No. 127 NAI DFA 26/31

Opening address by Eamon de Valera to the Thirteenth Assembly of the League of Nations

Geneva, 26 September 1932

It is customary for the Acting President of the Assembly to open the Assembly with a review of the work of the League of Nations during the previous year. The report of the Secretary_General, which deals very fully with that work, is before you. I do not propose, therefore, to do more than refer briefly to what appear to me to be the more important matters.

The outstanding event of the year has been the Conference for the reduction and limitation of armaments. I do not wish to appear unappreciative of the difficulties with which the problem of disarmament is surrounded. It must be recognised that some progress has been made, and that proposals have actually been engaging the attention of the Conference which a year ago many here would have thought outside the realm of practical politics. But I do not think I shall be accused of exaggeration if I say that the measure of progress which has so far been made falls far short of what I am convinced are the desires and expectations of the peoples of the world.

Another event of outstanding importance during the year was the Lausanne Conference. While it is, perhaps, still too soon to assess the final results of that Conference, it will have much to its credit if it paves the way for the definite settlement of the problem of intergovernmental payments. The Lausanne Conference was not, itself, a Conference held under the auspices of the League of Nations, but it was inevitable that the Governments represented at Lausanne, the moment they felt themselves free to turn to the consideration of the wider and more fundamental problems affecting the financial and economic conditions of the whole world, should turn to the League for the most efficient and satisfactory machinery for organising further progress. This Assembly had already had referred to it by the Council, you will remember, proposals on the same matter which had their origin in a resolution of the International Labour Conference.

The request of the Lausanne Conference serves in a striking manner to confirm the need for immediate international action in the economic and financial fields.

New tasks, therefore, of enormous complexity and difficulty have been accepted by the League, and with the coming Economic and Financial Conference and the further sessions of the Disarmament Conference, it is already certain that the year which opens before us will prove to be one of the most strenuous and the most important in the whole history of the League.

Reference must, I feel, be made to the conflict in the Far East. When the Special Assembly began to discuss this question, serious fighting involving heavy loss of life was actually in progress in the region of Shanghai. That is happily no longer the case. But it is none the less true that the larger problems at issue in that conflict remain unsolved. The Commission which was dispatched by the Council to the scene of the conflict on the initiative of Japan has just reported. I am sure I voice the feeling of the whole Assembly when I express the hope that the Report of the Commission will be conducive towards a just and final settlement of the dispute, and that the methods and principles of the Covenant will find a justification in their triumph over all the difficulties with which this problem is surrounded.

As regards the dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay, we have all been informed of the representations which the outgoing President of the Council, following the tradition of friendly vigilance which has grown around that office, has made to those two members of the League, and we all, I am sure, approve of these representations. They were at once a reminder of the binding character of the undertakings not to resort to war assumed by members of the League, and an invitation to listen to the counsels of those friendly American Republics which were endeavouring to find an acceptable method of peaceful settlement. Each member of the League will hope that these efforts, which are to be continued by the Committee the Council has decided to appoint, will bring the dispute to an end.

I shall not attempt to summarize the work of the League in the second broad division of its task - namely, international co-operation in fields other than that of international peace and security. In spite of restrictions in the League budget, this work has continued steadily, and those who read the annual report will be able to assure themselves that the results have not been unsatisfactory.

I shall not refer to the several important minority petitions which have been examined, the committees of inquiry which have reported, and the ratifications and accessions to League Conventions which have been received during the year. You will, however, allow me to mention, as being a little off the beaten track, the decisions which the Council and Financial Committee have taken in regard to requests for advice and assistance from Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece and Roumania, the help given by the League to China in her programme of national reconstruction, and the success of two missions of considerable humanitarian importance carried out with the help of the League - the rebuilding of the dykes on the Yang-tse-kiang, the bursting of which had resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, and the pacific reinstatement of the Kroo tribes in Liberia.

I have mentioned incidentally the question of the budgetary restrictions. Affecting as it does all the League's activities, it is of very great moment to the Assembly, and would appear to deserve more than a passing reference; but it will be dealt with very fully, I am sure, in the appropriate Committee, and I feel excused from considering it here.

That is the brief survey of the activities of the League during the year which, in accordance with custom, I have, in my capacity as Acting President of the Assembly, the honour to lay before you. I have said little of the difficulties which had to be overcome before it was found possible to make the progress which I have just reviewed. You will be aware of those difficulties, as you will be aware of the difficulties which prevented any progress at all being made in certain directions. I have no doubt that when the Assembly takes note of all these difficulties, it will agree that the Secretary-General's report on the work of the League since the last session of the Assembly represents a record of no mean achievement.

But it would be a great mistake for us to think that the League can live on the commendations, however merited, and expressions of satisfaction which it receives from its friends or from this Assembly. Out beyond the walls of this Assembly there is the public opinion of the world, and if the League is to prosper, or even survive, it must retain the support and confidence of that public opinion as a whole. It is often said that, in a final analysis, the League has no sanctions but the force of world opinion. At the moment, that is profoundly true, and it seems to me, therefore, that in the best interests of the League a wider review of its position and work should be undertaken on occasions like this, not so much in the light of our knowledge of the difficulties which explain its delays and its failures, as in the light of the fears, the criticisms, the prejudices, if you like, of public opinion in our respective countries.

It is time for us to ask ourselves what is the attitude of the outsider - the average man and woman - to the League, and to all this activity at Geneva? What impression will the survey which I have just made, convey to the minds of our people, say, in Ireland, and of your peoples in all your several countries? Friends and enemies of the League alike feel that the testing-time has come; and they are watching to see if that test will reveal a weakness pre-saging ultimate dissolution, or a strength that will be the assurance of a renewal of vigour and growth. The eyes of all peoples are focused on Geneva today as perhaps they have never been focused on it before.

Let us be frank with ourselves. There is on all sides complaint, criticism and suspicion. People are complaining that the League is devoting its activity to matters of secondary or very minor importance, while the vital international problems of the day, problems which touch the very existence of our peoples, are being shelved or postponed or ignored. People are saying that the equality of States does not apply here in the things that matter, that the smaller States whilst being given a voice have little real influence in the final determination of League action; and that they have not that which they were intended, or are entitled, to have under the Covenant. People are becoming impatient and starting even to enquire whether the apparently meagre, face-saving results of successive League conferences and meetings justify the burden which contributions to the League budget and the expense of sending delegation after delegation to Geneva, impose upon the already over-burdened national taxpayer. Finally, there is a suspicion abroad that little more than lip-service is paid to the fundamental principles on which the League is founded: there is a suspicion that the action of the League in the economic sphere can be paralysed by the pressure of powerful national interests, and that if the hand that is raised against the Covenant is sufficiently strong, it can smite with impunity.

I shall not go further, but let us make no mistake about it, the satisfaction with the position and the work of the League which we may feel in this Assembly is not shared universally by opinion outside. Blue books, as I might call them, and complacent resolutions cannot satisfy the general demand for effective action. We are defendants at the bar of public opinion, with a burden of justification upon us which is almost overwhelming.

Do not misunderstand me. A great deal of the criticism which I have described is, without a doubt, unjustified. A great deal of it is uninformed. A great deal of it is the criticism of the man who, in national as in international affairs, demands immediate solutions for problems of the difficulties of which he knows nothing. A great deal of it is perhaps also not wholly disinterested. But if this criticism is unjustified, what have we done to give it a really effective answer? The vast collection of surveys, of reports and conference records accumulated in our archives, is not the evidence that will disprove the charges which are brought against the League and that will show conclusively that the suspicions which have grown up in the mind of the ordinary man are without foundation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the one effective way of silencing criticism of the League, of bringing to its support millions who at present stand aside in apathy, or look at its activities with undisguised cynicism, is to show unmistakably that the Covenant of the League is a solemn pact, the obligations of which no State, great or small, will find it possible to ignore. The only alternative to competitive armaments is the security for national rights which an uncompromising adherence to the principles of the Covenant will afford. The avoidance of wars and of the burden of preparatory armaments is of such concern to humanity that no State should be permitted to jeopardise the common interest by selfish action contrary to the Covenant, and no State is powerful enough to stand for long against the League if the governments in the League and their peoples are determined that the Covenant shall be upheld.

There is not a doubt that critics of the League will measure the confidence that can be placed in it by the confidence which the more powerful members of the League themselves place in the security the League is capable of affording, and that will of a certainty be judged by the success or failure of the Disarmament Conference. Without progressive disarmament it is almost impossible that the League should survive. The success of the Disarmament Conference is, then, of prime importance to the League, and I hope that enlightened public opinion in favour of disarmament will make itself increasingly felt in every State.

Of no less but of even greater importance, perhaps, is the Economic Conference.

On every side there is evidence of an impending economic collapse. Twenty-five millions of unemployed are crying out for the recognition of the right of themselves and their families to work and live; a hundred million people are faced with starvation in the midst of a world of plenty - a world where human energy and scientific and mechanical development have reached a stage of potential production capable of meeting many times the peoples' needs. It is our duty here to face this anomalous and desperate situation frankly and honestly, not as the representatives of States or parties or special interests, but as men who realise that the primary duty of states-men, national and international, is to plan for the well-being and happiness of their fellows - the plain ordinary human beings in every country who feel and think and suffer. There is no doubt that, with a will, a solution for this, a purely human problem, but the fundamental problem of our day, can be found. But it must be a will that will seek effective action no matter what interest is crossed - a will that will probe deeper than an examination of the possibility of the re-opening of old channels of international trade.

This is not the place to examine this problem further, or to attempt even an outline of what the solution should be, but it is my duty to suggest that here, as in other fields, the time has come for action. That the whole basis of production, distribution, finance, and credit requires complete overhauling is amply evident from the reports of the various committees which are summarised so admirably in the Secretary-General's report. If we shirk any item in this task, if we fail to make the radical changes obviously necessary, if we fail to organise our economic life deliberately, and purposely to provide as its first object for the fundamental needs of all our citizens so that every-one may at least be reasonably housed, clothed and fed, we shall be failing in our duty, and failing cruelly and disastrously.

For certain items of the task international action is necessary, but the change of purpose - the deliberate shaping of economic activity to an ethical and social end is work which each can best advance in his own State. The conditions change from country to country. The problem in the highly industrialised States is very different from that in the States industrially underdeveloped.

Speaking for my own country, I am confident that if we are left to pursue our policy we shall not only succeed in securing the proper adjustment of our own social and economic life, but be able in addition to contribute more than our share to human progress throughout the world. I want to believe that we in Ireland desire peace, peace at home and throughout the world. In spite of the opinions you may have formed from misleading reports, I want you to know that our history is the history of a people who have consistently sought only to be allowed to lead their own lives in their own way, in peace with their neighbours and with the world.

If we are left free, our way will be the way of peace, of thinking in terms, not of selfish interest, not of the acquisition of territory, nor of petty power, but of human beings living as they have a right to live, in the best that their own energies and our State can give them, whilst contributing to the world the best that is in us.

I feel that other States can face the task in a similar spirit and with equal hope, and because of that conviction and of the mutual help I know we can all render to each other, I consider it a great privilege for my country to occupy at this time the position of importance it holds in the Council of the League. Go gcuidighe Dia linn san árd-obair atá romhainn agus nár leige Sé choíche go dteipfeadh orainn (May God assist us in the exalted task before us, and may He not permit that we should fail).

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO