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Since Versailles

ISSUE:  Autumn 1930

Nations are so closely interdependent in the world of today that isolation is an absolute impossibility. What has happened in Europe in the last ten years has shown the attentive observer that the history of the League of Nations has been determined in all its phases 17 the fact that the United States was not a member. Thus the United States has exercised through its abstention an influence which, though negative, has been not the less profound than that which it would have exercised positively by taking part in the League’s activities. It is not even an exaggeration to say that neither the history, of the League of Nations nor the course it has taken during these ten years could be understood except by envisaging it from the point of view of America’s non-participation.

Without wishing to revert here to the reasons the American people may have had for not ratifying the signature of its delegates at Paris, we shall be permitted to recall one at least without which it would be impossible to understand what follows.

The League of Nations is not mere ideology: it is political fact. Every confederation in history has been born from the meeting of two currents, one moral, the other material. Whether one take Switzerland in the thirteenth century, the United States in the eighteenth, or the League of Nations in the twentieth, one observes a phenomenon of the same nature: on the one hand economic relations which have become close and which exact a common organization, on the other a moral aspiration which may in certain cases be liberty, in others peace. The League of Nations is not an exception in this respect; it was rendered necessary by the intensification of international economic relations and possible through the nations’ ardent desire never to see war again.

Though it may be admitted that this moral aspiration is common to both Europe and the United States, it should be noted that from the material point of view the position of the latter is very different from that of the European countries. Politically, its isolation from every other powerful country assures it complete security. Economically, its abundance in raw materials, the strength of its agricultural production, and the immensity of its domestic market exempt it from the worries which weigh on the daily life of European peoples. From the social point of view, finally, the relative scarcity of labor makes Europe’s social difficulties, which are all caused by over-population, almost incomprehensible. In all these spheres, in which the League offered the peoples of Europe definite hopes, it impressed the American people as useless or at least remote.

This explains to some extent the decision of Congress not to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. But we must doubtless look for more emotional reasons if we would make clear the hostile withdrawal of the American government in its relations to the League during the period from 1920 to 1924. The official letters of the secretary general went unanswered, and a spirit of competition drove America, in such a field as disarmament, to make efforts outside the League. Thus it happened that at the time’ of the Washington Conference of 1921-22, the Department of State made the League of Nations feel distinctly that the presence of an observer at Washington, even a wholly unofficial one, would not be favorably regarded.


This attitude had two effects on the League. In the first place, it gravely weakened it in the political sphere; and this was true especially in its relations with those League members whose states are situated on the American continent.

The article in the League Pact which, inserted at President Wilson’s request, excepts the Monroe Doctrine, would have presented no difficulty, if the United States had become a permanent member of the Council. In each case the Council, which must reach its decisions unanimously, would have had to take account of American prepossessions, but in each case it would have been in a position to know exactly the official interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine and perhaps to exercise some influence on it. As it was, the absence of an American delegate at the Council table made impossible any conversation about the import of the Monroe Doctrine and, as this is not known with precision, the Council has felt itself paralyzed through fear of a possible conflict with the United States. This is why the League has at various times refused to mix in questions which seemed to fall within its competence, but which bore especially on South America. This was notably the case in 1920 and in 1921, when Peru and Bolivia urged the application of Article XIX of the Pact to the Tacna-Arica conflict.

The absence of the United States had still another political result, and several members of the League of Nations, Canada, in particular, endeavored to overcome certain of the American objections by giving as restricting an interpretation as possible to the League Pact, on points under discussion. They even went so far as to propose dropping Article X, which constitutes one of the main supports of the Pact, and they interpreted Article XVI on sanctions in a very limited sense.

These efforts prove that the world had not realized at this time how profoundly determined America was to stay out of the League. It was believed that nothing more than a momentary sulkiness, caused by domestic politics, was involved, and that the United States would not be long in taking its place again in the League of Nations. European statesmen were perhaps not very profoundly convinced of the utility of an institution which had been created chiefly to please President Wilson; nevertheless they felt that there would be danger in allowing this institution to be jeopardized, and that some day the American people, recovered from its suspicions, would reproach them with it. This is why they strove to make the League of Nations live. As they were not very desirous of increasing its political role, for fear of offending the United States on several points, they fell back on purely technical activities.


It must be remembered in this connection that at the peace conference two fundamental conceptions met in opposition. For the Anglo-Saxon delegations, the League was to be essentially a political institution, designed to forestall wars and to render them impossible. The Europeans, rather sceptical of this aspect of the League’s activities, insisted on the contrary upon the services it could render in the economic sphere. The experiments made in the course of the war by the interallied organizations at London, which had permitted a relatively satisfactory provisioning of Europe in a time of famine, seemed to them of such a sort as to prove that an international organization could, even in time of peace, render great services in the economic field. Quite naturally, through the absence of the United States, the first of these conceptions was weakened and the second strengthened, and it is not by chance that all the early activities of the League should have been of an economic nature: the labor conference at Washington in 1919, the financial conference at Brussels in 1920, the communications and transport conference at Barcelona in the spring of 1921, the financial relief of Austria and Hungary.

But in the spring of 1921, an unexpected event took place which completely changed the bases of this problem. It had been believed that on the morrow of the war world industry was going to pass through a period of great prosperity. Stocks were exhausted and had to be replenished. Men were lacking because of the losses of the war; raw materials were insufficient for the demands of industry and prices were climbing. Suddenly, in the spring of 1921, for reasons which we need not fathom here, the nature of the economic crisis was transformed through and through. The fall of the exchange in certain countries made it impossible for them to buy raw materials with sound money. Their production ceased. As a result the price of raw materials dropped. The peoples’ capacity for consumption was stricken and finally almost nobody, could either buy or, in consequence, sell. A crisis from the lack of laborers was suddenly followed by a crisis of unemployment. Now the League of Nations, if it was geared to the expectation of under-production, was not prepared for a crisis of underconsumption which posed entirely new and ill-understood problems. At the same time the political activities from which it had turned during the early months of its existence, presented themselves with great insistence. In the Upper Silesian affair as in the Corfu affair the League, if it was not in a position to pronounce ideally equitable judgments, nevertheless discharged its function, which is essentially the maintenance of peace. Its prestige was thereby increased. It was perhaps even more raised by the collapse of the Ruhr affair, undertaken without its cooperation. The French elections of 1924, directly due to this failure, introduced into the French delegation a change of personnel which coincided with the rise to power of the Laborites in England and brought to Geneva two diplomatic teams determined to base their national policies on the League of Nations.

The League then gained more and more confidence in itself. It recognized at the same time that the non-participation of the United States had not the temporary character ascribed to it. This is why it gave up completely the policy of weakening the Pact to make it acceptable to the Americans and adopted the precisely opposite policy of strengthening as much as possible the provisions of the Pact and the efficacy of the League. The Geneva protocol constitutes the programme of this new policy. It is the opposite of everything done up to that time.

It seems that the American people on its side had begun about this time to realize that the League of Nations, whether or not it seemed acceptable to them, was good for Europe. In any case it grasped the fact that the League was in a condition to live, even without the United States. Its death had been so often announced that it was becoming obvious that it was not dead. If the League was able to live, even without the United States, if it was a political reality, then the United States could not ignore it and its own interest dictated that it be taken into account.

Therefore a movement towards increasing collaboration developed. This collaboration was at first purely individual; certain American citizens would lend the support of their experience, their technical knowledge, or their personal authority to the League of Nations. Next a more and more official collaboration developed: at first in the humanitarian sphere, in all that concerns the fight against narcotics for example, then in the field of technology. It is in this way that there appeared at the economic conference of 1927 a very important delegation from the United States. At last the American government took one more step and consented to collaborate in tasks of a political nature, such as disarmament. At present, it may be said that there is scarcely any practical difference between the United States and the members of the League, unless it be in the matter of paying dues,

Perhaps we may point out also that this development coincided with what we should like to call the rebirth of American idealism. America went to war in a purely disinterested way and for idealistic reasons. But inevitably the American people, being distant from the theater of war and not having under their eyes the daily spectacle of the woes it brings and the effort it involves, had at this time to be educated by an active propaganda. The same conditions held at the time of the peace conference, and one of our most vivid memories is the impression we got, in the Autumn of 1918, in the United States, of this immense rising of a people in favor of purely spiritual values.

No doubt at that time there had been some excesses. At any rate the morrow of the war seemed marked by a decline of American idealism and a return to economic preoccupations. But this wave did not last, and America, recovering her true nature, soon began to interest itself in less material activities.


We Europeans believed we could perceive the formation of a double movement in the United States in favor of peace, one was frankly oriented towards the League of Nations and it is thanks to its efforts and to the powerful effect it was able to exercise on a people more accessible than any other to a just argument, that in 1926 the American Senate resolved to face squarely the question of joining the World Court. But a misunderstanding occurred at this time which throws much light on the disadvantages attending the position of mutual distrust in which the American government finds itself in relation to the League. Indeed, the Senate, having the legitimate desire to obtain in favor of the United States a position in the International Court of Justice equal to that of other States and analogous to that which the United States would have had itself if it had belonged to the League, formulated reservations which, through unfortunate wording, did not appear acceptable to the League.

One of these reservations, indeed, treated as settled a question of law which is not settled and which is even highly debatable. Starting from the idea that the Council cannot, except by unanimous vote, ask an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, the United States invoked the right of veto on requests of this kind. Now the Council has always refrained from settling the question of whether it has the right to ask advisory opinions of the Court by. mere majority vote or whether unanimity is necessary. A great many sincere friends of the League see in the procedure of advisory opinions, which permits removing international conflicts from politics and redirecting them into purely legal channels, a powerful means of assuring peace and understanding between peoples. They were not, then, disposed to allow a barrier to this procedure that would have been insurmountable in the future. This is why, while regretting that they could not accept the adhesion of the United States under this form, they felt themselves obliged to maintain a juridical point of view which is a guarantee of the future.

The rather unfortunate character of this first official contact resulted without doubt in strengthening the other current of pacifism in the United States, the one which was tending towards the outlawry of war and which, in certain aspects of its philosophy, appeared hostile to the League. In the eyes of certain Americans, the League Pact, far from being competent to guarantee peace, seems rather of a nature to bring about war. This idea results from an erroneous conception of the sense of Article XVI of the Pact, the character of which is exclusively preventive. If the League members have mutually engaged themselves to bring each other aid, if they, have reached the point of defining the sanctions which may be applied to a State guilty of violating its international engagements, it is not with the hope of really executing these threats, but on the contrary with the very well founded hope that these threats themselves, by their drastic character, would suffice to stop all aggression and consequently to render all future war impossible. But it must be noticed that the preventive nature of the League’s sanctions is not a familiar idea to a large number of Americans and that the latter detest war and dread above everything to find themselves dragged into one through the play of the sanctions in Article XVI.

Between these two conceptions, similar in purpose but differingi in method, for all this, there seems to have been reached a certain agreement when some eminent and wellknown Americans at Geneva presented to M. Briand the suggestion from which was to spring a little later the solemn offer of a mutual pact of non-aggression between France and the United States.

Let us recall here, then, the well-known origin of the Pact of Paris: how a French public opinion, powerfully organized, was able to overcome certain official and political objections, and how in the end the United States placed its signature on one of the most important juridical acts of our time.

In Europe, it seems, there has not been enough honor paid to the greatness of this gesture of the American people. History shows that all the great powers, in the course of their evolution, one day reached a point where they were tempted to exercise world hegemony. Spain, England, France twice, Germany, Russia successively, climbed the road which seemed to lead to triumph and which ended in catastrophe. Italy herself seems in our times to be undergoing a wave of feeling of the same kind and the shouts of her government are probably explained by the shock of this tendency to hegemony against the new international tendencies which the world has secured and which put an end to this in advance.

The moral position of the American people is very different. It is at a time when a material power without equal in history seems to permit the American people the vastest ambitions, that it declares to the world: These weapons of ours we solemnly forbid ourselves ever to use.

This gesture has moreover great theoretical and practical bearing. It constitutes in the field of international law a veritable revolution, since it puts an end to the theory, until now universally admitted, that even an unjust war is juridically legitimate. But it is its practical importance above all which strikes us, and in order really to measure this, we must glance at the changed nature of international relations and of the security of peoples.


The security which is talked about so much today (but which does not represent a new idea) used to rest on a double basis: armaments and alliances. There is a sense in which these two forms of security are fundamentally the same. Anmaments have no value for a country unless they are superior to the armaments of every possible adversary. Since every country, in its relations to its neighbors, is in an identical situation, it is impossible to conceive of a peace founded on armaments, without there being a competition in armaments between eventual adversaries. This, it will be remembered, was what took place during the decades preceding the world war. Since the strength of every country is limited by the number of its inhabitants and by its material resources, a day must necessarily come when the final point of this race in armaments is reached. On that day, each country seeks to prolong its effort by alliances, which in effect join to its own army the material strength of others. Furthermore, in a system which rests solely on power, the little States would lack all security unless supported by the great States: for little States, alliances are not an aid to security but security itself. It was not the exhaustion of their armaments that obliged them to seek alliance, but alliances which obliged them to arm. The result was indeed the same and dragged every country into this race of death.

By the terms of the League Pact, security rests on an entirely different base. Article XVI, which provides international sanctions against an aggressor State, has, as we have said, an essentially preventive character. Since there does not exist a single country in the world independent enough economically and financially to be able to risk war against all the other countries combined, it can be said that the threat contained in Article XVI is absolute and that no country is in a position to ignore it. This one condition, though, must be fulfilled—we must be certain beforehand that the League Pact will be universally applied.

In 1919, at the moment the Pact was signed, we do not exaggerate when we say that this certainty existed; but the basis of the system has been profoundly modified by the refusal of the United States to enter the League. To appreciate this fact, one need but recall that the sanctions rest essentially on the blockade of the aggressor State and that every blockade, to be efficacious, must in the last analysis be a blockade by navies. It was therefore the fleets of England and the United States that were originally thought of as the means of executing the League decrees; decrees rendered, let us recall, unanimously and consequently with the consent of every permanent member of the Council.

But the instant one of the two countries is no longer bound by, the terms of the Pact, the task of the other is rendered extremely trying. In case of sanctions, the blockade world have to be applied by the English fleet alone. That would not have much importance, since their fleet suffices for a task of this kind, if the attitude of the American fleet could be definitely known in advance. But by reason of the divergences which exist between the conceptions of maritime law in the United States and in England, this is not wholly certain. Cases could arise, or at least could be conceived, in which the government of the United States would insist on guarding its commercial relations with a blockaded State. It was problems of this sort, as everybody knows, that led the United States twice in a century to take arms against a European power, and it is natural that England should not have forgotten it.

This is why the British government, while remaining bound by the League of Nations Pact, has for ten years never ceased to interpret it in the most restricted fashion possible and to weaken the application of its engagements. Again it was fear of the United States, or at least the fact that it was remaining outside of international engagements of this nature, which led the British government in 1925 to reject the Geneva Protocol. Now the failure of the Protocol rendered disarmament impossible and this impossibility in its turn increased the insecurity which weighs on the nations and blocks definitive stabilization of the European continent.


The Kellogg Pact does not modify this situation juridically, since it contains no obligation to intervene. But it is important to emphasize here that what Europe and the League ask of the United States is by no means positive collaboration in the application of eventual sanctions. In every case that could arise, Europe is in a position to meet the situation by its own means. The only thing that really matters is to know in advance what the attitude of the American government will be towards operations intended to put an end to a brutal aggression. If it be remembered that the aggressor can be determined only by unanimous vote of the Council and consequently only in cases where such aggression is flagrant, it seems to the peoples of Europe that the assurance of good will which they ask of America is not unrealizable. In any case the Kellogg Pact, without containing any assurance of this kind, does put the mind at rest on two points. In the first place, it renders conversations between the government of the United States and the members of the League not only easy but necessary. Every, war undertaken in violation of the League Pact will be equally and ipso facto in violation of the Kellogg Pact as well. The United States being a party to this treaty, it will be wholly natural for the other signatories of this same treaty to consult the Washington government as to its intentions. These conversations could in a period of crisis contribute powerfully to the maintenance of peace. Furthermore, if the Council undertook to designate an aggressor, this aggressor by that very fact would be guilty of breaking a Pact with the United States, and could scarcely count on the active support of the American nation. Consequently the Kellogg Pact, however uncertain some of its provisions may appear, lessens greatly the risks England will have to assume in case of international complications and consequently increases the security of nations and f acilitates disarmament. This is what stands out as the result of the recent London conference.

Although these results may have failed to fulfil all the hopes placed in naval parity, the fixing of parity between England and the United States puts an end in advance to a race in armaments which would have had consequences more tragic than the pre-war rivalry of France and Germany.

Furthermore the agreement which was successfully reached on the method of naval armaments permits the resumption of general disarmament by the League. It may be recalled that the preparatory commission on disarmament was blocked in the spring of 1927 by a difficulty resulting from the divergence between France and England on the method of limiting fleets. Today, this difficulty, having been resolved, nothing prevents the commission from resuming its task and before long arriving at a plan for a general agreement. This plan would have to be submitted to the disarmament conference and it is probably at that point that the difficult problem of Franco-Italian parity would present itself afresh. But at least an important stage has been reached and difficulties that a short while ago appeared insoluble have been surmounted.

The consequences of the Kellogg Pact, and of the arrival in power of President Hoover on the one hand and the Labor party on the other, have permitted other interesting developments inside the League. Last September, England signed Article XXXVI of the statute of the International Court of Justice; that ds to say she accepted for herself and for her dominions the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court in matters of juridical conflict. The example she gave thereby has been followed by such a large number of States that today this compulsory jurisdiction has become almost general, while in 1920 it still seemed Utopian. In the same way, thanks to Mr. Elihu Root, who visited Geneva in the spring of last year, the reservation which the American Senate attached to adhesion by the United States to the World Court, found an interpretation acceptable both to the League of Nations and to the government of the United States.

Finally, at the instance of the British government, the Assembly of the League of Nations decided to amend the Pact in order to make it harmonious with the Kellogg Pact; that is to say, to eliminate all remaining mention of the possibility of waging a juridically legitimate war. This should have the effect of definitely closing the door on war.


We once had the occasion to ask an American senator of the isolationist party whether he really believed in the possibility of a great nation’s isolating itself politically from the rest of the world: “Oh, of course,” answered this senator, “we do not want to be isolated from world trade.”

This answer is characteristic; diplomacy is nothing other than the protection of foreign commerce, and a country that does not wish to isolate itself economically finds it impossible in the long run to remain outside international politics.

This impossibility is greater for the United States than for any other country, by reason of its power and of the importance of its economic relations. It is becoming more impossible every day, by reason of the investments of capital abroad that America is making, and is obliged to make. The problem of international debts is settled today and it would occur to nobody to start up again an irritating polemic on this point. But it must be remembered, because it is a law of economics and always true, that although Europe is to pay what she owes the United States and what the United States demands of her in full right, it is impossible to transfer these sums from Europe to America either in the form of gold, because Europe has none, or in the form of goods, because the United States refuses to receive them.

The present raising of the tariff can only accentuate this situation. Therefore we must conclude that, in one form or another, the United States is obliged to re-employ in Europe itself the sums the European countries pay over to it. In consequence, its capital investment in this continent is steadily growing and the interest America must take in European affairs, the interest it must take in maintaining peace in the old world, must increase in proportion.

Such being the circumstances, it is not becoming for us to say in what form the United States shall interest itself in European politics; but we can assert that it cannot do otherwise than become in some way interested. This evolution, which is bringing our continents nearer and nearer together, will be necessarily slow, for ideas are exchanged less quickly than merchandise, and economic conditions come long before man’s comprehension of them. But the speed of this evolution has nothing to do with the case. What interests us is its direction, for in any case the League has time to wait. It lives and it will continue to live without the United States. It has given proof that it can do this. It has already gained the collaboration of the United States in a large number of essential fields. This collaboration is valuable. It contributes to the strengthening of the League. But the League is today sufficiently grounded in the consciousness of the peoples and in economic reality to have eternity before it. In its eyes days no longer count.


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