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Geneva to America

ISSUE:  Winter 1932

If the disarmament conference planned for February, 1932, were going to be a purely military conference with only the limited goal in view of putting an end forever to the world’s armament race, that alone would be an event of the first importance. For it would mark the definite end of a centuries-old regime which, even to the most adventurous minds of preceding generations, it did not seem possible to destroy. The idea that a sovereign state must be absolutely master in every question concerning its national defense, the basis of its existence, was so deeply anchored in the minds of our predecessors that it constituted the keystone of their political philosophy. It is this idea to which the League of Nations Pact put an end theoretically, and to which positive regulations must put an end practically.

But the disarmament conference will not be that alone. The military problem of disarmament involves the whole question of what guarantees must be substituted for force in the defense of a state—that is, the problem of security. If nations are asked to renounce even a fraction of the measures which appear to them indispensable if their existence and independence are to be assured, these measures must in simple necessity be replaced by assurances of another sort.

Security itself is not merely a juridical problem; it depends on the economic system, for the protectionism that dominates the world today is a consequence of political insecurity and is at the same time its origin. Tariff competition is replacing competition in armaments, and is in no way better. It too must stop, then, but since protectionism has, besides its economic aims, a fiscal side, the problem of duties is intimately connected with budgetary and monetary problems and in a general fashion with public finance itself. One thing will lead to another until the disarmament conference will have to concern itself with everything; it will have to revise the post-war arrangements and establish international relations on new foundations. In other words, in order to succeed, it will have to attain an enormous scope.


The greatest mistake the delegates of the various states could commit would be to treat disarmament from too narrow a point of view and as a purely military question. Disarmament is above all a political question.

France is the nation that has made herself, in the discussions of disarmament, the protagonist of the thesis of security. This is due to the position in which the War left that state. The common victory increased considerably her prestige and her international duties, but did not increase proportionately her material strength. France found herself the guardian of the system of peace treaties; that is to say, of the present international order; some other countries have the same interest and have grouped themselves around her. But not one of these countries represents in itself any considerable strength. Most of them, threatened by various enmities, bring France less an increase in strength than an increase in danger and responsibility. France, then, finds herself the only great power in Europe interested in maintaining the peace treaties, and she must hold herself ready, either directly or indirectly, to bear the brunt of any attempt which the states dissatisfied with the existing regime may make to modify it.

Since the French people are inferior in number to each of their important neighboring states, since the last war left them not only with its memories in their hearts but with its marks in their flesh, their resulting mental state is one of general disquietude. This mental state may surprise foreigners, who note that the French army is larger than any other army on the continent. But the French people, who on the eve of 1914 did not believe in the possibility of war, cannot rid themselves of the fear of similar occurrences.

It is this mental state which has in a sense constrained the French government to link together the questions of security, and disarmament. French diplomacy has taken such a clear-cut, unyielding position on this point that it could not renounce it without suffering a serious international blow and above all without risking a serious blow at home. If any government came before the Chamber and announced that it had made concessions in the field of armaments without obtaining compensation in the matter of security, it would certainly be overthrown, and this would completely nullify the concessions it had made and any agreement based upon them.

It matters little whether France really needs security. It is true that no army stands ready to attack the French army, and that a series of treaties has already realized in large part what France asks for; and if these treaties are without value, it would be useless to conclude others like them which would have no more value. But the fact remains that security is necessary to the French government if it would do anything in the realm of disarmament; consequently it is necessary to the diplomatic world if it would secure anything in this domain from France.

It might be added, besides, that if France herself is not threatened by external forces, so much cannot be said for Poland and Rumania; and France could not abandon these countries in the hour of danger without compromising the whole diplomatic equilibrium of Europe and her own moral position. Under these conditions, until the juridical guarantees of international security are strengthened, no disarmament conference can achieve satisfactory results.

The problem of security has already been brought up at the peace conference of 1919 and the solution there accorded it lay in a double international guarantee: on the one hand, the guarantee which resulted from the Franco-Anglo-American defensive alliance and, on the other, that which resulted from the provisions inserted in the League of Nations Pact. These two treaties bore the signature of the United States. That means, so far as the League of Nations Pact is concerned, that the sanctions provided in Article XVI were so formidable in character that their mere existence placed in the path of any aggression an obstacle sufficient to render it impossible.

In the last analysis, sanctions always carry with them the necessity of a blockade, and every effective blockade — the last war proved this—must be maritime. Since there are only two fleets in the world that really, cannot be beaten, the English and the American, the collaboration of these two fleets would suffice to preclude any resistance. The very strength of the mechanism provided for the sanctions would render their application completely unnecessary for all time.

The whole situation changed on the day the United States rejected the League of Nations Pact and thereby rid itself of the rules in Article XVI. It then became possible to envisage the English and American fleet, not in collaboration but in opposition, if only because of the United States’ constant insistence on freedom of the seas and on respect for the rights of neutrals.

The sanctions, purely preventive in the first instance, now became a practical eventuality, for an ill-disposed state could, thanks to this opposition, grind its own axe. The danger of war was thus revived, and fear arose that the sanctions, instead of preventing war or limiting its consequences, might even widen its scope and risks.

This explains, on the one hand, the feeling the various nations had from this moment that the peace guarantees contained in the League of Nations Pact were not sufficient, and, on the other hand, the repugnance England manifested toward their extension. In the course of years, a great number of efforts were made with the aim of reinforcing the provisions of the Pact or of adding new machinery to it. The treaty of mutual aid of 1923 and the Geneva Protocol of 1924 had no other aim. Both were rejected by England under various pretexts, but fundamentally for the sole and sufficient reason that the English fleet would, in case of sanctions, risk finding itself face to face with the American fleet.

If we recall that the second guarantee provided by the peace conference, applying particularly to Eastern Europe, also failed of realization, it is easy to see that the feeling of security was shaken and that the disarmament it was intended to bring about was delayed.

Nevertheless, since 1919 two new guarantees of security have been added to those provided in the League of Nations Pact. The first of these guarantees results from the Locarno treaties, which realized the aims of the Geneva Protocol but were limited to the Rhenish frontier. The Locarno treaties constitute a middle term between the three-power treaty rejected by the American Senate and the Geneva Protocol.

In 1928, the Briand-Kellogg Pact, renouncing all war and introducing the United States into the system of security guarantees, added a very important element to this system. But the Kellogg Pact carries with it no sanctions; it rests only on the supposition that treaties will be respected, and in this regard it is perceptibly weaker than the League of Nations Pact. Although in a general fashion international treaties have, in the course of history, been respected, this respect has not been absolutely universal, and the peoples of Europe retain a doubt as to the efficacy of a treaty that has an exclusively moral value.

In sum, the security of nations rests today on three international acts: the League of Nations Pact, which does not forbid all wars and the sanctions of which are difficult to apply because of the absence of the United States; the Treaty of Locarno, which applies only to a part of Europe; and the Kellogg Pact, which carries with it no sanctions.

Whatever be the value of this system—and it is considerable—it leaves open a few fissures through which war may enter.


This statement shows that the security of the peoples of Europe is above all an American problem. Europe has done for her own security all that she can do by herself. All the European states are bound together by the League of Nations Pact and by the Kellogg Pact, and certain of them— the most exposed—are also bound by the Locarno treaties. If they have gone no further, if they have not adopted the treaty of mutual aid and the Geneva Protocol, it is because the United States’ uncertain attitude offers a threat to any major operation against an eventual adversary. As a consequence, what is still lacking to the security of Europe can be supplied only by the collaboration of the United States. How, by what means, and in what measure can the American people participate in this task?

Before answering these questions, it is necessary, if all misunderstanding is to be avoided, to state precisely the negative conditions of such collaboration. In the first place, the United States need not become a member of the League of Nations. Europe wishes it to, no doubt. The members of the League are aware of the supplementary strength which the participation of the United States would bring their association, but they, have never considered the entry of the United States into the League of Nations as one of the necessary conditions of European security. The League, in the twelve years it has existed, has adapted itsielf to the present situation. It has given proof that it could live and act without the United States belonging to it. It can wait as long as the United States wishes. It is generally thought in Europe that the solidarity of peoples is such today that isolation is in the long run an impossibility, and that consequently the United States will be led by its own interests to seek the rights and to accept the duties of a member of the League of Nations. It is believed that the existing situation, in which the United States chooses for itself those rights of membership it desires and the duties it assumes, exposes it to mischances of the sort that appeared when it was necessary to ask Japan’s permission for an American delegate to sit at the table of the Council. When the American people reaches a real understanding of the international situation, it will perhaps arrive at the conclusions which appear to us logical. But this outcome is not essential to security. The Manchurian incident gave proof that the American government can participate successfully in an international move without needing to that end to be a member of the League of Nations. The second reservation that must be made here is of the same order. It is by no means necessary that the United States accept in advance, either expressly or implicitly, the rules of the League of Nations Pact concerning the definition of the aggressor. An aggressor can be designated by the Council only on unanimous vote; if this unanimity is realized it is because the international responsibility of the aggressor will be evident; and it is not admitted that American public opinion could misunderstand the circumstances of a conflict to the point of taking the aggressor for the victim and the victim for the aggressor. Such a supposition is too absurd. If the Council of the League of Nations is in a position to designate an aggressor unanimously, it will not be difficult to come to an agreement with the United States.

On the other hand, what is essential is that the League of Nations have in advance the moral certainty that in case it should find it necessary to apply, sanctions, these sanctions will not be opposed by a hostile act of the United States. It needs to know that in case of an economic blockade, founded on Article XVI of the Pact, American citizens will not come to the aid of the state violating the Pact, and that the American government will not attempt to guarantee to its nationals the right of trading freely with this state, a thing that might produce complications in respect to the interpretation of the rights of neutrals.

These guarantees, without which the security of the peoples of Europe can never be completely assured, and without which men’s minds will remain anxious and inclined to measures of defense, both military and economic, can be furnished in several ways. Three different measures have, we believe, been seriously considered.

The first would consist of an article in the disarmament convention. This policy has already been inaugurated by the insertion, in the preparatory commission’s draft, of an arrangement for which the American delegation first took the initiative, and which carries with it the embryo of; a consultative pact. But this arrangement seems insufficient from two points of view. In the first place its terms are not clear enough for us to be sure that, under every circumstance of international conflict, consultation between the United States and the League of Nations will automatically result. In the second place, it is necessary that the United States give the guarantee asked of it long enough before the disarmament conference for its decision to influence the deliberations of the various states and the instructions given their delegates. An article for insertion in the convention would be without effect until after the meeting of the conference. The intention to insert such an article would be a very happy thing, but the effects would be much more profound and profitable if this intention could before February 2 take a more precise form.

It is in belief of this that there has been suggested the possibility of concluding an agreement supplementary to the Kellogg Pact, by which the United States would engage itself not to oppose any international action the signatories of the Kellogg Pact might be led to undertake against a signatory which violated its engagements. Such a formula would have the great advantage of being at once legally obligatory and universal.

But it is more than we ask. When at London there was talk of a consultative pact, this pact was to apply only to the Mediterranean, and even this could not be realized. The mobilization of all the states signatory to the Kellogg Pact, with a view to the insertion of a new article in that instrument, would require a great deal of time for diplomacy; and with the international rivalries and bidding that it would arouse, it is to be feared that this work of preparation would not be finished in time to help.

Europe is ready to content herself with less. A simple unilateral promise by the government of the United States, stating precisely and in advance the attitude it would observe in case of international difficulties, would seem to her sufficient, on condition however that this declaration bound not only the president in office, but that it should be confirmed by the Senate. Europe retains a lively, memory of her experiences with the United States and international treaties. She fears the repudiation which may overturn the president’s decisions, even those which seem the most strongly supported. Within only a few months of the presidential campaign and the end of President Hoover’s term, a declaration of policy emanating only from him would undoubtedly be represented as valueless by all of the European press hostile to disarmament. It is therefore essential that the American engagement carry the signature of the Senate.

We need not enter in detail into the formulas that might be envisaged, but the peoples of Europe know that the Senate has before it several drafts of resolutions, one of which emanates from Senator Capper and aims at precisely the goal we have in mind. This resolution perhaps would need to be amended and corrected in certain matters of detail; but if it could take legal form, it would give the peoples of Europe a peace of mind that would permit them to make important sacrifices in the domain of disarmament.


Security is the condition sine qua non of disarmament. This condition once realized, thanks to the participation of the United States, it will be necessary to concern oneself with the heart of the problem.

Disarmament will run up against two contradictory attitudes at Geneva. There are states hostile to the idea of disarmament who want it to fail. Others push their desire for disarmament to the point of impracticability. And we may well ask which of these two attitudes is the more dangerous to the constructive work of the conference.

The United States can exert an important influence on those states which do not wish to disarm, by linking its policy of credits to the policy of disarmament. There are not many countries in Europe which can do entirely without the aid of American finance. If American finance made all advances of international credit depend on the realization of a certain number of conditions in the domain of disarmament, it could obtain rapid and important results.

When the French refuse to lend money to Germany unless they obtain in advance the assurance that this money will not be employed against their interests, they are doing something egoistic but logical. A money-lender who can refuse to lend may make his own conditions; and surely no state can be asked to finance a policy opposed to its own interests. It has often been said that the United States could not let Europe have money because this money was used to facilitate a race in armaments. It would be quite natural that American financiers should under these circumstances make definite conditions.

As for those states that favor disarmament, several distinctions must be made among them. Soviet Russia seems to be interested only in demonstrating that the capitalist states are incapable of any real disarmament. But at the present moment, Russia appears to be above all preoccupied with her economic reconstruction. Her relations with the United States concern her in the highest degree, and it is not certain that she would close her ears entirely to reasonable suggestions coming from Washington.

Italy favors disarmament for two principal motives. The first is financial. Italy cannot follow simultaneously a policy of intensive armaments and a policy of economic betterment such as Signor Mussolini has conceived. In this regard, Italy finds herself in a position analogous to Russia’s. On the other hand, Italian diplomacy sees in disarmament a means of leading France to reduce her own armaments, thereby diminishing the difference in potential strength that exists between the two countries. The Italian government has already made very important concessions in the sphere of naval parity. It is to be hoped that this problem will be resolved before the opening of the conference, but an agreement as to land armaments will be delayed and will be much more difficult to achieve.

In the question of parity the United States has an immense interest. The action of the safeguard clauses in the London treaty may oblige America to build more ships than she may wish, and this is a consequence to which the American people cannot remain indifferent. The voyage of Signor Grandi to Washington, following that of M. Laval, has probably given Mr. Hoover the chance of exerting in this field a mediating influence.

The most dangerous attitude among those states favorable to disarmament is that of Germany. It is undoubtedly true that Germany was promised in the peace treaty that her disarmament would be a stage in the road to the disarmament of the other powers. This promise has not been kept. Germany therefore arrives at the disarmament conference with a legitimate demand.

But the effort of Germany to lead other countries either to renounce the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles or to reduce their own armaments to her level cannot be realized in the present state of international relations. Actual equality between Germany and her neighbors is impossible and by demanding it German diplomacy will only end by condemning the disarmament conference to failure.

Responsible Germans have already admitted that the position of their country in this field is a little dogmatic. The German government has no real interest in obtaining the complete disarmament of other states, for the consequence of such action would be to give the red army the hegemony of the European continent. Nor is it any more to Germany’s interest to secure the right to re-arm; for her people have lost the habit of compulsory military service and would not easily accept its re-establishment. As for obtaining a few more cannon or a few more regiments, that would have little military or moral value and would burden even more an already over-burdened budget.

Such being the case, the interest of Germany ought to point to some reasonable compromise. This compromise is already beginning to take shape. For some time the German government has stopped talking about actual equality in matters of disarmament and speaks of legal equality. Germany would like to obtain, not a modification of the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, but their insertion in the disarmament convention. This would result in no change for the present, but these clauses would be submitted for revision at the same time as the general convention, that is to say, within ten years at most.

We cannot say whether this formula is of a sort to reconcile the divergent points of view. But this much is clear; that the United States can in this exert a great influence. It will hold at the conference, by the very fact of its complete disinterestedness in the field of land armaments, the position of an ideal mediator. This disinterestedness and this power will suffice to assure to it a decisive authority.

The greatest mistake American opinion could make would be to consider the disarmament conference as purely naval, to see in it a follow-up to the Washington and London conferences, and to refrain from interesting itself in the question of land armaments. If the Geneva Conference is to have as limited an object as that, it will furnish the American government nothing to bargain with, no means of negotiation, and it will paralyze its action. The United States, since it is favorable as it is to disarmament, must also accept its responsibilities, notably in whatever concerns the limitations of budgetary expenditures; for there will be many states at the conference anxious to invoke their weakness in order to evade their duty.


Here the question arises as to what the American people might get out of such a stand. They will get first of all— and we make our excuses here for uttering a banality—disarmament itself.

In what way does this interest them? It is not for us to answer that question, but for the Americans themselves. What is perfectly clear is that the American policy is wholly in the direction of disarmament and must be dictated by certain precise national interests.

In the course of the discussions of the Sino-Japanese affair by the League of Nations Council recently, an American visitor, whose duties in Congress involved him intimately, with the drafting and voting through of the naval budget, had a discussion with a friend. The question arose: If the Council fails, if the mechanism of the League of Nations does not function in a satisfactory way, how much will its failure cost the United States? The friend, who is not up on the details, hazarded a figure: “Perhaps fifty million dollars a year.” The Congressman reflected a moment and replied: “You are mistaken. It would cost us at least a hundred and fifty!”

We do not guarantee the exactness of the figure, but we do guarantee the anecdote and the accuracy of the man who told it. This ought to be sufficient to make one reflect. At a time when all the nations arc crushed by business and financial difficulties and when the American people themselves are passing through a period of stress without precedent, the economies represented by disarmament constitute a national interest of the first order.

But it would be short-sighted to see in disarmament only the benefit of money saved. Disarmament will bring in its train an amelioration of the whole international situation in Europe, a relaxing of tension that will make possible a readjustment of tariffs; hence a tangible amelioration of the economic situation.

When M. Briand was in Washington at the naval conference of 1922, a Senator took him by the arm during a reception at the White House and led him up to a map of Europe. There the Senator made a gesture with his hand as if to wipe off the map every frontier in Europe.

That is just what the disarmament conference to a certain extent wants to do. And that is just why the United States has an interest in its success.


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