An extract from S Reed Brett, European History 1900-1960 (1967)

S Reed Brett was a textbook writer from the 1930s to the 1960s.

 

 

EUROPE, 1919-1929

 

1.  DISARMAMENT 

 

The Desire for Disarmament.   The Geneva Protocol, 1924 .   Locarno Peace Pact, 1925 .   The Pact of Paris (Kellogg-Briand Pact), 1928 .   Naval Disarmament .   The 1935 Disarmament Conference . 

 

 

The Desire for Disarmament

It 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 all-round security.  

  

The Desire for Disarmament

The Geneva Protocol, 1924

One 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 defect.

Finally  in the  1924 Assembly  of  the  League,  Ramsay 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.

This 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 Protocol.

 

The Geneva Protocol, 1924 

Locarno Peace Pact, 1925

The 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 reached at 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.

The 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 aggressor.

This 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.

The 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 conquerors.

 

Locarno Peace Pact, 1925 

The Pact of Paris (Kellogg-Briand Pact), 1928

The 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.

The 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.

It 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.

This 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 Pact of Paris (Kellogg-Briand Pact), 1928 

Naval Disarmament

Alongside 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.

This 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. 

  

Naval Disarmament 

The 1935 Disarmament Conference 

Yet 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. 

 

The 1935 Disarmament Conference 

S Reed Brett, European History 1900-1960 (1967)