No. 598 NAI DFA 27/18

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Paris, 16 November 1931

Your telegram of today reached me in the Council room a few moments before the meeting.1 I had arranged to ask for a map at the private meeting which was to follow and had found that with several representatives on the Council and French, English, Polish and other members of the Secretariat, the suggestion was regarded as being very useful in its object. I had also modified the words I proposed to use in such a way as to eliminate any expression of strong views on the question; although my vote on 24th October had lined the Saorstát publicly against the Japanese.

As I understand your letter of instructions2 and interpret your telegram I am to do nothing until my vote or opinion is specifically demanded and, if possible, am to defer giving it until I have consulted you. If a postponement is impossible, I am to try to follow the majority.

This will certainly relieve my task of responsibility. Nevertheless I feel bound to express my disappointment that I should not at least be instructed to uphold the moral authority of the League in the greatest crisis it has yet faced.

Is the issue really between upholding the League against Japan and opening the Far East to Bolshevism? China is in a state of chaos and apart from the morality of the treaty rights extracted from her by her imperialist neighbour one could well appreciate Japan's desire to protect those rights by military force. To insist upon her giving attention to her own treaty obligations would now no doubt involve a certain loss of prestige and might thus be said to weaken the 'shield against Bolshevism' (incidentally, to weaken the League is to weaken the world's shield against Bolshevism). But is the vast population of China not more likely to turn to Bolshevism, the friendly neutral, if the League fails to protect their territory against a rapacious 'capitalist' neighbour? Moscow has more to gain from a complete victory of Japan than from a League success. Her best weapons are psychological weapons and a China left by the League to the mercy of the Japanese mailed fist is wide open to Moscow's wiles and lies and persuasion. If one could give Japan a mandate over all China's 400,000,000 civilisation order would sooner reappear in that distracted land; Moscow would be baffled. But that suggestion is impracticable even if one contemplated the prospect of such a vast subject territory being Japanized.

My own view is that not only can Bolshevism not be stemmed by the aggrandisement of Japan at China's expense, but that that policy is much more likely to bolshevise the ignorant Chinese millions outside Japanese military control.

Our contribution, at best, would have been small, and a Council decision will no doubt be worked out without the assistance of the 'passengers'. A declaration of a strong League attitude would have unfortunately made us unpopular with the Japanese; a passive attitude will not make us popular with them; but I do not for one moment imagine that the policy of extreme caution was based on that point.

I have taken the liberty of expressing my views on the Bolshevism aspect. If I am on the other hand exaggerating the importance of the League to the Saorstát, of its potentialities as a point d'appui in her international position, of the possibility of creating prestige for her by a cautious but not timid policy, I should be grateful for an outline of the Minister's views. You will agree that for a representative to be effective he should not only obey mechanically the Minister's instructions, but that he should have the opportunity of understanding the reasoning which has led to the Minister's decisions.

[signed] Seán Lester

1 See No. 597.

2 See No. 596.

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