by Jonas Tilsted, BA in History, Intern at the UN Archives Geneva and MA Student in History at the University of Copenhagen
The Political Section was a central section in the League of Nations Secretariat. The section was an advisory and preparatory organ, tasked with advising the Council and Assembly about ongoing disputes, but did not have any formal decision-making capabilities. Because of its predominant focus on conflict resolution, it was dubbed “the Diplomatic Section” by members of the Secretariat.
The Political Section was one of the original sections created in the Secretariat, it was part of the General Organization of the League. The General Organizations was a division that the League created as a way of organizing the Secretariat. The General Organization consisted of the Secretary-General's Office, Deputy-Secretary-General's Office, Under-Secretary-General's Office, Treasury/Financial Director's Office, Political, Information and Legal Section. After the creation of the Central Section in 1933, it was also part of the General Organization. In 1934 the Library also became part of the General Organization. Other than the General Organization the Secretariat was divided in Internal Administration Services and the Special Organizations. The Covenant included several articles about how different disputes should be handled. The situation of the world after the First World War was ripe for political disputes. Many new nation-states were created after the war and many of the borders between states were not accepted by all. The creation of nation-states also meant that many new minorities appeared and were left unprotected by states. The Political Section was partially created with the objective of handling these disputes.<
There were discussions between the first Secretary-General, the British Sir Eric Drummond, the first director of the Political Section, the Frenchman Paul Mantoux, and an early American representative, Raymond B. Fosdick, about the section’s purpose and functions. Mantoux wanted his section to consist of experts who would be free to retrieve necessary information about disputes. Furthermore, he wanted the section to act before a dispute escalated. Therefore, Mantoux wanted his experts to be able to travel to given countries to investigate disputes and would-be disputes. Drummond and Fosdick believed that the section could act solely on information supplied by the state governments and other actors. The Political Section ended up being organized mostly along the lines of Drummond’s and Fosdick’s ideas. It was still composed of diplomatic experts and people who could analyze the information supplied to the section. But they didn’t have the budget to travel to countries to do the research. The League did have opportunities to create investigatory commissions and expert commissions (commissions of inquiry), but these were not what Mantoux had hoped for. Mantoux had hoped that the section could decide this without getting approval from the Council. The commissions of inquiry were often composed of people who were not part of the Secretariat. This was in order to not create disputes for the members of the Secretariat. The Secretariat did not have any decision-making powers. The commissions of inquiry did have some relative form of decision-making power because the Council were almost sure to follow the commissions’ recommendations. It could, therefore, create problems for the Secretariat if members of the secretariat were put in a position of power.
The function of the Political Section was to advise the Council and the Assembly on political and diplomatic matters. They prepared reports on different disputes and would-be disputes. The reports were based on information supplied by state governments, private organizations, the press in member states and the other sections in the Secretariat, such as the Information, Mandates and Minorities Sections. After having received the information, they would analyze the information and compile it into a report with advice on how to react. These recommendations should be completely objective and impartial; they should be based solely on the information available. They didn’t have any decision-making authority. Nevertheless, they had significant influence on the actions of the Council or Assembly since they chose which information to pass on and advised the Council and the Assembly on which actions to take. Therefore, they could also influence the the outcome of the conflicts.
They also kept an eye out for issues that could possibly turn into disputes. They monitored the actions of the member states to make sure that the Covenant and treaties were not breached. In that sense they acted as a kind of political watchdog for the League of Nations. In their work with this – as in their other tasks – they relied on information supplied to them. As part of their surveillance work, they had a folder for almost every member state and every possible conflict with information about the political situation. The collected information on would-be disputes was passed on to the Secretary-General who then judged whether it was necessary to pass it on to the Assembly or the Council for a decision.
The admission of new member states was decided by the Assembly. However, the Political Section handled preliminary research on the states asking for admission. The continuous collection of information about the political situation around the world was also useful in this case. States were not admitted if they did not fulfil certain political requirements.
Even though Drummond and Fosdick were against it, and most of the information the Political Section obtained was from member states; they did from time-to-time travel/go on missions to study a given issue. These travels regarded disputes that were not yet submitted to the Council. The Council, therefore, could not send a Commission of Inquiry. Sometimes the staff members did not travel officially as members of the Political Section, but on a private invitation from someone outside the Secretariat, while sometimes they were on an official mission from the League Secretariat. Nevertheless, they obtained information that was useful for the Political Section and the whole League of Nations.
The Political Section had three directors during its existence: the Frenchman Paul Mantoux (1919-1927), the Japanese Yotaro Sugimura (1927-1933) and the British Frank Paul Walters (1933-1939). Mantoux held the position of Director whereas both Sugimura and Walters had the position of Under-Secretary General in charge of the Political Section (for more on the role of the Under-Secretary General, see the article on Under-Secretary Generals and Deputy-Secretary Generals). This was a more prestigious position. Sugimura and Walters had a bigger role in internal questions within the Secretariat. An example of this was that they were part of the Appointments Committee – the committee that handled appointments for the Secretariat.
The people working in the Political Section predominantly had a background of diplomatic training. This was characteristic of the Political Section. The first division employees in the Secretariat became highly professionalized. Most of them had education or training that suited the section, where they were employed, the best. The background that suited the Political Section best was a diplomatic one. This characteristic can be seen as a part of a trend of professionalization in the Secretariat.
In the lifetime of the section, it had 26 first division employees. Of these 26 employees 62% had a diplomatic background. This percentage varied during the section’s lifetime. In the period 1919-1927 63% of the 8 first division employees had a diplomatic background. In 1927-1933 50% of the 10 first division employees had a diplomatic background. In 1933-1939 67% of the 15 first division employees had a diplomatic background.
The Political Section was very diverse in terms of nationality. Relative to the size of the section it had employees of a higher number of nationalities than the rest of the Secretariat. There was on average 1.95 employees for each nationality. This number was above two for the rest of the secretariat and often also quite a bit above two employees for each nationality. As with other sections the employees were predominantly European. An aspect that stands out is that the number of British and French employees was relative smaller than other sections. The number of British and French staff was still high, but not as high as the rest of the Secretariat. The Political Section was, like the rest of the Secretariat, male dominated. Especially among first division employees. In the Political Section, all first division employees were men.
The Political Section was highly placed within the internal hierarchy. For most employees it was the most prestigious section to work for. In the documents from the Appointments Committee, it can be seen that, when a position opened up in the Political Section a lot of people already in the Secretariat applied. It was also a wish from different states to get an employee from their country in the section.
UN Archives Geneva
Paul Joseph Mantoux, born in 1877 in Paris, was part of the French delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. He was the first director of the Political Section of the League of Nations Secretariat. His contract started on January 10, 1920. He took up the duties of this position earlier than this. He was part of a discussion with Eric Drummond, and Raymond B. Fosdick in September 1919. Drummond also asked him in September 1919 to come to London, where the plans for the secretariat was drawn up. On December 19, 1919, Drummond officially offered him the position. This happened after Drummond had made sure that Mantoux was willing to accept the position. The official date for the Start of Paul Mantoux’s contract was later set to January 10. He was given a 7-year contract, which was the longest contract possible at that time. As with the other first-generation directors the appointment was provisional and had to be formally confirmed by the council on their first meeting. Mantoux’s contract was confirmed by the Council in May 1920. Mantoux received a pay of 2500 pounds a year until December 31, 1921. From January 1, 1922, he was paid 53000 francs a year (for more on the League’s finances, see the article in this research guide on the Secretariat in financial terms). After his 7-year contract he stopped working for the Secretariat.
UN Archives Geneva
Yotaro Sugimura, born in Tokyo, Japan, September 29, 1884, was the second person in charge of the Political Section. He held the position of Under Secretary General (USG) in charge of the Political Section. Further, Sugimura was a part of the Appointments Committee. A prestigious post with great influence on who was hired to work for the Secretariat. He was a Doctor of Law. Before being appointed as the USG in charge of the Political section he was the plenipotentiary for the Japanese office to the League of Nations. Sugimura’s appointment was confirmed by the council on December 6, 1926. His contract started January 15, 1927. He was given a 5-year contract, at 75.000 francs a year. On top of that he was given an entertainment allowance of 12.500 francs a year. This entertainment allowance was not unique to Sugimura. It was something that all USGs got. Sugimura’s pay was significantly higher than that of Mantoux. This reflects the difference in position and the difference in prestige between the two positions. After Sugimura’s 5-year contract ended he received an extension lasting until January 14, 1935. Sugimura resigned on March 31, 1933. Sugimura felt forced to resign due to the Sino-Japanese conflict and the Japanese withdrawal from the league. Japan announced their withdrawal on February 24, 1933. Sugimura resigned the day after this. His last day working for the League was March 31, 1933. Drummond was sad to see Sugimura leave. Drummond thought very highly of him; and Sugimura was not forced to leave but left on own initiative.
UN Archives Geneva
Frank Paul Walters
Frank Paul Walters, born in Castletown, Isle of Man, on June 4, 1888, was the third person in charge of the Political Section. Like Sugimura, Walters had the position of Under Secretary General in Charge of the Political Section. Also, like Sugimura, Walters served on the Appointments Committee. He did so from 1933 until his resignation. Before joining the League, Walters was private secretary to Lord Robert Cecil during the Paris Peace Conference. Walters joined the League in 1919 as personal assistant to the Secretary-General, Sir Eric Drummond. On January 10, 1920, he became Member of Section “A-class” for the Secretary-General’s office, six months later he was promoted to Chef de Cabinet of the same office. On January 1, 1931, he was assimilated to Chief of Section. On July 1, 1933, Walters got the position of Under Secretary-General in charge of Political Section on a 7-year contract. He received a salary of 60.000 francs a year with an entertainment allowance of 10.000 francs a year. This was significantly lower than Sugimura’s, but higher than Mantoux’s. On June 1, 1939, before his 7-year contract had ended, he was promoted to Deputy Secretary-General (for more on USG and DSG see the article in this research guide concerning USG and DSG). Walters resigned from his position on May 29, 1940. Walters is an example of the increased internal promotion to the higher positions of the League, that came to be a characteristic of the League in the later periods, and especially from 1933-1939.
R552/11/1169 - Discussions about the functions of the Section
R544/11/381 - Material about political information supplied by a delegate from a member state
R/544/11/304 - Political Information about the countries can be found under registry files - example of information on Korea
S954/263, S955/264, S956/265, S957/266 & S958/267 – Appointments Committee
28 (Reg.19-27) – Registry files regarding admissions of countries 1919-1927
R1455/29/255 – Organisations of the Secretariat
S825/130/2302 – Personnel file of Paul Mantoux – available upon request
S902bis/207/3684 – Personnel file of Frank Paul Walters – available upon request
S889/194/3406 – Personnel File of Yotaro Sugimura – available upon request
R1600/40/36909/36909 - Aghnides reports on his recent Trip to Greece
Mantoux/p154/1-Mantoux/p154/13 - private archives of Paul Mantoux
Some disputes handled by the section and resources on them
Aaland Islands (1919-1921) one of the first disputes handled by the League after the creation.
R544-R547/11/468 – Registry files on the Aaland Islands dispute
Greco-Bulgarian Crisis (1925)
11A (Reg.19-27) – Registry files regarding the problem and dispute in Upper Silesia
S3/3 – Sections Files Regarding Upper Silesia
Manchurian crisis – Sino-Japanese dispute & Lytton Commission Papers
Exchange of Greek and Turkish population
Dispute between Poland and Lithuania
Tilsted, Jonas. Diplomatiske relationer i mellemkrigstiden: En analyse af Folkeforbundets Sekretariatets politiske sektion. bachelor thesis, University of Copenhagen, 2023. (Available upon request to the author)
Kahlert, Torsten. ”Pioneers in International Administration: A Prosopography of the Directors of the League of Nations Secretariat.” New Global Studies 13, no. 2 (2019)