E. Belfort Bax

League of Nations as a Reality

(18 September 1924)

E. Belfort Bax, League of Nations, Justice, 18 September 1924, p.3.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

The League of Nations is certainly to be congratulated on the more serious action it has shown during its present Assembly. Hitherto it cannot be wondered at if Socialists, Democrats and Radicals, who mean business as regards its ostensible object, should have expressed their disappointment at its result, up to date in somewhat severe terms. This latest phase certainly looks more like business than anything we have had heretofore, and let us hope its looks will not belie it.


The fact that the question of “sanctions” for recalcitrant States has apparently been taken seriously in hand is indeed a hopeful sign. One would think it would be obvious to any reasonable politician that a body whose powers are limited to proclaiming a well-meaning platitudes, and at most giving good advice to the States in their disputes with each other, is not worth the making. It is like reducing a judge or magistrate to a police court missionary. Anybody with a reasonable modicum of intelligence must surely see that a judge without the force of the executive, symbolised in the policeman, behind him in the last resort would be a nonentity, good at most for adjusting trifling differences between individuals by mutual consent. Some months ago on my pointing out this truth to the readers of “Justice” I was opposed by an excellent and well-meaning member of the League of Nations Union who would have none of the idea of the League of Nations having any power to enforce its decisions, and adduced as an argument in support of the efficiency of the present state of things that certain faddists on the question of the so-called “white slave traffic” had succeeded on one occasion in carrying their point in the General Assembly in spite of strong opposition. But can we, I ask, think of any single war within the last two generations that would have been stepped by the League of Nations telling the disputant States to be good boys and make peace?

The Treaty of Mutual Assistance

For our own part we sympathise to a great extent with the proposed Treaty of Mutual Assistance so unceremoniously turned down by the British Foreign Office. But whether or not this represents the best scheme, something answering to it will have to be framed, and that quickly. There are two distinct actions of disputant States either of which could be regarded as justifying the use of force on the part of the League of Nations against the State question: (1) as things are at present, and until the International Court of Arbitration is effectively functioning, the mere declaration of war on the part of any State might alone fix the crime of aggression on the State that declared war; or (2) so soon as the International Tribunal is in working order, the refusal to submit to its arbitration might itself be regarded as calling for immediate “sanctions” against the recalcitrant State. The decision of the Assembly on this question would be, of course, subject to ratification by the nations represented. Up to the present time it would seem that a considerable feeling exists in all countries in enthusiastic support of the League Nations, and an equally strong opposition in some to the League having any material means of enforcing its decisions, and achieving the aims for which it was established.

A Force Behind the League

If the League of Nations is to become a reality, if it is to be in the future a real power for the maintenance of peace, it most have at its disposal a force to maintain that peace. Mr Léon Bourgeois saw this fact quite clearly in the earliest days of the League and he has held to this view ever since. We are all heartily glad to see that the League of Nations has strengthened its position and increased its prestige at the present General Assembly, but it must do much more. Even when it is far more solidly established than it is to-day, it will be necessary for it to have behind it a dominant force to uphold its decrees until mankind becomes thoroughly well used to the settlement of disputes without armed conflict. Then, and then only, can we look forward to the time when an armed police force, even for the League of Nations itself, will no longer be necessary, because the world will have become accustomed to the peaceful arrangement of any national or racial differences that may now and again threaten to cause bitterness and antagonism between its peoples.

E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 28.5.2007