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Part 2: Chapter 7: The First International Organizations

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

How to check off "Save the World" on your bucket list?

Welcome to Chapter 7 of the Planet Republyk project!

History of the planetarist movement ( Part 2)

The First International Organizations

Because this story is also ours.

Because it is not well known.

Because it should be taught in our schools in the same way as national history.

Even if you are alone and no one is following you, always stand up for what you think is right.

Henri Grouès known as Abbé Pierre

The first permanent international structure dedicated to peace was the Holy Alliance, which took shape in 1815. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the victorious European crowns of Russia, Prussia, Austria and England wished to develop an active diplomacy between European nations in order to guard against other revolutions, prevent future wars and defuse crises.

They created a sort of permanent alliance of great powers, functioning by holding episodic congresses. This alliance imposed its views on the rest of Europe for almost a century. More an intention than an international organization, strictly speaking, humanity will have to wait until the beginning of the 20th century for this attempt at a quasi-permanent diplomacy to emerge from the shadows and the enclave of the unofficial to enter that of the light and the law.

The Holy Alliance, as such, will dissolve in 1825, with the death of its initiator, the Russian tsar Alexander I. However, the roots of the principle of regular international meetings are deep enough for the tradition to survive. The Concert of Nations therefore took over, gradually widening its circle to all the nations of Europe, sometimes even inviting foreign countries to its summits.

This resulted in more than fifteen international meetings over the following decades, including seven International Peace Congresses held between 1843 and 1853. The first convention on the rights of war in Geneva as well as the acceptance of the principle of the Red Cross (thanks to the determination of its founder, the Swiss humanist Henry Dunant) are among the most beautiful legacies to humanity of the Concert of Nations. The fact remains, however, that the essence of these agreements is not, as the historian of international institutions, Jacques Charpentier, explains: "to put an end to war, but to try to humanize it as much as possible[I]".

Since the sovereignty of states is considered inalienable, the unanimity of nations is a sine qua non condition for the ratification of treaties resulting from these international meetings. Resolutions and charters must therefore often be greatly watered down in order to get each of the European nations on board.

At times, small nations of a few million inhabitants prevented the ratification of treaties desired by great powers representing hundreds of millions of inhabitants. Thus, in 1899, at the first Hague Conference, "the single vote of Romania was sufficient to defeat an original plan for a compulsory commission of inquiry[II] "..''

Nevertheless, for the first time, the Nations of Europe addressed together, on a regular basis, the challenges of their peaceful coexistence. From 1815 to 1870, Europe was preserved from a major conflict; a period of peace of exceptional longevity for the Old Continent at that time. It can certainly be argued that this first attempt at an international organization dedicated to the preservation of European peace may have contributed to this.

However, the Concert of Nations was unable to prevent the formation of secret strategic alliances between the great European powers. These alliances paved the way for the Great War.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, as early as 1815, American jurists created peace societies to promote the establishment of international tribunals as guardians of international law. This activism led to the codification of war through the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

1878 saw the birth of an interesting initiative for universal peace. A decade earlier, the Polish-Russian Louis Lazare Zamenhof, having understood how the language barrier was an obstacle to universal peace, had set about the titanic task of inventing a new, easily learned, stateless language, with his mastery of a dozen Indo-European dialects.

Today, speakers in more than 120 countries around the world use this "Universala lingvo" (universal language) called Esperanto (the one who hopes) in order to facilitate communication between people of different languages and at the same time promote peace and universal solidarity. In response to this objective, a group of Esperantists founded the World Anational Association in 1921.

Other universal languages would follow, including Solresol, Volapük and Verba, Western or Interlingua, but no other constructed language, with an international vocation, would reach the same fame and diffusion.

This language (Esperanto) is necessary for international life, extremely necessary. If it were to spread throughout the world, it would be a real blessing for all humanity.

Lord John Boyd Orr

In the wake of this period of strong militancy for peace and international arbitration of conflicts, the Inter-Parliamentary Union was created in 1889. This world organization of parliamentarians, of which the French and British deputies Frédéric Passy and William Randal Cremer were the main instigators, remains, to this day, the oldest international institution of a political nature.

Its beginnings were modest: only nine states were represented by parliamentarians at the first conference in Paris in 1889. However, the organization gained legitimacy afterwards and contributed, through the links that were forged between the different parliamentarians of the world during its annual conferences, to the creation of the first international legislative structure worthy of the name, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which has been sitting at the Peace Palace in The Hague since 1899.

The PCA is a permanent intergovernmental organization providing a forum for the settlement of international disputes by arbitration or mediation.

This success opened the door to the establishment of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) in 1922 and its successor, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in 1946.

Today, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has 173 member countries, with the notable exception of the United States, which withdrew in 1988 despite having been one of the founding nations. The primary mission of the organization is now the promotion of democracy in the world.

In 1910, the New York Peace Society founded the World Federation Committee, which changed its name to the World Federation League in 1912. Federalists advocate that a world government can be established through a federation of nations, just as Switzerland exists through a federation of cantons.

There is something that is above German, Belgian, Italian, English, French, that is the citizen; there is something that is above the citizen; that is the man... People! There is only one people. Long live the universal republic!

Victor Hugo

The Great War of 14-18 began on horseback, but ended with the massive use of

tanks, submarines, planes and the chemical weapon of mustard gas. More people died in the war than in any other previous conflict.

The world's intellectuals are beginning to realize that the new technologies of war, increasingly deadly and devastating, could eventually threaten the very survival of humanity.

With this in mind, Leonard Woolf, husband of the writer Virginia Woolf, published International Government in 1916.

Also in 1916, the prolific socialist science fiction writer H. G. Wells founded the League of Free Nations Association in London. From 1902 to his death in 1946, he published a dozen essays on the necessary unification of humanity. However, it was his 1928 work, The Open Conspiracy, that received the greatest response. For the first time, one of the advocates of planetary governance explains the concrete steps to achieve it.

In 1917, the humanist, theorist of solidarism, future Nobel Peace Prize winner and French Minister of State, Léon Bourgeois, proposed the creation of a League of Nations with an international army dedicated to the preservation of peace in the world.

The same year, Sri Aurobindo, an influential Indian politician, proposed the creation of a world state in The Ideal of Human Unity. He postulates that this idea is inscribed in the very consciousness of a humanity that aspires to unity.

As proof that the idea is in the air, at the same time, Trotsky, Lenin and the Bolsheviks attempt to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat through Soviet republics and intend to pursue the dream of Marx, Engels and the socialist internationals by unifying all the workers of the planet.

In 1919, the Versailles Peace Treaty established the League of Nations, the first official structured and, above all, permanent association of states dedicated to the preservation of world peace. The international organization, which at its peak had only 45 member nations, was intended to arbitrate conflicts and was therefore endowed with the capacity to impose collective sanctions against recalcitrant countries.

A first draft of the Security Council took shape. The great powers of the early 1920s: France, Great Britain, Japan and Italy had a permanent seat. Germany briefly joined the organization from 1926 to 1933. Japan left in the same year. The nascent USSR did not join until 1934, only to be expelled in 1939 with its invasion of Finland.

The United States will never be part of the League. However, it was an American president who was the main architect of it. The Americans were eventually drawn into the European conflict, which they did not want to take part in, when American liners and merchant ships were sunk by German submarines trying to prevent supplies to Great Britain. Many American civilians and soldiers lost their lives in a war that, on the face of it, did not concern them.

It is not surprising in this context that, at the end of the First World War, Woodrow Wilson was the one who proposed the creation of the first international organization to preserve world peace. His government believed that the establishment of a rule of international law could avoid certain conflicts for humanity. After all, in 1872, the arbitration of Brazil, Italy and Switzerland in the case of the violation of neutrality by Great Britain during the Civil War, which had allowed the construction and sale of the ship Alabama to the Confederates, had prevented a war between Great Britain and the United States.

President Wilson's historic 14-point speech to the U.S. Congress in January 1918 would serve as the moral compass for the Versailles Peace Treaty and the League of Nations. However, he never succeeded in getting his Senate to ratify the American membership because they feared that the country would be forced by the structure of the organization to contribute to a peacekeeping force despite its opposition.

However, within the Council of the League of Nations, the supreme decision-making body, the practice of unanimity is widespread. The justification for this is precisely that, in the event of a military engagement to coerce belligerents, the five major powers holding a permanent seat on the Council would have to deploy the bulk of the war effort. There can be no question of this situation being imposed on them, against their will, by a simple binding majority decision of the ten members of the Council.

In the early years of its existence, the League of Nations enjoyed a certain success in arbitrating conflicts in the Balkans. The Briand-Kellogg Pact, claiming the illegality of war, signed in 1928 by 63 of the 68 states of the time, was also highly symbolic. Ironically, this pact is still in force today. The League of Nations also laid the foundations for a real disarmament policy.

But in the 1930's the stakes became higher. When Japan invaded Manchuria(1931) and Italy invaded Ethiopia(1935) the League clearly demonstrated its limitations. With the memory of the Great War still fresh in their minds, the great powers were simply not prepared to risk starting another conflict in the name of moral principles. Bourgeois's proposal for an international army was not accepted and the institution was weak and toothless.

Hitler's Germany understood that the League of Nations would not be an obstacle to its expansive projects.

To be a citizen of the world is to bet for the survival of humanity.

Jean Rostand

The preamble to the Constitution of the League of Nations states that "the Council, as the supreme executive body, shall consist of four permanent members representing the principal Allied Powers, that is to say, the victors in the war[III]".

For the specialists of international organizations Anne Peter and Maurice Bertrand, it was indeed, as for the UN thirty years later, "a treaty of alliance between victorious powers that intended to maintain the order they had established[IV]"... " This link with the Great War, as well as the institutional structure put in place, largely contributed to undermining the authority and legitimacy of the League and explains the lack of confidence in the organization[V]".

Moreover, the unanimity principle, a remnant of the Concert of Nations, whose use as a decision-making method was attempted to be restricted, was nevertheless widely used within the General Assembly. In his book, Le droit de véto, Georges Scelle illustrates well the hidden vice of the League of Nations: "Liberia, theoretically, could have opposed the vote on the budget and thereby condemned the institution to close its doors[VI]".

History proves him right: in September 1938, the votes of Poland and Hungary defeated a proposal to change the unanimity rule so that a state that was a party to a conflict could no longer prevent the council from taking measures to preserve the peace.

At the outbreak of the 1939-1945 conflict, the League was dissolved because of its inability to fulfill its sole mandate: to preserve universal peace.

Posterity would try to learn from the weaknesses of the League.


That's it for episode 7.

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[i] Jacques Charpentier, Institutions internationales, Dalloz, Paris, Collection Mémentos Dalloz, 1972, p. 8.

[ii] Georges Day, Le droit de véto dans l'Organisation des Nations Unies, A. Pédone, Paris, 1952, p. 14.

[iii] Anne Peter, "The historical development of international organizations: between technocracy and democracy ", The Roots of International Law , Leiden, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Liber Amicorum, 2014, p. 499.

[iv] Maurice Bertrand, L'ONU, Paris, La Découverte, Collection " Repères ", 1994, p. 19.

[v] Peter, Ibid, p. 500.

[vi] Georges Scelle quoted in Day, ibid, p.35

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