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Competition and complementarity: civil society networks and the question of decentralizing the League of Nations*

  • Anne-Isabelle Richard (a1)


This article examines debates on the decentralization of the League of Nations that took place in the civil society networks surrounding it. Set in the wider framework of regionalist debates, particularly in Latin America, it focuses on two organizations, the International Federation of League of Nations Societies, which promoted the League, and the Comité Fédéral de Coopération Européenne, which focused on European cooperation. The analysis of the debate on regionalism and universalism highlights the role that Europe played in the League, and points to the use of universalist arguments to further British imperial ends. It shows that interwar internationalism was a multifaceted phenomenon, in which national, imperial, regional, and universal projects and concerns were profoundly entangled. Finally, the article stresses the overlap between official and civil society networks, which complemented each other's activities.



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1 League of Nations Archives, Geneva (henceforth LoNA), International Federation of League of Nations Societies (henceforth IFLNS), P93, XI Plenary Congress, Berlin, 26–31 May 1927.

2 Aufricht, Hans, ‘Pan-Americanism and the United Nations’, Social Research, 10, 4, 1943, pp. 417435.

3 Peter Katzenstein, A world of regions: Asia and Europe in the American imperium, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

4 Wambaugh, Sarah, ‘Regional versus universal solutions’, in Institute of World Organization, Regionalism and world organization, Washington, DC: American Council on Public Affairs, 1944, p. 49.

5 Adas, Michael, ‘Contested hegemony: the Great War and the Afro-Asian assault on the civilizing mission ideology’, Journal of World History, 15, 1, 2004, pp. 3163; Duara, Prasenjit, ‘The discourse of civilization and decolonization’, Journal of World History, 15, 1, 2004, pp. 99130; Cemil Aydin, The politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: visions of world order in pan-Islamic and pan-Asian thought, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007; Erez Manela, The Wilsonian moment: self-determination and the international origins of anticolonial nationalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007; Laqua, Daniel, ‘Transnational intellectual cooperation, the League of Nations, and the problem of order’, Journal of Global History, 6, 2, 2011, pp. 223247. For European decline, see Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte, Munich: Beck, 1918–22; Valéry, Paul, ‘La crise de l'esprit’, Nouvelle Revue Française, August 1919.

6 White, Ralph T., ‘Regionalism versus universalism in the League of Nations’, Annals of International Studies, 1, 1970, pp. 88114; Bussière, Eric, ‘Premiers schémas européens et économie internationale durant l'entre deux guerres’, Relations Internationales, 123, 2005, pp. 5168; Jean-Michel Guieu, Le rameau et le glaive: les militants français pour la Société des Nations, Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008; Jacques Barièty, ed., Aristide Briand, la Société des Nations, et l'Europe, 1919–1932, Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2007.

7 Clavin, Patricia and Wessels, Jens-Wilhelm, ‘Transnationalism and the League of Nations: understanding the work of its Economic and Financial Organisation’, Contemporary European History, 14, 1, 2005, p. 466; Commission d’étude du problème de la collaboration européenne, Zoppot, Bulletin de l'Union Internationale des Associations pour la Société des Nations (henceforth Bulletin UIASDN), 5, 1930, p. 71.

8 Pedersen, Susan, ‘Back to the League of Nations’, American Historical Review, 112, 4, 2007, p. 1092.

9 Lyman C. White, The structure of private international organizations, Philadelphia, PA: George S. Ferguson, 1933, p. 11.

10 Pedersen, ‘Back to the League’, p. 1093.

11 Sunil Khilnani, ‘The development of civil society’, in Sudipta Kaviraj and Sunil Khilnani, eds., Civil society: history and possibilities, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 2425.

12 Helen McCarthy, The British people and the League of Nations: democracy, citizenship and internationalism, c.1918–45, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011; Christian Birebent, Militants de la paix et de la SDN, Paris: L'Harmattan, 2007; Donald S. Birn, The League of Nations Union, 1918–1945, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981; Remco van Diepen, Voor Volkenbond en vrede: Nederland en het streven naar een nieuwe wereldorde, 1919–1946 (For League of Nations and peace: the Netherlands and the pursuit of a new world order, 1919–1946), Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 1999; Pedersen, ‘Back to the League’, p. 1113. For exceptions, see Guieu, Le rameau; and Daniel Gorman, ‘Ecumenical internationalism: Willoughby Dickinson, the League of Nations and the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches’, Journal of Contemporary History, 45, 1, 2010, pp. 5173.

13 Arno J. Mayer, Political origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917–1918, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959, p. 58; Ruth B. Henig, ‘New diplomacy and old: a reassessment of British conceptions of a League of Nations, 1918–1920’, in Michael Dockrill and J. Fisher, eds., The Paris Peace Conference 1919, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001, pp. 157174.

14 Pedersen, Susan, ‘The meaning of the mandates system: an argument’, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 32, 4, 2006, pp. 560582; Michael D. Callahan, A sacred trust: the League of Nations and Africa, 1929–1946, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2004; Annique H.M. van Ginneken, ‘Volkenbondsvoogdij: Het toezicht van de Volkenbond op het bestuur in Mandaatgebieden, 1919–1940 (League of Nations tutelage: the supervision of the League of Nations of the administration in the Mandated territories, 1919–1940)’, PhD thesis, Utrecht University, 1992.

15 Van Diepen, Voor Volkenbond en vrede.

16 Thomas Fischer, Die Souveränität der Schwachen: Lateinamerika und der Völkerbund, 1920–1936, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2012.

17 Ibid., pp. 185, 415, p. 183.

18 Zara Steiner, The lights that failed: European international history, 1919–1933, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 349, 650.

19 League of Nations Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes. See Webster, Andrew, ‘International arbitration, the pacific settlement of disputes and the French security-disarmament dilemma (1929–1931)’, French History, 24, 2, 2010, pp. 236261.

20 Steiner, Lights, pp. 387–397, 421; Georges-Henri Soutou, ‘L'ordre européen de Versailles à Locarno’, in Claude Carlier and Georges-Henri Soutou, eds., 1918–1925, Comment faire la paix, Paris: Economica, 2001, p. 322.

21 Heile, Wilhelm, ‘Von Versailles über Locarno nach – Europa’, Die Hilfe, 31, 1925, p. 436.

22 Guieu, Le rameau, pp. 150–151.

23 For pan-Asianism in India, see Carolien Stolte's article in this special issue; Duara, Prasenjit, ‘The discourse of civilization and Pan-Asianism’, Journal of World History, 12, 1, 2001, pp. 99130; Aydin, Politics.

24 Aydin, Politics; Andreas Eckert, ‘Bringing the “Black Atlantic” into global history: the project of pan-Africanism’, in Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier, eds., Competing visions of world order: global moments and movements, 1880s–1930s, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 247; Gary Wilder, The French imperial nation-state: négritude and colonial humanism between the two world wars, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

25 Amery, Leopold S., ‘The British Empire and the pan-European idea’, Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 9, 1, 1930, pp. 122; Richard N. Coudenhove-Kalergi, Paneuropa, Vienna: Paneuropa Verlag, 1923.

26 Mark Mazower, No enchanted palace: the end of empire and the ideological origins of the United Nations, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

27 Georges Scelle, Une crise de la SDN: la réforme du conseil et l'entrée de l'Allemagne à Genève, Paris: PUF, 1927, p. 252.

28 Cited in James Barros, Office without power: Secretary-General Sir Eric Drummond, 1919–1933, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979, p. 212.

29 Boyce, Robert W. D., ‘Britain's first “No” to Europe: Britain and the Briand plan, 1929–1930’, European Studies Review, 10, 1, 1980, pp. 1745; Robert Boyce, ‘The Briand Plan and the crisis of British liberalism’, in Antoine Fleury and Lubor Jilek, eds., The Briand plan of European federal union: national and transnational perspectives, with documents, Bern: Peter Lang, 1998, pp. 121144.

30 Frank P. Walters, History of the League of Nations, London: Oxford University Press, 1952, p. 56.

31 Fischer, Souveränität, p. 281.

32 D. Perkins, A history of the Monroe Doctrine, London: Longmans, 1960, pp. 276346; G. Smith, The last years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945–1993, New York, NY: Hill & Wang, 1994, pp. 2140.

33 Fischer, Souveränität, p. 414.

34 Ibid., pp. 337–8.

35 Irwin F. Gellman, Good Neighbor diplomacy: United States policies on Latin America 1933–1945, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

36 Fischer, Souveränität, pp. 321–339.

37 Leiden Journal of International Law, 19, 4, 2006, issue dedicated to Alejandro Álvarez.

38 Baltasar Brum, ‘Solidaridad mundial’, La Nacion, Buenos Aires, 21 January 1923. See also Scott, James Brown, ‘Editorial’, American Journal of International Law, 14, 3, 1920.

39 Alejandro Álvarez and A. de Lapradelle, Exposé des motifs et projet d'union internationale européenne, Paris: Union Juridique Internationale, 1930, p. 3.

40 Alejandro Álvarez, La réforme du pacte de la Société des Nations sur des bases continentales et régionales, Issoudun : Impr. rapide du Centre, 1926, pp. 8687.

41 Ibid., pp. 96–7.

42 Ibid., p. 83. See also Obregón, Liliana, ‘Noted for dissent: the international life of Alejandro Álvarez’, Leiden Journal of International Law, 19, 4, 2006, pp. 9831016.

43 Alfred H. Fried, Pan Amerika: Entwicklung, Umfang und Bedeutung der zwichsenstaatlichen Organisation in Amerika 1810–1910, 2nd edn, Zurich: Art. Institut Orell Füssli, 1918.

44 Coudenhove-Kalergi, Paneuropa, pp. 19, 76–8; idem, ‘Europäische Frage’, Die Friedenswarte, 1923, p. 11.

45 Fischer, Souveränität, pp. 203–212.

46 Cited in Wehrli, Yannick, ‘Briand, la Société des Nations et l'Amérique latine le conflit du Chaco, 1928–1929’, in Bariéty, Aristide Briand, p. 234.

47 Ibid.

48 Steiner, Lights, pp. 583–584, 617. For the Briand plan, see Christine Schwarte, ‘Le Plan Briand d'Union Européenne: de sa genèse au Quai d'Orsay à son échec dans la diplomatie des grandes puissances européennes (1929–1931)’, PhD thesis, Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, 2003; Fleury and Jilek, Briand plan; Bariety, Aristide Briand.

49 Jean-Luc Chabot, Aux origines intellectuelles de l'Union européenne: l'idée d'Europe unie de 1919 à 1939, Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 2005.

50 League of Nations, Journal of the Tenth Assembly, Geneva, 1929, no. 4, 5 September 1929, pp. 51–5.

51 Walters, History, p. 43.

52 Marie-Renée Mouton, ‘La Société des Nations et le plan Briand d'union fédérale européenne’, in Fleury and Jilek, The Briand plan, pp. 235–256; Boyce, ‘Britain's first “No” ’.

53 LoNA, SDN (1928–1932) 50/21848/19816 - R3589, ‘Documents relatifs à'organisation d'un régime d'Union fédérale européenne’ (henceforth ‘Documents’), Rumania (8 July 1930), Norway (12 July 1930), Greece, Czechoslovakia (14 July 1930), Yugoslavia (21 July 1930), Bulgaria (19 July 1930).

54 Ibid., Great Britain (16 July 1930).

55 Ibid., Ireland (16 July 1930).

56 Ibid., The Netherlands (30 June 1930).

57 Anne-Isabelle Richard, ‘Colonialism and the European movement in France and the Netherlands, 1925–1936’, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 2010; Wilder, French imperial nation-state.

58 LoNA, ‘Documents’, The Netherlands, Italy (4 July 1930); Germany (11 July 1930); Great Britain.

59 Ibid., Great Britain.

60 Cited in Boyce, ‘Britain's first “No” ’, p. 35.

61 Barros, Office, p. 212.

62 LoNA, R3589, CEUE/Com.Sec./P.V.1, Commission of Enquiry for European Union Special Secretariat Committee, Provisional minutes, 8 October 1930.

63 Bulletin UIASDN, Seconde Conférence Économique, 1930, pp. 25–7.

64 Arthur Salter, The United States of Europe and other papers, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1933, p. 109.

65 Boyce, ‘Britain's first “No” ’, p. 35.

66 LoNA, IFLNS, P93, Assembly files, General Assembly Lyon 1924, M. W. F. Treub.

67 LoNA, IFLNS, P93, XI Plenary Congress, Berlin 26–31 May 1927, Political committee.

68 LoNA, IFLNS, P102, Interview with Theodore Ruyssen, Brussels, February 1931.

69 Bulletin UIASDN, Assemblée, 1928, p. 25; Salvador de Madariaga was to visit Latin America in 1929: Ibid., p. 45.

70 Bulletin UIASDN, 3, 1935, p. 165.

71 Bulletin UIASDN, 4, 1925, p. 28; Bulletin UIASDN, 3, 1934, p. 119.

72 Bulletin UIASDN, 5, 1933, p. 321. Initially, the secretariat was based in Bordeaux.

73 LoNA, IFLNS, P102, Interview with Theodore Ruyssen, Brussels, February 1931.

74 Bulletin UIASDN, 1, 1929, p. 9.

75 Cited in Jost Dülfer, ‘Vom Internationalismus zum Expansionismus: die Deutsche Liga für Völkerbund’, in Wolfgang Elz and Sönke Neitzel, eds., Internationale Beziehungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert: Festschrift für Winfried Baumgart zum 65. Geburtstag, Paderborn: Schöningh 2003, p. 255.

76 Heß, Jürgen C., ‘Europagedanke und nationaler Revisionismus: Überlegungen zu ihrer Verknüpfung in der Weimarer Republik am Beispiel Wilhelm Heiles’, Historische Zeitschrift, 225, 1977, pp. 572622.

77 LoNA, R3590, Theodor Ruyssen to Joseph Avenol, 6 January 1931.

78 Birn, League of Nations Union, pp. 13–14.

79 LoNA, IFLNS, R3302, Gabrielle Radziwill, ‘Report on the twelfth annual meeting of the League of Nations Unions’, The Hague, 30 July 1928.

80 LoNA, IFLNS, R3303, Report Ludwig Krabbe, 14e Assemblée Général, Geneva, 5–9 June 1930.

81 LoNA, IFLNS, P93, XI Plenary Congress, Berlin 26–31 May 1927, Political Committee.

82 Bulletin UIASDN, Assemblée, 1927, p. 87.

83 LoNA, IFLNS, P93, XI Plenary Congress, Berlin 26–31 May 1927, Economic Committee.

84 Bulletin UIASDN, 5, 1930, p. 17.

85 Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine, Paris (henceforth BDIC), Comité Fédéral de Coopération Européenne (henceforth CFCE), 4e assemblée générale, Geneva, 2–4 juin 1930.

86 Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères, Paris (henceforth AMAE), SDN, EU, 2496, Comité Fédéral de coopération européenne, 1931, Comité français, Internal note, MAE, ‘A.s. d'un comité de coopération européenne’, 7 July 1933.

87 For the Comité Fédéral, see Jean-Michel Guieu, ‘Le Comité Fédéral de Coopération Européenne: l'action méconnue d'une organisation internationale privée en faveur de l'union de l'Europe dans les années trente (1928–1940)’, in Sylvain Schirmann, ed., Organisations internationales et architectures européennes (1929–1939), Metz: Centre de Recherche Histoire et Civilisation de l'Europe Occidentale, 2003, pp. 7391; Holl, Karl, ‘Europapolitik in Vorfeld der deutschen Regierungspolitik: zur Tätigkeit proeuropäischer Organisationen in der Weimarer Republik’, Historische Zeitschrift, 219, 1, 1974, pp. 3394.

88 Guieu, ‘Le Comité Fédéral’; Holl, ‘Europapolitik’; Heß, ‘Europagedanke’.

89 Guieu, Jean-Michel, ‘L'engagement européen d'un grand mathématicien français: Émile Borel et la coopération européenne des années vingt aux années quarante’, Bulletin de l'Institut Pierre Renouvin, 5, Summer 1998, pp. 1532; Guieu, Le rameau. Other organizations included the Comitees für europäische Interessengemeinschaft (Committees for European Entente) and the Verband für europäische Verständigung (League for European Understanding).

90 Anita Ziegerhofer-Prettenthaler, Botschafter Europas: Richard Nikolaus Coudenhove-Kalergi und die Paneuropa-Bewegung in den zwanziger und dreißiger Jahren, Vienna: Bohlau, 2004; Frank Théry, Construire l'Europe dans les années vingt: l'action de l'Union Paneuropéenne sur la scène franco-allemande, 1924–1932, Geneva: Institut Européen de l'Université de Geneve, 1998.

91 Coudenhove-Kalergi, Paneuropa.

92 Archives Nationales, Paris (henceforth AN), 313 Archives Privées (henceforth, AP) 220, Appel, n.d. (after 25 March 1927).

93 Arthur Fontaine, Solidarité européenne et organisation internationale, Paris: Comité Français de Coopération Européenne, 1929.

94 AN, 313 AP 220, CFCE, ‘Extrait du procès verbal de l'assemblée générale’, 25 March 1927.

95 AN, 313 AP 220, ‘Brochure Comité Français de Coopération Européenne’, 1927.

96 AMAE, Papiers 1940, Léger, 3, Lucien le Foyer to Alexis Léger, 28 July 1929.

97 AN, 313 AP 220, ‘Brochure Comité Français de Coopération Européenne’, 1927.

98 Alfred E. Zimmern, Nationality and government, London: Chatto & Windus, 1918, p. 54; Jeanne Morefield, ‘ “A liberal in a muddle”: Alfred Zimmern on nationality, internationality and commonwealth’, in David Long and Brian C. Schmidt, Imperialism and internationalism in the discipline of international relations, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 93116.

99 For the complementarity of internationalism and nationalism, see Madeleine Herren, Hintertüren zur Macht: Internationalismus und modernisierungsorientierte Aussenpolitik in Belgien, der Schweiz und den USA, Munich: Oldenbourg, 2000. See also Carolien Stolte's article in this special issue.

100 Lecture Émile Borel, College Libre des Sciences Sociales, 21 November 1929, Le Monde Nouveau, 10 December 1929, p. 752.

101 LoNA, R3589, Note from G. H. F. Abraham to Eric Drummond, 24 October 1930.

102 BDIC, CFCE, 4e assemblée générale, Geneva, 2–4 June 1930. See also Denis Guérin, Albert Thomas au BIT 1920–1932: de l'internationalisme à l'Europe, Geneva: Institut Européen de l'Université de Genève, 1966, p. 90.

103 LoNA, IFLNS, P102, Circulaires, 1930–1934; P113, Circulaires, 1930–1934.

104 LoNA, IFLNS, P98, Committee files, Legal and political questions, ‘European confederation’, Rumanian Federation of League of Nations Societies, February 1933.

105 LoNA, IFLNS, P102, Circulaire 128, 7 July 1933, ‘The political organization of Europe’.

106 BDIC, CFCE, 4e assemblée générale. The individuals involved were Jules Rais, secretary-general of the Comité Français, Wilhelm Heile, president of the Deutsches Comitee, and Captain A. E. W. Thomas, overseas secretary of the League of Nations Union.

107 For example, in L'Europe Nouvelle, 21 December 1929; E. Herriot, Europe, Paris: Reider, 1930, pp. 5456.

108 BDIC, CFCE, 4e assemblée générale.

109 Ibid.

110 Birn, League of Nations Union, p. 80.

111 BDIC, CFCE, 4e assemblée générale, 2ème session.

112 LoNA, R3303, Report Ludwig Krabbe, 14e Assemblée Général, Geneva, 5–9 June 1930.

113 Ibid.; Bulletin UIASDN, 4, supplement, 1930, p. 107.

114 Bulletin UIASDN, 5, 1930, pp. 17–18.

115 Bulletin UIASDN, 1, 1931, p. 4.

116 LoNA, IFLNS, P117, S.G. 3762, 3 January 1931, ‘Provisional report, sub-committee of investigation of the problem of European co-operation’, Jules Rais, Copenhagen, 15 December 1930.

117 Morefield, ‘ “A liberal” ’, p. 105.

118 LoNA, IFLNS, P117, S.G. 3762, 3 January 1931, ‘Provisional report’.

119 Ibid.

120 Ibid.

121 Bulletin UIASDN, 2, 1931, Committee of investigation of the problem of European co-operation, Brussels, 14 February 1931.

122 Ibid., pp. 14–15.

123 Ibid.

124 Bulletin UIASDN, 1931, pp. 93–4, 145–6.

125 Borel, Émile, ‘La cooperation européenne en Sorbonne’, Le Monde Nouveau, 15 March 1928, p. 53.

126 See, for example, Richard T. Griffiths, Europe's first constitution: the European Political Community, 1952–1954, London: The Federal Trust, 2000.

* I wish to thank the editors of the Journal of Global History, the two anonymous referees, Andrew Arsan, Carrie Gibson, Daniel Laqua, and Su Lin Lewis for their valuable comments on earlier versions. Any remaining flaws are exclusively my own.


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Competition and complementarity: civil society networks and the question of decentralizing the League of Nations*

  • Anne-Isabelle Richard (a1)


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