Churchill Archive Platform - International Organizations and Instituti

Winston’s Churchill’s life (1874-1965) corresponded with some important shifts in international organization. As a soldier, journalist, politician, cabinet minister and prime minister, Churchill engaged with a number of international institutions, including the League of Nations, set up in the aftermath of the First World War, and the United Nations, established in the course of the Second World War.

The late nineteenth-century age of industrial globalization ensured that by 1900, a range of international organizations existed that aimed to improve and regulate international affairs. These institutions ranged from non-state entities focused on standardizing measurements like time-keeping, electricity voltages and common weights, to those aimed at advancing new scientific knowledge. ‘Internationalism’ as a word evolved at about the same time as did a range of globally focused political organizations, including two socialist internationals (the first set up in 1864, the second in 1889), liberal internationalist organizations like the Inter-Parliamentary Union (1889) and Institute of International Law (1873), peace organizations, anti-imperial groups like the Pan-African Association (1897) and Subject Races Committee (1907). Women’s groups were particularly adept at mobilizing themselves globally, including the International Council of Women (established in 1888), the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (1876), and Socialist Women’s International (1907).

From the 1860s on, the internationalist activism of these organizations coincided with greater multilateral cooperation between governments, who attended issue-based conferences and signed treaties and conventions that still remain in force today. The most important of these were the Geneva Conventions of 1864 and 1906, which created rules for humanitarian aid in wartime, and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which codified the international law of war.

The First World War disrupted these internationalist developments in dramatic ways. Not only did the conflict interrupt global cooperation, its conduct so blatantly disregarded many of the international laws agreed upon in the years before 1914 that it motivated a massive rethink on how international affairs might be conducted when peace returned. After 1918, the newly-established League of Nations aimed to find collective security solutions to prevent war, solve diplomatic crises and protect international trade. During the inter-war period, non-state internationalism also came into its own, much of it aimed at influencing the international conferences that were held to improve the running of the League on issues ranging from disarmament and arbitration to global health, refugee management, drug trafficking, and economic coordination.

The outbreak of the Second World War drastically disturbed the international order again. By war’s end in 1945, a new set of international organizations were formed, many under the aegis of the newly established United Nations.

Where to find documents in the Churchill Archives

The CHAR collections offer numerous insights into the internationalist nature of the early Twentieth Century. The below overview is arranged chronologically, focusing on a few highlighted documents and archives. The list is by no means exhaustive but intended as a starting point for research and reading. Advanced search facilities can provide more targeted results.

International organizations before 1914


  • CHAR 2/57/55: Letter from James Caird to Winston Churchill, 1912. Letter sent to Winston Churchill asking him to distribute a substantial cheque to aid the relief of the wounded in the Italo-Turkish War of 1912. The money was forwarded to the British Red Cross, the only humanitarian organization recognized by the British War Office.


  • CHAR 11/2: First International Congress of Administrative Sciences, 1908 (images 5-13). An invitation to the British government to send representatives to this congress to be held in Belgium to discuss how government bureaucracies can utilize the latest advances in bureaucratic and statistical sciences.
  • CHAR 21/4: Official: Cabinet: Hague Peace Conference, 1908. Cabinet’s inter-departmental committee response to the 1907 Hague Conventions, which highlights how integral the conventions on the laws of war, neutral rights and duties, and the humanitarian precepts of the Geneva Conventions of 1906 were to the British government.
  • CHAR 21/27: Official: Cabinet: Foreign Affairs, 1911. An overview of cabinet papers on a range of multilateral treaties, including the controversial Declaration of London (which was negotiated by Britain in 1910 but would not be ratified) and its effects on the law of war, wartime trade and the Geneva Conventions of 1906. The papers show how committed the British Foreign Office was to international agreements that helped to protect the interests of British empire in time of war, be it as a neutral or belligerent.

The First World War 1914-1918


  • CHAR 13/55/122: Official: Minute on Hague Conference, 1915. Letter from Edward Marsh to Winston Churchill about the ‘terrific fuss’ that is being made in the press about the British women who wish to attend an international women’s peace conference in The Hague. The women looked to find ways of promoting a judicious end to the war and advancing a range of international agendas for a post-war peace.
CHAR 28 Lady Randolph Churchill
  • CHAR 28/130: Newspaper cuttings relating to American humanitarian and Red Cross activities in Britain during the war, including in the American Women’s Hospitals for Officers and the Children’s Jewel Fund.

Inter War Internationalism: 1919-1939


  • CHAR 1/401A/43-44: Letter from the Chingford Women Citizens Association in north-east London, approving of the League of Nations efforts to maintain peace in Manchuria, after the invasion by Japan in 1931. An example of how ordinary people engaged with international events and mobilized themselves to petition their governments to action.
CHAR 2 Public and Political
  • CHAR 2/122/137: World Brotherhood Congress, 1919-1920. Pamphlet sent out by the Christian ‘World Brotherhood Congress’ reaffirming their hope that principles of neighbourliness and brotherhood might improve global relations.
  • CHAR 2/377: New Commonwealth Society for the Promotion of International Law and Order, 1937. Series of letters between the New Commonwealth Society and Winston Churchill about international attempts to promote international law and a Europa Union.
  • CHAR 2/345: General: League of Nations Union 1938 (images 2-5, 10, 12). Series of documents from the League of Nations Union in 1938 attempting to gain greater support for the principles of the League of Nations, including disarmament and collective security.
CHAR 8 Literary
  • CHAR 8/200B/202-206 ‘Shall we all commit suicide?’ Pall Mall Gazette, September 1924. A newspaper editorial written by Winston Churchill, in which he stressed the importance of the League of Nations for overcoming the challenge of war and the misuse of industrial armaments.
  • CHAR 8/500: ‘How I would procure peace’ Daily Mail 9 July 1934 (image 56). A newspaper editorial in which Winston Churchill advocated for British rearmament and a commitment to the collective security measures of the League of Nations.
CHAR 22 Official
  • CHAR 22/22: Official: Cabinet: papers 520-555, 1923-1925. Geneva Opium Conference 1923 (image 2-4). Discusses the foreign policy implications of the Geneva conference for regulating the trade of opium, including information about the International Opium Convention of 1912, which looked to control the manufacture, sale and distribution of morphine and cocaine globally.
  • CHAR 22/36: Official: Cabinet: papers 220-240. Communist Congress at Glasgow, 1925 (image 44-48). Discusses the content of the congress of the Third Socialist International, including the foreign delegates who travelled via the USSR to attend the conference, their ability to obtain visas to enter Britain, and the potential danger they posed to fomenting unrest and revolution in Britain itself. Recognizes that ‘thinking globally’ developed in many forms.
  • CHAR 22/138-139: Official: Cabinet: Imperial Conference, 1926. Papers relating to the 1926 Imperial Conference, held in London, involving the Dominion governments and India. Highlights the wide range of international and internationalist issues affecting the British Empire in the inter-war period, including the application of the laws of war, disarmament, the regulation of civil aviation, international wireless telephony and the work of the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague (which was set up in 1922). The conference also recognized that the Dominions would, from this point on, function as ‘autonomous regions within the Empire’, with their own international presence and foreign policy.

The Second World War: 1939-1945

CHAR 20 Official: Prime Minister

  • CHAR 20/27/89-90: A typed copy of the speech given by Sir Frederick Smith in 1918 entitled ‘Law, War and the Future’ on the necessity of respecting international law. Its appearance in Churchill’s files during the Second World War highlights how significant the theme of law, order and civilization were for his thinking of ‘what was valuable?’ in international affairs.
  • CHAR 20/164/71: Telegram sent by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the leader of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito, in 1944 asking him to treat all German soldiers in accordance with the international laws of war and humanitarianism.

The Post World War

CHUR 2 Personal

  • CHUR 2/21A-B: Documents relating to the Hague Congress for a United Europe of 1948, which aimed to set up what we today call the European Union.
  • CHUR 2/224: Documents relating to the international activities of a range of non-government humanitarian organizations, including the Order of Ahepa, the American & British Commonwealth Association and the American National Red Cross Association.