THE foreign policy of the Government of the United States should be a national policy, not a Democratic policy, nor a Republican policy. It should be one which will bring the greatest moral and material benefits to this country, and to the world in which we have a most important stake. Unfortunately, there is today a difference in the foreign policies of the Democratic and Republican Parties. This has been brought about partly by a difference in domestic policies, but chiefly by a partisan controversy which arose more than four years ago over the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

The foreign policy of a political party is usually of the same cloth as its domestic policy. The domestic policy of the Democratic Party is to do away with privilege as between individuals, and to secure the cooperation of all citizens for the common good; its standard of success is not the wealth of a few individuals, but the welfare of the people as a whole. Its foreign policy is to do away with privilege as between nations, and to secure the coöperation of all nations for their mutual welfare. The Republican Party, on the other hand, acts upon the theory that special privileges are essential for national prosperity, that tariff bounties must be granted to some, in order that those who are thus enriched may diffuse their wealth and allow it to seep down to the masses. Democrats hold that such an economic theory is unsound. The theory that a few must be enriched by governmental aid in order that they may in turn help others is repugnant to Democratic principles. This fundamental difference in the theories of the two parties in respect of domestic questions leads them to approach foreign questions from a somewhat different point of view. One is more concerned with the human aspects of problems, the other with material aspects. One abhors privilege in any form, the other likes it in certain ways.

I further believe that the Republican Party has chosen its foreign policy as wrongly from the point of view of material expediency as from the humanitarian and moral point of view.

Since Washington in his Farewell Address first gave to the American people those principles of friendship for all nations, and partial alliances with none, which served us so well in the early days of our independence, and down to the World War, the foreign policy of the United States has seldom entered into domestic politics nor has it changed greatly with changes of administration. The rule was that it should not be made a partisan political question, but should in general be determined in accordance with our traditional principles of impartial dealings with all nations, partial, entangling alliances with none.

With the complete transformation in conditions of life and with the new interdependence between various parts of the world resulting from the unprecedented scientific and industrial development of the last half-century, America's relation to the rest of the world was changed. The World War proved it startlingly. The assassin's shot at Sarajevo, the bombardment of Belgrade, started a chain of events in which the sinking of the Lusitania and Chateau-Thierry proved to be inevitable links. As the war extended, and caught us in the net, it became apparent that the only way to avoid the evil consequences of the European system of alliances, the fatal Balance of Power, was to do away with that system, and substitute for it a general covenant for peace between all the sovereign nations of the world. Even prior to the outbreak of the war statesmen in many lands had been discussing plans of this character. The leaders of thought in both parties in the United States had advocated a League to Enforce Peace, but efforts had been directed primarily towards the adoption of an international code which should make wars more humane and protect the rights of non-belligerents. The World War proved conclusively that once a modern war breaks loose it cannot be controlled, and that once it becomes general in character, so called international laws lose their effectiveness. In such a general war no great nation can find means to protect its rights save by the use of force. The United States was not immune from the operation of the rule.

During the world struggle President Wilson became the outstanding spokesman of all the liberal forces seeking the establishment of a better era in world affairs. He crystallized the aspirations of mankind and gave expression to them in the Fourteen Points, the last of which provided for an Association of Nations with binding covenants to advance justice and preserve peace. At the time, these principles were universally acclaimed as the major objects to be attained through our participation in the war. They were accepted and praised by all the leading statesmen in both political parties. They were not Democratic or Republican principles. They were American principles.

The Covenant of the League of Nations, contained in the Treaty of Versailles, was a practical plan to put these American principles into effect. It was simply a pledge between sovereign nations to respect the rights of one another, and to work steadily, openly and in concert for peace. It aimed to do away with the secret diplomacy and the system of alliances which had led to the war. It was designed to remove the fear of the weak and the greed of the strong--the two main causes which lead nations to prepare for war. In essence, it was to establish and apply as between nations the same principles as those upon which the relationships between individuals are based in the American Democracy. It provided rules and measures for settling disputes and securing justice through the orderly processes of law and conciliation, without resort to armed force. It was accepted by the masses of Europe, who were convinced by the lessons of war that it offered the only hope of saving mankind from catastrophe.

Upon the submission of the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate for its ratification, the acceptance of this plan by the United States became a question of partisan strife. The controversy continued throughout the summer and fall of 1920 and was carried into the campaign of that year.

In that campaign the Democratic Party specifically advocated entrance into the League of Nations. The Republican Platform, while not endorsing the League, declared in favor of a concert of nations, or agreements based upon international justice, which "would secure instant and general international conference whenever peace shall be threatened by political action, so that the nations pledged to do, and insist upon doing what is just and fair, may exercise their influence and power for the prevention of war." Since the Democratic Party was pledged to entrance into the League of Nations, and the Republican Party promised to join the League, with reservations, or to create something better to be called an Association of Nations, it is clear that neither party offered the public a chance to vote against organized international cooperation.

Yet the Republican Administration has excused its failure to create the promised association or join the League on the surprising ground that the American people, by a seven million majority, repudiated the whole idea of concerted international cooperation.

Such an excuse is a serious indictment of the good faith of the Republican Party. It means that Senator Lodge and those Republican Senators who voted for entrance into the League, with reservations, acted in bad faith. It questions the honesty of the Republican Platform, from which I have quoted above. It is not very complimentary to the Republican nominee for the Presidency, who in the 1920 campaign promised international cooperation through the League or an Association of Nations. How could any vote cast for the Republican ticket in 1920 be counted a vote against organized international cooperation in the face of these promises and the assurance given in the famous manifesto of the thirty-one leading intellectuals of that party, that to vote the Republican ticket was the quickest and surest way of getting into the League of Nations and of starting such organized cooperation quickly?

The dispute over whether the United States should enter the League of Nations is not really an issue between the rank and file of the Republican and Democratic Parties. It is at bottom a factional fight within the Republican Party. My belief is that a large majority of Republicans are in favor of membership in the League of Nations upon terms and conditions which make it clear that by such action we shall not depart from our constitutional practices or take away from Congress its constitutional powers; but that a few of the most positive Republican senators, who are dominant leaders in the party organization, and who are opposed to the League, have caused the Administration to vacillate and allow this nation to flounder in the uncertain sea of isolation, for fear lest the Republican Party should be disrupted. Surely it must be only for the latter reason that the Administration sneers at the League of Nations, calls it a "foreign agency," and claims that our relation to it is a "closed incident" at the same time that it is advocating adherence to the World Court, established under the auspices of the League; and is coöperating in a parsimonious, un-American and ineffective way with several of the committees appointed and supported by the League.

The Democratic Party is united in the belief that just as it is the duty--as well as in the interest--of individuals and sections in this country to coöperate for the maintenance of proper relationships between the individuals and sections composing the nation, so it is the duty--and in the interest--of the United States to cooperate with the community of nations, of which it forms a part, for the promotion of justice and the maintenance of peace throughout the world.

The Democratic Party holds that it was the duty--and in the interest--of the United States to help finish the job it undertook when it entered the World War--to repair the ravages of that war and accomplish the objects for which we had spent blood and treasure. It was just as much our duty to do this as it was the duty of any other nation with whom we had been associated. It was also obviously to our advantage to cooperate as fully as possible in hastening political stability and in restoring the industrial and economic life upon which the world's prosperity depends.

When we joined with the Allies in disarming Germany we automatically assumed a solemn moral responsibility towards Germany. While it was Germany's plain duty to comply faithfully to the extent of her utmost ability with the obligations assumed by her under the Treaty, it was equally our duty to oppose any unjust or unreasonable demands which might be made upon her or any attempt to take advantage of the defenseless and disarmed position in which we had helped to place her. When the United States withdrew and refused to discharge her moral obligations towards either victors or vanquished it was most disconcerting both to those with whom we had fought and to those against whom we had fought. Following our example of independent, selfish action, each nation found itself pushed into adopting a separate, nationalistic course, a procedure which has been as vexing and injurious to us as our independent action has been to them, and which has held back the prosperity of the world by delaying the establishment of a real peace.

Following their theory of special privilege, the Republicans made a separate treaty with Germany in which they retained the worst features of the Treaty of Versailles and discarded the best. They tried to get every material advantage out of defeated and defenseless Germany, and dodge every moral responsibility. As usually happens when an attempt is made to get something for nothing, we have secured no material benefits whatever from the separate treaty with Germany, our material interests have actually suffered, and we have lost the moral influence which we had, and which might have been used to the great benefit of ourselves and the world.

From the Democratic point of view, the Treaty of Versailles became iniquitous when the moderate and stabilizing influence of America was withdrawn. Had the United States been represented officially on the Reparation Commission, the world's difficult progress toward economic recovery and political stability would today be much further advanced and this country would be running a less grave risk of becoming unduly involved in the affairs of Europe. Admirable as has been the work of the Dawes Committee, it would have been unnecessary to appoint this committee had the United States been officially represented on the Reparation Commission, and had thus been able to exercise the veto power assured to us by the treaty and to use our moral influence, which, before our desertion, was unrivaled.

I have no desire to harp upon what the Republican Administration has done, or failed to do, but it seems to me that we can best determine what our future course shall be by pointing out the pitfalls and hazards of the course we have been pursuing. Instead of meeting the problems that arose out of the war in a frank, wise fashion, the Republican Administration has passed through several unsuccessful stages in an endeavor to find a substitute for the League of Nations and formulate a foreign policy upon which Republican leaders can agree and which will meet the demands of the American people for effective international coöperation. It called a special conference to deal with disarmament and Far Eastern affairs, but this partial and half-hearted step seems to have exhausted all its appetite or resource for further attempts at disarmament and at worthy leadership in world affairs. Those of us who felt the necessity of a reassertion of American leadership were, for a while, encouraged by that partial effort. We felt that it would be followed by something more constructive and permanent. But the Administration failed to follow it up, and the full benefits of it have not been retained.

The main lesson of the Washington Conference is that such sporadic special efforts are ineffective and incomplete. It proved that if a conference makes no provision for a periodic reassembling, misunderstandings arise over questions which have been agreed upon and matters which were overlooked may assume such proportions that much of the ground gained at the conference is lost. Misunderstandings have, in fact, arisen over the Naval Treaty, which has not resulted in maintaining the relative ratio of naval strength contemplated. The Washington Conference has further proved that disarmament cannot be dealt with effectively by a few nations and that to limit certain instruments of war may simply increase competition in other weapons (such as new inventions in chemical warfare) for which ratios cannot be intelligently fixed. Organized, careful, continuous conference and cooperation can deal with these matters. Occasional showy conferences of plenipotentiaries cannot.

The Four Power Treaty signed at the Washington Conference was hailed as a great achievement. As a matter of fact, the only nation which, under that treaty, assumed any obligation which it had not already assumed was the United States. Under the Covenant of the League of Nations, England, France, and Japan were previously committed to conference and negotiation whenever peace was threatened in any quarter. Under the Four Power Treaty, they are committed to confer with the United States in case peace is threatened in the Pacific, but they are not thereby freed from their obligation under the Covenant to confer also with all the members of the League. From this point of view the Four Power Treaty seems actually to commit us to negotiations in which we might find ourselves at a serious disadvantage, for according to its provisions we must before taking any action confer with England, France, and Japan, who may be in turn engaged with other interested nations in vital negotiations to which we are not a party.

The Republican Party, in keeping with the general tenor of its domestic policy, attempted in the Four Power Treaty to create in the Pacific a sphere of special privilege for four chosen Powers. Chile, with as long a Pacific coast line as our own, and Russia and other powers with important interests and rights in the Pacific were ignored and excluded. This treaty committed the United States to join with a special group of powers for the maintenance of the status quo in the Pacific. It thus had all the earmarks of a partial alliance, which was the one thing Washington most earnestly advised against. In order to overcome these objections, and to bring this treaty into harmony with our traditional principles, the Democrats in the Senate proposed that all powers with interests in the Pacific should be permitted to become parties to it. The Administration opposed such action. But the more dangerous aspects of the treaty were, to a great extent, nullified by the adoption of a reservation proposed by Republican senators to the effect that the treaty shall not commit us to anything except to talk.

The United States could assure itself of all the alleged advantages of the Four Power Treaty, and could get rid of all its disadvantages, by entering the League of Nations, or by so widening the treaty's scope as to include all powers with interests in the Pacific. Such would be the Democratic policy.

On April 15th, in his keynote speech before the Republican State Convention in New York, Secretary Hughes appeared anxious for the Administration to get all the credit possible for its achievements at the Washington Conference, and at the same time to demonstrate that by avoiding membership in the League the United States had escaped being made the catspaw of rival and ambitious nations in Europe. The only score on which he could fairly make a differentiation between associating with the members of the League in Geneva and with the representatives of England, France, and Japan at Washington, would be that the United States is concerned in the affairs of the Pacific but not in those of Europe. If he holds such a theory after the events of 1914 and 1917 I can only say that I do not agree with him, and that I do not believe the common-sense of the American people will allow them to agree with him. If it is safe to attend such a conference as that held at Washington, if the United States was able to help the nations represented there to bury their rival ambitions and was able to achieve ends desirable to its own interests and helpful to the cause of world peace, why try to argue at the next moment that similar rival ambitions could not be dissipated in the friendly atmosphere of Geneva with the impartial aid of American representatives? A unanimous vote of the Council is required in all important matters. A nation's own vote therefore protects it. After all, the powers of the Council are advisory rather than executive. Certainly it is less dangerous to be in constant contact with nations through a permanent organization like the League than to wait to call a haphazard special conference to settle some matter that has become so threatening that it may well be beyond control.

American diplomatic representatives are accredited to every nation which is a member of the League. We do not seem to be contaminated by consorting with the governments of those nations individually. What is the objection to dealing with them collectively? Every argument of convenience and effectiveness favors such a course.

An effort has of late been made to give the impression that the Monroe Doctrine is competent, single-handed, to preserve world peace and safeguard the world-wide interests of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine, which has existed for one hundred years, did not prevent the World War and it did not keep us out of that war. Furthermore, every effort to expand the Monroe Doctrine merely frightens and alienates the Latin-American countries, whose attitude toward the United States today is markedly less friendly than it has ever been since they attained nationhood and independence.

The purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent the European system from reaching out to this hemisphere. But while it was designed to permit the Latin-American countries to work out their own salvation without interference from Europe, it was never intended to give the United States the power to dominate them and dictate to them. Of the details of Republican policy in Latin America I cannot speak, because it is described by Republican speakers only in generalities. But the evil effects of that policy are only too plain. The Democratic Party favors a policy of cooperation with the Latin-American countries which would restore and strengthen the friendly relations which have heretofore existed, and which would assign to the Monroe Doctrine only the role for which it was intended.

The Democratic Party favors the independence of the Philippines. The granting of independence could be accompanied by such provisions for helpful guidance and assistance from this nation as may be mutually satisfactory. It does not feel that this country should be the sole judge as to whether or not the Philippines should be independent, and it does not believe that it should fix some date a few years hence for granting independence to the Philippines, as the Republicans have done. How can we tell that the Philippines will be any better prepared for independence in sixteen years than they are today? The Democratic Party recognizes the trend of the times. The old autocratic conception that colonies are not entitled to self-government so long as the dominant nation happens to feel that they are better off under its tutelage is outgrown--and justly.

A comparison of the 1924 platforms of the two parties shows very clearly the difference in policy in regard to foreign affairs. The Republicans, having abandoned their promise of an Association of Nations, now make a promise of adhering to the Permanent Court of International Justice. They say that the American people have put the stamp of finality on the repudiation of the League. They promise cooperation with other nations in humanitarian and economic problems through charity and by means of "unofficial" observers. But they intend in the future, as they claim to have done in the past, to keep our hands off all "political" questions.

The Democratic Party, realizing that the World War, from participation in which we were not immune, was caused by political ambitions as well as economic rivalries, and that economic recovery cannot be achieved without political settlements, considers it the part of wisdom to cooperate with other nations in reducing every point of friction which retards the reëstablishment of trade and prosperity or threatens the peace of the world. If we are to regain and hold the moral prestige which was ours under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson we must boldly and honorably and intelligently assume the obligations which we, as the most powerful of nations, owe to the world. We cannot hold ourselves superciliously aloof, congratulating ourselves that we are different from other nations and not concerned in their problems and difficulties. It is our plain duty, to ourselves and to all humanity, to take part in, and to give our moral and official support to, every honest coöperative effort of civilization to outlaw war.

America should not be content to have "unofficial observers" peeping in under the curtain at international conferences. They serve only to fool a few Americans at home and to put America in a ridiculous position abroad. Europe does not understand the theory of international intercourse which prompts the sending of government officials to important international conferences to state the attitude of the United States of America toward vital international matters, but which instructs them to begin every sentence with the words "Of course I do not speak for the United States Government, but--" A government official sent abroad has in the past been either an accredited diplomat, ready to state his government's considered attitude and to take the consequences of the adoption of that attitude, or a secret agent, a spy. In attempting to combine the prestige of the former with the irresponsibility of the latter the Republican Administration has not raised the world's opinion of American statesmanship nor evolved an effective manner of dealing with the problems confronting it on every continent.

Nor, by the same token, should we leave to private citizens, acting on invitations from foreign governments, the task of helping to bring order out of world chaos. This sort of participation is inadequate, undignified and cowardly. The problems of the day are too great, too vital to our security and prosperity, to be left to this haphazard treatment. They should be dealt with, because they could be better dealt with, by officials and delegates of the United States Government, chosen and trained for the work, empowered to speak for America in measured and responsible terms.

Without the surrender of any sovereignty, without meddling in the domestic affairs of any nation or in any matters which do not concern the United States, without seeking to impose our will on other nations, without entering into agreements which would diminish the rights of Congress, without committing ourselves in advance to any action in unknown circumstances, America could, and the Democratic Party believes it should, throw all of its power and prestige into the struggle to increase international good will and secure international peace and prosperity.

The argument against the proposed form of international coöperation which loomed so large in the last campaign--the fears of foreign entanglements, of lost sovereignty--like the arguments in favor of extreme and absolute isolation--have been destroyed by exposure to time and experience. Four years of fruitful and beneficent operation have demonstrated that the League of Nations is none of those fearsome things which the enemies of Woodrow Wilson pretended to think it was. The actual accomplishments of the League have confirmed the faith of the Democratic Party in the broad vision of its fallen leader. The League is not perfect, it is handicapped by the absence of the United States and Germany, but it represents an honest attempt to substitute law for war. The Democratic Party has waited in vain for the Republican Administration to propose a substitute. There is no substitute. The League is the only solid foundation on which to build the hope of permanent peace. The thought of millions of people who yearn for peace is centered at Geneva.

The Democratic Party is opposed to America's taking advantage of some of the services of the League, as the Republican Platform boasts of doing, without paying our share in the organization's expenses. It would better comport with the dignity of the United States, as it would better serve our interests, to accept our full share in this attempt at world organization.

It is just because the Democratic Party is opposed to "foreign entanglements" that it opposes the Republican policy of sitting back and letting other nations pursue a course which may again involve us in a world war. The Democratic Party is not willing to have fifty-four nations about a council table anywhere, dealing with questions which concern the peace and welfare of all the world, and not have America present officially to safeguard her own interests and to throw her influence on the right side. It is confident that the policy it advocates is a fitting policy for America, in accord with the traditions which have made us strong in the past, in accord with our present interests, and in accord with our aspirations for the future. It is confident that such a policy will have the full support of the American people.

In its platform of 1924 the Democratic Party has pledged itself, if entrusted with power, to adopt forthwith a policy of open official international cooperation instead of the furtive and unofficial cooperation now practised by the Republican Administration. It has furthermore reaffirmed its confidence in the ideals of the League of Nations and its belief that the United States could cooperate more satisfactorily and effectively as a member of the League. Since the question of membership in the League has been confused by party strife, and since a foreign policy, to be effective, must be backed by a united nation, the Democratic Party has pledged itself to try to lift this question above partisanship and establish international cooperation as a fixed national policy. There is, of course, a difference between official coöperation with the League and membership in the League. The President has the power and the duty, under the Constitution, to direct the foreign relations of the United States and he may, to the extent that he deems it necessary to discharge his duties and safeguard the interests of this country, send official representatives to deal with any foreign governments or participate in any international conferences. He may not, however, accept membership in the League of Nations without the consent of the Senate, because that involves becoming a party to the Covenant which is in effect a treaty that requires approval by the Senate. As a means, therefore, of raising the question above party, the Democrats have proposed that an advisory referendum be held to test public sentiment in regard to membership in the League.

My personal opinion is that a referendum is not necessary to sense public opinion or get a non-partisan consideration of this question. It cannot relieve the President and the Senate of their constitutional powers and duties in respect to foreign relations. I believe the American people prefer to express their will through the representatives selected by them, and in accordance with our long-established constitutional methods. If the sentiment of the American people is in favor of membership in the League, as is my conviction, it will ultimately reach and influence the Senate. If, upon conditions acceptable to the President and the Senate, it is possible to get the Covenant ratified, it would amply demonstrate the extent of popular, non-partisan support for the League, and it certainly would not be necessary or advisable to resort to a referendum.

Since a large majority of the Republican Senators have at one time or another, in one form or another, voted for membership in the League, there is reason to hope that after a survey of past experience and faced with the situation that may then exist abroad, the President and the Senate can agree on conditions upon which the United States would accept League membership.

The Democratic Party is in favor of a foreign policy in keeping with American ideals and conditions, and one which the American people can understand. It believes that it is as impossible as it is unnecessary to attempt to separate foreign and domestic policies. The same ideals of honesty and efficiency, of dignity and decency, should inspire the policies of this Republic at home and abroad. The gross materialism which has wrecked the cabinet of the present Administration has not merely shaken the confidence of the American people; it has decreased our influence and standing throughout the world. It is only as the spirit of cooperation develops at home, only as the spirit of fair play and equal opportunity, to which the Democratic Party is pledged, is made dominant in our domestic politics, that we can hope for healthy, national progress, or deserve to regain the high position of leadership among the nations which we enjoyed under a Democratic Administration.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • NORMAN H. DAVIS, Financial Advisor to the American Peace Commission and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, 1919; Under-Secretary of State, 1920-21
  • More By Norman H. Davis