No. 176 NAI DFA 27/30

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S. 7/6/11)

Geneva, 4 March 1933


We have been making history in Geneva this week. On the one hand a Committee, of which I have been President, has proposed, and the Council have accepted, the formation of an international army to take over temporarily a disputed territory (Peru-Colombia). For the first time also arrangements are in progress for the declaration of a League embargo on arms for two countries, Bolivia and Paraguay, and, I think also, for the first time, three states will exercise their friendly right in invoking Article XI in a dispute between two other countries.1 I reported the possibility of the latter proposal some time ago. It will be recalled that President de Valera in a report to the Council some months ago in connection with this dispute suggested that Governments should consider the question of forbidding the export of arms in this case. The Committee of Three was considering the necessity of applying these measures when a British initiative was announced in the House of Commons. As you know, the Committee pressed for immediate information which resulted in a note being circulated a few days ago, in which the British and the French suggested an embargo. The Committee of Three thereupon asked for a consultation with their colleagues. This was not to be a secret meeting of the Council in order to avoid the necessity of calling upon the Representatives of the two countries to be present. We proposed the embargo and I suggested that while the British might continue their negotiations already opened with Washington on the subject, the Committee would undertake to co-ordinate all efforts in this connection. A draft was subsequently prepared and we held a second meeting. I was subjected to a good deal of questioning, and the German raised the legal issues. We held that we were justified in the action we took by the general authority we had received when asked by the Council to take all necessary measures when the Council was not sitting. At the same time we recognised we were on rather slippy ground in regard to the law and said that if objection were continued we were prepared to set the matter right by invoking Article XI. This will mean that the proposed embargo will come before the Council when the two parties are present and will, presumably, not have legal effect when they vote against. We shall, however, have arranged for the Council to be otherwise unanimous, and shall endeavour to secure on the basis of this moral decision the collaboration of all other states necessary. This question of unanimity, depending upon the vote of an accused country, may in some cases, be a safe-guard but is mostly an obstacle to the operation of the Covenant according to the intentions of the authors.

I enclose herewith, a copy of a letter2 I have sent, necessarily in my individual capacity, to each Member of the Council. We expect to be able to have the replies from all the representatives on the Council in the course of the next two or three days and I assume that there will be no difficulty in my assenting on behalf of our Government.

[signed] Seán Lester

1 Marginal note: 'No there was the Aaland Islands case when Great Britain exercised this right. F.T.C.'

2 Not printed.

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