The Desire for Disarmament
was natural that the war should be followed by a wave of anti-war feeling.
The war had done what the writing of all the economists had failed to do:
it had demonstrated that modem warfare brought loss on a colossal scale to
the victors as well as to the vanquished. The establishment of the League
of Nations, and its early activities, showed a general determination to
find an alternative to war for the settlement of international disputes.
Yet very soon the politicians became aware of weaknesses in the League as
an instrument for peace. France, in particular, still dreading a renewal
of German aggression, had no confidence that the League could give her the
security that she needed. France wished for the League to have an armed
force of its own, ready to be sent anywhere to subdue aggression promptly
before it could spread into open war. This lack of confidence in the
League resulted in various agreements which aimed to give greater
Geneva Protocol, 1924
of the difficulties of dealing with possible breaches of the peace was
that the League Covenant did not define “an act of aggression”. As a
result, either the Assembly or the Council of the League would need to
consider each incident between two nations as it arose and then to decide
whether or not there had been such an ‘act’. Only then could it
recommend a course of action to its member-States. This vagueness and
waste of time would cause ineffectiveness and loss of confidence in the
League. From time to time various suggestions were made to remedy this
in the 1924 Assembly of the
MacDonald, Labour Prime Minister of Britain, and Edouard Herriot, Prime
Minister of France, together proposed a 'Protocol for the pacific
settlement of international disputes', more commonly known as the Geneva
Protocol. By its terms every League member would agree to submit every
dispute to arbitration and not to go to war while arbitration was taking
place. An aggressor would thus be any Power that refused either to submit
a dispute to arbitration or to accept the verdict of the arbitrating body.
Further, every member would agree to take part in a conference for the
limitation of armaments.
Protocol seemed a simple and complete solution of the problem of defining
an aggressor, but it never came into operation. Fundamentally this was
because the nations had not yet sufficient confidence in a system of
arbitration; nor, in the last resort, were they prepared to go to war in
order to safeguard some distant State where their own security was not
threatened. Britain and her Dominions, for example, had no desire to be
dragged into war again, perhaps concerning the boundary of some Balkan
country. The only chance that such an idea of mutual security would ever
become acceptable was that it might be applied regionally to groups of
nations. The members of such a group would realize that their own security
would depend upon preserving peace among their own neighbours. This was
the basis of a peace pact made in the year following the proposed Geneva
Peace Pact, 1925
first definite move was made by Stresemann, the Foreign Minister of
Germany. In February 1925 he sent to Herriot proposals for a peace pact
which was to apply to a particular region of Europe and was to be
guaranteed by France, Great Britain, Italy, and Germany. There then
followed long negotiations which by early October had made sufficient
progress to warrant a meeting of representatives of the Powers. This was
held at Locarno, a Swiss beauty-spot on Lake Maggiore. The Powers there
represented were France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Poland,
and Czechoslovakia. Agreement on the terms of the Pact was
Locarno in October and it was formally signed in London in December by the
first five Powers named above. The Pact was not a single measure but
consisted of several treaties closely related together.
first was a Treaty of Mutual Guarantee whereby all five Powers guaranteed
the existing frontiers between Germany, France, and Belgium, and the
demilitarization of the Rhineland. These three countries agreed also not
to make war on one another unless the terms of the agreement were
flagrantly broken or unless so directed by the League against an
was followed by four arbitration treaties between Germany on the one hand
and, on the other, France, Belgium, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, each of
whom undertook to settle all disputes peacefully. In the event of any one
of the signatories' failing to keep the terms of the Pact, the others
would help the aggrieved country.
Locarno Pact was an event of the highest importance in Europe. Unlike the
Treaty of Versailles, it was signed by Germany voluntarily, and she was
thereby recognized as the equal of other European Powers, which seemed a
step towards the end of Germany's bitter resentment against her
Pact of Paris (Kellogg-Briand Pact), 1928
final effort towards disarmament during the first decade after 1919 was
the Pact of Paris. Its most notable feature was not so much its contents
as the fact that the U.S.A. was one of its signatories, thus recognizing
once more her connection with and responsibility towards Europe.
first step towards this end was taken by the French Foreign Minister,
Aristide Briand, who on 6th April 1927, the tenth anniversary of the
United States' entry into the war, proposed that France and the United
States should undertake to outlaw war between themselves. In the U.S.A.
the idea of outlawing war gained slow but wide acceptance, so much so that
in December the United States' Secretary of State (that is, Foreign
Minister), Frank B. Kellogg, went further than Briand and suggested a
multilateral treaty which all States could sign binding themselves “to
renounce war as an instrument of national policy”. This idea looked
simple, but in fact it had various complications. Some of the European
nations, especially France and Britain, were bound already by the terms of
other treaties and by the Covenant of the League (of which the U.S.A. was
not a member). Further negotiations, therefore, were needed before
generally acceptable terms could be framed.
was on 27th August 1928 that the representatives of fifteen Powers met in
Paris to agree to a General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, to be
known more simply as the Pact of Paris, and sometimes as the Kellogg-Briand
Pact. The signatories renounced war as an instrument of national policy in
their relations with one another and undertook to use only pacific means
of settling disputes. Certain reservations to these promises were
necessary: the use of force was allowed for self-defence and against any
treaty-breaking State and in order to carry out responsibilities under the
League of Nations and the Locarno Agreements.
was the most thorough-going undertaking in support of peace that the
nations had ever made. Even the League of Nations had recognized that
resort to war was sometimes necessary. Had the Pact been observed
faithfully, war would have disappeared from the world. Yet, as we know
only too well, wars great and small have been occurring ever since its
signature. Its weaknesses were that it made no attempt to define
'aggression' and it set up no machinery for enforcing its own provisions.
Consequently a would-be violator of the Pact would have no difficulty in
finding an excuse for taking what he wanted or in finding some other name
for an act of aggression. When, for example, Italy decided to invade
Ethiopia she said she was taking *police action*. The nations were to
learn that the road to a warless world was a long and uphill one and there
would be many obstacles in the way. Nonetheless these attempts towards
disarmament had their value: they showed beyond doubt that the peoples
genuinely wished for peace with their fellows. As with all other reforms,
this greatest of all reforms, the abolition of war, would come only as
enlightened men, refusing to be discouraged by failure, continued to seek
it until at last it was achieved.
the efforts to limit land armaments there went a series of attempts to
reach agreement about naval armaments. The problem here seemed to be
simpler. Conditions at sea were more uniform than on land, and it would be
easier to standardize and compare the tonnages and gunpower of ships than
the wide variety of equipment used by a modern army. Also, only a few
Powers would be concerned with naval disarmament: at the end of the war in
1918 these were Britain, France, Italy, U.S.A., and Japan. This was a
sphere in which the U.S.A. was directly interested and might be expected
to work with other nations. Indeed, the U.S.A. took a leading part, and in
1921-22 a conference was held at Washington to discuss the possibilities.
In February 1922 an agreement was reached by the five great naval Powers.
This set a limit to the total tonnage of battleships according to an
agreed ratio for each nation. The result was that the United States and
Great Britain were allowed 525,000 tons, Japan 315,000 tons, and France
and Italy 175,000 tons each.
Washington Conference agreement was notable as being the first step
towards naval disarmament. More striking still, it was the first time that
Great Britain conceded naval equality with any other Power. If this
agreement could pave the way for further and more confident negotiations
towards general disarmament it would be doubly worth while. Unfortunately
the Washington Treaty, like others, soon showed weaknesses. Its terms
omitted reference to smaller craft and to submarines; and as submarines
became more and more powerful, the limitation to the tonnage of
battleships became less and less decisive.
The next step was taken in 1927 with the purpose of limiting the numbers of smaller surface vessels and of submarines. This time France and Italy refused to share in the negotiations. This was due partly to the rise of Mussolini in Italy: Fascist Italy was not inclined towards the limitation of her armaments, and France mistrusted Italy's intentions on her frontiers and in the Mediterranean. Thus it was only a three-Power conference - U.S.A., Britain, Japan - that met at Geneva in 1927. The naval circum- stances of the three differed widely. Britain with wide-flung, world-wide maritime interests and responsibilities, required a large number of light cruisers, whereas the United States, with much more continuous coastlines on the Atlantic and Pacific, wished for a smaller number of heavier ships. The resulting debates showed such divergences that the Geneva Conference broke up without reaching any agreement.
The 1935 Disarmament Conference
another effort was made in 1930 when a full five-Power conference met in
London. Once more the mutual suspicions of the French and Italians were
such that soon the U.S.A., Great Britain, and Japan were left to negotiate
among themselves. The result was a three-Power agreement for the
limitation of smaller craft and of submarines.
By this time Hitler's Nazi movement was creating a sense of general insecurity in Europe so that before long all thoughts of disarmament, on the sea as on land, were being replaced by schemes of feverish re-armament. In 1932 a conference for general disarmament met in Geneva. There were high hopes for its success, but soon the old suspicions of national motives emerged again. The hopes faded, and by 1935 the Conference was virtually dead.
S Reed Brett, European History 1900-1960 (1967)