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By R. B. MOWAT, M.A.,

Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

THE first article of the Covenant of the League of Nations defines as original members those States which were named in the Annex to the Covenant, and also those other States which, having been "invited" in the Annex, should accede without reservation to the Covenant. Such invited States had to accede by declaration deposited with the Secretariat of the League within two months of the coming into force of the Covenant. Any State which was not named or invited in the Annex could only become a member of the League by the vote of two-thirds of the Assembly.

There was thus a real advantage in being or becoming an original member of the League, because no discussion or vote in the Assembly was required for this. There was also a certain prestige in the position of an original member. Switzerland was one of the States invited to become an original member. In a Message of the Swiss Federal Council to the Swiss Federal Assembly, February 17, 1920, note was taken of "the benefits, both moral and material, but above all moral, which attach to the status of an original member of the League.”

Nevertheless, in spite of her desire to be a member, the path of Switzerland was beset with difficulties in her way to enter the League. Article 10 of the Covenant binds all members to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League, and Article 16 takes note of certain circumstances under which one member shall automatically be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League. But Switzerland, by an international Act signed at Paris on November 20, 1815, was acknowledged to be perpetually neutral, and this was confirmed by Article 435 of the Treaty of Versailles.

She could not, however, maintain her international status of a Neutral State and yet be a member of the League of Nations, consistently with Articles 10 and 16 of the Covenant. One way out of the difficulty would have been to abolish Swiss neutral status, just as Belgian neutral status was suppressed by Article 31 of the Treaty of Versailles. But the Swiss Government was determined not to abandon a status which had enabled it to play a humanitarian rôle amid all the wars of Europe since 1815. The essential parts of Swiss neutrality are defined thus: (1) Switzerland cannot participate in any war; (2) her territory is inviolable; (3) she cannot allow even the passage of troops through her territory.1

Another difficulty of Switzerland with regard to entering the League as an original member was the time-limit. The spirit of the Swiss Constitution, if not its literal text,2 was deemed to require that the question of Switzerland's entry into the League of Nations should be submitted to a popular vote. It was found impossible to organise such a referendum, with the necessary "intense and prolonged propaganda,” within the time-limit allowed by Article 1 of the Covenant.

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Finally, the Swiss Government felt uncertain about the juridical existence of the League, so long as the United States of America was not a member. The Council of the League was declared by Article 4 of the Covenant to consist of Representatives of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. Therefore, as the Swiss Government explained later, "no one could fail to notice that the absence of the United States constitutes an important fact, in its juridical as well as in its political aspect. Moreover, the Swiss had settled the question for themselves by a Federal Resolution of November 21, 1919, which declared that Switzerland's accession to the League of Nations would only be submitted to the vote of the people and cantons (i. e. to the referendum) when all the five Great Powers had adhered to the Covenant.

1 Message of Swiss Federal Council, February 17, 1920.


2 Any revision of the Swiss Federal Constitution requires to be submitted to a popular vote. On March 5, 1920, the Swiss Federal Chamber decided that this condition was applicable to the approval of Conventions relative to the League of Nations. Since then an amendment (January 30, 1921) to the Constitution stipulates that any international treaty concluded for an indefinite time or for more than fifteen years is subject to approval or disapproval by the people, if this vote is required by 30,000 citizens or by eight cantons."


3 Message of Swiss Federal Council, February 17, 1920.


There were thus three difficulties in the way of Switzerland becoming an original member of the League of Nations. These difficulties were: (1) her neutrality, (2) the time-limit for accession, (3) the Federal Resolution against acceding before the United States should have acceded (this last was called the "American Clause ").

In February 1920 Swiss delegates went to London and put their case before the Council of the League of Nations. M. Ador explained the Swiss point of view to the Council on February 11. On the 13th the reply of the Council was delivered in writing. This reply amounted to a very frank and generous acquiescence in the Swiss point of view. The Council began by affirming that the concept of neutrality of members of the League of Nations was incompatible with the principle of the League. It then went on to state that—

"Switzerland is in a unique situation, caused by a tradition of several centuries which has been explicitly incorporated into international law."

Accordingly the Council of the League declared that Switzerland

"shall not be forced to participate in a military action or to permit the passage of foreign troops or the preparation of military enterprises upon her territory."

On the other hand, the Council took cognisance of declarations of the Swiss Government that—

"Switzerland recognises and proclaims the duties of joint liability which devolve upon her from the fact that she is a member of the League of Nations, including the duty of participating in the commercial and financial measures demanded by the League of Nations against a State which violates the Covenant : .. [she] is ready for every sacrifice to defend her own territory herself in all circumstances, even during an action undertaken by the League of Nations."

The statement of the League Council to the effect that Switzerland is in a “unique situation" was meant to guard against the special status, which was to be conceded to her in the League, being claimed as a precedent in favour of other members who desired not to participate in the League's military enterprises.

Regarding the difficulty of the time-limit for accession, the Council of the League showed itself as accommodating as it had been with regard to Swiss neutrality. Although Article 1 of the Covenant stipulated that a State must accede within two months

and without reservation, the Council, "being mindful of the altogether unique constitution of the Swiss Confederation,' now undertook to be satisfied with a notification of accession made by the Swiss Government within two months from the date of the coming into effect of the Covenant (i. e. January 10, 1920), on condition that the confirmation of this declaration by the people and the Swiss cantons be effected in the shortest time possible."


In return for these ample concessions, the Swiss Federal Council on February 17, 1920, proposed that the Federal Assembly should confirm their provisional accession to the League (made on November 21, 1919), but with the suppression of the " American Clause," i. e. of the condition that this resolution should only be submitted to the vote of the people and cantons when all the five Great Powers had adhered to the Covenant. This being satisfactorily arranged, the referendum was taken on May 16, 1920, with the result that Switzerland's adherence to the League was ratified. Thus Switzerland has the unique position of being a permanently neutral member within the League. This neutrality, however, extends only to the territory of the Swiss State: the special status of the zone of Upper Savoy (France) which was included in the Swiss neutrality by the Congress of Vienna was abolished by Article 435 of the Treaty of Versailles.

Even yet, however, the position of Switzerland in the League of Nations is not quite so precise as that of the other members. According to the Swiss Constitution, as recently amended, amendments to the Covenant of the League, if they are to bind Switzerland, must be submitted to ratification by the people, if a vote is demanded by 30,000 citizens or by eight cantons. If this popular right to ratify or to refuse to ratify amendments to the Covenant is asserted, the Swiss Government may find itself faced with the prospect of exclusion from the League, to the great detriment both of the League and of Switzerland. According to Article 26 of the Covenant, amendments take effect when ratified by the members of the League whose representatives compose the Council, and by a majority of the members of the League whose representatives compose the Assembly. Such amendments do not bind any member of the League which signifies its dissent therefrom, but in that case it shall cease to be a member of the League. In order, partially at least, to meet

this difficulty with regard to Switzerland, it has been suggested by Professor Borel of Geneva, that—

"the Swiss Authorities will do well in each case to defer the popular vote, if it is to take place, until it is known whether the amendment in question has or has not obtained the ratification of a sufficient number of States. In the latter case, the Swiss people may reject the amendment without any consequence as to Switzerland's place in the League. But if it is already sure that the amendment will take effect, then the people will have to know that their negative vote may lead to the loss of membership for their country.


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1 Lecture delivered on November 6, 1922, at the London School of Economics on The Position of Switzerland in International Law."


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