Message of President Roosevelt to the Congress, May 16, 1933

To the Congress:

For the information of the Congress I am sending herewith a message that I have addressed this morning to the sovereigns and presidents of those nations participating in the Disarmament Conference and the World Monetary and Economic Conference. [l3]

I was impelled to this action because it has become increasingly evident that the assurance. of world political and economic peace and stability is threatened by selfish and short-sighted policies, actions and threats of actions.

The sincere wish for this assurance by an overwhelming majority of the nations faces the danger of recalcitrant obstruction by a very small minority, just as in the domestic field the good purposes of a majority in business, labor or in other cooperative efforts are often frustrated by a selfish few.

The deep-rooted desire of Americans for better living conditions and for the avoidance of war is shared by mass humanity in every country. As a means to this end, I have in the message to the various nations, stressed the practical necessity of reducing armaments. It is high time for us and for every other nation to understand the simple fact that the invasion of any nation, or the destruction of a national sovereignty, can be prevented only by the complete elimination of the weapons that make such a course possible today.

Such an elimination will make the little nation relatively more secure against the great nation.

Furthermore, permanent defenses are a nonrecurring charge against governmental budgets while large armies, continually rearmed with improved offensive weapons, constitute a recurring charge. This, more than any other factor today is responsible for governmental deficits and threatened bankruptcy.

The way to disarm is to disarm. The way to prevent invasion is to make it impossible.

I have asked for an agreement among nations on four practical and simultaneous steps:

First, that through a series of steps the weapons of offensive warfare be eliminated;
Second, that the first definite step be taken now;
Third, that while these steps are being taken no nation shall increase existing armaments over and above the limitations of treaty obligations;
Fourth, that subject to existing treaty rights no nation during the disarmament period shall send any armed force of whatsoever nature across its own borders.

Our people realize that weapons of offense are needed only if other nations have them and they will freely give them up if all the nations of the world will do likewise.

In the domestic field the Congress has labored in sympathetic understanding with me for the improvement of social conditions, for the preservation of individual human rights, and for the furtherance of social justice.

In the message to the nations which I herewith transmit I have named the same objectives. It is in order to assure these great human values that we seek peace by ridding the world of the weapons of aggression and attack..

May 16, 1933.

[13] The message of the President to the heads of the nations participating in the World Economic Conference and the Disarmament Conference was cabled direct to the sovereigns and presidents of the following nations: Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Persia, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Russia, Siam, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia.

The message follows:

"A profound hope of the people of my country impels me, as the head of their government, to address you and, through you, the people of your nation. This hope is that peace may be assured through practical measures of disarmament and that all of us may carry to victory our common struggle against economic chaos.

"To these ends the nations have called two great world conferences. The happiness, the prosperity, and the very lives of the men, women and children who inhabit the whole world are bound up in the decisions which their governments will make in the near future. The improvement of social conditions, the preservation of individual human rights, and the furtherance of social justice are dependent upon these decisions.

"The World Economic Conference will meet soon and must come to its conclusions quickly. The world can not await deliberations long drawn out. The Conference must establish order in place of the present chaos by a stabilization of currencies, by freeing the flow of world trade, and by international action to raise price levels. It must, in short, supplement individual domestic programs for economic recovery, by wise and considered international action.

"The Disarmament Conference has labored for more than a year and, as yet, has been unable to reach satisfactory conclusions. Confused purposes still clash dangerously. Our duty lies in the direction of bringing practical results through concerted action based upon the greatest good to the greatest number. Before the imperative call of this great duty, petty obstacles must be swept away and petty aims forgotten. A selfish victory is always destined to be an ultimate defeat. The furtherance of durable peace for our generation in every part of the world is the only goal worthy of our best efforts.

"If we ask what are the reasons for armaments, which, in spite of the lessons and tragedies of the World War, are today a greater burden on the peoples of the earth than ever before, it becomes clear that they are two-fold: First, the desire, disclosed or hidden, on the part of Governments to enlarge their territories at the expense of a sister nation. I believe that only a small minority of Governments or of peoples harbor such a purpose. Second, the fear of nations that they will be invaded. I believe that the overwhelming majority of peoples feel obliged to retain excessive armaments because they fear some act of aggression against them and not because they themselves seek to be aggressors.

"There is justification for this fear. Modern weapons of offense are vastly stronger than modern weapons of defense. Frontier forts, trenches, wire entanglements, coast defenses-in a word, fixed fortifications-are no longer impregnable to the attack or war planes, heavy mobile artillery, land battleships called tanks, and poison gas.

"If all nations will agree wholly to eliminate from possession and use the Footnote 13-Continued. weapons which make possible a successful attack, defenses automatically will become impregnable, and the frontiers and independence of every nation will become secure.

"The ultimate objective of the Disarmament Conference must be the complete elimination of all offensive weapons. The immediate objective is a substantial reduction of some of these weapons and the elimination of many others.

"This Government believes that the program for immediate reduction of aggressive weapons, now under discussion at Geneva, is but a first step toward our ultimate goal. We do not believe that the proposed immediate steps go far enough. Nevertheless, this Government welcomes the measures now proposed and will exert its influence toward the attainment of further successive steps of disarmament.

"Stated in the clearest way, there are three steps to be agreed upon in the present discussion:

"First, to take, at once, the first definite step toward this objective, as broadly outlined in the MacDonald Plan.
"Second, to agree upon time and procedure for taking the following steps.
"Third, to agree that while the first and the following steps are being taken, no nation shall increase its existing armaments over and above the limitations of treaty obligations.

"But the peace of the world must be assured during the whole period of disarmament and I, therefore, propose a fourth step concurrent with and wholly dependent on the faithful fulfillment of these three proposal,. and subject to existing treaty rights:

"That all the nations of the world should enter into a solemn and definite pact of non-aggression: That they should solemnly reaffirm the obligations they have assumed to limit and reduce their armaments and, provided these obligations are faithfully executed by all signatory powers, individually agree that they will send no armed force of whatsoever nature across their frontiers.

"Common sense points out that if any strong nation refuses to join with genuine sincerity in these concerted efforts for political and economic peace, the one at Geneva and the other at London, progress can be obstructed and ultimately blocked. In such event the civilized world, seeking both forms of peace, will know where the responsibility for failure lies. I urge that no nation assume such a responsibility, and that all the nations joined in these great conferences translate their professed policies into action. This is the way to political and economic peace.

"I trust that your government will join in the fulfillment of these hopes.

"Franklin D. Roosevelt"

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. 178-185.

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Interwar Period Page