FOR five years the League of Nations has been seeking for some way to give effect to the declaration contained in Article 8 of the Covenant: "The Members of the League recognize that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety." In each of the treaties of peace--with Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria--a strict limitation of armaments was imposed upon those powers, and in each case the clauses defining those limitations were prefaced by the statement that: "In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of armaments of all nations Germany (Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria) undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval and air clauses which follow." Therefore for a number of years two pledges have been in existence, the first given by all the signatories to the Covenant of the League of Nations, the second by all the signatories to the treaties of peace, that they would seek to bring about a general limitation of armaments.

During these five years the problem has been again and again investigated by commissions of the League of Nations, and a number of plans have been produced, but so far none of them has obtained a sufficient degree of support to bring any practical result. It is not my purpose in this article to discuss the merits or demerits of these plans but rather to give a description of the land and air armaments of Europe today and to indicate some of the difficulties which have hitherto stood in the way of reduction.

But before turning to the land and air armaments a word on the position of naval armaments is necessary. If no result has yet been obtained at Geneva, real progress in the solution of the problem of naval armaments was made at the Washington Conference. At that Conference in 1922 Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy agreed to accept a definite limitation of battleship tonnage, and to preserve as between themselves a certain ratio in that tonnage. Great Britain and the United States were to have a ratio of 5, Japan of 3, France and Italy of 1.5. That ratio was not, as has sometimes been stated, to apply to naval armaments generally, for while a limit of 10,000 tons was accepted for the construction of new cruisers, no limitation was placed upon the number of cruisers, nor of naval personnel, nor of destroyers, while attempts to limit submarines failed. The Conference has resulted in the scrapping of a number of battleships and in the prevention of competition, but successful as it was there were limits to its success, and the reasons both for the success and the limits to it have a bearing upon the problems of land armaments.

First among the reasons for success must be placed the strong expression of popular opinion, particularly in the United States, in favor of the objects of the Conference. Second came the fact that the three principal naval powers, Great Britain, the United States and Japan, all felt themselves to be secure against any form of attack for which naval armaments could provide protection. It was this fact that allowed public opinion in favor of a limitation of armaments to become expressive and influential. There will never be similar enthusiasm in countries which feel themselves to be in danger, and no arguments that armaments are in themselves a cause of war will impress people whose history and experience show them that they are liable to attack, until some other form of protection in which they have confidence, other than their own armaments, has been provided for them.

A third reason for the success of the Washington Conference was due to the kind of armament which was chosen for limitation. A battleship takes a very long time to build and cannot be constructed in secret. Each of the parties to the treaty was therefore confident that any attempt to evade its provisions as regards battleship tonnage would be discovered, and that therefore the attempt would not be made. But since the treaties have been signed suggestions have not been infrequent from nationals in the countries of the signatories that one or other of those signatories was evading its secondary provisions, as for instance in the matter of gun elevation. This is an instance of the extreme difficulty of establishing any general confidence in these matters, and of how easily even the most friendly nations become suspicious of each other.

The negotiation for the limitation of submarines broke down because submarines are a very effective means of coast defense and because those nations with a long coastline, France and Italy for example, were unwilling to limit their supply of a comparatively cheap and effective weapon while other powers possessed the means of attacking their coasts, and because it is possible to build submarines comparatively easily and quietly and there is not the same assurance that their construction could be known as in the case of battleships. Similarly the agreement concluded at Washington on the use of asphyxiating gases has remained a dead letter, for the reason that such gases can be secretly prepared and no one has any confidence that an agreement prohibiting their use will be observed. Recently the very premises of Article 5 of the Washington treaty which runs "the use in war of asphyxiating poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids, materials, and devices, having been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world," have been challenged with arguments which require respectful consideration. Proposals have been made for the extension of the terms of the Washington treaties to those states which were not parties to them, and also for a general extension of those terms. While the conditions for bringing this about are more difficult and complicated than confronted the delegates at Washington in 1922--for example, the requirements of the naval powers in cruisers and other light naval craft depend mainly on the length of their sea communications, which vary in almost every case--yet the prospects of obtaining further agreement are far from negligible. There is no logical reason why if all powers having navies are brought together the battleship ratio should not be still further reduced, and it is even possible that eventually what is now known as the battleship may disappear by general agreement, and its place be taken by the type of ship now called the cruiser, with a defined tonnage and armament. Such a possibility, which would at least result in great economies, would appear to depend mainly upon a general will to effect reductions, and upon the battleship maintaining its claim to be the one type of armored vessel capable of resisting attack by torpedo and air bomb.

Such being the general position as regards the navies, let us turn to the armies.

Statements that purport to give a comparative estimate of the military strength of various powers in terms of the number of men they maintain in arms in time of peace are, taken by themselves, very misleading. The systems by which armies are raised and maintained in various countries have a direct bearing upon their offensive and defensive power. Of three countries each with armies in time of peace of 200,000 men, one may have half its troops in garrisons in distant places abroad and small reserves for the expansion of those that remain at home; the second may have a system which makes its army effective for the defense of its frontiers but incapable of making a rapid attack upon an enemy's territory; while the third may have a system which enables it to expand at once its peace army three or four fold, and take the field with this increased body either in attack or in defense. Between these three there is obviously no common unit of comparison such as the battleship represents in the navies. The reduction of the three armies by a like number of men may be crippling in the one case and make comparatively little difference in the others.

The three systems indicated above cover, generally speaking, those in existence in Europe today. They are known as the voluntary system, the militia system, and the compulsory service system. The voluntary system has been imposed by treaty upon Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria. In each case the terms are similar though the number of soldiers permitted varies. Germany is allowed to maintain 100,000 men, Austria 30,000, Hungary 35,000, and Bulgaria 20,000. Enlistment must be voluntary and for at least 12 years, no reserves and no military aircraft are permitted, and the weapons of all kinds are strictly limited in number. I shall have something to say later as to the observance of these conditions by Germany.

The only power in Europe which maintains an army on a voluntary basis of its own initiative is Great Britain. In 1913 the strength of that army, including the air force which was then an integral part of the army, was 250,000. In 1925 the strength of the army and of the air force, which has become a separate organization, was approximately the same, the air force as compared with pre-war days having been largely increased and the number of soldiers having been correspondingly diminished. The terms of service are the same as they were before the war, being for most sections of the army seven years with the colors and five years in the reserve. Owing to the number of foreign garrisons maintained by Great Britain about one-half of the army is always abroad, the largest garrison being in India. The reserve which is available for the immediate expansion of the army in an emergency has a normal strength of 120,000 men, but as the British army had to be recreated in 1920, on the disbandment of the forces raised for the war, that figure has not yet been reached, and in 1925 the reserve numbers 99,000 men. A voluntary system of this nature is a convenient one for a country with large possessions outside its shores, for it is impossible to compel men to serve for long terms in strange countries and climates. A comparatively long term of service with the colors is necessary to avoid the expense of constantly bringing men home and sending others out to replace them, but this means that the reserve for expansion is necessarily small. In every other system (except where restrictions have been imposed, as in the case of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria) the reserve is much larger than the army serving in time of peace.

In order to overcome this difficulty Great Britain has adopted what may be termed a voluntary militia system. She maintains a Territorial Force, voluntarily recruited, the members of which do such training as their occupations in civil life permit. The strength of the Territorial Army provided for in 1925 is 148,750 men, its actual strength being somewhat lower. In the event of an extreme emergency, such as the outbreak of another Great War, the Territorial Army will be the means of expansion of the military forces of Great Britain.

The militia system, which is commonly known as the Swiss system, has since the war received a number of adherents. The basis of the system is that all male nationals of the country in question fit to bear arms are liable for military service between certain years, usually between the ages of 19 and 48. In practice a small permanent military staff of instructors is maintained, and the men called up for service do a fixed period of training in their first year, and reduced periods of training in subsequent years. In Switzerland where the system originated the maximum number of men under training at any one time is about 120,000 and this number is only maintained for a short period. But if the number serving in the army is small the number in reserve is large. Switzerland could, for example, produce in an emergency some 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 48 who had been through a course of military training. The advantage of this system is that it is cheap, and it provides a considerable force capable of defending the country against invasion, but from its very nature it cannot rapidly produce a large army capable of invading hostile territory. It does not therefore arouse fears of possible aggression in neighboring states. These advantages have appealed to a number of other countries, and now Norway, Sweden, Holland, and Denmark have adopted the Swiss system, while Finland has chosen a variant of it. The period of first training varies in these countries. In Switzerland it is for infantry 65 days, in Sweden 150 days, in Holland 160 days, in Norway 48 days, and in Denmark 150 days. Finland, which has to face the responsibilities and anxieties of a newly won independence, and has Russia as a neighbor, has adopted a one-year period of preliminary training, but with this exception her system is analogous to that of Switzerland. It is worth noting that the basis of the system is the defense of the homeland against attack. The only one of the countries using it which has to provide any foreign garrison, Holland, makes special arrangements for that end, while all these countries possess, in the nature of their frontiers and of their territory generally, special facilities for defense, with the single exception of Denmark. That country has before it proposals to do away with armed forces altogether except as they are needed for police work.

The compulsory system which was general in Europe before the war is still preserved by France, Italy, Russia, Belgium, Rumania, Spain, Portugal, Jugoslavia, and Greece, and has been adopted by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Esthonia, and Latvia on their creation as independent states. It continues, therefore, to be much the most general of the military systems. Its basis is a legal obligation upon all males between certain ages to bear arms. Usually the young men in their twentieth year are called out for service, becoming an "annual contingent" or "class." They remain in the army for a period long enough to make them efficient soldiers and then pass into the reserve, where they remain until their obligation to serve has expired. The system requires the maintenance of a large number of professional officers and non-commissioned officers, who remain for the greater part of their lives with the active army, but the number of men with the army in time of peace is but a small portion of the military forces of the nation. The greater part of the army, having completed its period of training, is pursuing its trades or avocations, waiting to be called back if emergency arises. This system was brought to its highest development in the period preceding the outbreak of the Great War, in consequence of the rivalry between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. In 1914 the peace strength of the German army was 856,000 and at the beginning of the war she had about 4,300,000 trained men of whom she was able to put in the field about 1,800,000 within a fortnight of the declaration of war. France had at the same time a peace army, exclusive of native troops, of 766,000 men; she had some 3,500,000 trained men and was able to place about 1,000,000 in the field in the first fortnight of the war, while the greatest strength of her army in the field at any one time was 2,600,000. From this it will be seen that under the compulsory system the strength of the army in time of peace represents about one-half the strength of the army immediately available for war, while the maximum expansion possible of the army in the field is about three and a half times the peace strength, the remainder of the reserves and future contingents of recruits being required to replace losses. In the Great War France mobilized (between August 1, 1914, and November 11, 1918) 7,932,000 men, exclusive of natives--that is, about one-fifth of the total population, which may be taken as the maximum effort possible in a war of like duration and in a country with highly developed communications and manufacturing resources. In a war which lasted four years France was able to raise the maximum strength of her army to about 33 percent of her available man power.

In a war, then, in which national existence is at stake the measure of the military strength in men of any one country in comparison with any other is not to be found in a comparison of the strength of the armies maintained in time of peace, since every country--given the time and the means--will, if necessary, put in the field all its males capable of bearing arms, less the number required to maintain the essential services of the state, such as railways, industries, agriculture, etc. The military advantages of the compulsory system are that it allows of the rapid expansion of the peace army into a body ready either for offense or defense, since the men first called up on the outbreak of war are those who have most recently done their training in the army in peace time and, by hypothesis, that training is sufficient to make them efficient soldiers. It also allows of more rapid further expansion of the army than any other, since it makes available a large number of professional experts who can be used as organizers and instructors. While, as compared with a voluntary system in which high rates of pay have to be offered to attract recruits, it is per man far less costly, it is much more costly than the Swiss system, and, as was the case on the eve of the Great War, the possession of a highly organized and perfected military machine, together with the influence of a large professional class of officers who have for years acted as the instructors of the youth of the country, may become preponderating factors in a crisis.

In countries where compulsory service is rigorously enforced the strength of the army which can be rapidly mobilized on the outbreak of war depends to a great extent on the length of the terms of service in the army. If three annual contingents are serving in the army at the same time its strength and its power of absorbing classes from the reserve is clearly greater than when two are serving. It was this fact which induced the French before the war to adopt a term of three years' service as a reply to the expansion of the German army. But the term of service makes no difference to the ultimate power of expansion of the army, since this depends on the man power of the nation. A short term of service means a smaller army maintained in time of peace, but a larger reserve for expansion. Since the war the general tendency in Europe has been to reduce the terms of service, partly because experience has shown that it is possible to train a soldier in a shorter period than was thought necessary in 1913, and partly from the desire to lighten the burden of military service on the population. In France, for example, the term of service has been reduced from 3 years in 1913 to 1 1/2 years in 1925, and proposals are actually before the French Chamber for bringing about a further reduction to one year. The number of Frenchmen serving in the army has fallen from 766,000 in 1913 to 435,000 in 1925. France has been able to reduce this call upon her white population by increasing her native troops, and the actual strength of her army today is 675,000 men, made up of 435,000 Frenchmen, 113,000 North Africans, 115,000 natives of other colonies, and 12,000 of the Foreign Legion.

From these data it is possible to make the following rough estimate of the man power of the principal European powers having compulsory service:

Terms of Peace Strength Maximum
Service With Strength on Man Power in
Regular Army of Army Mobilization Prolonged War
France 1 1/2 yrs.  657,000 1,200,000 8,000,000
Russia 2 yrs.  800,000 1,600,000 ?
Italy 1 1/2 yrs.  308,000 650,000 7,500,000
Poland 2 yrs.  276,000 550,000 5,500,000
Rumania 2 yrs.  140,000 300,000 2,250,000
Jugoslavia 2 yrs.  116,000 250,000 2,000,000
Czechoslovakia 14 mos. 150,000 300,000 2,200,000
Belgium 1 yr.   90,000 180,000 1,500,000
Spain 2 yrs.  180,000 350,000 3,800,000
Greece 2 yrs.  86,000 190,000 1,000,000

Man power is, of course, but one measure of military strength, though at present it remains one of the most important. It is probable that the continued development of mechanical means of warfare will make it less important, but even today the character of the people and the manufacturing and financial resources of the country continue to be factors in military strength at least as important as man power. The figures given above as the maximum man power of the various countries available for military purposes are calculated at one-fifth of the present population. Whether these numbers could be produced to maintain armies in the field, and whether the maximum strength of those armies at any one time could reach or exceed 33 percent of the maximum available number of men, would depend entirely upon whether the nation could endure long enough to make its greatest military strength available and had, or could obtain, the resources to equip such forces. Russia, for example, has at the present sime a population of about 131,000,000 but she could not possibly employ one-fifth of these--or 26,000,000 men--for military purposes. Such evidence as is available goes to show that the discipline and organization of the armies of the Soviet Republics have been materially improved during the last few years, but the railway communications, the poverty of which in 1914 severely hampered the Czar's armies, have deteriorated since then, while the manufacturing resources which were wholly inadequate in that year have become even more inadequate today. It is doubtful whether Russia could place quickly in the field more than one-third of the 1,600,000 men whom she could mobilize. The object of this paper is not, however, to attempt the difficult task of estimating the present military strength of the European powers, but to show how the military systems have developed since the war.

Obviously the changes have been great. New armies have been created by new states, others have either been compelled to change or have voluntarily changed their military systems. In 1913 there were seventeen European powers which maintained armies. Of these seventeen, one, Great Britain, had the voluntary system; one, Switzerland, had the militia system; and the remaining fifteen had the compulsory system in various forms. Today there are twenty-five European nations which maintain armies and of these twenty-five, five have the voluntary system, six have adopted the militia system, and fourteen have the compulsory system. Of the six new states created by the peace treaties[i] all except Finland have adopted the compulsory system, and four of the six (all of them neighbors of Russia) have the longest time of service in the regular army at present in existence in states with the compulsory system, namely two years. It is owing to this fact that, although the armies of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria have been drastically reduced and the military system in those countries radically altered, there has been no material diminution in the number of armed men maintained in Europe today as compared to 1913.

While this situation must appear gloomy to those who seek peace, a closer examination shows that there have been tendencies which give reason for hope. There has been a noteworthy development of the Swiss system, which, as I have explained, is defensive in character. It has, in the main, taken place in those countries which from their position and the nature of the country feel themselves to be less exposed to aggression than others. On the other hand, the compulsory system has been preserved or adopted by those states which from their history, the character of their frontiers and the nature of their neighbors feel themselves to be in danger. Security, then, as the Commissions of the League of Nations which have examined the problem of armaments have repeatedly stated, is at the root of the matter. But though up to the present the anxious search for some means of giving Europe generally a feeling of security has failed, there are not lacking definite signs of a desire on the part even of those nations which are confronted with very difficult problems of defense, to reduce their military establishments as far as possible, As I have pointed out, France has reduced her terms of service from 3 years to 18 months, and is considering the possibility of further reduction. Italy, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia have all done the same; plans have been prepared for a reduction of the term of 1 1/2 years in Italy; and Spain is examining proposals for reducing her terms of service. Any reduction below one year of service means practically the adoption of the militia system, and it would appear to be at least probable that given a greater feeling of security a gradual and general extension of the militia system will follow naturally. Financial pressure and the desire of the peoples to have the burden of military service reduced to a minimum are powerful factors working in that direction. This, then, would seem to be the most hopeful direction in which to seek for a policy of limitation of land armaments. It may be a policy which would be made futile by a development of aircraft, of poison gases, or of other scientific means of destruction, such as would make man power a minor consideration in war, but such a development has not come yet. The general adoption of the militia system, or of some system analogous to it, would remove the danger which experience has shown to be constituted by the possession in times of crisis and excitement of a powerful military weapon capable of instant use in attack, and would afford great financial relief.

No survey of the armies of Europe today would be complete without some reference to the position of Germany. In the absence of the delayed report upon German armaments, which has not appeared as I write, it is only possible to deal with the matter very generally. The German Reichswehr, or regular army, is, as I have said, limited by treaty to 100,000 men, and all measures for expanding that number are prohibited. Now, besides concealment of arms, of which there have been numerous instances, there has undoubtedly been a great deal of drilling of young men who belong to gymnastic societies and other organizations of peaceful appearance. Further, the custom has been adopted of nominating each of the companies of the Reichswehr as the inheritor of the traditions of one of the regiments of the Kaiser's army, a company having a strength of 200 men and a regiment of 3,000. The presumption is therefore natural that a system has been elaborated for the expansion of the Reichswehr by the incorporation of the youths drilled in the various societies, and of the men who were trained during the war. If this is so the Reichswehr has become in fact the training cadre for a considerable part at least of the youth of Germany, and Germany has in fact adopted a surreptitious form of the militia system. Such a proceeding is a definite breach of the Treaty of Versailles. This does not mean that Germany is today, or will be within the next few years, a serious menace to France. The destruction of German munitions and of the means of their manufacture has been so complete that the equipment of a large army must be for her a slow and costly business, while, as I have already said, the militia system does not lend itself to the rapid preparation of an army for attack. If Germany has prepared a scheme of expansion she has to begin from a basis of 100,000 men, with practically no fleet, while France would start from a basis of six times that number and with a vastly superior equipment in aircraft, tank and heavy artillery, and quite an efficient navy.

The further development of the German scheme might, however, mean that she would in a few years feel herself strong enough to refuse to comply further with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and defy France to come and attack her. Having done that she could proceed at her leisure to prepare a compulsory service army on the old basis, and with her population steadily increasing, while that of France is as steadily decreasing, her prospects of conducting a successful war of revenge would be very far from negligible. This is the situation which France fears. That her fears are for the future and not for the present is clearly shown by the reductions in the period of military service and the consequent reduction in her strength on first mobilization which I have described. In the report of the Army Commission of the French Chamber in 1921, in which the present organization of the French army was elaborated, occurs the following passage: "It is well to admit the total and absolute disarmament of Germany is impossible if we mean by that that she will have not a gun, not a rifle, nor a machine gun nor the possibility of manufacturing arms in secret and of hiding them away. The real inferiority in which Germany is placed consists in the loss to her of her strategic base on the left bank of the Rhine, of her machinery for mobilization, of her navy and of her Continental allies, and finally that the mobilization of German forces will continue to be, so long as we are on the Rhine, so long as the treaty is not openly broken (and we must make it our business to prevent that) a very slow and delicate operation."

History tells us that attempts to impose disarmament on other countries have always failed in the long run, and there is no reason to suppose that the attempt to limit German armament by treaty will succeed. If the present arrangement continues the one course open to France is to attack Germany before she is sufficiently prepared to resist. She cannot wait for the day when Germany with a preponderating population will be ready to fall upon her. The one real remedy is to make it a matter of interest to Germany to limit her own armaments. With that conclusion as to the position in one part of Europe it is possible to sum up the conditions which make a limitation of armaments possible and to suggest the general lines such a policy should follow.

1. The first essential condition is that a feeling of security should be established in Europe, particularly in France and in the countries bordering on Russia.

2. It will be gathered from what I have said above that the land and air armaments of Europe are to a preponderating degree due to fear of Russia and of Germany. It follows, then, that no scheme of limitations of these armaments which does not include those powers is likely to be successful. It is possible that the problems of eastern and western Europe can be treated separately, but this is doubtful since France is definitely committed to Poland.

3. It is impossible to limit either the man power or the manufacturing resources of any country and these are at present the backbone of its military strength.

4. It does not seem practicable to endeavor to limit the use of particular weapons such as poison gas, since there will be no confidence that such weapons will not be prepared in secret.

5. It is possible, given a feeling of security, to limit the power of a country to strike immediately an offensive blow.

6. The most hopeful method of seeking a limitation would therefore seem to be to encourage a general reduction of the terms of service in the standing armies, and an approximation to the militia system in those countries which have not already adopted either that system or the voluntary system.

[i] Austria and Hungary have now separate governments and armies but can hardly be described as "new states."

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  • MAJOR-GENERAL SIR FREDERICK MAURICE, Director of Military Operations of the British General Staff, 1915-1918; author of a number of military studies
  • More By Frederick Maurice