Why the Armies can not Disarm
AS ARISTIDE BRIAND, powerful of frame, with shaggy head and bushy downward curving mustache, arose to state the case of France before the Arms Conference, he seemed to one press correspondent to be a perfect living type of the old-time Western sheriff; and he might well have claimed for his country the role of an officer of the law who must keep his hand on his gun lest the powerful desperado he has just captured and disarmed should spring upon him and overpower him. Many a Frenchman has informed us that France can not disarm on land while she faces across the Rhine a Germany, beaten and disarmed, but potentially strong in manpower and industrial equipment, and not yet proved to be either repentant or genuinely inclined to peace.
But outside France are those who find in the German situation no justification for the French military policy, and their views are quoted further on. France's view-point, however, as one of the correspondents reminds us, has never wavered. "It considers the fact that it is obliged to maintain an Army of between 700,000 and 800,000 men as one of the great tragedies of the war." It believes it has cut this Army down "to the lowest point compatible with its colonial and mandate responsibilities and its national safety," and "no Government which agreed at Washington to reduce the size of the Army without procuring some tangible form of cooperation guarantee could stay in power in Paris a single week." With France's position what it is, with the United States thought to be averse to a guarantee treaty, correspondents and editors hold little hope for a solution of the land disarmament problem at the present time. Moreover, as the New York Globe correspondent points out, whereas the great naval Powers are all here, the chief land Powers are not. Russia, Jugo-Slavia, Roumania, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia are absent. Italy, for instance, "can not very well reduce its Army unless it knows what Jugo-Slavia and even Hungary are willing to do." So while our press agree with the Washington Post that "it is the ardent hope of man-kind that a plan will be evolved at the Conference which will do away with large standing armies and perhaps abolish conscription," many can foresee no early fulfilment of that hope. The outlook, declares the Syracuse Herald, is far from promising; and the Houston Chronicle finds reason in the facts above noted "to believe that little can be accomplished at this time by way of reducing land forces on the continent of Europe."
The primary reason why France can not entirely disarm, said her Premier on November 21, is that she sees Germany refusing to disarm and unwilling to meet her treaty obligations. While the Germany of the workingman sincerely wants peace, there is also the Germany of Ludendorff, which cherishes revenge and still loves war. There are 7,000,000 war-trained veterans in Germany, and various police organizations and associations of ex-soldiers make officering and mobilization a simple matter. While most of the materials of war have been destroyed, Germany is a great industrial nation, and "everything is there ready to insure a steady manufacturing of guns, machine-guns and rifles." Then, too, the fires of war are smoldering in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. Yet in spite of all this, France has begun to disarm. Since the Armistice, the Government has reduced to two years the time spent by young men under the flag; instead of three, only two classes are undergoing military service. In a few days the Chamber will adopt the Government's proposals to cut the present service in half. "If the other nations were to offer to share France's peril," then, declared Premier Briand, "we should be only too pleased to demonstrate the sincerity of our purpose." But "if Prance is to remain alone, you must not deny her what she wants in order to insure her security."
Mr. Balfour, speaking for England directly after the Frenchman finished, sorrowfully acknowledged that the latter's words held out no hope "for any immediate solution of the great problem of land armaments." But since Mr. Briand seemed to tear the "moral isolation" of France, the British representative reminded him that the British Empire lost a million men to help maintain the liberties of the world in general, and France in particular, and that Britain still believes in this cause.
The Conference was then reminded by Senator Schanzer that Italy has come to an understanding with the Jugo-Slavs and with her former enemies, while her land Army has been reduced to a force which "does not exceed 200,000 men and a further reduction to 175,000 is already planned, and 35,000 colored troops." Japan has not, according to Baron Kato, "the slightest intention of maintaining land armaments which are in excess of those Absolutely necessary for purely defensive purposes necessitated by the Far Eastern situation." The Belgian ambassador at Washington said that his country "keeps her Army down to a level that is strictly consistent with the re-quirements of her national security and she could not possibly proceed to a further reduction of her armament." The most significant sentences from the speech with which Secretary ended the session are quoted as follows in the daily press:
"No words ever spoken by France have fallen upon deaf ears in the United States. ...
"May I say, in response to a word which challenged us all as it was uttered by M. Briand, that there is no moral isolation for the defenders of liberty and justice? We understand the difficulties; what has been said will be read throughout this broad land by a people that desires to understand."
Typical of a very general editorial sympathy with France's attitude is this passage from the New York Times:
"M. Briand did not ask outside aid for France. But he stated clearly the dilemma. She must have security; she must be permitted to go about her work in confidence. There are but two ways. She can depend upon her own good sword. She might get valid and effective promises of other nations to spring to her side if again attacked. But the projected defensive alliance of England and the United States with France is thickly covered with dust in the pigeonholes of the American Senate. To what, then, is France to look? Benevolent expressions of sympathy are precious to her ears, but are not armor for her breast. And failing an alliance, denied guarantees by other nations, France must attend to her own security."
When we turn to critics of the Briand arguments we find the strongest speech coming from British journalists. Mr. P. W. Wilson of the London Daily News, in a Washington dispatch to the New York Tribune, declares that Great Britain is "profoundly disappointed" in Mr. Briand's "negative utterance." In the opinion of the Englishmen for whom Mr. Wilson speaks—
"Paris makes insufficient allowance for the deposition of the Kaiser and his kinglets, for the annexation of the German colonies, for the destruction of the German fleet, for the extension of the German franchise, for the dissolution of the German alliances and for the shattering of German credit as indicated by a mark reckoned as waste paper."
Even sharper expressions come from H. G. Wells. He says, in the New York World:
"The plain fact of the case is that France is maintaining a vast Army in the face of a disarmed world and she is preparing energetically for fresh warlike operations in Europe and for war under sea against Great Britain. To excuse this line of action M. Briand unfolded a fabulous account of the German preparation for a renewal of hostilities; every soldier in the small force of troops allowed to Germany is an officer or noncommissioned officer, so that practically the German Army can expand at any moment to millions, and Germany is not morally disarmed because Ludendorff is still writing and talking militant nonsense."
The France that has come to the Washington Conference is, to Mr. Wells, in the light of the Briand speech, "only an impenitent apologist for three years of sins against the peace of the world, an apologist for national aggression postering as fear, and reckless greed disguised as discretion."
Is the French problem insoluble? The tripartite alliance, left unratified by our Senate, is offered by some newspapers as a solution, on which the Brooklyn Citizen comments:
"There is a considerable public opinion among the intellectual classes and in Army circles in favor of such an alliance, but the great body of the people, who love France above any other foreign country, are opposed to alliances of any kind."
Friends of the League of Nations find the only hope in leaving the problem of land armaments and the defense of France to the continuing activity of the League. Senator King (Dem., Utah) says the peace of the world can be assured only when there is a world organization like the League. The League, agrees Senator Dial (Dem., S. C.), "could take care of the very situation that Briand describes."
The League of Nations has, we are reminded by Mr. Paul Scott Mowrer in the New York Globe, been carefully studying the question of land disarmament and its representatives have come to the opinion that the way to tackle it is not as a whole, but by regions:
"Thus there might be one South American agreement, another Far Eastern agreement, and still a third agreement among Central European powers. A nucleus of this last does, indeed, already exist in the so-called 'Little Entente'—the alliance of Poland, Czeeho-Slovakia, Roumania and Jugo-Slavia."
There are those who reason that France needs neither a great Army nor a military alliance with the United States. What France must do, argues Herbert Croly in The New Republic, is to move toward accommodation with Germany. Similarly, under the title, "The Franco-German Alliance," The Nation (New York) says that the economic salvation of France lies in working toward a natural continental commercial alliance with Germany. "Whatever tends toward French partnership in German industry, interesting France directly in German industrial health, tends toward European peace."
Source: The Literary Digest - December 3, 1921