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29th September 1936

17th Session

The President: His Highness the Right Honourable the Aga Khan, first delegate of India, will address the Assembly.

His Highness  the Aga Khan (India): It is now four years since I first attended an Assembly of the League of Nations. In four short years I have seen the League elated - over-elated - by success; I have seen it downcast down almost into despair by failure. Within one short year, I have seen it pass through the whole gamut of emotions.

The ideals that inspire the League were conceived at a time of moral elevation, when men and nations thought that their passions had been purged by war, and were resolved that the world should never again pass through that awful experience. Those ideals appealed to the whole of India, that land of historic and persistent idealism which I have the honour to represent.

To condemn the League, after these sixteen years of its short life, to abandon its ideals now that we have learnt that men and nations are imperfect still, would be as foolish as to condemn all philosophies, all religions, and all the idealism of the past, because of the state of the world today.

It is not in moments of depression that wisdom comes into its own, or that a wise man repudiates his ideals, those great principles which are dearer than life itself, or seeks to recast the whole scheme of his life. Nor can this be the time for us to recast the whole scheme of the League, or to abandon its ideals just because we ourselves have fallen short of them. A wise men learns from the past; he does not let the past master him. Let us not shrink from recognising the realities in us and around us; let us adjust ourselves to the needs of the moment; but let us still set our ideals before us and grope our way through fair weather and foul towards them.

I have often thought that the causes of the League's failures and rebuffs are, in the main, two- fold; and both militate against that universality which inspired the conception of the League and on which its success ultimately depends. We have stressed far too much those elements in the Covenant which made for, or seemed to make for, the crystallisation of the world as it stood sixteen years ago. But change is the very essence of life. If the League is to be a living organism, it, too, must change, or, like all living organisms, perish. But the seeds of life are present in the Covenant itself. Let them at long last fructify.

And we have at times failed because we have all too often let the better be the enemy of the good. It is an amiable weakness that besets us the more readily, the more idealistic our outlook. But the realisation of ideals in this imperfect world can only come by way of a clear appreciation of what is practical. If we aim at too high a standard, we shall not make it easier for those who have left us to return or for those who have stood out from the beginning to come in.

So I, for one, cannot believe that wisdom lies in attempting any heroic changes of our constitution, in the hour of depression. Our constitution, after all, is elastic and can be adjusted to our changing needs. Our present task is rather to tackle the many concrete problems that cry out for solution. There are problems of regional pacts, of peace, and of disarmament, and to my mind no problem is more immediately pressing, or more hopeful of possible immediate success, than that of breaking through the chains of economic nationalism which are impeding the natural course of trade between nations, and are crippling their economic life.

For years we addressed ourselves directly to the problem of disarmament, and failed. If the world is to be saved from disaster, it must be tackled anew. If the time is not ripe for us to tackle military disarmament directly, it is at least ripe for us to tackle it indirectly. Let us now set ourselves in earnest to those monetary and economic questions which form the background to much of the present world discontent. Let us promote the suggested enquiry into the accessibility of raw materials and see whether certain misgivings on this subject can be removed. And let us see whether we cannot break down the barriers of economic nationalism before they become veritable barrages of war.

In this connection, I most heartily welcome the accord between those three great Powers - the United Kingdom, France and America - that has just been concluded, and sincerely hope that it is the first step towards world economic and monetary settlement.
(29th September 1936.)