Statement by the Honorable Norman H. Davis, Chairman of the United States Delegation to the General Disarmament Conference, at a Meeting of the General Commission of the Conference, at Geneva, May 29, 1934

(1) Twenty-seven months and more have passed since we met, in high hopes, to frame a general disarmament convention. No one foresaw a short or easy negotiation; the difficulties were more apparent than the solution; but the goal was so clear and the need for agreement so vital and so pressing that we confidently expected success. Now we meet once again but with hopes dimmed. One great power has chosen to withdraw from the Conference; parallel and private conversations have not smoothed out the principal diffi culties nor given the results we hoped for; certain powers are talking not in terms of reduction of armaments but in terms of mere limitation, and others of actual increase. In this confused situation, we can well ask ourselves: "Whither are we going?"

(2) Notwithstanding the inherent difficulties it is, I believe, the consensus of opinion of the delegates to this Conference that disarmament is a problem susceptible of a practical solution if the nations most vitally concerned will only cooperate in the proper spirit to that end.

(3) As a result of thorough studies and discussions here, a remarkable and considerable measure of accord has actually been reached with respect to the technical aspects of armaments and the kind of a disarmament convention that would be effective. Nevertheless, other questions and considerations have intervened which have not only prevented a general agreement but which now actually threaten the failure of the Conference.

(4) Every nation here has the same basic thought, how to remove the menace and lighten the burden of competitive armaments without reducing its security. It is somewhat difficult for anxious public opinions of countries which have armed primarily because of fear to realize that the apparent sacrifice of national defense involved in reduction of armaments may be fully compensated for by an increase of security along other lines. It is nevertheless the view of the American Government that such a compensatory advantage would be in fact obtainable through a mutual reduction and limitation of armaments in accordance with the revised draft convention that was accepted a year ago as the basis of our negotiations.

(5) Reduced to its simplest terms, there are two ways and only two conceivable ways to achieve security. The first is by overwhelming superiority in armament, coupled perhaps with reinsurance in the form of alliances; but this system has led first to a race in armaments and then to a war, from which we have not yet recovered and from a repetition of which we might never recover. Arms certainly did not prevent the World War, nor did they save either victor or vanquished from the terrible consequences of that that. The other way is to increase the power of defense and decrease the power of attack-in other words, to reduce the chances of a successful campaign of aggression-by a progressive abolition of those types of weapons peculiarly suitable for invasion, namely, heavy mobile artillery, tanks, and bombing planes. This method of disarmament, besides avoiding the complexities incident to limitation and reduction, which is solely numerical, constitutes a realistic aid to peace not only through reducing the sum total of means of war but more particularly by doing away with the very instruments which are indispensable for successful aggression and by giving supremacy to fortifications and other means of defense. In fact, this method was accepted by the Conference in the resolution of July 23, 1932.

(6) Such is the choice. For its part, the American Government earnestly and sincerely believes that only by following the second path-that of disarmament-can the peace and progress of the world and the national security of each country be truly promoted. Unfortunately there is at present a distinct tendency in Europe toward the old policy of political alignments accompanied by an uncontrolled race in armaments which, if persisted in, will recreate the conditions which preceded the World War. Those who are today pursuing that policy, rather than one which promotes good will and increases security through a reduction of armaments, are inviting a terrible risk for the future.

(7) The United States has repeatedly stated in unequivocal terms its belief in the value and efficacy of a drastic reduction of armaments and its willingness to join with other powers in bringing armaments down to a level to be determined by the needs of actual self-defense. On May 22, 1933, in support of the draft convention which had been submitted to the Conference by the British Delegation, I outlined, with the approval of the President, the views of the United States Government on disarmament, its willingness to join in a decisive and progressive reduction of armaments through international agreement, and the extent to which it was prepared to cooperate to that end. It was with a view of helping indirectly to meet a given situation (in the event that the European powers should find it necessary or desirable to supplement a general convention by special regional agreements applicable to Europe) that I made on behalf of the United States Government this very considered statement of what its policy in certain circumstances would be. At that time it was our understanding that if the United States would be willing to adopt, subject to the conditions indicated, a policy that would not hamper the possible organization of European peace, it would be possible to conclude an agreement for a reduction and limitation of armaments along the lines of the draft convention then under consideration.

(8) In fact, President Roosevelt has authorized me to summarize the attitude and policy of the United States as follows: We are prepared to cooperate in every practicable way in efforts to secure a general disarmament agreement and thus to help promote the gen eral peace and progress of the world. We are furthermore willing, in connection with a general disarmament convention, to negotiate a universal pact of non-aggression and to join with other nations in conferring on international problems growing out of any treaties to which we are a party. The United States will not, however, participate in European political negotiations and settlements and will not make any commitment whatever to use its armed forces for the settlement of any dispute anywhere. In effect, the policy of the United States is to keep out of war, but to help in every possible way to discourage war.

(9) We have no new cures to offer. We suggested in the proposals of President Hoover in June 1932 a percentage cut covering all types of armaments. We suggested at that time a method of computing effectives to reach a basis of internal police requirements which was regarded by nearly all the powers as the only proposal which promised a fair and reasonable solution of this difficult question. A year later President Roosevelt, in his message to the chiefs of state, suggested the abolition of weapons of invasion and, to make this more effective, a pact of non-aggression, and then the establishment of an effective system of supervision and control. We are willing to go further and work out by international agreement an effective system for the regulation of the manufacture of and traffic in arms and munitions of war. Let me quote one paragraph from a recent message to Congress by President Roosevelt on this subject:

"It is my earnest hope that the representatives of the nations who will reassemble at Geneva on May 29 will be able to agree upon a convention containing provisions for the supervision and control of the traffic in arms even more far-reaching than those which were embodied in the convention of 1925. Some suitable international organization must and will take such action. The peoples of many countries are being taxed to the point of poverty and starvation in order to enable governments to engage in a mad race in armament which, if permitted to continue, may well result in war. This grave menace to the peace of the world is due in no small measure to the uncontrolled activities of the manufacturers and merchants of engines of destruction, and it must be met by the concerted action of the peoples of all nations."

The people of the United States are aroused at the evils which are being revealed in the production and traffic of munitions of war. The American people and Government are convinced that by some means the production and traffic in engines of death, and the profits resulting therefrom, must be controlled or eliminated. Those who have a sordid financial interest in fomenting international suspicion and discord, which in turn increases the demand for what they have to sell, must be put in a position in which they do not have the power or the incentive to do so much evil. If we are to foment international good will and stability we must take effective steps to control or suppress the forces which have a material interest in fomenting mistrust and discord. My Government is ready to join in measures for suppressing this evil, and is prepared to negotiate in connection with disarmament a treaty that would deal drastically with this problem.

(10) We will stand ready to advance along any constructive lines. Even where our arms are already limited, we are prepared to agree upon further reductions. Thus, in the matter of naval armaments, although we have felt it necessary to build up approximately to the treaty limits, largely in replacement ships, we are none the less willing to join the other interested powers in a substantial proportionate reduction of naval tonnage. In fact, our efforts remain directed toward disarmament in all branches and not toward either truce or rearmament.

(11) The Disarmament Conference recessed on the 16th of October last in order that there might be given an opportunity to carry on diplomatic negotiations with the view of reconciling the divergent views which stood in the way of agreement. Unfortunately these negotiations did not result in agreement, and they have now been terminated. On the other hand, they have served a necessary and useful purpose in clarifying the fundamental differences and issues. I feel, therefore, that in taking the initiative in these negotiations the British Government has rendered a real service. Nevertheless the termination of these parallel efforts brings us face to face with an emergency situation demanding a grave decision. We must determine whether our efforts shall result in a controlled disarmament, or in a mere limitation of armaments at a level so high as to be of doubtful value and effect, or in an uncontrolled race in armaments which would be disastrous. Surely no nation represented here wishes to take the responsibility for a failure of the Conference or to face the consequences of a failure. Let us therefore go back to the last stage in our negotiations where a general agreement was sight, namely, to June 8 last year, when the British draft convention was accepted by all nations, including Germany, as the basis of the future convention. In doing so we may of course have due regard for subsequent contributions that may have been made toward agreement. If Germany desires a disarmament convention, which surely must be the case, then I cannot easily believe that she would not be willing to resume negotiations on the basis to which she previously agreed.

The negotiations of the past 6 months were terminated by the demand that bilateral discussions be discontinued and that the work be brought back to Geneva. Very good. We are back in Geneva. I for one am glad to be here. I have stated the views of my Government, and I think every one here would consider it timely if all would explain their positions. The issue cannot be avoided. I am unshaken in my belief that with a real spirit of cooperation we can still achieve success.

Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 226-228.

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