Emily Greene Balch to WILPF Section Secretaries, March 8, 1921

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[WOMEN'S] INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR PEACE AND FREEDOM

Letter to Secretaries of National Sections (B).

Series 1921
Circular letter B 6
Geneva, 6, rue due Vieux Coll├Ęge
March 8, 1921.

Dear Madam,

The attention of your Section is called to the important question of amendments to the Covenant of the League of Nations -- a question on which our League took a stand in its Zurich Resolutions and in which it is much interested.

The first Assembly of the League which met in Geneva last autumn asked the Council of the League to appoint a Committee to consider proposed amendments and report on them to the next Assembly meeting. This Committee has now been appointed.

In order to receive consideration amendments must be submitted to the Committee

by some State which is a member of the League by March 31.

Our members in countries represented on the League are urged

1) to try to learn whether their Government proposes to send in any proposals as to amendments; if so to learn what these are;

2) to consult with the people who are the best informed and whose purpose is most nearly coincides with ours and to collaborate in urging on the Government to propose the most important amendments;

3) to try to get the matter discussed in the more serious and liberal press --

N.B. If a given amendment is presented by a large number of Governments it would probably carry more weight with the Amendments Committee, so that it seems [worthwhile] to try to get a Government also to submit an amendment even if it is one already proposed by other States.

AMENDMENTS PROPOSED AT ZURICH.

MEMBERSHIP (Article I)

Our Zurich resolutions (no. 8) reads

Membership of the League should be freely open to all States which express their desire to become members and their willingness to perform the duties of membership.

This is substantially covered by the proposed amendment put forward by Argentina (Assembly Doc. 163) to the effect that

"The sovereign States [recognized] by the Community of Nations" should be admitted to join the League of Nations "in such a manner that if they do not become members of the League this can only be the result of a voluntary decision on their part."

An amendment has been suggested by Mrs. Swanwick to the effect that

it should be made possible for States to adhere to the League under certain explicit reservations, necessary for their particular circumstances, and subject to approval by the Assembly. (Compare the case of the [Switzerland's] special position as regards "perpetual neutrality"). [page 2]

RELATION OF COUNCIL AND ASSEMBLY (Articles II, III, IV, V)

On this subject also we took a position at Zurich, in [favor] of a democratically elected Council of at least eleven members (No. 4 (e) and (b)).

No official proposal for an amendment covering these points has been published, to our knowledge.

An amendment suggested by Mrs. Swanwick is to the effect that the Assembly should have the duty of nominating all the States which appoint the Council and not only four of these.

If we wish to urge an amendment in this sense we must formulate it and push it ourselves through one or more Governments represented in the League.

AMENDMENTS TO THE COVENANT (Art. XXVI)

require, according to the Covenant, to be ratified by all countries represented on the Council and by a majority of the countries represented in the Assembly.

The Zurich Congress voted in [favor] of "provision for easier amendment of the constitution" of the League, but without specifying further. On this point Mr. Arthur [Ponsonby] of the Union of Democratic Control has said:

The amendment of the Covenant is a matter of urgent importance. By this clause it seems clear that the Council dominated by the Big Five will be able to obstruct or defeat any proposals which may run counter to the maintenance of their own supremacy. The question of amendment, therefore, should rest, and rest alone with the properly constituted Assembly. It is essential that the League, more especially in its infancy, should be flexible and capable of adapting itself to unforeseen eventualities, not rigid and stereotyped. Proposals for amendment should, therefore, be welcomed and fully considered by all concerned, and should

BE ACCEPTED IF PASSED BY A TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY OF THE ASSEMBLY.

Would it be wiser to add

"and if thereafter ratified by two-thirds of the countries composing the League?"

OTHER AMENDMENTS

Since May 1919 the situation has of course developed and questions which seem naturally to belong to our [program], but on which we have taken no action, have come up. Some of these are embodied in amendments already proposed by Governments.

MEETING OF ASSEMBLY (Article III)

Assembly to meet yearly on fixed date: Assembly to be summoned to meet at the Seat of the League on the demand of ten (10) members of the League

(Amendment to art. III, par. 2. Proposed by Denmark, Norway and Sweden.)

MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL (Article IV)

Non-permanent members of the Council to be elected one each year, by majority vote, by the Assembly at its annual meeting:

(Amendment Art. IV, par. I. Proposed by Denmark, Norway, Portugal and Sweden) [page 3]

Non-permanent members to be elected for a period of 4 years (D N & S)

[Non-permanent members to be elected for a period of] 1 year (Portugal)

[Non-permanent members] not to be eligible for reelection for two consecutive periods (D, N, & S)

[Non-permanent members] not to be [re-eligible] for at least 10 years (Portugal)

VOTES (Article V).

Rule requiring unanimous vote to apply to decisions of the Assembly which aims at the development, in practice, of provisions or principles laid down in the Covenant: a two-thirds majority to suffice in such cases.

(Proposed by [Colombia])

REDUCTION OF ARMAMENTS (Article VIII)

Our Zurich vote (Resolution 11 b) (p. 13)

"Immediate reduction of armaments on the same terms for all states, and the abolition of private manufacture of and traffic in munitions of war, should be undertaken, as steps towards total international disarmament."

This subject is of the very first importance. It does not appear however that it is best approached by way of Amending the Covenant.

PRESERVATION OF TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY AGAINST EXTERNAL AGGRESSION (Art. X)

An immense amount of discussion, especially in the United States has centered around this article which reads

Article X. The members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.

A Committee report, accepted by the Assembly, stated

"In this connection the Committee emphatically states that Art. 10 of the Covenant does NOT guarantee the territorial integrity of any Member of the League. It merely condemns external aggression against the territorial integrity and political independence of any Member of the League, and calls upon the Council to consider what can be done to resist such aggression."

In the parliamentary practice with which I am familiar this vote would commit the Assembly to accepting this doctrine, but it is a question if the Assembly intended this.

In any case the vote must at least have created a presumption in this sense.

This point is so important that it would seem desirable to get it embodied in the Covenant, by way of an amendment, as part of article X.

Canada has proposed our amendment simply expunging article X. This would seem to deprive weaker countries of a safeguard against aggression and it is to be considered whether the amendment proposed above is not better than elimination of the article. [page 4]

ARBITRATION AND CONCILLATION (Arts. XII, XIII, XIV, XV).

Elaborate proposals have been sent in by Denmark, Norway and Sweden and by Portugal improving this part of the covenant. These are too long to summarize and can found in Assembly Documents 42 and 150.

BREAKING THE COVENANT. THE ECONOMIC WEAPON. (Art. XVI).

Denmark, Norway and Sweden have sent in a proposed amendment which has been referred to the Blockade Commission which may make recommendations to the Amendments Commission. The proposed amendment relates to modifications, under special circumstances, of obligations imposed on Members of the League, to cooperate in the use of the economic weapon.

MANDATES (Art. XXVI).

Amendments unofficially suggested are to provide that

1) if a Mandatory ceases to be a Member of the League of Nations or if it fails to administer its mandatory power in accordance with the provisions of the Covenant the Assembly shall have the right to appoint a new State as mandatory in its place;

2) the allocation of mandates should in every case be subject to periodical revision; mandatories should act as trustees of the League of Nations;

3) one of the duties of a Mandatory shall be to encourage the gradual emancipation, social, economic and political, of the women in the mandated territories;

4) the principle of the open door should be safeguarded in all three classes of mandates instead of, as at present, only in class B, and it should apply to all nations not only to those which are members of the League ("equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of all nations").

MANDATES (continued) CONSTRUCTIVE INTERNATIONAL [ORGANIZATION] AND SUPERVISION (Art. XXVII).

Par. (a) International Control of Traffic in Arms and Ammunition.

Amendment suggested to make the provisions applicable to all countries in which the League has power to act.

Par. (e) Amendment suggested to alter
"equitable treatment of the commerce of all members of the League" to "equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of all nations".

ADDITIONAL AMENDMENTS SUGGESTED

1) Inclusion in the Covenant of a statement [recognizing] self-determination of peoples, so worded as specifically to include the right of peoples to unite as well as to separate;

2) Obligation for all the members of the League to abolish conscription

3) Freedom of the Seas: the seas to be free to the merchant navies of all countries in war as in peace, except in so far as they might be closed by order of the League of Nations; any infringement of this law to be treated as an offence against the League.

It is sufficiently obvious that the time is not ripe for the acceptance of any of these three amendments at present.

Please keep the Geneva office informed of any action taken in this matter.

Yours very sincerely

(signed) Emily G. Balch.

Secretary-Treasurer.