The London Naval Conference: an American View

I. THE REASONS FOR CALLING THE CONFERENCE

IN the year 1929 there were two impelling reasons for opening negotiations aimed at the further limitation of naval armaments. The Washington Treaty[i] had provided for a holiday until 1931 in the construction of capital ships. Thus when Mr. Hoover became President in March 1929 he knew that within a short time he would have to face the question of building battleships. The treaty had authorized the United States to lay down fifteen new battleships of 35,000 tons' displacement between 1931 and 1939. It had authorized Great Britain to do the same. It had authorized Japan to lay down nine battleships. If the cost of one of these ships be estimated at fifty million dollars there was here the prospect of an expenditure of three quarters of a billion dollars on the part of the United States, and of nearly two billions by the three Powers combined. The common sense of the civilians fortified by the increasing skepticism of naval men abroad as to the value of battleships revolted against this destructive expenditure. It was evident that steps would have to be taken before 1931 to avert it.

An even more impelling reason for opening negotiations was presented by the situation in respect to cruisers, destroyers and submarines. They had not been regulated under the Washington Treaty. Beginning in 1924 a race of armaments had developed in these classes and after the failure of the Geneva Conference of 1927 the race had become a dangerous disturbance to the peace of the world. There was undisguised rivalry between Britain, Japan and America in large cruisers, a great tension between Britain and France over submarines, an out and out competition between France and Italy in all three categories.

Mr. Hoover acknowledged the need of agreement in his Inaugural Address, and the Baldwin government, which was soon to be replaced by the MacDonald government, was equally aware of the necessity.[ii] Active negotiations began immediately after the appointment of General Dawes as Ambassador to Great Britain, and were given a great impetus by a speech delivered on April 22, 1929, by Ambassador Gibson at Geneva before the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference. Mr. Hoover continued to push the negotiations and to arouse public sentiment.[iii]

II. THE RACE OF ARMAMENTS

The London Conference had as its chief objective the ending of a menacing race of armaments in which all five Powers were engaged. In order to reach an understanding of the issues at the Conference it is necessary to fix in mind the specific character of this race of armaments.

We may ignore for the present all paper ships and confine ourselves to ships actually laid down between the Washington Conference of 1922 and the London Conference of 1930. There are four classes of vessels to be considered: cruisers carrying 8″ guns, cruisers carrying 6″ guns or less, destroyers, and submarines.

In this eight-year period there had been enormous construction of large cruisers. The five Powers had laid down fifty-two of them as follows: Great Britain fifteen, United States thirteen, Japan twelve, France six, Italy six. That this was competitive building in a most dangerous sense is disclosed by the timetable on which these ships were laid down. Japan began with two of them in 1922. The race began in earnest two years later. In 1924 Britain laid down five, Japan four, and France one. At the end of that year Congress authorized eight, and appropriations were made the next year for five, but none was actually laid down. In 1925 Britain laid down two more, Japan two more, and France one more, and Italy entered the race by laying down two to even up matters with France. In 1926 the United States laid down its first big cruiser, Britain laid down two more, and France one more. The next year the United States again laid down one, Britain laid down five, Japan two, and France one. That was the year of the failure of the Geneva Conference. It resulted immediately in a great increase of American building. In 1928 the United States laid down six big cruisers, Britain one, Japan two, and France one. The year 1929 saw the reopening of negotiations and there was a lull in new construction, except that France laid down one ship, and Italy, to even up, laid down four. In 1930, when the Conference was to assemble, the United States laid down five ships.

What had actually happened was that from 1924 to the Geneva Conference Britain and Japan set the pace by creating great fleets of big cruisers. Until the Geneva Conference the United States refrained from competing, hoping to end the race by treaty. After the Geneva Conference collapsed, the United States having made it plain that it intended to close the gap, Britain and Japan paused and acknowledged that if the United States meant to compete they did not desire to continue the competition. Italy, which had also been left behind, made a spurt to catch up with France.

When the Powers accepted the invitation to the London Conference one principle alone had been definitely established: the futility of competition between Britain and America. Japan, though it did not claim parity, was claiming a better ratio in cruisers than the 60 percent she accepted in capital ships in Washington. The ratios as between Britain and France, and as between France and Italy were in dispute.

So much for the big cruisers. In the smaller cruisers there had been a certain amount of building, but except as between France and Italy, it was not seriously competitive in this class.[iv] The reason was that Britain had already an overwhelming superiority, and the American Navy during this period was wedded to the dogma that only the big cruiser was desirable. It proposed to use a superiority in big cruisers to offset Britain's superiority in small cruisers and when agreement was reached on the principle of Anglo-American parity one of the technical questions which had to be settled was the comparative rating of 8" gun and 6" gun cruisers.

During the eight-year period the United States possessed a large number of destroyers which were not over age. Except that it completed three in 1922 it did no building of destroyers. Japan laid down forty-seven, France fifty, Italy thirty-seven, and Great Britain twenty-two. This spurt in destroyer construction was a response to the immense construction of submarines. Japan laid down thirty-five submarines, and completed forty-eight, many of which had been laid down before the Washington Treaty. France set the pace in Europe. She laid down sixty-seven submarines, over two-thirds of them after 1926. Italy laid down thirty-two, all of them after 1925, and Great Britain nineteen. The United States laid down only three, although it completed forty-two.

Thus in the eight years following the Washington Conference, a period marked by such notable events as the practical operation of the League of Nations and the World Court, the signature of the Locarno Treaties and the Pact of Paris, the five leading naval Powers actually laid down and started to build 379 new warships, displacing nearly a million tons (997,963). They had in addition authorizations and plans for an indefinitely larger amount. As most of this building was essentially competitive, the urgent need of a treaty of limitation was patent.

III. THE CLAIMS OF THE POWERS

The figures I have mentioned thus far deal only with new construction in the period between the Washington Conference and the London Conference. The London Conference had to concern itself with new construction to be authorized for some definite term of years. The year selected for the termination of the treaty was 1936. Now by 1936 some ships at present in service will be obsolete, other ships just commenced will be completed. Therefore, in order to analyze the problem of limitation it is necessary to know what would be the strength of the five navies on December 31, 1936, omitting ships which would then be obsolete and assuming that there was no new building in the seven years to come. This hypothesis provides a standard by which to measure the proposals for new building.

Assuming, then, a complete holiday of new building between 1930 and the end of 1936, counting out ships which would then be over age, counting in ships which would by that date have been completed, I have calculated from what I believe to be the accepted data of the Conference that the ratios of fleets, omitting battleships, would be as follows:

Actual Percent
Tonnage
In big cruisers: Great Britain 186,226 100
United States 130,000 70
Japan 108,400 58
France 60,000 32
Italy 60,000 32
In small cruisers: Great Britain 114,020 100
United States 70,500 62
Japan 81,455 71
France 33,017 29
Italy 29,602 26
In destroyers: Great Britain 38,581 100
United States 14,653 38
Japan 86,405 224
France 92,577 240
Italy 60,704 157
In submarines: Great Britain 34,009 100
United States 22,950 67
Japan 52,252 154
France 66,314 195
Italy 26,951 79

The theoretical position revealed by these tables is the standard with reference to which the original claims and counterclaims of each of the five Powers can best be stated. These claims were as follows:

1. The United States asked for parity with Great Britain in all classes, and asked that large and small cruisers be counted as one class. According to the prevailing naval opinion, which was reluctantly modified in September 1929, it was desirable to concentrate the whole American cruiser tonnage in 10,000 tonners carrying 8″ guns.[v]

2. Great Britain conceded parity in principle, but asked that large and small cruisers be considered as separate categories with parity in each.

3. Japan asked for a ratio of 70 percent in big cruisers and for a larger ratio in other categories.

4. The British Empire, particularly Australia, and the United States insisted that Japan remain at 60 percent in big cruisers and desired that she remain at 60 percent in all other categories.

5. The French position is a much more difficult one to describe because all the data are not publicly available. Broadly speaking, one may say that in fixing their claims the French were subject to pressure from two opposite directions. The British and Americans were pushing down on them to reduce the level for the construction of new cruisers and submarines. The Italians were pushing up on them. There were three conflicting national policies involved. The British wanted the French to reduce so that Britain could maintain as inexpensively as possible the Two-Power Standard, or at least decisive superiority, as against the the Continent. The Italians claimed parity with France. And France was determined to maintain clear superiority over Italy. The essential French claim was for a fleet equal to the Italian in the Mediterranean, to the German in the Atlantic, plus a few more ships in other waters.

To translate this triangular problem into concrete terms is to enter a maze of figures. In attempting it I must ask the reader to be charitable and to remember that these are a layman's deductions from data which in many details are in dispute among experts.

As the basis of discussion I shall take for the British fleet the position on December 31, 1936, as fixed by the agreement with America. For the French and Italian fleets I shall take the theoretical position on December 31, 1936, assuming that ships now building are completed, that no new ships are laid down, and that obsolete ships are scrapped.

Great Britain France Italy
Tonnage Ratio Tonnage Ratio Tonnage Ratio as
as against France as against Italy against France
Big cruisers 146,800 100:41 60,000 Parity 60,000 Parity
Small cruisers 192,200 100:17 33,017 100:90 29,602 90:100
Destroyers 150,000 100:62 92,577 100:66 60,704 66:100
Submarines 52,700 100:126 66,314 100:41 26,951 41:100

From the point of view of the British the problem was how to stand on the level agreed to with America and still maintain a decisive superiority over France. From the point of view of the French the problem was how to maintain a decisive superiority over Italy without raising their level to a point where they could reach no agreement with Great Britain. The table discloses that with Britain at the treaty level of 1936 and with France and Italy taking a holiday, Britain would have her superiority over France in all classes that matter except submarines, and there her overwhelming superiority in small cruisers may be regarded as compensation. The tables also disclose, however, that with a holiday for France and Italy the Italians would have parity in big cruisers, and would be near parity in small cruisers.

It followed that France would have to lay down new ships to outbuild Italy in order to prevent Italy from attaining parity. But if France did this she would improve her ratios as against Great Britain, and Britain would have to raise the level of Anglo-American parity in order to maintain her relative superiority over France. The problem presented by this situation was never solved. It is theoretically insoluble. The Italian demand for parity and the French rejection of it are irreconcilable in terms of ratios. Moreover, insofar as the Italians actually set out to build up to France, and France to keep ahead of Italy, the Anglo-American level is threatened.

There were, however, mitigating circumstances. The most tangible was the fact that the French and Italians are behind in their actual building programs and that for the next two or three years the French can afford to go slowly. This permitted Britain to sign the Treaty with America under the safeguards provided by Article XXI. The other mitigating circumstance I shall discuss later. It is that a political agreement between France and Italy on diplomatic problems in the Mediterranean and a political agreement between Britain and France on the question of sanctions might somehow stabilize the armaments of the three Powers.

IV. THE QUESTIONS BEFORE THE CONFERENCE

I have now outlined the claims and counterclaims of the five Powers. It will be seen that the negotiations (in which I include the Hoover-MacDonald conversations of last summer as well as the formal Conference itself) called for settlement on the following major points:

1. The application of the principle of parity to the American claim for big cruisers and the British claim for a large number of small cruisers.

2. The Japanese-American ratio.

3. The Franco-Italian ratio.

4. The adjustment of the level of Anglo-American parity to the French program.

5. The reduction of the French absolute program by political agreements.

These five questions were the serious business in hand. We can now proceed to examine the success and failures of the whole negotiation.

V. ANGLO-AMERICAN PARITY

After the passage of the American cruiser bill of 1929 the principle of parity was no longer in dispute. There remained, however, to apply it. The British were in the lead. They agreed to establish parity in battleships immediately at a level of fifteen each by scrapping five older ships while America scrapped three. They also agreed to mathematical parity in destroyers and submarines.

Cruisers presented the real difficulty in applying the principle of parity. The minimum British cruiser program was fixed not by reference to America but by reference to other Powers. This minimum program as of 1936 provided for an actual reduction of nearly 40,000 tons of older big cruisers. It provided for a very considerable amount of new construction in small cruisers and destroyers. It followed that in conceding parity to America the British conceded it at their level. This meant that to achieve parity America had to build up and could not count on Britain's coming down. The question, then, was how much America was to build in each category. Had the naval men of both countries desired the same types of ships there would have been no problem. The British conceded freely America's right to build to parity if Britain fixed the level in each category. This theoretical concession is contained in Article XVIII of the London Treaty as adopted.

But this option does not meet the real question. What the Americans wished was the right to put their whole cruiser tonnage in big cruisers. They wished to have this right even though there is strong naval opinion which questions the wisdom of acting on such a policy. The British insisted on dividing cruisers into two categories, and they were willing to concede America some superiority in big cruisers in return for superiority in small cruisers. A compromise was reached on this basis. America was authorized to build 30,000 tons more big cruisers than Great Britain, and accepted an authorization to build 50,000 tons less in small cruisers.

The formula adopted to effect this compromise was to count each of the three excess American 10,000 ton cruisers carrying 8" guns as the equivalent of 15,166 tons of cruisers carrying 6″ guns. This was the nearest quantitative expression which could be given to what is essentially a qualitative difference between the two types of cruisers.

It should be added that America agreed not to complete her excess in big cruisers before the next conference, in 1935. Much has been made of this concession. It is not, I think, important. The three retarded cruisers can legally be laid down by 1935 even if they cannot be completed, and for trading purposes in a conference a ship laid down counts as a real ship.

The result of the compromise is to bind Great Britain to scrap 39,426 tons of big cruisers which would not be obsolete by 1936 and to authorize the following new construction:

United States Great Britain
Big cruisers 50,000
Small cruisers 73,000 78,180
Destroyers 135,347 111,419
Submarines 29,750 18,691

These are the terms on which the United States can, if it desires, achieve a conventional mathematical parity with Great Britain, providing always that Article XXI is not invoked to raise the level. If it is invoked, America has the right, in each category, to make the same increase.[vi] On this question of the safeguarding clause the British Prime Minister gave the following public assurance at the closing session of the London Conference:

"It is not put in as an easy way around the treaty. I hope it will never be used . . . and we have every hope that as a result of the conversations after adjournment of this Conference an understanding will be arrived at that will make any use of it absolutely unnecessary."

VI. THE JAPANESE AGREEMENT

The nature of the agreement with Japan can be most clearly stated by taking as a basis of discussion the position of the American and Japanese fleets on December 31, 1936, assuming the completion of ships now building, the scrapping of obsolete ships, and the absence of any new construction after the London Conference. The situation would be then as follows:

United States Japan Ratio
Big cruisers 130,000 108,400 100:83.3
Small cruisers 70,500 81,455 86.6:100
Destroyers 14,653 86,405 16.9:100
Submarines 22,950 52,252 43.9:100

These figures show that in all classes not limited at Washington, Japan had been building far beyond any theoretical ratio of 60 percent. In terms of real modern ships she had actually surpassed America in every category except the big cruisers and there she had 83 percent. Japan did not, however, ask the right to maintain this relative position. She was willing to come down to 70 percent in big cruisers, and she was willing to let America surpass her in small cruisers and destroyers. She asked for parity in submarines.

It became evident that the Japanese were actuated by two motives: fear and pride. That they had a defensive fear rather than an aggressive purpose is shown by their willingness to accept definite inferiority not only in battleships but in big cruisers; that they are willing to spend relatively so much money to maintain a very powerful but a definitely inferior navy can be explained only on the ground that they feel isolated and in danger. That they insisted on different ratios in different categories rather than a single ratio throughout is partly due to a desire for extra strength in the smaller defensive ships and partly to a revolt of their pride against being rated as a generally inferior Power. Their insistence on having it said in the treaty (Article XXIII) that none of its provisions "shall prejudice the attitude" of anyone at the Conference of 1935 is almost certainly due to the same desire not to be rated once and for all.

After prolonged negotiations the Japanese were given very liberal concessions. The ratio agreed to for completed big cruisers by the next conference is 72 percent. If big cruisers laid down are included the ratio is 60 percent. One can take one's choice as to which figure is the more significant. The ratio agreed to in small cruisers is 70 percent. The ratio for destroyers is 71 percent. The ratio for submarines is parity.

In judging the concessions these percentages may easily be misleading. In the most important categories, the big cruisers, the Japanese agreed to take a complete holiday, while we start to build 50,000 tons. This building of ours will reduce the Japanese ratio to 60 percent before a new competition can begin. This is a great concession to America on a vital point. In the other categories the substantial fact is that Japan agrees to stand still or build very slowly while we may, if we wish, build tremendously. She does practically no submarine building, for example, while we may build 29,750 tons to attain parity with her. In small cruisers we may build nearly four tons to every one ton the Japanese build. In destroyers we may build seven tons to every one ton which Japan builds.

The substantial truth is that, having effected an enormous expansion since the Washington Conference, Japan is now going to take what amounts to a naval holiday. The total authorization up to 1936 for new construction in all categories including aircraft carriers is 50,768 tons. Ours is nearly seven times as great: 346,811 tons.

Merely to scrutinize ratios and to ignore the realities of this agreement is a pedantic form of jingoism.

VII. THE AGREEMENT OF THE OCEANIC POWERS

The concessions to Japan and the compromise between Britain and America made possible a contingent treaty limiting the naval armaments of the oceanic Powers. Were they the only three Powers to be considered, the limitation would be firm and the level of armaments might very readily have been reduced. For as against each other all three Powers, with the exception of Japan, have what has been called "the consciousness of security." Britain and America are not afraid of each other, and the American demand for parity is not based on fear of Great Britain. This is well understood on both sides of the Atlantic and it provides the surest foundation of peace which exists anywhere between two great Powers. Even the meticulous care with which the details of parity are discussed is not to be taken as real concern over the strength of the fleets in war. The men who make the greatest show of worry about two or three cruisers are not thinking about the realities of an Anglo-American war. They are thinking about the Naval Conference as a game in which the tonnage agreements are the score, and they are enormously interested in finding out whether their side won. Among those who understand the philosophy of it, mathematical parity is known to be a mere logical convention for expressing substantial agreement in quantitative terms.

Ratios are not and cannot be true measures of relative strength in actual combat because it is impossible to frame a hypothesis which will correctly predict all the conditions of all possible future wars. A ratio is, therefore, really a political device for expressing present agreements. In the present state of the world it provides a useful formula for stabilizing the existing relation of states. The device works among states which already regard their relations as stable. That is why it works as between Britain and America, and why, with diminishing fear of a Japanese-American war, it works in the Pacific.

That is why it does not work on the continent of Europe. The present relation of states in Europe is not stable. France is deeply conscious of the fact that she has occupied a place in the European system since the Armistice which is precarious because it does not truly represent her relative strength. The military weakness of Germany is an anomaly. The exclusion of Russia is an anomaly. The position of Hungary and Austria is essentially artificial. The restlessness of Italy cannot be discounted. There is little prospect that the system of states imposed by the Allies after the war is a stable equilibrium which will endure by consent. The French know that it is insecure and that in the last analysis it can be maintained only by superior force. French foreign policy since the war has been haunted by a sense of insecurity arising out of the historical accident that France attained the temporary hegemony of Europe. France inherited from her allies, Britain and America, a political estate which she has not the resources to maintain. She has sought for ten years to make her position secure by supplementing her own resources with pledges of assistance from other powers. Plans have varied; her objectives have never changed. Until there is a better equilibrium of states in Europe the French problem is and must be how to assemble enough force, her own and the pledged force of others, to make herself secure against the dangers of a breakdown of the present European system.

Although every attempt was made to avoid, evade, and ignore this problem, it obtruded itself directly upon the London Conference. Britain is both an oceanic and a continental power; therefore, her agreements with the purely oceanic powers, Japan and the United States, had to be contingent upon France. It was, therefore, the size of French armaments which determined the level on which parity with America could be established; it was the French willingness to build slowly for two or three years which permitted Britain to sign the limitation treaty with the safeguarding clause; it will be French naval policy after 1933 or thereabouts which will determine whether the treaty levels must be raised.

The French naval program presented to the Conference is based upon the hypothesis that France and her allies in the Succession States may have to stand alone in defense of the present European system against the concerted attack of what may be called the dissatisfied Powers. Such a defense, as the French conceive it, would be primarily a military matter. They hold that the chief duty of the French navy is to hold Germany in check in the Atlantic and protect military communications between France in Europe and France in North Africa against Italian attack. They therefore insist upon a navy equal to Italy in the Mediterranean, a navy somewhat superior to Germany in the North Atlantic, and a few ships for their Asiatic possessions.

I have already discussed the conflict between the French Two-Power Standard and the Italian claim of parity. Now I should like to point out that the French standard discounts any assistance from the British fleet. The French have said that the standard could be altered to "take fully into account any guarantee of security that might be made, and which would give full effect to the undertakings of international solidarity against an aggressor contained in Article XVI of the Covenant."[vii] For the purposes of this discussion they meant that they would take into account the degree to which Britain pledged herself to use her fleet to maintain the present European system.

Thus by inescapable logic the hope of a five-Power limitation treaty, the permanence of the three-Power agreement, and the level of naval armaments throughout the world were made to depend upon a solution of the French problem of security. In so far as it was the purpose of the French delegation to make the world aware of this dependence, they succeeded brilliantly. But the problem of security was not solved at London. The issues were, however, clarified, and a basis was found for continuing negotiations.

VIII. THE PROBLEM OF SANCTIONS

Ever since the Peace Conference at Paris the question of how far and how definitely Great Britain is pledged to use force to defend the European system has been in dispute. It is the heart of the problem of sanctions. It is an enormously complicated dispute. To write its history in detail would be to write the story of the conflicting conceptions of the League and the greater part of the history of Anglo-French relations in the last decade. I shall touch only certain main issues which the British and the Americans at London were reluctantly, and without adequate preparation, and most hesitatingly, compelled to discuss.

These issues can be stated in either one of two languages: in terms of realistic French national policy or in terms of the League ideology. I do not intend this remark in any cynical sense. Since M. Briand became Foreign Minister five years ago there has been a genuine integration of French national policy with French loyalty to the League. It has been the end and aim of M. Briand's diplomacy to organize the security of France not by the old style alliances but within the framework of the League by a system of reciprocal and universal pledges of mutual assistance. It has been his purpose to obtain by open and idealistic means those pledges of assistance which have hitherto been obtainable only by separate, nationalistic and usually secret arrangements.

After everything has been said about the superiority of the idealistic method of M. Briand, it remains a fact that his policy depends at last upon persuading Great Britain to renounce her freedom of action and to pledge herself to use force in eventualities which she cannot now foresee. For ten years France has sought such a pledge from Great Britain. She has never obtained it, except in a limited form at Locarno, and the truth of the matter is that when the London Conference assembled France was farther than ever from her objective.

The British attitude towards sanctions has from the start been vacillating and ambiguous. It is, I think, true to say that the central opinion of the English-speaking peoples has always been fundamentally opposed to the French conception of an enforced peace. They do not hesitate to use force when it suits their interest, but for one reason and another -- their geographical position, their isolation from Europe, their domestic traditions of government -- they do not believe that the principle of sanctions is either desirable or workable. They see in it no security for themselves; on the contrary, they see in it nothing but unnecessary danger. Therefore, whenever they have yielded and have seemed to accept the principle of sanctions, they have done so against their instinct and judgment and only as a choice of evils. This was the spirit in which Mr. Wilson and Mr. Lloyd George granted M. Clemenceau the abortive treaty of guarantees. It is the spirit in which the British have always dealt with the sanctions of Article XVI.

After the American rejection of the Covenant the British position under Article XVI became utterly impossible. Were the sanctions to be invoked, the principal burden of enforcing them would fall upon the British navy. It would have to establish a blockade of the "aggressor" and would among other things have to suppress American trade. It is preposterous to suppose that any British government will pledge itself to take the risks of war with America in order to maintain, at the behest of the Council of the League, a European system which is not wholly consonant either with the interest of the British people or with their sense of international justice. Any hope that Britain would or could interpret the sanctions of Article XVI in the French sense vanished when America rejected the Covenant.[viii]

The British did not, however, announce plainly in 1919 that the pledge of the sanctions would in any full sense have to be given up. Preoccupied with the appeasement of Franco-German relations, desiring to strengthen the less nationalistic elements in France, they evaded the issue and tried to muddle through. They conceded a little in theory here and there and once went so far as to tie themselves up in the Protocol. But they never would take the pledge which France demanded, and after the fall of the first Labor government and after the attempt to satisfy France at Locarno, British opinion and policy hardened against France and against further Continental commitments.

Indeed, when plans were being made for the London Conference, France had become convinced that Great Britain was in the process of withdrawing from any obligation to maintain the existing European structure. The rejection of the Protocol, the overwhelming popular repudiation of the Anglo-French naval compromise of 1928, Mr. Snowden's dramatic stand at The Hague, Mr. MacDonald's visit to the United States, and his pledge to Parliament against further commitments were regarded as stages in British withdrawal. The French, I think, were right in their estimate of British opinion. There was in February 1930 a singular unanimity in Britain on the theme of not guaranteeing French security. This withdrawal in spirit and purpose was of the utmost consequence to French policy; it meant that the paper commitments of the Covenant, the Pact of Paris, and even of Locarno could not be counted upon to mean any assurance that the British fleet would support France in time of war.

The French, therefore, came to London determined to find out what British intentions were. The much-discussed Mediterranean Pact, the technical and apparently abstruse questions raised about Article XVI, were employed by M. Briand, not because he is infatuated with pacts as such, but because they could be employed to test British purposes. The inner diplomatic issue at London was just there. Behind the argument about submarines, cruiser tonnages, Franco-British ratios and the rest lay the question of whether Britain would go on to scrap all commitments to maintain the European system or whether she could be brought back to a mood of serious participation in the organization of security.

It was the desire to bring France into a five-Power limitation agreement, it was the hope that she could be persuaded to reduce her cruisers and submarines, it was the fear that she would resent a three-Power treaty, and finally it was the desire to have her bless the agreement though she did not enter it, that finally, in the later stages of the Conference, actually about March 25, induced the British and the Americans to reopen the discussion of the problem of sanctions.

IX. THE CONSULTATIVE PACT

It was well understood by the French, the British and the Americans that the United States would not under any conceivable circumstances take a pledge to apply sanctions. It was not so well understood in America that the American position outside the League constituted a decisive veto on any pledge that Britain might be willing to take. It is impossible for Britain to enforce a blockade in Europe unless it is certain that America will not insist upon its right as a neutral to trade with the Covenant-breaking state. For America is in a position to break any blockade which the League declares, and therefore Britain could not, if she would, make clear her own intentions without knowing first what were the intentions of America.

The Consultative Pact is a device for dealing with this difficulty. It would bind America to consult with the other powers if a war was threatened. In such a consultation America would be expected to make clear its attitude towards measures recommended by the Council. America might declare that there should be no sanctions: in that event Britain would know the risks before agreeing to apply sanctions. On the other hand, faced with a concrete situation, America might declare that the application of sanctions to preserve the peace was desirable: in that event Britain could proceed assured that America would at least be benevolently neutral.

The French said often, and properly from their point of view, that they would not reduce their navy for any consultative pact. It does not give them morally or legally any pledge of assistance by Britain or America. The significance to France of the Consultative Pact lies wholly in the degree to which it frees Britain to make definite her own pledge to apply sanctions. When at last the American delegation at London understood this, Mr. Stimson went to Mr. MacDonald on Monday March 24, 1930, and made his famous offer to consider a consultative pact. The immediate result was to stimulate the British and French to reopen their ten-year discussion.

In the month that followed some progress was made. By the mere act of negotiating the British persuaded the French that they were not withdrawing from their European commitments. They even reached agreement on certain points, which, though they do not actually touch the main points as to a British pledge of assistance, do indicate a sympathetic desire to work with the French for a solution of the problem. They agreed, it is said, that Great Britain would carry out the measures recommended by the Council. Since recommendations have to be unanimous, and since Britain is a member of the Council, this would not seem to be much of a concession. But the French liked it, partly because it recognized the principle of collective sanctions and partly because they believe it would be easier to obtain British assistance at Geneva than in separate negotiations between London and Paris.

They agreed also to work together for amendments to the Covenant which would "close the gap" by prohibiting all war, in accordance with the report (March 8, 1930) of the Committee of the League charged with harmonizing the Covenant and the Pact of Paris. The French asked the British to put the principles of this report into effect in 1931 as between themselves. The British demurred, refusing to go farther than to work for the amendments and to accept them when they had been regularly adopted.

At this point the negotiations stopped at London with the understanding that they were to be continued elsewhere. They so vastly improved the atmosphere that France signed the Treaty and thus gave her moral approval to the three-Power limitation.

It will be seen that America did not play any part, except perhaps as observer, after Mr. Stimson's offer of March 24. The American position was somewhat ambiguous. It is now known that the Stimson offer was based on a decision reached by the delegation at London and afterwards approved with some hesitation and reluctance by the President. It was a courageous offer to make and beyond a doubt it was the direct cause of such an improvement in the atmosphere of the Conference that M. Briand blessed the Treaty and departed from London in a cordial and hopeful spirit. But it is only candid to say that Mr. Stimson, had he been called upon to sign such a pact, might have had the greatest difficulty in obtaining the consent of the Senate. This is one of the reasons, perhaps, why the discussions were opened and left open. The American people had not been prepared for the offer which the delegation, faced with the realities, felt it wise to make. In fact, the President had up to that time educated American opinion against the proposal. It was, therefore, the part of wisdom not to risk a grandiose failure by pressing the matter to a conclusion.

It should be added, I think, that it is by no means certain that the British would adopt the principle of sanctions even if America signed a consultative pact. They would, of course, go farther than they could go without it, but it is my impression that the main current of British opinion in the United Kingdom and in the Dominions is set against the kind of definite pledge of force which France has sought for the last ten years. It seems to me highly improbable that the orthodox French doctrine of the League sanctions will prevail. It is rejected, of course, by America and actually by the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Germans do not believe in it nor do the Scandinavians. The support of the doctrine comes almost entirely from France and her allies. My guess is that France herself will modify the doctrine as the European system evolves away from the post-war settlement, and that in the course of time she will seek her security, not in a vain attempt to organize collective force, but in the acceptance of a more stable European equilibrium. I venture to suggest that M. Briand's scheme for a United States of Europe is a framework being prepared to contain a change of French policy.

X. IN CONCLUSION

This review covers only roughly the main points of a very complex matter. By the time it is published the Treaty will have been subjected to searching scrutiny in the press and the parliaments of five nations. Since its agreements represent the concessions and the compromises of statesmen it is in the nature of things that naval men qua naval men in all countries will find fault with it. The naval men could not, however, have made a better treaty. They could not have made any treaty, for they desire irreconcilable things. A treaty limiting armaments must of necessity be made by overruling in some measure naval opinion in the interest of political agreement. That was done by all three delegations at London. If it is desirable to limit armaments then they were justified in making compromises and concessions. That they made no vital concessions is attested by the fact that expert criticism in all three nations is directed only against details of the agreement.

The task of limiting and reducing armaments is one of the greatest political enterprises ever undertaken by man. It has been a serious project for not more than a dozen years. The London Conference was a stage in the earlier phases of a historical movement. The problem of armaments is as intricate as the international relation of states. Nobody understands much of the problem and most men in most nations do not understand it at all. The London Conference did, I believe, advance the understanding of the problem by clarifying some of the issues and indicating tentatively some of the solutions.

The allotment of praise and blame is a doubtful business at best. I do not know enough to say more than that the greatest credit should be given to Mr. MacDonald and to Mr. Hoover for the passionate sincerity with which they willed to go on with the problem, and for their courage in accepting the risks of compromise. On the other hand, it must be said that Mr. Hoover failed to make the public understand the difficulties, that he raised false hopes of a reduction in armaments, and that both Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Hoover failed to prepare properly for the negotiations with France. To the American delegation must be given the credit for patience in negotiating and for the insight and the courage which at the eleventh hour saved the Conference from moral disaster and brought out of it the first complete treaty of naval limitation in the history of the modern world.

[i] Signed February 6, 1922.

[ii] Cf. statement of British Foreign Secretary in Parliament, February 6, 1929; also statement of the British Ambassador, Sir Esme Howard, on February 15, 1929.

[iii] Cf. Memorial Day speech, May 30, 1929. Statement of Secretary Stimson, May 31. Joint Communique on conversation at Forres between the Prime Minister and Ambassador Dawes. Speech by Mr. MacDonald at Lossiemouth, June 18. Speech by Ambassador Dawes at Pilgrims Dinner, June 18. Arrival of Ambassador Gibson in London to confer with Ambassador Dawes, June 24. King's speech read to Parliament, July 2. Statement of President Hoover on military expenditure, July 23. Statement of Prime Minister suspending construction of two cruisers, July 24. Proclamation of Kellogg Pact, July 24. Letter by President Hoover to American Legion, July 31. Statement by Mr. MacDonald, August 20. Speech by Ambassador Dawes, August 20. Speech by Mr. MacDonald before Assembly of League, September 3. President Hoover's denunciation of Shearer, September 6. Announcement of Mr. MacDonald's visit to the United States, September 12. Joint statement by Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Hoover, October 9.

[iv] Japan laid down four, France five, and Italy six.

[v] Cf. memorandum of the General Board to the Secretary of the Navy, September 11, 1929, published by Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate on May 16, 1930.

[vi] As this article goes to press there is some dispute as to the exact meaning of this provision.

[vii] Memorandum communicated to the British Government on December 20, 1929.

[viii] Cf. memorandum issued by Baldwin government rejecting the Protocol: Official Journal, Sixth Year. No. 4. This memorandum is said to have been written by Lord Balfour.

Browse Related Articles on {{search_model.selectedTerm.name}}

{{indexVM.results.hits.total | number}} Articles Found

  • {{bucket.key_as_string}}