The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
HAVING taken part at various intervals during the past three years in discussions and negotiations bearing on a reduction and limitation in armaments, I am persuaded that there is no subject on which it is quite so difficult and yet so necessary and important to get general international agreement. There is, indeed, no problem that involves more intricate technical and political questions affecting national pride and ambition, or national policy and security.
Nations will not discard their arms or limit their sovereign right to arm unless, or until, they are convinced that it is safe and in their interest to do so. And yet, in spite of all the delays -- due to the difficulties inherent in the problem itself and to the opposition of those who do not believe in disarmament or who have a selfish interest in opposing it -- progress has been made. The conviction is growing that it is a practical problem which can and must be solved. Such a vital issue will not down.
The regulation of armaments by international agreement is a comparatively new question. There were, it is true, a few restricted agreements relating to armaments between two adjoining countries, such as that between the United States and Canada, over a century ago, based on a political understanding not to maintain naval forces on the Great Lakes, which promoted confidence and benefited both sides. In 1899, when the gravity of the armaments problem had become such as to cause concern, an effort was made at the Hague Conference to arrive at an understanding to stop for a limited period any further increase in land and naval armaments. Due to the opposition of certain delegates -- notably those of Germany -- and to national ambitions and rivalries which were stronger than the consciousness of a common interest, the realities of the situation were not truly faced and this effort failed. The result was that fifteen years thereafter the nations were plunged into the greatest of all wars. As a consequence of this war, the reduction and limitation of armaments by general international agreement began to be a pressing and vital issue; and still so remains.
Whereas in former times wars were fought out between the armed forces of the nations involved, modern warfare is conducted by a whole nation and waged against helpless women, children and other non-combatants, with a view to breaking down the morale of an enemy country and inflicting every possible damage upon a people as a whole. Out of the horrible experience of the World War there grew an overwhelming conviction that positive steps must be taken to prevent another such calamity and, since the policies which were expressed in the suicidal armaments race during the preceding decades had been a contributing cause of that war, a new conception regarding armaments was incorporated as a fundamental part of the settlement at the Paris Peace Conference.
With a view to preventing a future race in armaments it was then, in effect, agreed that armaments had ceased to be a question of purely national concern and that measures should be taken for their general limitation. As a first step in this direction the armaments of the defeated Powers were reduced to a basis which would render aggression on their part impossible and would suffice only for the maintenance of internal order. As a further move looking towards multilateral disarmament, the victorious powers voluntarily assumed an unprecedented obligation to take steps to reduce their own armies and armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. For various reasons, few of these contemplated steps for the reduction of land and air armaments have been taken. They nevertheless have been a subject of almost continuous study and negotiation, particularly, during the past three years, at the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. This Conference has not yet achieved the results hoped for; but it remains the only agency in existence for securing agreement or exhausting every possibility of agreement. Failure to make greater progress has been at times discouraging. But it is a significant fact that the nations still desire to keep the Conference going and to avoid the alternative of its failure.
I might add that a very important phase of the armaments question will be discussed in Geneva in the near future. The appropriate commissions of the Disarmament Conference have been summoned to work out a treaty, to enter into effect with the least possible delay, which will provide for the treatment of the manufacture of and traffic in arms, budgetary publicity, and the setting up of a permanent central body to oversee the treaty's functioning. The American Delegation has presented a draft which it is hoped will form the basis of this treaty, and the attitude of the various Powers, already expressed, justifies the hope that real accomplishment in this field may be expected. Let no one think that in the manufacture of and traffic in arms we are dealing with a secondary question. Publicity and certain measures of international control would remove some of the worst evils of the arms traffic and help to alleviate many apprehensions of various Powers with respect to one another.
Although no agreements on air and land disarmament have been reached as yet at Geneva, very definite and far-reaching steps in naval disarmament were taken at the Washington Conference in 1922, when the five principal naval Powers agreed to reduce and limit battleships and aircraft carriers, and subsequently at the London Naval Conference in 1930, when Great Britain, Japan and the United States agreed to extend limitation to all other categories of naval craft.
The disarmament problem, like most other problems, is a continuing one, not susceptible of quick or permanent settlement. Naval disarmament, which had been settled for a period, and which was largely quiescent since the conclusion of the London Treaty in 1930, necessarily became active once more in the course of last year because of the provisions of that Treaty calling for a new conference in 1935 to frame a treaty to replace and to carry out the purposes of the existing one, following its automatic expiration at the end of 1936. To this end, preliminary conversations were held in London last summer and autumn on the initiative of the British Government. These were formally adjourned on December 19, 1934, and Japan's notification ten days later of her intention to terminate the Washington Treaty brought to a conclusion the first phase of the renewed consideration of naval limitation. It would be a great mistake, however, to treat either of these two events as setting a definite period to all naval discussion. On the contrary, the London talks were specifically suspended "in order that the Delegates may resume personal contact with the Governments and the resulting situation can be fully analyzed and further considered." Moreover, the participating Governments agreed to keep in close touch with each other and with the other Governments parties to the London and Washington Treaties, with the hope that "the situation will so develop as to justify a subsequent meeting as soon as the opportune moment arrives," in which case the British Government would again take the "appropriate steps." Finally, the denunciation of the Washington Treaty, by formally reopening the entire problem of naval limitation and of the basic principles and methods by which it had been achieved in the past, has greatly increased the actuality and immediacy of the subject for each naval Power.
While diplomatic discussions and negotiations are thus for the time being in abeyance, the issues with which they have dealt, and must again deal in the future, are now in a state of intra-governmental consideration. I therefore do not feel at liberty to discuss publicly the present situation in detail. It is indeed the better part of responsible statesmanship to avoid, at this juncture, any statements which might create misunderstanding or ill-will and adversely affect ultimate agreement. As you will realize, it is not merely or even primarily a technical naval question which is now involved; for while each of the Governments concerned is considering the questions raised with regard to naval limitation, they are also in the process of examining policies and principles which have a vital bearing on that whole complex problem commonly known as the "Far Eastern problem."
And I may here point out that, although the United States has most important interests and treaty rights and treaty obligations in the Pacific and the Far East, the so-called Far Eastern problem is not exclusively an American-Japanese problem. Neither is it exclusively an Anglo-Japanese, a Franco-Japanese, an Italian-Japanese, A Russo-Japanese, a Netherlands-Japanese, or even exclusively a Sino-Japanese problem. It is a common problem of all the nations with possessions and treaty rights and obligations in that area; and it is the duty of such nations, and in their interests, to coöperate in a friendly and constructive way. My hope and belief is that a solution through coöperation and common agreement can and ultimately will be found. For the present, however, it may be interesting and helpful to give a general analysis of recent developments in relations to the basic policy of the United States.
Although last year's conversations, as I have stated, were initiated under the London Naval Treaty and remained largely circumscribed by its provisions during the first stage, lasting from the middle of June until the end of July, they became broadened in scope after their resumption in October, as a result of suggestions and proposals submitted by the Japanese Delegation (which then actively participated for the first time) covering the entire field of naval limitation as embodied not only in the London Treaty but also in that of Washington. The result was that every aspect of the naval problem was fully and frankly considered. It was not, however, the purpose of these preliminary conversations to reach definite conclusions. The talks had no purpose other than to explore and prepare the ground for future negotiation and agreement. Moreover, while the French and Italian Governments, as parties to the Washington Treaty and signatories to that of London, were kept currently informed of developments, they did not actively join in the conversations but would, of course, become full participants in any later negotiations intended to reach final solutions.
It would be idle to maintain that important differences of opinion did not develop in the course of the talks or that it was possible to reconcile all of them. I can assure you, nevertheless, that the frequent rumors of sharp clashes and frayed nerves were idle speculation. I have attended many an international discussion during the past few years and none was more calm, frank and amicable than that from which I have just returned. All three participating Governments were in accord in advocating continued naval limitation by international treaty; all three recognized the need for bringing about as large a reduction in total tonnages as could be agreed upon; each was profoundly aware of the dangers involved in arms competition and anxious to avoid a recurrence of a naval race. There were, however, two distinct points of view as to the methods of achieving this common end, partly as a result of divergent views on fundamental principles. Questions of principle, indeed, were at all times in the forefront, and technical problems, to the extent that they arose at all, were always subordinate. When I consider the long and futile wrangling over purely technical questions which often occurred at the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, largely because of failure boldly to face an underlying conflict of theory, I find, in looking back on the recent London talks, that perhaps one of their most valuable features was the realistic manner in which the delegates recognized the importance of tackling at once the basic difficulties of principle and policy. There was a general absence of haggling over details and a continued facing of rock-bottom issues.
The dominant issue involved was that of "equality of security" versus "equality of armaments." I should like to state with all the emphasis of which I am capable that I regard -- and I know the President regards -- equality of security as a fundamental sovereign right of each Power. If arms equality were the only means of making that right effective, I would be the first to advocate it. It is evident, however, that equality of naval armament not only fails to give equal security, but that on the contrary it is utterly incompatible with equal security. A moment's consideration of the widely varying defensive needs of individual nations, due to such factors as geographical location, coast lines, distribution of outlying territory, commerce on the sea, combined strength of land, sea and air forces, et cetera, makes this clear. It is just because equal security was the guiding concept that the Washington Conference was a success and was able to achieve not only limitation but also a drastic reduction of naval armaments.
Although the word "ratio" is not mentioned in either the Washington or London naval treaties, the relative naval strength fixed by the Washington Treaty for the United States, Great Britain and Japan resulted in a ratio of 5-5-3 or 10-10-6. The significance of this has been somewhat misunderstood. It has been erroneously considered by some to mean or imply a different degree of national prestige or sovereign right, whereas it means nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, military power consists of a navy, an army and an air force, and the combined strength of Japan in these three branches of arms is greater than that of the United States; yet even so, I do not consider that this affects the national prestige of America.
The simple truth is that at the Washington Conference of 1922 it was recognized by all that much harm and no good could come from the naval race which was then in progress; that the only way to stop it was to stop it where it was; and that to do so it was necessary to settle certain underlying political questions and to readjust and fix naval strength on a basis which would give mutual confidence and security. On such a basis the United States, which had a potential lead in the race which would shortly have given it naval primacy, willingly agreed to give up its lead and to reduce and limit its navy in the interest of peace and coöperation. It was recognized that while there was a difference in total naval strength or tonnage, which was due in the first instance to the difference in actual needs, each Power was entitled to equal security. And it was at the time fully agreed by the representatives of the United States, Great Britain and Japan that the naval treaty, together with the other agreements made, established equal security.
Once there had been established a definite equilibrium through mutual agreement providing all-around security, any further proportionate reduction in armaments could not disturb this balance but, on the contrary, would tend to increase the sense of security of each country in equal measure. Thus it was only on the foundation of the equal security created at Washington in 1922 that a further limitation and reduction of naval armaments could be achieved at London in 1930. On the same basis, the proposals which I recently made at London on behalf of the United States, for a substantial all-around reduction in naval armaments in such manner as not to change the relative strength of the nations concerned, could in no sense jeopardize the security of any of these states. In all my long association with the disarmament problem, I have been able to discover no alternative method of arms reduction which does not alter the delicate equilibrium on which equal security rests.
In using the term "equilibrium," I am not thinking exclusively or even primarily of relative strengths in armament. The balance which was established at the Washington Conference was not in the first instance one of naval tonnage. The work of the Conference was an integrated whole which had as its primary purpose, and which in fact accomplished, a political appeasement. A collective system of coöperation for the maintenance of peace in the Pacific and the Far East and for mutually beneficial economic development was established, which increased confidence and reduced the causes for suspicion and aggression. On this foundation of security in the political, economic and psychological spheres was built the naval agreement which offers equal security to each country in the sphere of naval armaments.
I have dealt thus far with the main principle at issue, that of equal security versus equal armaments; a secondary one is that relating to offensive weapons. The idea has been advanced that aggression can be prevented solely by abolishing so-called offensive weapons. That is a fallacy. In land warfare certain armaments are used almost exclusively for initial attack and invasion, but in naval warfare it is not possible to make such a distinction between offensive and defensive armaments. In fact, in case of war, any armed naval vessel may become offensive as well as defensive once it gets beyond the three-mile limit.
Even agreements between the most heavily armed Powers not to attack one another are not sufficient to prevent aggression. As experience has proven, peace is disturbed less often by the attack of one strong nation upon another strong nation than by the attack of a strong nation upon a weak and helpless one.
It is an obvious fact that the United States has no territorial ambitions anywhere. If we had had any aggressive design in the Far East we would not have agreed to surrender naval predominance and to withdraw from the Philippines and we would not have entered in 1922 into the Naval Treaty by which we undertook not to increase our fortifications in the Western Pacific. The aim to which the United States is dedicated is to be a good neighbor, respecting the rights of all nations both weak and strong, and to coöperate in the promotion of world peace and progress. No other country need fear any serious disagreement with us unless it disregards treaties to which we are a party and invades and impairs our rights.
As a result of my official service in the cause of disarmament, I am convinced that the method of the Washington Conference is the prototype for every effective effort to solve the armaments problem, whether on the sea, on land, or in the air. I do not imply that reduction of armaments is not in itself a vital factor in promoting and strengthening peace. From the beginning of the international disarmament movement, the United States Government, irrespective of the party in power, has been a consistent advocate of the thesis that limitation of armaments, followed by their proportionate reduction, generates a sense of security and fosters mutual trust and friendship. The primary purpose and advantage of disarmament is to increase confidence and security and to put a curb on aggression. The effect is more assurance of peace, less taxation and greater economic progress. Nevertheless, it is equally true that, without a foundation of international coöperation to remove the causes of political and economic conflicts and to assist in their settlement in an orderly way, no nation is willing to limit its armaments, not to speak of reducing them. Political and economic instability is the breeding ground of every armaments race.
The meagre results to date of the General Disarmament Conference at Geneva can be traced directly to the international political unsettlement that has held the nations of Europe in its grasp during the past years. But recently there has been manifest a definite trend towards finding a solution to the political problems of Europe through international collaboration, and the tension on the continent has been eased to a considerable degree by a series of interrelated steps effected through a spirit of mutual accommodation. Already there is a growing indication that the disarmament effort may be resumed shortly with renewed determination.
Thus in a different part of the world, and under vastly different circumstances, we are witnessing a demonstration of the essential truth wisely recognized and effectively applied at the Washington Conference, that there is no other path toward the limitation and reduction of naval or other armaments than by a frank facing of the political and economic problems disturbing the relations and hence the security of states. There is nothing in the Far Eastern situation essentially incapable of settlement by mutual collaboration. I am happy to see this view reciprocated by the Japanese Foreign Minister, who in his speech before the Diet on January 21 stated that "there exists no question between the two countries which is intrinsically difficult of amicable solution."
All the greater is the regret in this country that the Japanese Government should have considered it necessary or advisable to exercise its unquestionable right to denounce the Washington Naval Treaty. The present naval treaties represent the most successful of all efforts for disarmament. Whatever may be some of the objections to these treaties, the nations concerned can ill afford to forego the inestimable advantages which they have brought to each of them and to the world as a whole.
The coöperation of Japan with the other great naval Powers having special interests and responsibilities in the Pacific and the Far East is essential to the maintenance of peace. In fact, to strive through international coöperation to preserve peace and lessen the burden of armaments is in the interest of every Power and a worthy mission for any Power. The loss of so important a Power as Japan from a general accord would naturally be deplored.
But we should not be unduly disturbed by the present apparent deadlock or engage in loose talk of an impending naval race. The fleets of the principal naval Powers remain strictly limited by the present treaties until January 1, 1937. The London Treaty has, in fact, run only two-thirds of its course. If each people sincerely rules out of its consciousness all thought of aggression, and through its actions gives its partners in the treaty system convincing evidence of its pacific purposes, then there is no reason why during the period which remains an accommodation which maintains and even strengthens the sense of security of all cannot become an accomplished fact.