No. 568 NAI DFA 26/3

Letter from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin) enclosing copy of speech by Daniel A. Binchy to Twelfth Assembly of the League of Nations

Geneva, 18 September 1931

Dear Secretary,

I enclose herewith two copies of the speech delivered by Dr. Binchy today during the discussion on the work of the League of Nations since the last session of the Assembly. As the Minister had not quite recovered his voice, the task of delivering the speech fell on Dr. Binchy.

A copy of the speech was given to Mr. Albin Johnson who is, it is understood, forwarding a summary of it by post to the 'Independent'. You will, no doubt, wish to send copies of the complete speech to the four morning papers.

We are very busy, as the Committees have already started work.

Our dinner to the Commonwealth Delegations took place on Thursday evening. It was quite a pleasant affair. We are having a small dinner party of Codification people on Monday, as a good deal of interest is being shown by the smaller States in that subject. Ito,1 Rolin,2 Raestad,3 Limburg,4 Deak5 and one or two others are coming.

The Assembly this year is the dullest ever. Little more than half of the usual number of speakers took part in the general discussion on the Secretary-General's Report. Cecil's speech was good, and so was Grandi's. Briand was hardly at his best, though he spoke well. There is an impression that much is going on behind the scenes. Curtius, in his speech this morning, referred pretty definitely to a rapprochement with France. He insists, as usual, on the equality of States.

Aguero y Bethancourt has canvassed our vote for Mexico's immediate election to the Council since Guatemala resigned. Hungary is also a candidate, but this morning it is reported in the Press that Guatemala has withdrawn its resignation. We shall have no difficulty in deciding how to act in any case.

The Minister is very much better. He was O.K. on Wednesday, but, unfortunately, that was our one fine day, and he couldn't be prevented from going out on the terrace and into the garden, so getting a fresh cold. The weather has been incredibly bad. It rained continuously yesterday.

Salter, I understand, is pretty pessimistic about the general, and the British, economic situation. I am told that he thinks that only some very definite action by France and the U.S.A. will bring about an improvement.

I hope you keep well,
[signed] F.T. cremins


Mr McGilligan at the Assembly

Text of address delivered by Dr. Binchy owing to Mr. McGilligan being indisposed with a cold.

If there is one thing which emerges from the Secretary-General's report, it is the extent to which the League has become a part of the organisation of the international society of our time. It is difficult to think, reading through this report, of any important field of international relations in which the League does not perform some function or another, and, in many fields, the functions which are performed by the League are such that they could not be performed by any other agency and are of the utmost value.

    I have nothing to say here with regard to the substance of the particular matters dealt with in the Secretary-General's report. Many of these matters call for very detailed and very careful consideration. But that, I take it, is not the purpose of this debate. That is rather the task of the various Committees to which the different sections of the Secretary-General's report will be referred in due course, and we will have an opportunity of reviewing the work of those Committees at a later stage of our proceedings.

    To my mind, the peculiar function of the Assembly is to lay down the general directives upon which all the separate activities of the League and its organs should proceed. Therefore, we should try in this debate to view all the work of the League, not as a number of separate activities, but as a whole. I think that, in this debate, with the whole field of those activities before us, we should ask ourselves the question - whether any tendencies and developments are emerging which are incompatible with the principles on which the League is founded, and whether action by the League is called for to direct and control these tendencies in the interest of the general welfare of the world.

    I think, further, that it is very necessary that we should undertake an examination of this kind at this particular time. During the past year, the States of the world have been called upon to deal with problems of grave difficulty and urgency. We have had an economic depression of unprecedented intensity and duration which has given rise to new and unexampled difficulties in the spheres of international finance and commerce. During the year, also, we have been called upon to deal with the problems arising from the work of final preparation for the General Disarmament Conference. Other problems have presented themselves, some of them of not less importance than those to which I have referred.

    National public opinion still tends to regard the very existence of an international problem as a reproach to the League of Nations. That, of course, is unfair. But it is a fact, and it is a fact which requires to be emphasised inasmuch as the existence of the problems to which I have referred tends to create a pessimistic frame of mind towards the League of Nations and may produce a diminution in that degree of public support upon which the efficacy of the League depends. And I mention it here to show that the very existence of the League of Nations rests, to a large extent, upon its ability to reduce the likelihood of these vital problems arising and upon its ability to make rapid and effective contributions to their solution, when they do arise. I have no intention of initiating a discussion on events which we have left behind us, but I do think that we must make an earnest and deliberate effort now to safeguard the position of the League; and, for that reason, we must consider whether the organisation and methods which we have evolved are effective in the circumstances to which the events of the last few years have brought us.

    Let me take, first, the efforts of the League to deal with economic problems. In the year 1927, the World Economic Conference was held. That Conference proceeded on the principle of universality. Its conclusions were based upon the principle that the economic difficulties of the time could be regarded as a problem which lent itself to treatment by the immediate world wide application of a uniform remedy.

    In 1929, when the League came to make provision for carrying out the recommendation of the World Economic Conference that the States of the world should proceed to a lowering of excessive tariff barriers by means of collective action, it proceeded upon the same principle. That recommendation was referred to a Conference to which all the States of the world without distinction were invited. When that Conference met, however, it assumed, as if by a process of natural selection, a definitely Continental character. The problems themselves which that Conference was convened to consider were regarded as being of a regional, and not of a universal character, and, tacitly, both the States which came to that Conference and those which stayed away appeared by their action to lend colour to the idea that the solution of economic difficulties which are peculiar to, or which specially affect, particular States can most usefully, in the first instance, be sought by the collaboration of the States concerned. After that Conference, the efforts of the League to promote concerted economic action among States became more and more efforts to promote that action among the States of Europe.

    The next stage in the development of this phase was the publication of the French memorandum of the 1st May, 1930. The broad principle of that memorandum was that the geographical position of the States in this part of the world creates among them a certain community of interests, and, as suggested in the memorandum, a Commission was set up to deal with the peculiar difficulties and problems of Europe, as a first step towards an economic solution on a wider basis. For the past twelve months, that Commission has been considering European economic problems. It has tried to approach them as a problem susceptible of solution by the immediate application of a uniform remedy equally applicable to all the States of Europe. Within the limits of Europe itself, it tried to preserve the principle of universality.

    But while the European Commission was engaged upon that task, it was being outstripped by events which were taking place outside the Commission, and even outside the League itself. In different parts of Europe, individual States were coming together and, without reference to the League, were starting to deal with difficulties on a regional basis.

    A year's intensive effort to solve European economic problems on uniform principles of general application throughout Europe has not achieved the necessary measure of success. In the meantime, the new tendency in the direction of regional arrangements has been growing. No doubt, there is much to be said both for and against this new development. It has already become manifest that opinions with regard to it are sharply divided. It cannot be ignored that the new tendency, as followed up to the present in the economic field in the absence of some effective measure of League co-ordination, has given rise to alarm in certain countries whose trade and commerce may be prejudiced as a result of regional agreements which have been, or are likely to be, concluded, and that there is great danger of the growth of an atmosphere of suspicion and ill-feeling between nations which would be fatal to international co-operation and peaceful economic progress. Nor can we afford to forget that rivalry and jealousy which have their origins in the economic field have invariably tended in time to have reactions in the political relations between States, with results which it is unnecessary to emphasise. It, therefore, behoves us to give immediate and earnest consideration to this movement towards regional arrangements with a view to the prevention of the growth of international ill-feeling and to the preservation of the prestige of the League. We may not like this movement. We may feel that it is contrary to all the principles which this Assembly has been affirming and reaffirming since the League was established. But it is clear that we cannot ignore it. And once we recognise its existence as a fact, can we deny that safeguards must be sought which will secure that regional and fractional agreements shall be integrated into the general system in such a way that the dangers feared may be averted.

    I think that our experience of the problem of disarmament leads us to similar conclusions. It is manifest that the difficulties of the individual State in connection with disarmament lie mainly in the limited problem of its own security. In other words, the difficulties which lie in the way of disarmament are largely of a regional character. Events have shown that disarmament is not a single general problem: that it is constituted by a large number of special limited problems, and the measure of success hitherto achieved in this field has resulted from a recognition of that fact. In the case of disarmament, as in the case of the economic problem, while we here in the League have been attempting to build from above, individual States and groups of States have started to construct from below.

   I am not going to multiply examples of this development, this tendency of States to take action in groups outside the auspices of the League. Its existence has been frankly and fully recognised, both in the discussions in this Assembly and elsewhere. May not this tendency be to some extent due to a certain lack of harmony between the exact nature of the international problems with which we have been dealing, and the methods which we have been employing in our endeavours to solve them. If that is so, then I think that the situation calls for appropriate action on the part of the League.

    In the first place, let me refer to the danger of condemning too hastily and without qualification the tendency to which I have referred. If the methods which we have been following here, the method of universal solutions, the process of building from above rather than from below, had achieved a greater measure of success, we would, I think, have been justified in regarding innovations with suspicion. But, taking things as they are, we must be very careful lest, by pronouncing too hasty a judgment, we should debar ourselves from the use of methods of international collaboration which, properly conceived and directed by the League, might be fruitful in their results. I think we must be doubly careful in the present case because the development to which I have referred is a natural growth, and natural growths of this kind usually have their roots very deep down in the structure of society. Society, whether national or international, has a way of devising new means to provide for its needs.

    The League is not at this moment called upon either to approve or to condemn this development. But we must accept it as a fact, and I think we must go further and accept it as evidence of other facts which we have hitherto taken into account either insufficiently or not at all. We must definitely realise now that the structure of international society is not what we have hitherto assumed it to be in the hypothesis on which we have proceeded. International society cannot be regarded as being composed solely of individual States. It also comprises a number of larger or smaller international societies. It is necessary to take account of this fact in devising means for dealing with international problems. While there can be no question of abandoning the ideal of universality upon which this League of Nations was founded, we must recognise that this ideal may have to be attained progressively. There may be intermediate stages; what cannot be accomplished in one step may be accomplished in two or more.

    Let me remind you that there is nothing in the Covenant to prevent regional combinations, the objects of which are not inconsistent with its terms. Let me remind you, too, that universality is important, not as the means, but as the end. Accordingly, the task before us is not to approve or condemn the tendency which I have described, but to recognise its existence and to endeavour to control it with the purpose of ensuring that it will further the objects which we Members of the League have in common. This I consider to be one of the vital problems confronting the League. My Government believe that the League must evolve a technique which will enable it to exercise a sufficient influence upon these groupings, their formation and subsequent conduct, to ensure an ultimate harmony between their objects and the objects which we have pursued in common here for the past twelve years. If the League cannot do this, then I fear very much that its main activities will be narrowed and that much of the effort which we have expended here for the past twelve years will have been in vain.

    I do not propose to attempt to define at this stage a League technique of the kind which I consider so essential. What is required is something which will enable the League - and by the League in this connection I mean the Assembly, the Council, the Secretariat, the technical organisations and, in fact, all the League's executive machinery - to perform the same functions and to exert the same measure of directing influence in the case of these regional arrangements as it has performed and exerted in the case of all the international arrangements which have been negotiated or concluded under the auspices of the League since its establishment.

    If the League can successfully evolve a technique of the kind, I do not think that the tendency towards regional groupings will injure the prestige of the League or imperil the attainment of the objects which we have put before it. The ultimate responsibility for the development and operation of such a technique must, however, rest upon the States which compose the League of Nations. It is among the Members of the League that this tendency has grown up, so that we ourselves can make its effect upon the League what we will. If the Members of the League desire to conclude regional commercial conventions and regional political treaties, they should be prepared to abide by the letter and the spirit of their obligations under the Covenant and the declarations they have made here. They should be prepared to consider the general rules under which regional agreements should be negotiated, and should even be prepared to accept a certain measure of control by the League in regard to the principles in accordance with which such arrangements should be concluded. If the Members of the League are not prepared to do this; if groups and blocs of States are formed outside the auspices of the League of Nations; if the States concerned take up the attitude that the internal arrangements of those groups and their policy towards other States are solely their own concern, outside the jurisdiction of the League and its organs, if, in this way, groups of States are formed within which and between which the principles of the Covenant are a dead letter - then I think the League will have become an empty framework outside of which will be found the realities of international life. If, on the other hand, the Members of the League are prepared to adapt and to bring within a universal framework the methods which they have devised to meet their particular international needs, the League of Nations will have become the real forum of the world.

1 Japanese delegate to the Assembly.

2 Henri Rolin, Belgian delegate to the Assembly.

3 Norwegian delegate to the Assembly.

4 J. Limburg, Dutch delegate to the Assembly.

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