No. 576 NAI DFA 27/18

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S.Gen./20/41) (Confidential)

Geneva, 7 October 1931

Sino-Japanese Dispute

Position of Non-Permanent Members of the Council

Owing to the illness of the Minister I attended, as you are aware, several secret meetings of the 65th Session of the Council. Mr. McGilligan was personally present at the first public discussion between the Chinese and Japanese Representatives. At the close of that discussion, the President asked for an adjournment and said he proposed, with the consent of the Council, to consult several of his colleagues in connection with the matter. This is quite a usual form of procedure and no objection, of course, was made. No indication was given as to whom the President proposed to consult. Two days later a secret meeting of the Council was called and in the course of the discussions as to the progress of the dispute several remarks were made by the Spanish Representative which appear to assume on our part a knowledge of certain proposals which had apparently been discussed between the President and the members he consulted. The Chinese Delegate on one point had to ask for an explanation. It became evident that only the Great Powers, and all of them, had been consulted by the President. I did not like this division and passed a note across to Mr. Braadland, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, asking him if he would object if I were to suggest to the President that he should be associated in the consultations as the Representative of one of the non-permanent members. At that stage, he was the only foreign Minister outside Curtius and Grandi. Mr. Braadland indicated to me that he did not wish me to make any suggestion as far as he was concerned. I did not wish to push the matter any further until I ascertained the views of the Minister. Immediately after the meeting, I reported the incident to the Minister (and the other members of the Delegation), but he did not express any opinion on my action.

The following evening, another secret meeting was summoned on very short notice and I found that it was to consider the text of the reply to be sent to the American Minister in regard to the co-operation of the United States. Before the meeting opened, Mr. Braadland (Norway) came round to me and informed me that Sir Eric Drummond had come to him since the last meeting and had given him a personal explanation of difficulties in the way of extending the number of members who were being consulted by the President. He seemed to be more or less satisfied with that and emphasised that Drummond had approached him and that he himself had not mentioned the suggestion which I had made. It is true, of course, that when I threw my note across the table to Norway the contents of it might have been divined by an intelligent observer.

The draft letter was gone through sentence by sentence and amendments suggested by either the Japanese or Chinese Delegates. As we approached the end of the letter I noticed the following:

    'The efforts which are at present being made will be followed by the Council or by a special committee as the circumstances may require'.

This seemed to me to suggest the perpetuation in a more formal way of the division within the Council. It seemed clear to me that none of the permanent members would be likely to sacrifice their desire to be represented on such a Committee and there was, as yet, no protest from any other quarter and no indication that non-permanent members would be included. I therefore passed to the end of the table and spoke to Mr. Madariaga, who was acting as spokesman for the President in the discussions. I drew his attention to the reference to a special committee and said that I did not want to make a public inquiry at that moment but that I would like to know what would be the relationship between this special committee and the Council and what its composition would be. Madariaga said that the Committee would report to the Council and that the only object was to make it unnecessary for the whole Council to remain in session. I said to him that this was a first-class League crisis and that I had some doubts as to whether the Council should delegate its authority unless the situation was greatly improved; and that the composition of such a committee would greatly interest Mr. McGilligan. Discussion being resumed at that moment, I left the question at that stage. A few minutes afterwards, we reached the last sentence containing the reference to a special committee and after a little consultation at the head of the table, Madariaga suggested the elimination of the words: 'or by a special committee'. The Japanese Delegate inquired as to why this was being done, and Lord Cecil, who was between Madariaga and the Japanese said: 'Objection has been made to this from another quarter'. (I have since learned that Sokal (Poland) had also objected to the words).

Some time afterwards and before the meeting concluded, I received a note from Mr. Cremins1 (I had not had time to see any member of the Delegation after receiving the summons to the meeting). Mr. Cremins informed me that following a delegation discussion it had been agreed that the absence of non-permanent members from the consultation was objectionable and that I might feel free, subject to the atmosphere and circumstances in the secret meeting, to make some reference to the matter, especially if a committee were to be formally set up. Having for the moment secured the temporary elimination of the proposal regarding a special committee, I decided to say nothing in public but at the end of the meeting I talked to Madariaga. I told him that Mr. McGilligan felt convinced that the selection by the President of only the Great Powers was unwise from the point of view of the League; although, of course, the question was a secondary one compared with the maintenance of peace and the securing of a League success. At the same time he (the Minister) was greatly concerned that the members of the Council elected by the Assembly should be ignored; and that there was also the question of the forming of a very dangerous precedent.

Madariaga said that the views I had expressed were also his and always had been, but that there were special difficulties in this case. Amongst them he mentioned that two non-permanent representatives would have been chosen and that there were three representatives of the South American States on the Council. Mr. Murphy or Mr. Cremins will remember his remarks on this point which I reported personally and in connection with which he was most anxious he should be protected by secrecy. Of course he was ready to give every assurance that no precedent would be established but you will appreciate the value of that. I did not agree with him as to the force of his arguments and said that if there were any proposal to set up a special committee he would have to count upon a proposal from the Irish Representative in connection with the personnel of that committee. He drew my attention to the fact that he had altered the letter to the American Minister on that point and that a special committee would perhaps not be needed.

I reported fully to the other members of the Delegation and before the final meeting of the Council the matter was discussed with Mr. Murphy, Mr Cremins and Mr. Boland (the Minister being absent). It was agreed that no proposal would be made to the Council or objection lodged unless it became clear that consultations between the President and the Great Powers were to be continued after the adjournment of the Council in the form of a special committee. Mr. Murphy and I saw Mr. Braadland (Norway) who was accompanied by Mr Colban, and we set forth the Minister's views as to the situation, pointing out that we had withheld action and would continue to do so as long as it appeared that any intervention might embarrass the delicate negotiations with Japan. At the same time we put it to him very clearly that if any proposal were made for a formal committee we would like to have his support in securing representation for the non-permanent members. I think we also made it quite clear that we were not seeking specially for representation on that committee for the Irish Free State and that we were only concerned about the general League interests. We found the Norwegian response somewhat disappointing and formed the impression that either they were going to play a 'game on their own' (they spoke about sending a letter after the session adjourned) or were inclined to be too cautious about taking any action. I met Mr. Cadogan (British Delegation) later and spoke to him in a similar strain. He then informed me that there was a likelihood of the Council adjourning and that the formation of a special committee was unlikely. As to the inclusion of non-permanent members in the consultations, he said he would speak to Lord Cecil. I may say that he came to me the following day and said that in the circumstances Lord Cecil was not inclined to favour any move. Lest there should be any misunderstanding, I made it perfectly clear to Cadogan that we had also been speaking to other members of the Council and that in taking the initiative in the matter we were seeking only to preserve a principle very important for the future of the League as an institution and that it was not an effort to seek the inclusion of the Irish Representative more than any other non-permanent member. I also said to him (although it was not true at that time) that Mr. McGilligan had not definitely made up his mind whether to raise the question in a public or a secret meeting of the Council. By this time, one or two comments had been made in the Geneva newspapers on the extraordinary division which had been made in the Council. I may report as of interest the remark of Major Buxton, an English League official who has had ten years' experience of the Council. He was very much concerned about the development and remarked that if there had been a Branting2 on the Council it would never have happened. I said that we had been trying to interest Norway and his reply was 'Ils n'ont rien dans le ventre!'

I think this note covers in a skeleton way our connection with the matter. Every point on which I was separately concerned was fully reported to the Delegation immediately afterwards. Towards the close of the Session there was no Foreign Minister present except Braadland and Lerroux. France was represented by Massigli, Italy by Rosso, Germany by Bernstorff, England by Cecil, Poland by Sokal, Yugoslavia by Choumenkovitch. It has even been suggested to me by Sokal that perhaps the departure of Markovitch, Yugoslavia, was as a result of his exclusion from the consultations, and that the inclusion of a young official like Massigli showed that it was the State he represented and not the man who was given preference. I don't remember hearing, at any of the secret (or public) meetings, a single remark by any one except the President (or Madariaga), Lord Cecil, and the two disputants. They may, of course, have made some contribution in the 'consultations'.

You will no doubt inform me if the Minister should decide to make some sort of a formal protest by letter. At the moment, it appears likely that the Council will meet on the 14th instant as arranged, but nothing definite can yet be said. If so, in the absence of any further instructions and in the absence of the Minister, I shall continue the policy of non-intervention unless it should be proposed that the 'consultations' are to be continued either in the form they took during the 65th session or as a committee formally agreed to by the Council.

[signed] Seán Lester

P.S. As Mr. Colban travelled to Paris in the same Pullman as Mr. Murphy, it may be that you have later information than I as to Norway's intentions regarding a letter of protest.

1 Not located.

2 Karl Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925), Swedish Prime Minister (1920, 1921-23, 1924-25), Swedish delegate to the League of Nations, Chairman of the Assembly's Committee on Disarmament (1920-21), member of Council's Committee on Disarmament (1924).

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