Geneva, 1929–1931: The Disarmament, Arbitration and Security Questions

  • David Carlton


The programme adopted by the Labour Party in 1928, entitled Labour and the Nation, contained an important section on international affairs, and this, unlike the other parts, was taken quite seriously once the party had assumed office, Dalton even having copies of it circulated to various heads of department in the Foreign Office.1 Yet Labour and the Nation, along with other Labour Party declarations of the time, was in some ways out of line with Henderson’s personal position and reflected the definite change of emphasis that had occurred in the party’s foreign policy in the years following the electoral defeat of 1924.2 In particular, the party gave more attention to arbitration and to disarmament and rather less to security and the possibility of sanctions.3 In 1924, for example, the Geneva Protocol, largely the work of Henderson and Parmoor, had gone a long way towards meeting French requirements for security, and if it had been carried through it might well have improved the chances of a disarmament agreement. However, the Conservatives took office before the Protocol had been ratified, and it was not surprising that, with their customary aversion to ‘fighting other people’s wars’, they dropped the project. Not that the Labour Party’s position was entirely beyond doubt in this respect; for the Labour Cabinet of 1924 did not reach the stage of signifying its approval for Henderson’s work, and it has since been suggested that it Bever would have done so.1


Prime Minister Labour Party Arbitral Tribunal Collective Security Draft Convention 
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  1. For a differing interpretation, see Henry R. Winkler, ‘The Emergence of a Labor Foreign Policy in Great Britain, 1918–1929’, Journal of Modern Historyxxviii (1956) 247–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 1.
    Richard W. Lyman, The First Labour Government, 1924 (London, 1957) pp. 176–80.Google Scholar
  3. Catherine Ann Cline, Recruits to Labour: The British Labour Party, 1914–1931 (Syracuse, N.Y., 1963) PP. 91–3.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For useful accounts of the development of the Labour Party’s foreign policy between 1925 and 1929, see Kenneth E. Miller, Socialism and Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice in Britain to 1931 (The Hague, 1967) chap. 5. and Eleanor Farrar, ‘The British Labour Party and International Organisation: A Study of the Party’s Policy towards the League of Nations, the United Nations and Western Union’, unpublished London UniversityPh.D. thesis, 1952, pp. 88–101. Eleanor Farrar, ‘The British Labour Party and International Organisation: A Study of the Party’s Policy towards the League of Nations, the United Nations and Western Union’, unpublished London UniversityPh.D. thesis, 1952, pp. 88–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 1.
    For criticisms of MacDonald’s performance see, for example, Cecil, A Great Experiment, p. 202; and Arthur Salter, Slave of the Lamp: A Public Servant’s Notebook (London, 1967) p. 55. Sections of French opinion, in particular, expressed disquiet at MacDonald’s plea to the delegates ‘to face the problem of disarmament “on the assumption that the risk of war breaking out is far less than the hope of peace being permanently observed”’: Nevile Henderson (Paris) to Arthur Henderson, telegram no. 136, 6 Sep 1929, MacDonald Papers.Google Scholar
  6. 2.
    Cmd. 3421 of 1929–30. For a careful study of the implications of these reservations, see H. Lauterpacht, ‘The British Reservations to the Optional Clause’, Economica x (1930) 137–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. For the differing attitudes of the Dominion Governments, see Gwendolen M. Carter, The British Commonwealth and International Security: The Role of the Dominions 1919–1939 (Toronto, 1947) p. 127. For further detail, see also C.A.H.C., Cab. 27/392, and Cecil to Henderson, telegram no. 49, 25 Sep 1929, F.O., 411/10. The Irish refused to agree to any limitation on their right to bring an inter-Commonwealth dispute before the Permanent Court of International Justice. They accordingly signed the clause with a declaration of their own.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    Henderson to MacDonald, 12 Sep 5929, cited in full in Hamilton, Arthur Henderson, pp. 327–8. For the subsequent development of the Convention for Financial Assistance, see Arnold Toynbee et al., Survey of International Affairs, 1931 (London, 1932) pp. 254–9. The British Government eventually acceded to the Convention on 2 Oct 1930 on the condition stipulated by Henderson in 1929. See Cmd. 3906 of 1930–1.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    For details of later developments, see Arnold Toynbee et al., Survey of International Affairs, 1931 (London, 1932) pp. 254–9;Google Scholar
  10. and Jean Schwœbel, L’Angleterre et la sécurité collective (Paris, 1938) pp. 204–9.Google Scholar
  11. 3.
    Great Britain’s contribution to making 5929 one of the League’s most successful years was widely acknowledged at the time and since. See, for ex-ample, F. P. Walters, A History of the League of Nations2 vols (London, 1952 ) II 412.Google Scholar
  12. 2.
    For a bitter summary of these developments, see Temperley, The Whispering Gallery, pp. 119–22. For a description of the work of the Preparatory Commission from its inception in 1925 to the advent of the second Labour Government, see J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, Disarmament and Security since Locarno, 1925–31: Being the Political and Technical Background of the General Disarmament Conference, 1932 (London, 1932 ) pp. 43–74.Google Scholar
  13. 3.
    The full English text was published in Cmd. 3595 of 1929–30 and reprinted in John W. Wheeler-Bennett (ed.), Documents on International Affairs, 1930 (London, 1931) pp. 61–73.Google Scholar
  14. 5.
    For hostile and bitter reactions to the conduct of ‘Perfidious Albion’, see the French writers French writers J. F. Charvet, L’Influence britannique dans la S.D.N. (Paris, 1938 ) pp. 131–8.Google Scholar
  15. Jacques Bardoux, L’Île et l’Europe: La Politique anglaise (1930–1932) (Paris, 1933) pp. 284–95.Google Scholar
  16. 6.
    For summaries of the replies of foreign governments to the Briand project, see B.D., 2/1, no. 195 (22 Aug 1930), and Wheeler-Bennett (ed.), Documents on International Affairs1930, pp. 74–9. For the full text of the replies, see League Document A 46 (1930) VII 17–76.Google Scholar
  17. 4.
    The Times, 20 Feb 1930. Kerr, later Marquess if Lothian, first rose to prominence as a member of Lloyd George’s secretariat. He was later a prominent appeaser and British ambassador in Washington. A good picture of the man emerges from A. L. Rowse, All Souls and Appeasement: A Contribution to Contemporary History (London, 1961 ).Google Scholar
  18. For a pedestrian official biography, see J. R. M. Butler, Lord Lothian (Philip Kerr), 1882–1940(London, 1960 ).Google Scholar
  19. 2.
    In particular, a disarmament agreement was to be a precondition for any radical revision of the Covenant and for the coming into operation of the Con-vention for Financial Assistance. For a contemporary account of the British delegation’s contribution to the Eleventh Assembly, see Cmd. 3771 of 1930–1. See also Hugh Dalton and Mary Hamilton, ‘The Eleventh Assembly of the League of Nations’, Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs ix (1930) 758–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 1.
    For evidence of American motives, see United States Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States (Washington, various years — hereafter abbreviated to F.R.),1930, 1194–5 (Stimson to Gibson, 20 Nov 1930).Google Scholar
  21. For a somewhat different assessment, see Walter Lippmann, The United States in World Affairs, 1931 (New York, 1932) p.241. For the American attitude at the London Naval Conference see below, pp. 128, 130–1.Google Scholar

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© David Carlton 1970

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  • David Carlton

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