Address Delivered by the Honorable Hugh S. Gibson, of the United States Delegation, at the General Disarmament Conference, Geneva, February 9, 1932, [Extracts]

The United States enters the first world conference on the limitation and reduction of armaments with the determination to leave nothing undone to achieve substantial progress.

The people of the United States have during the past generation played a useful and leading part in the movement for the limitation and reduction of arms.

The Washington Conference of 1922 made the first concrete contribution in voluntary limitation. It met the then existing problem of armament at its most acute, its most threatening, and its most conspicuous point, and by a restriction of naval armament among the powers who found themselves setting an unhappy example, made a long and decisive stride in the direction demanded by world opinion. Our people at that conference sacrificed, if not a real predominance, at least a potential predominance in weight and strength for warfare. The American people have been proud of the contribution which they made to that pact of temperate conduct and common sense. In the London Naval Conference of 1930 the principle of limitation established for capital ships at the Washington meeting was enlarged to cover the whole field of equipment for warfare at sea by the three most heavily armed of the nations, and some progress was made toward including the two other powers most concerned. We enter the Conference today with the practicability of the limitation upon arms established, with the demand for it augmented by general pride and satisfaction in the achievement already made, and with the United States again willing to play its appropriate part in further progress. The American Delegation is prepared to consider any form of military limitation and reduction which promises real progress toward the feeling of international security, protection against surprise, and restraint on the use of arms for purposes of aggression.
The burden and dangers of the gigantic machinery of warfare which are now being maintained in times of peace have reached a point where they threaten civilization itself. For two years past the people of every race have been confronted with an economic crisis from which no nation has been free. All the governments of the world have faced reduction of income, unsettled budgets, and dangers to the very stability of government itself. The United States, while seriously affected by these difficulties, has suffered somewhat less severely than many of the other nations. It is to-day able to maintain the burden of armaments as readily as any of the nations, but it views that burden as unnecessary and inexcusable. No one will doubt the political instability of the world, of which these arms are not alone the effect but also the cause. No one will doubt that they not only contribute to the economic debacle but that they threaten the peace of the world. Our American people look upon the statesmanship which permits the continuance of existing conditions as nothing less than failure. The time has gone by when the peoples of the world will long permit the continuance of this failure.

There is a feeling sometimes expressed that the convictions of theUnited States in this field, the faith of our people in an orderly and stable regime among the nations, and our conviction that the very existence of armaments unbalances the equilibrium, are a product of our geographical isolation and of our lack of experience of and exposure to the rivalries and strains of the European Continent. In answer, the American people point to the fact that the system of competitive armament, of alliances and cross alliances which has existed for centuries in Europe has failed to maintain peace and seems indeed to have been provocative of war, the results of which are such that victors and vanquished are victims alike. Furthermore, the altered conditions of international relationships, the development of communication and transport within the last generation to a point where the whole world is knit together by strands of commerce, finance, and intimate contact, have to-day produced new international relationships which are utterly inconsistent with the older methods and formulas. America is convinced that the world should not go on to new movements and new tasks hampered by the garments of an older regime, and that the problem is only how promptly and smoothly mankind will cast aside the weapons and traditions of the old.

The American Delegation has not attempted to formulate and submit any comprehensive plan for overcoming all of the obstacles that exist in the way of achieving a general limitation and reduction in armaments. In the first place, we do not desire to raise new questions which increase the points of difference and thus delay taking the forward steps which could otherwise be taken. In the second place, we do not believe the human mind is capable of so projecting itself into the future as to devise a plan which will adequately provide for all future developments and contingencies.
Since practically all the nations of the world have now pledged themselves not to wage aggressive war, we believe this Conference should and can successfully devote itself to the abolition of weapons which are devoted primarily to aggressive war, and we are prepared to give earnest and sympathetic consideration to any plans or proposals which seem to furnish a practicable and sound basis upon which we may effect a general limitation and reduction of armaments and establish a more healthy and peaceful state of affairs. It is my purpose to-day to lay before you certain points which the American Delegation advocates. Let me say that this list is not exclusive and contains merely some of the thoughts which we feel will carry on some of the purposes of the Conference.

1. The American Government advocates consideration of the draft convention as containing the outlines for a convenient basis for discussion, while expressing its entire willingness to give full consideration to any supplementary proposals calculated to advance the end we all seek.

2. We suggest the possibility of prolonging the existing naval agreements concluded at Washington and London, and we advocate completing the latter as soon as possible by the adherence of France and Italy.

3. We advocate proportional reduction from the figures laid down in the Washington and London agreements on naval tonnage as soon as all parties to the Washington agreement have entered this framework.

4. We advocate, as we long have done, the total abolition of submarines.

5. We will join in formulating the most effective measures to protect civilian population against aerial bombing.

6. We advocate the total abolition of lethal gases and bacteriological warfare.

7. We advocate, as I have already stated, the computation of the number of armed forces on the basis of the effectives necessary for the maintenance of internal order plus some suitable contingent for defense. The former are obviously impossible of reduction; the latter is a question of relativity.

8. We agree in advocating special restrictions for tanks and heavy mobile guns; in other words, for those arms of a peculiarly offensive character.

9. We are prepared to consider a limitation of expenditure on material as a complementary method to direct limitation, feeling that it may prove useful to prevent a qualitative race, if and when quantitative limitation has been effected.

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. 161-64

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Interwar Period Page