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The War Effort of New Zealand

1—The Preliminary Sessions in Paris

1—The Preliminary Sessions in Paris.

The Armistice granted by the Allied Powers to the Central Empires was signed at Spa, on November 11th, 1918. It was virtually the end of the great conflict of nations—hostilities ceased forthwith after over four years of world-war on land and sea and in the air. Immediately it became the duty of the Governments of the allied and associated Powers to initiate the preliminaries of peace. These covered a wide field and constituted a task of unparalleled magnitude and difficulty. The devising and setting up of the elaborate machinery for the supreme conference in the history of mankind was in itself a colossal task. Initial mistakes were made and admitted; doubtless errors of judgment and method were in the circumstances inevitable. The intention was to secure preliminary peace within a month or two, and to reach a solid and permanent peace within a year. Difficulties and devious methods threatened at one stage to reverse the order of intention. But the aim throughout was at a just settlement. The need of secrecy often obscured the high motives of the Peace Conference—it screened completely the immense difficulties of the Allied Council.

The plan of the preliminary conversations between the plenipotentiaries of the allied and associated Powers was drawn up early in January, 1919, and there was held at Versailles a preparatory meeting of the Supreme War Council in order to settle questions of form and substance, such as the representation of belligerent and neutral States, the leading principles, the order in which questions should be examined, and the organisation of the work. A week later the huge machinery of the Peace Conference was established with ample scope for extension. The conversations between the allied Ministers were resumed on the 12th January in the French Foreign Office, at the Quai D'Orsay, Paris.

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The main body of the Peace Conference was the Council of Ten, comprising the prime ministers and foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Italy, and two plenipotentiaries each of the United States of America, and of Japan. The members of the Council at most of their conferences were M. Clemenceau (President), President Wilson and Hon. R. Lansing (America) Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George and Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour (British Empire), M. Pichon (second plenipotentiary of France), M. Orlando and Baron Sonnino (Italy) and Baron Makine and Mr. Matsui (Japan). Interpreter: Professor J. Mantoux (France). Each Power had the right to change its personnel of plenipotentiaries, and many changes were made, although the principal delegates always remained the "Big Ten." As time went on, and flaws were discovered in the secrecy of the Council's conferences, the number was gradually reduced to four—M. Clemenceau, President Wilson, Mr. Lloyd George, and M. Orlando. During the grave days of the Fiume incident, the number was only three.

The Council may be regarded as the "Steering Committee" of the Conference, with executive power. The spade work of the Conference was done by numerous Commissions and Sub-Commissions of the Conference, assisted by an army of expert advisers. The Council of Ten occasionally became the Supreme War Council, when it was assisted by the military and naval representatives of the allied and associated powers, whose separate and distinct work was carried out at Versailles and Paris.

The general procedure of the Council was to allocate to the commissions the innumerable questions at issue respecting territorial, financial, military, naval, economic, aerial and international affairs. On somewhat rare occasions the Council of Ten met in open conference with all the delegates, thus forming what was rather loosely called a plenary conference. The chief duty of the plenary conference was really to endorse the preparatory and, later, the final decisions of the Council, who exercised the sole right of determining all matters of policy. The constructive work of the plenary conference was not at any time difficult to measure. The commissions page 199were appointed by the plenary conference, but their orders of reference were prepared and issued by the Council. The commissions, in turn, divided their work into self-contained sections, and appointed sub-commissions to deal with each section and report to each main commission, which, in turn, reported to the plenary conference, or to the Council. Many of the territorial commissions were appointed by the Council without reference to the plenary conference at all. All this complicated machinery necessitated the continuous presence in Paris of an army of officials and departmental experts of many grades. Such was the mechanism of the Peace Conference. The British system, as indeed were those of all the delegations, was on similar lines as regards constitution and procedure. There was this difference, however, owing to the unique position of the British Empire: a common British policy was maintained by means of periodic meetings of the British Empire delegation, which was akin in form and work to the Imperial War Cabinet.

It was not until exactly two months from the signing of the Armistice that a definite procedure had been adopted for the Peace Conference, and a resolution was passed fixing the date of its formal opening. The representation of the Powers was fixed at five each for the United States of America, the British Empire, France, Italy and Japan, three for Brazil, two for Belgium, China, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Serbia, and the Czecho-Slavok Republic, and one for Cuba, Guatemala, Hayti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, and Siam. After much discussion it was agreed to give the British Dominions and India the following representation:—Two delegates each for Canada, Australia, South Africa, and India (including the Native States), and one delegate for New Zealand. The precedence of the great Allied Powers were fixed alphabetically, as follows:—America, British Empire, France, Italy, and Japan. It was arranged that the work of the Conference should only be made public by means of official daily bulletins—rather a weak vehicle of expression. The question as to the official language of the Conference was never really determined.

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The first plenary session of the Inter-Allied Conference was held in the Peace Rooms at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, on January 18th (three days before the New Zealand Delegation arrived in Paris). It was opened under the presidency of M. Raymond Poincare, President of the Republic of France. Twenty-two Allied Powers and States were represented.

President Poincare, in concluding an eloquent speech, said:—"This very day, forty-eight years ago, on the 18th of January, 1871, the German Empire was proclaimed by an army of invasion in the Chateau at Versailles. It was consecrated by the theft of two French Provinces. It was thus vitiated from its origin and by the faults of its founders. It contained at its birth the germ of decay and of death. Born in injustice, it has ended in opprobrium. You are assembled in order to repair the evil that it has done and to prevent, a recurrence of it. You hold in your hands the future of the world. I leave you, gentlemen, to your grave deliberations, and I declare the Conference of Paris open."

M. Clemenceau, President of the French Council of Ministers and Minister of War, temporarily took the chair, and, later, on the graceful motion of President Wilson, supported by Mr. Lloyd George, and Baron Sonnino, was appointed as permanent Chairman of the Peace Conference. The Great Conference of Paris, with all its difficulties and dangers still ahead, was at last in definite, if laboured, movement towards a goal set on the very summit of idealism.

The order of procedure was elaborated, and provision was made for the appointment of Commissions to deal with a score of vital questions, including the League of Nations, the responsibility of the authors of the war and penalties for crimes committed during the war, international labour legislation, Polish affairs, Russian affairs, the Baltic Nationalities, the States formed from the late Austro-Hungary Monarchy, Balkan affairs, Eastern affairs, international ports, railways and waterways, Jewish affairs, affairs of the Far East and of the Pacific, international legislation respecting patents and trade marks, reparation, legislation affecting pre-war contracts, treaties, economic page 201systems (transitory and permanent), finance, international river navigation, arms traffic, territorial boundaries, and claims of new states. That list, incomplete as it is, at once gives an idea of the immense task of the Conference.