Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LXI: democracy and foreign policy 1 - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTER LXI: democracy and foreign policy 1 - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 2. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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democracy and foreign policy1
Statesmen, political philosophers, and historians have been wont to regard the conduct of foreign relations as the reproach of democratic government. The management of international relations needs — so they insist — knowledge, consistency, and secrecy, whereas democracies are ignorant and inconstant, being moreover obliged, by the law of their being, to discuss in public matters unfit to be disclosed. That this has been perceived by the people themselves appears from the fact that modern legislatures have left this department to officials, because it was felt that in this one department democracies cannot safely be democratic.
Per contra, popular leaders in some countries have, with an increasing volume of support, denounced Foreign Offices as having erred both in aims and in methods. They allege that the diplomacy of European States is condemned by the suspicion which it has constantly engendered and that the brand of failure is stamped upon it by the frequent recurrence of war, the evil which diplomacy was created to prevent.
These views, apparently opposite, are not incompatible. Oligarchies, and the small official class which in many democracies has had the handling of foreign affairs, may have managed them ill, and yet it may be that the whole people will manage them no better. The fault may lie in the conditions of the matter itself and in those tendencies of human nature which no form of government can overcome. What we want to know is not whether oligarchic and secret methods have failed — that may be admitted — but whether democratic and open-air methods will succeed any better. What light does history throw on the question?
Here at starting let a distinction be drawn between Ends and Means in the sphere of foreign policy, a distinction, which, though it exists in all branches of administration, is less significant in the domestic branches, because in them Ends, if not assumed as generally recognized, are and must be determined by the people through their representatives. Justice, the maintenance of public order, economy in expenditure are understood to be aims in every department, while the particular objects for which money is to be spent and the modes of raising it are prescribed by statute. But the relations of States to one another, varying from day to day as the circumstances which govern them vary, cannot be handled by large assemblies in a large country, but must be determined by administrators who are incessantly watching the foreign sky. Modern legislatures accordingly, though they sometimes pass resolutions indicating a course to be followed, or condemning a course which has been followed, by a Ministry, have recognized that in foreign affairs the choice of Means must belong to a small body of experts, and have accordingly left to these persons all details, and the methods which diplomacy must employ in particular cases, allowing them a wide, possibly a too wide, discretion.
But while Foreign Offices and diplomatic envoys may be the proper persons to choose and apply Means, the general principles which should guide and the spirit which should inspire a nation's foreign policy are a different matter, too wide in scope, too grave in consequences, to be determined by any authority lower than that of the people. There may be a divergence of opinion on these principles, i.e. on the Ends to be pursued, between the People of a country and those of their servants to whom the daily conduct of foreign affairs has been left, and it may be that the latter do not obey the real wishes of the people but seek Ends and apply principles which the people, if consulted, would disapprove. To this distinction as affecting conclusions regarding the range of popular action, I shall presently return.
About one aim there can be no divergence. The State must preserve its independence. It must be safe from attack, able to secure fair opportunities for its citizens to trade and to travel abroad unmolested; and these legitimate aims can be pursued in a spirit of justice and friendliness to other States. All States, however, whatever their form of government, have pursued other aims also, and pursued them in a way frequently at variance with justice and honour. They have attacked other States on trivial pretexts, have sought to acquire territory, to fill their own treasury, or enrich some of their own citizens, at the expense of their neighbours, have placed their State power at the service of men who pleaded that while enriching themselves they were benefiting the country by bringing money into it. Most States have, in pursuing these objects, been a law unto themselves. When strong, they have abused their strength, justifying all means by the plea of State advantage. They have disregarded good faith from the days when democratic Athens wantonly attacked the isle of Melos, killing and enslaving its inhabitants, down to the days of Louis XI. and Caesar Borgia, and from the days of Borgia's contemporary Machiavelli down to those of Frederick the Second of Prussia, who began his literary career with a book designed to refute the maxims of the Florentine statesman. Though in considering how popular governments have succeeded in the sphere of foreign policy, regard must be had to the moral quality of that policy both in Ends and in Means, the moral aspect may be in the first instance reserved, and the enquiry may go only to the question whether a democracy is in that sphere more or less efficient than other forms of government. Supposing “success” to mean the maximum of power a State can attain in the world arena, what kind of government will best attain it? We can thereafter return to the moral side and enquire what sort of government will be most likely to observe justice and good faith, doing its duty by its neighbour States as a good citizen does his duty by his fellows.
Does Ignorance forbid success to a democracy? Let us hear the case which professional diplomatists make.
A monarch is free to select his ministers and ambassadors from among the best informed, and most skilful of his subjects, and in an oligarchy the mind of the ruling class busies itself with foreign relations, and knows which of its members understand and are fitted to handle them. The multitude has not the same advantage. It is ill qualified to judge this kind of capacity, usually choosing its ministers by their powers of speech. If, instead of leaving foreign affairs to skilled men it attempts to direct them either by its own votes, as did the Greek cities, or by instructing those who represent it in the legislature, how is it to acquire the requisite knowledge? Few of the voters know more than the most elementary facts regarding the conditions and the policy of foreign countries, and to appreciate the significance of these facts, there is needed some acquaintance with the history of the countries and the characters of the leading men. Not much of that acquaintance can be expected even from the legislature. One of the strongest arguments for democratic government is that the masses of the people, whatever else they may not know, do know where the shoe pinches, and are best entitled to specify the reforms they need. In foreign affairs this argument does not apply, for they lie out of the normal citizen's range. All he can do at an election is to convey by his vote his view of general principles, and, in the case of a conflict between two foreign nations, to indicate his sympathies.
If the masses of the people have been inconstant in their views of foreign relations, this is due to their ignorance, which disables them from following intelligently the course of events abroad, so that their interest in these is quickened only at intervals, and when that happens the want of knowledge of what has preceded makes a sound judgment unlikely. They are at the mercy of their party leaders or of the press, guides not trustworthy, because the politicians will be influenced by the wish to make political capital out of any successes scored or errors committed by a Ministry, while the newspapers may play up to and exaggerate the prevailing sentiment of the moment, claiming everything for their own country, misrepresenting and disparaging the foreign antagonist Consistency cannot be expected from a popular government which acts under a succession of impulses, giving no steady attention to that department in which continuity of policy is most needed.
Secrecy in the conduct of diplomacy is vital in a world where each great nation is suspicious of its neighbours and obliged by its fears to try to discover their plans while concealing its own. Suppose the ministry of a country to have ascertained privately that a foreign Power meditates an attack upon it or is forming a combination against it, or suppose it to be itself negotiating a treaty of alliance for protection against such a combination. How can it proclaim either the intentions of the suspected Power or its own counter-schemes without precipitating a rupture or frustrating its own plans? A minister too honourable to deceive the legislature may feel himself debarred from telling it the facts, some of which may have been communicated under the seal of confidence. It is all very well to say that an open and straightforward policy best befits a free and high-minded people. But if such a people should stand alone in a naughty world, it will have to suffer for its virtues. As a democracy cannot do business secretly, it must therefore leave much, and perhaps much of grave import, to its ministers. Herein the superiority for foreign affairs of a monarchy or an oligarchy is most evident.1
There is force in these considerations, yet a monarchy in which the Sovereign may be either a fool, or the victim of his passions, or the plaything of his favourites, may succeeed no better than a democracy. An oligarchy is better qualified, for in it power rests with a few trained and highly educated men who keep a watchful outlook on neighbouring states. The Roman Senate in which these matters were controlled by leaders less numerous than a modern Cabinet, showed singular tenacity and (in its best days) singular judgment in directing the foreign relations of the Republic. And the same may be said of the ruling Council at Venice, who down to the eighteenth century were found able to keep secrets, and who proceeded upon well-settled lines, exempt from the caprices which an absolute sovereign is prone to indulge.
To test the capacity of a popular government in this branch of its action, let us see how far such governments have shown wisdom in following sound aims and have succeeded in applying the means needed to attain them. Of the six countries examined, three — Canada, Australia, New Zealand — had no foreign policy of their own, but adopted, while more or less influencing, that of Great Britain, so we must consider the policy of Britain along with those of France, Switzerland, and the United States.
The case of France is peculiar in this respect, that the general lines of its policy have during the whole life of the Third Republic (1871–1920) been determined by its position towards Germany, the one enemy from whom hostility was always to be feared, and from whom it was hoped to recover territory lost in war. This fact coloured all France's foreign relations, forcing her to husband her strength and to seek for allies. As all parties felt alike on this supreme issue, all were agreed in keeping it out of party controversy. The incessant changes of Ministries scarcely affected the continuity of policy. Democracy was on its good behaviour; fickleness as well as partisanship was held in check. Some friction arose between Ministers and Committees of the legislature, yet secrets were generally kept and the people acquiesced in a silence felt to be necessary. It goes without saying that errors were now and then committed, but these taken all together were less grave than the two which marked the later part of Louis Napoleon's reign — the expedition to Mexico and the war with Prussia. And, as the result has shown, they were incomparably less than those which brought ruin on the three great monarchies which entrusted their foreign relations to militaristic bureaucracies — Germany, Austria, and Russia.
Switzerland's foreign policy has long been prescribed by the obligation to preserve a strict neutrality. Lying between four great military Powers, she, while maintaining her own dignity, strove neither to offend nor to seem partial to any of them. All this has been done successfully by the Federal Council (a Cabinet of seven) always in the closest touch with the small legislature. The suggestion made that treaties should be submitted to a Referendum has not received much support, though it would be consistent with the wide application given to the principle of the Popular Vote on all matters of importance.1 Questions of foreign policy are seldom entangled with domestic issues, and rarely excite internal differences, just because the safety and independence of his country is the first care of every good Swiss. Particular steps might be blamed,2 but one can scarcely imagine the Federal Council taking a course which, so far as principle went, public opinion would disapprove.
Of all the Great Powers, the United States is that which had, till recent years, the fewest foreign questions to deal with. Standing apart in its own hemisphere, and with no State of that hemisphere approaching it in resources for war, it had little to do except with Spain so long as Spain held Cuba, with Mexico and with Great Britain. The people have cared little and known less about foreign affairs, except when their national pride was touched, or when their one favourite principle of policy, the exclusion of European interference from the New World, might seem to be affected. In either of these contingencies public opinion, soon worked up by an alert press, speaks out quick and loud. In this sense, therefore, public opinion controlled the conduct of foreign affairs whenever it cared to do so. At other times it has left them, unnoticed or unheeded, to the Executive and to the Senate. The Constitution associated that branch of Congress with the President, because, since neither he nor his Ministers can be ejected from office during his four years' term, it was deemed unsafe to let him have sole control. The President has a Secretary of State to advise him, who is sometimes a man of first-rate gifts, but more frequently only a politician selected because of his party standing, and possessing little knowledge of world affairs. The staff of the office has been small, and too frequently changed. The Senate has been mainly guided by its Foreign Relations Committee, a fluctuating body, usually containing a few able men among others who know little of anything outside their own country, and may regard the interests of their own State rather than those of the Union. Jealous of its powers, and often impelled by party motives, the Senate has frequently checked the President's action, sometimes with unfortunate results.1 It can debate with closed doors, but this does not ensure secrecy.
The President, however, who is always anxious to lead or to follow public opinion, and the Senate which is scarcely less so, concern us less than public opinion itself. As its rule is in the United States more complete than elsewhere, it furnishes the best index to the tendencies and capacities of a democracy.
The Republic has been engaged in three wars within the last hundred years. That against Mexico in 1846 was the work of the slave-holding party which then controlled the Executive and the Senate, and whose leaders brought it on for the sake of creating Slave States and strengthening the grip of slavery on the Union. It was widely disapproved by public opinion, especially in the northern States, but the acquisition, by the treaty which closed it, of vast and rich territories on the Pacific Coast did much to silence the voice of criticism.
The war against Spain in 1898 might probably have been avoided, for Spain had been driven to the verge of consenting to withdraw from Cuba when the breach came. But the nation, already wearied by the incessant troubles to which Spanish misgovernment had given rise during many years, had been inflamed by the highly coloured accounts which the newspapers published of the severities practised on the insurgents by Spanish generals, and the President, though inclined to continue negotiations, is believed to have been forced into war by the leaders of his own party who did not wish their opponents to have the credit of compelling a declaration. In obtaining, by the peace which followed a short campaign, the cession to the United States of Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands, the President believed that he was carrying out the wishes of the people. This may have been so, for they were flushed with victory, and were moved not merely by the feeling that victory ought to bring some tangible gain, but also by a sort of philanthropic sentiment which was unwilling to hand back the conquered territories to Spanish maladministration. This war, therefore, though it shows that a popular government may yield to excitement and gratify its ambition for enlarged territory, cannot be deemed a caste of mere aggression for the sake of conquest.
The war of 1917 against Germany and Austria is too fresh in our memories to need comment. There was certainly nothing selfish or aggressive in the spirit that prompted America's entrance into it. The sinking of the Lusitania and other passenger vessels supplied a definite casus belli; the mind of the nation had been stirred to its depths by the sense that far-reaching moral issues were involved.
Not wars only, but also the general diplomatic relations of the United States with its neighbours to the North and South deserve to be considered. More than once, serious differences arose as to the frontier line beween the Republic and Canada. One in which the State of Maine was concerned was amicably settled in 1842, after long negotiations. Another relating to the far North West, where Oregon was in dispute between Britain and America, was, after bringing the nations to the edge of a conflict, adjusted by a compromise in 1845. Another gust of feeling which swept over the country in December 1895, roused by boundary questions between Great Britain and Venezuela, subsided as quickly as it had arisen, when the British government made a conciliatory answer to the American Note. A fourth controversy, which had lasted ever since 1783, regarding the rights of fishing in the North Atlantic, was referred to arbitration and disposed of in 1910 by a decision which both sides accepted gladly. By an exchange of notes in 1817 it had been agreed that only a very few armed vessels, just sufficient for police purposes, should be maintained by each country on the Great Lakes. This agreement has been faithfully observed ever since, and along a boundary of three thousand miles by land and water the reliance placed by each on the good faith and good will of the other has made military and naval preparations and defences needless. The example thus set to the world is creditable to the two peoples alike.
When in 1912 the long dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz vanished like melting snow, Mexico relapsed into anarchy. The property and lives of American citizens were frequently endangered. Some murders and many robberies were perpetrated by rebel bands which the nominal rulers at the capital could not suppress. Had the government of the United States wished to make these outrages a ground for occupying Mexican territory, it could have found justification for doing so. But the public opinion of the American people steadily resisted all temptations, perceiving that annexation would involve either rule over the Mexicans as a subject race, or their incorporation with the United States as full citizens. As both of these courses were equally fraught with danger, they determined to leave Mexico alone. A like disinterestedness had been shown in the case of Cuba, from which they had withdrawn their troops once (in 1903) after expelling Spain, and again a few years later when troubles in the island had compelled a second occupation. All these cases give evidence not only of the authority which popular opinion exerts over the main lines of foreign policy, but also of the growth in it of a spirit of good sense and self-restraint such as was not always seen in earlier years. The nation, when it came to full manhood, laid aside the spirit of self-assertion and the desire for conquest, and gave proof of a sincere desire to apply methods of arbitration and show its respect for the rights of other nations. An instance of this was furnished when in 1914 Congress, at the instance of the President and at the bidding of public opinion, repealed an Act by which it had in 1912 hastily asserted a particular power over the use of the Panama Canal, which the people, after the matter had been fully discussed, convinced themselves that they had disclaimed by the treaty with Great Britain of 1901. With this higher sense of justice there has also come a stronger aversion to war. No great people in the world is equally pervaded by the wish to see peace maintained everywhere over the world.
In Great Britain, the only other country which can be profitably referred to in this connection, the first long step towards democracy was taken in 1832, a second in 1868, a third in 1885. From 1848 onwards the opinion of the masses of the people, as distinct from that of the richer or more educated classes, became a factor to he reckoned with in foreign policy, though the conduct of diplomatic relations was left, and has indeed been left till now, in the hands of the Ministry of the day. During two years of revolution on the Continent (1848–1850), the sympathies of the masses were with the Italian, German, Hungarian and Polish revolutionary parties, but this was largely true of educated Englishmen generally, especially in respect of Italy, where tyranny had been most repulsive. Regarding the Crimean War no great difference showed itself between the governing class and the bulk of the people. Had the latter realized the detestable character of Turkish government and the hopelessness of reforming it, there would probably have been a stronger opposition to a resort to arms than Cobden and Bright succeeded in arousing. But the general hatred of Russian autocracy, personified in the Czar Nicholas I., made even the Radicals think that a war against him must be a righteous war. In 1857 the action in China of a British official led to hostilities, and roused a sudden and sharp controversy. The House of Commons condemned the Governor's conduct. The Ministry which defended him dissolved Parliament and secured a majority in the new House, the electors apparently considering that the high-handed behaviour of the Chinese justified the extreme steps taken by the Governor. The “insult to the flag” argument was largely used, and proved effective. Britain did not interfere in the two wars which secured the liberation of Italy (1859 and 1866), but popular sympathy was in both cases given to the Italian cause. When Garibaldi visited London in 1864 he received a welcome more enthusiastic than had ever before been given to any foreign hero.
The American Civil War of 1861–1865 was the first occasion on which a marked divergence between the sentiment of the masses and that of the so-called “classes” disclosed itself. “Society,” i.e. the large majority of the rich and many among the professional classes, sided with the Southern States, while nearly the whole of the working class and at least half of the middle class, together with many men of intellectual distinction, especially in the Universities, stood for the Northern. Feeling was bitter, and the partisans of each side held numerous meetings, but it was remarked that whereas the meetings which were called by the friends of the North were open to the general public, admission to those summoned to advocate the cause of the Seceding States was confined to the holders of tickets, because it was feared that in an open meeting resolutions of sympathy with the South could not be carried. These and other evidences, showing that the great bulk of the nation favoured the cause of the North as being the cause of human freedom, as soon as President Lincoln's Proclamation had made it clear that slavery would disappear, confirmed the Cabinet in its refusal to accede to Louis Napoleon's suggestion that England and France should join in recognizing the Seceding States as independent.
In 1876 a question of foreign policy emerged which revealed an even more pronounced opposition between the opinion of the masses and that of the classes. The Turkish Government, fearing a Bulgarian insurrection, perpetrated a horrible massacre, attended with revolting cruelties. When this became known in Russia, the Czar Alexander II. summoned the Sultan to introduce certain reforms, and on his refusal proceeded to declare war. Lord Beaconsfield, who was then at the head of the British Government, did not conceal his sympathy with the Turks, and would probably have carried Britain into a war against Russia to defend them had not an agitation in the country, which had been shocked by the news of the massacre, deterred his Cabinet from that course. When in 1878 the Russian armies had approached Constantinople and compelled the Turks to sign a peace largely reducing their territories, Britain was again brought by the Prime Minister to the verge of a war on their behalf, and a fresh popular agitation arose which lasted until the signature of the Treaty of Berlin. Through the angry political strife of these years, the majority of the richer and more educated classes approved the Ministerial policy, while the anti-Turkish cause found its support among the masses. The line of political distinction did not coincide with that of class, for there were crowds which acclaimed the Prime Minister, and there were men of wealth and men of intellectual eminence who denounced both him and the Turks. Still, the antagonism between the view of the multitude and that of what is called “Society” was well marked both in this momentous struggle and in that which followed over the Afghan War of 1878–1879, the moral issues arising in which were essentially the same as those which had been fought over from 1876 to 1878. This was not fully seen till the election of 1880, when the great majority recorded against Lord Beaconsfield showed how widely his policy had been disapproved by the voters. It was the first election since that of 1857 which had turned upon matters of foreign policy.
A like division of opinion reappeared in the years 1899 to 1901, during which a Ministry, which had become involved in a war against the two South African republics, met with opposition from a comparatively small section of the wealthier class, and a much larger section of the professional and middle and working classes. How far the sweeping defeat of that Ministry at the general election of 1905 was due to its South African policy cannot be determined, for other questions also were before the voters.
This is not the place to discuss the merits of these three great issues which in 1861 to 1865, in 1876 to 1880, and in 1899 to 1901 so sharply divided the British people. But if we may take the prevalent opinion of the nation to-day (1920) as a final judgment, i.e. as being likely to be the judgment of posterity, it is interesting to note that in all three cases the “classes” would appear to have been less wise than the “masses.” Everybody now admits that it was a gain for the world that in the American Civil War the Northern States prevailed and slavery vanished. Nearly everybody now admits that Lord Beaconsfield's Eastern policy has been condemned by its failure, for while the Turks continued to go from bad to worse, the reduction of their power which he tried to arrest in 1878 has been subsequently found inevitable. There is a less complete agreement regarding the South African War, but the majority of Englishmen seem now to regard that war as a blunder, which would have led at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 to the separation of South Africa from Great Britain had it not been for the election of 1905, one result of which was to bring about the restoration of self-government under the British flag to the Orange Free State and the Transvaal as parts of the Union of South Africa.
It may seem strange that in all these cases the richer and more educated classes should have erred, while the poorer have been shown by the event to have judged more wisely. The causes are explicable, but to explain them and cite parallel phenomena from other countries would require a digression into history for which there is no room here. Summing up the results of this examination of the foreign policy followed by three great democratic countries during the last fifty years, we find that the case of France proves that it was possible for a democracy to follow a consistent policy, the conduct of the details whereof was left in the hands of successive administrations, and safely left because the nation was substantially agreed as to the general lines to be followed. The case of the United States proves that public opinion, which is there omnipotent, is generally right in its aims, and has tended to become wiser and more moderate with the march of the years. The case of Britain shows that the opinion of the bulk of the nation was more frequently approved by results than was the attitude of the comparatively small class in whose hands the conduct of affairs had been usually left. Declarations of the will of the masses delivered at general elections told for good.
There is another way also of reaching a conclusion as to the competence of democracies in this branch of government. Set the results in and for the three countries examined side by side with those attained in and for three other great countries in which no popular clamour disturbed the Olympian heights where sat the monarch and his group of military and civil advisers, controlling foreign policy as respects both ends and means. In Russia, in Austria-Hungary, and in Germany the Emperors and their respective advisers were able to pursue their ends with a steady pertinacity from month to month and year to year. No popular sentiment, no parliamentary opposition, made much difference to them, and in Germany they were usually able to guide popular sentiment. In choosing their means considerations of morality were in none of these countries allowed to prevent a resort to any means that seemed to promise success. Compare the situation in which Russia found herself in 1917, when the autocracy crashed to its fall, and the situations in which Austria and Germany found themselves in October 1918, with those in which that momentous year found the three free countries. The temptations and snares which surround and pervert diplomatic aims and methods in States ruled by oligarchies or despots often differ from the temptations of which popular governments have to beware. But they proved in these cases, and in many others, to have been more dangerous.
In these last few pages Ends rather than Means have been considered, though it is hard to draw a distinction, for most Ends are Means to a larger End; and the facts examined seem to show that in determining Ends the voice of the people must have authority. But what is to be said as to the details of diplomacy in which, assuming the main ends to be determined by the people, a wide choice of means remains open? It has been deemed impossible for the people to know either which means are best suited to the purpose aimed at or, if the people is kept informed of them, to apply those means successfully, for in our days what is told to any people is told to the whole world. So long as each nation strives to secure some gains for itself as against other nations by anticipating its rivals in enterprises, or by forming profitable alliances, or otherwise driving bargains for its own benefit, those who manage the nation's business cannot disclose their action without damaging their chances of success. Hence even the countries that have gone furthest in recognizing popular control have left a wide discretion in the hands of their Ministers or envoys and have set bounds to the curiosity of parliamentary representatives. Must this continue? If it does continue, what security have the people against unwise action or the adoption of dishonourable methods?
One expedient used to overcome this difficulty has been that of a committee of the legislature which can receive confidential communications from a Minister and can bind its members to keep them secret. This is done in the United States, where the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, though it cannot dictate to the President (or his Secretary of State), can through its power of inducing the Senate to refuse assent to a treaty exercise a constant and potent influence. So also in France each Chamber has a Commission for foreign affairs. In both countries declarations of war must proceed from the legislature. The committee plan has its defects. No secret known to more than three men remains for long a secret; and a Minister can, if he likes, go a long way towards committing his country before he tells the committee what he is doing, taking of course the chance that he may be disavowed. Sometimes, moreover, action cannot await the approval of a committee, for to be effective it must be immediate.
The voices which in European countries demand the abolition of secret diplomacy and the control by the people of all foreign relations appeal to an incontestable principle, because a nation has every right to deliver its opinion on matters of such supreme importance as the issues of peace and war. The difficulty lies in applying a sound principle to the facts as they have hitherto stood in Europe. If publicity in the conduct of negotiations is to be required, and the mind of the people to be expressed before any commitment is made by its Ministers, there must be a renunciation of such advantages as have been heretofore obtained by international combinations or bargains secretly made with other nations. If, on the other hand, these advantages are to be sought, secrecy must be permitted and discretion granted to Ministers. The risk that secrecy and discretion will be abused will be gradually lessened the more public opinion becomes better instructed on foreign affairs, and the more that legislatures learn to give unremitting attention to foreign policy. In England as well as in America few are the representatives who possess the knowledge needed, or take the trouble to acquire it. It is this, as well as party spirit, which has led Parliamentary majorities to endeavour to support their party chiefs, even when it was beginning to be seen that public opinion was turning against them. If Ministries were to become more and more anxious to keep as close a touch with the feeling of the nation in foreign as they seek to do in domestic affairs, the risk that any nation will be irrevocably entangled in a pernicious course would diminish. So too if there should be hereafter less of a desire to get the better of other nations in acquiring territory or concessions abroad, if a less grasping and selfish spirit should rule foreign policy, fewer occasions will arise in which secret agreements will be needed. The thing now most needed by the people and its representatives is more knowledge of the facts of the outside world with a more sympathetic comprehension of the minds of other peoples. The first step to this is a fuller acquaintance with the history, the economic and social conditions, and the characters of other peoples.
The conclusions to which the considerations here set forth point to are the following:
In a democracy the People are entitled to determine the Ends or general aims of foreign policy.
History shows that they do this at least as wisely as monarchs or oligarchies, or the small groups to whom, in democratic countries, the conduct of foreign relations has been left, and that they have evinced more respect for moral principles.
The Means to be used for attaining the Ends sought cannot be adequately determined by legislatures so long as international relations continue to be what they have heretofore been, because secrecy is sometimes, and expert knowledge is always required.
Nevertheless some improvement on the present system is needed, and the experiment of a Committee deserves to be tried.
Whatever faults modern democracies may have committed in this field of administration, the faults chargeable on monarchs and oligarchies have been less pardonable and more harmful to the peace and progress of mankind.
If the recently created League of Nations is to succeed in averting wars by securing the amicable settlement of international disputes, it must have the constant sympathy and support of the peoples of the states which are its members. That this support should be effectively and wisely given, the peoples must give more attention to foreign affairs and come to know more of them. Ignorance is the great obstacle.
This chapter, composed before the Armistice of November 1918, has been left unmodified (save by the addition of the last sentence), because the time has not come either to draw a moral as to what is called “secret diplomacy” from the negotiations of 1919–20, or to comment freely in a treatise such as this on the recent action of Governments and peoples in their attempts to restore peace and order in the world; not to add that the extraordinary events of the four preceding years had so disturbed the balance and normal working of men's minds as to make it unsafe to treat many things that have happened as supplying a basis for general conclusions.
Though secrecy in diplomacy is occasionally unavoidable, it has its perils. There was a case in our time in which a secret agreement was made which is now universally admitted to have been imprudent and has been condemned by its results, and which would not have been made had it been possible for public opinion to have been consulted and obtained regarding it. Publicity may cause some losses, but may avert some misfortunes.
See above, Vol. I. Chap. XXIX., and cf. the book of M. Edouard Georg, Le Contrôle du Peuple sur la politique extérieure (Geneva, 1916). The question of Switzerland's entrance into the League of Nations was submitted to and affirmed by a popular vote in 1920.
As happened during the European War of 1914–1918.
See on this subject Mr. W. R. Thayer's Life of John Hay.