Memorandum by the Secretary of State as to Form of International Agreement To Prevent Infringement Upon Territorial and Political Rights24

There are two forms of agreement which may be employed in effecting a union of the nations to prevent aggressions and international wars.

One is a joint guaranty of the parties to preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of every party to the agreement.

The other is a covenant, several rather than joint in nature, not to violate the territorial integrity and political independence of any party to the agreement.

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The first form binds a party to do a certain thing; the second form binds a party not to do a certain thing. The first requires action if necessary; the second requires inaction.

Under the positive guaranty the parties would be bound, under certain conditions, to employ coercion either of a martial or of a commercial character.

Under the negative covenant the violation of its undertaking by one of the parties would be self-operative, constituting an unfriendly act against all other parties, since the offending party would assume a right relinquished by others. It could be provided that the abrogation of treaties and the severance of diplomatic and consular relations should follow as a matter of course, and the necessity of positive action for the restoration of rights violated left discretionary with the parties in council assembled.

Opposition to the positive guaranty has appeared in the various quarters at home and abroad. Governments in general appear loath to bind their countries to definite action which may necessitate the use of their armed forces or compel an interruption of their commerce and trade. Numerous objections have been raised, some valid, some invalid, and these objections are seized upon and used by those who disbelieve or are hostile to a League of Nations.

In the United States the positive guaranty is also opposed for national reasons. Its opponents declare that the treaty-making power cannot take from Congress the war-making and commerce-regulating powers delegated to it by the Constitution; that to agree to joint coercion of an American republic would permit an interference with American affairs by European nations and destroy the Monroe Doctrine and Pan-Americanism; and that to bind the United States to unite in coercive measures would be violative of the traditional policy of the United States to abstain from “entangling alliances” with European governments. There can be little doubt but that these arguments have won many supporters in Congress and among the people at large.

The negative covenant, which would seem to be effective in reaching the end sought, has internationally the advantage that no power could give a satisfactory explanation of refusing to make it. It has also the same basis as the so-called “Peace Treaties” in its self-denying character, to which most nations are parties.

From the purely American opposition it removes the argument of unconstitutionality, of infringement of the Monroe Doctrine and Pan-Americanism, and of any abandonment of abstention from foreign alliances.

  1. Reprinted from Miller, My Diary, vol. iii, p. 125.