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A RESOLUTION INSTEAD OF THE COVENANT

As it seemed advisable, in view of the incident of January 10, to have nothing to do with the drafting of the Covenant unless the entire theory was changed, the fact that there prevailed at that time a general belief that a preliminary treaty of peace would be negotiated in the near future invited an effort to delay the consideration of a complete and detailed charter of the League of Nations until the definitive treaty or a separate treaty dealing with the League alone was considered. As delay would furnish time to study and discuss the subject and prevent hasty acceptance of an undesirable or defective plan, it seemed to me that the advisable course to take was to limit reference to the organization in the preliminary treaty to general principles.

The method that I had in mind in carrying out this policy was to secure the adoption, by the Conference on the Preliminaries of Peace, of a resolution embodying a series of declarations as to the creation, the nature, and the purposes of a League of Nations, which declarations could be included in the preliminary treaty of peace accompanied by an article providing for the negotiation of a detailed plan based on these declarations at the time of the negotiation of the definitive treaty or else by an article providing for the summoning of a world congress, in which all nations, neutrals as well as belligerents, would be represented and have a voice in the drafting of a convention establishing a League of Nations in accordance with the general principles declared in the preliminary treaty. Personally I preferred a separate treaty, but doubted the possibility of obtaining the assent of the Conference to that plan because some of the delegates showed a feeling of resentment toward certain neutral nations on account of their attitude during the war, while the inclusion of the four powers which had formed the Central Alliance seemed almost out of the question.

In addition to the advantage to be gained by postponing the determination of the details of the organization until the theory, the form, the purposes and the powers of the proposed League could be thoroughly considered, it would make possible the speedy restoration of a state of peace. There can be no doubt that peace at the earliest possible moment was the supreme need of the world. The political and social chaos in the Central Empires, due to the overthrow of their strong autocratic governments and the prevailing want, suffering, and despair, in which the war had left their peoples, offered a fertile field for the pernicious doctrines of Bolshevism to take root and thrive. A proletarian revolution seemed imminent. The Spartacists in Germany, the Radical Socialists in Austria, and the Communists in Hungary were the best organized and most vigorous of the political groups in those countries and were conducting an active and seemingly successful propaganda among the starving and hopeless masses, while the Russian duumvirs, Lenine and Trotsky, were with funds and emissaries aiding these movements against established authority and social order. Eastern Europe seemed to be a volcano on the very point of eruption. Unless something was speedily done to check the peril, it threatened to spread to other countries and even to engulf the very foundations of modern civilization.

A restoration of commercial relations and of normal industrial conditions through the medium of a treaty of peace appeared to offer the only practical means of resisting these movements and of saving Europe from the horrors of a proletarian despotism which had brought the Russian people to so low a state. This was the common judgment of those who at that time watched with increasing impatience the slow progress of the negotiations at Paris and with apprehension the political turmoil in the defeated and distracted empires of Central Europe.

An immediate restoration of peace was, as I then saw it, of vital importance to the world as it was the universal demand of all mankind. To delay it for the purpose of completing the organization of a League of Nations or for any other purpose than the formulation of terms essential to peace seemed to me to be taking a risk as to the future wholly unwarranted by the relative importance of the subjects. There is no question, in the light of subsequent events, that the peoples of the Central Empires possessed a greater power of resistance to the temptations of lawlessness and disorder than was presumed in the winter of 1918-19. And yet it was a critical time. Anything might have happened. It would have taken very little to turn the scale. What occurred later cannot excuse the delay in making peace. It was not wise statesmanship and foresight that saved the world from a great catastrophe but the fortunate circumstance that a people habituated to obedience were not led astray by the enemies of the existing order.

Of the importance of negotiating a peace without waiting to complete a detailed plan for a League of Nations I was firmly convinced in those early days at Paris, and I know that the President’s judgment as to this was contrary to mine. He considered at least his course can only be so interpreted that the organization of a League in all its details was the principal task to be accomplished by the Conference, a task that he felt must be completed before other matters were settled. The conclusion is that the necessity of an immediate peace seemed to him subordinate to the necessity of erecting an international agency to preserve the peace when it was restored. In fact one may infer that the President was disposed to employ the general longing for peace as a means of exerting pressure on the delegates in Paris and on their Governments to accept his plan for a League. It is generally believed that objections to certain provisions of the Covenant were not advanced or, if advanced, were not urged because the discussion of objections would mean delay in negotiating the peace.

Mr. Wilson gave most of his time and thought prior to his departure for the United States in February, 1919, to the revision of the plan of organization which he had prepared and to the conversion of the more influential members of the Conference to its support. While other questions vital to a preliminary peace treaty were brought up in the Council of Ten, he showed a disposition to keep them open and to avoid their settlement until the Covenant had been reported to the Conference. In this I could not conscientiously follow him. I felt that the policy was wholly wrong since it delayed the peace.

Though recognizing the President’s views as to the relative importance of organizing a League and of restoring peace without delay, and suspecting that he purposed to use the impatience and fear of the delegates to break down objections to his plan of organization, I still hoped that the critical state of affairs in Europe might induce him to adopt another course. With that hope I began the preparation of a resolution to be laid before the Conference, which, if adopted, would appear in the preliminary treaty in the form of declarations which would constitute the bases of a future negotiation regarding a League of Nations.

At a conference on January 20 between the President and the American Commissioners, all being present except Colonel House, I asked the President if he did not think that, in view of the shortness of time before he would be compelled to return to Washington on account of the approaching adjournment of Congress, it would be well to prepare a resolution of this sort and to have it adopted in order that it might clear the way for the determination of other matters which should be included in a preliminary treaty. From the point of view of policy I advanced the argument that a series of declarations would draw the fire of the opponents and critics of the League and would give opportunity for an expression of American public opinion which would make possible the final drafting of the charter of a League in a way to win the approval of the great mass of the American people and in all probability insure approval of the Covenant by the Senate of the United States.

In reviewing what took place at this conference I realize now, as I did not then, that it was impolitic for me to have presented an argument based on the assumption that changes in the President’s plan might be necessary, as he might interpret my words to be another effort to revise the theory of his plan. At the time, however, I was so entirely convinced of the expediency of this course, from the President’s own point of view as well as from the point of view of those who gave first place to restoring peace, that I believed he would see the advantage to be gained and would adopt the course suggested. I found that I was mistaken. Mr. Wilson without discussing the subject said that he did not think that a resolution of that sort was either necessary or advisable.

While this definite rejection of the proposal seemed to close the door to further effort in that direction, I decided to make another attempt before abandoning the plan. The next afternoon (January 21) at a meeting of the Council of Ten, the discussion developed in a way that gave me an excuse to present the proposal informally to the Council. The advantages to be gained by adopting the suggested action apparently appealed to the members, and their general approval of it impressed the President, for he asked me in an undertone if I had prepared the resolution. I replied that I had been working upon it, but had ceased when he said to me the day before that he did not think it necessary or advisable, adding that I would complete the draft if he wished me to do so. He said that he would be obliged to me if I would prepare one.

Encouraged by the support received in the Council and by the seeming willingness of the President to give the proposal consideration, I proceeded at once to draft a resolution.

The task was not an easy one because it would have been useless to insert in the document any declaration which seemed to be contradictory of the President’s theory of an affirmative guaranty or which was not sufficiently broad to be interpreted in other terms in the event that American public opinion was decidedly opposed to his theory, as I felt that it would be. It was also desirable, from my point of view, that the resolution should contain a declaration in favor of the equality of nations or one which would prevent the establishment of an oligarchy of the Great Powers, and another declaration which would give proper place to the administration of legal justice in international disputes.

The handicaps and difficulties under which I labored are manifest, and the resolution as drafted indicates them in that it does not express as clearly and unequivocally as it would otherwise do the principles which formed the bases of the articles which I handed to the President on January 7 and which have already been quoted in extenso.

The text of the resolution, which was completed on the 22d, reads as follows:

Resolved that the Conference makes the following declaration:

“That the preservation of international peace is the standing policy
of civilization and to that end a league of nations should be
organized to prevent international wars;

“That it is a fundamental principle of peace that all nations are equally entitled to the undisturbed possession of their respective territories, to the full exercise of their respective sovereignties, and to the use of the high seas as the common property of all peoples; and

“That it is the duty of all nations to engage by mutual covenants

“(1) To safeguard from invasion the sovereign rights of one another;

“(2) To submit to arbitration all justiciable disputes which fail of
settlement by diplomatic arrangement;

“(3) To submit to investigation by the league of nations all
non-justiciable disputes which fail of settlement by diplomatic
arrangement; and

“(4) To abide by the award of an arbitral tribunal and to respect a
report of the league of nations after investigation;

“That the nations should agree upon

“(1) A plan for general reduction of armaments on land and sea;

“(2) A plan for the restriction of enforced military service and the
governmental regulation and control of the manufacture and sale of
munitions of war;

“(3) Full publicity of all treaties and international agreements;

“(4) The equal application to all other nations of commercial and
trade regulations and restrictions imposed by any nation; and

“(5) The proper regulation and control of new states pending complete
independence and sovereignty.”

This draft of a resolution was discussed with the other American Commissioners, and after some changes of a more or less minor character which it seemed advisable to make because of the appointment of a Commission on the League of Nations at a plenary session of the Conference on January 25, of which Commission President Wilson and Colonel House were the American members, I sent the draft to the President on the 31st, four days before the Commission held its first meeting in Colonel House’s office at the Hotel Crillon.

As the Sixty-Fifth Congress would come to an end on March 4, and as the interpretation which had been placed on certain provisions of the Federal Constitution required the presence of the Chief Executive in Washington during the last days of a session in order that he might pass upon legislation enacted in the days immediately preceding adjournment, Mr. Wilson had determined that he could not remain in Paris after February 14. At the time that I sent him the proposed resolution there remained, therefore, but two weeks for the Commission on the League of Nations to organize, to deliberate, and to submit its report to the Conference, provided its report was made prior to the President’s departure for the United States. It did not seem to me conceivable that the work of the Commission could be properly completed in so short a time if the President’s Covenant became the basis of its deliberations. This opinion was shared by many others who appreciated the difficulties and intricacies of the subject and who felt that a hasty and undigested report would be unwise and endanger the whole plan of a world organization.

In view of this situation, which seemed to be a strong argument for delay in drafting the plan of international organization, I wrote a letter to the President, at the time I sent him the proposed resolution, saying that in my opinion no plan could be prepared with sufficient care to warrant its submission to the Conference on the Preliminaries of Peace before he left Paris and that unless a plan was reported he would be in the position of returning empty-handed to the United States. I urged him in the circumstances to secure the adoption of a resolution by the delegates similar in nature, if not in language, to the draft which was enclosed, thereby avoiding a state of affairs which would be very disheartening to the advocates of a League of Nations and cause general discontent among all peoples who impatiently expected evidence that the restoration of peace was not far distant.

It would be presumptuous on my part to speculate on the President’s feelings when he received and read my letter and the proposed resolution. It was never answered or acknowledged, and he did not act upon the suggestion or discuss acting upon it, to my knowledge, with any of his colleagues. On the contrary, he summoned the Commission on the League of Nations to meet on February 3, eleven days before the date fixed for his departure for the United States, and laid before that body his revised draft of a Covenant which formed the groundwork for the Commission’s report presented to the Conference on February 14.

The question naturally arises Why did the President ask me to complete and send to him the resolution embodying a series of declarations if he did not intend to make it a subject of consideration and discussion? It is a pertinent question, but the true answer remains with Mr. Wilson himself. Possibly he concluded that the only way to obtain his plan for a League was to insist upon its practical acceptance before peace was negotiated, and that, unless he took advantage of the universal demand for peace by making the acceptance of the Covenant a condition precedent, he would be unable to obtain its adoption. While I believe this is a correct supposition, it is not responsive to the question as to the reason why he wished me to deliver to him a draft resolution. In fact it suggests another question What, from the President’s point of view, was to be gained by having the resolution in his hands?

I think the answer is not difficult to find when one remembers that Mr. Wilson had disapproved a resolution of that sort and that the Council of Ten had seemed disposed to approve it. There was no surer way to prevent me from bringing the subject again before the Council than by having the proposed resolution before him for action. Having submitted it to him I was bound, on account of our official relationship, to await his decision before taking any further steps. In a word, his request for a draft practically closed my mouth and tied my hands. If he sought to check my activities with the members of the Council in favor of the proposed course of action, he could have taken no more effectual way than the one which he did take. It was undoubtedly an effective means of “pigeonholing” a resolution, the further discussion of which might interfere with his plan to force through a report upon the Covenant before the middle of February.

This opinion as to the motive which impelled the President to pursue the course that he did in regard to a resolution was not the one held by me at the time. It was formed only after subsequent events threw new light on the subject. The delay perplexed me at the time, but the reason for it was not evident. I continued to hope, even after the Commission on the League of Nations had assembled and had begun its deliberations, that the policy of a resolution would be adopted. But, as the days went by and the President made no mention of the proposal, I realized that he did not intend to discuss it, and the conviction was forced upon me that he had never intended to have it discussed. It was a disappointing result and one which impressed me with the belief that Mr. Wilson was prejudiced against any suggestion that I might make, if it in any way differed with his own ideas even though it found favor with others.