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Monday, May 13, 2013

Maxim Litvinov: The League of Nations

Maxim Litvinov gave this speech at Geneva as the first delegate of Soviet Russia to the League.

The organization of peace! Could there be a loftier and at the same time more practical and urgent task for the cooperation of all nations? The words used in political slogans have their youth and their age. If they are used too often without being applied they wear themselves out and end by losing potency. Then they have to be revived and instilled with new meaning. The sound and the meaning of the words "organization of peace" ought now to be different from their sound and meaning twelve or fifteen years ago. Then to many members of the League of Nations war seemed to be a remote theoretical danger, and there seemed to be no hurry as to its prevention. Now, war must appear to all as the threatening danger of tomorrow. Now, the organization of peace for which so far very little has been done, must be set against the extremely active organization of war. Then many believed that the spirit of war might be exorcised by adjurations -- by resolutions and declarations. Now, everybody knows that the exponents of the idea of war, the open promulgators of the refashioning of the map of Europe and Asia by the sword, are not to be intimidated by paper obstacles. Members of the League know this by experience. 

We are now confronted with the task of averting war by more effective means. The failure of the Disarmament Conference, on which formerly such high hopes were placed, in its turn compels us to seek more effective means. We must accept the incontestable fact that in the present complicated state of political and economic interests, no war of any serious dimensions can be localized and any war, whatever its issue, will turn out to have been but the first of a series. We must also tell ourselves that sooner or later any war will bring misfortune to all countries, whether belligerents or neutrals. The lesson of the World War, the results of which both belligerents and neutrals are suffering from to this day, must not be forgotten. The impoverishment of the whole world, the lowering of living standards for both manual and brain workers, unemployment, the robbing of all-and-sundry of their confidence in the morrow, not to speak of the fall in cultural values, the return of some countries to medieval ideology -- such are the consequences of the World War, even now, sixteen years after its cessation, making themselves acutely felt.

Finally, we must realize once and for all that no war with political or economic aims is capable of restoring so-called historical justice and that all it could do would be to substitute new and perhaps still more glaring injustices for old ones, and that every new peace treaty bears within it the seeds of fresh warfare. Further we must not lose sight of the new increase in armaments going on under our very eyes, the chief danger of which consists in its qualitative still more than in its quantitative increase, in the vast increase of potential destruction. The fact that aerial warfare has with such lightning speed won itself an equal place with land and naval warfare is sufficient corroboration of this argument.

I do not consider it the moment to speak in detail about effective means for the prevention of impending and openly promulgated war. One thing is quite clear for me and that is that peace and security cannot be organized on the shifting sands of verbal promises and declarations. The nations are not to be soothed into a feeling of security by assurances of peaceful intentions, however often they are repeated, especially in those places where there are grounds for expecting aggression or where, only the day before, there have been talk and publications about wars of conquest in all directions, for which both ideological and material preparations are being made. We should establish that any State is entitled to demand from its neighbors, near and remote, guarantees for its security, and that such a demand is not to be considered as an expression of mistrust. Governments with a clear conscience and really free from all aggressive intentions, cannot refuse to give, in place of declarations, more effective guarantees which would be extended to themselves and give them also a feeling of complete security.

I am by no means overrating the opportunities and means of the League of Nations for the organization of peace. I realize, better perhaps than any of you, how limited these means are. I am aware that the League does not possess the means for the complete abolition of war. I am, however, convinced that with the firm will and close cooperation of all its members a great deal could be done at any given moment for the utmost diminution of the danger of war, and this is a sufficiently honorable and lofty task whose fulfilment would be of incalculable advantage to humanity.

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