THE question of disarmament occupies the center of the political stage. Nearly a hundred and fifty years have gone by since Immanuel Kant wrote his philosophical essay "On Eternal Peace." In addition to uttering other maxims about safeguarding international peace, he demanded the abolition of standing armies on the score that they constitute a perpetual menace of war against other nations. Since Kant's days numerous and gigantic wars have shaken the world. Tentative attempts to safeguard international peace by political conventions were undertaken at The Hague in 1899 and in 1907; but they were fruitless. Not until the World War had exacted its sacrifice of millions of human lives, besides destroying the economic relations of the nations of the earth, did statesmen feel a moral incentive to transform Kant's philosophical ideas into a practical political instrument. And still the ideal of a system of international peace, as President Wilson conceived it, remains unfulfilled. The warlike complications in eastern Asia have shown only too plainly that the League of Nations is devoid of any real authority. The Kellogg Pact was designed to outlaw war and stiffen the moral obligation of all nations to settle their quarrels not by resort to arms, but by arbitration. The regrettable fact remains that by tradition politics is not dependent on moral considerations.

No one ever had that truth brought home to him more forcibly than President Wilson did at Paris, to say nothing about Germany and her trust in the fourteen points! President Wilson proved unable to carry the day against statesmen whom the World War had given a demagogic fervor. Lloyd George and Clemenceau were more than a match for him, from the moment he left behind him the native soil from which he had been drawing his strength. The history of the negotiations at Paris about disarmament has not yet been written in its final form. But this much is certain, that in the course of the deliberations Lloyd George and Clemenceau turned Wilson's original intention to bring about universal disarmament into its opposite, i.e. the one-sided disarmament of Germany and her allies. Five phases may be distinguished in those deliberations, beginning with the statement made by Loucheur on February 7, 1919, and ending with the final signing of the Peace Treaty. Loucheur was willing to let Germany retain 300,000 men with heavy artillery and airplanes. That corresponded to what, during the discussions in the Prussian Ministry of War in the spring of 1919, I myself, in my position as Quartermaster-General of the Prussian Army, had insisted on as indispensable for the requirements of national defense. In his statement dated March 3, 1919, Marshal Foch struck off 100,000 men and the airplanes; and in the statement dated March 10 another 60,000 men and the heavy artillery. On the same day the Council agreed upon the reduction of Germany's military strength to 100,000 men, and the final Peace Treaty brought further considerable decreases in the number of machine guns, field artillery and mine throwers. The compulsory military service with a one-year term of enlistment, which Marshal Foch had originally intended for Germany, was annulled by Lloyd George and replaced by a professional army with a twelve-year term of enlistment. From the British point of view this seemed to be preëminently favorable to the cause of disarmament; and it also was in consonance with the British military tradition.

The indignation which as a result flared up among the German people gained in strength from year to year, fed by the unfair methods of the Commission of Military Control which had been created for the purpose of superintending the course of disarmament in Germany. The German people felt condemned to complete defenselessness in the midst of nations that were armed to the utmost degree. The moral effects of the abolition of universal military service (which the Germans had never felt to be a compulsion, but rather a civic honor) became more and more manifest in the growth of military organizations within various political parties; these were of no military value and only served to create unrest. The ill-fated disarmament provisions embodied in the Treaty of Versailles are largely responsible for the intolerable intensification of political strife in Germany. Far from furthering the spirit of disarmament, they only served to increase nationalistic agitation. There are no effects without counter-effects; and once a tension of this sort has been set up, it is bound to spread to other spheres of politics. So far as the interests of international peace are concerned, the one-sided disarmament of Germany was a political mistake of the first order, and there will never be any rest in Europe until that mistake has been corrected. The only way to promote world peace, as envisaged by President Wilson, is universal disarmament on the principle of full equality for all nations alike. And if the negotiations aiming at general disarmament are to attain their goal, they must be based on the principle of right; for if they are based on the idea of might, as was done at Versailles, further wars will be inevitable.

In order to ascertain the actual conditions in which disarmament may be achieved it is necessary to examine and compare the military situation of Germany and her neighbors in some detail. It is not enough to give a one-sided account of Germany's military condition, designed just to prove the assertion that Germany has violated the Treaty of Versailles by secretly preparing a large army intended for aggressive purposes.[i] In connection with that assertion a secret dossier was prepared, and on more than one occasion France has threatened to publish it. Eventually, however, the French Government thought best to desist from its publication, since the way in which it had come into being is open to grave objections. It is regrettable that the French should resort to an expedient of this sort in order to prove the necessity of their own strong armaments. With the full consciousness of my responsibility as a former Minister of National Defense, I shall endeavor to give as unbiased an account as possible of the European military situation, so far as it is of fundamental significance for the question of disarmament.

The military situation created on the Continent by the peace treaties terminating the World War is as follows. Extending right across Central Europe, from the North Sea and the Baltic down through Austria and Hungary and as far as Bulgaria, stretches a wide valley in which all the nations are disarmed, flanked on either side by the towering heights of nations that are armed to the teeth. This geographical comparison affords a telling picture of the actual conditions of military strength in Europe. Germany, as the principal constituent of the Central Powers allied in the war, is in a particularly difficult position. From earliest times until the Napoleonic wars Germany had been predestined by her geographical situation to be the battle-ground of Europe. The fact that this was not repeated again in the war of 1870-71 nor in the World War is undoubtedly due to the military efficiency of the Germans. One can hardly blame France for endeavoring to protect herself against another invasion. But Germany, on the other hand, defenseless as she feels herself to be against her heavily armed neighbors on both flanks, fears a renewal of her former fate, fears that she may once again become the European battle-ground. There is only one way for Germany and France to extricate themselves from this dilemma, and that is to reach an honest and permanent agreement on the basis of disarmament. This could have been achieved most easily immediately after the World War, just as Bismarck did after the war of 1866 in dealing with Austria. The Peace of Frankfurt, terminating the war of 1870-71, could also have furnished France with an example worth imitating. It is deplorable that France, and more especially M. Clemenceau who was Prime Minister at the time, should have preferred to be guided by a spirit of hatred and by the endeavor to eliminate the German nation, a people of more than sixty millions, from the ranks of the Great Powers.

It further must be added that immediately after the war France increased her military superiority to a very considerable degree by concluding alliances with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia and Rumania, so that one might well speak of a French hegemony in Europe.[ii] Italy has declined to bow to this French hegemony; so France is afraid lest a war might find Germany and Italy on the same side. To meet this eventuality, France has provided for her protection by the construction of magnificent fortifications. On the Italian frontier the Alpine passes have been bolted and barred completely, so that an Italian attack across the Alps would be even more hopeless than were the Austrian attempts on the Isonzo during the World War. Along the German frontier, between Strasbourg and Luxembourg, France at enormous expense has created a new and quite original system of fortifications on the pattern of a chess-board; they must be regarded as impregnable. Belgium has also erected a stronger line of fortifications along the German frontier. The gap between Germany and Italy is filled up by Switzerland, which is strong enough to prevent the passage of foreign armies through her territory.

Where and how, then, could France possibly be threatened by an attack from Germany? Only a fool could conceive the idea of breaking through that line of modern fortifications along the French and Belgian frontiers, and if he tried it he could not fail to smash his head against them. Besides, another attempt on Germany's part to invade France through Belgium is no longer feasible on account of the completely altered general situation. The dreaded German attack is like a nightmare, harassing the French in the hours of darkness, but entirely unreal. And quite apart from this enormous superiority of France on land, she has in her air force a means for carrying on war which can hardly be gauged in its far-reaching significance, and of which I shall have to speak later on. Another advantage which she has secured, and which should not be underrated, is the demilitarized zone along the Rhine. This enables her not only to occupy the Rhine with troops that can be kept instantly ready to march, but also to cross the river and seize the principal source of Germany's material strength, the Ruhr district with its coal mines and its extensive industry. Such an invasion Germany would be completely powerless to prevent. The enemy armies could not fail to reach the river Weser before any emergency counter-measures could become effective. It is therefore nothing but the plain truth -- and the French generals are fully aware of it -- to say that in the west the territory of Germany lies open to French invasion right up to the Weser, whereas -- notwithstanding all French assertions to the contrary -- Germany has neither the man power nor the war materials at her command for an offensive across the Rhine. Even if it were true that a German army of 200,000 men could be promptly mobilized to march on the Rhine, it would fall an easy prey to the superior French forces.

Now let us look to the east. The first point to be noted here is the separation of East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Anyone can see at once that this must make it extremely difficult to defend this country against an attack on the part of Poland. Since the Poles would be able to occupy the corridor along the Vistula more quickly than the Germans, it might easily happen that communication between East Prussia and the German Empire could only be effected by sea. And supposing that French naval forces should enter the Baltic, even that route would cease to be safe. A second great danger threatening Germany in the east consists in the fact that the province of Silesia can be surrounded and cut off by Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the third place, there is the dent made in the German frontier by Polish territory bulging out towards the river Oder in the direction of Berlin, which reduces the distance between the capital of the German Empire and the Polish frontier to less than a hundred miles. Germany's eastern frontier was settled by the Treaty of Versailles without any thought being given to the question whether it would be possible for her to defend it against Poland, whence it is sometimes called her "bleeding frontier."

This is a very sober account of Germany's frontiers from the military point of view. No one can gainsay it. In view of the facts just stated it is futile to say that Germany's security has been safeguarded. Nor could anyone seriously maintain that the 100,000 men of the Reichswehr are sufficient to guard Germany's frontier in the east. The entire length of this menaced frontier amounts to about 1,200 miles, or, if one does not include the Czechoslovak frontier, about 750 miles. To distribute the troops of the Reichswehr over that length would be tantamount to reintroducing the cordon system of former centuries.

Why, then, should France raise her voice in complaints about her security? If any nation in the world has good reason to regard its home and fireside as lacking in security, it is the German nation.

A glance at the statistics of the armed forces of France, Poland and Czechoslovakia will serve to fortify my statement. Let us restrict ourselves to the peace-time establishments. We find that France has 24,000 officers and 360,000 men in Europe, while in North Africa she has 3,000 officers and 140,000 men, a total of 27,000 officers and 500,000 men. The French troops stationed in other French colonies may be left out of account. If we further assume that of the troops in North Africa only two-thirds would be available at once, we reach a total of 27,700 officers and 450,000 men, i.e. over six times as many officers and four and a half times as many men as there are in the Reichswehr. The peace-time establishment of the Polish army, including a very strong corps guarding the frontier, amounts to at least 300,000 men. The number of men in the Czechoslovakian army varies in peace times according to the season; the average may be put at 120,000 men. The peace-time establishment of all three armies together thus amounts to 870,000 men, that is to say more than eight and a half times as many as are contained in the German Reichswehr.

On a war footing these armies would number from eight to ten times as many men as on a peace footing. Their mobilization has been so thoroughly prepared, especially in France, that the war army could be concentrated along the frontier within from ten to fourteen days, and a considerable part of it, such as the armée de couverture in France, within a few days. But how could the German Reichswehr, with its 100,000 men, in the absence of any preparations for mobilization, be increased within so short a time to any figure that could count? It is entirely out of the question.

So far I have spoken only of the number of men in the fighting forces. We shall see later on that the superiority of France and her allies assumes gigantic proportions if we take into account equipment and war material.

It has been asserted that Germany has enormous reserves at her disposal, so that in the case of war her army of 100,000 men could in no time be increased to astonishing proportions. But nothing could be more misleading than the supposition that whole classes of reserves are available, or than the enumeration and addition of the various military associations. As a matter of fact, the only significance that can be attributed to the latter is that, in the case of a war of long duration, the men contained in these organizations would constitute a reservoir of man power. But a war of long duration is out of the question for Germany, if only for financial and economic reasons: there can be no doubt that it would end in Germany's ruin. Furthermore, even former soldiers who fought in the World War would not be available for service in a future war without additional training, for the technique and forms of fighting have meanwhile undergone a complete transformation in consequence of the increased efficacy of many arms, especially the air forces. As to the military organizations which have grown out of the internal political strife among the German people, such as the Stahlhelm, the Reichsbanner and the shock-troops of the National Socialists, they are to be regarded as a danger to Germany's internal peace rather than as a menace to France. Moreover, their ideas of war are entirely obsolete; their activities are largely made up of external show, dallying with uniforms, drilling and parading; and they are very far from comprehending the grim reality of war and the actual conditions of fighting. The orientation of their ideas is based on the conditions of civil warfare, which again goes to show that Germany's strength is weakened rather than fortified by them. That is why, during my term of office as Minister of the Interior, it was my great endeavor to gather the German youth together under the authority of the German Empire, to make good German citizens of them, instead of letting them fritter away their strength in political strife. Not preparation for foreign wars but the internal peace of the German nation was the goal of my efforts; and no better service than that could be rendered to the cause of international peace. For discord within a nation is much more likely than solidarity to lead to explosions in the sphere of external relations.

It is equally erroneous to regard the state police as a reserve of the Reichswehr. In case of warlike complications the authority of the government would be very quickly set at naught if it had no strong and adequately armed police force at its disposal. With an untrained force, or with a constabulary such as we had before the war, it would be impossible to preserve public peace and order in Germany. That has been fully demonstrated by the experiences of the last fourteen years. I should regard it as superfluous to say anything about the "time volunteers" were it not for the fact that talk about them keeps cropping up. They have almost become a legend now. France need not fear; they merely served as a temporary reinforcement of the Reichswehr for the suppression of communistic risings.

Misinterpretation of the internal conditions obtaining in Germany really could go no further when even the "voluntary work service" is adduced to prove the assertion that Germany is engaged in military preparations for a war of aggression. When there are between five and six millions of unemployed in a nation, I should think it would be the duty of any government to provide for relief in every conceivable way. While I was Minister of Defense I did all I could to make the Reichswehr join in the endeavor to assuage the general suffering, for example by giving assistance to the "voluntary work service." That is not service for war, but service for the people. The idea of misusing the "voluntary work service" for military purposes has never even entered my head. It is most regrettable that any measure we come to regard as necessary or advisable for the needs of our national life should forthwith be misinterpreted as an evil design against France.

The German war industry was completely demolished by the Treaty of Versailles. It goes without saying that the factories which came under that ban forthwith adapted their productive facilities to the exclusive manufacture of economic commodities, for the uses of peace and not of war. The production of war materials is far from their thoughts. There are only a few factories turning out products for military purposes -- as a side line, one might say. In the absence of any competition, they are unfortunately able to raise their prices so as to force the German Government to incur excessive expenditures for war materials. This accounts (together with other circumstances, such as the high pay obtaining in the professional army) in the most natural way possible for the comparatively high budget figures for the Reichswehr. To adapt factories in secret to the production of war materials and to produce and store in secret large quantities of such materials -- that would be an extremely difficult and risky undertaking. Large and reputable manufacturers would refuse to have anything to do with it. The cases of Lohmann and Stoltzenberg, which have recently been brought up again, also date back to a time that has almost slipped from our memory: I liquidated them myself when I was Minister of Defense. I might add that the outcome of these cases was extremely painful to the German Empire, for it entailed the loss of a very large amount of money which we might just as well have thrown into the sea.

Passing on now to the question of adapting industrial establishments to the manufacture of war materials after the outbreak of war, I think it is generally conceded that the time consumed by the necessary preliminary work is quite considerable and has to be counted in months. Under the existing political conditions Germany cannot rely on having that time at her disposal. In this connection we have also to think of the geographical distribution of German industry. The most productive industrial districts are to be found in the peripheral regions of the Empire -- the Rhenish and the Ruhr district in the west, and the Silesian industry in the east: right under the guns and airplanes of France and Poland. The industrial region of central Germany, round about Berlin, could not possibly yield an output large enough to serve as a basis for the establishment of a large war industry. The most important factories of the chemical industry are also situated on the Rhine, so that France has merely to reach out her hands for them. These facts make it evident that, if war broke out, Germany would find herself in a sorry plight so far as her industry is concerned. These things are no secret; they are open and compelling facts and conditions, and only a moment's reflection is required in order to understand their implication.

Now let us look at France: what about her war industry? Since the transformation of the whole country into an impregnable fortress the French war industry is as safe as if it reposed in Abraham's bosom! In productive power it far exceeds that of any other European country. It not only supplies the needs of the French Government itself, but in times of peace it also exports to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Jugoslavia and Greece. Enormous quantities of material reserves are lying ready even in peace times for the use of the French nation armée, and a prompt increase of them has been provided for in case of war. Nor does the question of replacements present any particular difficulties for a munitions industry as highly developed as the French. Industrial mobilization and the supply of war materials has been organized in France in a wholly admirable way. As compared with such preparedness, the rumored stocks of arms in Germany and the possibilities of promptly replenishing them in case of war are wholly negligible, especially if we remember how magnificently equipped the French army is even in times of peace. It will suffice to quote a few figures in order to show this.

If we make reasonable deductions in favor of the colonies, there remain for the French home army on its peace footing: approximately 30,000 machine guns, i.e. about 15 times as many as there are available in Germany; 2,000 mine throwers, infantry and cavalry guns, i.e. almost 8 times as many as in Germany; and 1,200 light guns, i.e. about 4 times as many. In addition, there are 1,000 heavy guns, for which Germany has nothing whatever to show in comparison, since she has no such arms at all. This superiority of the French army, still further enhanced by 1,700 tanks, gives France a huge aggressive power. And to all this must still further be added the equipment of the French fortresses, a great part of which could be mobilized, and also the material reserves available for the arming of the nation armée. It would not be going too far to assess this factor at three times the equipment on the peace footing. If we further add the equipment provided for the Polish and Czechoslovak armies, we are justified in stating that, in comparison with the equipment available for the German army, the total ratio stands at 15 to 1. Then there are the airplanes to be taken into account, constituting as they do the most important means of offense in the wars of the future. While Germany has only a small number of airplanes at her disposal, France has 4,700 (including training, experimental and practice airplanes, and the reserves in depots and factories); and in addition there are another 2,000 Polish and Czechoslovak airplanes.

Taking all these elements together, we are faced by such an overwhelming superiority on the part of France and those of her allies who are neighbors of Germany that it would be nothing short of insanity on Germany's part to let the idea of an attack on France even enter her head. The ratio of the forces available on either side being what it is, it is extremely unfair to speak of any offensive power on Germany's part, to say nothing of any desire for aggression. The German people have only one desire, to be able to defend their country should the necessity arise. That is the acknowledged right of any people, and to demand equality in that respect is more than a mere legal formula: it is a most sacred duty.

In the same connection a few words remain to be added about the German fortresses. What was the reason for the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles preventing Germany from supplementing and modernizing her fortifications for purely defensive purposes? This evidently was done, I should say, so that Germany's frontier territories should continue to lie open to her neighbors, in other words in order to render her still more incapable of defense. Since the cession of Metz and Strasbourg, Germany no longer has any fortresses that could be utilized for offensive purposes. Why then should she not be permitted to employ defensive methods similar to those used by France? It goes without saying that we should not be able to bury as much money underground as France has done; but one should no longer dispute our right to barricade our frontiers, at least in the east, unless general disarmament is carried out in a thoroughgoing and effective way. The period of inequality, as instituted by the Treaty of Versailles, has to end. The German thesis is: security on the basis of disarmament.

General von Seeckt is regarded as the author of measures by which, it is claimed, the German Reichswehr has been endowed with a decidedly offensive character. No one would deny, I should think, that in training a troop of soldiers it would be wrong to neglect educating them in methods of attack. But that is still a long way from preparations for taking the offensive in the strategic sense, which presupposes conditions of an entirely different nature, above all of a political character. It is a purposeful exaggeration to say that Germany has restored the foundations of her pre-war strength.

The organization of the supreme command of the Reichswehr does not invest the Chief of the Army Command with any such authority as has been suggested in France. This is sufficiently shown by the fact that an insignificant political occurrence was enough to remove General Seeckt from his post. He deservedly enjoys the highest esteem in the Reichswehr; but he has never advocated a policy of aggression against France. It is quite natural that General von Seeckt should feel warmly attached to the professional army which he has created, and that he should be in favor of maintaining this system. But to regard the Reichswehr as a nucleus of concentration for the nation in arms, nay, as the very basis for its general armament -- that idea seems to me so impossible of realization from a sane political point of view that I cannot conceive this wise and clear-headed general as capable of entertaining it.

A professional army could never meet Germany's requirements nor be adapted to her geographical position, even if it were equipped with heavy arms and airplanes. Marshal Foch was on the right track when he proposed to let Germany retain her universal compulsory military service. That is the proper military organization for countries with extensive frontier lines that are unprotected by natural features. England is right in preferring to have a professional army, because her protection is the sea, which makes it unnecessary to guard her boundaries. Nor is universal military service necessary for the United States, in view of the nature of its frontiers and the character of the country and its population. But things are totally different on the continent of Europe. Excepting only those nations which came under the disarmament stipulations of 1919, the military organization of all the other 21 countries is based on universal compulsory service. There is no escaping the fact that extensive frontiers cannot be protected by small professional armies, quite apart from the further fact that the latter are more expensive. What really is of essential importance, so far as disarmament is concerned, is not the abolition of universal military service but rather the abolition of the large standing armies, for it is these, as Immanuel Kant pointed out, which constitute the menace of war.

There is one form of military organization which is of a purely defensive character and which can be based on universal compulsory service. That is the militia, as we see it in use in Switzerland. It offers the further advantage that it can be combined with a small professional army. The most essential feature of a militia is the short period of training. Those special arms which require longer training could either be organized in the form of separate associations or incorporated in the small professional army. In the memorandum of the German Government dated August 29, 1932, the general principles are set forth for the transformation of the Reichswehr into a militia for the protection of the German coasts and frontiers and for the maintenance of internal order. Germany is willing to reduce her forces to the utmost by joining in universal disarmament, always providing that the latter is based on the principle of equality. Proposals for the abolition of the heavy offensive arms and of chemical warfare, or for restriction of aërial warfare, will also find an open door in Germany. If the statesmen of the world could succeed in doing away entirely with the use of bombing squadrons against the civil population, mankind would owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

The enormous and complicated task of establishing universal peace still remains to be achieved. More than a little optimism is needed to believe that disarmament is to be carried out promptly. But let us cling to the hope that the statesmen of the world are determined to reach that goal with all the speed possible. Further procrastination would create an intolerable situation for Germany. And, let me say again, Germany is quite ready to come to an agreement with France.

[i] Cf. "The Armaments and Military Power of Germany," by General E. Réquin, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1933.

[ii] These close political and military relations are still in force, although Czechoslovakia, it should be stated, has been endeavoring to cultivate the best possible relations with Germany.

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  • GENERAL WILHELM GROENER, successor to General Ludendorff as Quartermaster-General of the German Army; Minister of Communications, 1920-23; Minister of National Defense, 1928-32
  • More By General Wilhelm Groener