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45 Summary of Proceedings of Imperial Conference

Extract LONDON, 14 June 1937


At the Plenary Meeting of the Imperial Conference on 14th May, the
Chairman [1] made the following statement in the course of his
opening speech:-

'Though we shall discuss other important subjects, we are agreed
that questions of foreign affairs and defence shall be our main
subjects. It is fitting that they should be. For we are met at a
time when the international situation is difficult and even
threatening, and the responsibility rests upon us to see that our
deliberations not only are of service to ourselves but also may
help in some measure towards the solution of those international
problems which are now perplexing the world.'

Similar views were expressed by other speakers, and, as indicated
in Section V above, it was then agreed at this Plenary Meeting
that questions of foreign affairs should be discussed at meetings
of Principal Delegates. A series of meetings, of which the first
took place on the 19th May, was devoted to the consideration of
various aspects of foreign affairs under the heads of the general
international situation including the League of Nations, the
European situation, and the Pacific and the Far East.

On behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made comprehensive
statements under all these heads. He also kept the Conference
informed of the current international situation. Statements as to
the views of their respective Governments were made by the Prime
Ministers of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand,
and the Union of South Africa, and by the Marquess of Zetland on
behalf of the Indian Delegation. General appreciation of all these
reviews was expressed. The statements on behalf of the Delegations
were followed by full and frank discussion, and it was agreed that
the exchange of views, especially at the present juncture of
international affairs, was of great value to the representatives
gathered at the Conference. During the discussions emphasis was
laid on the importance of developing the practice of communication
and consultation between the respective Governments as a help to
the co-ordination of policies.

The Conference recorded the results of its deliberations on the
subject of foreign affairs in the following statement:-

The representatives of the Governments of the British Commonwealth
of Nations gathered in the Conference, have in the course of their
proceedings had an opportunity of exchanging views upon foreign
affairs and the international situation as it affects their
respective interests and responsibilities.

While no attempt was made to formulate commitments, which in any
event could not be made effective until approved and confirmed by
the respective Parliaments, the representatives of the Governments
concerned found themselves in close agreement upon a number of
general propositions which they thought it desirable to set out in
the present statement. [2]

Thus they agreed that for each member of the Commonwealth the
first objective is the preservation of peace. In their view the
settlement of differences that may arise between nations and the
adjustment of national needs should be sought by methods of co-
operation, joint inquiry and conciliation. It is in such methods,
and not in recourse to the use of force between nation and nation,
that the surest guarantee will be found for the improvement of
international relations and respect for mutual engagements.

Holding these views and desiring to base their policies upon the
aims and ideals of the League of Nations, they found themselves
unanimous in declaring that their respective armaments will never
be used for purposes of aggression or for any purpose inconsistent
with the Covenant of the League of Nations or the Pact of Paris.

[3] At the same time, being impressed with the desirability of
strengthening the influence of the League by the enlargement of
its membership, they united in expressing the view that this
object would be facilitated by the separation of the Covenant from
the Treaties of Peace. Observing that in respect of certain
regions in which a number of States have special interests,
regional agreements of friendship and collaboration between
individual members of the British Commonwealth and the other
States so interested have been entered upon or may be
contemplated, they welcomed all such agreements insofar as they
can be made to contribute to the cause of peace, and do not
conflict with the Covenant of the League of Nations.

They noted with interest the statement made on behalf of the
Australian Delegation at the opening Plenary Meeting that
Australia would greatly welcome a regional understanding and pact
of non-aggression by the countries of the Pacific, and would be
prepared to collaborate to that end with all the peoples of the
Pacific region in a spirit of understanding and sympathy. They
agreed that if such an arrangement could be made it would be a
desirable contribution to the cause of peace and to the continued
maintenance of friendly relations in the Pacific, and that it
should be the subject of further consultation between Governments.

They all desired earnestly to see as wide a measure of disarmament
as could be obtained. At the same time they were agreed that the
several Governments of which they are the representatives are
bound to adopt such measures of defence as they may deem essential
for their security, as well as for the fulfilment of such
international obligations as they may respectively have assumed.

Being convinced that the influence of each of them in the cause of
peace was likely to be greatly enhanced by their common agreement
to use that influence in the same direction, they declared their
intention of continuing to consult and co-operate with one another
in this vital interest and all other matters of common concern.

The representatives of the several Governments concerned further
had under review the possibility of reviving confidence and
increasing the stability of economic and financial conditions in
the world, a process which they considered essential to the
prosperity of individual countries as well as to international
peace. In order to assist in furthering this end, they declared
themselves ready to co-operate with other nations in examining
current difficulties, including trade barriers and other obstacles
to the increase of international trade and the improvement of the
general standard of living.

Finally the Members of the Conference, while themselves firmly
attached to the principles of democracy and to parliamentary forms
of government, decided to register their view that differences of
political creed should be no obstacle to friendly relations
between Governments and countries, and that nothing would be more
damaging to the hopes of international appeasement than the
division, real or apparent, of the world into opposing groups.

1 U.K. Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. For his speech (not
printed) See FA : Imp. Conf 1937, Meetings, E(37) 1.

2 A footnote in the original read 'It was understood and agreed
that nothing in this statement should be held to diminish the
right of His Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom, Canada,
the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South
Africa, and the Government of India to advocate and support their
statements of policy as submitted to the Assembly of the League of
Nations in September, 1936.'
3 The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 27 August 1928.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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