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Preparatory Committee for the Disarmament Conference, Third Session. Geneva, March 21 to April 26, 1927.
Viscount Cecil to Sir Austen Chamberlain.
London, May 17, 1927. I HAVE the honour to submit the following report on the recent (Third) Session of the Preparatory Committee for the Disarmament Conference.
It will be remembered that the Preparatory Committee, which was constituted by the Council of the League of Nations in December 1925, in accordance with a resolution of the Assembly of the previous September, met for the first time on the 18th May last year. At that first session it formulated a number of questions, designed to elicit definitions that might assist in determining the principles and method of reduction or limitation of armaments. These questions were referred to its technical sub-committees, some of which were in almost continual session during the remainder of last year. The results of the sub-committee's labour, which have been published, afforded the Preparatory Committee a vast amount of information, some of which was of great value.
The Preparatory Committee held a second session in September 1926, but it confined itself on that occasion to taking note of the progress of the work of its sub-committees.
The Council, in December last, apprised of the stage reached in the deliberations, directed the committee to meet again on the 21st March, to draw up an agenda for the Disarmament Conference, and make suggestions in regard to the date on which that conference might meet.
His Majesty's Government considered that there could be no better or more practical means of preparing an agenda for the conference than to endeavour to submit a draft convention for the reduction and limitation of armaments. The moment had not indeed arrived when actual figures for the armaments of the countries concerned could be suggested. But before that final point could be approached it was necessary to settle what the figures should refer to. In other words, the first step was to draw up a convention defining the principal methods by which limitation of land, sea and air armaments could best be carried out. His Majesty's Government accordingly preceeded to draw up a tentative draft convention with this object which I was authorised to submit to the committee. On many of the principal questions the subcommittees had been unable to achieve unanimity, and in regard to these His Majesty's Government did not expect that their draft would meet with immediate approval. Where cpinions were more or 3993 Wt. 2250 6/27 F.O.P. 16208
less equally divided, it was only to be expected that His Majesty's Government would embody theirs in the preliminary draft, which was intended to serve as a basis of discussion. Out of a frank and free exchange of views it was to be hoped that agreement might emerge. I regret that in regard to some points this hope has not yet been realised, though considerable progress has been made, and I am convinced that the discussions of the committee were facilitated and rendered more effective by the fact that they were based on definite proposals. The submission of an actual draft gave a sense of greater reality, and the examination of definite texts kept the discussion on practical lines when it might have strayed into vague generalities.
I enclose, for purposes of reference, a copy of the British draft convention (Annex I). I submitted this draft to the committee at its opening meeting on the 21st March, with an explanatory statement. The French representative thereupon intimated that he would submit a draft prepared by his Government, and this draft was circulated on the following day (copy is also enclosed hereinAnnex II). Other delegations declined to avail themselves of the opportunity to submit alternative drafts of their own, and discussion from this point centred on the British and French texts. In order to facilitate the task of the committee it was agreed that the Bureau should draw up a "synoptic analysis" taking the main headings of the two drafts and bringing under each, in parallel columns, the provisions in each draft relating thereto.
The committee went through this analysis point by point, and the results of their deliberations are given in the final "Texts adopted at First Reading" (Annex III). The introduction to this final text explains clearly enough the scope of the recent discussions and the form of the agreements reached. It was generally recognised that the recent discussion constituted only, as it were, a first reading, and that acceptance of any point at the first reading by any delegation did not prejudice the attitude it might adopt at the second reading. The second reading was provisionally fixed. to be taken on the 1st November, since it did not seem possible to have it before the meeting of the Assembly in September next without a possibility of interference with the Three-Power Conference summoned by President Coolidge in June.
It will be noticed that the first subject dealt with in the first reading text is the limitation of effectives. In point of fact, this subject was treated in the discussion in three divisions, as affecting land, sea, and air armaments and I propose so dealing with it in this despatch. In reality we discussed five main topics at Geneva. That is to say, methods and principles for the limitation of Land Armaments, Sea Armaments and Air Armaments, Budgetary Expenditure and International Supervision.
With regard to land armaments, the committee were agreed that the main method of limiting land armaments must be by limiting
effectives. It is no doubt true that in a modern army, tanks, guns, and other weapons count for a great deal; but since all nations will tend to a more or less similar degree of equipment in this matter for their troops, the factor which will govern the comparative strength of the different armies will be chiefly the number of effectives.
The main point discussed was how this number was to be estimated and in particular what was to be done with regard to trained reserves. Since it is evident that a man who has just completed his training with the colours is at least as efficient as any of those who are still undergoing training, the British delegation contended that the real test was the number of men who could be put into the front line within, say, a week of the outbreak of war.
This view, however, was hotly contested by all, or almost all, of the conscriptionist countries, mainly on the ground that it was impossible to draw a line between those reserves which were sufficiently trained to take the field immediately, and those which would require some training before they could be so employed.
It was further pointed out that if the number of men actually with the colours were limited, that would automatically limit the trained reserves.
In the end it was provisionally agreed that, subject to reservations by certain members of the Commission, including the British delegation, the limitation should only apply to troops actually with the colours; but that there should be added a limitation of the proportion of officers and non-commissioned officers to other ranks, so as to render any sudden expansion of an army beyond its nominal strength impracticable.
It was further agreed that in conscriptionist countries a limit should be put on the period of service with the colours. It is true that at present the period of service contemplated in many of such countries is one that will make the trained troops efficient even for aggressive action, but in the future it may be hoped that the period will be so reduced that European conscriptive armies will gradually become more and more in the nature of militia as in Switzerland, suitable for defence and not for attack. That, however, is a development which is still to come.
In regard to sea armaments again the main method of limitation was agreed to, i.e., by tonnage, for the strength of the fleet depends primarily on the number and power of its ships. The three great maritime countries-America, Japan and ourselves-desired to apply the principles accepted at Washington to all classes of war vessels. That is to say, they proposed that there should be a limit in each class of war-ship, viz., battleships, cruisers, submarines, destroyers, &c., to the size of the individual ship, to the number of ships in the class, and to the calibre of the guns carried. There can be little doubt that this system of limitation is workable and effective.
France and Italy, together with several other Powers, contended for a much greater liberty; namely, that the limit to the fleet should be only to its total tonnage, and within that total each Power should be entitled to build as many or as few of each class of war-ship as they pleased, with a superior limit to the size of the largest ship and the largest gun, subject, however, to the preservation of the engagements entered into at Washington with regard to battleships, aircraft carriers and cruisers.
It was pointed out that so lax a system of limitation might, t any rate in theory, enable a Power to concentrate on some particular class of war-ship, such as commerce destroyers, and so either obtain an unforseen advantage over a rival, or start in a modified form a competition in naval armaments. After prolonged discussion, the French made a compromise proposal to the effect that each Power should state at the outset of the period governed by the treaty the amount of tonnage that it intended to devote to each class of warship, and that if any change in this programme was desired, a year's notice must be given. And they suggested that this would preclude all possibility of surprise, and that particularly Great Britain with her great superiority in building speed would be amply protected.
It was, however, felt that the system, even as modified by the French proposal, was unsound, for the reasons already given, and that it was particularly undesirable at this stage and in view of the Coolidge conference to make any considerable change in the principles adopted at Washington.
On this point, therefore, no conclusion could be reached, and the matter was adjourned until the second reading, the Italians declaring that as at present advised they could not accept even the French modification.
On the other hand, the British, who at first had seen great difficulty in accepting a limitation of naval effectives at all, agreed to do so, though they and the Americans and the Japanese were unable to agree to a limitation of officers and non-commissioned officers as well as to the total numbers of personnel; to which the French delegation replied that, in that case, they would not accept the limitation of officers and non-commissioned officers in their land armies.
After some little discussion, it was agreed that the main method of limiting the air forces must be by limiting the numbers and total horse-power of the military aircraft of each country. And it was further agreed that the total effectives employed in the air forces should be limited subject to the same qualification about officers and non-commissioned officers, as in the navy. With regard to civilian aircraft, the Preparatory Commission had before them the unanimous report of a special expert committee which had been considering this subject, to the effect that it was undesirable and impracticable to attempt to limit civilian aircraft, and all that could be done was to agree that the numbers of civilian aircraft of each High Contracting Party should be published, and that great care