Defining International Aggression
The Search for World Peace


Held on Friday, March 10th, 1933, at 3.30 p.m.

President: The Right Honourable A. HENDERSON.

10. Definition of Aggression: Draft Declaration Proposed by the Delegation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: |1| General Discussion.

The PRESIDENT reminded the Commission of some of the previous studies undertaken by the League of Nations with regard to this question. It had first been considered in a report of the Temporary Mixed Commission in 1923. The Geneva Protocol of 1924 contained a whole article — Article 10 — dealing with the definition of aggression. In the report accompanying the Protocol, the Rapporteur, M. Politis, had stated that it was sufficient to say that "any State is the aggressor which resorts in any shape or form to force in violation of the engagements contracted by it either under the Covenant ... or under the Protocol". There was, lastly, the General Convention to improve the Means of preventing War, Articles 2 and 4 of which had a bearing on the same matter.

M. DOVGALEVSKY (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) said that the principles underlying the attitude of the Soviet Government towards the interdependence of disarmament and security had been expounded fairly explicitly. He need only remind the Commission, therefore, that these principles could be expressed in two propositions:

    1. The maximum security can only be achieved by complete disarmament.

    2. In the absence of complete disarmament, the degree of security is determined by the extent of the reduction of armaments.

The Soviet Government's original proposal, |2| which, it would be remembered, was for general and complete disarmament, was unfortunately not adopted by the Conference. Guided by the pacific aspirations of the labouring masses, the Soviet delegation had pursued its aim, which was to reduce the danger of war as far as possible and to lighten the burden of armaments that weighed most heavily on those very sections of the population that most eagerly desired peace and had the greatest hatred of war. That was why, after the failure of its proposal for total disarmament, the Soviet delegation, in the hope this time of obtaining the Conference's unanimous approval, had put forward its plan for a substantial reduction of armaments, and had declared its readiness to support any proposal for a real and extensive reduction of armaments going as far as possible in the direction desired by the Soviet Government.

The Soviet delegation maintained that attitude of principle. It had, however, always felt its duty to be to neglect nothing that might contribute towards the success of the Conference's work. In obedience to that idea, it could not overlook the fact that, if the Conference felt that disarmament must be preceded by security and was dependent upon security, it was faced with the alternative of defining and increasing security, thus making possible some reduction in armaments, or of declaring itself powerless and admitting the failure of several years' work. Having this in mind, the Soviet delegation had carefully studied the French proposal on security and had looked, in that proposal, for what was of interest to the States as a whole. As a result of its examination, it had once more noted the indisputable truth that no system of security against aggression could be complete and efficacious in the absence of a clear idea as to what constituted aggression.

Desiring that attention should, as soon as possible, be devoted to real disarmament, the Soviet delegation had placed before the Conference a draft definition of an aggressor.

The aim of this definition was therefore to place security on a sound basis. The Soviet delegation thought this definition should take the form of a declaration, universal in scope, either to be embodied in the future Convention on security and disarmament or to be the subject of a special agreement forming an integral part of that Convention.

Once the definition of the aggressor was accepted by all, and was consequently binding on all, it would serve as a guide for each State individually or for any group of States. It would also contribute, if not towards the complete avoidance of partial agreements between different groups of States, at any rate towards reducing considerably the danger of their assuming the character of alliances directed against third parties.

The Soviet declaration consisted, apart from its preamble, of two parts. The first part contained a positive definition of the acts constituting an aggression. The second part contained a list of circumstances which might not be invoked in its justification by a State guilty of the acts defined in the first part. Both parts were imbued with the common idea that all resort to force as a means for settling disputes between States must be considered as illegal. Both were therefore on the same plane as the "renunciation of the resort to force" that had been accepted by the Political Commission at its fifth meeting on March 2nd, in as far as it related to European States, though the Conference had still to make it universal.

The Soviet delegation reserved its right to discuss at a suitable moment and in detail each of the paragraphs forming the articles of the draft. One general remark might, however, be made at once with regard to Article 1. In particular, this article included among acts of aggression, in addition to the formal declaration of war, the various forms of hostility undertaken without a previous declaration of war. The prohibition to open hostilities without declaring war dated back to 1907. The third Hague Convention, in fact, at that time made it an international offence, whereas war as such was still considered perfectly legitimate. At the present moment, the fact that a formal declaration of war was prohibited internationally as an instrument of national policy provided yet another reason for making no difference, from the point of view of the idea of aggression, between war declared officially and de facto hostilities.

With regard to Article 2, in which were set out the circumstances that could never be invoked as an excuse for an act of aggression, the Soviet delegate desired to say that this list—which was perhaps incomplete—should, in his delegation's opinion, cover the most frequent causes of disputes and differences between States ; its aim was that no dispute of that kind should ever serve as a cause, pretext or justification for an aggression. The list contained in Article 2 of the draft could therefore be supplemented, if necessary, in accordance with the suggestions which would, he hoped, be made during the discussion.

Perhaps the following question would be asked—M. Dovgalevsky thought he had already perceived it in the speeches of certain delegates during the general discussion in the Political Commission during the last two meetings—Was not the proposed definition of the aggressor too complete ? Was not its detailed character likely to give it undue rigidity which would subsequently hamper those who were called upon to establish the aggressor ?

To this observation M. Dovgalevsky would reply that a full definition, a definition dealing with every conceivable aspect of aggression, would indeed be somewhat rigid. But the Soviet delegation had not only sought to provide a rigid formula ; it had desired to make it as rigid as possible. The definition and establishment of an act of aggression must leave as little opening as possible for subjective feelings and judgments. Still more, a complete definition must, as far as possible, exclude any possibility of subjective interpretation, and the more automatic the establishmnent of the aggressor, the better for the work of peace.

That was why the Soviet delegation, which would of course be willing to accept any amendment improving its definition, hoped that amendments would not be aimed at weakening the text in such a way as to decrease its value as an objective and sure basis for determining who was the aggressor.

M. LO (China) observed that a discussion on the definition of the aggressor must necessarily precede any useful consideration of the closely related questions as to how the provisions of the articles concerning sanctions in the Covenant, the provisions in the Pact of Paris, and the contemplated pact on the non-recourse to force could be made effective. There seemed to be a certain amount of unreality in the Political Commission's efforts, an unreality which might have been born of a highly strung and recently disillusioned world consciousness, but which could not fail to have a disturbing effect on the present deliberations. The man in the street would inevitably ask what was the use of seeking a definition of the aggressor when actual aggression, having already been both generally and juridically ascertained, was suffered to go on at the very moment when the abstract question was being vehemently debated.

However that might be, the very fact that new efforts were being made to seek a definition of the aggressor constituted definite recognition of the necessity for reaching a reasonable agreement upon this all-important question. The existing state of things in the international situation, particularly in the Far East, emphasised the urgency of those endeavours. That, he imagined, was the spirit inspiring the Soviet delegation's very frank and comprehensive proposal, which did not, as A. Litvinoff had said, pretend to absolute definitions, since such were hardly possible or conceivable. The proposal also made a wise distinction between the establishment of such factors as which side was the first to declare war or to commit a real act of aggression—questions that were relatively easy to determine—and the legitimacy of the causes and justifications for such aggression, which might be highly controversial and which did not lend themselves to ascertainment by the existing international procedure. This distinction ought to bring home the fact that, in striving for international security, the Conference could not, on the pretext of the existing limitations, delay too long in the solution of pressing problems, but would have to be satisfied if a machinery were evolved which could serve more or less as a fire extinguisher, leaving the final assessment of responsibilities to the judges and, perhaps, the historians.

As an abstract definition couched in a single sentence was deemed impossible, the Soviet proposal had resorted to the enumeration of the characteristics of aggression. It must be admitted that, while the enumeration of concrete examples lent considerable reality to a hypothetical concept, there were always disadvantages to be found in an attempt to define by example. A legal mind would object on the ground that since, according to the old maxim, the mention of one thing excluded another, in any future and unpredicted case which did not come, apparently or prima facie, within one of the various categories, it could be plausibly argued that they did not apply to such a case. A State unwilling to assume onerous responsibilities for action against the aggressor would not fail to cite the words, in opposition to the attempt to define the aggressor, that such an attempt would "be a trap for the innocent and a sign-post for the guilty".

In truth, however, definition by example, if not understood to be exhaustive, was better than a general and abstract statement of a set of circumstances. Opinions might differ as to the inclusion and exclusion of certain items in the list enumerated in the Soviet proposal. Most of the examples given were, nevertheless, satisfactory to the Chinese delegation. A few alleged fissures in the Covenant, the Pact of Paris, and general international law had been repaired. The character of war, in its actual as well as in its technical sense, had been fixed. A declaration of war was considered, emphatically, as not necessary to the creation of a juridical situation in a case where a State employing military measures denied the intention of waging war. Pacific blockade was denounced as aggression in the way it ought to be denounced. Political causes of justifications of aggression were properly excluded from the domain of law, in which only overt acts should form the subject of its regulation.

There would be very little disagreement as to the necessity of international efforts in the direction of the various problems raised in the Soviet list. If only a reasoned adjustment of these problems could have been achieved during the fifteen years since the great war, the extremely tense situation in the Far East might possibly have been averted and China might have been spared a tragic loss of blood and treasure. Failure resolutely to face these inevitable and challenging questions at the eleventh hour would no doubt presage future complications. The delegations would, indeed, be deemed to have failed in their duty.

In the discussion of the Soviet proposal, the fact must not be overlooked that an all-pervading and readily comprehensible principle had inspired perennial efforts for the collective control of conflicts. Such a principle was that of pacific settlement. Political exigency or opportunism had been its inveterate enemy, and lawyers had invented excuses for justifying deviations from such a principle and had looked in international instruments for loopholes which did not exist. There was, indeed, much food for thought in M. Rutgers' reference to the maxim, summun jus, summa injuria.

While there must, of course, be no relaxation of the endeavour to make the peace machinery perfect in its working, the imperfect state of the existing machinery must not be seized upon as an excuse for not making every effort to see to the execution of the peace-preserving instruments already in force. Much less should it be assumed that, because the existing machinery had to be perfected, it would be right to sit and wait for the stage of perfection and leave pending problems uncared for.

In order, therefore, to rally world public opinion, it could not be too strongly emphasised that any scheme to define the aggressor must take into account the alleged loopholes in international instruments, particularly those which had been demonstrated in the actualities of international life. Otherwise, the results achieved by the present discussions would be far removed from realities, and, as such, would be hardly able to withstand the impact of contemporary events. As peace-preserving devices, they would be found definitely wanting.

The same conclusion was inevitable if one definition of the aggressor were adopted for one part of the world and another for the rest. A yardstick of such importance must be of universal application.

The Soviet proposal, as an exposition of contemporary, as distinguished from merely theoretical, difficulties in the definition of the aggressor, was therefore deserving of the most careful and comprehensive discussion of which the Commission was capable. The Chinese delegation gave it its wholehearted support and hoped for its adoption.

M. LANGE (Norway) said he had been glad that the French delegate had proposed, at the end of the previous meeting, that the special Committee set up to study the plan of mutual assistance in Europe should defer its work. He believed that it would be extremely difficult to discuss that question without first being clear as to certain principles and possibilities which arose in the universal sphere, with a view to reaching that stage in the discussion at which all would be ready to express their views as to the proposals for the reduction of armaments. If the Commission had for some time confined itself to the European sphere, that was because one delegation — the United States delegation — had said that it would wait to see what attitude the European States would take with regard to the substantial reduction of armaments. That, therefore, was the Commission's object, and, in that respect, M. Lange entirely agreed with the Soviet delegate.

The Norwegian delegation had already expressed, during the general discussion on the French plan, its great sympathy towards the Soviet delegation's proposal for the definition of the aggressor. That proposal, which was opportune and extremely valuable, and contained elements deserving of the closest attention, would possibly have to be supplemented.

The President had observed, at the beginning of the meeting, that this was no new question in the international world. In particular, it had been studied during the discussion of the 1924 Protocol, which, if M. Lange was not mistaken, laid down, for the first time in an international document, the idea of presumptive evidence of aggression. That idea was of the greatest importance and had been taken up again in recent years during the discussion and preparation of the Convention to improve the Means of preventing War. In certain respects, therefore, the Soviet proposal would need supplementing.

M. Lange wondered whether, as M. Dovgalevsky had already said, the list appearing under No. 2 might not be too rigid and whether the formulas employed might not lead to some misunderstanding. He was no jurist, but, looking at the matter from the point of view of the man in the street, he wondered whether the list contained in Section B might not create the impression that the acts thus enumerated would receive some kind of recognition, if not as being legitimate, at any rate as being admissible. Such a result would certainly be undesirable. In this matter, however, the Commission must rely upon the wisdom of its jurists, and there was good reason to congratulate the Soviet delegation on the proposal and to recommend its close study.

Lastly, M. Lange was particularly glad to see in a document issued by the Soviet delegation a specific recognition of the need for international organs. That was a new development which was worth noting.

Count RACZYSKI (Poland) welcomed on behalf of the Polish delegation the Soviet initiative and viewed its proposal very sympathetically. On the one hand, that proposal was connected with the principles embodied in Article 10 of the League Covenant, and, on the other hand, took as a starting-point the principles embodied in Article 1 of the Pact of Non-Aggression which Poland had signed with the Soviet Government in July last, a pact that had been ratified and was in force.

The Polish delegate further desired to point out that this proposal covered only one part, undoubtedly an important part, of the systen of security. It was an essential factor, but could only achieve its full significance when that system was established in its entirety and all the necessary consequences could be drawn from it.

The Polish delegation, moreover, thought it necessary to act prudently, and the vote taken at the Commission's previous meeting showed that prudence was, indeed, indispensable.

In conclusion, the Polish delegation considered that the Soviet proposal must be examined and given effect. No complete system of security could be established unless it included the very important ideas embodied in that proposal. Those ideas could, of course, be discussed and improved upon.

M. MASSIGLI (France) pointed out that the French delegation had already had an opportunity of expressing its sympathy with the Soviet proposal. He might therefore have refrained from speaking in the general discussion had he not thought it advisable to explain briefly in what spirit and for what reason his delegation was able to welcome the proposal. It believed that a definition of the aggressor was not, perhaps, in itself very important, and would form no more than an article in an encyclopaedia. But it had nevertheless been very glad to read, in the Soviet proposal, a paragraph to which the Norwegian delegate had just referred and which read as follows:

    "Anxious to provide the necessary guidance to the international organs which may be called upon to define the aggressor".

The French delegation saw in this paragraph a starting-point, and it was that startingpoint that it welcomed. It believed — and this was in accordance with the spirit of the French plan — that the Commission must in the first place set out to define the aggressor, in view of the consequences following upon such a definition. It was the international organs which would be responsible for drawing those consequences. The French delegation hoped the Soviet delegation would be able to follow it in that direction also.

The President had announced some days previously that a drafting committee would consider the details of the proposal. It was not necessary, therefore, for M. Massigli to dwell on any particular point in it. In his view, a declaration would not suffice, and some means must be found of embodying the principles underlying such a declaration in an article of the Convention.

Certain points in the positive definition of aggression might be open to discussion, and the Commission would not be surprised, he thought, to hear that he himself preferred the definition given in Chapter III, Section A, paragraph 3, of the French plan. |3|

Again, a negative list, such as that given in part 2 of the Soviet proposal might be thought to present more drawbacks than advantages, for no list was ever complete, and this might give rise to misunderstandings.

In conclusion, it might perhaps be found that part 3 of the Soviet proposal, which concerned the concentration of armed forces in the vicinity of a frontier, was not of such a nature as to cause the Commission to lose sight of a provision, to his mind preferable, to be found in the Convention to improve the Means of preventing War.

But these were only details, on which opinions might differ. They must be discussed and explained, and, in the circumstances, M. Massigli would confine himself to repeating that the French delegation approved the principle of the Soviet declaration and hoped that it would be studied as soon as possible in a small committee.

Mr. LESTER (Irish Free State) thought that a stage had been reached at which the old terminology regarding certain aspects of international affairs required to be revised. The absence of a declaration of war was no longer sufficient to make it possible to prevent the effects known as war, and for that reason he welcomed the Soviet delegation's proposal, which, he believed, would be found valuable in that it was necessary to have additional guidance on this fundamental question. He welcomed the proposal, particularly as it came from a State non-member of the League.

As to the text of the Soviet proposal, omissions from and additions to it — perhaps even very fundamental changes in regard to form — would probably be necessary before it could obtain any substantial agreement. He was not unaware of the legal difficulties and arguments which could be used against certain parts of the proposal, nor of the difficulties arising from what had been called the realities of each situation when a conflict between two States had occurred. Therefore, after a general discussion in the Political Commission, the best procedure might be to appoint a special committee to discuss the proposal or, better still, to have it discussed by a committee dealing with other related questions.

M. NADOLNY (Germany) assumed that the study of the question of the determination of the aggressor would, with other questions, be referred to a committee which would be not only a drafting committee but a committee of enquiry and drafting. He would therefore only make a few brief remarks.

As the President had already pointed out, the question of the determination of the aggressor was not a new problem. It had already been investigated and studied by the League of Nations. He would mention in this connection the work of the Special Committee of the Temporary Mixed Commission in 1923, M. de Brouckère's report of 1926 and the memoranda drawn up in 1928 by M. Politis and M. Rutgers for the Arbitration and Security Committee.

Since she had entered the League of Nations, Germany had taken part in the earlier work done with a view to setting the question of the aggressor, and the German delegation was to-day equally prepared to collaborate in studying the problem on the basis of the Soviet proposals and the French plan. Its motive in doing so would be the wish to contribute to the consolidation of world peace.

The great advantage of the Soviet proposal was that it laid down definite, concrete criteria for determining the aggressor. It was, he thought, very important to define, by means of as clear and objective criteria as possible, the rules which should govern the determination of the aggressor. That was an excellent suggestion which should undoubtedly be thoroughly studied. In doing so, it should not be forgotten that an agreement on the factors by which the aggressor could be determined was not only important from the standpoint of the exact measures to be taken against the aggressor, either under the Covenant of the League of Nations or in virtue of an understanding between the States signatory to the Paris Pact. There was still another aspect which the German delegation thought was of the utmost importance — namely, the preventive character of such international definition of the criteria for determining the aggressor.

He would point out that there was already one important precedent which should not be overlooked — namely, the General Convention to improve the Means of preventing War. Article 5 of that Convention provided that failure to comply with the Council's injunctions regarding the withdrawal of troops which had penetrated into the territory of another State or regarding the formation of a neutral zone would be considered as prima facie evidence that the party guilty thereof had resorted to war if war broke out as a result of its attitude. During the negotiations in connection with this Convention its preventive scope was particularly emphasised in several quarters. This aspect, therefore, should be constantly borne in mind by the delegations in examining the Soviet proposal.

A further advantage of the Soviet proposal, he thought, was that it had a universal basis. It would, in his view, be a serious mistake to think of laying down principles for determining the aggressor confined to a small group of countries, as that would lead to collisions and disputes with countries outside that group. International rules of such wide political scope should always have a universal basis. Naturally, there was nothing to prevent — and the Soviet delegation would certainly agree with him on that point — the rules thus laid down being used as a basis also for action taken under the League Covenant.

M. Nadolny added that the universal character of the Soviet proposal should also be reflected in the membership of the committee which would be asked to study it. Clearly, it would not be sufficient to appoint representatives of European countries only; the committee should be composed of members representing every part of the world.

The German delegate did not intend to discuss the proposal in detail at the present time. He would only make one brief observation, in conclusion, on a point on which M. Dovgalevsky, moreover, had already spoken. He was referring to the doubts expressed by the Netherlands representative during the general discussion of the French plan about the advisability of laying down beforehand too rigid rules for determining the aggressor. M. Nadolny wondered whether rules of an automatic character would really be appropriate here. M. Dovgalevsky had, he agreed, been right in asking for as full a list as possible to be drawn up of the criteria of aggression, but M. Nadolny felt that the cases which might arise would be too numerous to be covered by an absolutely exhaustive definition. He had in mind mainly the fact that a dispute, in all its different phases, was frequently so complicated that rigid criteria for determining the aggressor would be insufficient : all the factors in the dispute should be considered and weighed as a whole. It would, he thought, be necessary in drawing up certain rules for the determination of the aggressor — and the Soviet proposal seemed to him to furnikh a very valuable basis in this connection — to reach an agreement which would be sufficiently elastic to enable all the possibilities to be taken into account and all the methods of conciliation to be exhausted.

M. SCHMIDT (Estonia) agreed with many of the other delegations that the Soviet proposal was a very valuable contribution to the attempt to find a definition for the aggressor. The problem was one of very great practical importance, for it was higily desirable to establish as clear and definite a wording as was practically possible.

The Soviet proposal seened to M. Schmidt to contain in this respect elcments which were undoubtedly really valuable and he was therefore fully prepared to give it all the attention it deserved. As had already heen said, the Soviet draft needed some rearrangement, but the questions involved would not, he hoped, be very difficult to solve. The Estonian delegate trusted, therefore, that the Commission's efforts in this connection would lead to a positive result which would represent a substantial advance in the sphere of present-day international law.

Mr. EDEN (United Kingdom) had listened with very great interest to the discussion on the Soviet delegation's very important proposals. The objective which it was sought to realise was not, of course, a new one. There had been many and important attempts to realise it in the past in the sphere of varied international activities, more especially among the Members of the League of Nations themselves.

The preamble to the Soviet proposal stated, "It is necessary, with the utmost precision, to define aggression, in order to remove any possibility of its justification". That was the problem, and with this object in view the Soviet definition laid down a series of rigid and automatic tests according to which the aggressor in any particular case was to be identified.

Mr. Eden considered that to this attempt the Commission was bound to bring some of the experience of the past, to which the German delegate had rightly alluded. The possibility of defining the aggressor had been fully discussed in the past, and the conclusion had always been that it was impossible to lay down any such rigid criteria of universal application, since it was impossible to foretell how they would work in particular sets of circumstances, and there was serious risk that their application might result, as in the quotation to which the Chinese delegate had referred, in the aggressee being pronounced to be the aggressor.

Without attempting in any way to go into the history of the matter in detail at the present stage, he might refer to the study of the question, which M. Nadolny had mentioned, in the report of the Third Committee of the fourth Assembly in 1923, and the documents printed with that report. One quotation from the conclusion reached by the Special Committee of the Temporary Mixed Commission which had considered the definition of a case of aggression had been that "under the conditions of modern warfare it would seem impossible to decide, even in theory, what constitutes an act of aggression". The quotation goes on : "It is clear, therefore, that no simple definition of aggression can be drawn up and that no simple test of when an act of aggression has actually taken place can be devised".

Reference had also been made to the very important report of M. Rutgers |4| on Article 10 of the Covenant, in which he stated:

    "The question of acts which are evidence of aggression has already been the subject of the most exhaustive and careful study by the League of Nations and by many of its Members. These studies have led to different conclusions, and we are constrained to believe that any attempt to lay down rigid or absolute criteria in advance for determining the aggressor would be unlikely in existing circumstances to lead to any practical result."

There was one other aspect of this question of which those countries which were Members of the League must not be neglectful. It was absolutely essential for such States that any definition which might be considered should not be inconsistent with the situation resulting for Members of the League from the Covenant, and, for certain of the States Members of the League, from treaties to which they were aheady parties. At a first examination it seemed, at least, very uncertain whether the proposals under discussion did, in fact, comply with that condition.

Mr. Eden drew the Political Commission's attention to the foregoing considerations, not, of course, in any hostile sense, but because he thought that the Commission could start its work more clearly if it discussed the matter in the light of the very considerable efforts made in the past. That being so, he must say quite frankly that, in view of the abandonment of previous attempts to lay down very rigid and absolute criteria such as those set forth in the Soviet proposal, he hardly felt sanguine of the success of any endeavour to retain that proposal, at least in the form suggested in the present instance.

M. WESTMAN (Sweden) noted that the Soviet proposal, as M. Dovgalevsky had pointed out on several occasions, attempted to define the aggressor on the universal plane. That was a high and meritorious aspiration.

In the course of the studies undertaken at Geneva for many years, the advantages and risks of fixing in advance the criteria to be applied in defining as an aggressor a State that had broken its international obligations had been weighed. These discussions were recalled by the present debate.

The Swedish delegation would be very glad if, after this discussion, it were found possible to reach unanimous agreement on such a definition, which would be both clear and precise in theory, and thorough and efficacious in practice. As the Committee which was about to be appointed would probably have a fairly heavy task in connection with the problem of security submitted to it by the Political Commission, M. Westman would take advantage of the general discussion to add a few remarks.

One thing was certain — namely, that one of the bases on which subsequent measures for increasing security would be founded must be the improvement of the existing methods of defining the aggressor, which would, in fact, amount to making more and more automatic the system of sanctions. That idea was undoubtedly correct in principle.

If the rules at present in force were examined, it would be noted that they took, as a starting-point, the principle, which was difficult to justify, that each State must determine separately whether, in the event of a conflict, one of the parties was at fault; that was to say, each State must itself settle the problem of the aggressor.

At the moment, however, when the Commission was endeavouring to make the sanctions more automatic and efficacious, it was important to ensure that, as far as possible, these rules would be practicable and would bring about the fundamental condition of any system of sanctions, which was not to provoke but to prevent war. In this connection, it was desirable, in M. Westman's opinion, to note that nothing would be gained by adopting a stipulation under which, for example, the Council was required to specify the aggressor by a majority decision, the various States being bound, in consequence of such a decision, to take part in economic and military sanctions. It was very doubtful whether the adoption of such a stipulation would really strengthen security, for the reason that it would be rash to expect, having regard to the grim realities of international life, that such a rule would be faithfully and unflinchingly observed. The decision which a Government would have to take with regard to the application of sanctions was, and always would be, a serious matter, and must be strongly supported by public opinion. From this point of view, it was essential that the aggressor State should be compelled to disclose its intentions to the whole world. It was important that the Council's decision should have the character of a confirmation of acts already recognised and observed by the whole world. Proceeding from that idea, the Swedish delegation was prepared, so far as it was concerned, to confer on the Council more extensive powers with regard to all decisions to be taken with a view to disclosing the aggressor State and in order to place world public opinion in a position to make its influence felt.

The Spanish delegate had pointed out some days previously that there was an international Convention to improve the Means of preventing War. Several speakers — M. Lange, M. Massigli and M. Nadolny — had just referred to that very Convention, which was, indeed, based on the principles M. Westman had just mentioned.

During the preparatory work for the Convention, the Swedish delegate had recommended certain stipulations which, on several points, went further than those actually embodied in the Convention. The time had now come, in his view — in order, from this standpoint at least, to strengthen security — to extend the Council's powers when it was required to take the measures provided for in the Convention to improve the Means of preventing War. Thus the Commission might consider the adoption of a rule providing for decisions by a competent majority in the case of measures of that kind.

In the event of a threat of war, the Council should have the power, for example, to make investigations and to take measures of supervision of all kinds, to decide upon the establishment of neutral zones, to order the cessation of military preparations subject to the necessary supervision. Further, the Council should be invested with power to prohibit, by a majority vote, the exportation of arms and other war material to one or both States parties to the dispute. Also, after the beginning of hostilities, the Council should be empowered to order the above measures, to decide upon the evacuation of an occupied territory, and to prescribe an armistice. Should any State refuse to comply with the Council's decisions, the latter should be able to impose export prohibitions of a more special character, or to prescribe the declaration of a boycott of wider scope.

Whereas the Covenant of the League of Nations provided for the possibility of an immediate and general boycott, while at the same time conferring on each. State the right to take a decision itself, the Commission should recommend a system whereby the Council would be entitled to take such decisions, while observing, however, that the measures recommended must be taken one after the other so as to act as psychological and economic methods of coercion.

M. YADA (Japan) said that his delegation had examined with great interest the Soviet draft declaration concerning the definition of aggression. It amounted to a list of deeds and acts which, in the Soviet delegation's opinion, might serve as criteria for the definition of the aggressor. The Japanese delegation would venture to ask whether it was really possible to designate an aggressor State in so automatic and mechanical a way as was proposed in the draft.

One speaker in the General Commission had said, among other things, in connection with the definition of aggression, that attention must also be paid to an aggressor guilty of an economic war, of a Customs war or of a financial war. Further, it had been said in the Political Commission itself that the decision, in the case of an armed conflict, as to whether there was aggression and who was the aggressor was always a complicated and delicate matter. To be able to pronounce on the aggressive or defensive attitude of the countries engaged in a dispute, account must necessarily be had to the whole group of problems forming the subject of the dispute. All that was entirely true. In recalling these points he had, of course, no intention of pointing out certain gaps or omissions in the Soviet draft. All that he wanted was that a fair and equitable formula should be found, one which would at the same time take into consideration the actual facts and have regard to all the aspects of human activity in the field of international relations, their complexity and their infinite variety.

M. Yada himself would frankly say that he felt quite incapable of juridical syntheses of that kind, especially as he ealised that they involved very arduous and difficult work, for the solution of which the League had made the utmost endeavours since its origin down to the present day.

M. KÜNZL-JIZERSKY (Czechoslovakia), on behalf of the State of the Petite Entente, expressed their sympathy with the Soviet proposal concerning the definition of the aggressor. They regarded that definition as a valuable contribution to the working out of a real system of security. The three delegations considered that the question deserved most careful study. On points of detail they reserved their right to propose the necessary amendments, but, in principle, they would sincerely co-operate in the working out of an improved definition of the aggressor on the basis of M. Litvinoff's declaration.

Mr. GIBSON (United States of America) observed that the Conference had raised a series of technical questions which, up to the present, it had been unable to solve, and which still barred the path to an agreement on the reduction of armaments. The discussion in the Political Commission, in its turn, had not failed to raise a question which had bothered all students of international relations ; for the definition of the aggressor had perhaps been more discussed than any other point in this whole field of thought. It seemed to him that the difficulty had always resided in the fact that any definition was by its nature limited. Thus there would always be ways of resorting to force which remained technically outside any definition that man in his finite wisdom could conceive, and conversely it was inconceivable that it should be possible to formulate an all-inclusive definition which would give assurance that it could be relied upon ultimately to meet any situation created by the infinitely complex interplay of human relationships.

Furthermore, he questioned the utility of a rigid definition, particularly one like that given under point 1 of the Soviet proposal, since conditions could readily be imagined in which even some of the acts listed would not in themselves necessarily constitute an act of aggression.

For practical reasons, it might perhaps be wiser to approach the problem from a somewhat different angle, and endeavour to examine the criteria which each Government would find helpful in any given case in reaching a decision regarding aggression. Such a method would perhaps be calculated to clear the thoughts of delegates on the subject, and it would avoid the danger of binding future action of which neither the cause nor the results could at present be foreseen.

Such were the queries which the United States delegation ventured to raise. The forthcoming discussion might, perhaps, clear them up, but at present the United States delegation questioned, in all sincerity, whether it was desirable and advisable to endeavour to put into words a problem which must in the final analysis be judged on the basis of more factors than could possibly be foreseen at the moment, and also on factors the relative evaluation of which would be different in each concrete case that would have to be decided.

M. DI SORAGNA (Italy) associated himself with the previous speakers' expressions of gratitude to the Soviet delegation for the practical contribution it had made to the study of the problem of the definition of the aggressor. Whatever opinion might be held as to the nature of that problem, it was none the less one of the most important points in the international law of the present day and of the future. The Italian delegation would be happy to take part in the work of the technical and legal committee which would study the problem, and would contribute its entire store of knowledge of the relevant texts and facts with the utmost goodwill. From the experience gained during the discussions on this matter in the past few years, it did not seem to M. di Soragna that it would be possible to classify it with those questions of which it was possible to say, at the present stage, with some degree of exactitude that they would receive a definite solution covering both their general character and limits. The very interesting observations of Mr. Eden and Mr. Gibson seemed to warrant doubts on the subject. It was, however, in any case certain that any progress which was real and not merely apparent could only be eminently desirable. It would represent a notable contribution to the common stock of international law.

In M. di Soragna's view, the progress of the work and its success would be the better assured the wider and more universal the basis upon which the delegations co-operated in the Commission, and the less the work itself remained dependent on any idea of subordination to more or less restricted plans for international organisation.

The PRESIDENT thought that the discussion had reached the stage when a Committee might be appointed to deal with the question of the definition of aggression. He therefore suggested that this Committee, under the chairmanship of the Vice-President, M. Politis, should consist of the representatives of the following countries : Belgium, United Kingdom, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United States of America and Yugoslavia.

The Committee would be instructed to consider all questions of security, and the President would suggest that it would be helpful if it would, in the first instance, consider the Soviet delegation's proposal and, if possible, submit to the Political Commission a report on the definition of aggression upon which the Committee had found agreement. After reporting on the definition of aggression, the Committee would then examine other questions relating to security — that was to say, the Belgian proposal |5| and the question of mutual assistance which had been discussed by the Commission at the preceding meetings.

The proposals of the President were adopted.


1. Document Conf.D./C.G./P.V.38 (see also Minutes of the General Commission, Volume I, page 237). [Back]

2. Document Conf.D.82 (Documents on the Conference, Volume I, page 124.) [Back]

3. Document Conf.D.146. [Back]

4. See Official Journal, May 1928, page 671. [Back]

5. Document Conf.D., C.P.12. [Back]

Source: League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Minutes of the Political Commission, Series D., vol. 5, Geneva, March 10, 1933, pp. 47-56.
Editorial Note: This is a true copy of the above-referenced original document. This document is reproduced in Benjamin B. Ferencz's work "Defining International Aggression - The Search for World Peace", Vol. 1, as Document No. 10.

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