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45 Summary of Proceedings of Imperial Conference

Extract LONDON, 14 June 1937


At the Plenary Meeting of the Imperial Conference on 14th May, the Chairman [1] made the following statement in the course of his opening speech:-

'Though we shall discuss other important subjects, we are agreed that questions of foreign affairs and defence shall be our main subjects. It is fitting that they should be. For we are met at a time when the international situation is difficult and even threatening, and the responsibility rests upon us to see that our deliberations not only are of service to ourselves but also may help in some measure towards the solution of those international problems which are now perplexing the world.'

Similar views were expressed by other speakers, and, as indicated in Section V above, it was then agreed at this Plenary Meeting that questions of foreign affairs should be discussed at meetings of Principal Delegates. A series of meetings, of which the first took place on the 19th May, was devoted to the consideration of various aspects of foreign affairs under the heads of the general international situation including the League of Nations, the European situation, and the Pacific and the Far East.

On behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made comprehensive statements under all these heads. He also kept the Conference informed of the current international situation. Statements as to the views of their respective Governments were made by the Prime Ministers of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa, and by the Marquess of Zetland on behalf of the Indian Delegation. General appreciation of all these reviews was expressed. The statements on behalf of the Delegations were followed by full and frank discussion, and it was agreed that the exchange of views, especially at the present juncture of international affairs, was of great value to the representatives gathered at the Conference. During the discussions emphasis was laid on the importance of developing the practice of communication and consultation between the respective Governments as a help to the co-ordination of policies.

The Conference recorded the results of its deliberations on the subject of foreign affairs in the following statement:-

The representatives of the Governments of the British Commonwealth of Nations gathered in the Conference, have in the course of their proceedings had an opportunity of exchanging views upon foreign affairs and the international situation as it affects their respective interests and responsibilities.

While no attempt was made to formulate commitments, which in any event could not be made effective until approved and confirmed by the respective Parliaments, the representatives of the Governments concerned found themselves in close agreement upon a number of general propositions which they thought it desirable to set out in the present statement. [2]

Thus they agreed that for each member of the Commonwealth the first objective is the preservation of peace. In their view the settlement of differences that may arise between nations and the adjustment of national needs should be sought by methods of co- operation, joint inquiry and conciliation. It is in such methods, and not in recourse to the use of force between nation and nation, that the surest guarantee will be found for the improvement of international relations and respect for mutual engagements.

Holding these views and desiring to base their policies upon the aims and ideals of the League of Nations, they found themselves unanimous in declaring that their respective armaments will never be used for purposes of aggression or for any purpose inconsistent with the Covenant of the League of Nations or the Pact of Paris.

[3] At the same time, being impressed with the desirability of strengthening the influence of the League by the enlargement of its membership, they united in expressing the view that this object would be facilitated by the separation of the Covenant from the Treaties of Peace. Observing that in respect of certain regions in which a number of States have special interests, regional agreements of friendship and collaboration between individual members of the British Commonwealth and the other States so interested have been entered upon or may be contemplated, they welcomed all such agreements insofar as they can be made to contribute to the cause of peace, and do not conflict with the Covenant of the League of Nations.

They noted with interest the statement made on behalf of the Australian Delegation at the opening Plenary Meeting that Australia would greatly welcome a regional understanding and pact of non-aggression by the countries of the Pacific, and would be prepared to collaborate to that end with all the peoples of the Pacific region in a spirit of understanding and sympathy. They agreed that if such an arrangement could be made it would be a desirable contribution to the cause of peace and to the continued maintenance of friendly relations in the Pacific, and that it should be the subject of further consultation between Governments.

They all desired earnestly to see as wide a measure of disarmament as could be obtained. At the same time they were agreed that the several Governments of which they are the representatives are bound to adopt such measures of defence as they may deem essential for their security, as well as for the fulfilment of such international obligations as they may respectively have assumed.

Being convinced that the influence of each of them in the cause of peace was likely to be greatly enhanced by their common agreement to use that influence in the same direction, they declared their intention of continuing to consult and co-operate with one another in this vital interest and all other matters of common concern.

The representatives of the several Governments concerned further had under review the possibility of reviving confidence and increasing the stability of economic and financial conditions in the world, a process which they considered essential to the prosperity of individual countries as well as to international peace. In order to assist in furthering this end, they declared themselves ready to co-operate with other nations in examining current difficulties, including trade barriers and other obstacles to the increase of international trade and the improvement of the general standard of living.

Finally the Members of the Conference, while themselves firmly attached to the principles of democracy and to parliamentary forms of government, decided to register their view that differences of political creed should be no obstacle to friendly relations between Governments and countries, and that nothing would be more damaging to the hopes of international appeasement than the division, real or apparent, of the world into opposing groups.

1 U.K. Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. For his speech (not printed) See FA : Imp. Conf 1937, Meetings, E(37) 1.

2 A footnote in the original read 'It was understood and agreed that nothing in this statement should be held to diminish the right of His Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa, and the Government of India to advocate and support their statements of policy as submitted to the Assembly of the League of Nations in September, 1936.' 3 The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 27 August 1928.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History