Mr. Lester's report is not merely a recital
of events. In a short but significant introduction, he passes judgment on
what has been done in the past by this League of Nations which we are to-day
preparing to bury . . .
" it was not the League which failed. It was
not its principles which were found wanting. It was the nations which
neglected it. It was the Governments which abandoned it." I desire, in my
turn, to develop the same theme. It is necessary to do so -- both as an act
of justice towards what is passing and as an expression of hope in what is
being born. For, let us not mince our words or conceal from ourselves the
redoubtable complex -- I was going to say the inferiority complex -- which
weighs upon the new Organisation. Those of us who were at San Francisco and
in London did not find there the enthusiasm and faith which animated our
work in the great days of the League of Nations. The setback experienced by
this organisation helps to undermine faith in the destinies of the other.
And public opinion, especially in countries like my own which have been
downtrodden and crushed during four years of brutal occupation, is
indifferent or distrustful.
That is not right. And it is not just.
Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, United Kingdom.
Why, then, did it fail ? I concur most fully
with the Report saying that its failure was not due to any weakness in the
terms of the Covenant. To my mind it is plain beyond the possibility of
doubt that it failed solely because the Member States did not genuinely
accept the obligation to use and support its provisions. That was due to
Speaking of my own country, I must admit that the general current of
official opinion was either neutral or hostile. I suspect that was also true
in other countries.
N. J. Paul-Boncour, France.
I quite realise that it did not fulfil its
original purpose: the prevention of war...
Was it then a chimera? Was it out of touch
with reality? Did it, so to speak, outstrip reality in striving after
No, on the contrary! The chimera was to
imagine that a country could protect itself against war by withdrawing
within itself and paying regard only to its own frontiers. The chimera was
to imagine that limited alliances would suffice to prevent war, whereas they
always lead to counter-alliances and to the creation of rival coalitions,
from the clash of which inevitably springs the spark of war. The chimera was
to imagine that national armaments sufficed to guarantee security, whereas
predatory nations had only to impose sacrifices on their enslaved peoples
for such a competition in armaments to develop that one day or another,
ineluctably, the peace-loving, free nations, preoccupied only with the
well-being and prosperity of their peoples, were bound to succumb....
Our balance-sheet is not altogether
unfavourable. I spoke to you just now about the positive achievements and
successes of the League in matters of more or less incidental character; but
even in the essential task of maintaining peace it succeeded during a number
of years. It succeeded as long as Governments, and particularly the
Governments of the Great Powers, put their faith in it and animated and
fortified it by their own strength of purpose and as long as, in the
background, there was the latent possibility that their force would be put
at the service of its decisions.
During a number of years, in the period
following the peace treaties, the League of Nations settled various grave
disputes -- Memel, the Aaland Islands, Upper Silesia and the dispute between
Greece and Bulgaria -- all of them involving areas which might have become
battlefields if the League had not settled the disputes in their initial
It is, indeed, the very success it achieved
that caused the disputes to be minimised and that makes us forget what it
For years it prevented the dispute between
Poland and Lithuania from degenerating into war; for years it prevented
Germany from seizing Danzig, which she always coveted but whose independence
was essential to the free access of Poland to the sea; for years it
prevented Balkan rivalries from degenerating into war over Albania, the
Dobrudja and all those problems constantly surging up in countries where
successive waves of migration have sometimes made frontiers uncertain.
No, no. Our balance-sheet is not altogether
unfavourable. Deterioration set in on the day when, imperialism having again
broken loose in the world, those precepts of the Covenant whose application
would have afforded the only possible basis of a peace honourable for all
were offered up as a first sacrifice to the myth of appeasement.
There was the case of Manchuria. The League
did nothing but utter verbal protests against Japan's action in attacking an
ancient country with a civilisation much older than any of ours which was
groping its way towards democracy among the obstacles inherent in its
geography and history. We forgot that, just as the revolver-shot of Sarajevo
shook the whole world to its foundations, a gun-shot fired on the coast of
the Pacific might have its repercussions in Europe. And the proof is that it
was the resistance of China -- China, which had been at war since 1931,
almost abandoned by the League -- that prevented Japan, the partner of the
Axis, from interfering in the affairs of Europe and perhaps changing its
Manchuria was far off. Ethiopia, and still
more Italy, was nearer. In that case, sanctions -- or at any rate economic
sanctions -- were decided on, but (if I may employ a popular expression)
they were slow-motion sanctions, imposed by driblets. We recoiled before the
only two sanctions which would have been effective -- the cutting off of oil
supplies and the closing of the Suez Canal. We did enough to irritate Italy
and to embarrass her, but not enough to prevent her from accomplishing her
Then came the massive rearmament of Germany
in 1935. Alas! the nations concerned did no more than refer the dispute to
the League of Nations under the most lenient article of the Covenant,
Article 11, which gave the friendly right to call attention to situations
likely to engender international difficulties.
Then there was the reoccupation of the
Rhineland. For weeks I struggled, we struggled, at the Council meeting in
London in favour of giving the one response appropriate to the case, the
response provided for in the Treaty of Locarno -- a treaty not imposed upon
Germany but freely accepted, nay, proposed by her. Alas I instead of this,
negotiations were started to induce Hitler to agree to a re-patching of
Then there was Albania, seized by Fascist
Italy one Easter morning, and then Austria, seized by Germany during a
ministerial crisis in France. Not only did the League of Nations remain
inert but, in September 1938, its First Committee took the decision to
strike Austria off the list of nations members of the League.
The League's powerlessness to protect States
victims of aggression became so evident that in the last two great acts of
the drama -- of which one, the abandonment of Czechoslovakia at Munich paved
the way for the catastrophe and the other, the invasion of Poland by
Germany, unleashed it --there was no appeal to the League even on the part
of the victims themselves. If I draw this sombre picture, it is not to
engage in vain recriminations over the past, still less to make my mea culpa
at the cost of others. I do not forget that certain French Governments had
their share in these backslidings. It is, on the contrary, to emphasise my
hope that the realisation of these errors and the determination to repair
them which finds expression in the Charter of the United Nations will
preserve us from similar mistakes in the future....
No, the League of Nations was not a deceit.
It lived vividly in the heart and spirit of countless multitudes. It
laboured. It leaves behind it lasting works. Some fully succeeded and the
new Organisation will merely have to carry them on. This applies to its
efforts in intellectual co-operation, public health, transit, social
questions and rural life.
It was closely associated with Nansen's work for refugees. It played a
leading part in the great migrations between Greece and Turkey and took a
decisive share in the financial and monetary reconstruction of countries
ravaged by the First World War.1 earnestly hope that the new Organisation
will resume this task, which has become heavier in consequence of the much
greater destruction wrought by the last war.
Other activities did not succeed. But the
materials are there and the new Organisation will be able to use them for
the constructive tasks which it will inevitably have to undertake. This is
true of our work on disarmament.
Mr. P. J. Noel-Baker, United Kingdom.
The League leaves
much behind it for the United Nations but above the rest I rank the
existence, the traditions, the men of the first international civil service
of the world. I remember how one night n the Hotel Crillon Hymans expressed
his doubts and fears. 'I understand the Assembly', he said; I that is like
the Conference at The Hague. I understand the Council; it is like the
Concert of the Powers. But the Secretariat ! How can men and women of forty
different nations work together beneath a single roof ? It will be not only
a Tower of Babel, but a Bedlam too.'
Well, the Secretariat did it; and I want, if
the Assembly will allow me, to write a paragraph in the testament that the
Secretariat leaves behind it. I worked in it as a humble member in its
earliest days. I also worked in four Government departments in London
between the wars. I am as proud of our British Civil Service as any man
could be, but I can say with truth that in none of our departments did I
find a higher standard of technical efficiency, a higher level of personal
and official probity, a greater industry and devotion to their cause, than I
found in the Secretariat as I knew it then.
After some evil days, the members of that Secretariat have kept their
qualities and their loyalty to the very end. Their work in this Assembly has
shown us what efficiency and experience can mean.
Mr. H Hume Wrong, Canada.
I desire to mention one aspect which has been
too frequently ignored, and that is the part played behind the scenes by the
members of the Secretariat and by many who were until recently members of
the Secretariat in assisting in the organisation of the United Nations. It
was often in the most literal sense a thankless task that they undertook.
They fulfilled the biblical injunction and concealed their good works. Their
counsel was frequently passed on through devious channels; yet they rendered
the United Nations great service, and there is no reason why we here in this
final Assembly should not recognise and applaud it.
The Secretary-General (Mr. Sean Lester).
On May 25th, 1937, before the
Council of the League of Nations, took the following oath: 'I solemnly
undertake to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience the
functions that have been entrusted to me as an official of the Secretariat
of the League of Nations, to discharge my functions and to regulate my
conduct with the interests of the League alone in view and not to seek or
receive instructions from any Government or other authority external to the
Secretariat I have tried to live up to this declaration during the past nine
years. I shall try in the same spirit to serve you, and your representatives
on the Board of Liquidation, during the coming months. I am grateful to the
Assembly for the decision that has just been take. I want particularly to
thank the delegations for the generous references that have been made to my
Report and to myself during the general discussion at the beginning of our
meeting. May I add, however, that if I have been able to fulfil my duties to
the satisfaction of the Assembly, it is in the first place due to my
colleagues of the Secretariat ? Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, United Kingdom
We may well ask: I What, then, is left of the great adventure on which we
then embarked?' It is common nowadays to speak of the failure of the League.
Is it true that all our efforts for those twenty years have been thrown away
? I had a letter from our present Foreign Minister, Mr. Bevin, the other day
in which he said he could not accept that view, and I am sure he is right.
Some of the reasons for that opinion are well set out in the introduction to
the Report and I need not repeat them. The work of the League is
unmistakably printed on the social, economic and humanitarian life of the
world. But above all that, a great advance was made in the international
organisation of peace . . . By the Covenant, a definite scheme was set up.
It was not, indeed, a full-fledged federation of the world -- far from it --
but it was more than the pious aspiration for peace embodied in the partial
alliances which had closed many great struggles. For the first time an
organisation was constructed, in essence universal, not to protect the
national interests of this or that country -- do let us remember that -- but
to abolish war. We saw a new world centre imperfect materially, but
enshrining great hopes. An Assembly representing some fifty peace-loving
nations, a Council, an international civil service, a world Court of
International justice, so often before planned but never created, an
International Labour Office to promote better conditions for the workers.
And very soon there followed that great apparatus of committees and
conferences, striving for an improved civilisation, better international
co-operation, a larger redress of grievances and the protection of the
helpless and oppressed.
Truly this was a
splendid programme, the very conception of which was worth all the efforts
which it cost.
For ten years the League advanced, and I remember very well a French
representative, M. Hanotaux, saying to me that in his opinion the League was
bien enracin‚e, but, as we know, it failed in the essential condition of its
existence -- namely, the preservation of peace. And so, rightly or wrongly,
it has been decided to bury it and start afresh. That does not mean that the
work of twenty years goes for nothing; far from it. All the main ideas I
have briefly sketched, and which are so well summarised in the report before
us, remain. True, there is a new organisation founded on a Charter and not
on a Covenant. The Charter in one respect is certainly an improvement. It
recognises more clearly than did the Covenant that in the last resort peace
must be enforced. That was no doubt implicit in the League, as anyone who
reads the provisions of the Covenant will agree. However, in the condition
of public opinion when the League was founded, this was necessarily kept in
the background. It is only right to recognise that the French
representatives from the earliest times never ceased to more clearly than
did the Covenant that in the last resort peace must be enforced.
That was no doubt implicit in the League, as
anyone who reads the provisions of the Covenant will agree. However, in the
condition of public opinion when the League was founded, this was
necessarily kept in the background. It is only right to recognise that the
French representatives from the earliest times never ceased to urge greater
clearness and definiteness in this. And now their opinions have prevailed
and the negotiators of San Francisco used much ingenuity to provide for
greater force to resist and crush aggression. They have given to the Five
Great Powers special rights and, more important, special responsibilities in
this respect . . . But I have no wish to discuss the detailed provisions of
the Charter or the Covenant. It is enough for my purpose to insist that, but
for the great experiment of the League, the United Nations could never have
come into existence. The fundamental principles of the Charter and the
Covenant are the same and it is gratifying to some of us that, after the
violent controversies that have raged for the last quarter of a century, it
is now generally accepted that peace can only be secured by international
co-operation, broadly on the lines agreed to in 1920....
Believe me, there is no safety except in
peace, and peace cannot be maintained merely and solely by national
armaments, however necessary they may be, by each nation seeking safety for
itself. Let us, then, boldly state that aggression, wherever it occurs and
however it may be defended, is an international crime, that it is the duty
of every peace-loving State to resist it, and to employ whatever force maybe
necessary to crush it, that the machinery of the Charter, no less than of
the Covenant, is sufficient for this purpose if it is properly used, and
that every well-disposed citizen of every State should be ready to undergo
any sacrifice in order to maintain peace. . .
In the end, it is public opinion that counts.
Governments Maybe feeble or sometimes dishonest even, circumstances may put
into the hands of a few men the power to use or misuse the forces of their
country, but in the end the last word will be spoken by the great mass of
the people, and I am sure myself that they will decide aright if only they
are given proper materials on which to form their opinion, especially by
full publicity for all international discussions.
Education in the largest sense is necessary. Everywhere organisations should
exist for that purpose, whether supported by the State or drawing their
strength from the conviction and enthusiasms of individuals. 1 venture very
respectfully to press upon my hearers that here is a great work for peace in
which all can participate, resting not only on the narrow interests of our
own nations but even more on those great principles of right and wrong on
which nations, like individuals, depend.
Mr. P. J. Noel-Baker, United Kingdom.
Some of us have spoken as though
our resolution were the end of some great enterprise in which for a season
we have been privileged to take part. An end ! An end of what ? Is it more
an end than what is happening in many countries at the present time ? By our
resolution one written constitution will be no more; one set of institutions
will cease to be; but already a new constitution, new institutions in the
same society for the same end have taken their place. A new Assembly has
already held a meeting and it has since dealt successfully with most
difficult and even dangerous post-war international disputes. The old Court
of Justice, as our Polish colleague said the other day, became a beacon
light to all international lawyers; to them to them it became the juristic
conscience of the world. We all resolved that n the new Court a wider
obligatory jurisdiction shall play a greater part than ever before. Already
it is meeting; already there are cases waiting to be heard.
The Economic and Social Commission
recommended by the Bruce Committee in 1939 will hold its second meeting at
the end of May. The International Labour Organisation is more vigorous than
ever it was before; health, refugees, human rights -- we call it that
instead of minorities -- in every field of the League's action the work has
started once again, and in every case the work has started where the League
left off, but with a new drive and a new impulsion, a new resolve to use the
experience and to avoid the errors of the past. To-day no honest man denies
that Lord Cecil is right, that it is because the League existed that the
United Nations still exists, and that the United Nations starts with a far
brighter prospect than anyone could have hoped for a quarter of a century
When the true history of our generation has
been written half -a-century from now, the tale will not be told in the
terms of the tawdry and conflicting interests about which politicians
quarreled in the periods between the wars or of the small ambitions and the
small achievements of which they thought. It will be written in terms of
great world movements and the movement from international anarchy to order,
from meaningless chaos and division to conscious and intelligent
cooperation. It will be written in terms of the growth of those permanent
international, political institutions through which that new order and new
co-operation will be evolved, and across the pages of that story the names
of the League of Nations and its leaders with their successes and failures
will be written large.
Our work is not ended. It has only just