25 SEPTEMBER 1936, Page 5


HE circumstances in which the Seventeenth Assembly of the League of NatiOns has met this week give friends. of the League little reason for

Self-congratulation ; and the honest observer cannot , • -..

report ah3/:' rift in the clouds which haVe been banking UP. mare and more heavily atGeneira, singe. the " Black Assembly " of 1931, when sterling went off gold and the Japanese seized Mukden. For those who remember GeneVa in the great yearS from 1924 to 1930 the contrast is a painful one. In thOse years the League was rapidly beedming the focus of every- thing that mattered in international' affairs ; and each -sUccessive Assembly seemed to mark some fresh 'progress iri jvMt has come to be knoWn as the of peace." The 1936 AsseinblY is deiroid of hope and almost &Void 4 ambition— except to slip, without open 'discredit, through the political shoalS which confront it. The most im- portant international 'organ functioning at the present time—the Non4nterverition Coniinittee • for the Spanish Civil "Warsits in London. The' hOpeS of European peace are focussed on preparations for a conference , which may meet later in the year in London; The Hague, Lansa.nnealniost anywhere but Geneva; For the fulfilnient of the ideas which inspired the Covenant, what happens outside-Geneva is far more iMportant than the Assembly Of the League itself. Nciti-itlistanding these indisputable facts, it may none:the less be' felt that the perspective WhiCh, ten year ago, had been unduly twisted in 'favour of the League; now suffers a corresponding distortion in the opposite sense. The standard of comparison used by our present-day pessimists in judging the League of 1936' is too often not the- League of-1919' but the League of 1929. There is a great difference. In 'the later !twenties the League greNi- with a meteoric rapidity which temporarilysorne permanently .—weakened AS constitution ; arid it is froni this weakness -that we are suffering today. • The Covenant is a modest, and therefore a statesmanlike, document. It makes war more 'difficult. It obliges a member of the League' to bring his 'grieVanceS to Geneva ; birt once he 'has honestly tried, and failed, to obtain satisfaction by peaceful 'means, it does. not (unless his fellow-members on the Council pronounce unani- mously against him) prohibit him in the last resort from taking the law into his own hands. The Kellogg Pact, follo*ed 'by the 'General Act for Com- pulSory arbitration, closed-this famous " gap in the Covenant." Everything was perfect on paper.' But • the statesmen of 192829, unlike those of ten years earlier, had "forgotten reality. The safety-valve -hid been:stopped ; 'and two mighty' explosions shook the wholeAsysteth-of the Coirenant lb its' foundations. Taking as our - starting-point not the perfected League of 1929 but the League of the Covenant, let us consider its record in dealing with disputes during the sixteen years which have passed since the First Assembly. It quickly showed that it could settle disputes, and even stop war, between lesser. States. It is no answer to say that the old Concert of Europe could have done the same ; for a, regular procedure is better and safer ihad.brilliant improvisation. It has proved its utility in dealing with disputes between a small and a Great Power—if only the Great Power is prepared 'to resort to it. Great Britain has an himiourable record in this respect. Her disputes with Turkey over the Mosul frontier, with Persia over the oil concession, and with Finland over shipping claims, have all been successfully handled by the League— the' two first having been brought before it by Great Britain herself.

It is, however, Unfortunately true that major failures have not only obscured minor achievement-S, but have made it less likely that the, League will be used in future even for functions which it has shown itself capable of performing. _ It is therefore to the' lesSons of Manchuria and Abyssinia that the student of the League must turn. In the Man- churian affair the League had for the first time to decide whether it would pit itself against a Great Power. It 'decidCd unanimously that it would. It refused to accept Japan's specious pleas, it made a most iniportant departure in League method by the

appointment of Lord Lytton's commission of inves- .

ligation ; it gave unhesitating approval to the finding which the commission embodied in a report described by Mr. Stimson, American Secretary of State at the time, as " not only momentous but unprecedented " ; it pledged its members not to recognise the regime set up by force by Japan in violatiOn of treaties. At that point it failed. No sanctions were imposed on japan ; Manchuria was not saved. One general lesson to be drawn from the whole episode was the obvious one that the League cannot functiOn in the Far East without effective American co-operation.. As to why that co-operation was not made effective there has been a good deal of recrimination into which it would be purposeless to enter here. It is enough to say, and satisfactory to be able to say, that America's relations with the League have never been more cordial than

they are at this moment. "

The case of Abyssinia was like that 'of Manchuria in that the League again found itself pitted against a Great Power: Again there was no hesitation when the final crisis came—though there had been unfor tunate proerastinations before that. The aggresSor Was unanimously condemned, and the sanctions. which were not invoked against Japan were put in operation against Italy_ They I.Were only partial sanctions, but such as they were they were carried out with all reasonable loyalty by League States, and but for two unexpected factors, the use of gas by the Italians and the faithlessness of the Ethiopian chiefs to the Emperor, Ethiopia would have resisted -successfully till . the rains came, and the sanctions • Would. have had tine to do their -work. As it was the League failed again—but at a point considerably further along the road to success-than-in the -ease Of Japan. This is a fact froth which legitimate erieour- agement may be. drawn. But more significant is another reason for the failure. Briefly, the League failed because France under M. Laval was lukewarm ; And France was lukewarm because Italy was not Gerina- ny. The essence .Of the present League crisis is that France has so far made it all too plain that collective security is, in her eyes, a system of defence, not against aggression in general, but against German aggression and against that alone. If that view were to prevail—it is by no means certain that -France under M. Blum insists on it to the same degree—the League would cease to be anything but a Holy Alliance for the maintenance of Versailles, and its dooin would • he certain: But the League is still far too valuable and effective an insirument for .such a fate. There is still time for a fresh start ; and that start may come from the " Locarno " negotiations which are now in train.