The Structural and Practical Legacy of an International Civil Service

  • David Macfadyen
  • Michael D. V. Davies
  • Marilyn Norah Carr
  • John Burley
Part of the Understanding Governance book series (TRG)


The ethos of an independent International Civil Service owing loyalty exclusively to the organization spread from the League to the UN system. The functioning of today’s international secretariats and the nature of their management structures can be traced back to the League. The chapter examines such matters as the appointment of staff; the application of staff rules; the oath of office; the League’s experience in marrying the British system of delegated responsibilities with the French-style centralized Cabinet; and the financing of UN organizations. The present balance in responsibilities between governing bodies and secretariats also derives from League practices. The League’s openness to public scrutiny set the tone for the future. UN Secretary-General Hammarskjöld acknowledged Drummond’s influence in building the international secretariat.


International Civil Service General Assembly Noblemaire Administrative Tribunal Assessed contributions Trust Funds 

10.1 Structures, Governance and Functions


Commentators have observed the structural and governance similarities between the UN and the League. In essence the UN mirrors the League from annual [General] Assembly meetings with more frequent [Security] Council sessions to a series of equivalent committees or commissions such as the Legal Committee, a Disarmament Committee and the Trusteeship Council. The League’s Assembly pioneered the practice that almost all of the UN system follows, of opening a general assembly with a series of state-of-the-nation speeches from heads of delegation before moving to the detailed agenda. The euro-centric League Assembly used to meet in September/October. The UN General Assembly (GA), despite its global membership, also meets at this time.

The author of the League’s governance structure was Colban, to whom Drummond had assigned the task of establishing committees to deal with the Assembly’s work. Colban initially suggested establishing Committees comprised of those members of delegations with appropriate expertise, but Monnet believed that each delegation should be involved in all the committees; each of which could establish smaller sub-committees with delegates chosen for their subject-matter knowledge. This avoided ‘the rather complicated task of having to choose among all delegations those who could be seen as particularly qualified …’ 1 and was the genesis of ‘committees of the whole’, open to all Members, as opposed to specialized committees which had restricted membership. Furthermore, Walters credits the Secretariat with devising a ‘bureau’ of the chairs of the six Assembly committees to assist the President and the six Vice-presidents elected by the Assembly. 2 The ‘bureau’ concept transferred across to the UN GA which originally had 13 Vice-presidents plus the six committee chairpersons and which is known as the General Committee.

There is little functional difference between the final committee structure of the League and of the UN, they differ only in name and designated number. The sole ‘new’ UN organ was the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which emerged from reforms suggested by the 1939 Bruce Committee (see Chapter  12). Other UN constituent parts also replicated those of the League, most notably the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions which mirrors the League’s Supervisory Committee, and a further committee to determine the scale of members’ contributions. The UN Military Staff Committee which is staffed by the permanent members of the Security Council (SC) is similar to the League’s Permanent Advisory Commission which was run by the Great Powers.

The League Council when considering a particularly complex issue appointed one member as a Rapporteur whose function was to consider all positions and to draft a balanced report. This practice, introduced in 1920 by the French statesman Léon Bourgeois, 3 has transferred across to the SC where a resolution is often developed by a ‘pen holder’ (usually a Permanent Member).

The League’s legacies also spilled over into the Specialized Agencies. Almost all have the same governance structure of a periodic Assembly of all members plus an executive Council of selected members meeting more frequently. However, the international financial institutions (IBRD and IMF) have quite different governance arrangements. American predominance in their formation resulted in an over-arching intergovernmental assembly and a permanent Executive Board chaired by the executive head which approves day-to-day policies and operations.

Early Public International Unions (PIU), such as the International Institute for Agriculture (IIA), had an information-gathering role. From the start, the League’s Secretariat understood that continuing this work was an important part of its responsibilities and almost every major conference was preceded by data collation and dissemination. For this to be effective, statistical methods had to be standardized and as early as 1919, a meeting of statistical experts was convened which led to the creation in 1920 of a Committee of Statistical Experts, a body that still exists within the UN structure (see Chapter  12).

One of the major developments in international administration introduced by the League Secretariat was the concept of ‘expert committees’, whose members were selected not simply to ensure a balance between governments’ interests, but for the expertise that individuals could bring to discussions. To some extent, this was derived from the wartime inter-allied committee structure. Salter credits Monnet for bringing this into being 4 by proposing that policies be created ‘by direct communication of expert with expert’ and which are ‘subject to real international consultation while still in the actual process of formulation’. 5

As is the case today, League committees were advisory to the governing bodies. Walters considered that the ‘Financial and Economic Committees were pre-eminent in the ability and authority of their members … Under their auspices the experts of the Secretariat established a world-wide economic intelligence service and thereby placed at the disposal of the smallest states … a mass of information far superior to that which even the greatest could have acquired for itself’. 6 About half the members of the Finance Committee were bankers and its procedures foreshadowed the working practices of the Bank for International Settlements. 7 Even the Americans came to appreciate the League’s effective committee structure stating that ‘the United States Government is keenly aware of the value of this type of general interchange and desires to see it extended’. 8

The present balance in responsibilities between governing bodies, their committees and the Secretariats also derives from League practices. Howard Ellis noted that the League Secretariat functioned as an ‘intermediary’ at meetings and briefed or lobbied for draft resolutions and other outcomes. 9 While this exposes Secretariats to criticism, this is now accepted practice and today most technical committees depend on their Secretariats for report writing and drafting resolutions. This was not early UN practice and Loveday, when asked to make proposals for the UN Statistical Commission, wrote that:

… the secretariat cannot possibly get the influence and position it ought to have unless it first prepares the document or documents basic to the discussions which are to take place, secondly steers the committee through the points it raises in those documents, and thirdly drafts the committee’s report. This drafting of the report seems to me [to be] of quite vital importance for a number of reasons. First it prevents irresponsible recommendations … secondly it relates the recommendations to solid preparatory work; thirdly it avoids [the] risk of a quite incompetent rapporteur; fourthly it renders a logical sequence in the reports possible. … Certainly … we generally drafted the resolutions. As time passed this became increasingly necessary because the resolutions had to fit into the previous resolutions and action taken, about which the delegates were necessarily less familiar than the secretariat. 10

The preparation of annotated agendas and subject-specific reports for meetings of governing bodies is another function of present day Secretariats that derives directly from League practice. Walters recalled that: ‘At the First Council the Secretariat presented a document on the single agenda item to delimit the Saar/German frontier’ and that it had ‘toiled for many hours over the preparation of this simple act’. He went on to state that

A printed document set forth the circumstances … in language of which every comma had been carefully considered. No one knew what the attitude of its members would be towards this unknown phenomenon; and there were, in fact, some among them who seemed surprised and doubtful when Bourgeois [the presiding Chairman] motioned the Secretary-General to take a seat, not among the experts and secretaries, but at the Council table itself.

Then at the Second Council session it was agreed that every question on the agenda should be considered in the light of a Secretariat note setting out the facts and reproducing relevant documents but without expressing any opinion. 11

When advising UNESCO, Loveday again repeated the advice that the best plan was to have a brief printed report written and organized with an eye to the general plan of the agenda and for special branches of work to have an annotated agenda prepared in advance. 12


10.2 Evolution of the International Civil Service (ICS)


The genesis of international organizations and their Secretariats has been traced back to the PIU and specifically IIA. These organizations had some internationally recruited staff but in the main they were employed as national civil servants. Although IIA paid and managed its staff as Italian nationals, the institution (unlike earlier PIUs) was independent of the host state. At the 1919 Peace Conference the thinking behind PIUs was still in evidence in Hankey’s proposal for an organization staffed by delegations seconded from national administrations. Grey, hoped that, under his protégé, the Secretariat would ‘develop in a short time into nothing less than a great international civil service’. 13

The ‘Round Table’, a British association of advocates of Empire and the Dominions had similar views. Their magazine, The Round Table, edited for the first few years by Philip Kerr, published lead articles on behalf of the group. 14 Drummond was not a member but was in contact with several of them during the period 1914–1919, and their ideas supported his position. The March 1919 issue of The Round Table 15 contained a lead article ‘Practical Organization of Peace’ in which Kerr promoted an International Secretariat which, as quoted in Chapter  4, was envisaged as an assembly of public servants of various countries, not national ambassadors, but rather civil servants under the sole direction of a non-national leader, the aim of the whole organization being to evolve a practical international sense and common purpose.

What Kerr advocated was reflected in the Secretariat that Drummond established. When commenting on its origins in 1924, Drummond stated that the concept was of ‘an international civil service, in which men and women of various nationalities might unite in preparing and presenting to the members of the League an objective and common basis of discussion’. 16 His 1924 article continued:

International conferences in the past had often suffered from the lack of any organized international preparatory work, and we felt that it was exactly in this domain that a new system was required … It seemed to us that it would be of great value if an expert and impartial organization existed which, before discussion by the national representatives took place, could draw up objective statements of the problems to be discussed, and indicate those points on which it seemed that the Governments were generally in accord. If this could be done, we held that discussion by the government representatives would be automatically limited to matters where divergence of view really existed – and all who have had experience of international affairs know how much this increases the chances of reaching a definite and successful result. Further, we maintained that the execution of decisions should be entrusted to people who, being the servants of all the States Members of the League, could be relied upon to carry them out with complete freedom from national bias.

Drummond was consistent in his explanation, which he repeated in 1931 when speaking to the Institute of Public Administration. At that time he also indicated that he had felt strongly about the principle and made no secret of his conviction that adoption of the plan for a Secretariat independent of national governments was essential if the League was to develop in the way its founders hoped. 17

His civil service background must also have played a role in his wish for an impartial Secretariat. When speaking in the House of Lords in 1942 he said that:

When I first entered the Civil Service, the principle which was instilled into my mind … was that we owed allegiance to the responsible Minister of the Crown, and that it was our duty to serve him to the utmost of our capacity. It did not matter what was the political persuasion of the Government; … what we had to do was to work out, to the best of our ability, the policy laid down by the Minister. I believe that these ought still to be the guiding principles of the Civil Service. 18

The ICS quickly established an efficient and reliable way of working. In 1922, the British delegation to the Third Assembly, which included Balfour and Cecil Hurst, one of the Covenant’s drafters, reported to the Foreign Office that: ‘Before closing this despatch we desire to pay a tribute to the excellence of the organization of the Secretariat General of the League at Geneva, the efficiency of which is beyond all praise. … We feel confident that so long as the League has at its disposal the services of so distinguished and so devoted a body of employees, it will never fail to accomplish rapidly and efficiently every task, however difficult, which may be entrusted to it by its members’. 19

Drummond, through his own example and his encouragement of others, created a new concept from scratch and nurtured it to such an extent that it survived both the weak leadership of Avenol and the political and economic catastrophes of the 1930s and the Second World War. He set standards of behaviour, recruited as broadly as the membership would allow, and saw the Secretariat’s competence become recognized by Member States. However, as in all international bureaucracies, he made trade-offs between selection by nationality and seeking the best qualified persons for specific tasks, a shortcoming that succeeding generations have failed to overcome and possibly never will. As has been seen in the previous chapter, the concept’s endurance was facilitated by the recognition that certain League and ILO functions were of sufficient importance that they were continued during the course of the war and these remnants of the Secretariat provided the springboard for a revitalized service.

Suzanne Bastid’s definition of an international civil servant is still valid, being ‘a person to whom the representatives of several states, or an organ acting on their behalf, have entrusted, by virtue of an inter-State agreement and under their supervision, the continuous and exclusive exercise of functions in the common interests of the States in question subject to special legal rules’. 20 Dag Hammarskjöld, who along with Drummond is credited with the codification of the ICS, was quite clear about Drummond’s contribution, citing the classic statement of the principles found in the report drafted by Drummond and submitted to the Council by Balfour: 21

By the terms of the Treaty, the duty of selecting the staff falls upon the Secretary-General, just as the duty of approving [the selection] falls upon the Council. In making his appointments, he had primarily to secure the best available men and women for the particular duties which had to be performed; but in doing so, it was necessary to have regard to the great importance of selecting the officials from various nations. Evidently no one nation or group of nations ought to have a monopoly in providing the material for this international institution. I emphasise the word ‘international’ because the members of the Secretariat once appointed are no longer the servants of the country of which they are citizens, but become for the time being the servants only of the League of Nations. Their duties are not national but international. 22

Even in today’s much more complex and inter-related world, the typical international civil servant subsumes his or her nationalistic inclinations into the needs of an organization and, in most cases, attempts by their own states to influence their work are controllable and minimal. That this is so is, in the main, due to the impartial role of the League Secretariat which was carried over by the UN system’s founders, despite any negative perceptions they may have had of the League itself.

There are, however, two caveats. The first is that there are certain countries (notably those of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War) which retain close control over those of their nationals seconded to work in international organizations. Fortunately, their attempts to oversee the work of their nationals have been of little consequence as other international civil servants have been well aware of the problems. The second is that just as in the League, the appointments of USGs, ASGs or Directors-Generals are political. In many cases these senior appointees adopt an independent stance (such as the position taken by the British UN USG Kieran Prendergast who opposed the 2003 Anglo-American intervention in Iraq) but there are some who are less committed to working disinterestedly.

One notable feature of the Secretariat’s work was the facility with which even relatively junior staff had access to a wide range of senior government figures when compared to today. By 1925, Loveday considered that:

A wide and ever growing network of personal acquaintances and experience connected the organizations of Geneva … not only with the Foreign Offices but also with the Ministries of Commerce, Health, Transport and other departments with which the League’s activities were concerned. … experience showed that such cooperation was a plant of quick and natural growth … politicians, officials and experts of all nationalities found it easy and even agreeable to work together …’ 23

The rise of Fascism in Italy and of the Nazi Party in Germany changed everything. Even though Drummond insisted on his right to appoint staff, the pressures he faced changed the nature of senior management. No longer was there the open and trusting camaraderie of the early years.

Broadly, the ICS has a management structure that derives from both the League under Drummond and ILO under Thomas. Drummond with his British Civil Service background encouraged a degree of delegation to lower management levels and a general openness, leading to a fairly devolved structure; Thomas on the other hand followed the French system of centralized control where, for example, all major documents passed through a Cabinet before and after being actioned at lower levels. In ILO the French suspicion of a British-style central registry was overcome by giving the Chef de Cabinet the right to extract items from the incoming mail. 24 When Drummond resigned, which coincided with Thomas’ death, the leaderships switched, with the Frenchman Avenol taking over at the League and the Englishman Harold Butler at ILO. The result was that the League moved somewhat closer to the French dirigiste system while ILO moved away. These Franco-British influences resulted in the management structures of both organizations converging into a British system of delegated responsibilities with an overlay imposed by a small Cabinet which dealt with and oversaw sensitive matters. Despite numerous management reforms, this particular facet of the management structure of many international organizations has generally stood the test of time.

The League’s Covenant was relatively silent about the Secretariat’s role and work because its nature had still to be established and the initiative’s newness left many questions to be defined by practice. In contrast the UN Charter has more specifics about the Secretariat. These, in part, are based on the League’s experience, but also fill gaps in the Covenant. Table 10.1 compares the relevant paragraphs of the two documents to show where they are similar and where they differ. For this purpose, the Articles of the Charter are taken out of order to indicate how they relate to the Covenant. Hammarskjöld attributed the adoption of Article 100 in the Charter directly to Drummond’s equivalent decision concerning the League’s Secretariat.
Table 10.1

Comparison of the Covenant and the Charter (selected articles)

The Covenant

UN Charter [compared to the Covenant]

Article 6

The permanent Secretariat shall be established at the Seat of the League. The Secretariat shall comprise a Secretary-General and such secretaries and staff as may be required

The first Secretary– General shall be the person named in the Annex; thereafter the Secretary-General shall be appointed by the Council with the approval of the majority of the Assembly

The secretaries and staff of the Secretariat shall be appointed by the Secretary-General with the approval of the Council

The Secretary-General shall act in that capacity at all meetings of the Assembly and of the Council

The expenses of the Secretariat shall be borne by the Members of the League in accordance with the apportionment of the expenses of the International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union

Article 97

The Secretariat shall comprise a Secretary-General and such staff as the Organization may require. The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. He shall be the chief administrative officer of the Organization

The Secretary-General shall act in that capacity in all meetings of the General Assembly, of the Security Council, of the Economic and Social Council, and of the Trusteeship Council, and shall perform such other functions as are entrusted to him by these organs. The Secretary-General shall make an annual report to the General Assembly on the work of the Organization. [Codifies the League’s practice of an Annual Report]

The expenses of the Organization shall be borne by the Members as apportioned by the General Assembly

Article 7

The Seat of the League is established at Geneva

The Council may at any time decide that the Seat of the League shall be established elsewhere

All positions under or in connection with the League, including the Secretariat, shall be open equally to men and women. Representatives of the Members of the League and officials of the League when engaged on the business of the League shall enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities. [Separate Convention developed for the UN]

The buildings and other property occupied by the League or its officials or by Representatives attending its meetings shall be inviolable. [Part of the separate Convention]

[No equivalent in the UN Charter]

Article 8

The United Nations shall place no restriction on the eligibility of men and women to participate in any capacity and under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary

Article 15

If there should arise between Members of the League any dispute likely to lead to a rupture, which is not submitted to arbitration as above, the Members of the League agree that they will submit the matter to the Council. Any party to the dispute may effect such submission by giving notice of the existence of the dispute to the Secretary-General, who will make all necessary arrangements for a full investigation and consideration thereof

Article 99

The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security

[Expanded powers for the Secretary-General allowing for more proactive interventions at the Security Council and the General Assembly compared to Article 15]

Article 18

Every treaty or international engagement entered into hereafter by any Member of the League shall be forthwith registered with the Secretariat and shall as soon as possible be published by it. No such treaty or international engagement shall be binding until so registered.

Article 102

Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it.

Article 24

There shall be placed under the direction of the League all international bureaux already established by general treaties if the parties to such treaties consent. All such international bureaux and all commissions for the regulation of matters of international interest hereafter constituted shall be placed under the direction of the League

The Council may include as part of the expenses of the Secretariat the expenses of any bureau or commission which is placed under the direction of the League. [The UN Specialized Agencies have separate arrangements]

Article 101

1. The staff shall be appointed by the Secretary-General under regulations established by the General Assembly. [A new provision reflecting League practice]

2. Appropriate staff shall be permanently assigned to the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and, as required, to other organs of the United Nations. These staffs shall form a part of the Secretariat

3. The paramount consideration in the employment of the staff and in the determination of the conditions of service shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity. Due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible. [A new provision reflecting League practice]

Staff Regulations 1933, Article 1

The officials of the Secretariat of the League of Nations are exclusively international officials and their duties are not national, but international. By accepting appointment, they pledge themselves to discharge their functions and regulate their conduct with the interests of the League alone in view. They are subject to the authority of the Secretary General and are responsible to him in the exercise of their functions … They may not seek or receive instructions from any Government or other authority than the Secretariat of the League of Nations

Article 100

In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any authority external to the Organization. They shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the organization.

[A new provision based on League practice as reflected in the oath of office and in Article 1 of the 1933 Staff Regulations]

The ethos of an independent ICS, owing loyalty exclusively to the organization, has spread far beyond the UN system into other global and regional organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It is now an accepted element of most new international regimes, although those in which the USSR had a substantial influence in their formation tend to reflect the alternative model where secondment is the norm (for example the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

Drummond’s great contribution to multilateralism is the creation of the ICS. It endures and shows no sign of significant weakening especially in the more technical disciplines, despite attempts to change its nature (such as the Soviet ‘Troika’ proposal of the 1960s). The first UN Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, was clear about Drummond’s contribution, saying ‘His decision to create the first truly International Secretariat was a decision of profound significance—surely one of the most important and promising political developments of the twentieth century. His place in history is secure’. 25


10.3 Staff Rules and Regulations


Colban prepared the League’s first staff regulations which were redrafted in 1922, following the Council’s examination of conditions of service by a committee chaired by the Frenchman Georges Noblemaire. In 1928 the Assembly appointed a Committee of Thirteen to re-examine them which led to a further revision in 1933. At Dumbarton Oaks, in 1944, American participants decided not to complicate an already complex agenda with a proposed overhaul of the ICS but supported a straightforward continuation of League practices until the new organization was established. Thus, for example, the concept of a biennial home leave for internationally recruited staff and their families derives directly from a practice the League adopted, 26 as was the need for a pension fund. The Executive Committee of the UN Preparatory Commission also accepted the League’s rules as the basis for its work. The result is that the explicit duties and obligations that apply to UN staff today correspond closely to those of the League.

As far as was possible, staff were involved in decisions that impacted on their work. The Staff Regulations ensured that committees were established to advise on work-related issues. The Secretary-General and senior staff were free to call for the opinion of any staff member they felt could contribute to a decision and, according to Loveday, this was a major factor contributing to excellent morale. 27 Drummond set up such committees so that the equity of any decision could not be open to doubt. 28

The more important ICS practices which derive from the League are of two types, those concerned with the need to ensure that the League recruited and protected a loyal staff of diverse nationality working outside their own country and those that related to the staff’s working conditions and environment.

The League, like many international organizations today, needed to select staff of the highest levels of competence but simultaneously had to respect the need for geographical balance representative of the membership. This has always been difficult to achieve if the effectiveness of a Secretariat is the paramount consideration. As seen above, Drummond drafted the Balfour proposals which put this into effect. 29 He was the main driver in ensuring balance in the Secretariat and his approach has been replicated. He pronounced that the real difficulty lay in the clash of the two needs, and that ‘It is only possible to treat each case on its merits … No hard and fast rule can be laid down’. 30 Today, in the UN System there is a system of quotas for filling posts and this too, has its origins in the League. When Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, wrote about the scarcity of South Africans on the staff, he was told ‘that the British representation on the staff was already in excess of their proportion’. 31

As seen in Chapters  4 and  5, Realpolitik forced Drummond to recognize the importance of the Great Powers. This is mirrored today in the selection of senior UN officials who are nationals of the SC’s five Permanent Members. Governments still try to press the case for their own nominees. Drummond informed the FO that he had:

offered Paulucci Attolico’s place on the Secretariat … I had, for reasons of principle, to show that the initiative for such appointments must rest with me. Perhaps you know that the first candidate proposed by the German Government was not such as I wanted and I negotiated on this question some considerable time before securing Dufour. However, as soon as I mentioned Dufour’s name, the Germans put [it] forward as their own candidate. 32

At the time, Nicolson at the FO observed that ‘it was regrettable Drummond should have purchased the support of M. Mussolini for the principles of the League (which he could never comprehend) at the price of posts for Italians’. 33

At lower levels, just as today, there was more flexibility but Drummond required any professional appointment to be cleared with him so that he could be sure that his Directors were selecting staff on as wide a basis as possible. Loveday recorded that Drummond’s ‘ruling might give complete freedom regarding nationality, or might be a request to seek first in one or another group of countries … if after an exhaustive and genuine search no suitable candidate could be found the permitted area might be extended’. 34 Drummond established a Committee on Appointments and Promotions to ensure that candidates matched the requirements of the post. However, in trying to recruit from certain countries there existed examples of stereotyping that, in today’s context, are objectionable. 35 Fosdick recalled that an interviewee for a librarian’s job, when asked how he would classify books, he replied ‘I put the big books on the big shelves and the little books on the little shelves’. 36 He did not get the job!

The loyalty of staff was reinforced by the requirement that they take an oath of office. The identical oath is used by the UN System to this day (adapted slightly to include the larger number of autonomous UN organizations). They read:

The League

I solemnly undertake in all loyalty, discretion, and conscience the functions that have been entrusted to me as […] of the League of Nations to discharge my functions and to regulate my conduct with the interests of the League alone in view and not to seek or receive instructions from any Government or other external authority.

The UN

I solemnly swear (undertake, promise) to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience the functions entrusted to me as an international civil servant of […], to discharge these functions and regulate my conduct with the interests of the […] only in view, and not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any government or other authority external to the Organization.

To complement this, both League and UN staff have been forbidden from receiving honours from governments. 37

Drummond’s efforts to develop an impartial International Secretariat have been described in Chapter  5. In 1925 Rappard expressed doubts about the role of the Secretariat’s topmost officials, stating that ‘the chief members of British, French and Italian nationality in the Secretariat had a duty to put to the fore the views of their respective governments’. 38 This comment upset Drummond and undermined the impartial example that he presented to the Secretariat. In a Directors meeting he responded that:

It was true that the chief nationals of the great powers on the Secretariat had to keep in close touch with their Governments because it was a fact that these governments exercised a great influence in international politics. It was incorrect to say that these officials should or did attempt to ensure the vision or the point of view of their own Government in the Secretariat. 39

Rappard was clearly in two minds. By 1931 he was writing that Drummond had created ‘a reputation of international impartiality … which is as valuable to the League as it is creditable to those responsible for establishing and maintaining it’. 40 However, not all contemporary observers were fully convinced of the staff’s impartiality. By 1928, The Spectator’s Geneva correspondent was writing that ‘the League has come to count for so much in the world that Great Powers think it worthwhile to insist that their nominees, very often now professional diplomats, shall be given high places in the Secretariat’. 41 Max Beer, the Austrian-born Marxist journalist, wrote:

The internationalization of the League’s officials as formulated by Lord Balfour and the League regulations would seem to be a sham. Fortunately everything is explained by the one word liaison. … It means that, in the interest of the Secretariat, the Lithuanian officials establish liaison with Lithuania, the Germans with Germany and the French with France. … If the Secretary-General, who theoretically has ceased to be British goes to London before every important meeting, and the Italian … goes to Rome, this is supposed to be liaison. Where does it begin, where does it end, and what cause does it serve? 42

Despite the desire for a fully independent ICS, there were lapses. Albert Thomas was a member of the French Chamber of Deputies for a time 43 and, as has been described, many senior staff had easy access to the corridors of power in their own countries and in some cases drafted positions for their governments. Salter prepared a memorandum for Ramsay MacDonald 44 covering the questions of German admission to the League, security and disarmament, which informed UK policy. Another difference from the standards that were later adopted for the UN was that staff were allowed to earn outside income as long as doing so did not interfere with their duties. Thus Loveday was paid fees for BBC broadcasts and for writing articles for Encyclopaedia Britannica. 45

Drummond was the proximate cause of a new rule adopted by the UN. As seen in Chapter  3, his acceptance of the ambassadorship to Italy was viewed unfavourably. As a consequence, in 1946 the UN GA adopted Resolution 11(1) which states:

Because a Secretary-General is a confidant of many governments, it is desirable that no Member should offer him, at any rate immediately on retirement, any governmental position in which his confidential information might be a source of embarrassment to other Members, and on his part a Secretary-General should refrain from accepting any such position.

One of Drummond’s first tasks on arriving in Geneva was to negotiate the legal status of the staff with the Swiss Government. Immunity from national and cantonal taxes, fiscal requirements and some customs levies was agreed for all staff. The Secretary-General assigned staff into two categories defining their rights, with additional privileges for the topmost positions (which still survive in Geneva today). 46 Although for most purposes this agreement applied to staff based in Geneva, he recognized that there were lacunae for those posted elsewhere for whom country-specific agreements had to be negotiated. It took some time, for example, for immunities to be negotiated for PCIJ staff at The Hague. The lesson was, however, learnt when the UN started up:

In the light of the experience of twenty-five years of League history the United Nations, when drawing up their constitution, felt that an attempt should be made to formulate a definitive body of doctrine and the charter accordingly charged the new General Assembly with the task of determining the details of the privileges and immunities to be granted. As a result of this instruction a General Convention was developed and approved by the Assembly in the spring of 1946. 47

Another legal protection for the staff was provided by the Council’s creation of an Administrative Tribunal in 1927 (Text Box 10.1). Examples such as this reinforce Clavin’s perspective that the League provided the UN with: ‘essential scaffolding in intellectual and practical terms. The Princeton Mission told the Americans how to recruit, manage and sustain the bureaucracy of the new institutions’ 48 (see Chapter  13).
Text Box 10.1

The Administrative Tribunala

At the Assembly’s First Session members of the Secretariat and of the ILO, who were appointed for five years or more, were granted the right to appeal to the Council or the ILO Governing Body if dismissed. The first case was brought by François Monod in 1925. The Council, needing to develop a new procedure, first requested the Supervisory Commission to look into the matter then, on its recommendation, appointed a panel of three jurists to examine the legal issues involved. By agreeing to accept the panel’s decision in advance, it ensured that due process was respected. Monod was eventually awarded £750 compensation.

Following this, concern was expressed at the cumbersome nature of the Council’s involvement and that a proper judicial system should be established, rather than leaving the final decision to government representatives. Accordingly, in 1927, the Assembly established an Administrative Tribunal. Over the next few years the Tribunal heard 21 complaints and, in two of them, awarded compensation. It was reconvened after the war to consider the situation of officials whose contracts had been terminated in 1939 as part of the wartime cut-back of staff. However, the final League Assembly decided not to give effect to those Tribunal decisions.

The UN created its own US-based tribunal. However in Europe, in April 1946, there was a seamless changeover, as the ILO Tribunal (ILO/AT) continued and became the Tribunal for UN Specialized Agencies based in Europe. In October 1948 WHO aligned itself to the ILO/AT as did UNESCO, ITU, WMO and FAO in 1953.

Both tribunals were given greater powers to adjudicate over contractual issues and two other changes were instituted: the possibility of further appeal to the International Court of Justice was introduced; and the requirement of the appellant to pay a fee of 1/50th of his/her annual income was abolished.

The application of case law means that, to this day, the League Tribunal’s judgements continue to be recognized. For example, its decision that, in the absence of specific rules, it could refer to general principles of law and of equality (equité). The two tribunals continue to provide judicial assurance to staff who are otherwise disenfranchised from national processes.

aCour Internationale de Justice. (1954), Memoires, Plaidoiries et Documents


International salaries have always been a point of dispute particularly with the major budget contributor. There are distinct similarities between the British stance over salaries at the League and that of the US over those of the UN System.

The work of the 1921 ‘Noblemaire Committee’, inevitably involved a study of salaries. The Committee proposed paying salaries ‘based on those of the highest-paid Civil Service in the world, i.e. those of the British Empire’. It concluded that: ‘we do not see how any other course could have been followed, since, if lower salaries had been offered, it would be impossible to obtain the services of Britishers of the required standing, or, if the United States join the League, of any North Americans. … It would be difficult … to pay lower salaries for the same work to members of other nationalities’. Within the UN, this definition is now known as the Noblemaire Principle. 49 The League examined salaries twice more in 1929 and 1932 but found no better solution.

In 1945 the UN Preparatory Commission also adopted the formulation used by the League by stating that the employment in the Secretariat should be such as will attract qualified candidates from any part of the world i.e. ‘the most highly paid home and foreign services’. 50 However, following the economic upheavals of the Second World War, it was no longer the British Civil Service that offered the best salaries but that of the USA. Over a number of years the early decisions concerning UN System salaries have been reviewed many times but pay is still governed by the Noblemaire Principle. The Principle has been best stated by the 1972 Special Committee for the Review of the United Nations Salary System, namely that: ‘since there should be no difference in salary on the grounds of nationality, the conditions of service of the international staff must be such as to attract citizens of the country with the highest pay levels’. 51

The structure of the UN salary scale is similar to the League’s although from the start the number of annual or biennial pay ‘steps’ per defined grade in the UN was greater than at the League where the concept of career service had not been fully developed. Although the pay of international officials was based on the British Foreign Service, in reality League salaries were higher in nominal terms as a cost-of-living adjustment was applied to equate pay between London and Geneva and this created some of the discontent expressed by Member States. Cost-of-living comparison and adjustment introduced for Geneva has led directly to the UN System’s ‘Post Adjustment’ which equates the salaries of international staff over many different locations.

When the League established its provisional headquarters in London the British Government, mindful that this was to be a temporary situation exempted staff from income tax. On moving to Geneva and in negotiating privileges and immunities for the staff, Drummond secured a similar exemption, arguing that taxes would introduce inequities both for governments and staff, an argument that remains valid. In calculating salary scales the after-tax levels of comparator civil services are used.

The League also introduced various elements of remuneration (which continue today) to recognize the specific needs of staff working in an international environment; these included, home leave, health insurance and a contributory pension system in which the staff accrued pension benefits based on a formula which was similar to the initial provisions adopted for the UN pension system.

By 1940 there were enough League and ILO retirees that an association was established in Geneva to look after the interests of pensioners. In 1970 a similar association was replicated by UN retirees, but during the 1970s the relations between the two groups were uneasy. Difficulties were eventually resolved in the esprit de Genève when the two associations were both led by Swiss nationals, Paul Blanc in Geneva and Henri Reymond, a former League and ILO staff member, in New York. 52


10.4 Finance and Budgets


From its inception the League faced budget constraints, particularly in respect of its technical programmes and it had to respond to external events as and when they arose, placing great strain on its finances. From the repatriation of prisoners-of-war from Russia in 1920 through to the relocation of staff to the USA in 1940, the management continually had to beg for donations from governments and from independent sources of finance. Despite the US not joining the League, American contributions to its activities were substantial. In the League’s first eight years alone it was the second largest contributor counting both public and private funding. 53 Regular funding was always a concern. In 1919, Drummond’s personal contacts and the ability of Treasurer Herbert Ames (Text Box 10.2) to convince British officials in 1919 that money would be well managed, ensured that the League and ILO could start operations before contributions were received from Member States. Arrears of contributions were a recurrent worry (as they have been for the UN system throughout its existence).
Text Box 10.2

Herbert Ames (1863–1954)a

Herbert Ames, before he joined the League, had been a Canadian Member of Parliament from 1904 and had a number of business interests in Montreal. He was recruited for the post of Treasurer (and was effectively in charge of all administration) and worked for the League until 1926. Because the League’s administration is of secondary importance to historians his role has been overlooked. His job was one of the more difficult of the senior posts because of a general resistance to giving the League sufficient funds to operate effectively. He was clearly a very competent Treasurer and was wide-ranging in his efforts to establish a sound financial structure for the League. His success is reflected in the fact that the League was never charged with any financial mismanagement.

The Financial Regulations were based on the Dutch financial system, the budget procedure was a combination of French and British approaches, and the audit was grounded on Italian practice. With the assistance of Loveday, Ames came up with the concept of a scale of Member States’ financial contributions to the budget based on ‘ability to pay’ as defined by economic indicators. Starting with a tabula rasa he developed systems for recording and reimbursing staff travel costs, required expenditures to be approved (committed) in advance, and developed a separation of responsibilities in financial control, so that those approving expenditures were separated from those making the payments. One of his policies carried through to successor organizations was that, if a Member State offered to host a meeting, then costs over-and-above those that would have been incurred in Geneva were to be paid by the host country.

For paragraph 2, see Jacklin, S. (1934), ‘The Finances of the League’, p. 695


Unlike Article 17 of the UN Charter the Covenant had no provisions for authorizing a budget but it did specify that the costs of membership should be apportioned in accordance with the method used by the Universal Postal Union (Table 10.1). This, however, was a stop-gap decision which did not reflect the League’s very different objectives and in 1920 the Assembly requested a committee to re-consider the formula. The result was a formula, using internationally accepted indicators, which took into account the economic capacity of members to pay and which in an updated form is still the concept used for UN assessments. The Noblemaire Committee proposed creating a ‘Supervisory Commission’ a body to which the League and ILO draft budgets were submitted before being passed on to the Assembly for approval. There is a direct equivalence between this Commission and the work of the UN’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions which not only reviews the UN’s budget but also those of the Specialized Agencies and advises the GA of its findings.

Drummond was required to spend inordinate amounts of time in the Fourth Committee defending his budgets to the detriment of his participation on other issues (Illustration 10.1). 54 The UK as the largest contributor, was continually exercised by the budget but there was a degree of schizophrenia in the UK’s position. It offered firm (although not unwavering) support to the League yet, equally, was parsimonious with its contribution and critical of its programmes. Sir Hilton Young a delegate to the 1927 Assembly felt that there was:
Illustration 10.1

Drummond, seated on chest, defending the budget, 1932, detail from caricature by Aloïs Derso and Emery Kelen, United Nations Archives at Geneva

a growing conviction on the part of the British delegates that the energies of the League are being squandered by diverting [the technical activities] to tasks that concern national interests only, and for that reason are unsuitable for the League or the tasks that are too trivial, or not of sufficient urgency to deserve attention. It is evident indeed that the technical activities of the League must be limited if they are not to become increasingly inefficient for lack of concentration, or positively mischievous by clashing with national interests. The attempt to impose a limitation by means of a definition of function failed … [this] we may achieve with more ease and certainty by another method, the limitation of expenditure. 55

Young went on to suggest that resolutions with financial implications should be submitted by the Secretary-General one month before the Assembly and that such proposals should be costed, concluding that this would be a beneficial process if it caused the Secretariat and others to think of the consequences of their proposals in advance. Yet earlier, delegates had felt:

that some arrangement should be made another year whereby the Secretary-General of the League should not be called upon to justify in person to [the Fourth] Committee the various items of proposed expenditure. It seems intolerable that this official in the busiest month of the year should be required to be present at this Committee at all, except on the rarest occasions. 56

A 1932 debate in the House of Lords questioned the British share of the budget, the degree to which British firms were obtaining contracts for the construction of the Palais des Nations and wasteful expenditure. 57 In fact the UK contribution was not excessive, being around 10%, compared to the next highest contributors, France and Germany, at almost 8%. These sorts of complaint will be familiar to anyone in the UN System who has had to deal with the United States’ representatives at their governing bodies; like the UK at the League, the US also blows hot and cold in its relationship with the UN.

When the US joined ILO in 1934, the question arose as to how it should be assessed, given that ILO’s budget was approved by the Assembly and that, by then, the US was the world’s dominant economy. While there was no cap on League contributions, the British Empire and Dominions as a whole paid 25% of its costs. With this in mind, an ad hoc decision was made to cap the US contribution to ILO at 25%. 58 When the UN came into being, in 1946, the US contribution was again capped, at 40% of total costs, although this was less than its contribution should have been under the ‘ability to pay’ concept. This was because all other major economies were struggling to recover from the impact of the war. Over the next 20 years, as other economies improved and UN membership increased, the US contribution was gradually reduced to 32%. However the idea of a cap remained in the minds of the US government and, in 1974, it eventually succeeded in having one set at 25% (further reduced to 22% in 2001). Compared to the League, therefore, the UN is far more reliant on a single contributor.

As can be seen from Table 10.2 the League’s budget did not explode uncontrollably. Drummond’s reaction to continued attacks on the budget mirrored the approach taken in some organizations in later years. In a letter to Cecil he commented: ‘Up to now I have absolutely played the game, both with the Supervisory Commission and with the Assembly, but one becomes much tempted to over-budget grossly in order that the Supervisory Commission and the Assembly, in its turn, may have the satisfaction of feeling that they have been successful in largely reducing expenditure. I cannot really reconcile myself to such a course, but it seems clear that it would pay as matters are conducted at present’. 59 In 1944, looking back on the League’s financial problems Drummond wrote: ‘The League’s finances were, throughout its existence, held in a framework of economy which grew in rigidity as it grew in age. … A vicious circle was thus completed: restrictive budget, ineffective League; ineffective League, restrictive budget’. 60
Table 10.2

Budgets and Staffing 1921–1939

Budget constraint impacted both on the Secretariat’s work and upon governance. Drummond, reflecting at a time when a successor organization to the League was being planned, observed that: ‘A notable example of missed opportunity was the Assembly’s failure to pay the travelling expenses of delegates’. 61 He felt that smaller nations had been constrained in their attendance at the Assembly because they had to pay their own way even though many had long distances to travel, or had to send European-based diplomats. The payment of travel costs to allow delegates to attend meetings of governing bodies was adopted in the UN’s earliest days although with limitations on numbers. Financial pressures have since limited such payments to delegates from least developed nations.

Another financial development which the League fostered due to its perennial need for additional resources and which has continued in today’s international organizations is the creation of ‘Trust Funds’. These are supplementary monies entrusted to an international organization by a donor (country, institution or even a private company) with specific terms of reference to finance agreed activities which support the organization’s aims. Non-core funding continues to be of concern to Member States today, with complaints that the providers of such funding can ‘steer’ resources into programmes that they support rather than into more general programmes that the membership as a whole considers necessary.

The Rockefeller Foundation was the principal source of the League’s Trust Funds, donating just under $10 million between 1921 and 1930, but other donors existed such as British Quaker families. Rockefeller’s generosity was primarily due to Raymond Fosdick (see Text Box  4.2) who remained a life-long supporter and was able to secure funding for specific activities. Excluding J. D. Rockefeller Jr’s personal donation of $2m to build the Library, his Foundation supported the budget to an average level of 3.4% of annual expenditure, most of which was targeted to LONHO but in later years also to some EFO activities. It was the same Rockefeller who stepped in to resolve the UN’s problem of where to locate its headquarters: having purchased the land in midtown Manhattan alongside the East River, he then donated it to the UN.

The physical legacies of the League include the Palais des Nations, the Treaty Registration records (a function passed over to the UN), and the Library and Archive, upon which this book’s authors have drawn extensively. The Archive’s existence at the Palais is very much due to Walters who protested that the original idea to distribute the records among several institutions would be:

profoundly wrong – short sighted ungenerous, destructive and an offense against history. If anything of the sort is carried out, it will mean that all visible and material records of the League of Nations will for practical purposes be wiped out – scattered, merged into a mass of material in which they will lose all separate identity, removed from the place and setting in which they properly and historically belong. … I will even dare suggest that the Secretariat was an institution which deserves to leave some permanent traces behind it … 62


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Macfadyen
    • 1
  • Michael D. V. Davies
    • 2
  • Marilyn Norah Carr
    • 3
  • John Burley
    • 4
  1. 1.North BerwickUK
  2. 2.KinghamUK
  3. 3.RichmondUK
  4. 4.Divonne-les-BainsFrance

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