Utopia or Hell

Utopia or Hell  (1915) 
by Theodore Roosevelt

The Independent Editorials [1]


Theodore Roosevelt's Plan for the League of Nations


SHERMAN'S celebrated declaration about war has certainly been borne out by what has happened in Europe, and above all in Belgium, during the last four months. That war is hell I will concede as heartily as any ultra-pacifist. But the only alternative to war, that is to hell, is the adoption of some plan substantially like that which I have advocated and which has itself been called utopian. It is possible that it is utopian for the time being; that is, that nations are not ready to accept it. But it is also possible that after this war has come to an end the European contestants will be sufficiently sobered to be willing to consider some such proposal

The proposal is not in the least utopian if by utopian we understand something that is theoretically desirable but impossible. What I propose is a working and realizable Utopia. My proposal is that the efficient civilized nations - those that are efficient in war as well as in peace - shall join in a world league for the peace of righteousness. This means that they shall by solemn covenant agree as to their respective rights which shall not be questioned; that they shall agree that all other questions arising between them shall be submitted to a court of arbitration; and that they shall also agree - and here comes the vital and essential point of the whole system - to act with the combined military strength of all of them against any recalcitrant nation, against any nation which transgresses at the expense of any other nation the rights which it is agreed shall not be questioned, or which on matters that are arbitrable refuses to submit to the decree of the arbitral court.

In its essence this plan means that there shall be a great international treaty for the peace of righteousness; that this treaty shall explicitly secure to each nation and except from the operations of any international tribunal such matters as its territorial integrity, honor and vital interest, and shall guarantee it in the possession of these rights; that this treaty shall therefore by its own terms explicitly provide against making foolish promises which cannot and ought not to be kept; that this treaty shall be observed with absolute good faith - for it is worse than useless to enter into treaties until their observance in good faith is efficiently secured. Finally, and most important, this treaty shall put force back of righteousness, shall provide a method of securing by the exercize of force the observance of solemn international obligations. This is to be accomplished by all the powers covenanting to put their whole strength back of the fulfilment of the treaty obligations, including the decrees of the court established under and in accordance with the treaty. . . . .

No man can venture to state the exact details that should be followed in securing such a world league for the peace of righteousness. But, not to leave the matter nebulous, I submit the following plan. It would prove entirely workable, if nations entered into it with good faith, and if they treated their obligations under it in the spirit in which the United States treated its obligations as regarded the independence of Cuba, giving good government to the Philippines, and building the Panama Canal; the same spirit in which England acted when the neutrality of Belgium was violated.

All the civilized powers which are able and willing to furnish and to use force, when force is required to back up righteousness - and only the civilized powers who possess virile manliness of character and the willingness to accept risk and labor, when necessary to the performance of duty, are entitled to be considered in this matter - should join to create an international tribunal and to provide rules in accordance with which that tribunal should act. These rules would have to accept the status quo at some given period; for the endeavor to redress all historical wrongs would throw us back into chaos. They would lay down the rule that the territorial integrity of each nation was inviolate; that it was to be guaranteed absolutely its sovereign rights in certain particulars, including, for instance, the right to decide the terms on which immigrants should be admitted to its borders for purposes of residence, citizenship or business; in short, all its rights in matters affecting its honor and vital interest. Each nation should be guaranteed against having any of these specified rights infringed upon. They would not be made arbitrable, any more than an individual's right to life and limb is made arbitrable; they would be mutually guaranteed. All other matters that could arise between these nations should be settled by the international court. The judges should act not as national representatives, but purely as judges, and in any given case it would probably be well to choose them by lot, excluding, of course, the representatives of the powers whose interests were concerned. Then, and most important, the nations should severally guarantee to use their entire military force, if necessary, against any nation which defied the decrees of the tribunal or which violated any of the rights which in the rules it was expressly stipulated should be reserved to the several nations, the rights to their territorial integrity and the like. Under such conditions - to make matters concrete - Belgium would be safe from any attack such as that made by Germany, and Germany would be relieved from the haunting fear its people now have lest the Russians and the French, backed by other nations, smash the empire and its people

In addition to the contracting powers, a certain number of outside nations should be named as entitled to the benefits of the court. These nations should be chosen from those which were as civilized and well behaved as the great contracting nations, but which, for some reason or other, were unwilling or unable to guarantee to help execute the decrees of the court by force. They would have no right to take part in the nomination of judges, for no people are entitled to do anything toward establishing a court unless they are able and willing to face the risk, labor and self sacrifice necessary in order to put police power behind the court. But they would be treated with exact justice; and in the event of any one of the great contracting powers having trouble with one of them, they would be entitled to go into court, have a decision rendered, and see the decision supported precisely as in the case of a dispute between any two of the great contracting powers themselves.

No power should be admitted into the first circle, that of the contracting powers, unless it was civilized, well behaved and able to do its part in enforcing the decrees of the court. . . . .

Most certainly the proposed plan would be dependent upon reasonable good faith for its successful working, but this is only to say what is also true of every human institution. Under the proposed plan there would be a strong likelihood of bettering world conditions. If it is a Utopia, it is a Utopia of a very practical kind.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

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