The Technical Advisers to the Commission to Negotiate Peace ( Miller , Scott ) to the Secretary of State 33

Dear Mr. Secretary: Enclosed please find Observations on “Plan des Premières Conversations Entre Les Ministres Alliés à Partir du [Page 397] 13 Janvier 1919,”34 prepared in accordance with your suggestion of the 10th instant for the use of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

We are,

Very sincerely yours,

  • David Hunter Miller
  • James Brown Scott

Observations on “Plan des Premières Conversations entre les Ministres Alliés à partir du 13 Janvier, 1919

The plan for “first conversations” between the Allied Ministers commencing January 13, 1919, deals with the following subjects:

Representation of States.
Principles and Methods.
Organization of the Work.
Order proposed for the examination of territorial and political problems.
Direct understandings.
Proposed rules of procedure.

The plan is divided into two parts: the first relating to what may be called preliminary matters, embraced under the first three headings, to be discussed and determined by the Supreme Council of Versailles; the second division including the remaining headings and relating to the Conference, its procedure, and its work after the preliminary matters have been disposed of by the Council of Versailles and the Conference constituted, as it were.

I.—Representation of States

This is divided into (1) Number of Plenipotentiaries, (2) Participation of Delegates, (3) Representation of Enemy Powers, (4) Technical Delegates.

The result of the first section regarding Number of Plenipotentiaries may be tabulated as follows:

  • 5 for the Great Powers:
    • Great Britain (with a special provision regarding the Dominions)
    • United States
    • Italy
    • France
    • Japan
  • 3 for the small belligerent Powers:
    • Belgium
    • Portugal
    • Serbia
    • Greece
    • Roumania
    • Siam
  • 3 for Powers with special interests:
    • China
    • Brazil
  • 2 for newly recognized states:
    • Poland
    • Czecho-Slovakia
  • 1 for the small theoretical belligerent Powers:
    • Cuba
    • Liberia
    • Nicaragua
    • Haiti
    • Panama
    • Guatemala
    • Costa Rica
    • Honduras

It is to be noted that the Government of Costa Rica is not recognized by the United States.

  • 1 for states which have broken relations with Germany:
    • Bolivia
    • Uruguay
    • Peru
    • Ecuador

Santo Domingo and Salvador are omitted in the plan.

  • 1 for each neutral state.

These are not named in the French plan but are twelve in all, as follows:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Switzerland
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Venezuela
  • Sweden
  • Holland
  • Spain
  • Paraguay
  • Colombia
  • Mexico
  • 1 for each state in process of formation.

No list of such states is given.

Reference is also made in the plan to the special situation of Montenegro and to the necessity of the determination of the questions regarding the representation of Russia.

Discussion of the second section regarding Participation of Delegates, will be found in connection with the consideration of the proposed rules of procedure.

As to the third section, Representation of Enemy Powers, no comment is required at this time.

The fourth section, dealing with Technical Delegates, is of very great importance and should be the subject of careful consideration. Without attempting to analyze the questions which must be presented to an international conference of this kind and which inevitably arise in the course of its proceedings, it is obvious that there are two classes—the one of a general and a political nature, which can only be decided by the States themselves through delegates exercising political powers; the other technical, to be examined by persons familiar with the subject matter who are to put at the disposal of their respective delegations and the Conference the means by which the general purposes may be accomplished. They may be called scientific understudies. They do not possess or exercise political power, but examine [Page 399] and report on questions or phases of questions submitted to them, deriving whatever representative power they may possess from their respective Plenipotentiaries, addressing the Conference with its permission, if it provides for their participation, and under the supervision and control of their Plenipotentiaries. In recommending the selection of technical delegates, the plan follows the example, and is no doubt guided by the experience of the most recent international conferences—the First Hague Peace Conference of 1899, in which twenty-six States were represented, and the Second Hague Peace Conference of 1907, in which forty-four participated. The technical delegates greatly facilitated the work of these two bodies, and it is believed that a considerable number of persons who took part in the Second Hague Conference in that capacity are attached to various commissions and, with the addition of other highly trained persons at present in Paris, may render similar services in the approaching Conference. The provision concerning technical delegates seems to be an integral part of the French plan, inasmuch as in the third division provision is made for the appointment of commissions to consist of Plenipotentiaries and committees to be composed of technical delegates, and in the very last article of the proposed rules for the Conference a drafting committee is composed, to consist of six technical delegates to the exclusion of Plenipotentiaries.

II.—Principles and Methods

This division, it will be observed, consists of three sections, the first dealing with the principles which are to control the discussions; the second, numbers 2, 3, and 4, with the problems confronting the Conference, denominated, respectively, territorial, financial, and economic; and the third with the operation of the Society of Nations, forming a fifth and final section of this division.

These provisions speak for themselves and need not be analyzed, as they are, with the exception of the first pub-section, an enumeration, not a discussion of the problems. In regard to this first subsection, it will be observed that the organization of the Society of Nations is last but one of the group of “directing principles.” It is obvious, however, that, if a League or Association of Nations is to be formed and to possess certain powers to be exercised in the interest of the contracting States, this subject should be first considered, inasmuch as the acceptance of this principle and the nature and power of the League or Association will necessarily affect many, if not all, other questions. This does not mean, however, that the work of the Conference should be postponed, in order to take up and to decide this principle, for commissions and committees can be appointed to consider the other matters contained in the program. As, however, they [Page 400] depend upon the nature of the League or Association, they cannot assume definite shape until the League or Association has been accepted in principle and an agreement reached upon its nature and the scope of its powers. The plan appreciates apparently the importance of the League or Association, as appears from the fifth of the sub-divisions, but instead of leaving the matters mentioned in the concluding paragraphs of this section for later discussion, they should, it is believed, be considered at the very beginning of the Conference and in connection with the constitution and operation of that organization.

III.—Organization of the Work

This division consists of two sections: first, the rules of procedure of the Conference, a draft project of which forms the subject matter of the sixth division of the plan and will not be discussed in this place; second, an enumeration of the principal questions to be discussed by the Conference and to be submitted to commissions composed of Plenipotentiaries and to committees composed of technical delegates. As this is an enumeration, not an analysis, and is not accompanied by discussion or expression of opinion, it does not seem necessary to do more in this place than to call attention to it.

An agreement reached upon the subject matter contained in these three divisions by the Supreme Council of Versailles would enable the Conference to meet and to proceed to its own organization, to arrange its program, and to devise rules for its procedure. As previously stated, divisions four, five, and six deal with this phase of the subject.


This section is entitled, “The Order proposed for the Examination of Territorial and Political Problems.” All the problems mentioned in this section will necessarily be discussed by the Conference. They are all important and there will no doubt be a divergence of opinion as to the order in which they shall be approached or discussed. They are in the order of the plan arranged as follows:

Territorial adjustment of Germany.
Organization of Central Europe.
Oriental Questions.
Situation of the Balkan peoples.
The Russian Problem.

V.—Direct Understandings

The method of procedure contained in this very important division has, it is believed, met with general approval and is likely to be followed [Page 401] by the Conference when it meets and is organized for work. By means thereof many questions of general importance, but which have a special interest for certain Powers or groups of Powers could be discussed by their representatives outside of the Conference. In some instances at least an accord would be reached which then could be laid before the conference for its modification or approval, inasmuch as the special would inevitably have to yield to the general interest. Doubtless these special questions, even when only two Powers seem to be concerned would be discussed with representatives of France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and the United States, as representing in a way the general interest, especially so outside of the Conference. Even in the examples given by the plan of special interests, which could be discussed between the respective parties, it is believed that the general interest would have to be represented, as it is very difficult to see how any agreement of a satisfactory nature could be reached without consulting the larger and general interests that must necessarily be involved. This is evident from the following examples, to be found in this part of the plan:

“Schleswig (between Denmark and Germany); the Aland Islands (previous understanding between Sweden and Finland); the question of the Scheldt and of Limburg (between the Netherlands and Belgium); the Banat of Temesvar (between Roumania and Serbia); perhaps even Jugo-Slavia (between Serbia and Italy).”


The proposed rules of procedure consist of sixteen articles, the first two of which deal with the question of representation calculated to give effect to the principles laid down in the section entitled, “Representation of States,” which the plan presupposes has been approved by the Supreme Council of Versailles. The table contained in the first division is applicable to the second article of the proposed regulations. The first two articles, however, are a decided improvement in form, inasmuch as the classification of the States into big and little, so annoying to most of the States, for only five at present can claim to be great Powers has been discarded and, in lieu thereof, they are grouped according to a general principle accomplishing the same purpose, but in language and in terms consistent with the equality of States. Thus, five belligerent Powers—France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and the United States—have a general interest, and as such are recognized as possessing a general as distinct from a specific or particular interest, and are therefore entitled to take part in all sessions and in all commissions. The other belligerent Powers having what may be considered a special interest, in the sense that they are particularly interested in certain questions, are therefore entitled to take part in the sessions of the Conference in which these matters are discussed. In [Page 402] like manner, the plan recognizes that neutral Powers, as well as States in process of formation, are interested in certain phases of the program, and it is therefore provided that they participate either orally or in writing, upon invitation of the five Powers having a general interest in the sessions of the Conference devoted to the discussion of such questions.

Article three provides that the Powers are to be alphabetically arranged according to their French names. To this there is no objection, as it has proved to be a very successful manner of avoiding conflicts as to precedence. The question, however, arises as to the proper name of some of the countries. For example, Brazil is technically known as the United States of Brazil, yet it appears as Brazil; the United States is properly denominated the United States of America, yet it appears as Etats-Unis, although in the Second Peace Conference of 1907 it was denominated “America, United States of.” Then, too, Great Britain appears as England—the French whereof is Angleterre, which would place that country at the head of the list and enable it first of all to express its opinion upon the taking of votes. There may be no objection to this latter phase of the question, but England does not exist internationally except as a part of Great Britain, and in the Second Hague Peace Conference, to speak only of this international gathering, it appeared as Grande-Bretagne, not as Angleterre. While these may be considered details, it is of importance to the Conference and to the world at large that a contracting party be officially designated, so that the agreement may be seen to be binding upon it without the necessity of explanation.

Article four provides that the Conferences, meaning thereby the Conference or Congress, shall be opened by the President of the Republic. This is customary in Republics. The Prime Minister of France is immediately thereafter to assume the provisional presidency. It is in accordance with custom that a high official, usually the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country in which the Conference meets, takes the chair provisionally. Even in conferences not called by the country in which they meet, as in the case of the two Hague Conferences, the Minister of Foreign Affairs opens the meeting, but yields to a President chosen by the Conference, doubtless by pre-arrangement among the delegates. In the case of the Hague Conferences, the presiding officer was not a delegate from Holland, but the First Delegate of Russia.

It is next provided that the full powers of the delegates shall be referred to a committee composed of the First Plenipotentiaries of each of the Allied or Associated Powers. This is especially necessary in a case of this kind, where the Powers must be in good and due [Page 403] form, and to prevent the admission of a community which is not as yet recognized as a State or in the form in which it presents itself.

The fifth article thereupon provides that after the verification of the Powers, a definitive President and four Vice Presidents shall be chosen “in alphabetical order.” While the meaning of this is not quite clear, it would seem that the author of the plan under discussion contemplated the choice of a President from among the five Powers having a general interest, and that the Vice Presidents should be chosen from among each of these Powers, to rank according to the alphabetical order of the French names of the countries. The author of the plan doubtless contemplates that the permanent President shall be a representative of France, inasmuch as the Secretariat chosen outside of the delegations will be “presented to the approval of the Plenipotentiaries by the President, who is taxed with the responsibility and control thereof.”

On the supposition that the permanent President is to be a representative of France and the Vice Presidents chosen from the five Powers having a general interest, each of the remaining four would have a Vice President, and Great Britain (Angleterre) would have the first Vice President, who would therefore be the Presiding Officer in the absence of the President. The question of the alphabet is therefore not without its importance.

Article six organizes the Secretariat in the manner already stated. Its duties are those of a Secretary’s office, with the very important provision that the archives shall always be open to the members of the Conference.

The next article deals primarily with the question of publicity, providing that official “communiqués” are to be prepared by the Secretariat and made public at the same hour every day. Two hours before publication, they are to be open to the examination of the members of the Conference. Each member of the Conference has the right to have a change made in the “communiqués” and to have a statement of that fact made at the beginning of the next meeting.

Finally, both the Powers represented and their delegates formally renounce the right to make any other communications concerning the labors of the Conference.

From this statement of the terms of Article seven it is apparent that the United States should be represented in the Secretariat by an intelligent person, competent in such matters, possessing judgment, discretion, and an accurate knowledge of French, inasmuch as the American delegation would of necessity be forced to rely in great part upon the information which he should communicate to its members regarding these matters.

The plan now comes to the question of language and, given its origin, not unnaturally provides that French shall be the official [Page 404] language both for the deliberations and the acts of the Conferences. This is in accordance with custom, but it has never been satisfactory to delegates of other languages. An attempt is made to meet this objection, as in the case of other conferences, by allowing delegates to present their observations or oral communications in the language of their choice, on the condition that a French translation thereof be immediately made. It is further provided that, if the speaker desires it, the text of his observations or communications may be annexed to the minutes in the language in which they were delivered. It has been the custom of international conferences meeting in Europe to adopt French as the official language, even although the conferences were held in countries where French was not the official language. The Congress of Vienna (1814–15), the Congress of Berlin (1878), and the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and the Conference of Algeciras of 1906 are recent examples. In the present instance, the French Government will no doubt insist that the reason is all the stronger, inasmuch as the participating Powers are meeting in France. This argument will no doubt be more satisfactory to them than to the other delegates, and whatever argument is used, the adoption of one official language to the exclusion of others is not likely to be agreeable to those whose language is not adopted. The question, however, is very delicate and it is called to the attention of the American Commission without recommendation.

Articles nine and ten deal with the method of presenting documents and of laying propositions before the Conference, and it is believed that, if French be adopted as the official language, there is no objection to them, as they are calculated to facilitate the conduct of the proceedings by requiring that the text of the documents and the motions be presented in advance of their discussion, and that no motion, unless connected with a proposition or springing out of it or in amendment of it, be made without being previously presented and read by the Plenipotentiaries, who alone are authorized to present a document or to make a proposition in behalf of or in the name of the Power they represent.

It is the experience of international conferences that many documents and projects are presented to them by unauthorized persons. Article eleven provides that these shall be received by the Secretariat and only those of them communicated in summary form to the Plenipotentiaries which seem to have a political interest, justifying this action. For purpose of reference, however, these documents are to be placed in the archives.

Article twelve of the proposed rules requires a first and second reading of the proposition submitted. In the first the general principle will be discussed; in the second the details.

[Page 405]

The thirteenth Article takes up the question of Technical Delegates, who may be authorized by the Plenipotentiaries with the consent of the Conference to present technical explanations upon questions or phases thereof which may seem to render such explanations useful. It next states that the matter may at the instance of the Conference be submitted to a committee composed of technical delegates to present a report and proposed solution. The possibility of such a method of procedure seems so obvious as not to require comment. The Plenipotentiaries must deal with the question of principle and they ought to be authorized to appoint assistants to deal with the details and applications of the principle.

It may also be in the interest of the Conference as a whole to have the matter or series of matters referred to a committee composed of technical persons in order to free itself from details of this kind and to save the time and energy of its members for the larger problems.

The fourteenth Article requires the rule of unanimity without, however, binding the minority in a case where opinion is divided. There are, however, many questions of procedure which do not affect principle. In this case it is provided by the article in consideration that the view of the majority will prevail unless the minority should make a formal protest.

The next Article, fifteenth, likewise deals with a matter that can properly be called one of procedure, requiring that the protocols be printed and distributed to the delegates as soon as possible; that their distribution shall take the place of the reading of the minutes and that if no modification in the text of the minutes is requested by the Plenipotentiaries the procotol is to be considered approved and is deposited with the archives. Should a change be requested in the text it is to be read by the President at the beginning of the next session and the entire protocol is to be read upon the request of any Plenipotentiary.

The last and 16th Article raises a question of very great importance. The experience of International Conferences shows that propositions adopted, however carefully prepared, require editing. The experience of international conferences also shows that the drafting of texts is a highly technical matter, and that it should be confided to a commission for this purpose. The Plan, therefore, proposes that a drafting committee (comité de rédaction), composed of six technical delegates, be appointed, representing each of the following languages: French, Portuguese, English, Italian, Slav, and German. This arrangement is open to the objection that Germany will not be a member of the Conference.

Again, it will be observed that only one person is to represent the English-speaking peoples. The presence of a technical delegate [Page 406] from Great Britain would no doubt satisfy that country. It is doubtful whether such a choice would be pleasing to the self-governing Dominions; it is certain that neither Great Britain nor the self-governing Dominions would be satisfied if the representatives of the English language upon the committee happened to be an American. In any event, the United States would not care to be represented in the delicate matter of language by a person whose chief interests are concerned with the destinies of the other branch of English-speaking peoples.

But supposing the difficulty of language to be overcome, another important one presents itself. Changes in the wording of a text often affect form as well as substance, when only the former is intended. The presence of one or more Plenipotentiaries would therefore be desirable upon the Committee. The Second Hague Peace Conference met and overcame these difficulties. It appointed a drafting commission composed of the chief plenipotentiary of each of the participating powers. This commission formed a sub-committee composed of some of the plenipotentiaries and of technical delegates, under the presidency of the late Mr. Renault. The texts were presented to this committee as they were voted by the Conference and given form and precision. Any changes in meaning were noted and sometimes changes affecting substance were made, as they seemed desirable. The texts as thus drafted were submitted to the drafting commission, approved by it, reported to the Conference in plenary session, and approved unanimously by that body. It is believed that the 16th Article should be modified so as to overcome some of the objections to it in its present form, and that the experience of the most recent international conference should be profitably availed of.

  • David Hunter Miller
  • James Brown Scott

  1. This letter and its enclosure are reprinted from Miller, My Diary, vol. iii, pp. 241—254.
  2. For text of the “Plan des Premières Conversations …”, in translation, see supra.