Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/1

Minutes of the Daily Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, Friday, January 31, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. Lansing
    • Mr. White
    • General Bliss
    • Colonel House
    • Mr. Herter

1. General Bliss began the discussion on a resolution which was passed yesterday at the Quai d’Orsay to the effect that the members of the Supreme War Council should meet to decide on the number of troops which it would be considered equitable for the members of the associated governments to send to the former territories of the Turkish Empire.1 The diplomatic aspect of the question was brought up owing to the fact that the United States was not at war with Turkey, but had merely broken off diplomatic relations. General Bliss wished to know whether the President would be in any way embarrassed if he decided that the United States should refuse to send any troops to Turkey.

Mr. Lansing was of the opinion that any decision which General Bliss decided to render in the premises should be so hypothetical that if it was found necessary, the President would be able, on political grounds, to back down from the resolution taken yesterday.

General Bliss asked whether he should therefore decide only what he considered a fair distribution of the troops of the associated governments.

It was decided that any conclusion arrived at by General Bliss should begin with approximately the following wording: “If it is considered advisable, and the consent of the Turkish government is given thereto, the number of American troops etc., etc.,”

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[2.] Colonel House stated that he had had a long interview with Mr. Orlando last night regarding the draft of a constitution of a League of Nations prepared by President Wilson, and that he had found that they were in agreement on many points. There were two objections however, which Mr. Orlando had to make.

1. That all of the territory of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire should be placed under the control of the League of Nations since that would necessitate that the Trentino, Istria and Triest be placed under international control rather than be incorporated into the Italian State. Orlando desired that this paragraph “Supplementary Agreement No. 1” should be altered so that only those territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which were not otherwise disposed of in the treaty of peace should be controlled by the League of Nations.

Mr. Lansing observed that if such an amendment were made, all the British Dominions would desire that similar clauses be incorporated so that some of the German colonies could be separately disposed of in the treaty of peace.

It was decided that the amendment suggested by Orlando was not satisfactory and that this matter would require further study.

2. That by the adoption of Article 4 of the proposed draft Italy would have to limit its military forces to volunteer organizations, which would be absolutely impracticable because of the conditions in Italy. The Italian army was paid such a very small stipend that the conditions of service were not attractive enough to make practical a volunteer organization. Orlando viewed favorably the limitation of armaments, but felt that for Italy it was necessary that some form of conscription be retained.

Colonel House and Mr. Lansing both stated that they appreciated the force of Orlando’s argument and that it would undoubtedly be necessary to have some form of modified conscription in many countries in order to obtain a sufficient army to carry out the mandates of the League of Nations. Mr. White thought likewise it would be inadvisable for the United States to commit itself definitely on this point and that he was glad that this question would be reviewed.

General Bliss observed that there were only two kinds of armies, volunteer and conscripted armies, and that in principle he believed in the abolition of the conscripted army. He also however, recognized the weight of Mr. Orlando’s objection.

Colonel House stated that the President had asked him to consult with General Bliss about drafting a substitute for Article 4 which would obviate the objection made by Mr. Orlando.

General Bliss stated that he would study this matter and draft a substitute for Article 4.

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3. Mr. Lansing quoted President Wilson as having stated a belief that at the end of this week or soon thereafter an agreement on the plan for the League of Nations could be reached. This appeared very doubtful because of the many objections which seem to be arising in regard to specific details in the drafting of the constitution.

Colonel House observed that Lord Robert Cecil had already gone through the President’s draft in great detail with Mr. Miller and that he (Colonel House) was to have a meeting with General Smuts and Cecil tonight to consider the matter further. Tomorrow night he was to have another conference with Orlando to see if the objections which had just been discussed could be overcome. It was hoped that a general meeting could take place next week to begin the final discussions.

Mr. Lansing stated that he thought it was very important that the President should not return to the United States until some definite and concrete resolution in regard to the League of Nations had been adopted, and that in view of the delays which would inevitably arise from the discussions of the details it might perhaps be more advisable to have the conference agree on the general principles, leaving the settlement of the details to a specially appointed Commission. Colonel House said that he had tried to persuade the President of the advisability of such a line of action but that he was afraid it was now too late. Mr. Lansing added that he had a supplementary resolution already prepared which he desired to discuss with Colonel House, and which they might induce the President to bring up at the Conference instead of insisting on the immediate settlement of the whole question.

4. Colonel House read a telegram which he had received from Baron Slatin3 as follows:

“Have sent telegrams to Ministers Lansing, Balfour and Pichon to advocate permission that few Austrian Delegates are allowed to proceed Siberia and Turkestan to assist our unfortunate prisoners and comfort minds of their families at home. Would be very grateful if you kindly lend me your help that President Wilson takes a benevolent interest in this pure humanitarian question and support my sincere and urgent request. Slatin”

The Commissioners agreed that there was no objection to complying with the wishes of Baron Slatin, and Colonel House offered to take up the matter with Mr. Balfour and Mr. Pichon.

Colonel House withdrew.

5. Mr. Lansing, Mr. White and General Bliss discussed the possibility of amending Article 4 to the President’s draft in order to meet the views of Mr. Orlando,4 and at the same time provide for the limitation [Page 4] of large standing armies. No decision was arrived at and the discussion was postponed until a later date.

6. Mr. Herter read a memorandum prepared by the Secretariat, regarding a desire expressed by Dr. Mezes to have Lieut. Jefferson of the Aerial Service in France assigned to the Commission as an assistant to the Cartographer. General Bliss stated that he had received a confidential letter from Secretary Baker regarding the number of officers who had already been assigned to the Commission. General Bliss believed that too many assignments had already been made through personal friends and that the question of further assignments should not be considered until a study could be made of the present personnel on the Commission.

It was decided that no action should be taken on the Secretariat’s memorandum No. 105 until each of the Commissioners had been furnished with a full list of the personnel now assigned to the Commission.

7. Mr. Herter stated that Mr. Frank Bohn and Mr. Charles Edward Russell were present in Paris and wished to go to the International Socialist Conference in Berne. Inasmuch as the Conference began on the 3rd of February however, they were unable to arrive in time unless the Commission decided to assist in facilitating the visaing of their passports. Mr. Lansing stated that he knew Mr. Russell well and that he considered him a very reliable and loyal American whose opinion on the Conference at Berne would be very valuable. He also believed that if Mr. Bohn was traveling with Mr. Russell, he also must be reliable.

It was decided that the Commissioners should facilitate the journey of Messrs. Bohn and Russell to Berne, but that any action in the premises should be informal and verbal.

8. Mr. Herter read Memorandum No. 11 to the Commissioners, regarding the withdrawal of all troops of occupation from Montenegro.

The recommendation that no action should be taken in this matter at the present time was approved by all the Commissioners.

[9.] Mr. Herter read a letter addressed by Admiral Benson to the President, requesting that he be authorized to confer with the naval representatives of the five great powers with a view to drawing up in definite form just what terms should be imposed upon the enemy as strictly naval peace terms. The President’s reply to this letter, approving of the Admiral’s suggestion, and requesting Mr. Lansing to lay this matter before his colleagues on the Peace Delegation, was also read.

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It was decided that it would be advisable for Admiral Benson to confer with the naval representatives of the five great Powers for the purpose indicated, and Mr. Lansing stated that he would authorize Admiral Benson accordingly.

10. Mr. Herter read Memorandum No. 9 regarding the representative of the United States at a proposed conference for the adoption of rules of aerial navigation. It was brought out that Admiral Benson and General Kernan as well as the President did not see any great utility in the proposed conference. The Commissioners agreed that more pressing matters were now coming up for consideration, but believed that if the State Department in Washington had already committed itself definitely on this point it would be too late to retract.

It was agreed that the suggested letter to the President and the suggested telegram to the Department of State, which were attached to Memorandum No. 9 should be despatched.

11. Mr. Herter read a letter to the President drafted for Mr. Lansing’s signature by Mr. Grew, regarding the action of the French Embassy in Switzerland in refusing passports into France to the representatives of Circassian and Georgian Republics, and other States whose political views do not agree with those of the French government. The letter recommended that an immediate discussion of this matter should take place with the French and other Allied governments.

It was agreed that the letter in question should be despatched to the President.

12. Mr. Herter read Memorandum No. 12 in which the Secretariat inquired to which of the technical advisors the Commissioners desired that the minutes of the informal conferences at the Quai d’Orsay should be sent.

It was decided that the minutes in question should be sent to the following technical advisors:

  • Admiral Benson
  • Major General Kernan
  • Major Scott
  • Mr. Miller

13. Mr. White stated that Mr. Buckler6 had last night had conversation with certain members of the British Delegation and he had ascertained that the British government was willing to send representatives to Princes Island even though only the Bolsheviki would be there to meet them. Mr. Lansing stated that he did not believe that the Bolsheviki would come to any such meeting. Mr. White [Page 6] stated that Mr. Kerr, Lloyd George’s Secretary, believed that the Bolsheviki would come to the Conference.7

Mr. Lansing inquired whether Mr. Buckler discussed the question of Mr. Ransome8 with the British Delegation. Mr. White stated that he was not informed on this point but would ask Mr. Buckler and convey his answer to the Commissioners at the next meeting.

14. Mr. Herter asked whether the Commissioners desired to initial any record of the decisions which they reached during their Conference. It was agreed that this was not necessary, but that the Secretary should make a note of all decisions arrived at.

The Commissioners agreed that they would be glad to receive agenda together with the pertinent documents on questions which were to be brought up at each of their meetings in order that they might study these questions before hand. The Commissioners realized that this procedure would only be possible when the action was not urgently required in any particular case.

It was decided that the Secretariat should be advised of this wish.

  1. See BC–18, vol. iii, p. 817.
  2. General Rudolph Slatin, Austrian Red Cross representative in negotiations concerning prisoners of war.
  3. See minute 2, item 2, supra.
  4. The numbered memoranda referred to in the course of these minutes were those prepared for use in submitting specific questions for the consideration of the American Commissioners at their regular meetings. Except for Memorandum No. 376, p. 591, they have not been printed.
  5. William H. Buckler, special assistant in the Embassy in Great Britain.
  6. For papers relating to the proposed conference at Princes Island (Prinkipo) which are not printed in the. Peace Conference volumes, see Foreign Relations, 1919, Russia, pp. 1 ff.
  7. Arthur Ransome, correspondent of the London Daily News.