Sunday, February 10, 2013

Disarmament movement in the 1920s

In the 1920s, the League largely failed in bringing about Disarmament. It was one of the key aims of the League.

The Washington Naval Conference 1921

At the Washington Naval Conference in 1921, the USA, Japan, Britain and France agreeed to limit the size of their navies but it was a far as disarmament ever got. The USA, Britain, and Japan agreed to limit size of navies according to the ratio (5-5-3 - this ratio was changed to 10-10-7 at the London Naval Conference of 1930, and the agreement collapsed altogether in 1935 when the Japanese demanded parity with the USA and Britain).

The Temporary Mixed Commission on Armaments (1921)

The main problem with Disarmament efforts was how to guarantee a country's security if it gave up its weapons. This was the argument in 1921 when a Temporary Mixed Commission on Armaments was set up by the League of Nations to suggest possible initiatives, plans and solutions. It discussed proposals such as prohibiting chemical warfare and the bombing of civilian populations, and limiting artillery and tanks. What made it unique was that its members were specifically appointed as private individuals, not government representatives. Even so, its members found it difficult to agree about how a country's could be guaranteed if it gave up its weapons.

The draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance rejected (1923)

In 1923, the League's first attempt at a Disarmament Treaty was accepted by France and other nations but rejected by Britain because it would tie it to defending other countries.

The Commission on Armaments presented a draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance in 1923, which proposed to make a war of aggression illegal; if a country was attacked, all countries of the League would send troops to defend it. It was discussed at the League’s Assembly of September 1923. But the Assembly rejected the draft treaty after objections from Britain, which feared to commit troops which were needed to defend the Empire. It was an example of how unanimous decisions in the Assembly could cripple effective decision-making.

Discussions for Disarmament Conference (1926 to 1931)

The League set up in 1926 the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference to prepare for a Disarmament Conference. It was a a Commission to prepare for a Conference on the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments.

The size of the different countries’ armies at this time was – France: 733,707; Russia: 562,967; Great Britain: 520,948; Italy: 308,000; Japan: 235,056; the USA: 136,560; and Germany: 99,086. Discussions were however very slow. It took five years to een agree to a 'draft convention' for the Conference and in 1933, it was rejected by Germany.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact 1928

Faced with this, therefore, the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and the US Secretary of State Frank B Kellogg worked outside the League of Nations to persuade 65 nations to sign the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, also known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact (August 1928), in which all the signatories agreed to condemn war as a means of settling disputes. At the time, it was looked on as a turning point in history, but in effect it achieved nothing. Of course everybody disapproved of an aggressive war – but the Pact said nothing about what would happen if a country was attacked.

The World Disarmament Conference 1932-1937

After six years of preparations, the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments of 1932-37 (sometimes called the World Disarmament Conference or Geneva Disarmament Conference) eventually met in Geneva under the chairmanship of former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson.

The talks ran into difficulties from the start, because Germany demanded the same level of armaments as other powers, while France wanted Germany to be kept disarmed, and Britain and America were not prepared to offer the unlimited support that France needed to give up its armaments. Although the conference staggered on until 1937, talks in practice broke down in October 1933 when Hitler withdrew from both the Conference and the League of Nations – for the rest of the 1930s, nations were concerned to increase their armaments to get ready for the war everyone realised was coming.


The failure of disarmament was especially damaging to the League's reputation in Germany. Germany had disarmed. It had been forced to do so by the TOV but no other countries had disarmed to the same degree. Many countries were not prepared to give up or dreduce their own armies and they were not willing to be the first to disarm.

Even so, the failure of the LON over disarmament did not seem so serious because international agreements like the Locarno Treaty, the Kellog-Briand Pact and the Washington Naval Conference seemed to promise a more peaceful world. However, as you can see, by 1930s, disarmament as a useful approach for building international political stability and world peace was already seriously questionable.

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