Britain's Part in International Affairs
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 23 Sep 1929, p. 220-233
Curtis, Lionel, Speaker
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The background of the Pacific Conference, and how it came about that the speaker and other members of the Conference are on their way there. The Conference origins in 1925 in Honolulu and following history. The Peace Conference of 1919 in Paris. The necessity of getting a history of the Peace Conference written: the foundation of the Institute of International Affairs in Paris. The constitution of this Institute. Now the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The fundamental principle that the Institute as such can express no opinion whatever on any question of policy. Relations of a Canadian Institute and an Australian Institute to the Institute in London. Housing the Institute in St. James' Square. The donation of Chatham House as the centre of this movement for research into imperial and international affairs from Col. Leonard. A Royal Charter conferred on the Institute. Leadership under the Prince of Wales. The system of obtaining current information. The invitation from President Hoover in 1927. A description of the process and report on foreign policy with regard to the Far East by the Institute, and the American reaction to it. The effects on the Chinese of the declaration of December, 1926. Some more words about Chatham House.
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23 Sep 1929
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Full Text
23rd September, 1929

The President, MR. EAYRS, was in the chair and introduced the speaker, who was received with applause and spoke as follows: I happen to be passing through Canada at this moment as a member of a party led by Lord Elsher, the late Lord Chancellor, which party, in company with a number of Canadians, is on its way to Kioto to what is called The Pacific Conference. As you were good enough to invite me to address you today, I thought the best thing I could do was to tell you, so far as is possible in the time available, what is the background behind that Pacific Conference, and how it came about that we are on our way there.

I think that Conference began in 1925 in Honolulu. A number of good people there connected with the Y.M.C.A. got it into their heads that the shadow of war which had been the curse of Europe might fall across that island of the Hesperides in the middle of the Pacific. The very idea seemed to them so horrible that they conceived the notion of gathering parties of private people, having nothing whatever to do with governments, from various countries around the Pacific, in order that they might get together on that beautiful island and form such personal relations as they felt would neutralize the growth of any spirit of hostility between the various peoples surrounding the Pacific. The pivot of that movement was a man whose name is probably known to you, Dr. Wilbur, who was then head of Leland Stanford University in California, who is perhaps the most intimate friend of President Hoover and who is now Secretary of the Interior in President Hoover's cabinet, a man in my opinion of outstanding ability. The Conference met, if not under Y.M.C.A. auspices, under the influence of Y.M.C.A. ideas, and I think the notion was that a great deal of good fellowship would be made by these people getting together. It so happened that before the Conference met at Honolulu there occurred that deplorable Shanghai incident, in which some Chinese students lost their lives, and it resulted in a complete and widespread boycott of British trade all through China. The Chinese Nationalists who were coming to that Conference at Honolulu arrived in a white hot temper. Incidentally Great Britain and British policy was in the dark. The theory was that .from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who were all represented at that Conference, there were plenty of British subjects to defend Britain and British policy. But the fact had been overlooked by the Americans who convened the Conference, that it was difficult, or even impossible, for anyone not constantly living in London to know and foreknow the details of British policy in China and the Far East. The result was that there was no one qualified to put the British side of the story. Britain and British policy remained in the dark, and at the end of the three weeks' Conference they proceeded to discuss holding the second Conference in 1297. The representatives from three Dominions, Canada, Australia and New Zealand then refused to come to a second conference in 1927 unless the Executive extended to Great Britain an invitation to send to that conference people who were acquainted with British policy in the Far East, and were qualified to explain, and if necessary, to defend. That was why at the end of 1926 President Hoover began to look about to see to whom he could address that invitation for Great Britain. By the constitution of the Institute of Pacific Relations, he was precluded from addressing that invitation to any government. It was a nongovernmental conference and organization. He therefore made enquiries and came to the conclusion that the best body to whom he could extend that invitation was the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

That brings me to the Royal Institute, and I must here assume a rather more personal and intimate note in explaining to you how and why it was that in 1927 there was such an organization to which President Hoover could extend that invitation. I must go back exactly twenty years. There were some of us who were with Lord Milner in asking for the Union of South Africa, as the only possible consummation of British policy in that country. We had done it with our eyes open; we had done it knowing that the Union of South Africa meant that during our lifetimes at any rate, that country would be governed by the men whom we had been fighting in the South African War. We knew of the difficult and dangerous problems which it would raise for us as British subjects, but "-e believed it was the only British course to take and we took it, and having taken it, when the Act was passed through the Imperial Parliament in 1909, we determined, some of us, to come to the oldest and most experienced of the Dominions and put our difficulties in front of people whom we hoped to meet here, and ask them for their counsel with regard to these difficulties. I arrived here myself in 1909 with Philip Corley (') Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, and Sir William Morris, who afterwards united the provinces in India. From that time, twenty years ago, I date some of the best friendships, the closest friendships of my subsequent life. I would like to dwell on nothing else, if we had time, but those friendships. One name alone I mention at this stage, that of Edward Keilly ( ?) by whose grave some of us here stood in 1916 at Lindsay. We crossed this continent to Victoria and came back, and by that time we had a group of fast friends, many of whom were in Toronto. One night after we had come back we were meeting in Willison's house and we discussed from beginning to end the nature of our troubles in South Africa. Here we were; we saw the shadow of a war with Germany impending. We ourselves had been instrumental in bringing a change in South Africa which meant that we were going to be governed by the men we had fought in the South African War, and we put the question of what our position would be in South Africa if in the course of a war with Germany that government were to declare its neutrality. It brought us right up against the imperial problem. We discussed it the whole evening, and our Canadian friends there, and Willison in particular, felt there was no straight-out answer to that problem, which many of our Canadian friends said was also their problem. The one thing which was plain to us all was that we must make it the subject of study, and I can remember Willison hitting the table and saying "Let us do something right here and now" and it was in the course of that evening that we agreed that we would do our best to establish study groups in the various Dominions of the Empire, who would work together to elucidate this problem, and the magazine which has since been published as "The Round Table", was projected that night by Willison as the necessary link between these study groups in the various Dominions. The result was that from 1909-10 inwards until the war broke out, there were a number of groups, one of the most vigorous of which was in Toronto, earnestly studying the problems of British citizenship. And after the war, over which I leap to the Peace Conference of 1919, I was called to the Peace Conference as a member of the League of Nations group under Lord Robert Cecil. When I got there it seemed as if there had been a Round Table conspiracy; there were the men with whom I had been working before and during the war all over the Empire. The reason was simple. Those four or five years of methodical research before the war broke out had fitted those men for the kind of work the government needed in the crisis and it called them to their aid and brought them as advisors to the Conference in Paris in 1919.

I am not going into the results of the Peace Conference, only one of the minor by-products. There were gathered together in the Hotel Majestic several hundred men, not merely officials but people like myself who were not officials, who had been brought there by the different governments all over the Empire because they had some special knowledge of some particular branch of international affairs, which might at any moment be needed by the ministers representing the various parts of the Empire at Paris. We were in very close touch with the American delegation who were at the Hotel Gruen (? ) and we and they both began to feel the same need. We felt, you may end the war in Paris, but the making of peace is going to take the rest of our lives, and the keeping of the peace the rest of everybody's lives; it is not merely a question of governments; we have got past that stage. It is the job of every thinking man to keep the peace, and you cannot do any job worth doing in life unless you know how to do it. The knowledge you need in keeping the peace of nations is a knowledge of a subject matter which changes from hour to hour and day to day. Now in this great gathering at the Hotel Majestic in Paris we had for the first time an organization through which, if you wanted to know anything about any aspect to international affairs, you could find someone in the Hotel Majestic who was a first rate authority on it. We said, here is something we have got to perpetuate, and we began to realize that there are functions in politics, and in international politics, which government departments, because they are government departments, cannot fulfil. Take the Foreign Office; the function of the Foreign Office is to advise the government of the day, but if you and I want to know what we ought to think and do in international affairs-unimportant as it may seem, it is not unimportant in the aggregate-we at that time had no organization through which we could study these problems; and unless you have an organization, in this complicated world you cannot study problems of that magnitude. The thing that astounded us was that when we looked through directories we found that in London there was some organization for the study of almost every conceivable branch of human knowledge but one, and that was international affairs. There was no organization for such studies, and we determined then and there, that the people in the Hotel Majestic and our American friends in the Hotel Gruen ( ?) would constitute ourselves a permanent institute on international affairs.

I want to say two things about that. There was one thing which precipitated that movement. We realized how important it was that the history of the Peace Conference should be written by the men who had done the spade work, while their memories were fresh. Now while the Admiralty could produce an official history of the war at sea, and the War Office could produce an official history of the war on land, it was quite impossible that the Foreign Office should attempt to produce a history of the making of peace; and yet it was essential that in future there should be some authoritative record of what was happening at Paris. And it was that which precipitated the actual foundation of the Institute of International Affairs in Paris in the Hotel Majestic, the necessity of getting a history of the Peace Conference written, and it was written in six volumes and is now and must always remain the standard work on the subject.

In regard to the constitution of this Institute there are two things I want to say. In the first place we Round Table people had a piece of experience. We were perfectly right that night in Toronto in saying that before you think of propaganda you must have study and research. Now I make no bones about it, the men who met in Willison's house that night were men who believed that their first duty in life was to keep the British Empire together. We were imperialists. But we said, we have got to make it the subject of research, and as we went on we found this difficulty, that in political affairs to make research complete you want to get around the table people of every point of view, and especially people of the point of view from which you most differ. Now we found in the Round Table organization, just because the men who originated it were people who felt that the British Empire must be held together, that we could not get on those groups the people who in all sincerity-they were more common then than they are today I believe-who believed that the British Empire ought to be broken up into pieces. We learned this lesson, which I just want to repeat to you now because I think it is so important, that if you want to conduct genuine study and research in political affairs, you must separate it absolutely from propaganda in any shape or form, for the reason that the moment you have got any touch of propaganda connected with your studies, you exclude the people opposed to that propaganda. That was why there was written into the charter of what is now the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the fundamental principle that the Institute as such can express no opinion whatever on any question of policy. Its members are free to express their opinion; they join the Institute that they may be intelligent and well-informed opinions. The Institute as such can have no policy whatever. The other point is also an importnat one. We look forward to a time when the Dominion members in different parts of the Empire, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, would hive off and form the Canadian Institute, as they have done, the Australian Institute, as they have done, and the relations of those institutes to the Institute in London was to be just the same exactly as the relation of the different parts of the Empire to one another. I, as a member of the Institute in London, when I am in Canada, am a full member of the Canadian Institute. A member of the Canadian Institute, like Sir Joseph Flavelle, or Sir Robert Borden, when he is in London, is a full member at Chatham House.

Now I take another jump to 1923 when my old friend Col. Leonard, whose acquaintance I first made twenty years ago, not half a mile from where we are talking now, came over to visit us in London. He saw what we were doing, and he told us that he had been waiting all his life to help forward in some very definite way an imperial movement, and he had come to the conclusion that this fitted in with his views more than anything else, this organization which enabled all parts of the Empire to join and study that which undoubtedly was common to them, their relations to each other and to the world around. I am coming back to the subject later, but it was his idea of housing that Institute in this beautiful and historic house in St. James' Square, which has mainly enabled all that has happened since to happen. In 1923 he handed over Chatham House as the centre of this movement for research into imperial and international affairs, and as a result of that gift the Government conferred on the Institute a Royal Charter, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales undertook to become the head of the organization, under the academic title of Visitor. The leadership of the Prince of Wales was an all-important matter for this reason, that the function of a Visitor-it is a mediaeval term in Universities-is to enforce the statutes. He is the person solely and outwardly responsible for seeing that the statutes are obeyed. The importance of having the heir to the throne at the head of that Institution is that as long as he is there it is absolutely impossible for it to be used for any sectional party or propaganda purposes. It can only remain an institution for what it was founded and endowed for, that is to say, research. It is easy enough to say research, but what you need in science, and it is equally true in politics, is to find out how to research, you have got to work out your methods and I could talk to you all day about that; but I simply want to say that we very soon found out that because the subject matter we were trying to study was shifting and changing from day to day, the least important part of that matter is the part which was written down and was in papers and books. Col. Leonard's gift enabled us to establish a first-rate library, but we very quickly found that if we were to understand international affairs we could only do it by getting that information which people had not had time to write down, which was in their heads and which could only get through their lips. We met that problem by the simple system that we call the group system. We take a dozen or so members that know the most about Russia, or China, or the United States, or Reparations, and they make it their business to keep abreast of that subject. They meet, generally, once a month or oftener. To their meeting which is private and is held in Chatham House they invite some man who has first-hand information to give, which is not on record, and they spend the evening cross-questioning him and hearing what he has to say. Let us take the Far Eastern Group, which deals with the affairs of China and Japan, that, so long as he lived, was presided over by Sir John Jordan, one of the greatest ex-Ambassadors we had in China. It contains diplomats, people from the Foreign Office, it contains people from the banks in the City, and the business houses in the City trading with China, it contains representatives of the missionary and educational interests. It is constantly meeting, and the moment a man, for instance like Sir Francis Anglin, comes home from China, he is laid hold of, he is taken to Chatham House and three or four hours are spent in picking his brains.

The moment President Hoover's invitation, and it was an embarrassing invitation, came in 1927, it was referred to that group to advise the Council what to do with it. It was embarrassing for two reasons. It needed a large sum of money to send a party half way across the world, but what was more alarming, if you were going to do any good, you would have to send properly qualified people. So the Council invited over Mr. John Nelson of the Sun Insurance at Montreal, who had been secretary of the Canadian group which had attended the Conference in 1925, because they wanted to know what that Conference was and all about it, and they referred the invitation the night Mr. Nelson arrived to this Far Eastern group and the question was put by the Council, what ought we to do about it? The people from the Far Eastern Department of the Foreign Office said at once, this Conference that is coming is a high powered broacasting station for opinion and views in the Pacific; Governments have nothing to do with it. We of the Foreign Office can have nothing to do with it, but it is all-important that there should be someone present at this conference who is qualified to explain British foreign policy both to the Chinese and to the Americans and the rest of the world. They said, in other words, it is up to you to go. Then the Institute people said, we agree as to that and we have got to put up the money, because you cannot go unless you can pay your passages. The money question, I must confess, frightened us much less than that of getting adequate people to go, and getting people from all parties, because that is essential where you are dealing with the Institute. We were very fortunate. There was no difficulty in getting members of the Conservative Party, who were then in power. We got Sir Frederick White, who sat in Parliament as a Liberal member, to lead the delegation, and we were also fortunate enough to get Mr. Ramsay Macdonald's son, Mr. Malcolm Macdonald, so that the Labour Party was not unrepresented. We set to work to learn our job, to learn what British policy was. We started what we called the Night School at the Institute. We met night after night and had experts there to tell us what British policy was, and after a few months we found we were, irrespective of party in substantial agreement about it. I cannot go into the intricacies of Far Eastern policy here, and a great many of you probably know more than I do. The whole thing hinges on a series of treaties made eighty years ago. One of the most important and least ostentatious actions ever taken in the history of British policy was when the British Conservative Government in 1926 in a singularly modest note announced to the world that as soon as there was any government with whom they could negotiate in China, they proposed to discuss the revision of those treaties. Now that brought the British Conservative Government to some extent into conflict with the opinion of the local British community in China, and a good deal of the difficulty arises when the local community, whether in China or in Egypt, does not always see eye to eye with the policy which the British Government has to adopt. Well, finding that we were all substantially in agreement in supporting the policy of the British Government in committing the country to treaty revision, we determined to put our views into a memorandum, and we told off Sir Frederick White to draft a statement about foreign policy. He did it in a masterly memorandum of about 70 pages. We all criticized it together; it was knocked into shape, then printed and published by the Oxford University Press and we sent it on ahead to the other people we were going to meet in Honolulu, that they might read and know what our case about British policy was. We started off then across the Atlantic. At Montreal we were met by Sir Arthur Currie, the leader of the Canadian delegation, and Sir Arthur Currie and Sir Frederick White were our two leaders who played a part in that Conference second to no other members. We travelled across Canada picking up Canadian members on the way, and when we reached Honolulu we were met by the Australian and New Zealand parties who had already arrived.

Now as to the results of this Conference: First on the Americans. The Americans when they read this memorandum-somebody said of Mr. Lloyd George that he can read but he doesn't--I often feel that is true of our American friends, they can read but they don't. But they are the most genuinely courteous people on the face of the earth; they had read our memorandum, and I am bound to say it opened their eyes. They realized that in 1926 the British Government had actually done what the American Government had always been advocating, and after the Conference was over the Americans went back to their own country and in the frankest possible way took back all the hard things which had been said about British policy in 1925. I am bound to make that tribute in fairness to the American friends we met at Honolulu.

The effects on the Chinese were curious and interesting. They knew all about the declaration of December, 1926, but they thought it was dust to throw in the eyes of the civilized world, and because of the three weeks at Honolulu they met people of all political parties who seriously believed in the pronouncement, and they realized that England was not an enemy but a friend of China. We asked them what can we do to help you in England? They said, this note is only a pronouncement of a Secretary of State, a Mandarin. They said Mandarins and Secretaries of State do not cut much ice in China. (Laughter.) But the British Parliament cuts a terrific amount. If you could get this put into a resolution of the British Parliament it would make all the difference. We went back with the message, and the next King's Speech reaffirmed this policy, and that passage in the speech of a Conservative Government was picked out by Mr. Ramsay Macdonald and Mr. Lloyd George for their special and explicit agreement. You get all three parties lined up in favour of China on that policy. The Chinese then went to Sir Frederick White and said, come back to China and help us to convince our people that England is a friend and not an enemy. Sir Frederick White went, and within a fortnight of his arrival in Shanghai he had broken the boycott on British goods, he had got the Chinese Nationalists to invite Sir Duncan ( ?) to a banquet; and Sir Frederick White is now Official Advisor to the Nationalist Government in Nanking, and in that capacity passed through Canada a week ago on his way back to China. (Applause.) That is the reason we cannot have Sir Frederick White lead us this year. We make it a principle not to have a member of the party in power, and so we have Lord Halsham ( ?) leading us this year. I am glad to say that again Mr. Malcolm Macdonald is coming with us, and so we have all parties represented as before. This is not a party matter at all, and we are hoping to go with the party which everyone is delighted to know is being led by Mr. Routh ( ?) and has gone on in front of us to study China before he meets us in Kioto.

I have left two or three minutes to go back to the things most on my heart today, and that is the part my friend Col. Leonard has played in making all this possible. This house which means everything to the Institute was ideal in historical associations, ideal in its position in London. It was the house in which Chatham, Lord Derby, and Mr. Gladstone, successively lived, and it is called Chatham House. Leonard told me that it appealed to him because, he said, you know I owe it to Chatham that I am a British subject today; I want to do something really big for the Empire, and I think to give this Institute an adequate home for research. He said if I give it a home can you people provide it with an income which is adequate for a school of research on so large a scale, and what will it cost? Most careful estimates were made, and the Council had to tell Col. Leonard that it would cost ten thousand pounds a year to finance research on that scale. He said, can you do it? And the Council said, yes, we believe we can do it if you are not in a hurry, because the best way of getting money is not to go and tell people what you can do if they give you money, but to do something first and then tell them what is going on, and that it can only continue by virtue of adequate funds. Leonard in his way said take all the time you need, I trust you. And so we did. And the result was that last year Sir Edward Baillie came forward and said, this unwritten condition made by Col. Leonard is fulfilled; for South Africa's part I am going to give half the money, and now it is for the City of London to put up the remainder. Then two other Canadians came forward, Mr. E. R. Peacock of this city, who, I believe, taught for six years in Upper Canada College, and who is now a leading man in the City of London, and Sir Campbell Stuart of Montreal, put themselves at the head of the movement in the City, and within a few weeks the remaining five thousand a year had been put up.

I think it was the happiest moment in many of our lives when we were able to ask the Prince of Wales to send a cable out to Col. Leonard to tell him that the unwritten condition on which he had made that munificent gift in 1923, had been not only fulfilled, but more than fulfilled. (Applause.)

One reason I came in advance of my friends, was the desire I had to see Col. Leonard and tell him more than one could tell him in writing about the history of the Institute of which he is the founder. And there he is, capable of understanding everything that can be told, but laid low by a malady which the doctors seem unable to explain. I must say as I talked to him. there that I felt that the ways of Providence are mysterious. What would we not give at this moment if Col. Leonard in the fullness of his spirit of his power, of his authority, could journey with us to China! It seems so strange that the rest of us should be able to cross half the world, and he, the man who had made all this possibile, when we most needed him should be lying low there. And there just came into my mind as I came away, words familiar to you all, written by a man in the crisis of his country's fate who also was disabled

"Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest
They also serve who only stand and wait." (Applause.)

The thanks of the Club were tendered to the speaker by Right Hon. Arthur Meighen.

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Britain's Part in International Affairs

The background of the Pacific Conference, and how it came about that the speaker and other members of the Conference are on their way there. The Conference origins in 1925 in Honolulu and following history. The Peace Conference of 1919 in Paris. The necessity of getting a history of the Peace Conference written: the foundation of the Institute of International Affairs in Paris. The constitution of this Institute. Now the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The fundamental principle that the Institute as such can express no opinion whatever on any question of policy. Relations of a Canadian Institute and an Australian Institute to the Institute in London. Housing the Institute in St. James' Square. The donation of Chatham House as the centre of this movement for research into imperial and international affairs from Col. Leonard. A Royal Charter conferred on the Institute. Leadership under the Prince of Wales. The system of obtaining current information. The invitation from President Hoover in 1927. A description of the process and report on foreign policy with regard to the Far East by the Institute, and the American reaction to it. The effects on the Chinese of the declaration of December, 1926. Some more words about Chatham House.