The Minister in the Netherlands (Phillips) to the Secretary of State

No. 237

Sir: Referring to my despatch No. 208, of July 26, 1920,13 transmitting the final French text of the Agreement for the creation of a [Page 15] Permanent Court of International Justice, I have the honor to enclose herewith one copy of the official English text which I have only just received.14

As the Department is aware, the project was presented to the Council of the League of Nations meeting at San Sebastian on July 30th. Confidentially, I am informed that considerable discussion arose in the Council as to certain articles of the project, especially Art. 34 dealing with the jurisdiction of the Court. The Council instructed M. Léon Bourgeois to prepare, while keeping in touch with the other members of the Council, a preliminary report on the draft prepared by the Advisory Committee of Jurists; which report is to serve as a basis for the final opinion of the Council. The Council also decided to send to the Governments concerned the draft itself, with a covering letter—a copy of which is enclosed herewith. It is to be noted that in this letter to the various Governments the Council does not express any opinion on the merits of the scheme “until they have had a full opportunity of considering it.” At the same time they make certain observations in the letter which will be of interest to the Department.

I have [etc.]

William Phillips

The Council of the League of Nations to the Governments of the States Members of the League

The Council of the League has the honour to communicate to the Government the scheme presented by the International Committee of eminent Jurists who were invited to submit plans for the establishment of a Permanent Court of International Justice, and who have recently concluded their deliberations at The Hague.

The Council do not propose to express any opinion on the merits of the scheme until they have had a full opportunity of considering it. But they permit themselves to accompany the documents with the following observations.

The scheme has been arrived at after prolonged discussion by a most competent tribunal. Its members represented widely different national points of view. They all signed the report. Its fate has, therefore, been very different from that of the plans for a Court of Arbitral Justice, which were discussed without result in 1907. Doubtless the agreement was not arrived at without difficulty. Variety of opinions, even among the most competent experts, is inevitable on a subject so perplexing and complicated. Some mutual [Page 16] concessions are, therefore, necessary if the failure of thirteen years ago is not to be repeated. The Council would regard an irreconcilable difference of opinion on the merits of the scheme as an international misfortune of the gravest kind. It would mean that the League was publicly compelled to admit its incapacity to carry out one of the most important of the tasks which it was invited to perform. The failure would be great, and probably irreparable; for if agreement proves impossible under circumstances apparently so favourable, it is hard to see how and when the task of securing it will be successfully resumed. It is in the spirit indicated by these observations that the Council on their part propose to examine the project submitted to them by the Committee of Jurists; and they trust that in the same spirit the Members of the League will deal with this all important subject when the Council bring the recommendations before the Assembly.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Draft convention not printed; for final text, see p. 17.