THE abrupt withdrawal of Germany from the Disarmament Conference on October 14 of this year has focussed attention on the dangers underlying the present European situation. France today is essentially pacific and is content if she can maintain her existing political and territorial status. Germany is profoundly discontented; and, fed by this discontent, a militant spirit is gaining momentum. This militant spirit is only restrained because for the moment, at least, Germany is in no position to gain her objectives by military action. The present crisis has made a disarmament settlement more vitally essential than ever. At the same time, it has emphasized the fact that a technical settlement of disarmament is not enough. It will be necessary to probe the underlying causes of unrest in continental Europe.

When the Disarmament Conference adjourned last July it was obvious to all familiar with its work that it could not be kept much longer in session unless concrete results could be achieved promptly. The Conference had already dragged on for a year and a half, with numerous recesses which were becoming more prolonged as political difficulties accumulated. The theory that war in Europe can be prevented by keeping the Powers forever conferring at Geneva may have some slight merit, but is difficult to put into practical application. As long as technical questions were being debated, the proceedings could be continued without risking a serious clash of interests; but when the debate turned to concrete questions such as the number of guns, aeroplanes and tanks each country should have, and of what types, the proceedings ran quickly into an impasse. As an example, several weeks were spent in endeavoring to decide how to rate aircraft, whether by weight alone or by weight, horse-power and wing area combined. Differences of opinion were manifest, but political issues were avoided and useful technical information was compiled. Far less progress was made toward determining the number of aeroplanes which the various countries should have. It is true that Prime Minister MacDonald tried to cut the Gordian knot by listing in his plan tentative figures for various countries, but for the most part these figures were not made the subject of effective negotiation. The continental European Powers were not yet ready to come to grips with these vital issues. The technical groundwork had been thoroughly prepared; but the decisions on matters of policy were lacking.

The convening of the World Economic Conference last June afforded a breathing spell and turned attention to other questions. But the failure at London tended to make agreement on disarmament still more difficult. Mr. Henderson, the President of the Conference, had used the summer months to sound out the situation in the various European capitals without being able to find a common basis of agreement. October 16, the date fixed for the reconvening of the Disarmament Conference, was fast approaching and still no definite program of procedure had been laid out.

It was under these conditions that during the latter part of September and early in October a series of conversations were held in Paris and then in Geneva, with the British, French and Americans at first participating, and later the Italians and the Germans. As a result, the British Government, represented in these conversations by Sir John Simon and Mr. Anthony Eden, was entrusted by the Steering Committee of the Conference with the task of formulating a program of work based on the MacDonald Plan (generally referred to as the British Draft Convention). The primary consideration was, of course, to find a way to bridge the gap between the French and German positions.

Despite France's anxiety over developments in Germany, the French Government indicated that it was still ready to reduce armaments. The French Prime Minister, M. Daladier, with the calmness and courage which marks him as one of the outstanding statesmen of Europe today, realizing the extreme gravity for France of a breakdown of the Disarmament Conference, endeavored to facilitate the task of the British Foreign Minister in every way within his power. M. Daladier apparently appreciated that there was neither the time nor a basis for common agreement to build up (by means of an international army, treaties of mutual assistance and the like) the elaborate system of "security" so often stressed by his predecessors. He had fallen in with the idea that the proposed Disarmament Convention should provide for commissions of control which would periodically visit the various countries and supervise the extent of their armaments. If France in this way could be relieved of the menace of secret rearmament by Germany she would be justified in effecting substantial reductions in her own armaments over a period of years. But it was politically difficult for France to agree to the immediate reduction of her armaments in the face of present-day conditions in Germany, and the suggestions made by France about her own disarmament were contingent upon the prior setting up and efficient functioning of these commissions of control and the general acceptance of the program, already agreed to in principle both by Germany and France, that continental European armies, other than colonial forces, should be reconstituted on a militia basis. In the case of Germany this would have meant replacing her army of 100,000 professional soldiers with an army twice as large but composed of short-term militia. It was further understood that during the life of the Convention, Germany should be entitled to construct, in numbers to be agreed upon, the type of arms which the other Powers did not agree to abolish before the end of the Convention. It was the French idea that this right would only accrue to Germany after an initial period of about four years during which the control commissions would function and the armies would be transformed.

In these preliminary negotiations the chief point of difficulty, as far as Germany was concerned, arose from her demand that she should immediately have some, at least, of all the types of weapons which the other Powers did not agree to abolish. Among these were many weapons not allowed her by the Treaty of Versailles, and in particular military aircraft. This demand presented a serious obstacle, but it was one which seemed possible of adjustment through negotiation. The principle that equality in types should be achieved during the life of the Convention had already been recognized; and in any event it would take Germany some time to construct these weapons -- assuming that she had not secretly armed despite the Treaty.

During the course of these negotiations, early in October last, the British and Italian negotiators who were most actively engaged in trying to find the solution of the Franco-German difficulties gave the German representatives an outline of the program which was being worked out, and presented certain oral inquiries to them. Subsequently, Baron von Neurath undertook to obtain an authoritative statement of the views of the German Government, and a few days later the German representatives in London and in Rome presented a detailed statement of the German position. While this statement has never been published by the German Government, what purported to be a summary was printed by the Echo de Paris and reproduced by the London Times. There is no reason to doubt that this résumé presents a substantially accurate analysis of the position of the German Government at that time, and in view of its importance to this narrative of events it is given in full:

(1) The German Government still bases itself on the British Draft; it considers reasonable a convention for a period of five years such as proposed in the British Draft.

The German Government cannot accept the "probationary period." It has no objection to the division of the convention into periods for practical reasons connected with the reduction of war material. There might be, for instance, a first period of two years and a second period of three years. Germany would have to stipulate that equal rights should be applied in the first period.

(2) Germany is ready, in a spirit of conciliation, immediately to undertake the transformation of the Reichswehr into a short-service army. As for the quantity and nature of equipment for the new army, Germany can indicate her views only when the definite proposals of the convention, as it affects material, are known.

(3) In the British Draft three classes of land armaments are mentioned: (a) arms forbidden in the future; (b) arms limited in quantity; (c) arms which are not limited.

With regard to the first category, Germany will accept any prohibition of arms on condition that it is generally applied. Germany will give up, in addition, her claim to arms now held by the armed countries, on condition that these States undertake to destroy these arms within a period not too long, and in no case longer than the duration of the convention, and on condition that the use of such arms is forbidden in the future. Germany wishes to know as soon as possible which arms are to be forbidden and destroyed according to the intentions of the Powers concerned.

As for the second category, the British Draft provides for the limitation of certain arms, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Germany wishes to know as soon as possible how these arms are to be defined and what limits of quantity are to be expected.

She considers that, in accordance with the principle of equal rights, the arms allowed to the other countries, but limited in number, should be allowed also to Germany during the first period, the figures being left open for discussion.

(4) Unlimited arms. In so far as there is no limitation for others there can be none for Germany. If the future convention calls for further limitation, Germany will always agree on a footing of equality.

Merely to increase the quantity of arms allowed by the Treaty of Versailles by doubling the figures fixed in the Treaty would mean a discrimination which Germany cannot accept and which would not satisfy her need for security. Germany wishes either to have full liberty or to be subjected to the same qualitative restrictions as other countries.

This statement of the German position was unacceptable to both England and France, particularly on the ground that it indicated an insistence upon substantial and immediate rearmament. To this extent, at least, it was also unacceptable to the United States. However, it did not seem to close the door to further negotiations and the work of formulating the program to be presented to the plenary conference on October 16 was carried forward despite the abrupt departure from Geneva of the chief German delegate, who was called to Berlin for consultation. Every effort was made to find a conciliatory basis which, without admitting Germany's claim for immediate rearmament, would permit the gradual realization of the equality of status on which Germany was insisting and leave the way open for negotiation on the points where the German thesis was not met. This program was presented by Sir John Simon to the Steering Committee of the Disarmament Conference on October 14. As the American position had been consistently opposed to the German claim for rearmament, Mr. Norman Davis was able to support Sir John Simon; and the French Foreign Minister, M. Paul-Boncour, and the chief Italian representative also gave their adherence. At the very moment when these statements were being made at Geneva, Germany was completing her plans for withdrawal from the Conference and from the League. In fact, the world press of Saturday, October 14, carried on the same page the announcement of the German withdrawal and an account of the proceedings of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. The publicity given to Germany's action naturally blanketed any other news; and the disarmament proposals, being rejected by Germany, became academic for the moment at least. As a result few persons, even students of the subject, have ever taken the trouble to analyze the nature of the offer which was made to Germany. It nevertheless deserves careful study because it was in effect the first program presented to the Conference, other than vague statements of general principles, which had the united support of the British, French, Italian, American and many other important delegations.

In this statement Sir John Simon first summarized the conversations of the preceding weeks and outlined the schedule of work which had been evolved. The Draft Convention presented by the British Government was to serve as the general framework for the future Disarmament Treaty but was to be recast in certain respects which he then suggested. Instead of running for a period of five years, it should have a life of eight years. "This period of eight years should be occupied by the fulfilment of a continuous program, designed to secure at the end of the period two essential conditions, (a) a substantial measure of disarmament actually realized and completed on the part of the heavily armed Powers, and (b) the achievement of the principle of equality in a régime of security which ever since December of last year has been the declared objective. . . ." The scheme, according to Sir John Simon, would begin with the transformation of continental armies on the lines set out in the British Draft, together with the setting up of an adequate system of supervision. He further stressed that the measure of disarmament should be that "provided for in the United Kingdom Draft Convention or some comparable variation of it," while from the beginning of the Convention it should be agreed that no government would acquire further weapons of the type to be eventually abolished. During the second stage of the plan, that is, the last four or five years of the Convention, "the results of the abolition of various kinds of armaments and of the prohibition against their further use will be to constitute a common list of permitted arms which would become the same for all countries, and thus the differential position of the Powers whose armaments were limited by the peace treaties would finally cease. Quantities and other detailed regulations would, of course, be in each case the subject of negotiation and agreement." The types of weapons to be eventually abolished had already been set forth in the British Convention; they included among others movable land guns over 6-inches in calibre, heavy tanks, and gas; there was also to be drastic reduction in the numbers of military aircraft and limitation on their size. Finally -- and here came the rub for Germany -- Sir John Simon stressed that "the scheme involves the principle that the Powers now under restriction of the peace treaties should not begin to increase their armaments forthwith but should express their willingness to conform to a time table," as agreement "could not be reached on the basis of a Convention which would provide for any immediate rearmament" other than, in the case of Germany, such numerical increase in its present armaments as would be required in view of the fact that it was proposed to double Germany's army.

Necessarily Sir John Simon's statement dealt with principles applicable to all states represented at the Conference rather than the particular situation of Germany and France. It was obvious, however, that the statement was drawn with a view to the German position, and went a considerable distance toward meeting it, except, of course, the German demand for the right to construct immediately all the types of weapons which the other Powers did not agree to abandon. This right was to be deferred for three or four years.

It is hard to believe that it was Sir John Simon's statement which caused Germany's withdrawal. The Geneva proceedings could only have been known in Berlin a matter of minutes -- not even of hours -- before the German withdrawal was announced. One is forced to the conclusion that Germany had decided upon her course of action some time before, being convinced from the preliminary conversations that her entire thesis would not be accepted. As a matter of fact, in the formal telegram to the Conference Germany based her withdrawal upon the general grounds that the Conference would not achieve its objective, that the heavily armed Powers would refuse to disarm, and that the German claim to equality would not be granted.

We can only surmise what took place in Germany immediately preceding her withdrawal. Certainly there appeared to be an abrupt change in Germany's attitude during the final weeks of the negotiations; the earlier willingness to negotiate changed into a desire to find plausible grounds justifying her abandonment of the Conference. When President Roosevelt sent his message to the Economic Conference in London on July 3 it was in many quarters interpreted as a change of American policy. It was probably not such at all. He was merely drawing the inevitable consequences in the international field which domestic policies dictated. It was somewhat the same type of situation which Germany faced last October. The National Socialist Party and the Hitler Government, at least in their appeals to the electorate, have based themselves upon a platform of relieving the German people from what they consider to be the burdens of the Treaty of Versailles and of regaining for Germany the equality of status among the nations which they have come to feel is being denied them. It is not unreasonable to believe that Hitler came to realize that any disarmament agreement would mean the political and territorial status quo for Germany for the period of that agreement, that is, eight years. Even though a disarmament agreement would bring about certain changes in Germany's military status, such an agreement would take away from Germany the strongest weapons she now holds to bring about a change in her status, namely, the threat of rearmament. Germany did not propose to give up her trump card merely for some reduction in the armaments of other Powers, which she probably viewed as inconsequential, and some change in the Versailles Treaty provisions as to her own armaments, which she considered negligible. If we grant the correctness of this hypothesis, it probably made very little difference what Sir John Simon said in Geneva on October 14 or what program short of complete acceptance of the German demands was then adopted.

Germany's withdrawal from the Disarmament Conference and from the League of Nations signified her revolt against Versailles. It also meant her refusal to negotiate in Geneva with fifty or more nations on matters which she felt primarily concerned her and her European neighbors and which could be settled, if any peaceful settlement were possible, only by negotiations on a new basis and with a very restricted group of states.

It is of little use now to apportion the blame for this outcome or to debate what might have been. If Sir John Simon's program could have been presented a little over a year before to Chancellor Brüning, there is little doubt that he could have taken it home to Germany in triumph. If the Disarmament Conference could have met two years sooner and reached it decisions of last October in October 1931, the history of the last two years and of the years immediately before us would have been quite different. As is so often the case, political leaders act too deliberately and fail to keep pace with the rapidly changing course of events.

When the inevitable occurs even those of us who are closest to the situation are caught unawares. The Treaty of Versailles inevitably sowed the seeds of bitterness in central Europe; inflation then helped to destroy in Germany the power and influence of the middle class, the class which is generally an element of support for a policy of moderation and patience. Finally, Germany's neighbors were too slow in realizing that the peaceful maintenance of the essential parts of the structure they had built up required them to make substantial concessions. The revolt in Germany got under way while France was still debating her policy, and the revolt was aided by the depression which has fostered revolutionary tendencies in both politics and economics, not only in Germany but in many other parts of the world.

In the field of disarmament Germany had waited for almost fourteen years for any substantial realization of the implied commitment in the Treaty of Versailles, that her disarmament should be a prelude to the reduction in armaments of the other Powers. Whether this was a legal or a moral commitment is hardly worth debating. Even if we admit that the obligation was only a moral one it should nevertheless have been respected. It is very questionable whether the amount of reduction of armaments effected since the end of the World War could be held to have fulfilled this moral commitment. It is true that the naval Powers have reduced and limited their armaments, and France has voluntarily reduced her period of military service from three years to one year. Notwithstanding this, the overwhelming military superiority of Germany's neighbors exists, and has been pictured in Germany as having left their country in an entirely defenseless position. This more than any one factor has tended to create the feeling of revolt in Germany which has led to the events which we have described. Today when the Germans refer to the fact that they are not treated as equals among the nations of the world they have primarily in mind their military inferiority.

There are some situations where it is relatively easy for outsiders to judge between two nations and say where lies the right and where the wrong. But in viewing this disarmament issue put yourself today in the place either of a Frenchman or a German. It is easy to make out a case for either. The French quite naturally feel, and to a man, that to disarm in the face of the sort of Germany they see today across the Rhine, and in the light of past history, would be not merely to run a risk; they feel it would be a fatal risk. The Germans on the other hand will never rest so long as they feel that they are absolutely defenseless against possible attack by their neighbors. And this is true although both France and Germany would agree that today there are no serious issues to separate them, other than the disarmament issue, if only the situation of the two countries could be viewed alone and apart from the rest of Europe. Unfortunately this is not possible, for Germany has other frontiers where both France and Italy consider that their vital interests are concerned.

The Treaty of Versailles system has been maintained so far through the overwhelming military superiority of the victorious Powers over the vanquished. It can continue to be maintained if that superiority is preserved. A disarmament agreement which ended that superiority would in the eyes of France be merely the first step toward a complete renunciation of Versailles and hence would be fundamentally unacceptable to France and her allies -- probably also to England and Italy. An agreement that leaves Germany indefinitely in a position of military impotence is unacceptable to Germany. If the problems which confront the European countries are to be worked out by agreement it is not merely a Disarmament Conference which Europe needs, but a second Peace Conference in which the disarmament question would be only one of the major problems to be solved. If Germany is sincerely persuaded that the adjustment of her political and territorial problems with her neighbors must be sought through peaceful negotiations and never by force, and if the Powers of Europe are willing to meet her half way in carrying out such a policy, a disarmament agreement is still possible.The time may not yet have come when the nations concerned are ready to face this issue; they may never be ready to face it until it is too late. If the issue is not met before Germany has rearmed, Europe will be taking the road which may lead to a major conflict unless Germany's neighbors decide in the meanwhile to adopt the heroic remedy, if in fact it be a remedy, of preventive military action.

The withdrawal of Germany had obvious repercussions on American policy with regard to disarmament. Up to that time the United States had been coöperating with the other nations of the world in finding a technical basis for the mutual and gradual reduction of armaments. Political issues were subordinated. Disarmament was the end in itself. Mr. Norman Davis as spokesman for the American Delegation had made real progress in developing the thesis which was stressed in President Roosevelt's appeal to the nations, and in President Hoover's disarmament plan, that mutual reduction of armaments and of armies, and in particular the abandonment of heavy guns, heavy tanks and the like, that is, the so-called aggressive weapons, coupled with adequate measures of supervision and control, would tend to increase the security of all countries. Political measures to reënforce security were not an essential prerequisite to a type of disarmament which in itself, and apart from such political measures, tended to add to a nation's security. This point of view as developed by Mr. Davis had had a real influence on the French attitude toward disarmament.

As long as Germany was prepared to wait for a gradual and progressive realization of her claim to equality of status through the reduction in the armaments of others there was hope that these principles could be given practical application. Once Germany had withdrawn from the Conference, on the ground that she was not prepared to await the carrying through of any such program, the situation in so far as concerned Germany's immediate neighbors was vitally altered. They were and are left with the problem of determining their policy not with respect to a world-wide disarmament agreement, but with respect to the narrower issue of German rearmament. To take part in this decision would certainly involve some commitment by the United States as to a course of action toward Germany in the event that the policy adopted failed of acceptance. Germany's neighbors are in effect faced with the decision whether to follow a laissez-faire policy in the hope that German rearmament will not be of a serious character, or to make new proposals to Germany, or to take preventive action. If the policy adopted is such as to bring Germany back to the consideration of disarmament, there will again be a basis for American coöperation without danger of being drawn into European political decisions. If, however, the Powers of Europe fail to find a common ground for coöperation with Germany in working out a disarmament program, there seems hardly any other alternative for the United States than to leave to them the responsibility for determining their policy without attempting to guide their decision.

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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 and 1933
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