The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
MOLOTOV, Eden, Hull and Foo Ping-Sheung, speaking for their governments, jointly declared at Moscow on October 30 that "they recognized the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a joint international organization . . . for the maintenance of international peace and security." As indicated by the House's adoption of the Fulbright Resolution by a vote of 360 to 29, and the Senate's adoption of the Connally Resolution by a vote of 85 to 5, this country recognizes the necessity for such an organization. As for the other countries, there is abundant evidence that we are merely in the position of catching up with the rest of the procession.
This is not said, of course, to underestimate the importance of the fact that the new "Big Four" saw fit to make public confession of their faith in this matter. The fourth article of their now famous Moscow Declaration constitutes a challenge for the production of a master plan. Attempts to meet that challenge are being made daily in pamphlets, in the press, between stiff covers, and on the platform. The challenger, however, still rides the lists, waiting the entry of his conqueror.
The problem of how to maintain international peace and security is now of a respectable age. The doubt is not whether there is such a question but whether we have learned enough from the mistakes which have already been made in the effort to solve it. Perhaps it is worth while to add to the current flow of ink some comments on past efforts to draw up master plans and then to discuss one current laboratory sample.
As we look back at the trends in international organization, from the time of the extraordinarily perceptive decisions reached by the Powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 down to the inspired but hapless decisions of Versailles in 1919, we are able to identify certain phases and characteristics.
In the first place, there were steps toward international organization which had their roots in political group decisions. These early manifestations of the conviction that in international affairs peace and security were to be found only in some kind of union we now rather derisively style "alliances." Frequently they were dual, but in many instances triple or multiple. In the seventeenth century they abounded to such an extent that the diplomats, or their legal advisers, evolved a pattern which made the drafting of many clauses of each new treaty almost as simple as the modern dispatch of a government form letter. These primitive microcosmic international organizations were decentralized and were almost invariably of a strictly regional character, in the sense that they dealt with the affairs of a particular region. The keepers of the peace were interested less in keeping the peace, however, than in keeping their own status unimpaired until such time as they could hope to improve it by a deliberate breach of the peace. They were quite frank about this, as was indicated by some of the stock clauses which began by asserting that there should be firm and inviolable peace between the parties, and then hedged by inserting provisions concerning what was to happen if the peace were broken -- "which God forbid."
In this earliest period nothing that one could call a permanent international organization emerged. The Congress of Vienna, however, perhaps stimulated by the length and breadth of the Napoleonic Wars, moved forward. We see there a development of that rather conventional amorphous group known as the Concert of Europe. We also see the development of certain technical organizations created to achieve a common international end. The most striking of these was the European Commission of the Danube, which had a real function to perform and the vitality to perform it on the basis of a continuing technical organization. On through the nineteenth century, we can see a continuation of these two approaches to the international problem -- one through a breakdown according to practical functions, the other on the broadest lines of Grosse Politik.
Between 1815 and 1914 these developments were still of the decentralized type. Some of them were organized on a regional basis -- that is, with reference to a particular geographic area -- as in the political alliances or as in the Berlin Conference of 1885 on African affairs. Others proceeded on a functional basis -- that is, with reference to a particular subject matter or function to be performed -- as when the Congress of Berlin and the succeeding meeting at Aix-la-Chapelle regulated the rank and standing of diplomatic representatives, or when the Berlin and Brussels Conferences turned their attention to abolishing the slave trade.
Although no permanent organization grew out of these conferences, there is an important fact about them to which Frederick S. Dunn called attention some fifteen years ago,[i] namely that the conferences themselves began to develop the notion that they were entities separate and apart from the states represented. As for motivation, there does appear to have been a consciousness of the general interest. This was recognized by the admission of small states to the international conferences. However, it was forthwith flouted by the big Powers which, in total disregard of acknowledged doctrines of international law, proceeded to revise in camera the treaties which had been entered into by the collectivity of European states.[ii]
The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of international organizations of a new sort. These organizations, which were the outcome of non-political group decisions, came to have the name "unions." The grandfather of them all, of course, was the Universal Postal Union which has functioned with consistent success, both in peace and in war, since 1874. The formation of the Postal Union followed by ten years the Geneva Red Cross Convention, which was stimulated by the humanitarian reactions to the Crimean War. In 1890, the Pan American development began with a typical Yankee business note, which produced not the present Pan American Union but a "Commercial Bureau." The earlier political aspirations of Bolívar have yet to be realized.
Between those days and the outbreak of World War I, these technical organizations developed apace on both sides of the Atlantic and played a genuine part in accustoming governments and their peoples to acting on an international basis. In strict contrast to their prototypes, they were characterized by a high degree of centralization in their administration. Although regionalism was still a factor, the emphasis was upon functional organization. In motivation, the interest was clearly general rather than particular, even though the generality was confined frequently to specific groups of states.
This century plant flowered in 1919 in the League of Nations and its two affiliates, the International Labor Organization and the Permanent Court of International Justice. They revealed a fairly complete union of the methods of political and non-political group decisions. Similar developments began to take place in the Pan American Union (although from the point of view of organizational development it lagged behind). There obviously was more centralization in these new administrations. Indeed, Article 24 of the Covenant of the League of Nations contemplated the merger into its own system of all of the preëxisting technical organizations. This merger did not take place, due partly to the intrenched international bureaucracy of the unions, partly to the fact that the United States was, to say the least, not helpful in bringing such a merger about. In this hemisphere, the political weakness of the Pan American system also tended toward the decentralization of the technical bureaus.
The functional emphasis was still strong in this development, but regionalism played an important rôle also. In the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armaments, the functional objective of limiting armaments was fortuitously combined with an exploration of problems of the region of the Far East. This resulted entirely from a chance parallelism in British and American foreign policies. In general, the Government of the United States tended to stress the functional aspect of organization in order not to raise domestic political difficulties: in the 1920's it was much easier to go to Geneva to discuss questions like opium, health and the white slave traffic than to venture to show an interest in European affairs. Gradually, under Stimson and Hull, the line became bolder. Our established regional interest in Latin America led us through difficulties like the Chaco War and the Leticia incident to a pooling of interests and a momentary feeling that an international organization could handle the great problem of peace and war without regard to regions. The same trend appeared in the steps by which we reasserted our historic interest in the Far East.
Nevertheless, the most highly developed organizations which the world had been able to achieve up to this point were still too feeble to be of much use in the face of Italian and Japanese aggression. As the Ethiopian and Manchurian affairs revealed the difficulty of applying sanctions under Article 16 of the Covenant, talk began to be heard about the desirability of revising the whole scheme on a regional basis.[iii] As for motivation, this period showed the accrued strength of the concept of general international interest which led governments to seek popular support by avowing devotion to that general interest. The Briand-Kellogg Pact was the prime manifestation of that tendency and the thought was summed up in the aphorism that "peace is indivisible."
Our current wartime experience is merely repeating, with minor variations, the patterns and experiences of World War I. In that conflict the British and French developed a network of organizations to carry out their common military purpose, although they did not achieve real unity until near the end. Sir Arthur Salter has demonstrated [iv] the effectiveness of the organizations set up; and indeed American merchants were quite conscious of them. There were parallel but abortive attempts at organization among the neutrals. The Latin American states took the lead in this respect, a number of them evolving rather elaborate plans not unlike the eventual Covenant of the League but based on the attempt to establish a "league of neutrals." The Scandinavian states progressed to the point of joint discussions and meetings of their sovereigns. Like the Latin Americans, they wooed the United States. But Wilson steadily repulsed these and other suggestions to form a neutral organization.
As the organizations which developed during the last war were entirely military in origin and emphasis, they naturally collapsed when the common enemy had been defeated. Accordingly, when the Peace Conference set about the task of developing a postwar organization it had to begin de novo. The new master plan which appeared was a total plan -- the League of Nations.
During World War II we have witnessed a significant double line of development. Nothing of much importance in the shape of international organization was proposed prior to the time when the United States entered the war. Thereafter -- probably as the result of preliminary foresight and planning -- there developed the system of Combined Boards. These highly efficient organizations are distinctly Anglo-American, except that Canada has been admitted to partnership in some. Like the Anglo-French bodies in World War I, they are centralized, functional and narrowly motivated. An interesting variation in function, however, is found in the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission. As it is now developing, it may make a real contribution to the elaboration of some international organization capable of dealing with the problem of dependent peoples in colonial areas.
Today, unlike what happened in the last war, we fortunately are witnessing the parallel development of what is at least a piecemeal approach to the general problem of organizing the postwar world. The process began with the Conference on Food and Agriculture held at Hot Springs from May 18 to June 3, 1943. This was a genuine United Nations meeting. The Conference established an Interim Commission which immediately set about the task of preparing the framework for a permanent and genuinely international organization in its allotted field. The second step in the process was the actual establishment of UNRRA -- the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration -- at the White House meeting of November 9, 1943.
It has further been announced in general terms that a United Nations monetary and financial organization is in the offing. Lord Woolton recently told the British Parliament that the United Nations were already discussing the postwar problem of regulating cartels. On the political front, the Australian and New Zealand Governments have taken the lead in suggesting the formation of a political body which would deal with problems of the island area in the Pacific on a more permanent basis than the occasional meetings of the Pacific Council in Washington. As a result of the Moscow Conference, the European Advisory Commission now sits in London. There had already been established a Mediterranean Commission, in which Russia participated in token of her interest in that area.
Some specific lessons are already to be learned from our first laboratory sample, UNRRA. The way the negotiations for its establishment developed, the trends apparent at the inaugural session of its Council and the policies which it is now evolving all have significance. So has the fact that both Houses of Congress have authorized an appropriation of $1,350,000,000 to support its work.
UNRRA is significant because it is the first sharing of a major task which has both military and post-combat implications -- the first sharing on a really international basis. Not only do all the United Nations participate as members of UNRRA; the associated nations do also. UNRRA's predecessor was the Inter-Allied Committee on Post War Requirements, commonly called the Leith-Ross Committee. This Committee had a purely European outlook. It was created before the United States entered the war, met in London, and was decidedly under British leadership. Since it was engaged in drawing up plans and requirement schedules it was never thought of as an operating organization. The United States evidently had to be brought into any consideration of the relief and rehabilitation problem. So far as the Soviet Union was concerned, that country was bound to be a recipient rather than a provider; its participation was therefore considered as being of more political than functional importance. The participation of China was vital, because of the enormous size of her relief and rehabilitation needs and because the Leith-Ross Committee had paid no attention at all to the whole problem of the Far East.
The organization which finally evolved, however, had a bearing not merely on the particular task of providing relief; it foreshadowed important subsequent developments in a wider field. It was in June of 1943, nearly a year after the start of negotiations, that the first draft of the UNRRA agreement was made public. This disclosed that a new Big Four had been created. China was included along with Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union in the Central Committee where ultimate power would apparently lodge. This was the first appearance of the group which later signed the Moscow Declaration. The historical significance of the UNRRA agreement in terms of China's position in the world also cannot be exaggerated. From the point of view of relief and rehabilitation, it was important that although the greatest prospective suppliers and the greatest prospective recipients were linked together in the controlling organ of the new body, all the nations large and small which had combined in the struggle against the Axis were to be full partners in the endeavor. Nor should one fail to notice that UNRRA provided a first way to include Soviet Russia in an organization dealing with world problems.
Significant reactions to the publication of the UNRRA agreement came immediately from two sources, one domestic, one international.
On the domestic front, members of the Senate, and particularly Senator Vandenberg, raised the question whether the agreement was not a treaty and whether to enter into it through a joint resolution would not be a violation of the Constitution. There followed extensive and cordial negotiations over a period of months between Assistant Secretary of State Acheson, Mr. Francis B. Sayre, Governor Lehman's First Assistant, and a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The gist of the agreement reached was that the United States would become a member of UNRRA through an executive agreement but that Congress would then have an opportunity to review the matter and to control the extent of the obligations assumed through its authorization of appropriations. The State Department's handling of this matter and the coöperative attitude of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are encouraging signs that the United States may find a way to participate eventually in organized international life.
The international repercussions came from Powers which had not been "in on the ground floor" and which naturally sought to secure concessions for themselves. There was also a fear that too much power was being given to the Big Four, and that the pattern now being set foreshadowed big-power dominance in other fields.
The modifications which were introduced into the text before it was signed in the East Room of the White House on November 9, 1943, satisfied doubters on Capitol Hill that the United States was amply safeguarded against the chance imposition of unexpected burdens and satisfied the small Powers that at least a measure of control over the big Powers was to be retained by the Council, where all members would be represented. These results might not have been achieved had the agreement been concluded at a conference called for that purpose instead of being elaborated over the course of some sixteen months by negotiations carried on with all of the governments individually. In the field of food and agriculture, as already noted, the process did start with a conference; but it was continued through the appointment of an interim commission which has now spent over six months of work in elaborating and negotiating a plan of organization. Both methods, while not satisfying the impatient, are worth noting and keeping track of. Although they are not wholly new, they represent a deviation from the common prewar practice, probably inspired by the difficulties of wartime travel and the emergence of Washington as a principal center of world affairs.
There is no doubt that many of the smaller countries came to Atlantic City on November 10 with a mixture of hopes and fears. On the whole, they had good reason to be satisfied. Not too much significance is to be attached to the way committee posts of honor were distributed among the representatives of small and large states. That is the normal technique of international conferences, and while it was followed here with great goodwill it was not suggestive of any particular new trend. On the other hand, some of the newspapermen who have commented on the Atlantic City Conference have attached too much significance to what they considered the steam-roller technique of the chairman of the Conference, Mr. Acheson. It always seems to one who is not chairman that the chairman is excessively autocratic.
The real significance of the setup became apparent rather slowly during the course of the three-week session. In summary, what was done amounted to a democratization of the organization. The tone for this was set in the acceptance speech of Director General Lehman, which stressed the fact that he accepted his position as that of the servant of 44 governments and not as the representative of anyone of them. The tendency was strengthened as it became apparent that the big Powers were not attempting to shut off debate in the committees, where the actual work was done, and that the chairmen of those committees were acting with real independence.
Director General Lehman gave a fair picture of the processes in his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on December 10:
By way of example I should like to refer to the resolution and report that was developed by the subcommittee of the council on policies relating to agricultural rehabilitation and other means of raising food essential to relief. The chairman of the subcommittee was a member of the Soviet delegation, the vice chairman was the member of the Council for Costa Rica, the rapporteur, or drafting officer, a representative of the United Kingdom. Representatives of 35 other countries sat upon the subcommittee, with the representatives of the United States, China, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, France, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Poland, and Ethiopia taking active part in the discussion. Each paragraph of the report, on which the resolution was based, was discussed line by line. All were heard; the final version had the approval of all. The report and resolution, therefore, constitute an expression of the combined wisdom of the United Nations concerning just what should and what should not be attempted by U.N.R.R.A. in programs for the restoration of essential food production in the liberated areas.
One sensed the friendly atmosphere in the comments of many present who had labored in years past on the staffs of the League and the I.L.O. in Geneva. Of course there were disappointments, some of them bitter. Some of the small countries present undoubtedly secured from the meeting less than they had hoped for and less than they had a right to expect.
More important than all this was the rather unexpected emergence of the Council's various permanent committees as the bodies which will probably carry the burden of consultation and planning between the sessions. There is the Committee on Supplies, with eleven members and a Canadian chairman. There is the Committee on Financial Control, with a chairman from the United States and seven other members. Then there are the regional committees. The Committee of the Council for Europe, with members from the European states plus Brazil, Canada and the United States, is likely to be most active. The Committee of the Council for the Far East, in view of the difficulty of arranging representative meetings in Chungking at the moment, has already held organization meetings in Washington. This Committee includes representatives of Australia, China, the French Committee of National Liberation, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippine Commonwealth, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Soviet Government, for obvious reasons, did not wish to be represented on this Committee.
The Council also authorized technical standing committees on health, agriculture, welfare, displaced persons and industrial rehabilitation. Every member of the organization is entitled to be represented on these committees but the hope was strongly expressed that nations would not give notice of participation unless they had a genuine interest in the subject matter, for fear that the machinery might become clumsy and inefficient. These committees may, of course, develop an active rôle. But it seems more likely that their technical functions will be discharged through the technical subcommittees of the regional committees.
The Central Committee, which loomed over the horizon like a Frankenstein's monster in the pre-conference days, was hardly ever mentioned at Atlantic City. So far as is known, there has been no subsequent tendency to plan a lone hand for it at the expense of general team play.
The process of democratization was certainly facilitated by Article 3 of the UNRRA agreement which provides that, except in certain special cases, the Council shall vote by simple majority. Cromwell A. Riches [v] has noted the really surprising extent to which international organizations have been able to avoid the unanimity rule (most frequently, of course, in technical organizations and on technical points). Speaking at the closing session of the UNRRA Conference, the head of the Netherlands delegation pointed with satisfaction to the fact that the Great Powers had been voted down on several points during the meeting. This situation can really give some satisfaction to the small Powers without causing the Great Powers alarm. Much unnecessary attention is often devoted to the problem of setting up verbal safeguards for the position of the Great Powers in international organizations. One recalls the struggles over this point during the framing of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The draftsmen finally came out with a beautifully balanced plan of a Council controlled by the Great Powers and an Assembly in which all members would participate equally and in which, therefore, the small states would have a majority. The Covenant even named the states which should form the Council -- five Great Powers and four small ones. Before the League system momentarily disintegrated under the impact of the present war, the Council was composed of four Great Powers and eleven small ones. The Great Powers are better protected by their greatness than by the most ingenious formula.
This sketch of certain aspects of the UNRRA development has not paid enough attention to the complicated problem of the Combined Boards. The resolutions adopted at Atlantic City leave important powers to these instruments which, being exclusively Anglo-American, are organized on an even narrower basis than the Central Committee of UNRRA. The machinery of the Combined Boards could conceivably be used to hinder and even hamstring UNRRA. However, this would not necessarily be true. The fact that the Soviet Union is not part of the Combined Boards mechanism is a political fact of great importance.
One final aspect of our laboratory sample may be noted. Some persons have felt concern lest the piecemeal development of international organizations might militate against the eventual establishment of the overall world organization. The same fear has also been responsible for creating much of the objection to plans for regional organizations. UNRRA has gone far to dissipate such fears. In the gruelling preparatory period before the Conference met, members of the Secretariat of the League of Nations and of the International Labor Organization were present and gave constant advice on the plans being elaborated. Their observers were most welcome at Atlantic City, along with representatives of other appropriate international organizations, and the Council resolved to welcome their participation in future meetings. There also was sympathetic discussion and approval of the idea of the interchange of personnel among international organizations, through the process known as seconding or otherwise.
We might imagine that when the world organization is eventually established, its head might have as his cabinet the Director of the I.L.O., the Director General of UNRRA, the Director General of the Permanent Organization on Food and Agriculture and their opposite members in such other functional international organizations as may be established. It is even conceivable that these officials might be formed into a Central Committee before the general international organization is created. Such a committee could facilitate the latter development.
The new organizations which are to be set up, whether general or particular, seem certain to have a centralized character. That development now seems to be settled. One cannot say with quite so much assurance that modern trends toward broad motivation will be maintained. It is not inconceivable that a very few strong states might so far forget the lessons of the last century and a half as to ignore the fact that their own interests are inseparably connected with general peace and stability. But the use of international organization, particularly with a centralized form of administration, may conduce to an acceptance of the broad motivation.
As for the supposed issue of functionalism versus regionalism, there seems to be no real antithesis between the two. Developments along both lines seem likely. One may expect to see a continuation of the trend toward establishing separate organizations designed to discharge certain functions, such as stabilizing exchange, liberalizing commercial policies, facilitating international investments and protecting the interests of dependent peoples. They probably will be organized on a global basis, but possibly with separate reference to various geographical regions. In the political field, one should watch for developments indicating that consideration and formation of policy will take place on a global basis but with enforcement left as the task of regional groups. It would not be surprising if the Big Four were accepted as the law-enforcing group. They might be unwilling to surrender their power but nevertheless be willing to harness it to the needs of an organized international community. They might agree not to use it except in accordance with the decision of the international organization. When they did act, they might do so through a Combined General Staff which would delegate authority to task forces of the state most strategically located.
[i] "The Practice and Procedure of International Conferences." Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1929.
[ii] The late Harold J. Tobin followed the vicissitudes of these arrangements in "The Termination of Multipartite Treaties." New York: Columbia University Press, 1933.
[iii] James T. Shotwell urged this in developing his theory of "circles of responsibility."
[iv]Cf. his classic study of "Allied Shipping Control." Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921.
[v]Cf. his study "Majority Rule in International Organization." Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1940.
The United States and China Are Its Crucial Pillars