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SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE CONDUCT OF OUR FOREIGN
BY THE HONORABLE CHARLES E. HUGHES
Secretary of State of the United States
I desire to take this opportunity to present some observations on the conduct of our foreign relations, not to define particular policies, but to consider method and control.
Recent developments abroad have marked the passing of the old diplomacy and the introduction of more direct and flexible methods responsive to democratic sentiment. Peace-loving democracies have not been willing to rest content with traditions and practices which failed to avert the great catastrophe of the world war. Public criticism in some instances overshot the mark and becoming emotional enjoyed the luxury of a bitter and indiscriminate condemnation. The most skilled diplomats of Europe were charged with having become "enmeshed in formulae and the jargon of diplomacy”; with having "ceased to be conscious of pregnant realities”. More potent than the critics were the exigencies due to the war which required the constant contact and direct interchanges of responsible leaders. The aftermath of problems has made necessary the frequent use of similar methods permitting concert, flexibility, more frequent informal intercourse, and decisions which, if not immediate, are relatively speedy. The international conference attests the new effort to achieve the necessary adaptation to new demands. An eminent chronicler of European conferences tells us that he has attended over five hundred international meetings since 1914. There has been a corrresponding stirring in foreign offices, modifications of the old technique and a new sense of responsibility to peoples.
It would be a shallow critic who would associate the United States with either the aims, the methods or the mistakes of the traditional diplomacy of Europe. To her "primary interests", as Washington said, we had at best "a very remote relation". We have had no part in the intrigues to maintain balance of power in Europe and no traditions of diplomatic caste. From the outset-from the first efforts of Benjamin Franklin-American diplomacy has deemed itself accountable to public opinion and has enjoyed the reputation of being candid and direct. It has opposed circumlocution and unnecesssary ceremonial. Its treaties have been open to the world. Indeed, instead
1 Address at the Commencement of the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, on Monday morning, June 19, 1922.
of being burdened by the artificialities, reticences and intriguing devices of an organization essentially aristocratic, instead of holding itself aloof from the current influences of politics, the organization of our instrumentalities of foreign intercourse has rather suffered from too much regard for politicians and too little attention to the necessity for special aptitude and training. But, while we have thus been immune from most of the destructive criticism visited upon old world methods, we also feel the pressure of a heightened demand for popular control, and it is essential that we should carefully consider the relation of public opinion to the conduct of our foreign relations, its proper aims, the special dangers in this field if public opinion is unintelligent or misdirected, and the conditions of the wholesome exercise of its authority. In the sphere of international action, the people have peculiar obligations as well as power, and education for citizenship implies a just appreciation of civic responsibility when peoples are dealing with each other as peoples and not merely determining domestic policy and settling internal disputes.
President Lowell has reminded us that, in asserting the final control of public opinion in popular government, the opinion to which we refer must be "public" and must really be “opinion". It imports the conviction of the people as a whole that the prevailing view expressed in the manner appropriate to our institutions should be carried out. It embraces deep-seated convictions due to the influence of tradition, authority or suggestion. In new conditions, where familiar standards are not involved, it is developed in a rational process by consideration of what are supposed to be the facts of the particular case.
It becomes at once apparent how difficult it is to develop true public opinion in relation to matters of foreign policy. There are, of course, certain viewpoints of the American people which are readily recognized, as they represent accepted postulates formulated and approved by generations of American statesmen and which could be changed only by a revolution of opinion. But in a host of matters, indeed in most cases, there is no such criterion. There are complicated states of fact which cannot be understood without an intimate knowledge of historical background and a painstaking and discriminating analysis of material. There are situations of controlling importance which are wholly unknown to the general public, and which cannot be appreciated without the special information available only to officers of the Government. The people cannot judge wisely without being informed, and the problem is how to inform them. Lack of accurate information does not imply any check upon the dissemination of what passes for fact or the withholding of comment or criticism however mistaken in its assumptions. The multiplied facilities of communication are always in use, and the processes of conjecture and suspicion go on uninterruptedly. In dealing with the problem of developing sound opinion, the fundamental consideration must always be that misinformation is the public's worst enemy, more potent for evil than all the conspiracies that are commonly feared.
Moreover, the difficulty of maintaining a true perspective and a distinctively American opinion in the field of foreign affairs is greatly increased by the natural and persistent efforts of numerous groups to bend American policy to the interest of particular peoples to whom they are attached by ties of kinship and sentiment. The conflicts of opinion and interest in the old world are reproduced on our own soil. Then there are the various sorts of propaganda by which organized minorities and special interests seek to maintain a pervasive influence.
Whatever the advantages of our governmental arrangements—and I should be the last to under-estimate them-I think it should be candidly admitted that they have the effect of limiting the opportunities for the responsible discussion which aids in the understanding of foreign policy. The conduct of foreign relations pertains to the executive power, and the executive power of the Nation is vested in the President, subject to the exceptions and qualifications expressed in the Constitution. Practice under the Constitution has abundantly confirmed the initiative of the President in the formulation of foreign policy.
The wisdom of this disposition of power has been fully demonstrated, for in view of the nature of the task, the delicacy of the negotiations involved, the necessity for promptness, flexibility and unity of control, this authority could not well be lodged elsewhere. But the separateness of the executive power under our system, while it has advantages which have been deemed to be of controlling importance, deprives the Executive of the opportunities, open to parliamentary leaders, of participation in parliamentary debates. Official communications are made by the President in the discharge of his constitutional duty. The Department of State, which is the instrumentality of the Executive in connection with foreign affairs, makes its public announcements. The Secretary of State appears before committees from time to time and gives the information which is asked. But there is lacking the direct personal relation to the discussions of the Senate when foreign affairs are under consideration. The Secretary of State, acting for the President, may negotiate an important treaty, but he has no opportunity to explain or defend it upon the floor of the Senate when its provisions are under debate. The knowledge which is at his command is communicated in formal writing or merely to those members who sit upon the appropriate committee. The advantage of oral explication and of meeting each exigency as it arises in the course of discussion and thus of aiding in the formation of public opinion in the manner best adapted to that purpose is not open to him. There are numerous situations in which an opportunity for the Executive through his Department Chiefs to explain matters of policy would be of the greatest aid in securing an intelligent judgment. As President Taft said, "Time and time again debates have arisen in each House upon issues which the information of a particular Department Head would have enabled him, if present, to end at once by a simple explanation or statement". This is especially true in relation to foreign affairs where the Department concerned has sources of information which generally are not available to others.
I should not favor a change in the distribution of power or any modification of practice which would encourage the notion that the Executive is responsible to the legislative branch of the Government in matters which under the Constitution are exclusively of executive concern. I should also deplore any method so contrived as to facilitate antagonism between the executive department and legislative leaders or which would merely provide opportunities for the censorious. But speaking in my private capacity and expressing only a personal opinion, I do believe in multiplying the facilities for appropriate cooperation between responsible leaders, who understand their respective functions, in a manner suited to the full discussion of great international questions when these fall within the constitutional competency of the Senate. To enable Cabinet officers to vote in either House of Congress would require a constitutional amendment and I should not favor it, but it is quite consistent with our system that the Head of a Department should have the opportunity personally to be heard where important departmental measures and policies are under consideration. Indeed, the propriety of this method of promoting a better understanding was recognized at the outset, and instead of being foreign to our system it found for a time a place in our original procedure. You will remember that the long continued abstention from such appearances followed the refusal of Congress in 1790 to hear Hamilton when he desired to make in person his Report on the Public Credit. Mischiefs will not be cured by methods which make misapprehension easy. Every facility should be provided, consistent with our system, which will aid in avoiding misconstruction, allaying suspicion and preventing unjust aspersions. The remedy for misunderstanding is explication and debate and the opportunity for thus informing the public judgment in a responsible manner should not be curtailed by any unnecessary artificiality of method.
The paramount importance of contact with the Press is fully recognized, but in the nature of things, this contact for the most part must be informal. Occasional public announcements are expected, but the representatives of the press desire to write in their own way and to obtain material by their own inquiries. What is desired is not control of news but accurate information. To meet this demand, the President himself meets the correspondents twice a week and Department Heads still more frequently. The Secretary of State has two press conferences each working day at which either the Secretary or the Under Secretary is present. The officers are not quoted, but there is frank disclosure of facts and aims within the widest possible limits. There is thus the most direct contact with those who are the principal purveyors of information and the chief educators of the public. This is our substitute for parliamentary interpellation. It is in this manner that, in substance, account is rendered to the final authority.
But open diplomacy must still be diplomacy, and it cannot be open at the cost of losing its essential character and of frustrating its proper purposes. By diplomacy, I mean the art of conducting negotiations with foreign Powers, and when we refer, with suitable discrimination, to open diplomacy, we have in mind the appropriate publication of international engagements, and, with respect to negotiations, the absence of intrigue, the avoidance of unnecessary secrecy, candor and directness. The diplomacy of the United States has been, and is, open diplomacy.
The management of negotiations with foreign Powers, however, has its essential conditions which relate (1) to the interest of one's own State; (2) to the requirements of honorable intercourse between States; and (3) to the maintenance of international good will. These conditions impose a measure of reticence in the course of negotiations, with which the most high-minded negotiators cannot afford to dispense. Thus Washington, maintaining the right of the President to refuse information with respect to pending negotiations when he deems its disclosure incompatible with the public interest, said:
The nature of foreign negotiations requires caution, and their success must often depend on secrecy; and often when brought to a conclusion a full disclosure of all the measures, demands, or eventual concessions which may have been proposed or contemplated would be extremely impolitic; for this might have a pernicious influence on future negotiations, or produce immediate inconvenience, perhaps danger and mis
chief in relation to other powers. Even the most democratic governments must desire to succeed in their negotiations, and there is no reason why democracy should turn upon itself and deprive its agents of its essential means of defense. Premature disclosures may prevent the accomplishment of the most enlightened aims, giving opportunity for the insidious efforts of selfish interests as well as favoring opposition abroad. If both the peoples and governments concerned were in complete accord, there would be no need for negotiations, and when they are not in accord and are endeavoring to reach a basis of agreement, it is fatuous to suppose that negotiations can be conducted without prudent reservations on each side. The observations that are sometimes made on this subject seem to presuppose the existence of some dominant external authority which can impose its will, whereas the peoples concerned are themselves sovereign, and if they are not to resort to force, they must have opportunity to reach an agreement mutually satisfactory. The wholesome pressure of world opinion for peaceful solutions is quite consistent with such a conduct of negotiations as will make peaceful solutions possible.
As the parties to the negotiations deal with each other upon the basis of the equality of States, they must recognize the obligations of honorable intercourse between equals. The confidence with which suggestions are received must be respected. Each must be free to make tentative suggestions and withdraw them. There must be opportunity for the informal discussion which does not represent the final stand of governments, but reflects the