No. 183 NAI DFA 26/51

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S. Gen 1/17) (Confidential)

Geneva, 31 March 1933

There has been some talk in the Information Section and other League circles on the leading article in the ?Irish Press' of March 28th, which discusses the retirement of Japan from the League. The writer says:-

'The League set aside the unanimous finding of its own Commission that the invasion of Manchuria and the setting up of the puppet State of Manchukuo was an outrage on Chinese rights and international law. It threatened Japan with dire penalties in public, and in private its members assured her there was nothing in the threats. No State in the League could forego for more than a fortnight the profitable pleasure of sending Japan arms to continue her aggression against her weaker neighbour and fellow-member. This desperate effort to keep Japan in the League has now failed - and it is Japan which goes out with prestige. Had the League stood by its principles and expelled Japan it would have strengthened its material power and its spiritual authority enormously. Had it then imposed upon Japan those sanctions named in the Covenant as merited by an 'aggressor' (which the League defined Japan as being) it would have crushed the invasion of Manchuria and given such a lesson to the peace-disturbers of the world as would have ensured peace for a generation.

The rejection of the Four Power Pact by France, for that is what its rejection by the Little Entente means, springs from the same failure of the League to be the Parliament of Man its founders spoke of it as being. It is because no nation now feels that the League can or even wishes to maintain world peace that secret diplomacy is producing its big-power alliances. From the beginning it was certain that Mussolini's plan would create suspicions and increase instead of lessen fear. Now that the Little Entente - Czecho-Slovakia, Yugo-Slavia and Roumania - have, with Poland's approval, turned it down, France, who is the chief ally of those nations, can be counted as not consenting. And thus Europe is back at the edge of the precipice.'

If this article had appeared in, for example, the 'Irish Independent or the 'Irish Times' it would have been bad enough but of less account. It is inevitable that the Editor of the 'Irish Press'1 should generally be regarded as speaking with a very much greater authority, even though the editor has in fact the most complete liberty. That liberty, in fact, carries a special responsibility in the case of this newspaper.

I have often wondered if it would not be possible for the Department to supply more information to the Irish newspapers, and in that way keep in closer touch with the Irish writer on foreign affairs. With regard to most of the world our newspapers are unable to afford special correspondents. Our journals get news of Irish activities, for example, only to the extent that those activities are sufficiently interesting to be worth publication in the newspapers of the entire English-speaking world; but the maintenance of closer contact would in the case of the nationalist papers, at any rate, lead to an appreciation of Government policy. Personal relations with responsible journalists would, in Ireland as in all other countries, be valuable in affecting the views of such writers. I recall enough of conditions in Dublin newspapers to realise an editor's difficulties and to feel convinced that they would appreciate such relations.

With regard to the article in question the writer says that the League 'set aside the unanimous finding of its own commission etc.' The writer cannot have read the report of the Committee of Nineteen nor the unanimous decision of the Assembly that Japan had broken the Covenant and that Manchukuo was not to be given recognition in any way, and that, indeed, Members of the League were called upon to concert action to carry out this policy. 'The League' did not threaten Japan with 'dire penalties in public'. It is true that an embargo on arms for Japan has not yet been put into force. The writer should be aware that apart from other difficulties nothing can be expected in this way until the United States, perhaps the country most concerned, is able to join in the cessation of such exports. It would, of course, be better if other States who export arms were prepared to take separate action but that action would be ineffective as long as the great private manufacturers of arms in the U.S.A. retained a free hand. The writer says that if the League had stood by its principles and expelled Japan it would have strengthened its power enormously. A passing acquaintance with the Covenant should have informed him that that would neither have been legal nor effective. Under the threat, constantly repeated, of Japan's withdrawal the Members of the League returned a verdict of guilty against Japan and called upon her to fulfil its recommendations of evacuation of Manchukuo etc. Surely that was not 'a desperate effort to keep Japan in the League'. The arguments as to the Four Power Plan are contradictory. If the genesis of that plan was not clearly anti-League the opposition bases its views ostensibly on pro-League sentiments.

It seems to me a pity that distinction is not drawn by the writer between the League and certain States Members. As I have many time reported to you I believe that prompt and strong recommendations at a very earlier stage would have nipped the Japanese adventure in the bud. The war in the Far East which has continued for eighteen months in spite of exhortations from the League, seriously affected the prestige of the League, which in the circumstances is its greatest weapon. Popular but uninformed opinion is, no doubt, very genuinely reflected in the article to which I refer, but the leaders and makers of our public opinion should not only be well informed but should bear in mind the reactions of their expressed views on the Government's foreign policy and our international position.

There has, of course, been a certain amount of disillusion amongst those who expected too much, too soon, from the League, but the fact remains that it is, at least, a check on the strong; it may be made more than that; at the worst it does give some protection to the weaker states. It is true that the League is only in its experimental state; it may be true that it is doomed through the failure, particularly of the Great Powers, or some of them, to concede a fuller measure of support and confidence. But what is the Irish interest? If the League disappeared to-morrow what would our position be? War, now in the offing, would come almost inevitably. The League, such as it is, may not be able to give a great measure of protection and security to all its members. It has not been able, so far, to save distant China and quite possibly it may never be able to see the rescue of Manchuria from the Japanese. That, indeed, may be a probability, though no one can see two years ahead with any degree of certainty.

Ireland is on the outskirts of Europe. Of all European countries perhaps we would be least affected directly by another upheaval, but we are near enough, I believe, to contemplate the prospect of another European war, even from the most restricted national point of view with nothing but fear and horror. England's position and policy in such a case would not lead to any overwhelming collapse of her power. From the point of view of war, therefore, Ireland, in spite of her position, would probably suffer and share to some unknown extent in the collapse of civilisation which would follow another great war. Such views as I express here are not in any way the result of anything but directly utilitarian principles.

Even if war did not immediately follow the disappearance of the League something would take its (the League's) place. What would that be? Since we began to take part again in international life the League has existed. I am sure you have reflected on what our international position would have been if it had not existed. If the League disappeared something would take its place. Great Powers would remain with their might in the international field. There might be concerted action between the Great ignoring the views and interests of the small: there might be a withdrawal of the Great into two camps preparing for a contest of strength. The Small Powers would retire very largely to their pre-war state. Their possibilities as outlets for trade would give some of them certain political advantages - if it did not bring to them a greater share of political danger, especially if their economic policy were too nationalistic to suit the interests of the Great. Otherwise their voice would be unheard. Their rights and independence would be in very much greater danger than with the small and uncertain degree of protection they may count on through the Covenant, through their shadowy claim to theoretical equality; and though the great measure of publicity which this institution at Geneva gives to all. The Small States would have protection in the new world only to the extent that their interests were common with or subordinate to those of some Great State. My own view is that if we had not the League and did not use it we might send 15 or 50 representatives to as many countries and not have the place in the world which the proper utilisation of our opportunities in the League gives us. Ireland has, and has had, a certain place in the minds of some romantic individuals; and, from such individuals as love justice and admire tenacity, a good deal of admiration. All that, however, has played a small part, if any, in helping us on the road to statehood. (I am not referring, of course, to our own people in America and elsewhere.) Ireland's relations with Governments is in another category. We are beginning slowly to make a small place for Ireland in that realm also, and for that purpose the League gives us our best if not our only field for work; our best, if not our only platform; and one of the best, if not the best, of the elements for our protection.

Questions of policy which must be determined by the Government naturally arise. Does the Government think it desirable or necessary that Ireland should have a place in the world, not merely because our nation is an ancient one, not merely for sentimental nationalist reasons, but for the hard utilitarian reasons connected with the protection, growth and development of Ireland. It seems to me that no reasonable person in Ireland should regard with equanimity the weakening or collapse of the League, imperfect and weak as it may be, and that even if it is going to collapse it is our duty while it still remains to take out of the situation every ounce of national prestige and political strength which we can draw from it.

The above, far from being a considered study of this important question, consists rather of a few reflections arising, however, out of a profound conviction. Because of that conviction I venture to hope that these reflections will be shared by you and by the Minister.

1 Frank Gallagher (1893-1962), Editor of the Irish Press (1931-35).

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