Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs

Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs

Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs

Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs

Excerpt

This book is a study of the external policies of the Commonwealth countries from 1931, the year in which the Statute of Westminster was enacted and in which also the authority of the League of Nations was first openly challenged by a Great Power, to the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. It is concerned equally with relations between the self-governing members of the Commonwealth and with the exercise by the dominions of new responsibilities in the field of foreign affairs.

It has been my aim to make this book, which is one in a series the first two volumes of which were written by Professor W. K. Hancock, complete in itself. This has meant the comparative or even complete neglect of some topics whose intrinsic importance is not in question and to which detailed reference might be expected in a work of this kind. It is my hope, however, that for the reader such sacrifices will be more than counterbalanced by the advantages of unity of theme and presentation. It has also involved some disregard of chronology, but that seems unavoidable and it is in conformity with the pattern of Professor Hancock's earlier Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, each volume of which was concerned with the study of one aspect of Commonwealth affairs over a comparatively long period. The first volume dealt, in the words of its sub-title, with 'Problems of Nationality, 1918-1936' and the second 1 with 'Problems of Economic Policy, 1918-1939'. This study of 'Problems of External Policy, 1931-1939' is intended to be complementary to both, and such duplication as exists may perhaps be excused on the ground that in so extensive a field more is generally gained than lost by analysing events and their causes in different contexts.

By 1931 the British Commonwealth of Nations, as refashioned by the reformist egalitarian sentiment of the post-war English-speaking world, had reached a certain maturity. The emphasis on theory, though still pronounced, was giving way to sober estimates of reality. The equality of status acquired by the dominions between 1926 and 1931 was felt in ever widening circles to be insubstantial and unsatisfying so long as there was lacking the requisite functional machinery for exercising the sovereign status enjoyed in principle. Independence in policy is after all conditional upon the existence of means for putting it into effect and power to back it; and the period 1931-51 is notable in the history of Commonwealth relations chiefly because these were the years in which, under the strain of crisis and the impact of war, the dominions acquired practical independence in external policy. The use they made of it tested the assumptions of the Balfour Report and the Statute of Westminster in the field of international politics for the first time.

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