12 OCTOBER 1929, Page 15

The League of Nations

Sovereignty and


nu: spirit of mischief is seldom far from any place where two or three are gathered together, and it has to be recorded —with satisfaction as well as surprise—that the imp even had the temerity to invade this year's sessions of the League Assembly. What else can account for the sudden trans- formation which fell upon the Sixth Committee when it was decorously discussing the riots in Palestine ? Nothing less than the imp, lurking, like Puck,

" in a gossip's bowl.

In very likeness of a roasted crab," can have bobbed against the lips of the august assemblage so that, hey presto, in a moment the statesmen were engaged in an animated discussion on—sovereignty.

It is to be feared that there is not only mischief but an element of glee in the way the Mandate-less States like Italy and Poland take every opportunity of rubbing in the fact that France, Great Britain, and in particular South Africa, do not exercise undiluted authority over their respective mandated territories. Thus, Italy, in the Sixth Committee of the Assembly, even went so far as to declare that the mandates are only " temporary." Sir Granville Ryrie's retort that if the mandates had really been temporary, Australia would not have accepted hers, though unanswerable, was nevertheless couched in such terms as to show that the Italian shaft had barbs.

Unofficial Poland has been even more precise than official Italy and talks openly of the whole question coming up

for review in 1931 (see the Polish Economist, July, 1929). The Paris correspondent of the Daily Express has also voiced this curious idea, the origin of which I have been unable to trace. The hope seems to be entirely groundless.

The Sixth Committee is not the only part of the League's organization to have risen to the imp's bait. The sovereignty complex had already shown itself (and by no means for- the first time) on several occasions during the July session of the Permanent Mandates Commission—in the examination of the annual report for French Togoland, for Tanganyika, and half a dozen times in connexion with South-West Africa. Unable to agree about it, the Mandates Commission referred it to the Council. The Council's RappOrteur, Mr. Procope, of Finland, traced the discussion back to 1927 and then pro- ceeded to repeat the dictum of his " distinguished prede- cessor," Mr. Belaerts von Blokland, of the Netherlands, who on September 8th of that year informed his colleagues on the Council that the relationship of mandatory to mandated territories " is clearly a new one in international law, and for this reason the use of some of the time-hdnoured terminology in the same way as previously is perhaps sometimes inappro- priate to the new conditions." Mr. Procope added to this very tactful statement a little shaft of his own as follows : I think all my colleagues will agree with me that there is no reason to modify in any way this opinion, which states implicitly that sovereignty, in the traditional sense of the word, does not reside in the mandatory Power."

Although it should be said that comment in the corridors was not entirely in accord with Mr. Procope's view, it would nevertheless appear at first sight from his parting shot that our imp of mischief had made a decidedly successful onslaught on mandatory Powers in general. For if sovereignty does not reside with the mandatory, with whom does it reside ?

No doubt it would be a source of some satisfaction to those Powers which are not the fortunate custodians, shall we say, of mandated territories if they could argue from Mr. Procope's dictum that since the sovereignty does not vest in the mandatory Power it must belong to the League, and therefore, in part at any rate, to themselves. Perhaps some of them even cherish a spark of hope that one day the League will come to them and offer them their turn of these allegedly desirable wardships. But unfortunately this house of cards colllapses completely when it is examined more closely. In the first place, the mandates were bestowed, not by the League, but by the " Big Five " of the Peace Conference. It would be necessary, in fact, not only for Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan to agree to the transfer of a mandated area to another guardian, but for the United States to agree likewise—as, for instance, was done when Great Britain voluntarily severed Ruanda-L'rundi from Tanganyika in order to give it into the custody of Belgium. This consent has already, in a sense, been given in advance in respect of the " A " mandates in so far as Article 22 of the Covenant provides for the districts in question—Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Transjordania—joining the League as soon as a limited period of tutelage is over. But much pain and travail would be necessary before sanction could be obtained for any transfer of " B " and " C " mandates ; and even if the fence of the Big Five were successfully surmounted, there would still remain another in the shape of the Assembly and Council of the League which would have to agree to accept the new mandatory. When this happened in the case of Ruanda- Urundi Germany had not yet been admitted to the League.

Probably the key to the whole debate is to be found in the fact that each protagonist has a different conception of the meaning of the word under discussion. What does " sovereignty " mean ? The eminent international lawyer, Mr. W. L. Bisschop, has written that the word was " born in the sixteenth century under circumstances when absolutism in the person of the king was part of the political ideas of the time." But " the advance of democracy caused the original conception no longer to harmonize with the new ideas which grew up around it." He adds significantly, " No conception has been a greater hindrance to the development of a commonwealth of nations."

According to Sir John Fischer Williams, the proper use of the " much-abused word sovereignty ' " is to be found in " a relation of person to person, not the relation of a person to a thing." Another -authority, Mr. A. E. McNair, thinks that " very little practical help is obtained by attempting to apply existing conceptions of sovereignty to such a novel state of affairs as the mandate system presents."

Nevertheless, it is certain that something needs to be done to clear up the present position. Take the ease of French Togoland : in the last annual report to the Mandates Commission mention was made of a category of "'native French citizens." This phrase was at once pounced upon by some of the members of the Commission. Was it the intention of the mandatory that the natives of the country were to be assimilated to France ? The French representative intimated that " collective nationalization " was not intended. But he added that the term " citizenship " as applied to Togolanders had aroused misgivings in the minds of the French authorities, for it might appear to imply the existence of a kind of independent State. Until the middle way between complete subjection and complete independence has been accurately mapped out, there is bound to be trouble. The difficulties which have arisen in connexion with South- West Africa are another case in point. And if further examples are needed they are to be found in such incidents as the complaint of the Permanent Mandates Commission at its last session that Sir Donald Cameron, the Governor of Tanganyika, had called King George " sovereign " of the territory in a cable addressed to His Majesty. The P.M.C. gravely reproved Sir Donald for this dreadful offence, saying that they thought he had a better understanding of the mandates system than to commit such an error.

It is therefore an excellent thing that the jurists who have in hand the question of the codification of international law should have put the mandate system into their list of items to be dealt with. It is to be hoped that when this subject comes before a codification conference, the need of stan- dardizing the legal phraseology will not be lost sight of.

The relationship of States and the functions of governments have so changed since the War that not only are old definitions obsolete, but in many respects an entirely new nomenclature is really needed if any degree of clarity and precision is to be obtained. In no case is the need greater than in regard to mandates, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the imp of Mischief for calling attention to this fact.