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IV IS THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS A SUCCESS?
 Is the League of Nations a success? It is impossible to answer the question candidly without giving offence to rival partisans. If you indicate successes already placed to the account of the League, opponents deny or minimise these triumphs, and suggest that you are blinded by attachment to a chimera. If you point to shortcomings, the extreme zealots of the League get angry and hint that you are a secret enemy.
 
I mean nevertheless to attempt an answer, for much depends on a fearless examination of progress made or missed.
 
My first answer would be that it is scarcely fair to pose this question just yet. The League was founded only three years ago—much too short a period to afford a test of the working of a gigantic, complex, but very delicate and sensitive human machine. There has been hardly time enough even to catalogue and chart the myriads of nerves that[Pg 69] thread its system. You cannot move a finger at the councils of Geneva without touching some hidden nerve and setting it in a condition of quivering protest. The League has, however, been long enough in existence to reveal its strength and its weaknesses, its power, its potentialities and its perils.
 
It has already achieved triumphs of which its founders may well be proud. The restoration of Austria to life when it seemed to have been hopelessly submerged in the deluge of economic, financial and political disaster which had overwhelmed it, is a notable feat of artificial respiration. The successful effort organised by the League to stamp out typhus in Eastern Europe and prevent its spread to the West is also a success worthy of record. But for this intelligently conducted campaign that terrible disease would have ravaged Russia and Central Europe and laid low millions out of populations so enfeebled by hunger and privation as to become easy victims to its devastating assaults.
 
The Labour branch of the League has also been specially active and energetic, and its persistent endeavours to raise and co-ordinate the standards[Pg 70] of toil in all countries are producing marked and important results. In addition great credit is due to the League for the splendid work it has accomplished in alleviating the distress which prevailed amongst the famine-stricken areas of Eastern Europe and amongst the refugees who fled from the horrors of victorious Bolshevism in Russia, and the still greater horrors of Turkish savagery in Asia Minor.
 
But these humanitarian tasks, praiseworthy though they be, were not the primary objects of the foundation of the League. Its main purpose was the averting of future wars by the setting up of some tribunal to which nations would be bound by their own covenant and the pressure of other nations to resort in order to settle their differences. Its failure or success as an experiment will be judged by this test alone. How does it stand in this respect?
 
It succeeded in effecting a settlement of a dangerous dispute between Sweden and Finland over the possession of the Aaland Islands. That success was on the line of its main purpose. Here the methods of the League gave confidence in its complete impartiality.
 
[Pg 71]
 
So much can, unfortunately, not be said of another question where it was called in and gave its decision. Its Silesian award has been acted upon but hardly accepted by both parties as a fair settlement. That is due to the manner adopted in reaching judgment. Instead of following the Aaland precedent in the choice of a tribunal, it pursued a course which engendered suspicion of its motives. It created a regrettable impression of anxiety to retain a certain measure of control over the decision. There was a suspicion of intrigue in the choice of the tribunal and the conduct of the proceedings. In the Aaland case no great power was particularly interested in influencing the conclusions arrived at either way. But here two powers of great authority in the League—France and Poland—were passionately engaged in securing a result adverse to Germany. The other party to the dispute had no friends, and was moreover not a member of the League.
 
Britain stood for fair play, but she was not a protagonist of the claims of Germany. Poland had a powerful advocate on the League—a country with a vital interest in securing a pro-Polish decision. In these circumstances the League ought to have[Pg 72] exercised the most scrupulous care to avoid any shadow of doubt as to its freedom from all bias. Had it chosen distinguished jurists outside its own body to undertake at least a preliminary investigation as it did in the Aaland case, all would have been well. It preferred, however, to retain the matter in its own hands. Hence the doubts and misgivings with which the judgment of the League has been received not only by the whole of Germany, but by many outside Germany.
 
This decision, and the way Poland has flouted the League over Vilna served to confirm the idea which prevails in Russia and Germany that France and Poland dominate the League. The Silesian award may be just, but the fact remains that it will take a long series of decisions beyond cavil to restore or rather to establish German and Russian confidence in the League.
 
It is unfortunate that countries which cover more than half Europe should feel thus about a body whose success depends entirely on the confidence reposed in its impartiality by all the nations which may be called upon to carry out its decrees, even though these may be adverse to their views or supposed interests. The Vilna fiasco, the Armenian[Pg 73] failure, the suspicions that surround the Silesian award, the timidity which prevents the tackling of reparations, which is the one question disturbing the peace of Europe to-day, the futile conversations and committees on disarmament which everyone knows, will not succeed in scrapping one flight of a?roplanes or one company of infantry. All these disappointments arise from one predominating cause. What is it?
 
Undoubtedly the great weakness of the League comes from the fact that it only represents one half the great powers of the world. Until the others join you might as well call the Holy Alliance a League of Nations.
 
The ostensible purpose of that combination was also to prevent a recurrence of the wars that had for years scorched Europe, and to establish European peace on the firm basis of a joint guarantee of delimited frontiers. But certain powers with selfish ambitions dictated its policy. They terrorised Europe into submission and called that peace.
 
No historical parallel is quite complete, but there is enough material in the occurrences of to-day to justify the reference. The League to be a reality must represent the whole civilised world. That is[Pg 74] necessary to give it balance as well as authority. That was the original conception. To ask why that failed is to provoke a bitter and a barren controversy.
 
I do not propose to express any opinion as to the merits of the man?uvres which led to the defeat of the treaty in America. Whether the Senate should have honoured the signature of an American President given in the name of his country at an international conference, or whether the commitment was too fundamentally at variance with American ideas to justify sanction—whether the amendments demanded as the condition of approval would have crippled the League and ought to have been rejected, or whether they were harmless and ought to have been accepted—these are issues which it would serve no helpful purpose for me to discuss.
 
But as to the effect of the American refusal to adhere to the League, there can be no doubt. It robbed that body of all chance of dominating success in the immediate future. It is true that three great powers remained in the League, but Russia was excluded, Germany was not included, and when America decided not to go in, of the great powers, Britain, France and Italy alone remained.
 
[Pg 75]
 
The effect has been paralysing. Where these three powers disagree on important issues upon which action is required, nothing is done. The smaller powers cannot, on questions where one or more of the great powers have deep and acute feeling, impose their will; and no two great powers will take the responsibility of overruling the third.
 
Hence questions like reparations which constitute a standing menace to European peace are not dealt with by the League. Had America been in, even with an amended and expurgated constitution, the situation would have been transformed. America and Britain, acting in concert with an openly sympathetic Italy and a secretly assenting Belgium, would have brought such pressure to bear on France as to make it inevitable that the League should act.
 
The success of the League depends upon the readiness of nations great and small to discuss all their differences at the council table. But no great power has so far permitted any international question in which it has a direct and vital interest to be submitted to the League for decision.
 
It has been allowed to adjudicate upon the destiny of the Aaland Islands, over the fate of which[Pg 76] Sweden and Finland had a controversy. It has taken cognisance of disputes between Poland and Lithuania about Vilna, although even here its decision has been ignored by the parties. But the acute and threatening quarrel which has broken out between France and Germany over the question of reparations the former resolutely declines to submit to consideration by the League.
 
The Treaty of Versailles is so wide in its application and so comprehensive and far-reaching in its character that it touches international interests almost at every point. So that the French refusal to agree to a reference of any problems in which they are directly concerned which may arise out of this treaty has had the effect of hobbling the League. As long as that attitude is maintained, the League is impotent to discharge its main function of restoring and keeping peace.
 
The dispute over reparations clouds the sky to-day, and until it is finally settled it will cause grave atmospheric disturbances for a whole generation. It is not an impossibility that it may end in the most destructive conflict that ever broke over the earth. It is churning up deadly passions. If ever there was an occasion which called for the [Pg 77]intervention of an organisation set up for the express purpose of finding peaceable solutions for trouble-charged international feuds, surely this is pre-eminently such a case. Not only do the French government decline to entertain the idea of putting the covenant which constitutes the first and foremost part of the Treaty of Versailles into operation: they have gone so far as to intimate that they will treat any proposal of the kind as an unfriendly act. The constitution of the League stipulates that it will be the friendly duty of any power to move that any international dispute which threatens peace shall be referred to the League. Nevertheless, one leading signatory rules out of the covenant all the questions which vitally affect its own interests. This is the power which has invaded the territory of another because the latter has failed to carry out one of the provisions of the same treaty!
 
This emphatic repudiation of a solemn contract by one of its promoters has been acquiesced in by all the other signatories. Repudiation and acquiescence complete the electrocuting circuit. This limitation of the activities of the League is the gravest check which it has yet sustained in its career. I do not believe it would have occurred had[Pg 78] America, with or without Article 10, been an active member of this body. Its great authority, added to that of Britain and Italy, would have made the pressure irresistible, and its presence on the council would have helped materially to give such confidence in the stability and impartiality of the League that Germany would have accepted the conclusions arrived at without demur and acted upon them without chicane. A rational settlement of the reparations problem by the League would have established its authority throughout the world. Germany, Russia and Turkey, who now treat its deliberations with distrust and dislike tinctured with contempt, would be forced to respect its power, and would soon be pleading for incorporation in its councils. The covenant would thus become a charter—respected, feared, honoured and obeyed by all. There would still be injustice, but redress would be sought and fought for in the halls of the League. There would still be oppression, but freedom would be wrung from the clauses of the covenant. Argument, debate and intercession would be the recognised substitutes for shot, shell and sword. Wars would cease unto the ends of the earth, and the reign of law would be supreme.
 
[Pg 79]
 
Wherein lies the real power of the League, or to be more accurate, its possibility of power? It brings together leading citizens of most of the civilised states of the world to discuss all questions affecting or likely to affect peace and concord amongst nations. The men assembled at Geneva do not come there of their own initiative, nor do they merely represent propagandist societies engaged in preaching the gospel of peace. They are the chosen emissaries of their respective governments. They are the authorised spokesmen of these governments. When in doubt they refer to their governments and receive their instructions, and the proceedings are reported direct to the governments. They meet often and regularly, and they debate their problems with complete candour as well as courtesy.
 
It is in itself a good thing to accustom nations to discuss their difficulties face to face in a public assembly where reasons have to be sought and given for their attitude which will persuade and satisfy neutral minds of its justice and fairness. It is a practice to be cultivated. It is the practice that ended in eliminating the arbitrament of the sword in the internal affairs of nations. It is only thus[Pg 80] that international disputes will gradually drift into the debating chamber instead of on to the battlefield for settlement. Wars are precipitated by motives which the statesmen responsible for them dare not publicly avow. A public discussion would drag these emotives in their nudity into the open where they would die of exposure to the withering contempt of humanity. The League by developing the habit amongst nations of debating their differences in the presence of the world, and of courting the judgment of the world upon the merits of their case, is gradually edging out war as a settler of quarrels. That is the greatest service it can render mankind. Will it be allowed to render that service? If not, then it will perish like many another laudable experiment attempted by mankind in the effort to save itself.
 
But if it dies, the hope of establishing peace on earth will be buried in the same tomb.
 
London, April 2nd, 1923.


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