Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 594 LONDON, 28 October 1939


Reference to your telegram of 21st October regarding League of Nations. [1] I agree with your summing up of future scope of League. It is clear that, as at present constituted, the League cannot go ahead on political side and that its political activities should therefore be put into cold storage.

I agree that it is essential that immediate steps be taken, i.e.

at forthcoming meeting of the Assembly, concerning your proposal of a declaration suspending political activities and reduction of the political staff secretariat to nucleus only. This would affect approximately one third of budget, of which over sixty per cent.

is at present devoted to economic and social work.

I agree that there should be a strong expression of the Commonwealth Government’s appreciation of the value of the economic and social work of the League and of the international health organisation.

An opportunity to do this will be provided on consideration of the report of the Committee on Economic and Social Questions which I understand will be discussed. The United States has shown great interest in this report.

A decision to follow the lines laid down in this report will tend to strengthen the general position of the League and may even tend to attract back support of countries such as Italy, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Spain. Should this occur the way may be opened at a later date for consideration of the political side of the League.

Should this occur, it win be necessary for State Members formally and publicly to recognise that the Covenant of the League must go and a new Statute be substituted for it. Such a new Statute must be as simple and universal as possible in order to appeal to political philosophies which differ from those of the democracies.

Whether, in future, however the League will play any part on the political side is impossible to estimate.

Regarding the views of other members of British Commonwealth of Nations, New Zealand briefly expressed a general agreement with D.O. Telegram No. 340. [2] Smuts [3] expressed general agreement with D.O. Telegram and said it was essential to keep the League in being and functioning, although, for the present, however, it was not of much practical use as it could not prevent hostilities breaking out and was unlikely to affect the course of the war. He pointed out that any attempt to use its platform as propaganda would be resented by neutrals. Canada and the Irish Free State have not yet replied.

The French have all along agreed that meetings should be held at Geneva before the end of the year but that all political items should be excluded from the agenda. No expression of opinion from neutrals. I understand that Maisky [4], who is President of the Council of the League, has not mentioned the League since just after the outbreak of the war.



1 Document 304.

2 See Document 248, note 5.

3 General J.C. Smuts, South African Prime Minister.

4 Ivan Maisky, U.S.S.R. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.


[AA: A981, L OF N, 20TH ASSEMBLY 3]