HENRY NOEL BRAILSFORD
THE WAR OF STEEL AND GOLD
A STUDY OF THE ARMED PEACE
THE CONTROL OF POLICY
A WRITER who advocates the effective extension of democratic control to foreign affairs must expect to meet a series of familiar objections. Where will you find among the masses of any modern State the knowledge and experience which are required for the conduct of a nation's external policy? How shall the Lancashire weaver or the Durham miner, who know no language but their own, who do not travel and have little leisure to read, judge of the designs of Germany, the ambitions of Russia or the needs of Egypt? They can judge shrewdly enough of an Insurance Act or an Eight Hours Act. These things, complicated though they are, come within the round of their daily experience. They are the persons concerned, and whether they judge ill or well, you cannot refuse them the right to judge without disputing every principle of self-government and freedom. But foreign questions, it will be said, do not touch them so nearly. They lack the means to form a judgment, and in any event their interests are only slightly and remotely affected. The conclusion from this objection, however it is phrased, will be that foreign policy is best managed by some moderate statesman, guided by an expert professional service, and subject to the promptings, the encouragements and the criticisms of the governing class and the higher world of finance and commerce, which has the experience to judge of these recondite matters and undoubtedly has a great interest at stake. This is the system under which we live, and probably it reflects fairly enough the general trend of middle-class thinking in England. There is only one context in which Imperialists of either party affect to think that the general body of electors does or should control foreign policy, and that is when they are telling women that they are quite unfit to possess the vote, because they are unfit to judge Imperial issues. In nine cases out of ten the speaker who flatters himself on this male prerogative is as reluctant to trust the mass of men as he is to enfranchise women. The plain fact is that the average man has no more control over foreign policy than the voteless women.
The democratic answer to this objection is simple and direct. We do not desire the rule of the majority because we cherish any illusion about the intelligence or the virtues of the masses. Like average men in all classes, they are content to have their thinking done for them by their leaders and their newspapers. We do not count brains in a modern State; we count interests. The ballot is a rough method of deciding the greatest good of the greatest number. If the greatest number is muddle-headed in perceiving its greatest good, it must learn its lesson by hard experience. The anti-democratic attitude in foreign affairs involves a naked claim that certain interests shall rule. We have analysed these interests in a previous chapter. At their head are the great bankers and contractors. Their rank and file is composed of the comfortable class which invests abroad, and of those families which see in the services of Empire a career for their sons. We have traced the effect of their pressure in the gradual identification of the investor's interest with the national interest, the promotion of the export of capital as a quasi-official national undertaking, the use of diplomacy to support concession-hunters' claims, the marking off of spheres of interest as the preserve of our financiers, and, finally, as a result of the rivalry which these processes engender, the struggle for a balance of power, and the consequent inflation of armaments. The various links in the chain hang together in a perfect sequence, and manifestly the chain has been formed by a national policy dictated by the interest of the possessing classes. It is not inevitable ; it is not axiomatic, it is not a necessary deduction from the idea of the State. The whole chain would be cut, and the fatal consequences of its last links would fall from us, if one point of policy were decided otherwise. If we could but say that an investor, a contractor, a money-lender, when he trades beyond these islands, trades at his own risk and must ask the mother-country neither for backing to reach success, nor for protection to avoid loss, the whole fatal chain of consequences might be stayed and the impulse checked which has led us into this desolating rivalry with all that it involves of waste and folly and fear. Such questions are not to be decided by pure reason. Ought the contractor and the banker to be backed in their private ventures abroad? The answer will depend on the nature of the audience to which you address your question. All England would have answered with a No before the days of Palmerston. The Tory Party would have said No while it was still mainly the party of landlords and country gentlemen. Carry your question to the Carlton Club to-day and the answer will certainly be Yes. Take it to the Stock Exchange, and members will be amazed that you should dare to ask such a question at all, and stare at you as though you were a bombthrower or an Early Christian. At the National Liberal Club the answer would be doubtful, compromising, and far from unanimous. Carry your question to a Trade Union Congress or a Labour Conference, and the answer will be as unhesitating and as united as it was at Capel Court. But it will be No. Move away from all these crowds, collate their answers and then enquire whether it really and obviously is a national interest that diplomacy should support finance. It is so, if the nation wills it. But the nation as a whole is never consulted, has never considered the question, is barely aware that such a question exists as a possible subject of debate. Yet it underlies our whole external policy ; it is the stocks on which our Dreadnoughts are built. The Lancashire weaver and the Durham miner ought to consider it. It concerns them as closely as the gentlemen in the Carlton Club. It would indeed reduce the total income of the club by a heavy ratio if it were answered otherwise. But at the same time it would release a portion of the national income sufficient to transform the Insurance Act, and to remove the defects of which the weaver and the miner complain. The voteless woman from this standpoint is no less directly affected. For a real judgment of national interests we must go to the nation at large. While we evade this judgment we are allowing a single class, deeply interested in the issue, to. conduct our national affairs unchecked. It conducts them, as all history would teach us to expect, for its own profit. The real problem of the balance of power is the problem of the adjustment of the interests of the few and the many which co-exist within each national State. Let us not be deterred by the ignorance of the masses or the complication of the problem. Democracy has its invention to meet that difficulty. The system of representative government exists to solve it. The mischief in our case is that our representatives have all but ceased to concern themselves with foreign affairs.
In an earlier chapter we have traced the impotence of the House of Commons to control the foreign policy of the Empire. It is preoccupied with domestic questions. It lacks both the time and the knowledge to check our diplomacy. It has fewer constitutional rights in this field than any other Parliament of Europe. Its action is limited by the party system, which makes it practically impossible to dissent from the external policy of the Government without undoing its domestic work. It has accepted the doctrine of "continuity" which excludes foreign affairs from the conflict of parties, and thereby hands them over to the unchallenged influence of a governing class, which in society, in the press, and in the diplomatic service is always, so to speak, "in office," despite the fluctuations of national opinion. It is, finally, frustrated by a practice which withholds from it all official knowledge of policies, treaties and negotiations, until they are already accomplished facts which Parliament may regret but cannot alter.
To bring about a complete change, and to invest democracy with a real control over foreign affairs, would require little less than a revolution in our habits of thought and our constitutional practice. Let us cherish no illusions about the difficulties of the task which we are setting ourselves. It would be easier to overthrow the monarchy than to depose the inner governing class from the authority which it has usurped over the external policy of the Empire. The worst obstacle of all is that the House of Commons has in great measure lost its earlier instincts of independence and its habits of self-assertion. It is grotesquely sensitive about its dignity, when some young woman affronts it by disturbing its debates. But to the overgrown authority of the Cabinet and to the coercion of the party "whips" it is placidly resigned. These are moral and intellectual weaknesses which no agitation can remedy. They will continue while our rigid party system endures, and while they continue we shall enjoy only a simulacrum of representative government. One may, however, note certain changes of a general character which would tend to strengthen the House of Commons, and therefore in some measure to exert a favourable influence upon the control of foreign affairs. Proportional representation would assure each member that he had behind him a real constituency of opinions. The entry of a third party into politics ought to have done more than it has yet done to break up the traditional party system, but Independent Labour struggles helplessly against the original sin of its birth. It cannot be independent while nearly all its members depend for their election on Liberal votes, and this dependence will continue so long as we retain the single-member constituency. Nor will it ever be possible to secure a sincere vote in the House of Commons on foreign questions, so long as parties worship the fetish of collective Cabinet responsibility, which Cabinets have themselves set up in the interest of discipline. It ought to be possible to vote against a Minister's opinion without thereby demanding either his resignation or that of the Government. It ought to be possible for the House to dismiss a Minister without evicting all his colleagues. The House should be free in short, at its own pleasure, to distinguish between a vote which expresses an opinion to which it expects a Minister to bow, and a vote which expresses its want of confidence either in a single Minister or a whole Cabinet. Until these reforms are carried, we can have nothing but a fettered House of Commons. Our whole political life suffers by the delay, but perhaps the conduct of foreign affairs suffers the most seriously. On most of the broad issues; of domestic policy a majority in the House, if it has the country behind it, will in the long run have its way. Foreign questions are the exception, because they are not the grounds on which the average elector casts his vote.
There can, however, be little hope of securing due attention for external questions, without some fundamental change in our constitutional machinery. The chief obstacle is the inordinate complexity of modern politics. To say that Parliament has no time to deal at once with English, Irish and Imperial affairs is to state only half the difficulty. It is obliged to range itself, and to form its parties in accordance with the most vital issue of the moment, and that issue is almost always a domestic question. It is partly the imperative necessity of simplifying issues that has led to the growth of the doctrine of "continuity" in foreign policy. The real verdict of the country must be obtained on the vital questions of home policy. It is hard enough even so to detach one issue, and to say that the electors have had or ever can have a chance of pronouncing on one definite home subject, even when it is of the first importance. But the complication would be intolerable if foreign issues were also presented for judgment. This consideration has reinforced some others, to induce both sides to remove external questions from the area of party controversy. This instinctive simplification was probably inevitable, but it has had from the democratic standpoint the most disastrous consequences. In removing external questions from the field of party controversy, it has withdrawn them for all practical purposes from the decision of public opinion. The sections of society which make their influence felt outside the mechanism of parties are those which have wealth and social standing behind them. The average man is formidable only by his vote, and of this weapon the convention of "continuity" has disarmed him.
There is no real remedy for this breakdown in our constitutional machinery, save by the separation of external from domestic issues in some scheme of federal "devolution." Towards this solution we are moving inevitably and rapidly. In one form or another we are bound within the next few years to evolve some scheme of "Home Rule All-Round." The problem has been approached too exclusively from the Irish standpoint. Realising that we must give autonomy to Ireland, we see that this concession will hardly be workable unless we go on to do the like for Scotland and Wales. An Imperial Parliament will be left when the process is completed, which will be free to concern itself primarily with the whole range of Imperial questions, from foreign policy to the fighting services, from tariffs to the government of India and the Crown Colonies. It would lie far beyond the scope of this book to dwell in any detail on this inevitable change. But it seems relevant to urge that in the consideration of this constitutional reform, we should give due weight to the positive need of creating a Chamber whose duty it will be to deal, as the German Reichstag does, primarily with Imperial questions. To think of this Imperial Parliament merely as the shell which will be left when the subordinate national Parliaments have been created, would be a laughable short-sightedness. We need this Parliament. We who are democrats ought to create it with enthusiasm and eagerness, because it offers us for the first time in our history the chance of subjecting our external policy to the real judgment of public opinion. The voter will acquire his share in the control of the Empire, only when he has the chance of electing a Parliament which will deal mainly with Imperial affairs.
When the time comes for the remodelling of the Constitution, the democratic parties, if they are alert, will insist on removing some of the obvious defects which distinguish our Parliament unfavourably in comparison with the Chambers of other European peoples. Some of these defects have been considered in a previous chapter (pp. 128-154). It is hardly necessary to argue that treaties ought to be submitted in draft to Parliament before they are ratified and become binding. No one who professes any ideal of self-government, however Conservative, could defend the conclusion of such an instrument of alliance as the Japanese treaty by a Cabinet which represents one party alone, and may be nearing the end of its term of office. A solemn obligation, by which the nation contracts to fight, in circumstances unknown, in the dim future, ought to be undertaken, if at all, by the representatives of the whole nation. One would indeed wish to prescribe that treaties of alliance must be sanctioned by something larger than a bare majority of the House. It is true that if it is attempted, as the United States Senate often does, to amend a Treaty, Parliament would expose the Foreign Office to grave embarrassments. But an adroit Secretary will learn how to provide against that inconvenience by ascertaining, before he completes his negotiations, what the trend of Parliamentary opinion is. It is hardly less axiomatic that declarations of war ought to be made only with the sanction of Parliament. Accustomed as we are to our party-ridden Commons, it is difficult to imagine circumstances in which the House would refuse, amid the excitement of a warlike crisis, to sanction a war to which the Government was already committed. But even as things are to-day such a provision would impose some check upon a headstrong Ministry. It would be compelled to measure public opinion carefully. It would not dare to move faster than the Opposition allowed. It would be obliged, finally, to meet with some show of reason a motion that the dispute be referred to arbitration or to the mediation of neutral Powers. The Labour Party, one hopes, would know how to improve that opportunity.
A House which really meant to control foreign affairs would not be content to assert its control over treaties and declarations of war. It is the conduct of affairs between one great crisis and another which ends in the treaty or the war. What has to be controlled is precisely what is least known ---our policy in pressing for concessions or in drawing the boundaries of spheres of influence. What is wanted is some mechanism of control which can operate steadily and quietly, while an affair is still in the stage of confidential negotiation. This mechanism must admit of secrecy ; it must also impose control without involving at every turn the fate of the Government and the continuance in office of the Foreign Secretary. We ought not, of course, to commit ourselves to the principle that foreign affairs ought to be conducted secretly. From that assumption spring half the evils of diplomacy. The veil of secrecy means too often a claim to do beneath it what no man who respected his own honour, or cared for the good opinion of his fellows, would dare to do in public. If international controversies were conducted by the public exchange of despatches, wars and aggressions would be almost unthinkable. The fear of causing a panic on the Stock Exchange, the dread of alienating opinion both abroad and at home, and the necessity of being accurate in statement and cogent in argument, would soon impose a restraint upon diplomatists that would transform international morals. It would be necessary to argue questions solely on their merits, instead of conducting a mere conflict of wills. There is, moreover, another argument against the present secrecy of diplomacy. It is that the secrecy is only partial. The enterprise of the press, and the desire of some diplomatists to win for themselves partisans and supporters, has gone far to make the intercourse of nations public. But the mischief of this system of illicit revelation is that it is rarely honest. Diplomatists divulge secrets with a purpose, and newspapers publish the facts with a bias. Documents are edited, and conversations distorted. One usually knows within a few hours when one Power has delivered something resembling an ultimatum to another. But the course of events is always represented in each country from a standpoint favourable to the diplomacy of that country. An exaggeration or distortion published in Paris or London is of course at once officially denied in Berlin. But as the denial almost invariably denies too much, we do not by this process arrive at truth. The mischief of a dishonest and partial publicity is only to be cured by an abandonment of the fiction of secrecy. That must be the aim of any sincerely democratic party. But clearly it is not quite at every stage or in every detail that diplomacy can as yet, if ever, achieve complete publicity. The early phases of a negotiation, whether between individuals or societies or nations, may gain something by being confidential. Much may be effected in conversation by a tactful Ambassador which could with difficulty be achieved through an exchange of despatches, particularly if every sentence were penned with a view to publication. But even over the preliminary steps of a confidential negotiation Parliament ought to have some check. For it is precisely in these preliminaries that a Minister lays down the lines on which the subsequent fate of the transaction will depend.
The mechanism by which secrecy can at certain stages be preserved, and control none the less secured, has already been discovered in one form or another by several foreign Parliaments. In France a Sub-Committee chosen through the Bureaux from the whole Chamber examines the Budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and contrives by this means to exercise in private a certain check upon the Minister. The Sub-Committee of the Senate conducts on occasion elaborate retrospective enquiries into past transactions---as for example after the Morocco crisis of 1911. In Austro-Hungary "delegations" from the two Parliaments discuss Foreign Policy with the Minister. In Germany a Federal Council representing the Governments of the federated States of the Empire has certain rights of control, and its sanction is required for a declaration of war. But the most powerful of all these bodies is the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States Senate. Sitting in private it discusses with the Secretary of State even the details of his policy, and studies his treaties line by line before they can be ratified. Its record is unfortunately by no means encouraging, for it has prevented the conclusion of many treaties which would assuredly have made for peace. But a Committee can be no better than the House from which it is chosen. The Senate stands for organised commercial interests and for the sectional selfishness of the individual States. It would not be reasonable to argue that effects which manifest themselves under the peculiar conditions which prevail at Washington, would be reproduced by a similar institution in our country.
The proposal which arises from these preliminary considerations shapes itself somewhat thus: There might be elected from the House of Commons by ballot on a proportional basis, either annually or for the duration of a Parliament , a small standing Committee for the special consideration of foreign affairs. It should be large enough to represent fairly every phase of opinion---seven or eight members would be a minimum---but not so large as to make businesslike procedure difficult. It would meet periodically at frequent intervals both during the session of Parliament and in the recess. It should be summoned if any new situation demanded a decision which involved a departure from a policy previously sanctioned. It should have the right to demand the production, under the seal of confidence. of all essential documents and despatches. The Foreign Secretary would naturally be present at its deliberations. It would also be useful that it should have the power to request the attendance, on occasion, of experts in special questions, both official and unofficial. It should be consulted in the negotiations which precede the drafting of treaties, as well as in the later phases when the bargain is embodied in a final form of words. It would be unwise and unnecessary formally to require the Foreign Secretary to abide by the decision of the majority of this Committee. That would involve too wide a departure from our present traditions, But it should be provided that in the event of a capital disagreement, either the Minister or the Committee should have the right at any time to refer their differences to the House of Commons. Over certain acts, such as the issue of an ultimatum, a declaration of war or the conclusion of a treaty, the Committee might be armed with a right of veto, pending the decision of Parliament. The general idea of such a Committee would be that it should exercise over the Foreign Office the control which the Cabinet so rarely exercises to any purpose. Its members would give to foreign affairs, as the members of a Cabinet cannot, a close attention. Most of them would be well-informed in some degree before they were elected, and all, with these new opportunities and new responsibilities, would tend to become expert. They would not in their debates be thinking of the fate of their own measures and the independence of their own departments as Cabinet Ministers often do. Nor would they, in the privacy of a committee room, be fettered by the party ties which oppress the private member in the division lobby. Three claims may be made for the adoption of such a system as this. It would give some guarantee, if the Committee was well selected, that the policy of the Foreign Office really reflected the will of the nation. It would place a check upon rash actions and Machiavellian designs. It would also help to secure, by the wisdom of several heads, a higher level of efficiency than the Foreign Office at present attains. There would still remain to a strong and capable Minister a considerable range of unfettered action. He would have to face the test of frequent and intimate debate. He would not be free to conclude treaties binding on his country for years to come, or to send despatches which might provoke immediate war, save with the sanction of the Committee. But over the general conduct of foreign affairs he would remain the responsible Minister, subject only to the risk that if in vital matters he ignored its opinion, the Committee would appeal against him to the House of Commons. In practice the first concern of a Minister would be to keep his Committee with him, to lead it if he were strong and capable; to follow it, if he were a man of timid character and moderate ability.
It may be necessary to answer certain objections which this scheme suggests. It will be said, perhaps, that secrecy could not be secured if all despatches were open to the members of the committee. That objection ignores the fact that all secrets are at present shared, in theory at least, among the members of the Cabinet, not to mention the higher officials at the Foreign Office. There is a better chance of finding discretion among eight or nine men than among twenty. Some leakage there would be, but is there none at present? The Committee would realise that its power depended on its own conduct, and it would doubtless require the resignation of any member who flagrantly and wilfully betrayed a confidence. It may also be urged that to concede so much power to a Committee representing all parties would be a departure from our system of government by majority. But the majority in the House would also have the majority in the Committee. Moreover, this objection ignores the fact that we have of recent years discarded the theory of party government in foreign affairs, and substituted for it a theory of "continuity." Finally, it will be said that the existence of such a Committee would destroy such control of foreign affairs as the whole House possesses at present. To those who realise how little control it does in fact possess, that will not seem a grave objection. The present system of questions, the present occasional debates, need not be interfered with. The final control of the whole House would remain unimpaired in the event of a disagreement between the Committee and the Minister. The House would, in fact, have conferred on certain elected delegates a real authority, in the place of a nominal control which it cannot at present render effective. The only serious inconvenience would be, so far as I can foresee, that a member of the Committee, who was in opposition on any serious issue to the Minister, would have to fight him in the whole House---if he could fight him there at all---with his hands tied. He could not freely use in public debate the confidential knowledge which he had acquired in Committee. But after all, it is better to be able to make private use of full knowledge, than to fight publicly but in the dark, with no real knowledge at all. A confidential Committee would not offer a perfect system of control. But the reasons which prevent Parliament from developing an effective public control over the details of diplomacy are likely to be permanent. It is wiser to recognise that this latter ideal is in our day unattainable, and to seek for the best substitute within our reach.
There are certain other minor points on which a democracy jealous of its rights would insist. The diplomatic service, both within and outside the Foreign Office, ought not to be as it is at present, the close preserve of the upper class, jealously guarded by a system of nomination. The Levantine Consular service, which is filled by open competition, shows, if I may trust my own observation in the Near East, a much higher level of ability and competence than the more aristocratic diplomatic service proper. A consul in Salonica invariably knows much more of Turkey, its people and its languages, and is usually, in addition, an abler man than the distinguished person who draws an immense salary for presiding over the Embassy at Constantinople. Our Ambassadors, moreover, are rarely men of human and popular sympathies. Our consuls, on the other hand, in this capable Near Eastern corps, are usually as humane and generous by temperament, as they are intelligent and well-informed. The spirit of our diplomacy would gain in liberality and in humanity, as well as in ability and in the habit of hard work and careful study, if the service were recruited by open competition and its higher posts filled on the ground of merit alone. The ornamental side of diplomacy is rapidly becoming obsolete. Treaties and alliances are no longer made by the gay arts of the courtier. On the other hand, the advantage of appointing such a man as Mr. Bryce to such a post as Washington is apparent. Neither a courtier nor a trained diplomatist, he has none the less won the confidence of the American democracy, and immensely improved the relations of the two peoples. His personality means something to American citizens. Much might be gained by sending men of eminence in letters or politics to represent us in every country where public opinion is a real factor in diplomacy. Another proposal which may deserve a passing mention is that the Foreign Office should issue a weekly gazette, containing certainly all the despatches which could with safety and propriety be issued, and possibly also an occasional editorial article to explain our policy. We depend at present for our official information on Blue-books devoted to special subjects, issued at infrequent intervals and usually too late to be of much real service. If the same material reached us promptly in weekly instalments , its value would be immensely enhanced. For any interpretation of the British Government's policy, we and our European neighbours must depend on the Times, which is usually, but not always, inspired, and often pours into the official draught some liquor from its own cellars. The editing of these leading articles would be an anxious task, and perhaps the Foreign Office, which at present finds dumb secrecy an easier part than cautious and temperate speech, would shrink from this bold suggestion. But the advantages to be gained by the prompt periodical publication of official information are sufficiently obvious, nor would this practice carry with it any apparent risks. Half the unrest in Europe comes from the effort to divine the real thoughts of a Government through the rare speeches of its members, the still rarer appearances of its Blue-books, and the daily, but not always authoritative pronouncements of newspapers which it inspires but cannot fully control. To issue such a weekly diary would create confidence by a wise publicity, provide a prompt method of removing misunderstandings alike abroad and at home, and contribute at the same time to build up, by the provision of full and accurate information, an instructed public opinion.
It is only by concentrating on such proposals as these, but more especially on the creation of a permanent Committee for foreign policy, that a democracy may hope to exert a steady influence on the factors which make for peace and war, govern the growth of armaments, and limit our opportunities for humane service in the world. In vain do we seek by spasmodic agitation to resist some sudden encroachment of militarism, to oppose a war already begun, or to unmake a treaty already ratified. These things depend on the main lines of our foreign policy, our permanent alliances, our understandings and misunderstandings, our rivalry with this Continental Power, our obligations to the other, and the posture for the moment of the struggle for ascendancy in Europe. These larger matters of policy are debated rarely on platforms and never in Parliament. Until we can by some means control them, our agitations beat in vain against occult forces and secret obstacles, whose presence and power we dimly discern.
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