The Solemn Declaration

Charles Kimber

By Charles Kimber

The declaration of the Supreme War Cabinet published this week has been called “the solemn declaration” and is hailed as a great achievement. It consists of three paragraphs. The first is commonsense and needs no comment. It provides that neither France nor Great Britain shall negotiate or conclude a separate peace. The second is more interesting for in it the Allies promise to reach “complete agreement on the condition necessary to ensure to each of them an effective and lasting guarantee of their security” before they discuss any peace terms. We must all hope that this foreshadows the appointment of some Allied Peace Aims Committee to work out in advance certain principles of security and we must hope that it does not merely mean that the Allies propose to wait for an offer of peace and only then to discuss the necessary conditions of security. However difficult it may be to foresee the future, a Peace Aims Committee could usefully ask themselves these questions: (1) How are we to provide security if each nation has the right to develop its own separate foreign policy, to change its policy in accordance with the wishes of its electorate and to possess its own armed forces? (2) Are we going to regard a premise of good intentions and a promise to remain disarmed as an adequate guarantee of lasting security ? These questions are valid at any time and an answer to them is essential before any particular set of peace proposals can be discussed. It would be no excuse for not answering them to say that the future was too uncertain.

Security under Law

In passing, it is interesting to notice that the British Government’s negative war aims, “to put an end to the perpetually recurring fear of German aggression,” has been converted into the positive aim of “security.” This is probably a welcome improvement. It is a reversion to the demand made by France so frequently during the history of the League of Nations; then it got confused with the repressive policy towards Germany which had so much to do with the rise of Hitlerism. That does not make a repetition of the demand for security any the less necessary. Security is the most elementary need of man in society ; without it there is no confidence in the future-no chance of freedom or prosperity. What we have to remember is that security cannot be obtained at the expense of others. Real security can only be obtained under law which is freely made and therefore voluntarily obeyed. Security under law is the motto of Federal Union’s new statement of policy-it must be the basis of our effort.

Future Action

It is the third paragraph of the Allied statement, however, which has called out the most comment and the highest praise. To me this seems dangerous. It suggests to me that in 1940 we have returned to the high-minded but facile optimism of the 1920s which produced so many “solemn declarations” signed by silk-hatted and tail-coated politicians, and that we have learnt nothing by their failure. Incidentally, is it an ominous coincidence that Mr Chamberlain recently stated that he felt twenty years younger? In this paragraph, the two governments promise “to maintain after the conclusion of peace a community of action in all spheres for so long as may be necessary to safeguard their security and to effect the reconstruction, with the assistance of other nations, of an international order which will ensure the liberty of peoples, respect for law and the maintenance of peace in Europe.” It is reasonable to expect two governments to act as one when they are fighting a common danger, but how is it conceivably possible for those two governments to promise “community of actions in all spheres” after the danger is removed unless they cease to be two governments and become one? Mr Chamberlain and Monsieur Reynaud seem to have forgotten that they are responsible to separate electorates which may have divergent views about post-war problems, views which the separate governments, if democratically based, would be bound to implement by divergent policies and which could not be reconciled unless there was a single government which could act on a majority vote. There are only two ways in which this third paragraph of the statement can be implemented. One is by fully democratic federation ; the other is by ensuring that two like-minded dictators can compel a common policy on their respective subjects. One of the main causes of the League’s failure was that French and British governments rarely had the same policy at the same time. Clearly, we do not all live and learn.

“The Times” on the Declaration

It remains to comment on an extremely important leading article on this subject in the Times on Saturday last. Although the Times is not, of course, the mouthpiece of the Government, it does not often say what the government does not mean. On this occasion it says of the post-war order: “this is the sphere in which British opportunism becomes complementary to French exactitude” . . . “the British constitution contains no abstract dogma of liberty, no declaration of the rights of man” . . . “our French friends who themselves form their political ideals on more general and abstract terms, are on this occasion disposed to ask the world to confront the problem of peace in our way. The joint Anglo-French polity has no written constitution, no fundamental law.” Briefly, one may guess that the Supreme War Council discussed Allied federation with a proper written constitution setting up a common government and defining its powers, but rejected it. If this rejection was based on the desire to experiment with the administrative machinery which has so far been set up, before going further, it is understandable. But, if it is not intended to provide a written constitution for a common government at the end of this war and instead to go on experimenting with joint boards and committees, which, being controlled by no common government, will either be ineffective or irresponsible, then Federal Union will have to attack this intention. These joint boards and committees could serve common needs if they were made responsible to a common government – if they are not, they can only be anti-social in their effect. In our peace-making no more than in our war-making can we afford to continue the well-tried British policy of “muddling through” – a policy springing, of course, from the best intentions and based on the most solemn declarations. If we in Federal Union cannot obtain a clear-sighted policy and decisive action our children will be fighting another war as soon as they are old enough to do so.

This article first appeared in Federal Union News #29, 6 April 1940.

 

About the Author