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boundaries, by which the sovereignty over millions of persons of German
blood was transferred to the new states of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia,
and the practical cession to the Empire of Japan of the port of
Kiao-Chau and control over the economic life of the Province of Shantung
are striking examples of the abandonment of the principle.

In the Treaty of Saint-Germain the Austrian Tyrol was ceded to the
Kingdom of Italy against the known will of substantially the entire
population of that region.

In both the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain Austria
was denied the right to form a political union with Germany, and when an
article of the German Constitution of August, 1919, contemplating a
"reunion" of "German Austria" with the German Empire was objected to by
the Supreme Council, then in session at Paris, as in contradiction of
the terms of the Treaty with Germany, a protocol was signed on September
22, 1919, by plenipotentiaries of Germany and the five Principal Allied
and Associated Powers, declaring the article in the Constitution null
and void. There could hardly be a more open repudiation of the alleged
right of "self-determination" than this refusal to permit Austria to
unite with Germany however unanimous the wish of the Austrian people for
such union.

But Mr. Wilson even further discredited the phrase by adopting a policy
toward Russia which ignored the principle. The peoples of Esthonia,
Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaidjan have by blood,
language, and racial traits elements of difference which give to each of
them in more or less degree the character of a distinct nationality.
These peoples all possess aspirations to become independent states, and
yet, throughout the negotiations at Paris and since that time, the
Government of the United States has repeatedly refused to recognize the
right of the inhabitants of these territories to determine for
themselves the sovereignty under which they shall live. It has, on the
contrary, declared in favor of a "Great Russia" comprising the vast
territory of the old Empire except the province which belonged to the
dismembered Kingdom of Poland and the lands included within the present
boundaries of the Republic of Finland.

I do not mention the policy of President Wilson as to an undivided
Russia by way of criticism because I believe the policy was and has
continued to be the right one. The reference to it is made for the
sole purpose of pointing out another example of Mr. Wilson's frequent
departure without explanation from his declared standard for the
determination of political authority and allegiance. I think
that it must be conceded that he has by his acts proved that
"self-determination" _is_ "a mere phrase" which ought to be discarded
as misleading because it cannot be practically applied.

It may be pointed out as a matter of special interest to the student of
American history that, if the right of "self-determination" were sound
in principle and uniformly applicable in establishing political
allegiance and territorial sovereignty, the endeavor of the Southern
States to secede from the American Union in 1861 would have been wholly
justifiable; and, conversely, the Northern States, in forcibly
preventing secession and compelling the inhabitants of the States
composing the Confederacy to remain under the authority of the Federal
Government, would have perpetrated a great and indefensible wrong
against the people of the South by depriving them of a right to which
they were by nature entitled. This is the logic of the application of
the principle of "self-determination" to the political rights at issue
in the American Civil War.

I do not believe that there are many Americans of the present generation
who would support the proposition that the South was inherently right
and the North was inherently wrong in that great conflict. There were,
at the time when the sections were arrayed in arms against each other,
and there may still be, differences of opinion as to the _legal_ right
of secession under the Constitution of the United States, but the
inherent right of a people of a State to throw off at will their
allegiance to the Federal Union and resume complete sovereignty over the
territory of the State was never urged as a conclusive argument. It was
the legal right and not the natural right which was emphasized as
justifying those who took up arms in order to disrupt the Union. But if
an American citizen denies that the principle of "self-determination"
can be rightfully applied to the affairs of his own country, how can he
consistently maintain that it is a right inseparable from a true
conception of political liberty and therefore universally applicable,
just in principle, and wise from the practical point of view?

Of course, those who subscribe to "self-determination" and advocate it
as a great truth fundamental to every political society organized to
protect and promote civil liberty, do not claim it for races, peoples,
or communities whose state of barbarism or ignorance deprive them of the
capacity to choose intelligently their political affiliations. As to
peoples or communities, however, who do possess the intelligence to make
a rational choice of political allegiance, no exception is made, so far
as words go, to the undeviating application of the principle. It is the
affirmation of an unqualified right. It is one of those declarations of
principle which sounds true, which in the abstract may be true, and
which appeals strongly to man's innate sense of moral right and to his
conception of natural justice, but which, when the attempt is made to
apply it in every case, becomes a source of political instability and
domestic disorder and not infrequently a cause of rebellion.

In the settlement of territorial rights and of the sovereignty to be
exercised over particular regions there are several factors which
require consideration. International boundaries may be drawn along
ethnic, economic, geographic, historic, or strategic lines. One or all
of these elements may influence the decision, but whatever argument may
be urged in favor of any one of these factors, the chief object in the
determination of the sovereignty to be exercised within a certain
territory is national safety. National safety is as dominant in the life
of a nation as self-preservation is in the life of an individual. It is
even more so, as nations do not respond to the impulse of
self-sacrifice. With national safety as the primary object to be
attained in territorial settlements, the factors of the problem assume
generally, though not always, the following order of importance: the
strategic, to which is closely allied the geographic and historic; the
economic, affecting the commercial and industrial life of a nation; and
lastly the ethnic, including in the terms such conditions as
consanguinity, common language, and similar social and religious

The national safety and the economic welfare of the United States were
at stake in the War of Secession, although the attempt to secede
resulted from institutional rather than ethnic causes. The same was true
when in the Papineau Rebellion of 1837 the French inhabitants of the
Province of Lower Canada attempted for ethnic reasons to free themselves
from British sovereignty. Had the right of "self-determination" in the
latter case been recognized as "imperative" by Great Britain, the
national life and economic growth of Canada would have been strangled
because the lines of communication and the commercial routes to the
Atlantic seaboard would have been across an alien state. The future of
Canada, with its vast undeveloped resources, its very life as a British
colony, depended upon denying the right of "self-determination." It was
denied and the French inhabitants of Quebec were forced against their
will to accept British sovereignty.

Experience has already demonstrated the unwisdom of having given
currency to the phrase "self-determination." As the expression of an
actual right, the application of which is universal and invariable, the
phrase has been repudiated or at least violated by many of the terms of
the treaties which brought to an end the World War. Since the time that
the principle was proclaimed, it has been the excuse for turbulent
political elements in various lands to resist established governmental
authority; it has induced the use of force in an endeavor to wrest the
sovereignty over a territory or over a community from those who have
long possessed and justly exercised it. It has formed the basis for
territorial claims by avaricious nations. And it has introduced into
domestic as well as international affairs a new spirit of disorder. It
is an evil thing to permit the principle of "self-determination" to
continue to have the apparent sanction of the nations when it has been
in fact thoroughly discredited and will always be cast aside whenever it
comes in conflict with national safety, with historic political rights,
or with national economic interests affecting the prosperity of
a nation.

This discussion of the right of "self-determination," which was one of
the bases of peace which President Wilson declared in the winter of
1918, and which was included in the modifying clause of his guaranty as
originally drafted, is introduced for the purpose of showing the
reluctance which I felt in accepting his guidance in the adoption of a
principle so menacing to peace and so impossible of practical
application. As a matter of fact I never discussed the subject with Mr.
Wilson as I purposed doing, because a situation arose on January 10,
1919, which discouraged me from volunteering to him advice on matters
which did not directly pertain to legal questions and to the
international administration of legal justice.



It is with extreme reluctance, as the reader will understand, that I
make any reference to the conference which the President held with the
American Commissioners at the Hotel Crillon on January 10, because of
the personal nature of what occurred. It would be far more agreeable to
omit an account of this unpleasant episode. But without referring to it
I cannot satisfactorily explain the sudden decision I then reached to
take no further part in the preparation or revision of the text of the
Covenant of the League of Nations. Without explanation my subsequent
conduct would be, and not without reason, open to the charge of neglect
of duty and possibly of disloyalty. I do not feel called upon to rest
under that suspicion, or to remain silent when a brief statement of what
occurred at that conference will disclose the reason for the cessation
of my efforts to effect changes in the plan of world organization which
the President had prepared. In the circumstances there can be no
impropriety in disclosing the truth as to the cause for a course of
action when the course of action itself must be set forth to complete
the record and to explain an ignorance of the subsequent negotiations
regarding the League of Nations, an ignorance which has been the subject
of public comment. Certainly no one who participated in the conference
can object to the truth being known unless for personal reasons he
prefers that a false impression should go forth. After careful
consideration I can see no public reason for withholding the facts. At
this meeting, to which I refer, the President took up the provisions of
his original draft of a Covenant, which was at the time in typewritten
form, and indicated the features which he considered fundamental to the
proper organization of a League of Nations. I pointed out certain
provisions which appeared to me objectionable in principle or at least
of doubtful policy. Mr. Wilson, however, clearly indicated - at least so
I interpreted his words and manner - that he was not disposed to receive
these criticisms in good part and was unwilling to discuss them. He also
said with great candor and emphasis that he did not intend to have
lawyers drafting the treaty of peace. Although this declaration was
called forth by the statement that the legal advisers of the American
Commission had been, at my request, preparing an outline of a treaty, a
"skeleton treaty" in fact, the President's sweeping disapproval of
members of the legal profession participating in the treaty-making
seemed to be, and I believe was, intended to be notice to me that my
counsel was unwelcome. Being the only lawyer on the delegation I
naturally took this remark to myself, and I know that other American
Commissioners held the same view of its purpose. If my belief was
unjustified, I can only regret that I did not persevere in my criticisms
and suggestions, but I could not do so believing as I then did that a
lawyer's advice on any question not wholly legal in nature was
unacceptable to the President, a belief which, up to the present time, I
have had no reason to change.

It should be understood that this account of the conference of January
10 is given by way of explanation of my conduct subsequent to it and not
in any spirit of complaint or condemnation of Mr. Wilson's attitude. He
had a right to his own opinion of the worth of a lawyer's advice and a
right to act in accordance with that opinion. If there was any injustice
done, it was in his asking a lawyer to become a Peace Commissioner,
thereby giving the impression that he desired his counsel and advice as
to the negotiations in general, when in fact he did not. But,
disregarding the personal element, I consider that he was justified in
his course, as the entire constitutional responsibility for the
negotiation of a treaty was on his shoulders and he was, in the
performance of his duty, entitled to seek advice from those only in
whose judgment he had confidence.

In spite of this frank avowal of prejudice by the President there was no
outward change in the personal and official relations between him and
myself. The breach, however, regardless of appearances, was too wide and
too deep to be healed. While subsequent events bridged it temporarily,
it remained until my association with President Wilson came to an end in
February, 1920. I never forgot his words and always felt that in his
mind my opinions, even when he sought them, were tainted with legalism.



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

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Online LibraryRobert LansingThe Peace Negotiations → online text (page 7 of 21)