Volume 3 1926~1932

Doc No.

No. 494 NAI DFA LN 4/9

Extracts from a letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Geneva, 16 December 1930

With reference to your letter of the 11th. instant (L.N. 4/9/302)1 and mine of 10th instant2 relative to the Disarmament Commission, the final printed texts of the draft Convention and of the Report of the Commission are not yet available. The rough copies sent on the 10th inst. may be depended upon for study purposes.

My action at the Commission was necessarily limited in view of the absence of military advisers or of any opinions from the Department of Defence, and of a complete study of the numerous questions which arose. On most of the naval questions our policy was decided by the Saorstát being party to the Washington and London Naval Treaties. When, however, questions arose which involved the granting of greater latitude to the Powers having weak navies, I did not by vote or voice oppose their claims which indeed were finally settled (as far as the draft Convention was concerned) by a Sub-Committee.

I interpreted the views of the Minister and delegation at the Imperial Conference in regarding this final session of the Commission as an opportunity for any 'co-operation' between the Members of the Commonwealth which would not injure the State's position (see my letter of 4.11.30).3 At any rate I, at the first meeting, gave Mr. Cadogan to understand that as Britain had major interests at stake in these discussions my Minister wished me to co-operate fully. As we had been to a certain extent committed by the London discussions on questions such as budgetary limitation, as well as by the Naval Treaties, I felt safe in making that demonstration. There was also the promise made at London to support a Canadian amendment regarding the seconding of air force personnel and material for civil purposes. I confined myself to voting for the Canadian proposal which was not accepted.4

The Commission early in its proceedings again discussed the method of limitation. The Germans proposed direct limitation of material. The United States and Canadian delegates amongst others supported this. Statements were made by each delegate. I confined myself to a few words in which I favoured a combination of the direct and budgetary methods, but declared that, failing the acceptance of the combination, I would vote for the budgetary system (P.V.14/11 30). I abstained from voting on the German proposal, voted for the Italian combined methods proposal, and when that was defeated by 11 votes to 9, I voted for budgetary limitation which got a majority (14.11.30). Had I voted, I could have carried or defeated the German plan of direct limitation, as the voting was 9 to 9.

Another German proposal regarding the limitation of trained reserves in land armies was discussed on 8th. Nov: it was rejected by 12 votes to 6. As on other highly controversial questions on which I had no definite instructions, I abstained from voting, but when immediately afterwards (10.11.30) the Colban5-Cecil proposal for the limitation of the period of service (described as an indirect limitation of reserves) came forward, I voted for it, and my vote was vital, as it was passed by 7 to 6.

I mention these cases of voting as they are more or less typical of the caution I felt called upon to display in view of all the circumstances. Had I taken an entirely free hand, I might have made myself more prominent in the debates and voting, but I felt that in that Commission any very striking activity on my part would have constituted a very definite declaration of political alignment (Revisionist or anti-Revisionist), which it seemed to me should not be made without further consideration by the Minister and without more definite instructions. One was aware that in that Commission one was close to the bitter realities of European antagonisms.

As the work of the Commission drew towards a close, I thought it would be desirable to declare, in precise terms, that I did not take any responsibility for the draft Convention. This was a rather extreme step, but could be partly justified by the fact that five sessions of the Commission had been held before the Saorstát was represented on it. One or two people to whom I mentioned my intention were discouraging, but I found support in the attitude of Mr. Colban, Norwegian delegate. I wrote a letter to the President, putting my reservation in writing. The rapporteurs made some difficulties, and the Norwegian delegate and I finally made our reservations at the meeting of 6th December.

[matter omitted]

  'Mr. Seán Lester (Irish Free State). I find myself in precisely the same situation as Mr. Colban. I therefore echo all he has said about the Norwegian reservation, and I also ask for a general reservation to be made with regard to the position of the Irish Delegation. The Irish Free State was only elected to the Council a few weeks before the present meeting of the Commission. Most of the principles upon which the Convention is based had been already fixed and, in other cases, I was obliged to abstain from voting owing to the lack of precise instructions.'

It appears in the Report of the Commission as well as in the minutes, and is also mentioned on page 1 of the draft Convention itself.

During the discussion on the article relating to chemical warfare, the question of interpretation arose, and declarations were made by the majority of the Delegates. I reported the matter fully to you on the 2nd December (S.9/4/15)6 and in reply was instructed to accept the British interpretation. I did this at the meeting on the 5th December.

[signed] Seán Lester

1 Not printed.

2 Not printed.

3 Not printed.

4 This sentence is a handwritten addition by Lester.

5 Erik Colban, Norwegian representative to the League of Nations.

6 Not printed.