THE adjournment of the Geneva Conference marks a definite turning point in the negotiations for a general disarmament agreement and furnishes a good moment to take stock of the present situation in the light of developments since the war. The work of technical preparation has been carried on for slightly more than a decade. National points of view have been fully presented and publicly debated. It is now time for the decisions of a political character which will determine whether general measures of disarmament are possible in the present state of the world.

The fact that more than fifty nations were summoned to Geneva last February to conclude a disarmament treaty encouraged the public to believe that the leading military powers had agreed in principle. Hence there was a natural expectation that more would be achieved than proved to be practicable at this first session. To those who had followed the situation closely and who knew the lack of agreement on fundamentals, the resolution which the Conference adopted just prior to adjournment contained the maximum which could have been hoped for at this stage of the proceedings. It is a beginning which holds out the possibility of future accomplishment.

Before considering the work done at Geneva, we should review the events which led to the decision to proceed with disarmament negotiations despite this lack of agreement on fundamentals and despite the difficult and perplexing world conditions which existed when the Conference convened on February 2 last.

At the close of the World War it was taken for granted that some measure of general disarmament would, as a matter of course, follow the demobilization of the Allied armies and the disarming of Germany and her allies. The Treaty of Versailles held out conditional assurance of this and in 1919 no part of the Treaty caused less German opposition than the clauses which limited her own military force. In the covering letter transmitting its observations on the conditions of peace the German Government stated Germany's willingness "to proceed with her own disarmament in advance of all other peoples, in order to show that she will help to usher in the new era of the peace of Justice." The note added that Germany "gives up universal compulsory service and reduces her army to 100,000 men" and "even renounces the warships which her enemies are still willing to leave in her hands." This was contingent upon her being forthwith admitted with equal rights into "a genuine League of Nations," which should embrace all peoples of goodwill and "be inspired by a feeling of responsibility towards mankind and have at its disposal a power to enforce its will sufficiently strong and trusty to protect the frontiers of its members." This last proviso might easily be duplicated in quotations from recent French diplomatic correspondence as expressing the views of France concerning her own needs for security.

The decade after the Treaty of Versailles went into effect led to disillusionment. Reparations remained unsettled. The occupation of the Ruhr followed. Thereafter the growth of Fascism in Italy and later of Hitlerism in Germany, together with the maintenance of the Soviet régime in Russia, caused apprehension to France and her military allies. On the other hand, the increase in the prestige of the League of Nations and the results of Locarno furnished some alleviation of these fears, so that France felt justified in reducing her period of military service from three years to one year, though with this went a strengthening of the French professional army. Moreover, the aggregate military expenditures of the principal states, other than Germany, showed a considerable increase in the ten years following the war over what they had been for the corresponding period prior to the war. In fact, it is estimated that world expenditure on armaments increased from about two and a half billion dollars in 1913 to over four billion dollars in 1930.

While no real progress was being made in the reduction of land armaments during the post-war decade, the naval powers accepted drastic cuts at Washington and London, with the result that at the present time the leading navies of the world have been reduced to a point where further cuts could hardly be considered except as a part of a general program of disarmament. This fact is brought out in the disarmament plan presented by President Hoover, where for the first time an American proposal for the reduction of naval armaments is made conditional upon general measures of disarmament upon land.

The effect of the Washington and London Naval Treaties upon the development of the disarmament work can hardly be overemphasized. These achievements may seem relatively simple in retrospect; in fact they were revolutionary. The Treaty of Versailles had imposed restrictions on a vanquished foe. The Washington Treaty was a voluntary renunciation by the leading naval Powers of existing armaments and of their right to increase their naval force beyond prescribed limits. It showed that the limitation of armaments by international agreement was feasible; and the London Conference, by carrying the Washington principles still further, indicated that once an agreement is concluded, mutual reductions become easier. These agreements served to reverse the pre-war attitude that the scale of armament is solely a matter of national concern.

The limitation and reduction of land armaments, however, presented an even more complex problem than that of naval armaments. More nations were concerned, and the element of man power, and not alone that of material objects such as naval vessels, was a vital factor -- and one extremely difficult to evaluate or to control by numerical or other restrictions. Small wonder that the preparatory work carried on at Geneva for the General Disarmament Conference was long drawn out.

It was under ever increasing pressure from Germany that this work progressed. Stressing the implications of the Treaty of Versailles that her disarmament was to be the prelude to a worldwide reduction of armaments, Germany insisted that the Disarmament Conference should meet promptly. She felt that she would benefit whether it proved a success or failure. Success would mean a reduction in the armies of her neighbors; failure would furnish added weight to her contention that the promises on which her disarmament had been based had not been carried out. France had meanwhile so committed herself to the idea of holding a conference that she was in no position to ask that the work of preparation be prolonged until conditions should become more propitious. As a result, the Conference met in February without the political agreement which was essential if full advantage was to be taken of the elaborate technical work of the preceding years, embodied in the Draft Convention which suggested methods of limitation but left in blank the scale of armaments of the various countries. To make matters worse, the state of actual if not legal war existing between China and Japan gave disarmament discussions an air of unreality.

In considering the results of the Conference we must take into account the difficulties of procedure with which it had to contend. More than fifty nations were represented; each was accorded full opportunity to state its views, and many did so on repeated occasions. The result was an extended public debate in which each nation was more inclined to suggest measures calculated to bring about the disarmament of its neighbors than to indicate publicly the maximum concessions which it was prepared to accept to achieve a common result. This debate may have served a useful purpose in focussing attention on the problems before the Conference but it did not furnish a good basis for arriving at the mutual sacrifices on which eventual success depended. Thus the first two months of the session were devoted to the presentation of the national views of the participating Powers, which were then analyzed, tabulated under headings according to their subject matter, and put on the agenda.

This work had a twofold result. It showed first of all that for the Conference as a whole to consider all the subjects and theories presented would require years of work; secondly, it showed that a majority of the states favored a method of disarmament which had not been taken into account in preparing the Draft Convention. This Convention had been based upon the theory of a numerical, that is to say quantitative, limitation of armaments. The first discussions at Geneva, however, stressed the idea of a qualitative disarmament -- namely, that certain weapons particularly adapted to breaking down national systems of defense should be abolished. The principle of quantitative restrictions on the size of armies and the amount of war material was not abandoned, but it was proposed that these restrictions be supplemented by qualitative disarmament and the total elimination of specified types of arms and certain methods of warfare.

The Conference was driven to the idea of qualitative disarmament, as a necessary supplement to quantitative disarmament, by a variety of considerations. In the first place this theory had been applied to Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, which in addition to fixing numerical limitations had banned certain arms, such, for example, as the submarine, military aviation and heavy guns. It was also recognized that if there were to be solely a proportional reduction on a numerical basis, the relative security of states would remain constant. If, on the other hand, the means of defense could be strengthened by doing away with weapons which might particularly serve to break down frontier defenses, relative security would be increased through disarmament. Finally, the extreme difficulty of fixing numerical limits led the Conference to seize upon the idea of qualitative disarmament.

The first and certainly one of the important results of the Geneva Conference was thus the acceptance of the principle of qualitative disarmament and the agreement to apply it to heavy guns, tanks and military aviation. This means, in effect, that guns such as those which destroyed the forts of Liége and Namur in 1914 and facilitated the German entry into France would be banned, along with heavy tanks and aircraft suitable for long range bombardment. It is only a start; but it is a start in the right direction, and if this principle can be developed the result should be to reduce a state's power of attack and make sudden aggression, such as that of 1914, a much more risky undertaking.

In addition to adopting the principle of qualitative disarmament, the Conference, in the final resolution, reasserted the principle of quantitative limitation as applied to various types of arms. Indeed, one of its most important decisions was that which registered agreement upon "a strict limitation and a real reduction" in the size of standing armies. Here the Conference was getting at one of its major problems, since qualitative limitations or attempts to humanize warfare can hardly be adequate unless coupled with an effective limitation and reduction of the basic element of land warfare, namely, the trained soldier.

It is true that these and certain other decisions of the Conference were decisions in principle and that the exact manner of application remains to be determined and figures are still lacking; but this is not surprising when one considers that out of the almost six months during which the Conference was in session only about three weeks were devoted to actual negotiation --one week in April during the visit to Geneva of Secretary Stimson and Premiers MacDonald, Tardieu and Brüning, and two weeks just prior to adjournment, when the termination of the Lausanne Conference permitted Premier Herriot, together with his Ministers of War, Air and Navy, to meet at Geneva with the British Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, seconded by several members of the British Cabinet, and the members of the Italian, American and other leading delegations.

It is only by such consultation between France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States (which, together with Russia, account for approximately two-thirds of the world's expenditure on armaments), that the work of the Disarmament Conference can be carried forward to concrete conclusions. If such consultations fail to find the formula for the definite application of the principles accepted in the final resolution of the Conference, a further meeting of the fifty states would be futile. This statement does not mean that the other Powers are not both useful and necessary parties to any general treaty; it merely takes account of the fact that they are not called upon to make any substantial sacrifices. The same applies to Germany and her former allies. As for Soviet Russia, her agreement to any real measures of disarmament should follow if one can accept as final the statement of M. Litvinoff that the Soviet Government "was prepared to agree to complete disarmament, partial disarmament, quantitative disarmament and qualitative disarmament. It was prepared to go any length in the direction of disarmament." Eventually the South American disarmament problem might be treated as a regional matter, since the scale of armaments there does not influence armaments elsewhere in the world. As for the Sino-Japanese situation, if we must wait for the restoration of peace and order in the Far East before proceeding to some measures of disarmament, our present task would be hopeless.

At the moment France holds the key to the disarmament situation on land and in the air. It is useless to adopt resolutions or find formulas that satisfy nine-tenths of the nations of the world if France remains outside. With her allies she dominates the military situation of Europe. She considers, and quite understandably, that her present military situation gives her a large degree of security; she will be reconciled to any change in this situation only by some counter-balancing step which would maintain the relative security which she considers she now enjoys.

Security and disarmament have generally been considered as mutually exclusive ideas. To justify each reduction in armaments, the European nations have looked for some equivalent measure of protection elsewhere, such, for example, as treaties of alliance, the strengthening of the League machinery, consultative pacts, or treaties of mutual assistance. The original Tardieu plan for an international force was based on the same conception. The position of France and certain other European Powers, as stated very frankly at the Conference, was that under present conditions only modest steps towards the limitation of armaments were possible, and that more far-reaching measures should await the further international organization of peace.

For a time this attitude seemed likely to block the road to any real results at the Conference. But shortly before adjournment, and following the new incentive given the Conference by President Hoover's proposals, a new approach to the joint problem of security and disarmament was sought. The idea was developed that the disarmament treaty must be of a character to increase rather than diminish the security of the states which were a party to it. This might be accomplished in several ways. It might be done through qualitative disarmament, that is, by depriving all states of peculiarly aggressive weapons, bombing planes, large mobile guns, etc., while permitting the strengthening of permanent fortifications for national defense; or through a controlled disarmament, that is, by providing for an effective international disarmament commission which would make the scale of armaments a matter of international concern; or, finally, by marshalling world public opinion and the peace movement in every country in support of the specific measures of limitation and reduction set forth in a treaty. On this last point it is pertinent to emphasize that the weakness of the efforts of the peace societies and popular disarmament movements lies in the scattering of their efforts and the diversity of their aims. Often they strive to achieve results which lie well beyond the range of what is practical or wise at the present time, so that they are of little real aid to the more cautious but generally sincere partisans of reduction in armaments often to be found in responsible positions of government. But if the governments could give expression through an international treaty to even modest measures of arms limitation, this would furnish supporters of the peace movement in every country a common objective, namely, the maintenance and development of the principles of the disarmament treaty.

But these are not the only considerations which can be advanced to show that measures of disarmament can increase security. France, for example, has two serious military preoccupations, Germany and Italy. Germany has served notice that unless her thesis as to the "equality of rights" in the matter of armaments is recognized she will refuse further collaboration in the Geneva negotiations. This means, in effect, that Germany is endeavoring to prepare a basis for the denunciation of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty. It is not understood that Germany is asking armaments equal to those of France, or anything approaching this, but that the disarmament treaty which may fix the scale of French armaments should also fix those of Germany, and that the general clauses of the treaty should apply equally to the two countries. It is not worth while to discuss here whether or not Germany under the Treaty of Versailles has any legal right to take this position. We are faced with a practical situation of the utmost seriousness for the peaceful development of Europe -- the one, now that the reparation issue is sidetracked, which raises the most critical political questions affecting present Franco-German relations.

There seems only one solution, and that is through a general disarmament treaty under which France and Germany both agree upon the scale of their armaments. To take such a step would involve a difficult decision for France, but to the outside observer it certainly seems that France would increase her security if she could now obtain the voluntary agreement of Germany to a disarmament treaty which fixed for a period of years the scale of German armaments on approximately the present basis and to which all the leading nations of the world were parties. The alternative appears to be an open breach, with Germany claiming freedom to arm to whatever extent she chooses. Further, France now has a golden opportunity to prevent or limit the construction of certain types of arms which Germany with her extraordinary industrial development might at some future date, if freed from the Versailles restrictions, be able to construct in greater quantities than France. Take submarines, for example. If France could bring herself to join England and the United States in advocating the abolition of the submarine that weapon would in all likelihood be doomed. And once it had been abolished by treaty Germany would hardly dare in the future to propose that its construction be resumed. Looking ahead twenty or thirty years, is there not reason to believe that France would be in a much better position if there were no submarines in the world?

Let us turn now to the Franco-Italian problem. Here too a disarmament treaty could help to increase the security of each. A limitation of the number of men under arms would help protect France from the menace of a progressive increase in the Italian army -- an increase which might be much greater in Italy than in France because of the more rapid increase in the Italian population. At the same time, a limitation upon materiel of war, particularly of heavy guns and bombing aviation, would give Italy a feeling of greater security for her industrial centers, which are located close to the French frontier.

If these lines of argument can prove that through the years disarmament may well promote and not reduce security, a large step will have been taken towards meeting the entirely legitimate insistence of all countries that their national security must be their first consideration in judging of any program which reduces the present scale of their armaments. This idea is gaining headway. The resolution adopted at Geneva is only the lowest common denominator of what was deemed to be possible eventually, and is by no means the last word as to what might be realized through negotiations during the coming months.

In order that no increase in armaments should meanwhile occur to disturb these negotiations, the Conference proposed that the armament truce adopted last year on the initiative of the Italian Government should be prolonged for four months from November 1, 1932. While an indefinite prolongation of the truce would probably prove impracticable, a qualified truce applicable to the replacement of certain types of armaments might well be considered. For example, it might be possible to agree that for the period of the proposed disarmament convention certain arms (such, for example, as heavy guns, tanks, certain types of military aircraft and the like) should not be constructed. This theory has already been applied to battleships, with the result that for more than ten years not a single battleship has been laid down, nor can any be laid down by Great Britain, Japan or the United States until 1937. Governments which hesitate to throw away arms which they have recently constructed at great cost and upon representation to their people and their parliaments that they were necessary to national defense, might welcome a truce in the new construction of certain costly arms if the principle were of world-wide application. A measure of this nature might usefully supplement any agreement which can be reached for immediate scrapping. We can conceive of certain types of arms gradually becoming obsolete, and the passage of time would become the ally of disarmament. It would be unnecessary to establish ratios between countries for those weapons which time would eliminate from the armaments of all countries; and, after all, the most difficult problem we have to face is to fix various levels of armaments for different countries.

While the passage of time may prove a helpful factor once a treaty has been concluded, the indefinite prolongation of negotiations for a treaty may actually serve to keep up the level of armaments. As long as negotiations are in progress, the various states concerned are reluctant to take any voluntary measures to reduce their military forces, for fear that it will prejudice their position in the negotiations and that they may later be asked to effect further reductions from the lower levels of armaments which they have freely accepted. The story is current of a state which had an obsolete warship which the naval authorities were about to scrap as a matter of routine. This fact only reached the political branch of the government just before the sinking of the ship. Orders were at once sent to delay the operation, as to sink the ship would prejudice pending discussions with other governments regarding a basis of naval limitation. Whether the story is true or not is immaterial; it undoubtedly represents a state of mind which actually exists. Many countries will strain their financial resources to keep up their armaments until they know what treaty limitations may be agreed upon.

If general measures of disarmament are ever to be actually adopted -- and who are better qualified to carry on this work than the present generation of political leaders, all of whom have personally experienced, in one form or another, the horrors of the World War? -- some further progress should be made now, despite the disturbed international situation. The cost of past wars and the preparations for defense against future wars account for about 75 percent of our Federal budget. Other nations which participated in the World War are similarly burdened. There is little that we can do to relieve ourselves of charges resulting from the past, but as a result of the depression every government is under the strongest possible pressure to reduce present military budgets.

The test will come when the Conference reconvenes six months hence. Meanwhile the steering committee is to meet to prepare for this second session. The machinery for carrying on the negotiations remains intact, principles have been adopted and definite objectives set; but it is useless to try to persuade ourselves that anything will be accomplished merely by convoking the representatives of more than fifty nations to continue discussions. The first session of the Conference justified itself by laying a groundwork for a treaty, by bringing public opinion to bear upon the governments of the world, and by securing almost unanimous acceptance of the method of attacking the problem. The second session can justify itself only by reaching concrete agreement. The way for this must be prepared in advance. Failure to do so would mean certain disaster and leave the situation worse than if there had been no Conference.

This brief summary of the results of the Geneva negotiations and of the prospects for the future would be incomplete without a reference to the particular relation of the United States to the problem. The prominent part which the United States took, especially during the concluding days of the Conference, was puzzling to our European friends, some of whom had hoped that the quiet and rather inconclusive tenor of the debates could continue until a more propitious time for action arrived. Our interest in naval questions was, of course, fully understood; but the European Powers and Japan hardly expected that naval questions would be raised in concrete form at this time, and hence the proposals of President Hoover came as somewhat of a surprise.

The reasons for advancing the American proposals are now more generally appreciated, as is the fact that without them the Geneva Conference might have terminated with meager results and without having fixed any objective for the future. The presentation of the proposals served a variety of purposes. The European Powers had been seeking the collaboration of the United States in the work of disarmament and the United States had repeatedly indicated its willingness to assist in any real measures. The President's proposal therefore served the purpose of outlining the type of reduction and limitation which the United States felt essential, and permitted the inference to be drawn that in trivial measures the collaboration of the United States could hardly be enthusiastic. The proposals also furnished an opportunity to disclose that we were not merely asking the land Powers to reduce their armaments but were prepared, simultaneously, to accept drastic reductions in our own naval strength and in guns, tanks and aircraft. In many quarters the disarmament proposals of the President have also been linked to the question of intergovernmental debts, although no statement from any American government authority has suggested any such connection. After we have consistently maintained the theory that reparations and war debts were not legally interrelated it would hardly become us to establish any formal relationship between armaments and debts. Nevertheless, if we drop legal considerations and look only at the practical side of the problem we must recognize that there is an inter-play between all three problems. This is realized on both sides of the water. The fact that certain European Powers are not receiving reparation payments certainly has some influence upon their ability to pay their debts, though none upon their legal liability for such payment. Similarly, an agreement for limitation of armament would help to dispel the widespread impression in this country that for us to accord debt relief would merely shift European budgetary appropriations so as to bring about greater expenditure for armaments. Thus President Hoover's proposal has served to interpret to the world the steps which the American people hope can be achieved to consolidate all the efforts which have been put into the task of disarmament in the post-war period.

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  • ALLEN W. DULLES, American member of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference in 1926; legal adviser to the American delegation at the Three-Power Naval Conference in 1927, and at the Disarmament Conference in 1932
  • More By Allen W. Dulles