Most of the principal rivers of Germany have their source or their outlet in non-German territory. The Rhine, rising in Switzerland, is now a frontier river for a part of its course, and finds the sea in Holland; the Danube rises in Germany but flows over its greater length elsewhere; the Elbe rises in the mountains of Bohemia, now called Czecho-Slovakia; the Oder traverses Lower Silesia; and the Niemen now bounds the frontier of East Prussia and has its source in Russia. Of these, the Rhine and the Niemen are frontier rivers, the Elbe is primarily German but in its upper reaches has much importance for Bohemia, the Danube in its German parts appears to have little concern for any country but Germany, and the Oder is an almost purely German river unless the result of the plebiscite is to detach all Upper Silesia.
Rivers which, in the words of the Treaty, “naturally provide more than one State with access to the sea,” properly require some measure of international regulation and adequate guarantees against discrimination. This principle has long been recognized in the International Commissions which regulate the Rhine and the Danube. But on such Commissions the States concerned should be represented more or less in proportion to their interests. The Treaty, however, has made the international character of these rivers a pretext for taking the river system of Germany out of German control.
After certain Articles which provide suitably against discrimination and interference with freedom of transit, the Treaty proceeds to hand over the administration of the Elbe, the Oder, the Danube, and the Rhine to International Commissions. The ultimate powers of these Commissions are to be determined by “a General Convention drawn up by the Allied and Associated Powers, and approved by the League of Nations." In the meantime the Commissions are to draw up their own constitutions and are apparently to enjoy powers of the most extensive description, “particularly in regard to the execution of works of maintenance, control, and improvement on the river system, the financial regime, the fixing and collection of charges, and regulations for navigation."
So far there is much to be said for the Treaty. Freedom of through transit is a not unimportant part of good international practice and should be established everywhere. The objectionable feature of the Commissions lies in their membership. In each case the voting is so weighted as to place Germany in a clear minority. On the Elbe Commission Germany has four votes out of ten; on the Oder Commission three out of nine; on the Rhine Commission four out of nineteen; on the Danube Commission, which is not yet definitely constituted, she will be apparently in a small minority. On the government of all these rivers France and Great Britain are represented; and on the Elbe for some undiscoverable reason there are also representatives of Italy and Belgium.