Arthur Henderson

Nobel Lecture

Nobel Lecture*, December 11, 1934

Essential Elements of a Universal and Enduring Peace

Men and women everywhere are once more asking the old question – is it peace? They are asking it with anxiety and fear; for, on the one hand, there has never been such a longing for peace and dread of war as there is today. On the other hand, there have never been such awful means of spreading destruction and death as those that are now being prepared in well-nigh every country. To a visitor from another planet the world would present a spectacle as melancholy as it is bewildering. He would see civilization in danger of perishing under the oppression of a gigantic paradox: he would see multitudes of people starving in the midst of plenty, and nations preparing for war although pledged to peace.

Perhaps the grimmest aspect of this great paradox is that the very nations that are chiefly responsible for starting and for maintaining the Disarmament Conference are also the nations that have begun a new arms race1. That is what a visitor from another planet would see. But we are not visitors from another world. This is our world, and we must make the best of it. We cannot give up hope for the future of humanity because it is our destiny to shape that future for good or ill. Whatever we do or fail to do will influence the course of history. We who are here belong to nations that are in the vanguard of civilization. Those nations have a very great responsibility at this juncture of the world’s affairs, for by throwing their joint weight into the scales of history on the right side, they may tip the balance decisively in favour of peace.

It is because I believe that it is in the power of such nations to lead the world back into the paths of peace that I propose to devote myself to explaining what, in my opinion, can and should be done to banish the fear of war that hangs so heavily over the world. That is not an easy task. But we have set our hand to that task of organizing peace already in subscribing to the Covenant of the League, and although its attainment is difficult, it is not impossible. The forces that are driving mankind toward unity and peace are deep-seated and powerful. They are material and natural, as well as moral and intellectual. We have realism, common sense and the instinct of self-preservation on our side as well as the noblest ideals and the loftiest aspirations. Therefore, let us not despair, but instead, survey the position, consider carefully the action we must take, and then address ourselves to our common task in a mood of sober resolution and quiet confidence, without haste and without pause.

In surveying where the problem of peace stands, we must begin by casting a glance back upon the period of the World War and at the lines on which the world has been tackling this problem ever since. The more the history of the World War and what led up to it is studied, the more clearly those tragic years become revealed as a vast collapse of civilization. It was a war which resulted from the false standards of patriotism and ideas of what constitute the honour and vital interests of nations. It revealed the incapacity of nations to find the best way to defend these interests and to become adjusted to the facts of the modern world. Two of these great facts are the increasing cultural and material interdependence of nations and the growing deadliness of warfare. The world before 1914 was already a world in which the welfare of each individual nation was inextricably bound up with the prosperity of the whole community of nations. Moreover, war has become a thing potentially so terrible and destructive that it should have been the common aim of statesmen to put an end to it forever. But the standards of statecraft insisted upon the untrammeled claim of each nation to uphold its own view of its rights by force and to build whatever armaments it considered necessary for this purpose.

The inevitable result was the balance of power, the arms race, the dividing up of the world into rival alliances, and ultimately, war. This condition of affairs had deep roots in the economic system which led to competition for foreign trade, markets, and sources of raw material that was one of the major causes of the conflict. Four years of world war, at a cost in human suffering which our minds are mercifully too limited to imagine, led to the very clear realization that international anarchy must be abandoned if civilization was to survive.

The Peace Conference was the scene, or, shall we say, the first stage, in a tremendous struggle between the new forces, the new hopes and aspirations to which the agony of the World War had given birth, and the champions of the old order in patriotism and in economic relations alike. The compromise that emerged from this struggle was embodied in the Covenant of the League, the International Labor Organization, and the terms of the peace settlement. On the whole, the advocates of a new order triumphed in the former two treaties; the champions of the old had their way to a considerable extent in the peace settlement. But it must be realized that there were, at the Peace Conference, strong forces in favour of going much further than the present Covenant, and that there was afterwards a slump in international idealism that led to public opinion and governments receding far below the level of even the compromise embodied in the existing treaties.

The world’s worst postwar troubles have been due, not so much to the peace settlement, as to the spirit in which some of its provisions were worked. Up to the present day, the Covenant and the constitution of the International Labor Organization are, on the whole, still far ahead of the most advanced governments in the world. At the same time it must be realized that the only connection between the Covenant and the Peace Treaties is purely mechanical – states ratifying the one automatically ratified the other, just as, through a special provision of the Versailles Treaty, any states that accepted it automatically became parties to the Hague Opium Convention of 19122. But states can accept the obligations of the Covenant, just as they can those of the Hague Opium Convention, without in any way incurring the obligations of the Peace Treaties, and the latter could be amended or even abrogated without in any way affecting the Covenant. The Covenant is in no sense whatever based upon the Peace Treaties, and that is a fact which should be clearly realized.

Having made these general remarks, I propose to take up, briefly, the three great divisions of international relations and to show on what lines they have developed since the Peace Conference. Those three divisions are: first, economic relations; second, the pacific settlement of disputes; and third, guarantees against war, which include renunciation of war, disarmament, and common action to restrain an aggressor.

After this, I wish to cast a glance at the present situation in the light of these developments. Finally, I shall indicate what I think could and should be done now if we are to stop the arms race, remove the present danger of war, and establish a universal and an endurable peace.

During the war it had been found necessary to organize economic life, not only nationally but internationally. At the Peace Conference there was a determined effort to save the inter-Allied wartime machinery and to adapt it to international reconstruction work under the supervision of the Supreme Economic Council. But the pressure to return to untrammeled economic individualism was too strong. For a short period there was a hope that the Reparations Commission might take such a view of its functions as would convert it into a kind of reconstruction commission, but this hope soon faded. The whole question of reparations and debts was tackled on narrower and more short-sighted lines, with results that were predicted at the time by Mr. Keynes3 and others. Far-reaching proposals in the British draft of the Covenant for the promotion of cooperation on matters of common concern, and particularly on economic and financial questions, were considerably watered down. All that was left were the vague and brief provisions of Articles 23 and 24 of the Covenant concerning the work of the technical organizations, advisory committees, and international bureaus, and the constitution of the International Labor Organization.

At the outset the League’s economic and financial work was hampered by the existence of the questions of reparations and debts, with which it was not allowed to deal, but which were being handled on lines that made fruitful international economic and financial cooperation exceedingly difficult. But gradually these questions dropped into the background. The League developed its machinery for cooperation on matters of common concern, and the views of governments on these subjects became broader. Originally the League was forbidden to touch the subject of tariffs, and there was a strong predisposition to regard banking as a mystery that must be removed entirely from the purview of governments. This feeling led to the total separation of the international Bank of Settlements from the League. But by degrees the competence allowed to the League in these matters embraced every aspect of economic and financial relations, including particularly that of tariffs, quotas, and other barriers to trade. And today the United States, taking an active part in all these aspects of League work, has become a member of the International Labor Organization4.

As regards pacific settlement of disputes, the system laid down in the Covenant has been very greatly extended. This system gave either party to a dispute the right to summon the other before the Council or Assembly and bound both parties to appear. It also gave any member of the League, whether or not a party to a dispute, the right to draw the attention of the Council to any circumstances affecting the good understanding between states on which peace depends. This provision has been extensively used. The Council has developed its procedure and powers in the light of a number of precedents, and the Assembly has been used on several occasions. The number of disputes settled, including those that threatened peace, is by this time very considerable. Article 13 of the Covenant provides for arbitration or judicial settlement by agreement between the parties, and Article 14 calls for the setting up of a Permanent Court of International Justice. That Court was set up, with compulsory jurisdiction in the well-known Optional Clause5, which by this time has been signed by forty-two members of the League, including all the Great Powers except Japan. There is a bill before the United States Congress at present for accession to the Statute of the Court6 on certain conditions which have been accepted by the members of the League. As regards arbitration, the General Act of Arbitration has been framed and adopted by nineteen states. A large number of treaties – by this time some hundreds – provide for referring disputes to the Court or to arbitration, and most League Conventions provide that the Court shall be resorted to in settling any question as to how they shall be interpreted.

In short, it may be said that on paper the obligations to settle international disputes peacefully are now so comprehensive and far-reaching that it is almost impossible for a state to resort to war without violating one or more solemn treaty obligations. But no one would be bold enough to suggest that this is enough to ensure peace. The real difficulty is to make sure that such treaty obligations will be observed. It is precisely because of the primary importance of this problem that the obligations and machinery for settling disputes peacefully have, from the outset of the League’s career, been connected with the obligations to renounce war and to restrain an aggressor. The agreement to refer all disputes to some form of pacific procedure in Article 12 of the Covenant is linked with an undertaking in no circumstances to go to war for a certain period; the agreement to arbitrate or go to the Court in Article 13 is coupled with an agreement not to resort to war against a state accepting an arbitral award or a judgment; the agreement in Article 15 to refer disputes to the Council or Assembly is coupled with the undertaking not to resort to war against a state that accepts a report of the Council or Assembly. These undertakings, in their turn, are linked with the obligation in Article 16 of the Covenant to consider that a state which resorts to war in defiance of these obligations has committed acts of war against all the members of the League, and to sever all relations with such a state and even, if necessary, to take military, naval, and air action to put an end to the breach of the peace. The whole system for settling disputes peacefully erected on the basis of the Covenant is governed by the obligation in Article II to regard any war or threat of war as a matter of concern to the whole world which the League has a duty to stop by whatever action seems wise and effectual, and by the more specific obligations of Article 16. This obligation is fundamental in the Covenant and was regarded as fundamental in all the various drafts which went to the making of the Covenant.

The Report of the Phillimore Committee7, which was the basis of all the subsequent work on the Covenant, regards the Covenant as a general treaty of alliance and says that its proposed object will be “that whatever happens, peace shall be preserved between members of the alliance”. For that purpose any state resorting to war in the judgment of other members of the alliance “will become ipso facto at war with all the other allied States”, and the latter agree to take “jointly and severally all such measures – military, naval, financial and economic – as will best avail for restraining a breach of the Covenant”. The plan submitted by Lord Cecil8, the Italian and German plans, the proposals of the American League to Enforce Peace9, and the French plan, all provide not only for economic but also for military sanctions. The clearest and most striking argument for a powerful and comprehensive system of sanctions to buttress the obligations for renouncing war and settling disputes peacefully was that put forward by General Smuts in his famous pamphlet entitled The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion10. In this pamphlet, General Smuts says that he doubts whether economic and financial sanctions will be enough “if unsupported by military and naval action”.

The other point on which there was universal agreement in all the drafts which is reflected in the existing Covenant is that it was not possible at the time to rule out resort to war, that is, so-called “private” war, in all circumstances. War was forbidden as against a state that had accepted an arbitral award or a judicial decision or a report of the Council concurred in by all its members, except the parties, or a similar report of the Assembly. War was also ruled out in any circumstances for a period sufficient to allow time for the Council or Assembly or for arbitration to effect a settlement – it was this provision which was known as the “moratorium on war”. But if the Council or Assembly could not reach agreement on a report, the parties were free, after three months, to take such action as they saw fit. This was the famous “gap” in the Covenant. Since that time the widespread acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court and of arbitration has made it much less likely that a position of deadlock could be reached in which there was no decision on the dispute and no agreement of the Assembly or Council, consequently leaving the door open to war after three months.

In the second place, virtually all the members of the League have signed the Briand-Kellogg Pact11 by which they renounce war as an instrument of national policy and undertake never to seek the solution of any dispute or conflict, whatever its nature or origin, except by pacific means. This is generally regarded as closing the “gap” in the Covenant. To make assurance doubly sure, the last British government, in addition to setting the example which led to the widespread acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction and arbitration, proposed an amendment of the Covenant to incorporate in it the absolute renunciation of war contained in the Briand-Kellogg Pact. That is a purpose which is as yet unfulfilled but which has not been abandoned.

In the third place, there has been a general weakening of confidence in the validity of the sanctions obligations of the Covenant. As far back as the Second Assembly, the Covenant was interpreted as establishing a clear distinction between economic and military sanctions. Economic sanctions, that is, the boycott of an aggressor, were regarded as obligatory, whereas military sanctions were considered optional. It is clear that a state cannot continue normal commercial and financial relations with an aggressor with out becoming an accessory after the fact to the crime of war. In our modern world of interdependent nations, hardly any state can wage war successfully without raising loans and buying war materials of every kind in the markets of other nations. That is why the boycott of an aggressor is the minimum obligation below which states can hardly go without conniving at the very evil they are supposed to be trying to suppress. But to cut off relations with an aggressor may often invite retaliation by armed action, and this would, in its turn, make necessary some form of collective self-defence by the loyal members of the League. It is rather in these terms that the problem is being envisaged today by those who are concerned with the question of sanctions. But, for the most part, the view has gained ground that the sanctions provisions of the Covenant are vague and unreliable and that when it comes to the point, states will not, in fact, act upon them.

The fourth point is that from the outset of the discussion of this subject, the question of the organization of sanctions against an aggressor has been closely linked with the question of reducing and limiting armaments. Here again, suggestions made at the Peace Conference went far beyond what was actually embodied in the Covenant. A stout fight was put up by General Smuts and others to secure an immediate and drastic reduction of Allied armaments, including the abolition of conscription, but it failed. Mr. Lloyd George, at the end of the Conference, in an appeal to his colleagues entitled “Some Considerations for the Peace Conference before They Finally Draft Their Terms”12, made the following statement:

“An essential element in the peace settlement is the constitution of the League of Nations as the effective guardian of international right and international liberty throughout the world. If this is to happen, the first thing to do is that the leading members of the League of Nations should arrive at an understanding between themselves in regard to armaments.

To my mind it is idle to endeavour to impose a permanent limitation of armaments upon Germany unless we are prepared similarly to impose a limitation upon ourselves…

If the League is to do its work for the world (continued Mr. Lloyd George), it will only be because the members of the League trust it themselves and because there are no rivalries and jealousies in the matter of armaments between them. The first condition of success for the League of Nations is, therefore, a firm understanding between the British Empire and the United States of America and France and Italy that there will be no competitive building up of fleets or armies between them. Unless this is arrived at before the Covenant is signed, the League of Nations will be a sham and a mockery.”

There is a good deal in this statement which has a topical ring today. As you all know, the Covenant and the Peace Treaties did not go nearly so far; but the Covenant did pledge the members of the League to “recognize that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations”. It also pledged the members of the League to the view that “the manufacture by private enterprise of munitions and implements of war is open to grave objections”. The Council of the League was to devise means to give effect to these pledges. The Central Powers were drastically disarmed by the Peace Treaties, and the process of disarmament was subjected to stringent international control, on the understanding that these measures were a preliminary to general disarmament.

That being the position, it became necessary from the outset of the League’s career to find ways of giving effect to this part of the Covenant and to fulfil the promise to the Central Powers. At an early stage – ever since the famous Resolution 14 of the Third Assembly13 – it was admitted that reduction and limitation of armaments were possible only in return for implementing the sanctions provisions of the Covenant. States would not give up reliance on their armed strength for their protection, except insofar as the League was prepared to substitute collective guarantees and means of defence. Resolution 14, the draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance, and the Geneva Protocol14, were successive stages in the attempt to organize a firm basis of security so as to make possible far-reaching disarmament. The Geneva Protocol provided for compulsory all-in arbitration. It interpreted Article 16 of the Covenant to mean the obligation of every member of the League to cooperate in upholding the Covenant and resisting acts of aggression to the extent allowed by its geographical situation and the level of its armaments. This interpretation was adopted by the Locarno Powers in a covering letter (Annex F), in which they gave their view of Article 16 to the German government. If the Protocol had been adopted, the Disarmament Conference would have been held in 1925, that is, some years before the economic crisis and its effects in intensifying nationalism. It is not too much to say that had this taken place, the Protocol would have provided the arbitration and security basis for a successful Conference which would have hastened the entry of Germany and the Soviet Union into the League and would have made the subsequent course of history both in Europe and the Far East very different and less tragic than it has been.

In 1930 the connected subjects of arbitration, security, and disarmament were once more taken up vigorously at Geneva. The Optional Clause and the General Act were accepted by a large number of states; revision of the Covenant was taken in hand, to incorporate in it the complete renunciation of war contained in the Briand-Kellogg Pact; the Treaty of Financial Assistance and the Treaty for Strengthening the Means to Prevent War were concluded, with the proviso that they should come into force simultaneously with the Disarmament Convention, all of which were indispensable elements in a properly organized and constructive peace system. The world economic crisis had been growing steadily more severe and had brought to the surface social and national conflicts that had been latent in the whole post-war situation. One aspect in the working out of these forces became evident with the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese conflict15, followed by the withdrawal of Germany and Japan from the League16. The internal and external circumstances accompanying and flowing from these withdrawals are merely sharp and dramatic illustrations of the worldwide clash of the forces released by the economic depression. The struggle between those forces is going on with more or less intensity and in different forms all over the world and within each country. On the outcome of that struggle depends in great measure the future of world peace.

That, then, is the situation which confronts all of us who would seek peace and ensure it. I have tried to describe it without optimism or pessimism but in a spirit of sober realism. The question is, what are we to do in order to consolidate peace on a universal and durable foundation, and what are the essential elements of such a peace? This brings me to the political aspect of the present situation. It is obviously not possible wholly to separate its economic from its political features. On the contrary, the characteristic element of the present situation is that economic questions have finally and irrevocably invaded the domain of public life and politics. The drive toward economic nationalism is only part of the general revival of nationalism. In some states militant nationalism has gone to the lengths of dictatorship, the cult of the absolute or totalitarian state and the glorification of war. In one case aggression and treaty breaking have actually taken place. These developments in certain states have been possible only because of the failure to carry out solemn promises and treaty obligations as regards both disarmament and joint action against war. This failure in turn is due to the fact that the revival of nationalism is not confined to one or two countries but has become fairly general. The years of the economic depression have been years of political reaction, and that is why the economic crisis has generated a world peace crisis.

It has been said that since September, 1931, the world has been divided into wholehearted violators and halfhearted supporters of the Covenant. That is an exaggeration and simplification, but, unfortunately, it is not a complete misstatement. One conclusion, indeed, which has been expressed by prominent statesmen is that we should abandon the whole attempt to make a reality of the collective system. In almost every country there are elements of opinion which would welcome such a conclusion because they wish to return to the politics of the balance of power, unrestricted and unregulated armaments, international anarchy, and preparation for war. But public opinion is passionately determined in no circumstances to resign itself to the abandonment of all the promises and the hopes of the last fifteen years. That uprising of opinion is an undoubted fact in my own country, and I believe the situation is analogous elsewhere. We had four years of world war which the peoples endured only because they were told that their sufferings would free humanity forever from the scourge of war. For a decade and a half since those terrible years, we have been told by statesmen and leaders of opinion of every party and every religious organization that only through the maintenance and strengthening of the League could the world hope to put an end to war. So, far from being ready to abandon that attempt and to forget those promises and assurances, public opinion is ready to become passionately angry with those who would bid us resign ourselves and our children once more to the shambles.

One of the first essentials is a policy of unreserved political cooperation with all the nations of the world. There is no effective alternative. If nations seek to return to the policy of the balance of power, if, with this in view, they divide into armed groups – each group seeking to pile up its armaments higher than its rival groups – then such a policy cannot but arouse suspicion and distrust and must be followed by disaster. A policy of international cooperation would convert the League into what its promoters intended it to be, that is, a sure guarantee of the world’s peace. This cannot be accomplished so long as nations continue to live in a state of anarchy, each claiming to be the judge of its own rights.

To solve the problem of organizing world peace we must establish world law and order. The nations must be organized internationally and induced to enter into partnership, subordinating in some measure national sovereignty to worldwide institutions and obligations. By these means reality would be given to the Pact of Paris by all the nations settling every form of dispute peacefully, regarding every threat of war as a common concern, and treating war as an international crime.

I want now to consider two of the most difficult aspects of the problem of an organized peace: the question of security, and the question of equality. Three years’ experience of the Disarmament Conference has convinced me that a settlement of these two points is essential to a universal and durable peace. I believe that the majority of the nations represented at Geneva would confirm this view of the position. The agreement reached on December II, 1932, by the five powers – the United States, France, Germany, Italy, and my own country – laid it down that the Disarmament Convention must make provision for the application of the principle of equality in a system of security for all states. But it said nothing as to how this equality of rights was to be achieved, or how the security of any state could be strengthened.

The question as to whether Germany can be induced to return to the comity of nations at Geneva and resume her seat at the Disarmament Conference turns on the settlement of these two issues. As regards equality of rights, objection has been raised in many quarters during recent months to its immediate application, on the ground that the Hitler regime cannot be trusted. It is necessary, therefore, to point out that the inferiority complex is not limited to the members of the government, but touches the entire German population. I would recall the declaration of Dr. Brüning17 in the early stages of the Disarmament Conference. He said: “In submitting these proposals to the Conference, the German Delegation wish to make it clear that the German Government cannot accept a Convention unless its provisions are equally applicable to Germany and other signatory States.” In this connection it must be obvious that Chancellor Hitler could not accept anything less than Dr. Brüning’s proposals.

Closely allied to this question of equality of rights is that of national security. Throughout the long drawn-out proceedings of the Conference, it has been made clear that states are not prepared to reduce their armaments unless, at the same time, definite undertakings are given to settle disputes without resort to force and to stand by each other in upholding treaties against an aggressor or war maker.

Thus, there can be no real disarmament except on the basis of the collective peace system of the League of Nations. The Disarmament Conference has become the focal point of a great struggle between anarchy and world order, between those who are willing to cooperate and those who would be the sole judge in their own case, between those who think in terms of inevitable armed conflict and those who seek to build a universal and durable peace. Mr. Litvinov, in his maiden speech to the Assembly, made it clear that the Soviet Union’s experience at the Disarmament Conference and anxiety to strengthen the collective peace system were the deciding factors of her entry into the League18. The main link between the United States and the League is the Disarmament Conference.

The United States are taking the lead in urging the conclusion of a Convention controlling the trade in arms and have offered in connection with the Disarmament Conference to conclude with the members of the League a treaty of nonaggression and conclusion that will enable them to cooperate with the Council and Assembly in putting an end to a war or threat of war. In this connection they have further offered to give an undertaking that the United States will not oppose the application of League sanctions against a country which the United States also regard as an aggressor.

As a first step there must be an offer to achieve equality of rights in disarmament by abolishing the weapons forbidden to the Central Powers by the Peace Treaties. This will become possible only in return for a comprehensive system of supervision and diplomatic, economic, and financial guarantees of execution of a disarmament convention; a treaty of non-aggression, with a definition of aggression, linked with the sanctions system of the League; drastic international control of the trade in arms and the limitation of armaments budgets; a reaffirmation of the Protocol – Locarno interpretation of Article 16 of the Covenant; the creation of an international air police force, and the internationalizing of civil aviation. Most of these proposals, indeed, have been put forward at the Conference by one or more governments. It has become impossible to give up the enterprise of disarmament without abandoning the whole great adventure of building up a collective peace system. It is by now generally realized that, on the one hand, unless armaments are drastically reduced, limited, and internationally controlled, the new armaments race will overshadow and ultimately break down the collective peace system, and that, on the other hand, the arms race can be stopped and a beginning with disarmament made only if states are prepared to build up a solid system of collective defence on the basis of Articles 10 and 16 of the Covenant.

Another essential to a universal and durable peace is social justice. The constitution of the International Labor Organization, which, as you know, is part of the machinery of the League of Nations, says that universal peace can be established only on the basis of social justice. It goes on to add that conditions of labor exist involving such injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people that the resulting unrest imperils the peace and harmony of the world. Thus, the struggle for peace includes the struggle for freedom and justice for the masses of all countries. That is the basis and background of the whole world situation which should always be kept in mind.

Finally, may I ask, is it possible to stay halfway on the road that leads to total disarmament and the setting up of a League police force? If we contemplate as our ultimate end a League which controls the world’s economic life and the world’s armed forces, then we must say frankly that our ultimate ideal is the creation of nothing less than a World Commonwealth. I think we must make this admission. The establishment of a World Commonwealth is, in the long run, the only alternative to a relapse into a world war. The psychological obstacles are formidable but not insurmountable. There is already a group of nations in the world between whom war may be considered as ruled out forever. Those nations are the British Commonwealth, the United States, and the surviving European democracies. I would add to that group the Soviet Union which, in its international policy, has shown that it is devoted to peace, abhors war, and sincerely believes in the ideal of world union and world cooperation, although it is of the opinion that in the long run such a consummation is impossible without a far-reaching change in the present social order. The democracies stand for a certain view of what constitutes the good life. That view is incompatible with war or with the “totalitarian state”. I do not believe that the values which the Western democracies consider essential to civilization can survive in a world rent by the international anarchy of nationalism and the economic anarchy of competitive enterprise. I think we must get the better of both those forces and subordinate them to the common good through world union on the basis of social justice. I believe that the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization are the instruments to our hand for conceiving and executing such a policy. Today the world is in transition. The vast upheaval of the World War set in motion forces that will either destroy civilization or raise mankind to undreamed of heights of human welfare and prosperity.

The policy I have endeavoured to sketch is big, bold, and far-reaching. It will be no light and simple task to lay the foundations of a World Commonwealth. It is, on the contrary, perhaps, the greatest and most difficult enterprise ever imagined by the audacious mind of man. But it is a task which has become a necessity. It is an enterprise that is solidly grounded in realities and in the facts of the modern world. If there is still virtue in our common Western civilization and our faith in democracy – and I believe there is – then we must dare to announce that policy as a challenge to the world and as the summons to a great crusade for peace. What greater cause and what more splendid adventure can be set before the youth of the world than the endeavour to bring into being that age – old dream of saints and sages – the great Commonwealth of the World as the visible embodiment of the brotherhood of man?

* Mr. Henderson delivered this lecture to a large audience gathered in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. The text is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1934.

1. A preparatory committee for the Disarmament Conference, set up by the Council of the League of Nations, had been meeting since 1926 before the actual Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments convened on Feb. 2, 1932. The U.S. and the U. S. S. R., as well as members of the League, took part, with the laureate presiding. Although Germany withdrew from the Conference and the League in 1933, the Conference met intermittently until the spring of 1937.

2. A convention signed by twelve nations in January, 1912, concerning “hard” drugs, smuggling, exchange of statistics and legal information.

3. John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), English economist and chief representative of the Treasury at the Peace Conference.

4. The U.S. participated in drafting the constitution of the ILO in 1919, declined membership when the Senate failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, but accepted in 1934.

5. Some nations objected to a provision in the proposal for the Permanent Court making arbitration compulsory; the Optional Clause permitted states to accept compulsory arbitration on the basis of reciprocity.

6. The U.S. never joined. In 1926 the U. S. submitted five reservations to the signatories of the Statute; although only a portion of the fifth reservation was found unacceptable, the Senate failed by seven votes to approve membership on January 29, 1935.

7. Report of March, 1918, by the committee set up by the British Foreign Office to study means of settling international disputes.

8. Robert Cecil, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood (1864-1958), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1937.

9. A private organization founded by some distinguished Americans, among them William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

10. Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870-1950), South African general and statesman; his essay was published in London in 1918.

11. Signed on August 27, 1928; see Frank B. Kellogg, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1929, pp.71-90.

12. David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British prime minister (1916-1922); the full text of his appeal of March 25, 1919, is in André Tardieu’s The Truth about the Treaty (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1921).

13. Proposing disarmament along with a system of mutual guarantees (text in Assembly Records, 1922, Third Committee, Annex 8, p.145).

14. Resolution XIV linked reduction of armaments with guarantees for the safety of the country; the draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1923, an effort to provide a mechanism of such guarantees, was submitted to many governments but dropped when rejected by Great Britain; the Geneva Protocol, an attempt to unite in one document the application of the principles of disarmament, security, and arbitration, was dropped in March, 1925, when rejected by Great Britain.

15. 1931-1945.

16. In 1933.

17. Heinrich Brüning (1885-1970), chancellor of Germany (1930-1932); in an address to the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Disarmament Conference, February 9, 1932.

18. Maxim Maximovich Litvinov (1876-1952), Russian foreign minister (1930-1939). Russia entered the League in September, 1934.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

The Nobel Foundation's copyright has expired.

To cite this section
MLA style: Arthur Henderson – Nobel Lecture. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Mon. 20 May 2024. <>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.