No. 645 NAI DFA 27/18A

Draft statement by Seán Lester to meeting of League of Nations Special Assembly

Geneva, 8 March 1932

Mr. President,

It has seemed well to me, at the opening stages of the general discussion on the matter before this Committee, to leave the field clear for those Members of the League who are not also Members of the Council, and who have not, therefore, had a previous opportunity of expressing their opinions on the principles underlying this dispute.

I am sure that every one of my colleagues on the Council will have welcomed the frank expression of views which we have listened to during the discussion.

I need scarcely say that the Irish people have nothing but the most friendly feelings for the peoples of Japan and China and I am happy to think that the relations between our delegations at Geneva have always been most cordial.

My country may be said to have no direct material interest in the Far East, but like all other nations, we are deeply concerned in the maintenance of world peace and above all in the maintenance and development of the organisation whose object is to replace in international affairs right for might, and the reign of law for the comparative lawlessness of the past.

The fateful issue which is before this Assembly, therefore, imposes a duty and a grave responsibility upon every member of the League. In the words of the Spanish Foreign Minister the issue may well be whether or not the basic principle of our new international relations will continue to exist.

The Council which is your executive organ, and upon which my country has the honour to be one of your elected representatives, has spent nearly six months in endeavouring to secure a peaceful settlement of this dispute, mainly under the provisions, it must be remembered, of Article 11. If we have not achieved as full a measure of success as we sought and fervently hoped for, it is not because your Council has lacked diligence in the discharge of its grave responsibilities or been wanting in patience in its conduct of this affair.

Very many efforts have been made to put an end to the bloodshed: sometimes by direct appeals from the Council, and sometimes by using on behalf of the Council the local influence and diplomatic machinery of the Great Powers.

The initiative taken on those occasions by the Great Powers invariably received the full support of the members of your Council and I believe that the smaller nations which are members of Council, and which may perhaps be said to represent in a special way the general body of the Assembly, have correctly interpreted your views and indeed have done their plain duty in lending their full support to every initiative which offered some possibility of successful mediation.

Permit me to recall one of the notable declarations of the Council. I refer to the resolution of December 10th in which the Japanese representative joined with his colleagues in reaffirming the recognition by Japan of her obligation to withdraw her troops in Manchuria to the railway zone as speedily as was compatible with the safety of the lives and property of Japanese subjects. On that occasion a declaration was made by our distinguished President Mr. Briand (whose death is a personal loss to every lover of peace). Mr. Briand made it quite clear that that withdrawal was not dependent upon and not to be delayed on account of, the inquiry which the Lytton Commission had been asked to make. The attitude of your Council upon this point admits of no doubt.

The matter is of great importance because of the fact that the dispute with which the Assembly is now seized is the whole dispute between China and Japan, not the incidents of that dispute, whether they are taking place, or have taken place, in Manchuria or Shanghai, but the trouble itself of which those incidents are the unhappy symptoms.

Certain considerations of principle seem to stand out from the mass of facts before the Assembly. Firstly there is a duty clearly imposed upon every party to the Covenant to avail fully of the machinery of the League for the settlement of all disputes. The obligations of the Covenant in this respect are powerfully reinforced by the provisions of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Secondly the territorial integrity and political independence of every member of the League is guaranteed in the plainest possible terms by Article 10 of the Covenant.

This Assembly has to consider whether the conduct of either of the parties to the dispute constitutes a violation of this all-important article. Should it be found that the Covenant has in fact been violated, it would be our clear duty to declare again the solemn principles upon which the public law of the world is based, and to require of the party concerned a definite rectification of the situation. In this connection, it will not be out of place to direct your attention once more to the note sent to Japan on 16th February by all the Members of your Council, exclusive of the two parties to the dispute, in regard to which the honourable delegate for Sweden has made a useful suggestion.

It is clear that the duty of the Assembly is not only to settle the dispute between two members of the League, but also and above all to uphold the sanctity of the Covenant.

The first step is to restore a situation compatible with the Covenant, not only by the cessation of hostilities, but by the restoration of the status quo ante.

The final settlement which may take a long time to reach can take place only on the basis of respect for international agreements, the Covenant, the Nine-Power Treaty and the Peace Pact of Paris. We must not only settle this dispute: we must settle it right.

That is a hard task, the hardest and the most responsible which the League has ever been called upon to undertake. But it is a task that is a direct expression of the League's fundamental purpose, of its very reason for existence.

I do not believe that the League will fail in this task and I believe that in the difficult and delicate negotiations ahead of us we shall have the fullest cooperation and good will of both our Chinese and Japanese friends and on their part they may be assured that they will get from the Assembly nothing but friendly and utterly impartial consideration of their respective cases.

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