EVER since peace was made in 1919 the year 1935 had been looked forward to as a year of crisis, and anticipation was in no way belied. Crisis arose as the moment for taking the plebiscite in the Saar approached. Crisis arose unexpectedly over a dispute between Hungary and Jugoslavia, perilous because of the prospect that Great Powers might be involved in the quarrel of lesser States. Crisis arose again, graver and more protracted, when Italy carried out her menace and attacked Abyssinia in October. And crisis has threatened repeatedly, and threatens still, in those remote regions beyond China's northern frontier where Russian territory and Japanese adjoin. Such a heritage does 1935 leave to the year on which we are entering now. It is not altogether a heritage of ill. The Saar plebiscite as it was handled by the League of Nations, mainly at the instance of this country, was a triumph for the reign Of law in a largely anarchic world. The Hungaro-Jugoslav settle- ment was a triumph for the method of conciliation backed by a sane and vigorous public opinion. And the Halo-Abyssinian conflict, deplorable as it is, has tested sternly the loyalty of the remaining members of the League of Nations to its Covenant and not found it wanting. The question dominating all others in 1936 is how that loyalty will stand a continued strain. Is 1936 to see the League of Nations vindicated or broken ?
To that question must be added another hardly less pertinent : Is the future, so far at least as 1936 is concerned, with democracy or dictatorship? On forms of government every country must make its own decision. Nothing could be more misguided in its purpose or more fatal in its results than an attempt to alter a country's constitution from without. But there is no need to ignore what we cannot change. And the fact is patent that among the Great Powers of the world today the three in which a personal or oligarchic dictatorship holds uncontrolled sway are the three whose external policies most profoundly disturb the world. Germany and Japan have left the League of Nations, the latter because she was con- victed of a violation of its Covenant. Italy is openly violating its Covenant today, and has taken action that constitutes an act of war against every Covenant-observing State. Germany's foreign policy is obscure. It is by no means clear, how far the offers made by Herr Hitler in his speech of last May still -hold good, particularly in the matter of the limitation of air armaments. There have been disquieting reports regarding the Fiihrer's attitude, but they lack confirmation so far. Japan's relentless penetra- tion into China and Mongolia contributes some new item to the foreign pages of the newspapers daily. Russia, the fourth of the dictatorships, it is instructive to observe, is being transformed into a factor of stability instead of a factor of disturbance abroad as she modifies the rigours of autocracy at home.
These alignments are significant, because, while in international affairs dictatorships and democracies Must co-operate as best they can, since both exist, the fact remains that the world is and must be organised internationally on a democratic basis, and into that organisation democracies naturally fit more easily than dictatorships. The growth of democracy in individual countries, therefore, makes on the whole for the strength and effectiveness of the League of Nations and the collective system—if only because in a democratic country when a Government falters in its duty to the League there is a force behind it capable of recalling it sharply to its allegiance. We have just witnessed a notable example of that in this country— so notable that it is almost legitimate to condone the lapse for the display of public resolution it evoked.
For what happened in Great Britain in December is vital to the survival of the collective system, and the collective system is vital to the survival of civilisation. We are still a little dazed at the arresting phenomenon of a democracy asserting itself swiftly, passionately and irresistibly in defence of a threatened principle. What made it irresistible ? How were its force and volume to be measured ? Why did the Rothermeres and Bea.verbrooks and Garvins suddenly become as negligible as chaff ? There are many answers to that. Members of Parliament in particular bad abundant opportunity of dis- covering what their constituents felt, and .their own attitude was powerfully influenced thereby—as in a democratic State it should be. But the funda- mental fact, which no one has ventured to challenge seriously, is that the country did, in a dozen ways, declare itself unmistakably and overwhelmingly in opposition to any peace settlement that would enable an aggressor to draw profit from his aggression. That is a landmark in the history of a democracy in its international relations.
But the triumph of democracy in Great Britain must not too much overshadow recent events in the other great democratic country of Europe— France. Last Saturday's debate and vote in the Chamber are highly significant. M. Laval came under the same criticism as his partner in the formu- lation of the peace plan, Sir Samuel Hoare. He survived, because his defeat would have meant the downfall of the Government, which no one wanted, but by a majority so narrow as to leave no moral advantage to his supporters over his critics, and as the result of a singularly adroit speech in which he was constrained to identify himself more fully than ever before with the collective' system and the execution of the Covenant. At the same time the French Parliament, by decreeing the dissolution of the armed political Leagues, has affirmed the principle lying at the root of democracy, that the will of the whole people, constitutionally expressed, must prevail, not the will of factions backed by force.
France and Britain may still not see completely eye to eye in such a question as oil sanctions, but in the application of all the sanctions so far decided on by the League they are co-operating with complete loyalty, and, which is of immense importance, close on fifty other States are co-operat- ing. with them. That may not be a success beyond all reasonable expectation, but it is a success beyond all actual expectation ; and if that unity can be maintained till it has achieved its end, the world will have seen a way of salvation at last made real. And the only way. For what other is there ? Indi- vidual armaments, .raised even higher in response to the increasing armaments of other States ? Who believes in the salvation either of victor or of vanquished in the confliet to which rival armaments must inevitably lead ? What but the massed co- operation of the nations that stand for peace can 'intimidate,- or if need be hold in check, a wanton aggressor ? The League of Nations started its present crusade under a handicap. Plans which ought to have been Worked out at leisure years ago had to be improvised precipitately on the eve of action. But they have stood the test, and for a testimony to their efficacy it is only necessary to read • between the lines of Signor Mussolini's speech to the Fascist Grand Council on Monday. Above all, the comfortable conviction that the League, when faced with crisis, would give way has been shattered finally. That is a stern fact for any would- be aggressor to reckon with. Let the League main- tain its pressure reluctantly but firmly and 1936 will be a year of disillusion for would-be aggressors and a year of hope and achievement for the world.