No. 52 NAI DT S3332
DUBLIN, 24 March 1923
IV. REASONS FOR IRELAND'S JOINING THE LEAGUE.
That the Irish Free State is eligible for membership of the League and would immediately be admitted is scarcely open to question. As established under the Treaty of 1921 it comes under the category of a 'fully self-governing State, Dominion or Colony['] (Covenant Article 1) and in particular has the same constitutional position of Canada - an original member of the League. A refusal to admit would strike at the position of the Dominion, whose support of the application is assured. Not less certain is the support of the British Government, not merely because admission to the League was held out to Ireland as one of the advantages of accepting the Treaty, but also because otherwise Great Britain would have to admit before all the world that the Treaty was a sham. Scarcely less certain is the support of the other smaller States which are members of the League. They will be glad of any addition to their numbers such as will increase their strength relative to the Great Powers. The necessary two-thirds majority seems to be assured, and indeed it is difficult to mention any State which might be expected to raise opposition.
Of the advantages both for Ireland and the world arising from membership of the League the following are the chief:-
(a) Recognition of Status.
Membership will secure a new and world-wide recognition of the status attained by the Irish Free State, membership being in fact at the present day one of the tests of the attainment of full self-government and of complete nationhood, as is witnessed by the eagerness to join the League displayed by all the small states constituted since the War. The appearance at the Assembly at Geneva each year of three representatives of the Government and people of Ireland will bring Ireland in a tangible shape before the world. To delegates from Eastern Europe or South America Ireland will cease to be a name, and will become a reality and a force in world affairs. The result cannot under present conditions be attained in any other way. On the other hand abstention from the League would certainly be misinterpreted, however wrongfully. It would almost certainly be supposed that there was some flaw in Ireland's title to membership, as being too small or still too much under English control. It would be regarded as in the position of Newfoundland, which was considered too small, or the Crown Colonies which are not self-governing. This impression, however mistaken, it might be very difficult to eradicate.
In particular, the position in relation to Great Britain will be made plain, namely that the Treaty of 1921 is an international Treaty between two countries internationally recognised.
Again, the difference of status between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland will be made more explicit. The latter as was pointed out by Mr. Lloyd- George in his letter to Sir James Craig of November 14th, 1921, (See Cmd. 1561) could not be admitted to the League, both on account of its size and as not being 'fully self-governing.'
One reason for the eagerness of small States to enter the League has been that it provides, if not a complete, yet at least a considerable security against aggression on the part of any other State. While the League at present leaves much to be desired as regards its power of preventing aggression, it at any rate provides a means of publicity and of protest against any aggressive act, publicity which has several times proved of great value, as in the case of Albania above. If aggression is feared, membership of the League is at any rate one means of protection against it.
(c) Influence in world affairs.
Membership of the League gives to small nations a voice in world affairs which they did not possess and could not have secured previously. At the meetings of the Assembly or Council it is not merely the size or military strength of nations which gives them influence, but the character and abilities of the men they send to represent them, this marking a great change from earlier diplomacy. It is remarkable to how great an extent the leadership in the Assembly has been taken by men representing small countries, Nansen of Norway, Hymans of Belgium, Lord Robert Cecil representing South Africa, Motta of Switzerland are notable examples. If Ireland sends men who can carry similar weight, and who can help in improving relations between other countries (sitting on arbitrations etc.) it will not only be to the advantage of the world but to the honour of Ireland herself.
(d) Share in the co-operative activities of the League.
Membership involves the right to share in the various schemes of international co-operation enumerated in Part 11 (a). The advisability of taking part in these, and the advantages to be gained thereby, need no emphasis. In particular a share in those bodies which deal with international communications and transport seems almost a necessity for a country which desires to promote her international trade.
There will also be a desire to help forward the various humanitarian activities of the League.
(e) Work for world-peace. Lastly, the League, notwithstanding its faults and weaknesses, is in aim and intention an organisation working for world-peace and better international relations. Ireland, or any other country which has those objects in view, can by its membership and support of the League do much to bring about their attainment.
A word may be said on some of the objections which can be brought against joining the League.
First, it will be said that the United States has refused to join, and that the best policy for Ireland is to follow that example. Such a policy might be sound if Ireland was situated on the other side of the Atlantic. But Ireland is and must be part of the European system, and for European States membership of the League and its subsidiary organisations is becoming almost a necessity of prosperous life. No real analogy can be drawn between an isolated country like the United States and a country like Ireland, small and necessarily linked with the European system. Moreover, the United States is at present the most powerful country in the world, and as such is certain to exert a great influence in international affairs, whether a member of the League or not (though many consider that her influence has been greatly weakened by abstention). For Ireland the case is entirely different. Refusal to enter the League does not in her case mean a position of influence, but a position of isolation in which she can be completely ignored.
Secondly, it may be urged that the League is a sham, that it is entirely under the control of the victors in the Great War, or is dominated by the Great Powers, or again that it is in fact powerless to carry out its avowed aims. For all these objections there is a considerable basis. The League is by no means as free or as powerful as might be desired. But the important fact is that with regard to all these three objections the League shows signs of steady improvement. It is by no means only a League of victors since three of their former enemies have now been admitted, and since many former neutrals are playing a prominent part. It is less and less dominated by the Great Powers as is shown not merely by the position of leadership in the Assembly held by representatives on the Council of the less powerful States (see Part 1 (b)). As regards the powerlessness of the League, it must be admitted that up to the present it has not had opportunity to deal with any international dispute of the first magnitude (though Upper Silesia might be so regarded). But the dissolution of the Supreme Council of the Allies which formerly arrogated the main power to itself, and with the virtual breakdown of the Entente, the League is almost certain to gather strength as the one real international organisation still existing. There are increasing indications of its ability to deal with large questions. It must also be remembered that the League has only been three years in existence, and much of its attention has necessarily been given to setting up and developing its own organisation, methods, procedure, etc. It could not be expected to reach full effectiveness rapidly, considering that it is a unique and unprecedented development in world affairs.
But even if all the objections on the ground of the powerlessness of the League were sound, they would not constitute a conclusive argument against Ireland's entry. The advantages of securing recognition and of sharing in its co-operative activities would still hold good. This also is an additional reason. Whatever be thought of the present League, it is admitted on all hands, even in the United States, that some sort of association of nations is a necessity. The League may possibly have to be altered radically and changed into some better association. But it is certain that if that should happen the countries which are members of the present League will have a considerable voice in determining what changes are necessary and what form the new association should take, while small nations which have stood aloof would again be very probably ignored.
More probably, however, if the catastrophe of another world war can be averted, the present League will gradually reform itself and evolve into a more genuine and effective organ of international co-operation and of peace. That it should do so is to the supreme interest of Ireland as of any other small country to which peace and freedom are the first necessities. Whether it will succeed in doing so depends entirely on the members of the League themselves. In bringing about this evolution Ireland as a member would be able to play a part not inferior to that of any of the smaller European countries, and in fact superior to many of them. If Irish influence, not merely at home but exercised as it can be in many parts of the world, should be thrown definitely on the side of the League it might easily be one of the decisive influences making for world peace.
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
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