18 Sir Thomas Inskip, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Commonwealth Government

Circular Cablegram F2 (paraphrase) LONDON, 10 February 1939, 2 a.m.

IMMEDIATE SECRET

Reference my telegram of 24th December [1] Canada No. 71 Commonwealth of Australia No. 126 New Zealand No. 189 and connected correspondence regarding General Act and Optional Clause.

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have given further consideration to the position, and have taken into account the views of other British Commonwealth Governments. They have reached the conclusion that, as regards disputes arising in time of war, the risks involved in continuing to be bound by the General Act are so grave that if their acceptance continues to cover such disputes His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom cannot continue to subscribe to the Act. In reaching this conclusion they are particularly influenced by the existing situation as regards the obligations under Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations of Members of the League, particularly in the light of the events which took place last September at Geneva. [2]

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have given further consideration to the question whether the position can be dealt with, otherwise than by denunciation of the Act, and have given special attention to the views expressed by your Government. [3]

They have decided that the matter can be dealt with by reaffirming their adherence to the principle of arbitration, which they wish to continue to apply fully for peace-time disputes, but by excluding from their acceptance of the Act disputes arising when they are at war. The action which His Majesty's Government propose to take is set out in the draft note to the Secretary General of the League of Nations which is being communicated in my immediately following telegram. [4]

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have been in consultation with the French Government on the matter, and the latter have expressed the wish for common examination by the two Governments of the procedure to be adopted. The draft note to the Secretary General of the League of Nations will, therefore, be discussed between representatives of the two Governments on Friday 10th February and a further communication will be sent notifying any amendments which may be agreed upon as soon as possible on the conclusion of this discussion. In the meantime, in view of the very short period which remains before the date when any action decided on must be taken (15th February) His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom wish other British Commonwealth Governments to be aware without delay of the action proposed.

We should be grateful if the position could be reviewed by other British Commonwealth Governments in the light of the above and we hope that they may be prepared to take action on similar lines.

Should be grateful for reply [5] not later than Monday next 13th February.

1 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. 1, Document 337.

2 See Document 7, paragraph 12.

3 The words 'and have given special attention to the views expressed by your Government' were omitted from the copy of this circular cablegram sent to Eire. For Australian views see Document 7, note 4 4 See Document 19.

5 See Document 22.

[FA: A2937, PACIFIC SETTLEMENT OF INTERNATIONAL DISPUTES]