Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 11 September 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [11.11]. - byleave - When I last made a detailed statement to the Senate on the international situation on the 24th April, the settlement of the ItaloAbyssinian dispute was the main concern in international affairs. At that time I referred to the insufficiency of the measures taken by the League to restrain Italy, and how, as a result, the main Abyssinian armies were at the point of collapse, 'and the Italian troops within striking distance of the capital. It was only a week later that the Emperor, having renounced the direction of affairs, left Addis Ababa by rail for Djibuti, and proceeded to Palestine. On the evening of the 5th May, the Italiai. troops, under the Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Badoglio, entered Addis Ababa. The Marshal announced that he had assumed all civil and military powers in the . name of the King of Italy. On the 9th May, a royal decree was published in . Rome, among the terms of which were the following: -

That the territories and peoples belonging to the Emperor of Ethiopia were placed under the fulland entire sovereignty of the King of Italy, who assumed the title of Emperor of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, the decree went on, is ruled and represented by a governor-general with the title of Viceroy.

The League Council met at Geneva on the 11th May. Honorable senators may remember that the proceedings at that meeting were summarized by me in a brief statement in the Senate on the 14th May. It was decided that the subject of sanctions would again be reviewed at the next meeting on the 15th June, and that meanwhile sanctions . should continue. Even at this meeting representatives of Chile and Ecuador expressed the view that sanctions should be raised forthwith. The Council did not, in fact, re-assemble on the 15th June. The Argentine Government . requested that the League Assembly (which . had adjourned on the 11th October, 1935) should now be re-summoned, -and that its agenda should include the subjects of sanctions, the annexation of Abyssinia, and . the reform of the Covenant. On . the 18th June, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) made a statement as to the Commonwealth Government's attitude. He referred to the manner in which the Commonwealth had fully carried out its obligations as a League Member, and had had the loyal co-operation of the people of Australia in the enforcement of the proposals agreed on by the League. He stated that sanctions, despite their constant and cumulative pressure, had not proved sufficiently drastic in character or rapid in operation to prevent Italy from accomplishing its military objective. It was clear now that their continuation could not restore the military situation or place Abyssinia in its original position. Moreover, the international situation generally was such that every effort had to be made to secure an all-round settlement.

The Government, therefore, instructed Mr. Bruce to declare that the Commonwealth favoured the raising of sanctions; this he did, at the League Assembly, ou the 2nd July. Mr. Bruce also referred on that occasion to Australia's desire to co-operate with other States Members of the League in reviewing the system of collective security in the light of the experience of the last few months. The Assembly, on the 4th July, formally adopted a recommendation that the Co-ordination Committee, which was set up in October of last year, should make ail necessary proposals to the governments concerned, in order to bring to an end the measures taken by them in execution of article 16. The Co-ordination Committee then proposed to the individual governments that they should, on the 15th July, abrogate the restrictive measures which they had taken against Italy. The Commonwealth Government adopted the proposal, and a proclamation terminating the application of sanctions was duly issued.

With regard to Abyssinia itself, it seems clear that the situation remains very disturbed. The railway line bot.ween Addis Ababa and Djibuti has been frequently cut since the first week in June, and the Italians are experiencing difficulty in supplying their troops by the sole means of communication in. the wet season, -namely, the single railway. Large garrisons have to be maintained, but it is expected that when the rains cease at the end of September, measures to pacify Western Abyssinia will bc put into operation and the Italian position will improve.

On the same day that the League Assembly decided to recommend the raising of sanctions, it also adopted a recommendation of the council that the States members of the league should send to the Secretary-General before the 1st September, 3.936, any proposals they might, wish to make in order to improve the application of the principles of the Covenant. The Commonwealth Government immediately undertook a careful examination of all proposals that had been brought forward from time to time for a reform of the Covenant, and particularly those which were deemed essential in the light of recent experience. The matter was of such importance that it demanded the most careful study and consideration. The Government felt too, that in view of the conflicting opinions which had already been expressed, it would be wiser to defer announcing publicly its proposals until the meeting of the Assembly on the 23rd September. Moreover, the date mentioned did not give time for the necessary examination and consultation with the other members of the British Commonwealth.

In regard to League revision, there is a. very wide divergence of opinion among the members of the League - which made itself apparent at the adjourned meeting of the Assembly in July - and also differences of opinion within the individual States themselves. Of the conflicting views I shall mention only the two extremes. At one end of the scale are those who press for a revision on the lines of strengthening the obligations imposed on members under article 16, especially to ensure their universal and automatic application, and they would include not only financial and economic sanctions, but also military sanctions against a declared aggressor. At the other end of the scale are advocates of the weakening of the obligations by removing all the coercive and repressive articles of the Covenant, and in particular sanctions under article 16, thereby abandoning the policy of collective security and relying purely on the League's moral and consultative aspects.

Any pressing of either of these extreme views might well cause complete disruption and bring about the end of the League as a political factor in international affairs. But between these extremes are numerous other proposals, amongst them being the retention of financial and economic sanctions only, and an extension of existing regional agreements within the framework of the League providing for the application of military sanctions only by the parties thereto.

It is not possible at this .stage io indicate what proposals for reform the Commonwealth Government will submit, but I assure honorable senators that it favours neither of the extreme courses and that it is giving the matter very careful attention.

Almost simultaneously -with the meetings held at Geneva, a conference was held nearby at Montreux to consider Turkey's request for a revision of the Straits Convention of 1923. As the British Empire was a party to the 1923 Convention, all the dominions were invited to participate in the M'ontreux conference. With the exception of Australia, however, none of the dominion governments decided on separate representation. For Australia, the question of the Straits had a special significance, in view of the fact - to which Mr. Bruce, who was the Australian representative, referred in his opening speech - that many Australians had sacrificed their lives in that very zone with the future of which the conference was now concerned. In addition the Commonwealth Government felt that it was highly desirable for Australia to play a part in any international conference which ' was likely to lead to stability in the Near East, an area in which we are directly concerned by reason of vital Empire communications both by air and. sea. Australia was paid a high compliment when Mr.. Bruce was elected president, and later he received many striking tributes to the manner in which he had guided the deliberations of the conference. In this respect, I refer honorable senators to the remarks of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden) in the House of Commons, when he said -

I would like to pay u tribute to the eminent services of Mr. Bruce, the High Commissioner of Australia, who, by his presidency of this conference, has added one more obligation to the many which the comity of nations already owe him.

The results of the conference were, it is generally recognized, very successful. For one thing, Montreux demonstrated that treaty revision by negotiation, .in accordance with the .principles of international procedure, can achieve more valuable and satisfactory results than is achieved by the too prevalent practice of unilateral breach of obligation, with the tension and uncertainty thereby engendered.

The provisions of the new Straits Convention are briefly that while Turkey has re-established its claim to fortify the Straits, the .general principles of freedom of passage in time of peace, and of the free and international character of the Black Sea, have been once more asserted. The clauses dealing with the passage of merchant ships through the Straits, with regard to the amount of dues and charges, and the mode of collection are more satisfactory than in the previous convention, and an acceptable arrangement has been made as to the passage of aircraft between Europe and Asia. Another important aspect from our point of view was that the Turkish Government also gave a most satisfactory assurance with regard to future facilities for the maintenance, supervision, and visiting of the war graves on Gallipoli. The general effect of the Montreux meetings has, I think, been to bring about even closer and more cordial relations than those which already existed between the Turkish Government and the British and Australian governments. It will bo remembered in this connexion that the two days' visit of H.M.A.S. Australia and Sydney to Gallipoli, its battlefields and cemeteries, at the end of last April, when the ships' companies were welcomed by, and in their turn entertained the president of the Turkish Graves Commission, was deeply appreciated both in Australia and in Turkey.

The position of strain in the Mediterranean, which existed for many months, has recently shown marked improvement. In December last, when the ItaloAbyssinian dispute was at its height, conversations took place between the Government of the United Kingdom and the governments of certain of the Mediterranean powers, and subsequently reciprocal assurances were exchanged. These countries were assured by the Government of the United Kingdom that Great Britain would come to their aid in the event of their being attacked on account of their imposition of sanctions under the League Covenant. These assurances continued in force for some time after the collapse of Abyssinia, but during July the Italian Government approached the governments of Turkey, Greece and Yugoslavia, and assured them that Italy had not at any time considered, nor was it now considering, taking action of an aggressive kind against them by way of retaliation for their policy with regard to sanctions. On the 27th July, the Secretary of State for

Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden) made a statement in the House of Commons that in view of these steps on the part of the Italian Government, there was now no further need for the continuance of the assurances given to the Mediterranean powers. The declaration by the Government of the United Kingdom was received with satisfaction by Italy, and the withdrawal of certain British naval units from the Mediterranean has brought about a marked decrease of tension in this region.

One of the most satisfactory events in the sphere of Imperial relations in recent times is the signature of the AngloEgyptian Treaty, which took place in London on the 26th August. Honorable senators will remember that, in 1922, Great Britain made a declaration determining the protectorate over Egypt, and recognizing that country as a sovereign and independent State. At the same time four matters were absolutely reserved to the discretion of the British Government until such time as Great Britain and Egypt should reach agreements with regard to them; these matters were the security of communications of the British Empire in Egypt, the defence of Egypt, the protection of foreign interests in Egypt, and the Sudan. From time to time, and particularly in 1924, 1927 and 1930, negotiations for a treaty were undertaken, but on each occasion they proved unsuccessful. The story of the events leading up to the present treaty, and also the provisions of the treaty itself, will be summarized in the current notes of the External Affairs Department to be issued on the loth September. . The negotiators started their work on the 2nd March last, and were deliberating for nearly six months. Undoubtedly they were assisted in their negotiations by the Abyssinian crisis and the consciousness of common interests and dangers which it had aroused. It was the first occasion, too, on which negotiations had taken place in Egypt itself, for on all the previous occasions the meetings had been held in London. Furthermore it was the first time that Egypt had been representedbv a really nationaldelegation.Inview of Aus- tralia'svital interest in the security of

British Empire communications by way ofEgypt, the Commonwealth Government was in the closest touch wish theGovernment of the United Kingdom both before the initiation of the negotiations and throughout the proceedings, and each detail of their development was carefully followed. In London there were frequent discussions between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden), and the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), and the High Commissioner (Mr. Bruce).

I shall not attempt to summarize the provisions of the treaty. It has received wide approval both in Great Britain and in Egypt, and the general opinion is that it will have the effect of converting a most uncertain and difficult relationship into a friendly alliance. If honorable senators have studied the clauses in some detail, they will, I am sure, be satisfied that everything has been done to ensure the continued security of those Empire communications through Egypt which mean so much to us in Australia.

I shall now refer very briefly to the situation in Spain, which, since- the middle of May, has gone so rapidly from bad to worse. The immediate cause of the present revolt was the murder on the 13 th July of Senor Sotelo, who had been regarded as a probable leader if the parties of the Right regained power. A few days later an outbreak occurred in the Spanish Foreign Legion in Morocco, with simultaneous risings in Barcelona and Madrid. Insurgent armies under General Mola have advanced from the north towards the capital, while General Franco has crossed from Morocco, and is reported to be moving up to- Madrid from the south. It would appear that the original clash between the military and' the Government has developed into a desperate conflict between fascism and communism and that even if those parties of the moderate Left wing, which makeup thepresent Spanish Government, should win the day, they may very wellbesubmergedby the Communists and Anarcho-Syndicalists. who. it is reported are already virtually in con- trolatBarcelonaand possibly in Madrid also.Itwould be impossible to venture an opinion as to which side is likely to be successful. The real danger for some weeks appeared to lie in the reactions of other European powers to the situation. Fortunately, the principal powers seem now to have accepted the position that the export to Spain of all arms, munitions, and war material, including aircraft, must be prohibited, and the British Government took the step of setting up an embargo as early as the 18th August.

The policy of the British Government and of the Commonwealth Government is one of strict neutrality. The question of recognition of any provisional government set up by the insurgent forces has not arisen, nor, indeed, has the question of recognition of the insurgents as belligerants. The practice is for official recognition of the opponents of the hitherto constituted Government to be withheld until the new state of things has assumed a permanent character, and given rise to the formation of a new de facto Government, which can maintain law and order, and respect international obligations.

In conclusion, may I turn to another part of Europe where has developed what is probably the most important feature of the international situation at the present time. Honorable senators will remember that on the 7th March of this year the German Government re-occupied with military forces the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland and simultaneously advised the other signatories to the Locarno Treaties - France, Belgium, Great Britain and Italy - of its intention no longer to "recognize the demilitarized zone. At the same time* the German Government submitted proposals "for the 'establishment of a system of peaceful security for Europe.". The representatives of Great "Britain, France, Belgium and Italy carefully examined the situation created by the communication addressed to their respective governments by Germany, and on the 19th March, drew up a text of proposals defining their attitude, which was submitted to the German Government for its consideration. The four Powers resolved, inter alia, forthwith to instruct their general staffs to enter into contact with a view to arranging the technical conditions under which the obligations which were bind ing on them, should be carried out in the event of an unprovoked aggression. A general interchange of views followed, every means of achieving conciliation being thoroughly examined and, in an effort to clarify the situation, the British Government instructed its Ambassador in Berlin to discuss with the German Government certain points in the German memoranda, and to express the hope that the answers of the German Government "would facilitate the early opening of negotiations which would lead to a general settlement in Europe. Meanwhile on the 15th, 16th and 17th April conversations took place in London between representatives of the general staffs of Great Britain, France and Belgium. Italy did not take part in these conversations, maintaining, as it was expressed, an attitude of reserve, due to the particular circumstances in which that country was placed. On the 12th May representatives of Great Britain, France and Belgium met again at Geneva, but as no reply had been received by Great Britain from the German Government, further action was for the time being postponed.

Up to the present the British Government, despite several requests for expedition, has received no reply to the questionnaire it submitted to the German Government on the 6th May, and it ha8 announced that it does not intend to press ;any further .for an answer. On the '23r.d July, however., the representatives of Great Britain, France and Belgium met in London and a communique" was issued emphasizing the necessity for a general settlement which could be possible only if all .the Powers concerned ce-operated freely. T-he three governments considered that steps should be taken to negotiate a now agreement to replace the Rhine Pact of Locarno and thus to resolve the situation created by the German initiative of the '7th March. It was further proposed to seek participation of the German .and Italian Governments in the proposed meeting. As a result of the invitation which emanated from the meeting on the 23rd July, both the German and Italian governments have signified their willingness to participate in a Five Power Conference. The German Minister for Foreign Affairs has- indicated that the middle of October would be, in his opinion, the earliest suitable date. The Commonwealth Government believes that the atmosphere is now more favorable and that everything augurs well for a successful meeting in October.

Honorable senators may perhaps feel that I have dealt at undue length with events in Europe and the Near East, but I am sure that they appreciate generally that no country to-day, whatever may be its own inclinations and desires, can adopt a policy of indifference or isolation in international affairs. A critical situation, whether it be in Palestine, the Far East or the Rhineland, has farreaching repercussions, and, with the prevailing feeling of insecurity and uncertainty, may well affect world stability and world peace. Therefore, I feel it advisable that honorable senators should, from time to time, by a review such as I have given, be afforded an opportunity to obtain a broad picture of those international events of moment which are likely to involve or affect, not only our own particular interests, but also the general peace of the world.

Suggest corrections