New Zealand and the League of Nations
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis discusses New Zealand's relations with the League of Nations from its inception in 1920 to its dissolution in 1946. Beginning with the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which created the League, the study traces the development of New Zealand's relationship with the Geneva body from an indifferent, sometimes hostile, Massey Government in the early 1920s, to the detached acceptance of the Coates and Forbes Governments in the late 1920s and early 1930s, through to the passionate support of the Savage Government in the late 1930s. The final chapter is devoted to New Zealand's sometimes prickly association with the Permanent Mandates Commission, the League body which supervised New Zealand's administration of the mandate of Western Samoa. The importance of this study lies in its extensive use for the first time of government department files covering the whole period of New Zealand's involvement with the League. This has revealed that because New Zealand's external affairs were handled by Britain in the main, this relationship with Geneva was trilateral rather than bilateral. Even under Labour, which pursued from 1935 a more independent line in League affairs than previous governments, the policies of Britain and the Commonwealth continued to exert a powerful influence over New Zealand's policy. Yet this did not mean that New Zealand governments of the 1920s and early 1930s accepted British League policy without question, especially where imperial security was concerned. Indeed, one of the main conclusions of this thesis is that while Labour was more outspoken at Geneva, it was not the first New Zealand government to take an active interest in League affairs. Another point to emerge is that Labour's strong support for the League and collective security was not simply an idealistic policy based on international morality. Rather it was seen as a practical alternative to appeasing the Fascist powers. But the Savage Government also recognised that there were limitations and thus New Zealand confined its views to disputes before the League and it never directly opposed Britain in a League vote. Yet if policy was determined in Wellington, New Zealand's image at Geneva was dictated by the personalities of its representatives to the League; the High Commissioners in London. Their activities in the Assembly and the Council, and their relations with New Zealand and British ministers and officials, are at the heart of the story of New Zealand's involvement with the League. They made a vital contribution to the development of an independent international identity for New Zealand through the League. This was despite the fact that most New Zealanders were uninterested in the League and that New Zealand governments did not deliberately seek a status separate from the British Empire. Thus the real importance of the League was its role as a catalyst for New Zealand to begin developing its own foreign policy.