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would unavoidably fall upon the more powerful nations, they could
reasonably demand the control over affairs which might develop into a
situation requiring a resort to the guaranty. In fact during a plenary
session of the Peace Conference held on May 31, 1919, President Wilson
stated as a broad principle that responsibility for protecting and
maintaining a settlement under one of the Peace Treaties carried with it
the right to determine what that settlement should be. The application
to the case of responsible guarantors is obvious and was apparently in
mind when the Covenant was being evolved. The same principle was applied
throughout the negotiations at Paris.

The mutual guaranty from its affirmative nature compelled in fact,
though not in form, the establishment of a ruling group, a coalition of
the Great Powers, and denied, though not in terms, the equality of
nations. The oligarchy was the logical result of entering into the
guaranty or the guaranty was the logical result of the creation of the
oligarchy through the perpetuation of the basic idea of the Supreme War
Council. No distinction was made as to a state of war and a state of
peace. Strongly opposed to the abandonment of the principle of the
equality of nations in times of peace I naturally opposed the
affirmative guaranty and endeavored to persuade the President to accept
as a substitute for it a self-denying or negative covenant which
amounted to a promise of "hands-off" and in no way required the
formation of an international oligarchy to make it effective.

In addition to the foregoing objection I opposed the guaranty on the
ground that it was politically inexpedient to attempt to bind the United
States by a treaty provision which by its terms would certainly invite
attack as to its constitutionality. Without entering into the strength
of the legal argument, and without denying that there are two sides to
the question, the fact that it was open to debate whether the
treaty-making power under the Constitution could or could not obligate
the Government of the United States to make war under certain conditions
was in my judgment a practical reason for avoiding the issue. If the
power existed to so bind the United States by treaty on the theory that
the Federal Government could not be restricted in its right to make
international agreements, then the guaranty would be attacked as an
unwise and needless departure from the traditional policies of the
Republic. If the power did not exist, then the violation of the
Constitution would be an effective argument against such an undertaking.
Whatever the conclusion might be, therefore, as to the legality of the
guaranty or as to whether the obligation was legal or moral in nature,
it did not seem possible for it to escape criticism and vigorous attack
in America.

It seemed to me that the President's guaranty was so vulnerable from
every angle that to insist upon it would endanger the acceptance of any
treaty negotiated if the Covenant was, in accordance with the
President's plan, made an integral part of it. Then, too, opposition
would, in my opinion, develop on the ground that the guaranty would
permit European Powers to participate, if they could not act
independently, in the forcible settlement of international quarrels in
the Western Hemisphere whenever there was an actual invasion of
territory or violation of sovereignty, while conversely the United
States would be morally, if not legally, bound to take part in coercive
measures in composing European differences under similar conditions. It
could be urged with much force that the Monroe Doctrine in the one case
and the Washington policy of avoiding "entangling alliances" in the
other would be so affected that they would both have to be substantially
abandoned or else rewritten. If the American people were convinced that
this would be the consequence of accepting the affirmative guaranty, it
meant its rejection. In any event it was bound to produce an acrimonious
controversy. From the point of view of policy alone it seemed unwise to
include the guaranty in the Covenant, and believing that an objection on
that ground would appeal to the President more strongly than one based
on principle, I emphasized that objection, though in my own mind the
other was the more vital and more compelling.

The points of difference relating to the League of Nations between the
President's views and mine, other than the recognition of the primacy of
the Great Powers, the affirmative guaranty and the resulting denial in
fact of the equality of nations in times of peace, were the provisions
in the President's original draft of the Covenant relating to
international arbitrations, the subordination of the judicial power to
the political power, and the proposed system of mandates. Having
discussed with sufficient detail the reasons which caused me to oppose
these provisions, and having stated the efforts made to induce President
Wilson to abandon or modify them, repetition would be superfluous. It is
also needless, in view of the full narrative of events contained in
these pages, to state that I failed entirely in my endeavor to divert
the President from his determination to have these provisions inserted
in the Covenant, except in the case of international arbitrations, and
even in that case I do not believe that my advice had anything to do
with his abandonment of his ideas as to the method of selecting
arbitrators and the right of appeal from arbitral awards. Those changes
and the substitution of an article providing for the future creation of
a Permanent Court of International Justice, were, in my opinion, as I
have said, a concession to the European statesmen and due to their

President Wilson knew that I disagreed with him as to the relative
importance of restoring a state of peace at the earliest date possible
and of securing the adoption of a plan for the creation of a League of
Nations. He was clearly convinced that the drafting and acceptance of
the Covenant was superior to every other task imposed on the Conference,
that it must be done before any other settlement was reached and that it
ought to have precedence in the negotiations. His course of action was
conclusive evidence of this conviction.

On the other hand, I favored the speedy negotiation of a short and
simple preliminary treaty, in which, so far as the League of Nations was
concerned, there would be a series of declarations and an agreement for
a future international conference called for the purpose of drafting a
convention in harmony with the declarations in the preliminary treaty.
By adopting this course a state of peace would have been restored in the
early months of 1919, official intercourse and commercial relations
would have been resumed, the more complex and difficult problems of
settlement would have been postponed to the negotiation of the
definitive Treaty of Peace, and there would have been time to study
exhaustively the purposes, powers, and practical operations of a League
before the organic agreement was put into final form. Postponement would
also have given opportunity to the nations, which had continued neutral
throughout the war, to participate in the formation of the plan for a
League on an equal footing with the nations which had been belligerents.
In the establishment of a world organization universality of
international representation in reaching an agreement seemed to me
advisable, if not essential, provided the nations represented were
democracies and not autocracies.

It was to be presumed also that at a conference entirely independent of
the peace negotiations and free from the influences affecting the terms
of peace, there would be more general and more frank discussions
regarding the various phases of the subject than was possible at a
conference ruled by the Five Great Powers and dominated in its
decisions, if not in its opinions, by the statesmen of those Powers.

To perfect such a document, as the Covenant of the League of Nations was
intended to be, required expert knowledge, practical experience in
international relations, and an exchange of ideas untrammeled by
immediate questions of policy or by the prejudices resulting from the
war and from national hatreds and jealousies. It was not a work for
politicians, novices, or inexperienced theorists, but for trained
statesmen and jurists, who were conversant with the fundamental
principles of international law, with the usages of nations in their
intercourse with one another, and with the successes and failures of
previous experiments in international association. The President was
right in his conception as to the greatness of the task to be
accomplished, but he was wrong, radically wrong, in believing that it
could be properly done at the Paris Conference under the conditions
which there prevailed and in the time given for consideration of
the subject.

To believe for a moment that a world constitution - for so its advocates
looked upon the Covenant - could be drafted perfectly or even wisely in
eleven days, however much thought individuals may have previously given
to the subject, seems on the face of it to show an utter lack of
appreciation of the problems to be solved or else an abnormal confidence
in the talents and wisdom of those charged with the duty. If one
compares the learned and comprehensive debates that took place in the
convention which drafted the Constitution of the United States, and the
months that were spent in the critical examination word by word of the
proposed articles, with the ten meetings of the Commission on the League
of Nations prior to its report of February 14 and with the few hours
given to debating the substance and language of the Covenant, the
inferior character of the document produced by the Commission ought not
to be a matter of wonder. It was a foregone conclusion that it would be
found defective. Some of these defects were subsequently corrected, but
the theory and basic principles, which were the chief defects in the
plan, were preserved with no substantial change.

But the fact, which has been repeatedly asserted in the preceding pages
and which cannot be too strongly emphasized by repetition, is that the
most potent and most compelling reason for postponing the consideration
of a detailed plan for an international organization was that such a
consideration at the outset of the negotiations at Paris obstructed and
delayed the discussion and settlement of the general terms necessary to
the immediate restoration of a state of peace. Those who recall the
political and social conditions in Europe during the winter of 1918-19,
to which reference has already been made, will comprehend the
apprehension caused by anything which interrupted the negotiation of the
peace. No one dared to prophesy what might happen if the state of
political uncertainty and industrial stagnation, which existed under the
armistices, continued.

The time given to the formulation of the Covenant of the League of
Nations and the determination that it should have first place in the
negotiations caused such a delay in the proceedings and prevented a
speedy restoration of peace. Denial of this is useless. It is too
manifest to require proof or argument to support it. It is equally true,
I regret to say, that President Wilson was chiefly responsible for this.
If he had not insisted that a complete and detailed plan for the League
should be part of the treaty negotiated at Paris, and if he had not also
insisted that the Covenant be taken up and settled in terms before other
matters were considered, a preliminary treaty of peace would in all
probability have been signed, ratified, and in effect during
April, 1919.

Whatever evils resulted from the failure of the Paris Conference to
negotiate promptly a preliminary treaty - and it must be admitted they
were not a few - must be credited to those who caused the delay. The
personal interviews and secret conclaves before the Commission on the
League of Nations met occupied a month and a half. Practically another
half month was consumed in sessions of the Commission. The month
following was spent by President Wilson on his visit to the United
States explaining the reported Covenant and listening to criticisms.
While much was done during his absence toward the settlement of numerous
questions, final decision in every case awaited his return to Paris.
After his arrival the Commission on the League renewed its sittings to
consider amendments to its report, and it required over a month to put
it in final form for adoption; but during this latter period much time
was given to the actual terms of peace, which on account of the delay
caused in attempting to perfect the Covenant had taken the form of a
definitive rather than a preliminary treaty.

It is conservative to say that between two and three months were spent
in the drafting of a document which in the end was rejected by the
Senate of the United States and was responsible for the non-ratification
of the Treaty of Versailles. In view of the warnings that President
Wilson had received as to the probable result of insisting on the plan
of a League which he had prepared and his failure to heed the warnings,
his persistency in pressing for acceptance of the Covenant before
anything else was done makes the resulting delay in the peace less

Two weeks after the President returned from the United States in March
the common opinion was that the drafting of the Covenant had delayed the
restoration of peace, an opinion which was endorsed in the press of many
countries. The belief became so general and aroused so much popular
condemnation that Mr. Wilson considered it necessary to make a public
denial, in which he expressed surprise at the published views and
declared that the negotiations in regard to the League of Nations had in
no way delayed the peace. Concerning the denial and the subject with
which it dealt, I made on March 28 the following memorandum:

"The President has issued a public statement, which appears in this
morning's papers, in which he refers to the 'surprising impression'
that the discussions concerning the League of Nations have delayed
the making of peace and he flatly denies that the impression is

"I doubt if this statement will remove the general impression which
amounts almost to a conviction. Every one knows that the President's
thoughts and a great deal of his time prior to his departure for the
United States were given to the formulation of the plan for a League
and that he insisted that the 'Covenant' should be drafted and
reported before the other features of the peace were considered. The
_real_ difficulties of the present situation, which had to be settled
before the treaty could be drafted, were postponed until his return
here on March 13th.

"In fact the real bases of peace have only just begun to receive the
attention which they deserve.

"If such questions as the Rhine Provinces, Poland, reparations, and
economic arrangements had been taken up by the President and Premiers
in January, and if they had sat day and night, as they are now
sitting _in camera,_ until each was settled, the peace treaty would,
I believe, be to-day on the Conference's table, if not
actually signed.

"Of course the insistence that the plan of the League be first pushed
to a draft before all else prevented the settlement of the other
questions. Why attempt to refute what is manifestly true? I regret
that the President made the statement because I do not think that it
carries conviction. I fear that it will invite controversy and
denial, and that it puts the President on the defensive."

The views expressed in this memorandum were those held, I believe, by
the great majority of persons who participated in the Peace Conference
or were in intimate touch with its proceedings. Mr. Wilson's published
denial may have converted some to the belief that the drafting of the
Covenant was in no way responsible for the delay of the peace, but the
number of converts must have been very few, as it meant utter ignorance
of or indifference to the circumstances which conclusively proved the
incorrectness of the statement.

The effect of this attempt of President Wilson to check the growing
popular antipathy to the League as an obstacle to the speedy restoration
of peace was to cause speculation as to whether he really appreciated
the situation. If he did not, it was affirmed that he was ignorant of
public opinion or else was lacking in mental acuteness. If he did
appreciate the state of affairs, it was said that his statement was
uttered with the sole purpose of deceiving the people. In either case he
fell in public estimation. It shows the unwisdom of having issued
the denial.



There is one subject, connected with the consideration of the mutual
guaranty which, as finally reported by the Commission on the League of
Nations, appears as Article 10 of the Covenant, that should be briefly
reviewed, as it directly bears upon the value placed upon the guaranty
by the French statesmen who accepted it. I refer to the treaties
negotiated by France with the United States and Great Britain
respectively. These treaties provided that, in the event of France being
again attacked by Germany without provocation, the two Powers severally
agreed to come to the aid of the French Republic in repelling the
invasion. The joint nature of the undertaking was in a provision in each
treaty that a similar treaty would be signed by the other Power,
otherwise the agreement failed. The undertakings stated in practically
identical terms in the two treaties constituted, in fact, a triple
defensive alliance for the preservation of the integrity of French
territory and French independence. It had the same object as the
guaranty in the Covenant, though it went even further in the assurance
of affirmative action, and was, therefore, open to the same objections
on the grounds of constitutionality and policy as Article 10.

In a note, dated March 20, stating my "Impressions as to the Present
Situation," I discussed the endeavors being made by the President to
overcome opposition and to remove obstacles to the acceptance of his
plan for a League of Nations by means of compromises and concessions. In
the note appears the following:

"An instance of the lengths to which these compromises and makeshifts
are going, occurred this morning when Colonel House sent to Mr.
White, General Bliss, and me for our opinion the following proposal:
That the United States, Great Britain, and France enter into a formal
alliance to resist any aggressive action by Germany against France or
Belgium, and to employ their military, financial, and economic
resources for this purpose in addition to exerting their moral
influence to prevent such aggression.

"We three agreed that, if that agreement was made, the chief reason
for a League of Nations, as now planned, disappeared. So far as
France and Belgium were concerned the alliance was all they needed
for their future safety. They might or might not accept the League.
Of course they would if the alliance depended upon their acceptance.
They would do most anything to get such an alliance.

"The proposal was doubtless made to remove two provisions on which
the French are most insistent: _First_, an international military
staff to be prepared to use force against Germany if there were signs
of military activity; _second_, the creation of an independent
Rhenish Republic to act as a 'buffer' state. Of course the triple
alliance would make these measures needless.

"What impressed me most was that to gain French support for the
League the proposer of the alliance was willing to destroy the chief
feature of the League. It seemed to me that here was utter blindness
as to the consequences of such action. There appears to have been no
thought given as to the way other nations, like Poland, Bohemia, and
the Southern Slavs, would view the formation of an alliance to
protect France and Belgium alone. Manifestly it would increase rather
than decrease their danger from Germany since she would have to look
eastward and southward for expansion. Of course they would not accept
as sufficient the guaranty in the Covenant when France and Belgium
declined to do it.

"How would such a proposal be received in the United States with its
traditional policy of avoiding 'entangling alliances'? Of course,
when one considers it, the proposal is preposterous and would be
laughed at and rejected."

This was the impression made upon me at the time that this triple
alliance against Germany was first proposed. I later came to look upon
it more seriously and to recognize the fact that there were some valid
reasons in favor of the proposal. The subject was not further discussed
by the Commissioners for several weeks, but it is clear from what
followed that M. Clemenceau, who naturally favored the idea, continued
to press the President to agree to the plan. What arguments were
employed to persuade him I cannot say, but, knowing the shrewdness of
the French Premier in taking advantage of a situation, my belief is that
he threatened to withdraw or at least gave the impression that he would
withdraw his support of the League of Nations or else would insist on a
provision in the Covenant creating a general staff and an international
military force and on a provision in the treaty establishing a Rhenish
Republic or else ceding to France all territory west of the Rhine. To
avoid the adoption of either of these provisions, which would have
endangered the approval of his plan for world organization, the
President submitted to the French demand. At least I assume that was the
reason, for he promised to enter into the treaty of assistance which M.
Clemenceau insisted should be signed.

It is of course possible that he was influenced in his decision by the
belief that the knowledge that such an agreement existed would be
sufficient to deter Germany from even planning another invasion of
France, but my opinion is that the desire to win French support for the
Covenant was the chief reason for the promise that he gave. It should be
remembered that at the time both the Italians and Japanese were
threatening to make trouble unless their territorial ambitions were
satisfied. With these two Powers disaffected and showing a disposition
to refuse to accept membership in the proposed League of Nations the
opposition of France to the Covenant would have been fatal. It would
have been the end of the President's dream of a world organized to
maintain peace by an international guaranty of national boundaries and
sovereignties. Whether France would in the end have insisted on the
additional guaranty of protection I doubt, but it is evident that Mr.
Wilson believed that she would and decided to prevent a disaster to his
plan by acceding to the wishes of his French colleague.

Some time in April prior to the acceptance of the Treaty of Peace by the
Premiers of the Allied Powers, the President and Mr. Lloyd George agreed
with M. Clemenceau to negotiate the treaties of protective alliance
which the French demanded. The President advised me of his decision on
the day before the Treaty was delivered to the German plenipotentiaries
stating in substance that his promise to enter into the alliance formed
a part of the settlements as fully as if written into the Treaty. I told
him that personally I considered an agreement to negotiate the treaty of
assistance a mistake, as it discredited Article 10 of the Covenant,
which he considered all-important, and as it would, I was convinced, be
the cause of serious opposition in the United States. He replied that he
considered it necessary to adopt this policy in the circumstances, and
that, at any rate, having passed his word with M. Clemenceau, who was
accepting the Treaty because of his promise, it was too late to
reconsider the matter and useless to discuss it.

Subsequently the President instructed me to have a treaty drafted in
accordance with a memorandum which he sent me. This was done by Dr.
James Brown Scott and the draft was approved and prepared for signature.
On the morning of June 28, the same day on which the Treaty of
Versailles was signed, the protective treaty with France was signed at
the President's residence in the Place des Etats Unis by M. Clemenceau

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Online LibraryRobert LansingThe Peace Negotiations → online text (page 11 of 21)