AWAR between the United States and Great Britain is not "unthinkable" in the intellectual sense as long as navy calculations and controversies are based on or continually take account of fleet conflicts -- as long, that is to say, as "parity" is of vital importance, and as long as each naval staff stickles for a kind of "parity" which would give it fleet or commerce-destroying superiority. When people say that such a war is "unthinkable" they mean that its consequences would be so evil as to stagger the imagination; we cannot think them out for very repugnance and horror.

People still think of war as a struggle to a decision between armies on a battlefield, something as decisive of an issue as the battle at the North Inch of Perth between the Clan Chattan and the Clan Quhele, or another Trafalgar. But a great modern war runs no such course. All citizens are combatants, for all produce engines of destruction or means of subsistence. Rousseau's distinction between the combatant state and its soldiers on the one hand and the non-combatant citizens on the other is no protection against bombing aircraft. A great modern war is a strangulation of all that nourishes the life of the enemy -- trade in any case, production if sources can be reached -- destruction made as deep and therefore as permanent as possible. The overcoming of an enemy's will, which constitutes victory, comes from the crippling or ruin of his economy; this was the life-nerve for which each side was aiming in the World War, submarine against blockade.

Equal navies starting from remote bases will not go out to fight; they will play "prisoner's base" with each other. The increased speed and mobility of modern vessels, the protection afforded to a fleet by aircraft coming out to meet it, make retirement on a base much more secure than heretofore. Neither an American nor a British fleet could invest the other, nor "contain" it in the correct sense of that naval term, i.e. force a stronger fleet to immobility in a watching station for fear that if it should move the weaker "containing" fleet would slip away.

The strategy of each side, British Admiralty and General Board of the American Navy, would be to destroy the other's trade. Geographical and social arrangements have at times been based on the major hypothesis of war. The Acropolis epitomized the life of the Greek city; the Italian hill-towns express for us the municipal vendettas of the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Men in each of those eras lived a woodchuck life. Today we trade and expose ourselves all over the world; and as the best "defense" we arm ourselves to do as much cruiser-destruction as may be required for any of the multiple contingencies of an anarchic universe.

Let us come a little nearer home. The debate over the "Freedom of the Seas" is partly based on tradition, the tradition of 1812, that the United States and Great Britain are necessarily ranged on opposite sides, Great Britain as a likely belligerent in future war, the United States as an almost certain neutral. This assumption, that national attitudes remain indefinitely as they have been, recalls Howells's account of the relation between Siena and Florence in the nineteenth century. The Florentines in 1860 had sent to an official of Siena an invitation to him and his fellow citizens to join them in celebrating the union of Tuscany with the Kingdom of Italy. The official of Siena replied Yes, "they would be glad to send a deputation of Sienese to Florence, but would the Florentines really like to have them come? 'Surely! Why not?' 'Oh, that affair of Montaperto, you know,' as if it were of the year before, and must still, after six hundred years, have been rankling in the Florentine mind."

The fixed idea of United States neutrality, the assumption that it will be a neutral in future wars concerned mainly with protecting its right to trade with either belligerent or both, is a static conception in a world of change. It is based on the tradition that all wars are European and that neither their existence nor the issues involved in them concern the United States. This tradition is ceasing to have validity since the United States became an imperial power. Any great war is reasonably certain to be universal and to extend to all parts of the globe; it almost surely -- particularly in the western hemisphere, in the Pacific or in the Far East -- would involve an interest which the United States would feel bound to defend. And when the United States is a belligerent its action is based on no higher level in recognizing the rights of neutrals than Great Britain: in the World War we seized Norwegian ships building in our yards, and Dutch ships in our harbors by an exercise of the quaint right of "augary;" we rationed neutrals and attacked their exchange so as to control it; we forced a neutral corporation to trade with us rather than with Germany; in 1918 our navy was busy laying a mine barrier across the North Sea, a closing of the high seas against which as a neutral we had protested.

The emphasis on the tradition also assumes that the right of the United States to trade when others are at war, notwithstanding the risk that the United States will be drawn in, is more valuable to the United States than keeping the peace.

How ironic it must seem to a reflective mind that the hundred and fifty year dispute between the two countries is over a minor point of international law! The use of the navy to throttle an enemy's trade is of course only a means to an end; yet Americans nurse the tradition that the United States in 1812, to carry its point of neutral trading rights, ranged itself on the side of one of the world's "Great Perturbators." [i] By insisting on its orthodox position it might again deprive itself of all freedom of decision as to the great questions of policy that underlie world order. The British traditional position involves the same paradox. The Sea Lords of today know they could not afford to add the modern American navy to an enemy's fleet by repeating their tactics of the past. The British are also reflecting upon their vulnerability to attack in a great war. A paper prepared by Viscount Cecil and Mr. W. Arnold-Forster says,[ii] "In a future private war this practice -- i.e. maritime capture in war -- applied against us might easily destroy our existence, and applied by us might be equally fatal in consequence of embroiling us with the United States."

The basis for both these assertions may be found in the shipping losses of the World War:


British Empire 7,662,358
France 915,791
Norway 1,180,316
Sweden 201,267
Holland 211,969
Denmark 243,707
U. S. in 1915-1916 30,874
U. S. in 1917-1918 308,185

The blockade against Great Britain -- for such it was -- was carried out by a few German submarines from distant bases with no access to the British Channel because of the narrowness of the Straits. In the words of the Manchester Guardian:[iii] "But to blockade Great Britain and inflict on her a defeat far more catastrophic than even the defeat that came upon Germany nothing would have been needed save a few more German submarines. Today a continental naval Power with suitable bases could swiftly defeat this country, all the more so as aeroplanes (against which there is no adequate defense) would complete the work of the hostile submarines. Indeed, it is possible that merchant shipping in the English Channel would be destroyed more rapidly by attack from the air above than from the water below. Total defeat could come without the landing of one enemy or the bursting of one shell on British soil, or the loss of one British soldier, because Great Britain can feed herself for no more than seven weeks. Blockade, our traditional weapon in war, has become far more dangerous to ourselves than to others."

It may be taken as axiomatic that no single nation can any longer command the seas, and that "Rule, Britannia!" has become an anachronism. The organization of order by a single domination is therefore impossible.

It is of course essential to the organization of order that there shall be definite rules and that they shall work the same for all. Is such an organization possible by an agreement as to what the rules shall be in the event of war? The controversy has been over the definition of "neutral rights;" and unless a mare liberum is to be advocated (which Great Britain would not accept as to the Channel, the North Sea and so on, nor the United States as to the Caribbean and perhaps other seas), the definition of neutral rights involves defining "contraband," "blockade," "continuous voyage," etc., terms whose elasticity, as von Bieberstein pointed out at The Hague in 1907, permits of renewal of the same dispute in different guise.

Some lawyers in the Senate think there can be a "codification" of the law of the sea in wartime. Apparently they assume with Grotius "that commodities could be so divided in war-time as to leave private property and civil supplies untouched, whilst state property and military supplies were stopped, and that the difference between contraband and non-contraband was a real one resting on a genuine distinction between the two classes of articles." But there are no longer any such distinctions in fact; all the activities of both sides in the World War in the constriction of trade were based on the obliteration of such distinctions and rules and would be so again under similar circumstances. Classifications of property were annulled on the theory that anything that was useful for a nation contributed to its fighting power or its resistance. "Private" ownership became a farce; the German Government set up a purchasing agency in New York, and their shipments were "private property" and were consigned to neutrals; there was so much of this that the British made a presumption of it for all cases. "Blockade" used to be a close investment; the term was transferred in the World War to arrest on the high seas. All agree that the doctrine of "continuous voyage" or "ultimate destination" applies to absolute contraband, whether or not it applies to conditional contraband or to blockade; consequently the British declared virtually all goods to be absolute contraband, and stopped goods consigned to Germany's neighbors which might be going to Germany herself or which might be intended to replace goods already sent to Germany. The British view of "the law" is that "under present war practice a belligerent is entitled to capture any goods other than the merest luxuries found anywhere on the high seas and consigned to some destination from which they or their substitute may reach his antagonist."[iv]

This appears clearly in the fact that the codification proposed by Senators is to rest "on the basis of the inviolability of private property." The Senate would not accept any such "law;" in other words, there is no agreement as to what is "law." Manley O. Hudson says:[v] ". . . while some of the practices of neutrals and belligerents during the World War may have established precedents for the future, the war itself contributed little or nothing to the solution of juridical problems, nor to the establishment of new principles in the law relating to war and neutrality. No progress has been made since the war toward restating, clarifying, or improving our international law concerning the conduct of war. The present divergence of opinion as to the future of the law of neutrality renders it difficult to foresee any fruitful attempts either to clear up the uncertainties which prevailed during the war, or to settle any of the controversies which arose, or to enact satisfactory legislation for the future."

All of this means that the so-called "codification of international law" requires an agreement on policy, and that is impossible, partly because neither side can foresee in what direction its interest will lie in any of the multiple contingencies that may arise, partly because the popular opinion of neither country would be willing to accept what would seem like dictation from the other. Lawyers could hold an institute for discussion, but official representatives could not find their way out of the labyrinth; and a quarrel of lawyers would be even more unfortunate than a quarrel of admirals.

There is an inherent difficulty in attempting to control the operations and the spread of war by a "law" for its conduct. The wit of man cannot devise a code that would cover all the contingencies in a fashion satisfactory to any nation, not to say all of them; and a treaty of guaranty in large general terms is subject to the weakness that in the end the action of the guarantor depends upon the effect of circumstances upon his own interests. It is reasonably clear that a really definite agreement is impossible because, to mention the United States alone, it is not prepared to pledge itself in advance to abandon its traditional rights in hypothetical cases.

What, then, is to be the solution? Why, we have it happening before our eyes. It lies in taking the prevention of hostilities anywhere as the essence of the problem of maintaining peace, and of uniting the naval powers in action or attitude to prevent hostilities. If hostilities do not begin, they cannot spread; if they do not spread, they cannot align naval powers against each other on the basis of irreconcilable belligerent and neutral "rights." An association of the leading powers to prevent hostilities, shared by the United States, might never have to become active; the knowledge that the United States, the great source of supplies, is no longer isolationist (in the sense of caring for nothing except for an irresponsible neutrality), but is active to prevent war, is the greatest deterrent to aggressive military alliances or to wanton provocation that could be found. For such an association an agreement is good as indicating the direction to be taken, but common action in practice has a more practical benefit; behavior in family life, in copartnerships and in international relations is more determined by the grooves of antecedent behavior than by formulæ. The practice of joint planning and activity in smothering the outbreak of hostilities is the action of a police squad which undertakes no "entanglements" as to the merits of any fracas it summarily terminates. A police squad does not need articles of copartnership: it needs an intelligible purpose, an intention to act in the general interest and not in the interest of its members, and practice in coöperation.

If something of this sort be acceptable policy to both countries, there should be no great difficulty in harmonizing with it policies as to fleet-building. Nations do not exist to maintain fleets; fleets are maintained to serve national policies. "Parity" is necessary to prevent one nation from making what rules she pleases, to prevent domination of the seas by a single supreme power. Parity is easily attained by any one of a number of formulæ, for it already exists in the sense that neither Great Britain nor the United States could drive the navy of the other from the seas. Exact yardstick equality is impossible; such incommensurable factors as tonnage, age, speed, gun calibre cannot be brought into a common denominator. Admiral Fiske even insists on parity, i.e. equality, in naval base strength and in size of merchant marine; if you require these extended sacrifices of your taxpayers, you will still find that parity has not been attained because there is an inequality in oil supplies or gun factories or nitrate-fixing plants or something else. The insistence upon equality in all details is the attitude of the professional who is concerned more with the quality of his weapon than with the reason for its existence; he will never be satisfied unless the scale tips his way. An equality established for the British fleet at anchor in Portsmouth Harbor and the American fleet at Newport News would become a pronounced inequality if the two were to meet either near the Scilly Isles or off the Windward Passage. No precise equality is necessary to prevent a domination of the high seas by any country, which all others agree in finding intolerable.

Precise equality is also the more difficult and the less important because of the ambitions and interests of the other Powers. For that matter the United States would not enter into any arrangement that savored of a special alliance or any sort of understanding directed against the other Powers. Their potential strength cannot be ignored, and they must be induced to limit their building; nationalism requires them to hold out for what Briand calls "chiffres de prestige." Each of the other great Powers brings forward special circumstances which require peculiar consideration in any navy-limiting arrangement -- Japan, because she will not accept inferiority in cruisers, the type of ship which Great Britain or the United States could send to operate in Japanese waters; France, because she needs cruisers and submarines to maintain her communications with her African colonies, because she has to defend herself on three seas, and because she has possessions in the east, the two latter reasons making it indispensable that she have a navy superior to Italy's; Italy, because she insists on having a navy equal to that of France. None of them is likely to accept the 5:5:3:1.67:1.67 ratio established at the Washington Conference for capital ships. On the completion of vessels whose building is already undertaken or is presently contemplated, Japan will stand at 3.51 in cruisers and at 4.48 in submarines; France at 2.28 in cruisers and at 4.68 in submarines; France at 2.28 in cruisers and at 4.68 in submarines; Italy at 2.09 in cruisers and at 2.05 in submarines. Germany even begins to emerge from her obscurity with a 10,000 ton cruiser which is far more powerful than any of the 10,000 ton cruisers possessed by the other Powers. It is more likely that they will accept navy limitation as part of a general scheme for keeping the peace than that without any such scheme they will be satisfied with navy formulæ intended to force them into an Anglo-American agreement.

A factor complicating straight-out limitation with Great Britain requires consideration here. A conventional thesis of the Big Navy men is that, although the United States could afford to reduce her fleet indefinitely vis-à-vis Great Britain, she must maintain a substantial superiority in certain types of vessels, notably large cruisers, over the fleet of Japan because of the possibility of war with that country. An examination of policy would seem to indicate that in a world swayed by economic forces nothing is less likely than war between the United States and Japan. As between the United States and Japan the latter has no resources with which to conduct a modern war. She has no coal suitable for coking, nor sufficient supplies of oil nor cotton -- imports of cotton constitute over 36 percent of her total imports -- nor iron and steel. "Iron," as Professor Bain says, "is clearly one mineral that must be present in abundance within the limits of any country that aspires to first rank in war or industry, unless the situation be clearly recognized and a continued stream of imports be assured by an equally steady policy of peace or sea control . . . Unless it has within its borders a supply of the 'tonnage' minerals, coal, iron and sulphur or sulphides, it is under bonds to keep the peace."[vi] Even supposing that in a great foreign war the Japanese could mobilize all the resources of China, Professor Bain's studies show that there is no mineral wealth adequate for iron and steel production on a large scale.

In general, it may be said that Japan's imports consist to the extent of about 70 percent of the essential raw materials without which she could not maintain herself in peace time and still less in war, with some food stuffs. She gets 70 percent of her imported lumber, 60 percent of her imported iron rods, bars and plates, 40 percent of her manufactured machinery, 80 percent of her kerosene and 90 percent of her sulphate of ammonia from the United States. 85 percent of her exports consist of semi-manufactured or wholly manufactured goods, the loss of none of which would be of the slightest disadvantage to the United States in war time.

Sir Thomas Holland, President of the British Association, in his address at Johannesburg on July 31, 1929, pointed out that the essential mineral products are far from evenly distributed over the land areas of the world, western Europe and North America having a disproportionate share of those deposits that can be worked on a large scale, with the result that nine-tenths of the coal, two-thirds of the copper, and 98 percent of the iron ore consumed by the world come from these countries. On this ground of the uneven distribution of minerals he said that the British Empire and the United States were the only two nations that could fight for long on their own natural resources, and in set terms he declared that in the light of modern geological knowledge the bugaboo of the "Yellow Peril" has disappeared.

Japanese trade also prescribes for her statesmen a policy of peace with the United States, in the fact that the United States is Japan's best customer as well as the source of the largest part of her industrial supplies. Her trade figures for 1928 are:


Total imports 2,192,858,000 yen
U. S. share 625,503,082
or a U. S. share of 29 percent
Total exports 1,971,689,000 yen
U. S. share 826,141,097
or a U. S. share of 42 percent

Silk is the main item of Japanese exports to the United States, representing 82 percent of total exports to the United States and 96 percent of the total silk exports. Thus the silk industry -- the most important factor in the country's foreign trade and supplying half of Japan's exports -- is based on the American trade. She also exports to the United States a large quantity of manufactured silk goods, pottery, tea and straw braid. The destruction of this trade by a declaration of war would be about as intelligent as it would be for Cuba with her one-crop sugar economy to break off trade relations with the United States.

It would seem to follow from the foregoing that the hypothesis of an American war with Japan need not exercise any serious influence on the negotiations between American and British statesmen for fleet reduction, in the interest of taxpayers, in avoidance of the competitive building that promotes unfriendliness, and as an example to the rest of the world.

When all of the complicating, uncertain and variable factors are brought into a general account, the importance of establishing an exact equality between the British and the American fleets sensibly diminishes, and the most likely way of avoiding the innumerable deadlocks that might occur in controversy over ratios or other formulæ is to make these differences also immaterial by an Anglo-American leadership in preventing resort to war.

At the same time it will not do to be casual about an understanding as to the size of the American and British fleets. A policy of drift works in favor of the big navy group, the centre of which in each country is the professional interest. Without an understanding, each move in a building program is magnified and countered or over-countered in the other country. Without an understanding, some of the propaganda for more ships may at an unforeseen moment take a provocative form and itself create the distrust which it declares to exist. An association in active steps to prevent war is hypothetical until the occasion arises for its use, and such occasions are rare and critical; pending their arrival the continuance of large armaments emphasizes the individualism of the "self-defense" attitude -- the assumption that in the last resort preparation must be made against international anarchy -- and forfends the psychology which, believing that war ought to be and can be averted, considers measures to that end. The only way to create general confidence in a plan is to proceed upon it.

Admiral Magruder says that since 1812 it has been the policy of the United States Navy to arm its ships with the heaviest batteries possible. "Let that policy continue and America will have peace and, with a broad human sympathy, be in a position to engender a spirit of goodwill throughout the world."[vii] To British readers it might seem that if heavy guns are an aid to peaceful intentions and by the same token are to be taken as a sign of a peaceable disposition, then the more British armament there is the better it will be for a peace-loving world. The writer believes therefore that it is of substantial if not of cardinal importance that the effort at an understanding between the United States and Great Britain to avert all wars whatsoever should be marked by their active coöperation in disarmament.

The gist of this article can be stated in four sentences. American and British navies can act together in the policy of keeping the peace -- not merely proclaiming an intention to do so, for pragmatic practice has more effect than promises on a sophisticated world; this is a policy open to all countries which sincerely put that end above national ambitions. With wise handling the execution of this policy reasonably insures that in the event of war they will have harmonious policies, making it likely that they will both be belligerents or both be neutrals at the same time. The effect of such a course should tend to dissolve the problem of "parity" and the muddle over belligerent and neutral "rights," since they both originate in the difference between a belligerent interest imputed to one of the two states and a neutrality interest imputed to the other. A sceptical world can best be convinced of the sincerity of such a program and induced to coöperate with it if the United States and Great Britain by reducing their own enormous navies make it seem that they believe in their own program.

[i] The validity of the argument is not affected by the fact that the northwestern frontiersmen were much more eager for war than the New England shipping and mercantile interests.

[ii] Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Vol. VIII, No. 2, p. 100.

[iii] February 12, 1929.

[iv] Viscount Cecil and Mr. W. Arnold-Forster, op. cit., p. 100.

[v] "The Development of International Law Since the War," American Journal of International Law, April 1929.

[vi] "Ores and Industry in the Far East," New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1927, pp.16,20.

[vii] "The United States Navy," Philadelphia, 1928, p. 34.

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