The London Naval Conference: an American View

I. THE REASONS FOR CALLING THE CONFERENCE

IN the year 1929 there were two impelling reasons for opening negotiations aimed at the further limitation of naval armaments. The Washington Treaty[i] had provided for a holiday until 1931 in the construction of capital ships. Thus when Mr. Hoover became President in March 1929 he knew that within a short time he would have to face the question of building battleships. The treaty had authorized the United States to lay down fifteen new battleships of 35,000 tons' displacement between 1931 and 1939. It had authorized Great Britain to do the same. It had authorized Japan to lay down nine battleships. If the cost of one of these ships be estimated at fifty million dollars there was here the prospect of an expenditure of three quarters of a billion dollars on the part of the United States, and of nearly two billions by the three Powers combined. The common sense of the civilians fortified by the increasing skepticism of naval men abroad as to the value of battleships revolted against this destructive expenditure. It was evident that steps would have to be taken before 1931 to avert it.

An even more impelling reason for opening negotiations was presented by the situation in respect to cruisers, destroyers and submarines. They had not been regulated under the Washington Treaty. Beginning in 1924 a race of armaments had developed in these classes and after the failure of the Geneva Conference of 1927 the race had become a dangerous disturbance to the peace of the world. There was undisguised rivalry between Britain, Japan and America in large cruisers, a great tension between Britain and France over submarines, an out and out competition between France and Italy in all three categories.

Mr. Hoover acknowledged the need of agreement in his Inaugural Address, and the Baldwin government, which was soon to be replaced by the MacDonald government, was equally aware of the necessity.[ii] Active negotiations began immediately after the appointment of General Dawes as Ambassador to Great Britain, and were given a great impetus by a speech delivered on April 22, 1929, by Ambassador Gibson at Geneva before the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference. Mr. Hoover continued to push the negotiations and to arouse public sentiment.[iii]

II. THE RACE OF ARMAMENTS

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