with him, that the procedure had served a good purpose etc. As to the members selected, he went on to say, the then President had naturally followed the advice of the Secretary-General whose experience and sound judgment were so fully appreciated! I got a slight shock on finding him hand over the responsibility to Sir Eric Drummond in that way, but you will recall the old-time hostility between the two. (A few nights ago when Madariaga raised a point the Secretary-General had given him a nasty thrust, suggesting he had not read the document he was criticising). The Spanish representative then went on to agree completely with my suggestion as to a precedent and indeed said that the procedure had outlived its use.

The President then replied. I am sorry I cannot attempt to reproduce a complete summary of his remarks. He referred to the extreme difficulty and delicacy of the situation and, of course, gave a certain amount of support to the action of the President in the first case. The Committee had done good work, too. But as things turned out he agreed that the procedure was not now entirely suitable. He also regretted that the selection of the members of the Committee should suggest two zones in the Council and he would strongly deprecate any tendency in that direction. When the Council was reconstituted each year it was a whole, there were no permanent and no non-permanent members, and all were perfectly equal in their rights and duties. He recalled the old procedure of the Council: in some cases the appointment of a rapporteur who if he met with difficulties called a secret session to discuss them before the matter came to the public; and if a committee were appointed it was for a definite object and for a definite time. They would in future keep to the old procedure which he seemed to think was better.

I am sorry not to be able to report his statement more fully, but it was entirely satisfactory and the so-called 'Committee of five' has now been formally abolished. It certainly will not be used as a precedent.

Mr. Fotitch warmly thanked the President for his statement, and he said he had completely concurred with my views on the question.

The President then referred to the desirability of not having the discussion made public and I said that it was in order to secure the most complete secrecy that I had chosen the circumstances of a secret session to draw attention to the matter.

Afterwards several of the non-permanent representatives came and congratulated me on expressing their views and on having secured such a satisfactory result. Mr. Sokal was most anxious that I should understand why he was silent. I had indeed thought he might have followed the Yugoslav lead but mendaciously assured him that in discussing it with him I only sought the opinion of a colleague with longer experience at Geneva. 'If only it had been another President -' he said.

I may mention that I had endeavoured before the public meeting to inform Lord Reading but he was hurrying to see Mr. Briand about something and asked if I would see him later and that he hoped to have a talk before he left Geneva.

You may notice I did not bring in the Minister's name, as I usually do in any Council statement, but that was because of some anxiety as to the outcome, as to the reception I would get from Mr. Briand, even though I had so carefully inspected the ground beforehand.

The 'five points' submitted by Japan to Mr. Briand were published in the newspapers on 21st instant. I knew these had been received and they were briefly referred to by Mr. Briand on Tuesday. But when I asked Massigli if I could have a copy he regretted it was impossible as Mr. Briand was not at liberty to disclose them. He had not even given them to 'the Five'. Yesterday morning Sir Eric Drummond remarked that by publishing them the Japanese had placed Mr. Briand and him in an awkward position. Although they have not since been referred to in the Council you may add the newspaper cutting to the records.

[signed] Seán Lester

P.S. Following a luncheon today at Sir Eric Drummond's the Peruvian representative came to me to say that my statement last night was very welcome and had caused great satisfaction. Shortly afterwards one of the French delegation volunteered that the statement has especially pleased Mr. Briand. I was expressing a little incredulity but he had heard Mr. Briand say so and when Sir Eric came over the Frenchman repeated what he had been saying. I said I knew the non-permanent members were pleased but I had not expected the 'Five' to be particularly appreciative. Drummond laughingly joined with the Frenchman in explaining that the 'Five' had been expecting something for a day or so and were greatly relieved and pleased at what I had said and how it had been said.

    I confess I felt somewhat relieved as although I knew I had the complete, if inarticulate, support of seven members I was prepared to hear that four of 'the five' were displeased. As things are we have acted as the spokesman of seven and probably earned the respect of the others.


At tonight's Council meeting Mr. Rosso (Italy) also congratulated me and earnestly assured me that he and Mr. Scialoja were in accord with it! It seems I have only now to receive the cordial thanks of the British and Germans.

1 See No. 583.

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