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Friday, 6 December 1935

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [5.0]. - by leave - Honorable senators will no doubt be interested to know the actual position in regard, to the State members of the League of Nations which are imposing sanctions in connexion with the Italo-Abyssinian dispute.

According to the latest advice from the Secretary-General of the League, 49 State members have taken the necessary legislative and administrative measures in relation to Sanction I. - Prohibition of arms and munitions of war to Italy - while three others have accepted ths. proposal in principle; 48 countries have taken the necessary measures to implement Sanction II., relating to financial restrictions, while four others have accepted it in principle. In regard to Sanction III. - Prohibition of Italian imports - the figures are 44 and eight respectively; while for Sanction IV., prohibiting the export to Italy of metals and certain raw materials classed as munitions of war, the corresponding numbers are 44 and 8. These figures show that 52 countries have taken action or have accepted these sanctions in principle. This, honorable senators will agree, is a remarkable result.

There has been certain criticism of the slow operation of the League machinery, and of certain hesitation and uncertainties. This was only to be expected. The strength of the League in the last resort depends on the strength of public opinion in the countries of the member States, and any hesitation shows at least, that this grave international problem is being seriously weighed by individual States, which are at last thinking of the League in terms ofa complete organization affecting them directly.

Where there was a chance of pacific settlement, the League did everything possible in the way of conciliation. When action contrary to the principles of the League barred the door to conciliation, we saw a display of solidarity and determination to make a supreme effort to end the scourge of war - a display unique in the history of the world.

At the moment, the technical subcommittees of the Co-ordination Committee are examining the reports, documents and legislation submitted by State members, to ensure that the action being taken is effective and co-ordinated.

On the 12th December, the full committee will meet to consider whether the " oil sanction " will be adopted. This sanction is known as Proposal IV a., and reads -

In the execution of the mission entrusted to it under the last paragraph of Proposal IV., the Committee of Eighteen submits to Governments the following proposal: -

It is expedient that the measures of embargo provided for in Proposal IV. should be extended to the following articles as soon as the conditions necessary to render this extension effective have been realized: -

Petroleum and its derivatives, by-products, and residues.

Pig-iron, iron and steel (including alloy steels), cast, forged, rolled, drawn, stamped or pressed.

Coal (including anthracite and lignite), coke and their agglomerates, as well as fuels derived therefrom.

If the replies received by the committee to the present proposal and the information at its disposal warrant it, the Committee of Eighteen will propose to governments a date for bringing into force these measures.

The League has two main tasks: first, to avert war by the just and peaceful settlement of disputes; and, if this fails, secondly, to prevent its extension and stop it in the shortest possible time. The imposition of sanctions is designed to effect the second objective, and because the Commonwealth Government believed that the adoption of the oil, iron and steel sanction, prohibiting the export of what are rightly regarded as vital sinews of war, would be one of the most effective in shortening the war, it immediately accepted in principle the sanction, and notified the League on the 15th November that it would be prepared to put the proposal into operation immediately it was adopted.

It has been made clear by the British Government, and also by the Commonwealth Government, that we are prepared to play our full part, in conjunction with others, but on the understanding that the liabilities and responsibilities must be shared by all. It is of no use to adopt a sanction unless it is likely to be unanimously accepted and strictly carried out by all State members. Hence honorable senators can appreciate that there must necessarily be negotiation and consultation to obtain unanimity before a sanction with grave and far-reaching effects can be adopted. That is particularly true of this sanction. Roumania, for example, supplies 50 per cent, of the total oil imports of Italy, and the operation of this sanction, unless some agreement could be reached that nonparticipating States would also restrict supplies, would only react most prejudicially against certain State members, without accomplishing the purpose of the sanction. I do not yet know the attitude of States towards the proposal, or whether it will be adopted, but I have mentioned some of the obvious difficulties surrounding these sanctions in order that honorable senators may appreciate the position.

Similar considerations have operated from the outset as regards military sanctions. The pre-requisite for the enforcement of any sanction must be collective agreement. This not only never existed in the case of military sanctions, but also was never contemplated from the beginning of the controversy.

I emphasize that, in the deliberations at Geneva, there has been no discussion of military sanctions, and no such measures have formed part of British policy.

The distinction between economic and military sanctions has been appreciated by Signor Mussolini, who in his national speech on the 2nd October stated -

Against economic sanctions we shall set our discipline, our frugality and spirit of sacrifice. To military sanctions we shall reply with military measures. To acts of war we shall reply with acts of war. His acceptance of moral, financial and economic sanctions was in itself an admission of violation of international obligations. Though at first it was reported that Italy would regard the imposition of an oil embargo as a hostile act, there has been a modification of the early strong reaction, particularly in view of the recent forcible intimation conveyed by M. Laval that France was standing strongly behind the principles of the League, and intended to support and cooperate loyally with Great Britain.

This raises a question now often asked : " What has been the effect of the sanctions so far ? " An embargo on credit, key commodities and munitions has, in the past, been found to be effective. Although the economic pressure may be of slow development, yet even with the present limited period of application, there are indications that the moral and material effects of the action are being felt.

In this respect, I remind honorable senators that we do not desire to apply punishment to the Italian people in this dispute, or to any power that breaks the Covenant but that we do desire to play our part in co-operative efforts to ensure the observance of international law, on which ultimately every community must depend. As I said in my reply of the 22nd November to the Italian note of protest -

The present unfortunate dispute was not one between Italy and any individual member of the League, but an issue between Italy and every State member of the League. As such, the Commonwealth Government is of the firm opinion that there is no cause for ill feeling between the Australian and Italian people, who have ever been actuated by deep feelings of mutual regard and esteem, and it would not care to contemplate that any resentment could persist between our peoples after the dispute has been settled.

Another question which is uppermost in the minds of honorable senators is: What is the significance of all the press reports about overtures from Italy and negotiations for a settlement? Negotiations which are now taking place are in accord with the second objective of the League, namely, to shorten the war, and British policy is to continue to search for peace on a basis honorable to all parties. There is no question of going behind the back of the League in such matters. It is obvious that the three powers which can most directly and effectively achieve a settlement are Great Britain, France and Italy, but any proposals must be in accordance with League principles, " within the framework of the League," as it is termed, and acceptable to all parties concerned - Italy, Abyssinia, and the League.

I can frankly state that the Commonwealth Government has no knowledge that any definite proposals have yet been formulated which will comply with the above condition, but if and when they are made they will be immediately placed before the League. That this is the view of the Commonwealth Government is shown by the following extract from my letter to the Italian Government previously referred to: -

It is of the opinion that these representations should be made to the League, along with any views which the Italian Government holds as to the requisites for a just and speedy settlement of the dispute.

In conclusion, I would say that His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia earnestly hopes that means for such a settlement may soon be found acceptable to Italy, to Abyssinia, and in accordance with the spirit and principles of the League. This sentiment I feel is echoed by the whole of the Australian people

There are two other matters incidental to the main dispute about which I feel honorable senators would appreciate some information. The first is the reported tension in the Mediterranean, and the second is the position in Egypt. The first was largely due to a hostile press propaganda in Italy, and strong antiBritish attacks which went so far as to threaten Malta and Gibraltar.

Before the present crisis, Italy maintained in Libya approximately 20,000 men, and despite the recent withdrawal of one division, the present strength is still over 50,000 as against numerically much weaker British forces in Egypt. Naturally, there has been a certain amount of apprehension as to the safety of vital lines of Imperial communications, but I can say that, with the subsidence of the press campaign and the moderate tone now adopted, following on friendly and satisfactory conversations between the British Ambassador and Signor Mussolini, the tension referred to has considerably lessened.

As regards the disturbances in Egypt, the press reports have been much exaggerated. On the 7th November, Mohammed Mahmoud, the leader of the Wafd, the Nationalist party, which had passively co-operated with the Government in recent months, attacked the Government and the Prime Minister, Tewfik Nessum, both for continuing to govern without a constitution and for allowing undue British influence in Egyptian domestic affairs. It is true that Great Britain has " advised against the re-enactment of the Constitutions of 1923 and 1930, since the one was proved unworkable and the other universally unpopular ". For some time the Egyptian Government has acted without a constitution. The relations between the British and Egyptian Governments have been maintained, however, on a correct and harmonious basis. The present international dispute on the Egyptian frontier has brought home forcibly to the Egyptian people their reliance on Great Britain for defence and economic security. Consequently, there is a more general desire for friendly co-operation than has been evident for years.

The speech of Mahmoud was followed by demonstrations on the 13th November in Cairo and Tanta. mainly by students on academic and political grounds. At both places the police had to fire once. About 115 policemen and demonstrators were injured. The situation is now well in hand, and no untoward incidents have since been reported.

I do not propose to touch on the military situation in Abyssinia itself, as the operations are reasonably well reported, so far as the war censorship of the participants will allow, by reputable press correspondents, and the Government can add little of value to the press messages which have been published.

In conclusion, I feel that honorable senators will agree that the League of Nations has, by its commendable and efficient handling of the present dispute, proved itself capable of carrying out one of the main objects for which it was formed. It has greatly enhanced its prestige as an instrument for the maintenance of peace and, where war actually breaks out, for the localization of hostilities. The League has given evidence of the deterrent effect of the unified cooperation of nations in the cause of peace, and we believe, will come through the present ordeal a greatly strengthened and more effective organization for the peaceful settlement of all international disputes.

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