No. 592 NAI DFA 27/18

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(Secret) (S.7/11/26)

Geneva, 12 November 1931

Dear Secretary,

I am still hoping you will come to Paris1, especially as the Minister will not be there.

A sense of proportion, when war is in the air, keeps one from advising a very strong line at the Council. But I think we may well consider we may have a special function at the forthcoming meeting (until, at any rate, the attitude of Britain, France and America is restated in the new circumstances). There is a possible danger in the fact that at a meeting held in Paris, where Briand's personal influence is increased, the representatives should include six or seven Ministers or Ambassadors accredited to France. Most of the purchasable Paris newspapers are backing Japan. And even if their influence is discounted I cannot yet completely yield my confidence to Briand, although as I have pointed out his personal prestige is now at stake, and that I think France's interests would not be served by the complete collapse of the League. Like England she stands to gain by the maintenance of the present status quo in a military and territorial sense. But if continued pressure on an unyielding Japan were likely to lead to (1) withdrawal of diplomats, (2) a naval demonstration, (3) economic sanctions or the terrible final step of (4) warlike measures against the aggressor State, I do not pretend to guess what Briand or France would do. A lifeless institution at Geneva might be preferred. Even with a Liberal Foreign Minister the new British Government's attitude may not be identical with the interim Government of September and October. The Russian factor may help them to keep them both straight on the side of the League.

There is at any rate a possibility of a situation developing when we could (especially if the Minister would be prepared to come over on an urgent call) play a quite important role. The poor quality of the Council personnel has been demonstrated at the last two meetings.

I am not losing sight of the political situation at home with the Parliament approaching the time for renewal. A renewed mandate would undoubtedly make the Minister less susceptible to possible attack and misunderstanding. But looking at the situation only from the point of view of the League which I regard as the key to our international position (with all reservations about London) I cannot but recommend that we should, subject to circumstances, expediency and opportuneness, take a definite and strong League line in public as in private. Would that morally commit us to sending a company of troops to Manchuria? In this connection I notice that Japan has not even acknowledged the Minister's Note.

If you are not coming to Paris I hope you will send me any memoranda that have been prepared (as my background of the Minister's and Department's views). As for instructions, will you consider my suggestion in yesterday's letter,2 that they should be based on the things I must not do? You know how the situation can change and how easily hard and fast instructions in detail may become inapplicable in a political crisis of this kind.

By the way, I am inclined to ask the Secretary-General to prepare a map showing the position of Japanese troops on September 30, October 24, and November 16.

We have always the reserve-power of the Assembly. If things were going badly the Council action would be stiffened by the calling of a special Assembly (although owing to the increase of arrears the League treasury is nearly empty!).

I continue to hope that this letter will be unnecessary because you will be at Paris!

[signed] Seán Lester

P.S. If the situation becomes more serious, to what extent would you wish co-operation and consultation with Great Britain?

1 The Council of the League of Nations was to meet in Paris.

2 Not printed.

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