No. 200 NAI DFA 26/53

Letter from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Geneva, 30 June 1933

I1 am altogether in favour of going forward for re-election to the Council in September next, but, like Mr. Lester, I do not underestimate the difficulties we would experience in securing the necessary two-thirds majority in the preliminary vote on the question of re-eligibility. As you are aware, it is necessary in the case of the non-permanent Members of the Council that a break of at least three years should intervene between two terms of office, unless the Assembly decided by a majority of two-thirds of the votes cast that a particular Member was re-eligible for election.

I think there would be general agreement that the Irish Free State has done exceedingly well on the Council in a more than usually active period, and that therefore we would stand at least as good a chance as any small State of securing a second term immediately, but I am afraid on the other hand that important factors would militate against us, chief amongst them being the natural prejudice which exists against increasing the number of 'semi-permanent' seats, and the protests that have from time to time been made by States which have little chance of securing election at any time owing to the existence of the group system. There may, under the rules, be three such seats at the same time. Two such seats exist at present, namely those occupied by Spain and Poland.

I have endeavoured to ascertain here the precise position in regard to the draft report of the Committee which sat recently to report on the system of elections to the Council, but have not been able to learn the precise position. The Committee is recommending that the membership of the Council be increased by one as a temporary arrangement, and is to seek the authority of the next Assembly for that arrangement. If this is correct the Assembly may approve the arrangement before the next election, and in that case it is probable, as Mr. Lester points out, that Portugal, whose protests brought about the setting up of the Committee, will be elected to the additional seat. That would take Portugal out of our way. You will recall that she ran us close at the election in 1930. The Japanese permanent seat remains, I understand, in the occupation of Japan for two years, i.e. until the notice of withdrawal from the League given by Japan matures.

Notwithstanding our disclaimer when seeking election in 1930 to the seat vacated by Canada, that we were going for election on merit only as a Member of the League, and not as a Member of any group, it is clear from the early proceedings of the Committee referred to above that our seat is generally regarded as being a Commonwealth Seat, and that as the group system is apparently to continue for some time longer, our natural successor will be one of the Members of the Commonwealth. If South Africa went forward she would, I think, have no difficulty in securing election, with General Smuts'2 influence. Australia cuts no ice as a Member of the League, but neither do many of the South American States who sit on the Council by reason of the gentleman's agreement that South and Central America are entitled to three seats. If the feeling is general that the seat to be filled is a Commonwealth group seat, then I think that even Australia will be elected if she is a candidate, unless her palpable inactivity in League matters, and the obvious subjection of most of her representatives to British influence (though British prestige is at present high in the League) militates against her.

You are aware that the groups which are accepted at present as being entitled to representation on the Council are:- (a) a South and Central American Group (3 seats), (b) a Scandanavian and Baltic group (1 seat), (c) a Little Entente group (1 seat), (d) an Asiatic group (1 seat) and (e) a Commonwealth Group (less definitely recognised than the others) (1 seat).

The States whose terms will expire next September are Guatemala, Norway and the Irish Free State. If it be even tacitly accepted by the League that our seat belongs to a Commonwealth group, then the three seats will, I imagine, be filled by (1) a South or Central American State, (2) a Scandinavian or Baltic State and (3) a Member of the Commonwealth. Any other results would be a departure from League tradition, which attaches more importance to the policy of not offending States than to the selection of the best State for the job. We received little real support for our objections to the group system, as the interests of the majority of States are bound up with that system. Therefore, if we stood as a candidate against Australia for election, we would be opposed, not only by an atmosphere unfavourable to 're-eligibility', but possibly by States which might think that we were seeking to burst the group system. You will remember that we had trouble with members of the Little Entente and with some of the South American States and members of the Commonwealth when we issued our disclaimer in 1930.3 There is hardly a doubt that we would be strenuously opposed by Great Britain and all the Dominions if we tried to prevent Australia from getting her 'turn'.

On general principles, and because of our attitude towards any suggestion of a Commonwealth group in League affairs, the Irish Delegation have always been opposed to the Group System, but, in spite of us, the seat which we hold seems at the moment to be earmarked for Members of the Commonwealth. We helped of course to make it a group seat by winning the seat after Canada. Australia is apparently now determined to continue the process. If, as Mr. Lester appears to suggest, Turkey defeated Australia, that might dispose of the Commonwealth group, but it would also deprive States members of that group of the advantages for election which membership of a group undoubtedly confers.

I do not know why Mr. Lester states that two-thirds majority vote on re-eligibility would not be required if we went forward in 1934. My impression is that there must be a break of 3 years, and that, therefore, without the special vote, we would not be re-eligible until 1936. He may, however, have more recent information on this matter than I have. In September, 1934, China, Panama and Spain are due to retire. China may seek re-eligibility and, out of sympathy, be given it. Spain is recognised as a ?semi-permanent' member. She also may be given re-eligibility, if she seeks it. The Panama seat will go to South America. Japan will nominally be a member of the Council until 1935. I am afraid at this distance that our chances of election in 1934 would be poor, and that we must concentrate now on the consideration of the question of seeking re-eligibility in September next. The experience of ourselves and of others is, I think, that many States will not make up their minds how they will vote until the Assembly actually meets. At the same time, if, from his local knowledge, Mr. Lester thinks that we have a fair chance of securing good support, we could at once make preliminary soundings at Geneva, Paris and Berlin, by approaching verbally the representatives there of the various States. This will mean opposing Australia, but if the Minister decided to proceed we could ask for re-eligibility, and then if we failed, we could support Australia. Alternatively, we could bow to the odds that are undoubtedly against us and gracefully retire on the expiration of our period. I, personally, think that our chances of obtaining the necessary majority are remote, but before coming to a decision, the Minister will probably require more definite information from Mr. Lester as to the prospects and the quarters from whom he expects support.

We could, if the Minister desired, ask the Australian Government if they are going forward this year, but if we did this the Minister might feel bound to support them if they replied in the affirmative. It seems fairly definite now from Mr. Lester's report that Australia is a candidate, and we can therefore make up our minds regarding our own candidature without any special inquiry at the moment by our Government.

I am sending a copy of this minute to Mr. Lester and am requesting him to furnish a further report as early as possible.

[signed] F.T. Cremins

P.S. Since writing the foregoing I have met Mr. Robertson of Canada,4 who performs League work at the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa. He told me in regard to the seat to be vacated by us that he did not know which member of the Commonwealth would go forward, and added that, while it was clear that the seat was now regarded as a group seat, he was opposed to the Members of the Commonwealth going forward 'in any particular order'. This looks as if Canada is casting eyes at the seat for another term (a possibility referred to originally by Mr. Lester) and further it is an indication that Australia has not yet approached Canada for support. I did not mention Australia's candidature to Mr. Robertson. I will try discreetly to obtain further information during the next day or so.

I have also had a conversation with M. Ziliacus of the Information Section of the League Secretariat. He spoke highly of the Irish Free State's success at the Council, and like most of the League officials would evidently be glad that we should continue on it. He is very friendly to the Irish Free State, but when I asked him what our chances were for re-election, he said that speaking frankly he did not think it would be possible owing to the 'principle' involved. (There is no 'principle' of course in the matter, but the feeling against increasing the number of immediate second terms is such that it is now regarded almost as a principle that, unless in very exceptional circumstances, re-eligibility should not be granted.)

[initialled] F.T.C.

1 Marginal note: 'Seen by A-Secy, S. G. M., 13/7/33.'.

2 Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950), Prime Minister of South Africa (1919-24), Plenipotentiary for South Africa at the Paris Peace Conference.

3 See DIFP Volume III, No. 405.

4 Norman A. Robertson (1904-1968), Canadian Department of External Affairs, seconded to the Prime Minister's staff through the 1930s and later Under Secretary of State for External Affairs (1941-46), High Commissioner in London (1946-49 and 1952-57) and Ambassador in the United States of America (1957-58).

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