The idea of a League of Perpetual Peace has a life of three centuries behind it. The Duc de Sully labored to bring it about. William Penn and the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, Rousseau and Kant employed their genius to keep it alive. Saints and philosophers were not its only votaries. It fired the ambition of Henry of Navarre, and for a moment amused Louis Napoleon; in his work at the Hague the Tsar Nicholas was but reviving in a timid form the much bolder inspiration of his ancestor, Alexander I. The most elaborate draft of this scheme has lain for two centuries on the library shelves, and Europe with a punctual cynicism has twice celebrated by a universal war the centenary of Saint-Pierre’s ‘Perpetual Peace.’ This ideal has had too long a history. It must be some new fact, some fresh departure, some shattering of traditions, which will give it life again.

The new fact is before us. It comes from the New World, and it implies the breaking of the most obstinate tradition in politics. If President Wilson, when he addressed the League to Enforce Peace, at Washington (May 27, 1916), had been content to make an academic speech in favor of the processes of arbitration and mediation, we should have listened with a fatigued and languid attention. Persuasive and cultured orators have exhausted that theme in all the languages of civilization. Rousseau was more eloquent and Kant more acute. On the merits of the question Mr. Wilson said nothing new; there is nothing new to say. He made a new fact by shattering once and for all the tradition of American isolation. Since Washington warned his countrymen against ‘entangling alliances,’ and President Monroe formulated his Doctrine, the principle that the United States must hold aloof from the politics of the Old World has reigned as an unquestioned dogma. It was more than a preference and an instinct. It was the condition on which Americans hoped to purchase the immunity of their own continent from the ambitions of European dynasties.

The Doctrine was, in the first instance, a warning addressed to the Holy Alliance, which threatened to carry into Latin America, on behalf of Imperial Spain, its principles of legitimate authority and its habit of intervention. It survived to hold at arm’s length the colonial aspirations of restless powers. The United States does not meddle in Europe primarily because it will not allow Europe to meddle in America. The doctrine of isolation had come to be much more than a maxim of statecraft. It seemed to guarantee to north America for all time a peculiar civilization of her own, based on a security unknown to the peoples of Europe. The Republic stood, when our war broke out, on the Atlantic shore, and watched our agony as the landsman in ‘Lucretius’ watched the shipwreck at sea. The typical American mind is not content to disapprove of war; it barely understands it. In the profound peace of its unassailable continent, the belief in the validity of moral judgments and the confidence in the processes of rational conference have acquired such an ascendency, that even able men seem unable to interpret our international life, dominated as it is by the ideas of force and power. It is a new human type which is evolving in this melting-pot of races, without the old formative influences of nationalism and militarism. It lives virtually without an army, and prizes above all its other advantages the security which permits it to escape the barracks and taxes of Europe. Mr. Wilson’s phrase, ‘too proud to fight,’ which stirred some of us to an unpleasant mirth, was the apt expression of this spirit.

From this aloofness, a policy not merely of self-interest and calculation, but of sentiment and morals, Mr. Wilson is prepared to step down. He has offered, not merely his services to assist Europe to form a League of Peace, but the power of the United States to back the authority of such a league. His speech was a deliberate and explicit pledge that, if a league is formed among the nations to conduct their common affairs by conference, conciliation, and arbitration, the United States will take her place in the League, and use her economic and military resources against any power which makes war without submitting its cause to one of these processes. He has boldly adopted the idea of using ‘coercion’ in ‘the service of common order, common justice, and common peace.’ It was a declaration, in words that consciously echoed the old Stoic maxim, that nothing which concerns humanity can be foreign to any civilized people. ‘What affects mankind is inevitably our affair.’ It means that henceforward to be neutral when wrong and aggression are suffered by any nation is a dereliction of duty.

That is not a new idea in the world, but those who preached it have hitherto been dismissed by all the right-minded as Quixotes and Crusaders. Revolutionary France became an armed missionary of liberty in Europe, but only after her own existence as a republic had been threatened by a coalition of kings. For her own defense she carried the torch into their inflammable palaces. The Holy Alliance in its turn stood for a cosmopolitan ideal of reaction, but it too was based on a conception of self-defense; its members, when they bound themselves to assail revolution, aimed at protecting their own rights. More than once in our own history we Britons have approached a cosmopolitan conception of national duty, when we sought to give an idealistic interpretation to the principle of the Balance of Power. When once we have embarked upon a continental war, we profess with an entire sincerity that we are fighting for the liberties of other peoples; but the decisive consideration for us is, inevitably and naturally, that if we did not so fight, our own liberties and our own interests would be threatened by the dominant power.

That last consideration is only faintly present to the American mind—so faintly that in all human probability it will not emerge from its neutrality in the present war.  There is a vague alarm about the future, a sense that even America is living in a dangerous world. But the alarm is so general, so little directed at any single power, that it does not destroy the broader and humaner thoughts of international duty. The new fact in the world’s history is that for the first time a great power with a formidable navy, a population from which vast armies might be raised, and an economic and financial strength which might alone be decisive in any future conflict, is prepared to stake its own peace, not merely to guarantee its own interests, or to further the partisan aims of its allies, but to make an end in the world of the possibility of prosperous aggression. Whatever may be its fate as a constructive proposal, this American offer marks an epoch in the world’s moral evolution. Ambition and fear have masqueraded before now in an international disguise, but the disinterested advocacy of a cosmopolitan idea of duty has been left to academic moralists and to Socialists. At length a great power, hitherto of all powers the most isolated and self-centred, has adopted this idea as the permanent foundation of its policy.

The scheme adopted by Mr. Taft’s League to Enforce Peace, which President Wilson was addressing at Washington, proposes to unite all civilized nations in a league bound by treaty to settle by peaceable means all disputes which arise among them. It is a simple scheme, differing only in details from that of the kindred English committee, and much less elaborate than the Fabian Society’s model. But the root idea of all these schemes is the same. They all suppose a voluntary union of all or most of the civilized states of the world. They all distinguish between the spheres of judicial settlement and conciliation. They all declare that where diplomacy has failed one or other of these processes shall be applied. They all prescribe coercive action by the member states against another which fails to resort to one of these processes. They are all content to leave optional the further application of coercive action if a state refuses to carry out the recommendations of the council of conciliation. They all rely in such cases on the effect of delay, public discussion, and the authority of an impartial finding to make war morally difficult, if not impossible. The crux of the problem of peace is for them to secure a reference to some disinterested authority.

Mr. Wilson, in his speech at Washington, gave a somewhat wider scope to the idea of a League of Peace. He laid down these fundamental principles: —

1. That every people has the right to choose the sovereignty under which it shall live like other nations.

2. That the small states of the world have the right to enjoy the same respect for their sovereignty and for their territorial integrity that the great and powerful nations expect and insist upon.

3. That the world has the right to be free from every disturbance to its peace originating in aggression and disregard of the rights of peoples and nations.

These are broad principles, and this method of approaching the problem of peace has many advantages over the narrower statement of Mr. Taft’s League. The question of machinery, important as it is, is really secondary. The world’s peace depends in the end on the recognition of these great principles, and, perhaps, of one or two more. To nationality, the equality of states, and the responsibility of all for the prevention and aggression Mr. Wilson afterwards added, in his final summary, the freedom of the seas. He declared that the United States would aim in the settlement of this war at the creation of ‘a universal association of nations to maintain inviolate the security of the highways of the seas for the common unhindered use of all the nations of the world, and to prevent any war begun either contrary to treaty covenants or without warning and full submission of the cause to the opinion of the world—a virtual guaranty of territorial integrity and political independence.’ The purely pacifist basis of the idea has here broadened out into the conception of an international charter of right.

A skeptical student of affairs may admit the moral value of this American initiative, and yet retain his doubts about its practical efficacy. The skeptic’s case against any league of peace shall be fully and ruthlessly stated as we proceed. Meanwhile let us note that, if the scheme can be made to work by any power of wisdom and goodwill, the inclusion in it of the United States immensely improves its chances of success. What might have been too difficult without this unexpected aid may now be feasible. That is the new fact. No one can have failed to note in the comments on the world’s future of British, even of German, Liberals a pathetic stretching of hands toward the New World. We all know what a tragic failure we have made of the adventure of international life. Despairing of our own ability to surmount the accumulated hatred and distrust of our past, we look to the Republic to extricate us. At the end of this war she is to step down upon our reeling stage, like the god from the machine at the close of Euripedes’ Elektra, who taught the bloodstained heroes how they might wash their stains at the altar and obey the judgments spoken on the Areopagus. So far form underestimating this American intervention, we tend, indeed, to trust too much to it, for no one can help us until we know ourselves.

But clearly America is the ideal mediator. She is too strong and secure to dread the resentment of any of the combatants, as the weak European neutrals must do. She has, moreover, in her composite population spokesmen who can present the case of all the parties to our quarrel, and visit the action of the Republic’s chiefs with their displeasure if it should be partial. So far from regretting that the German-Americans have influence, we should rejoice that they can gain a hearing for their fatherland. America can do no service to a distracted Europe if she becomes a partisan, and allows her opinion and her actions to be governed by an instinctive sympathy based on the kinship of the majority of her population with ours. We must learn, if we look to a world based on rational conference and even-handed justice, to consider what guaranties any scheme offers to our enemy as well as to ourselves. It is of little use that we should trust a mediator or a council if he distrusts them.

A League of Peace must answer two tests. Can it be so composed that in normal times it will assure to all its members such a prospect of fair decisions in disputes, and such a chance of effecting reasonable changes in the world when they are due, that war will be unnecessary? Secondly, can it be so composed that there will be in every probable contingency an available superiority of military and naval strength at the command of the League if any member should resort to aggression?

A league which cannot satisfy both these tests is doomed to failure—if, indeed, it could ever come into being. The chief difficulty in the way of the creation of any effective concert or conference in Europe is notoriously the sharp division of the Great Powers into two groups of allies. So long as these groups are held together by the principle of mutual support, so long as they come to a conference (to use the Kaiser’s illuminating phrase) like ‘brilliant seconds to the dueling-ground,’ there can be no real mediation and no honest handling of any question on its merits. ‘My ally, right or wrong,’ is the negation of any international ideal. That was our difficulty before the war, and it is likely to be much graver after it.

Into this system of close partnerships and unyielding enmities the United States will enter, disinterested and uncommitted. We need not ascribe to her more than the European average of political virtue, but in none of the racial, strategic, or colonial questions which are likely to divide the European powers has she any interest or concern. Beyond the American continent her only interests are the open door to trade, the freedom of the seas, and the maintenance of peace. She has no ally, and she will have none. If, on the one hand, kinship and common ethical ideals link her closely to us, her reading of maritime right separates her politically from us, as her detestation of militarism separates her emotionally from Germany. One may doubt whether, if the group system continued to prevail in Europe as sharply as in the past, a single great power could, by its casting vote, preserve harmony and avert strife. That would mean in the long run a kind of moral dictatorship which would be resented; Europe would grow tired of the American Aristides. But in the first stages of the experiment it is indispensable that some powerful neutral should assume leadership.

If the worst should happen, if some power or powers should break away from the League and threaten aggression, could the United States redress the balance, and make good to the loyal powers by its aid what they might have lost by their own previous moderation? Unless this question is answered in the affirmative, the League will not be formed, or, if it is formed, it will be a meaningless decoration, a plaster ornament which will fail to disguise the sinister old structure of the armed peace. In plain words, would the United States have the will and the power, once the League was formed, to oppose aggression so firmly as to make it unprofitable? Would a sentimental, negative pacifism of the Bryan type prevail over positive, constructive pacifism of the Wilson type, so that the United States at the real crisis would give good advice but no active help? Would the selfishness which prefers the profits of neutrality to the risks of intervention defeat the new ideal of international duty? Further, if the states should intervene, would their material power be a decisive factor?

The answer to all these questions is to be found in the new American movement toward ‘preparedness.’ It may evaporate in rhetoric, but at present it seems to be a genuine effort to prepare the means by which American diplomacy may play an effective part in the world. If the shipbuilding programme of Congress is realized, the United States will be in three years the second naval power in the world, and will have an army, with its trained reserves, large enough to be a balancing factor in a European conflict, though distance and the need of further training would allow it to act decisively only after the lapse of some months from the outbreak of a war. We know, and the Germans know even better, how much the industrial and financial power of America has told in favor of the Entente, while she was still only a friendly neutral. It is not unduly sanguine to conclude that, even if the aggression came from a great military power, the aid of the United States in meeting it would be reliable and in the long run decisive. The movement for ‘preparedness,’ coupled with the abandonment of the old tradition of isolation, is the new fact which for us makes a League of Peace a prudent and rational policy. Here lies the answer to our dilemma. A policy of trust, with America to back it, ceases to be an idealistic folly.

Inevitably we look at this question from our own angle. We want security first of all for ourselves. But we shall ruin the promise of this scheme if we allow ourselves to think and talk of ‘an Anglo-Saxon alliance.’ The states are not an Anglo-Saxon community, and the more we talk in this strain the more shall we antagonize the German, Irish, and Scandinavian minorities, who do not propose to give up to Great Britain what was meant for mankind. The American tradition is still adamant against ‘entangling alliances,’ and Mr. Wilson has been careful to explain that what he proposes is a ‘disentangling alliance’—a league which will make an end of the old partisan groupings. The United States will help us in so far as we act as a loyal member of a community of nations; they will not further our self-regarding purposes against our rivals. The American officer is not to back Britain or to join the Entente; it is to use the power of a continent against any future aggressor

The offer will avail to found a League of Peace only if it brings confidence in equal degree to all its members. It must seem a good and reassuring offer form the French and German standpoints, as well as from the British. The French will ask, How soon could this new army which is to be ‘prepared’ reach the Meuse and the Vosges? The answer to that very pertinent question is that the knowledge that it would arrive in six or even nine months would enable the French and British forces to be used with full effect at once, without the anxious economy of a staff which must save its resources for a long trial of strength.

From the German standpoint the problem will be anxiously weighed. Absurd as it may seem to us, the risk to the German mind will be that Britain might not be loyal, that she might not in every issue consent to a process of conciliation, and might not always accept the award of a court or the recommendation of a council. We must consent to smother our natural indignation and examine the hypothesis. Unless the League can reassure Germany, there can be no League of peace; there could be only an anti-German alliance of the old-world type. The German would at once give to his doubts a concrete form. ‘The League,’ he would say, ‘involves presumably some limitation of armaments; at any rate, it precludes a really challenging and resolute attempt on my part to build a navy against Britain. While the League works well I am secure, and I save my money. But a moment arrives, ten years hence, when some capital issue of colonial or economic policy brings me into conflict with Britain. She refuses to carry the case before the Council of Conciliation, or else—what is more probable—she does go before it; but when the decision turns against her, refuses to give it effect. What am I to do then? I have so far trusted the League that I have agreed to keep my navy within moderate limits. I have allowed England to retain her supremacy at sea. I have lost ten years’ naval building, and I am now forced in consequence to bow to England’s will, though the opinion of impartial judges is in my favor. The League form my standpoint is simply a proposal to stereotype England’s naval supremacy, and with it her power to veto every claim and expectation that I may reasonably cherish outside the Continent of Europe. In such a case I could deal with France or Russia, if they defied the League, and need ask for no one’s help. But I am powerless against England. If I go to war with her, however just my cause, she will blockade me and seize my colonies, and all I can do is sink a few of her ships and harry her towns with Zeppelins. There must be some guaranty of equal treatment before I enter Utopia.’

As the world stood before Mr. Wilson’s offer, that would have been the German’s answer to any proposal for a League of Peace. Convinced that he was acting wisely, he would go on building warships. We should then denounce him as the one obstinate reactionary force in Europe and the one obstacle to the world’s peace. We should feel so sure of our own integrity that we should regard his wish for material guaranties of our loyalty as a wanton insult, concealing the worst designs. If the German reminded us that we refused in 1899 to go to arbitration in our quarrel with Mr. Kruger, we should reply that there were in that case decisive and exceptional reasons. The new fact has its bearing on this difficulty. Erica is already a great naval power, and she now aspires to the second place. If she believed that Germany had been wronged, if the issue were substantial, and our conduct were really ‘aggressive,’ her weight, if we were ill-advised enough to press a bad case to a quarrel, would presumably be thrown into the German scale, and our ability to make an oppressive use of our naval supremacy would then be at an end. An extreme instance of this kind is indeed almost unthinkable. Our cousinly feeling to America is so strong and our respect for her opinion so real that we are never likely to risk a conflict with her, apart even from the fact that in this case the naval and economic odds might be fairly even.

The American Navy is therefore, in the last resort, exactly the material guaranty which Germany has the right to ask for as an assurance against the abuse of our superiority at sea. It is an ideal form of guaranty, for we on our side know very well that an American-German combination against us is unthinkable, unless we were grossly and undeniably in the wrong. That imaginary case would never arise, not because we are too virtuous to abuse our power, but because we have too much sense for realities to act in a way that would combine such formidable forces against us. That, if the imaginary German in this argument were sincere, would suffice to reassure him. This balancing of future combinations on land and sea is a gross and repugnant exercise of the fancy. Diplomacy is rarely so crude as this. America’s power in the League would rest broadly on the new fact of her readiness to intervene against the aggressor and the lawbreaker. No one doubts her ability to wield great power. What has been in doubt was her willingness to use it. Her conversion to the doctrine of international duty brings the League of Peace among workaday realities.

Before we examine the grave objections to any League of Peace, or consider the conditions in which it might be realized, let us note here that it meets the two chief difficulties in the way of any restoration of normal intercourse in Europe. These are (1) the natural doubt, suggested by her conduct toward Belgium, whether Germany could be trusted to keep a treaty; and (2) the still more paralyzing doubt whether her public opinion, which regards this war as ‘defensive’ on her part, can ever be a reliable element in a league whose main purpose is to prevent aggression. The object-lesson of Belgium must inevitably destroy, while our generation retains its vivid memory of these years, any unsupported faith in Germany’s respect for her own pledges. There has been in modern times no case of treaty-breaking so gross as this. It was aggravated by the innocence of the victim, whose vow of perpetual neutrality made her a vestal virgin, entitled, if her weakness did not sufficiently plead for her, to claim the chivalry of Europe. The breach of a plain treaty shattered the fabric of public law in Europe; the needless brutality which disgraced the execution of an ill deed added to the account its tale of murdered lives, broken families, and ruined homes.

It is fair to remember, however, that there is no similar instance of the violation of treaties by the German Empire during the forty-four years of peace which preceded this war; nor should we forget that some instance of the disregard of its pledged word or of treaty obligations (though none so gross) can be alleged in modern times against all of the Great Powers. The problem of good faith in international affairs is a common one, and it depends partly on a general raising of the level of international morality, partly on the reform of diplomatic procedure, and partly on the provision of external sanctions against treaty-breaking. Our experience in 1914 taught us that for this last purpose our influence was limited. It failed to save Belgium, for we could not concentrate on that single issue. We were bound also, by honor and interest, to France and Russia. We were part of a complicated and continental system, with interests and associations wider than the single issue of Belgium. In the much simpler conditions that prevailed in 1870, when we stood aloof from European affairs, Mr. Gladstone made our neutrality in the Franco-Prussian War dependent on the single condition that Belgian territory should be respected by both sides. By this concentration he succeeded in saving her from violation.

Sir Edward Grey’s relationship to France (to mention no other reason) forbade him to repeat Mr. Gladstone’s tactics. The special advantage of the entry of the United States into a system of guaranties is that she would come in uncommitted, without allies, and without local interests of her own. She could act in every question of an imperiled treaty as Mr. Gladstone acted in 1870. Her whole weight would be available against the potential lawbreaker, and her action would turn (as ours could not and did not) solely on the question whether the treaty was broken or observed. It is not enough that a guarantor will certainly resort to hostile action if a treaty is broken: the power meditating the breach must also be sure that the guarantor will not act against him (or for other reasons) if the treaty is observed. A European power can rarely specialize in this way.

The United States, on the other hand, is, and will probably remain, outside our system of continental interests and commitments. That it is morally impartial is important; that it has no interest which must drag it into a mere struggle for a balance of power or the possession of territory is much more important. When it promises its adhesion to a League of Peace, all the members will know that the United States can afford to be the guardian, not merely of this or that state or of this or that interest, but of the idea of right itself. If any power should threaten to make war without resorting to the procedure of the League of Peace, its European neighbors might be perplexed, each of them, by a great variety of them might be tempted to take sides at the prompting of considerations wholly irrelevant to the question of formal right. The United States alone could certainly afford to take its stand on the constitution of the League, and on that basis alone. In an hour of crisis one great power will certainly say, ‘This hasty mobilization, these threats of war, this intemperate hurling of menaces and ultimata are a breach of our agreement, an offense against civilization, and a clear instance of aggression. To us beyond the Atlantic the rights and wrongs, the grievances and hopes which have induced you to adopt this behavior are of no interest. For us the only vital fact is that you are threatening war before you have resorted to the processes of conciliation. Desist from these threats, demobilize your armies, and await, the deliberations of the Council. If you refuse to observe the constitution of the League, if you persist in these appeals to force, then, however good your case, you are for us the aggressor, and our fleet, our army, and our finance will be used against you.’

President Wilson’s speeches are, in effect, an offer to guarantee a League of Peace and to back international treaties by the promise that America will in the last resort intervene against the aggressor and the treaty-breaker. In other words, she stands security for such treaties in the future. Her intervention is a new fact, a guaranty of a kind with which the past was unacquainted. We need place no implicit trust in Germany’s good faith, but with the certainty that America’s power would be added to the forces that opposed her, if she should refuse to adopt the procedure of conciliation, it would no longer be necessary to question the value of her signature to a League of Peace. No power will resort to aggression if it must by so doing raise invincible odds against itself.

It is indispensable that any League of Peace should have behind it the external sanction of a force strong enough to repress a recalcitrant power. But the world’s case would be nearly hopeless if the League had to rely mainly on measures of coercion. Unless there is a general will to peace, unless there is, at least in all the more advanced and powerful nations of Europe, a spirit which abhors and condemns aggression, they would labor in vain who sought to build a League of Peace. I believe, for my part, that such a temper exists, that it has been infinitely strengthened by this war, that it has existed for a generation at least in Western Europe, and even that it existed in the minds of the majority of the German people on the very eve of this war. On the last Sunday of peace the German Socialists held in every large town of the Empire impressive demonstrations against war. They number one third of the German electorate, and in these manifestations they seemed to have with them the good sense and the goodwill of a great part of the middle classes. How came it that a week later these same Socialists, with heavy hearts perhaps but still with an unquestioning obedience, donned their uniforms and marched obediently to Belgium or the Eastern frontier? No one doubts their sincerity: every country presented the same spectacle. Some of the most vehement orators among the Socialist and Radical leaders and Members of Parliament who protested in Trafalgar Square on the first Sunday of war—August 2—against our entry into the conflict in association with Russia, were addressing recruiting meetings themselves a few weeks later, or volunteering for the front.

The rampant hatreds of our war are a consequence of the ascendency which the habit of moral judgment has won over our minds. It is because every nation in arms regards war as an evil (as the old aristocratic and professional armies did not), that we all hate the enemy whom we regard as its cause. The paradoxical effect of the prevalence of a general condemnation of war form the humanitarian, Christian, or Socialist standpoint, would seem to be, to-day, not to prevent war, but to make it, when it comes, less chivalrous, less merciful, and more brutalizing.

Must we conclude then, that modern morality will always be impotent to prevent a war of aggression? We need not pause to point out that the secret conduct of negotiations, and the practice, which obtains no less in Britain than in Germany, of postponing any discussion of the issue, or any publication of the dispatches, until the irreparable step has been taken, will alone suffice to frustrate the influence even of a resolutely pacific democracy. But to assume that every nation would judge fairly in its own case, if it had all the documents in good time before it, is to take an excessively sanguine view of human nature. There might in the blameworthy country be more division of opinion than at present, but the mass mind is nowhere formed as yet for difficult feats of historical criticism. The only hope of ‘mobilizing’ public opinion with any effect against an imminent war is to provide it with some test of ‘aggression’ much simpler than is available at present. That is the great merit of the conception which underlies the League of Peace. Its procedure provides a uniform and mechanical test. The democracy need no longer dispute over the merits of the question, or speculate on the motives of the adversary. The only relevant question is whether its government has kept its pledge to refer every dispute which baffles the ordinary processes of diplomacy to the arbitrament of a standing tribunal or council of conciliation. No Western democracy is so simple that it cannot apply that test, and none so prejudiced that it would not apply it.

A skeptic may point out that Sir Edward Grey did propose an informal conference on the eve of this war, which would have interposed the mediation of neutrals between Austria and Russia. The Chancellor’s rejection of this expedient—which history may possibly regard as the heaviest count against him—does not seem (if it was generally known) to have disturbed public opinion in Germany. But it is one thing to reject mediation if the procedure and the council must be improvised; if you have no security that in a like case in the future the advantages of this method will be open to yourself; if further you doubt whether the proposed council can possibly be impartial; 1 and quite another matte to reject conciliation if you and your adversary are alike bound by treaty to resort to it; if the council is so composed that impartiality may be hoped for; if, finally, it is a standing institution which has proved its utility in other cases. To have accepted mediation in 1914 would have been for a German Chancellor a notable act of grace; to refuse it if a League of Peace is constituted would be a startling act of perfidy. It requires no excessive exercise of faith to assume that public opinion, if all the Great Powers were pledged to adopt this pacific procedure before resorting to arms, would be in each country sufficiently enlightened to insist upon it, and to condemn as the aggressor the statesman who broke the compact.

Many difficulties will in practice confront a League of Peace. We shall find them only too real and only too formidable. It requires for its realization conditions which exact from European statesmanship a high and difficult level of wisdom. But in this preliminary statement of the idea we have found the two essentials for the fortunate conduct of a league. The promised adhesion of America provides, not merely for an impartial and uncommitted element in its councils, but also for a powerful external sanction for the observance of its constitution and the fulfillment of treaties. The simple, almost mechanical test that it furnishes for the judgment of ‘aggression’ promises for the first time in history to arm the moral conscience of civilized opinion in the service of peace.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

  1. The prevailing view among Germans was that three of the four ‘disinterested’ Powers—Britain, France, and Italy—were already biased against Austria, and that only one—Germany—was friendly. – H.N. Brailsford