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234 Lord Stanley, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Commonwealth Government

Circular Cablegram B185 LONDON, 29 July 1938, 11 p.m.


(1) The most important item on the agenda at the forthcoming
meeting of the League Assembly will probably be the report of the
Committee of Twenty-eight on the application of the principles of
the Covenant, and the Assembly will be faced with the necessity of
coming to a decision affecting the whole future of the League. His
Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have accordingly been
considering whether it would not be advisable for them to make
specific proposals to the Assembly on this question and have been
examining the form which any such proposals might take.

(2) They are inclined to think that the United Kingdom
Representative in his speech at the opening debate of the Assembly
might take a line which may be summarised as follows:-

Firstly, it is necessary to recognise that the League, by reason
of its reduced membership and the divided counsels among its
remaining members, is not in a position to give full effect to
certain important provisions of the Covenant. This is due less to
the terms of the Covenant itself, than to force of circumstances
and perhaps the shortcomings of the members. The position might
have been different had it been possible to carry out fully
Article 8 of the Covenant but every effort to give effect to this
Article has so far failed. Many members of the League have made it
clear that they regard the system of Sanctions as in fact
suspended. Many more have tacitly or openly recognised an
attenuation of the obligations laid on member States in the matter
of collective action. In these circumstances an honest avowal of
the limitations of the League would have the effect of putting it
on a sounder basis and increasing its authority and usefulness as
an instrument of peace.

Secondly, reference could be made to the position under Article
19. After examination of the effect of this Article in its present
form it could be pointed out that, while it is not the only
Article of the Covenant providing for the examination of
grievances, the fact that it has never been employed lends colour
to one of the most frequent criticisms of the League, that it
exists mainly for the perpetuation of the status quo. Certain
nations do not believe the present state of affairs to be
altogether just and fair, and they have, rightly or wrongly,
abandoned any hope of rectifying it through the machinery of the
League. If the League is actively to fulfil its task, some means
must be found of making Article 19 a reality.

The Articles of the Covenant which provide a system for the
peaceful settlement of disputes afford an immensely valuable piece
of machinery. These articles have in some respects been
overshadowed by the coercive clauses of the Covenant. It is
desirable to enhance the authority of this system which is the
essence of the Covenant.

Two minor points may be mentioned. (a) The desirability of
modifying the unanimity rule in its application to the first
paragraph of Article 11 of the Covenant, in order that the League
can intervene effectively at an earlier stage in disputes than has
been possible hitherto. Proposals to this effect were made by the
United Kingdom delegate at the Assembly of 1936.

(b) Effect should be given to the recommendations in the report of
the Committee of jurists to the last Assembly upon the proposal
that the Covenant should be given an existence separate and
independent from the Treaties of Peace.

(3) The proposals which His Majesty's Government in the United
Kingdom have in mind would be on the following lines:-

As regards the obligations of the Covenant, it would be suggested
that any decision which might be reached should only be regarded
as a modus vivendi. There is nothing essentially wrong with the
Covenant, and it should be kept substantially as it is in the hope
that eventually it may be possible to apply it in its entirety. In
the meantime it seems desirable clearly to define, as a temporary
measure, the limits within which League members can carry out
their obligations as regards the coercive clauses of the Covenant,
and secondly, to improve the facilities provided for the remedying
of just grievances. If possible this should be effected by an
Assembly resolution.

Such a resolution might be based, as regards collective
obligations, on the conception that the circumstances in which
occasion for international action will arise and the possibility
and nature of the action to be taken cannot be determined in
advance, and that each case must be considered on its merits. Thus
membership of the League would for the present involve, in a case
where a breach of the Covenant had been established in accordance
with the usual procedure, no automatic obligation to apply either
economic or military sanctions. It would, however, in such a case
involve a general obligation to consider, in consultation with the
other members, whether, and if so, how far they were able to apply
the measures provided in Article 16 and what steps, if any, they
could take in common to render aid to the victim of such a breach
of the Covenant. In the course of such consultation each member of
the League would be the judge of the extent to which its own
position would allow it to participate in any measures which might
be proposed, and in doing so it would be entitled to take into
account the extent to which other members were prepared to act. It
would at the same time be made clear that it is essential, for the
future of the League, to preserve intact the principle that
aggression against a member of the League is a matter of concern
to all the members, and not one as to which they are entitled to
adopt an attitude of indifference.

As regards the remedying of just grievances the Assembly's action
might be directed towards encouraging the use of Article 19 by
declaring that an expression of opinion by a sufficient majority
of the Assembly on any issue brought before it under this Article
should be regarded as indicative of the probable attitude of
League, members in considering any action that might subsequently
be taken by the States concerned to give effect to that opinion.

Finally, the resolution might include proposals in regard to the
application of the unanimity rule under Article 11, paragraph 1,
and in regard to the separate and independent existence of the

(4) In connection with the above proposals the terms of the joint
communique issued by the Foreign Ministers of Belgium, Luxembourg,
Holland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark after their meeting on July
23-24 are noteworthy.

'Convinced that their states should continue their participation
in the work of the League of Nations, they have put on record that
their Governments are decided to maintain that line of action
which they indicated by declaring that they regarded the system of
sanctions under present conditions and as practised in past years
as of a non-obligatory character. They consider further, that this
non-obligatory character of sanctions applies not only to a
special group of states but to all members of the League of
Nations. They are convinced that, in the interests of the League
of Nations, this right to independent judgment should be expressly
established. It is from this standpoint that they are preparing
their participation in the discussions of the report laid before
the Assembly for its consideration by the Committee of Twenty-
(5) His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will be glad to
learn the views of other British Commonwealth Governments on the
above suggestions, and if as they trust these suggestions are
generally acceptable to these Governments, it is hoped that they
will be prepared to instruct their representatives at the Assembly
to support proposals on the foregoing lines.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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