HL Deb 09 June 1926 vol 64 cc331-52

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can make a statement as to the progress made at Geneva at the preliminary meeting to prepare for a Conference on Disarmament; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this Question, which I am asking the Government and to which, I understand, the noble Viscount will reply, is one of greater complexity and difficulty than the matters about which I asked him yesterday afternoon. In one sense it is much more important, because from time to time such a question as the reconstitution of the Council comes to the front, but disarmament is one of the most important matters with which the Assembly and the Council deal at Geneva and it really is of the utmost importance if, in the long run, the League of Nations is to carry out all that those who desire it to succeed hope it will accomplish.

I noticed a statement in the newspapers this morning which I quote only to show how one approaches this matter. The statement was that the League of Nations was bound by its charter to work for disarmament without intermission. I do not think the noble Viscount will in any way differ from that statement. In order to make my own position quite clear, may I say that although the word disarmament is used in reference to this question, I think a far more accurate term would be to use the term "reduction in armaments." What we are really dealing with and what the noble Viscount was dealing with at Geneva is not disarmament in the sense of no armaments, but merely a reduction of armaments to a standard level, which we find expressed in the terms of the Covenant of the League itself.

It is extremely important to remember that this question of the reduction of armaments is not a matter of choice, a matter of new policy. It is a very solemn Treaty obligation, binding not only upon all those who are Members of the League of Nations and have signed the Covenant, but binding also, under one or two quotations which I shall venture to make, upon all the Allied and Associated Powers at the time that the various Peace Treaties were made. There is no country that I know of which has prided itself, and properly prided itself, more than Great Britain on its scrupulous adherence to Treaty obligations. That is a matter of the greatest importance because unless you could rely on a great Power such as Great Britain being scrupulously alive to its Treaty obligations, you would sap the whole foundation of the international relationships on which we rely and which is the only ultimate safeguard of fair international relationships.

Let me for a moment quote the Article from the Covenant of the League. I quote it because these matters, which are common to most of us, are apt to be forgotten by some of our outside critics:— The Members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments"— Now to what standard? to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. I do not for a moment suggest that under existing circumstances the level of armaments should in any way be reduced below the level stated in the terms of the Covenant itself, the object being that, whereas on the one hand the armaments should not be reduced below the point consistent with national safety—and I do not think anybody would desire that—on the other hand they should not be of a size and equipment suitable not so much for purposes of national safety but of aggressive warfare. The whole object of the Covenant of the League of Nations is to put an end to aggressive warfare and if aggressive warfare is ended then we need not trouble about all other kinds of warfare. They will necessarily at the same time come to an end.

The importance of the Covenant of the League, upon this point was emphasised in the reply of the Allied and Associated Powers to Germany at Versailles. We know that Germany raised objections to the standard of disarmament imposed on her various military, air and naval equipments. What the Allied and Associated Powers said was as follows:— The Allied and Associated Powers regard the Covenant of the League of Nations as the foundation of the Treaty of Peace"— the foundation of the Treaty of Peace because it carried the obligation that the standard of armaments, though sufficient for national security, should not be of a standard that could be utilised for purposes of aggressive warfare. In the same way, in every Treaty, whether it was the Treaty with Austria, with Hungary, or with Bulgaria, there was a clause introduced in these terms: In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations"— then followed the name of the country concerned— undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval and air clauses which follow. There again, in the very forefront of the Treaties and as a part of them, the Allied and Associated Powers stated that in their view the limitation of armaments properly imposed upon the defeated ex-enemy countries should enable a general limitation of armaments of all nations to be instituted upon the same basis.

There is one other quotation which I wish to make as it is very important that we should realise what our duty in this respect really is. It is not merely a duty imposed upon the Council or on the Assembly, but a duty imposed upon the constituent countries which have become signatories of the Covenant and have assented to the obligations therein contained. This was the letter written to Germany at Versailles at the time when this question was raised. What the Allied and Associated Powers said was this:— They recognise that the acceptance by Germany of the terms laid down for her own disarmament will facilitate and hasten the accomplishment of a general reduction of armaments; and they intend to open negotiations immediately"— I will ask your Lordships' attention, and the attention of the noble Viscount, to those words "they intend to open negotiations immediately"— with a view to the eventual adoption of a scheme of such general reduction. That is to say, taking Germany as a standard—a far lower standard had been accepted between themselves, for instance, by some of the Latin Republics—taking Germany as a standard of adequate provision for national safety, but not to allow the possibility of aggressive warfare, they say that "they intend to open negotiations immediately with a view to the eventual adoption of a scheme of such general reduction."

They added: It goes without saying that the realisation of this programme will depend in large part on the satisfactory carrying out by Germany of her own engagements. I think we may say now, after a certain period when there was a difference of opinion—I recollect very well how that question was raised when I was on the Council at Geneva—that Germany has made satisfactory progress in carrying out all her engagements as regards disarmament to the Allied and Associated Powers, and soon she will become a Member of the Assembly and the Council of the League.

Lastly, as to the Locarno Treaty, there is some difficulty in the fact that the Locarno Treaty was the product rather of Locarno than of Geneva. But I put that on one side, because I think the terms as between Germany and France and Belgium, for instance, are of such great importance to the future of the question of reduction of armaments that they override all other considerations The words of the Treaty are:— Great Britain undertakes, with other countries, to give her sincere co-operation to the work relating to disarmament already undertaken by the League of Nations and to seek the realisation thereof in a general agreement. I can appeal, I am sure, to the noble Earl or to the noble Viscount when I say that from the very start the work relating to disarmament was undertaken, but, owing to what I admit were the difficulties and complexities of the question, and particularly owing to the war spirit which very naturally survived the war fighting, up to the present moment very little of any consequence has been done, except—and it is a very important exception—in the case of the naval invitation under the terms of the Washington Conference.

I know the noble Viscount, working as he did with great determination and power, desired as part of the terms of what he called the Treaty of Mutual Assurance to bring about a proper scheme of relative disarmament and the same object, of course, underlay the terms and conditions of the Protocol. But, unfortunately, whatever the reasons may be—I do not want to go into them now—neither of those schemes eventuated in ultimate success, although, I believe, perhaps because of my partiality to the Protocol, that it will ultimately be the basis of general friendly relationships which, more than anything else, are wanted if we are to have a general reduction in armaments. I have often heard the noble Viscount himself say that an essential condition of disarmament, or reduction in armaments, must he a sense of international security. I entirely agree with him in that respect. In order to obtain conditions of international security you want a system under which, as far as possible,—I would go to the utmost limit—all international disputes may be settled by peaceful means, and I use those words from the Treaty of Locarno, because, under that Treaty, all international disputes are to be "settled by peaceful means" as between the particular countries, Belgium, France and Germany.

I admit, of course, that this country has not taken that view up to the present. I regret it. But the noble Viscount belongs to a Government which has taken a different view. The view has been taken that this country ought not to put itself into the position of submitting all questions to conciliation or arbitration or Court decision, however vital or however important they may be. Until that decision is taken we are, of course, outside the provisions which have been adopted in the Treaty of Locarno that all such matters in dispute, practically without any exception, should go for settlement either to conciliation or arbitration. I must say one word as to why that is necessary. I do not think we always mean the same thing when we use the word "security." When I use the word "security" I mean that you obtain that security from aggressive warfare by making aggressive warfare a crime not as between the nations concerned but against the community of nations who are represented in the League itself.

I recollect, as I dare say some of your Lordships do, a most valuable speech made on the question of the League of Nations by one of the greatest jurists, as I consider, of my time, the late Lord Parker. He traced national security to the time when such a crime, for instance, as murder was no longer a matter to be settled between the parties concerned but one that had to be punished because it was an offence against the community as a whole. What I mean by "security" is to obtain the condition—and it could be obtained if you had an all round reference of disputes to conciliation and arbitration—that all disputes which might otherwise end by a resort to war ought to be settled by friendly means, and the non-resorting to such friendly means is what we call in the Protocol an "international crime against the community itself." That is a very important matter when we are considering the question of disarmament.

It is often said that one of the difficulties in this question is the sanction of the League of Nations or the Assembly or the Council against the particular nation that goes counter to the obligations that it has undertaken in signing the Covenant or any Amendment thereof. That difficulty, in my opinion, will be largely solved if the community as a whole was altogether stronger as regards equipment and matters of that kind than any one particular State amongst its constituent members. Therefore, if you had disarmament, or reduction in armaments, you would have a double security. You would have the security that aggression may be extremely difficult, and you would have the security that the community of nations represented in the League of Nations would be so strong and in such a position that no one in that country would risk bringing a force and power and opinion of that kind against its own national interest.

That, I think, is a very strong point indeed, but you must go the whole length. I am not one of those who think the League of Nations ought in any way to be in the position of a super-State—I think that is a great mistake—but it does mean that the constituent countries have come under obligations to each other and those obligations can be enforced more readily and easily, without doubt, when there has been a reduction of armaments to the level which is indicated in the Covenant itself. There is one other point only before I come to the questions which the noble Viscount told me before we entered the House that I had administered to him in the nature of cross-examination. I did not mean to administer them in that sense, but to give him notice of what I was going to raise. I have noticed lately—and I have attended a very large number of meetings of the League of Nations Union—a very large growth in the direction of a desire for the reduction of armaments. I have noticed it very largely on economic grounds, perhaps particularly emphasised by the economic conditions in this country at the present time.

I do not want to argue the point, but I want to make two quotations as regards the danger to the economic condition of industrial Europe—I do not want to limit it to this country—owing to the expenditure which is made at the present time on naval and air and military equipment in the various countries. Immediately after the War, I think it was in 1922 or 1920—the noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong—the Council of the. League of Nations referred this economic question to the Financial Congress at Brussels.




In 1920 they made this Report. They reported on the crushing burden which on their existing scale armaments imposed on the impoverished peoples of the world, sapping their resources and imperilling their recovery from the ravages of the War. I do not think any one has ever questioned the accuracy of that statement, made at a Financial Conference to which were invited all the chief experts that could be found in any part of Europe. I will only give one other quotation. The same point is to be found in what was said by Sir Josiah Stamp, who, with Mr. Pigou, made a very close estimate, as far as you can make a close estimate, of the effect of our War expenditure on our economic conditions. He did not confine it to our economic position but the position of industrial Europe. He said that war expenditure is for the mass of the people of the nations affected the difference between grinding penury and a reasonable standard of comfort. That is a very notable statement and as far as I know it has never been questioned.

It may be said that there has been some diminution in war expenditure, but it is very slight. I took out the other day from the publication of the League of Nations which gives an authoritative statement on these subjects, these facts as regards our expenditure. The publication gives the facts also as regards the expenditure of other countries, but I limit what I say to this country. In 1913 and 1914, the period immediately before the War—no doubt your Lordships know that just before the War the expenditure on armaments went up at a very highly increasing ratio, so that from 1908 to 1914 the expenditure of the six leading countries was no less than £100,000,000 per year—at that date after that ratio of increase the expenditure was £72,000,000 odd. At the present time, allowing for the difference in the use of the term "sovereign"—because, of course, you have a difference as regards purchasing power at the present time—to the last available year that I have, it is £79,500,000 or, if you are to put it into actual sovereigns without making the allowance which I think ought to be made, it would be £125,000,000 odd. The difference between the £125,000,000 and the 79,000,000 is, for the purpose of comparison, as nearly as possible placing the sovereign in the same position then as it was in 1914.

Your Lordships will recollect the statement made in his memoirs by a member of your Lordships' House in whom we all have great confidence in matters of that kind, I mean Lord Grey, who said that not only did this huge rise in expenditure not give that sense of security which is the only safeguard of a general peace, but on the contrary raised the sense of insecurity which in his opinion was one of the most potent factors in the outbreak of the Great War. I do not want to go further this afternoon. I wanted to formulate the basis on which I approach the question of the reduction of armaments. I can never find much difference between the noble Viscount and myself, or even between the noble Earl and myself, on questions affecting the future and the stability of this great institution which will be the one great historical factor, in my view, when these matters are related in the future, the League of Nations.

I have had given to me from the League of Nations Union, as I have told the noble Viscount, a number of matters which I understand were discussed at this late meeting at Geneva. I know it is only a preliminary meeting for the calling of a future Conference, but what I do want to know is whether, in the opinion of the noble Viscount, any real progress has been made or whether what has gone on at Geneva has merely shown that at the present time there are deep differences of opinion which threaten any possible movement in the direction of reduction of armaments. The first document is headed: "List of complicated questions." I am bound to say that the questionnaire—I do not know whether it was issued by the Committee or before the Committee met, the noble Viscount will tell us that—put a series of questions which are of a complicated kind and I should hesitate to put upon the noble Viscount, even with all his knowledge, the responsibility of replying to them in answer to the questions which I want to put to him.

First of all, I want to ask him this question. In considering the standard of the reduction of armaments did the Committee take into consideration the suggestion made in the very able book by Professor Noel Baker that if it was possible by expert and technical advice to reduce Germany to such a level that she only had an Army equipment suitable for her national security, what is the difficulty, if you really desired it—I admit, of course, that is a condition precedent—of limiting in the same way other warlike equipment to the same general level? In that connection there is one other question that I should like to ask. The noble Viscount knows that in the Latin-American Republics Treaties have been signed for the reduction of armaments to a much lower level than has been suggested for the reduction in the case of Germany. I should like to know whether the Preparatory Commission has in any way suggested that those cases might be considered and observed in order to see what the effect of those reductions of armaments has been.

Then there is a matter which was very much discussed and in which the noble Viscount was said to be the protagonist on one side and M. Paul-Boncour the protagonist for France on the other. Are you to take peace conditions as the standard, or are you to introduce what is called the war potential? The preliminary Commission apparently came to the conclusion—I do not know how far it really decided anything—that the noble Viscount was right in suggesting the peace basis, but that at the same time the war potential was to be taken into consideration. Perhaps he will tell us how those two somewhat inconsistent matters can be taken into consideration as a basis for the same ultimate result.

In order to make the position as clear as possible I will read an extract from what has been supplied to me as part of the Report made by the Commission. Perhaps the noble Viscount will tell me if I am quoting correctly. I have given him the passage so that he may look it up. The Commission is said to have reported:— That it would not be practicable at the present time to limit the ultimate war strength of a country, but that on the other hand"— and this is the important part— it is possible to limit the land, sea and air forces permanently maintained in peace time by the various countries or capable of immediate use without preliminary mobilisation measures. Of course if that can be done it is obvious that a great advance can be made. To a very large extent it would answer the economic difficulty to which I have called your Lordships' attention, and which cannot be disregarded. I remember that during the War, when we were discussing the future of the League of Nations, the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, expressed a very decided view that industrial conditions at the end of the War would necessitate a very large reduction in war expenditure.

Next, I should like to ask the noble Viscount for information on a very important point. Was it thought possible to control or supervise chemical armaments? I think that this is going to be a very big factor in the miseries and devastation of the future should another war by any misfortune break out before that matter is settled. I notice that the German delegate said that all schemes for assistance between the different countries should be based on reduced armaments after conference. I should think this would be an admirable basis. I do not want to go into any technical question. When I was at Geneva we submitted all technical questions to a technical body, the Permanent Advisory Committee, and I think it would be the height of folly for any one who has no special knowledge of these matters to enter upon the technical points at all. I do not wish to drown the noble Viscount in further questions. I do hope most sincerely that he may be able to say that in his view real progress has been made, and that there is that spirit, that desire to bring about a reduction of armaments to which he referred when I last spoke in this House as the ultimate basis, whether you had a successful reduction or not.

I hope that he will be able to answer those questions and, apart from any particular matter to which I have called his attention, I hope that we may hear in this House, as I am sure it would be a satisfaction to all Parties to hear, that in his opinion the preliminary effort has been successful and that he is hopeful that it may lead on a further occasion to a reduction of armaments, not below the level of national security, but such that the nations shall not be capable of using them for aggressive warfare. In order to keep my right of reply in case I desire to say anything further, I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in giving me notice of the kind of questions upon which he desired information. I certainly did not mean to intimate any criticism of his procedure in doing so. On the contrary, I was very grateful indeed to him for his courtesy in the matter. I do not think that your Lordships will expect or desire me to enter on this occasion into a discussion of the general case for disarmament. The noble Lord has said something on the subject and, broadly speaking, I imagine that his views would represent the opinion of the whole, or practically the whole, of this House. I cannot imagine that there is any one who is not in favour of a reduction and a limitation of armaments both on financial grounds and on grounds of general security and world peace. I do not propose at this moment to say anything more on that general subject.

In the course of his review of the question the noble Lord referred to the Treaty of Mutual Assistance and the Protocol, and I was, I admit, a little relieved to know that we were not going to have a further discussion of the advisability or inadvisability of those attempts to deal with this problem. Perhaps, however, it is worth while just to say that those proposals, whether good or bad, were based on the principle that it was essential to re-establish security before, you approached the question of disarmament and I believe that it will always be found that, broadly speaking, it is necessary to proceed in this way. The present efforts which are proceeding at Geneva start rather from the other end. It is pointed out that we have done something for security by the Treaties of Locarno, and it is hoped that security is advancing in other ways; let us now torn our attention to the practical difficulties and problems which are raised by disarmament itself. It was in that spirit that the last Assembly requested the Council to draw up a scheme for the appointment of a Preparatory Commission—I do not think that it was called by that name at the Assembly, but that is what it was called afterwards—


A Preliminary Commission.


It may be that it was called a Preliminary Commission, but it was afterwards called a Preparatory Commission, and was for the purpose of examining the basis upon which a Disarmament Conference could be called, and the Assembly intimated that they thought such a Commission should embrace other countries than those represented on the Council. Accordingly, in December last, that Preparatory Commission was constituted. It consisted of representatives of all the States represented on the Council, together with, I think, five, and ultimately seven, others, drawn from the Members of the League, and three outside the League were invited also to send representatives—namely, Russia, Germany and the United States. Unhappily, the present Russian Government did not feel able to comply with that invitation, but both the German and American Governments sent Delegations. The American Delegation was a very important and admirably equipped Delegation of eighteen or nineteen persons. Both took part in the discussions at Geneva which have just taken place.

There is one fact in connection with the Commission of which sight must not be lost. It has been summoned by the League, it has been sitting at Geneva, and it has, at any rate, been assisted secretarially by the resources of the Secretariat of the League; but it includes States outside the League. It is an international body summoned and assisted by the League, but outside the actual organisation of the League. That turned out to be of some little importance in setting up its actual organisation. Its business is, as I have said, to prepare the basis for a Disarmament Conference, and I am sure the House will agree with me that that is very essential work, if you are really to achieve any useful result in this connection. The question of disarmament, or, as the noble Lord very properly said, of the reduction or limitation of armaments, is an exceedingly difficult and complex question. It raises technical questions of great difficulty, and it raises political questions of even greater delicacy and difficulty, and unless the ground is thoroughly prepared, and the way made thoroughly plain for the Conference, it is very unlikely that the Conference will reach a successful result.

Therefore that is the object with which this Preparatory Commission has been constituted, and, in pursuance of the plan formed by the last Assembly, a questionnaire, or as we should say agenda, was drawn up, not meaning to be exclusive but as indicating some of the questions which it was thought that such a body would have to examine. Undoubtedly, as the noble Lord has said, these questions are exceedingly complex to read and even more complex to answer, and that is the first duty of the preparatory tribunal. I shall have a word to say about that in a moment. As to what has been done, the Preparatory Commission met last month at Geneva. It decided that its meetings should be in public, and it began with a general discussion. The general discussion proceeded for a day or a day and a half, and in the course of the proceedings it was my duty to state very generally, and not at all at length, the attitude which my Government took up in the matter.

I need not tell the House that I was instructed to say, and did say, that the British Government were there to give all the assistance in their power to the general objects of the Conference; that they had, in fact, greatly reduced their armaments, not only as compared with what they were during the War, which, of course, is obvious, but generally speaking in comparison with the armaments which they had before the War; that that was true particularly of their Navy, which was very considerably reduced as compared with what it was before the War; that it was true to a lesser extent, but still substantially, of their Army, but of course it was not true of the Air Force, which, of course, scarcely existed before the War; and that the British Government had already shown their readiness to enter upon a reduction agreement with regard to the Navy at Washington; that they were quite prepared to go on with that policy, and particularly in the matter of submarines, and in reference to the size of the cruisers of their Navy.

I also said that they were equally prepared to enter upon any reasonable agreement for the limitation and reduction of the Air Force, and although very anxious indeed to find a way of reducing expenditure upon the Army, they were not prepared at present to say that they thought it could be reduced below its present level, having regard not only to commitments before the War, but to increased commitments which have been placed upon our shoulders by the results of the War. That was a broad outline of what I endeavoured to say on behalf of the Government, of course at a little greater length than now.

Discussion then proceeded. We then took up the questions which had been drawn up for our consideration last December, and there was a general discussion upon them, with the result that it became obvious that in a body of the size of the Preparatory Commission it was very difficult to examine so detailed a matter as the questions, and they were accordingly referred to a Drafting Committee, with broad instructions. That Committee, after examining them, made a report to the Preparatory Commission, and it was adopted, and if the noble Lord wishes I will lay it upon the Table. It is a public document, of course, and it shows, perhaps better than anything I can say, the real position reached in the course of the discussions at Geneva. When we came to examine the questions it was obvious that although they were very complicated, and went into a considerable amount of detail, the broad questions put, although difficult, were not either complex or unduly detailed. The first broad question was: What armaments are there that can be reduced? What is to be the subject matter of your reduction? I will say a word about that in a moment.

Then there was the question whether you can make a distinction between offensive and defensive armaments. That turned out to be a far more important question than I had imagined when we went there, because it was pointed out that the real object was to prevent the possibility of aggression. As the noble Lord is well aware, the Assembly has more than once laid it down that aggressive war is an international crime, and the object, no doubt, of all schemes of reduction and limitation must be to make aggressive warfare and impossibility. If that can be done you will have a real increase in international security, and a real hope of permanent peace, and therefore it becomes a very important question to consider whether, whatever armaments are ultimately agreed to be maintained, you cannot so constitute and organise those armaments that they will not be available for aggressive purposes, or, if some portion of them are available for those purposes, yet the general body of the armaments shall not be so available. Therefore it, becomes much more important than at first appears to examine the distinction between "aggressive" and "defensive" armaments.

The third question—a very important practical question—is what is to be your unit of measurement. When you are comparing Fleets the thing is simple. You have the ships and you have the guns, and if you reduce the size of the ships and the number of the ships and the calibre and the number of the guns you have reduced your Fleet. But when you come to land Armies the thing is much more complicated, because it is quite evident that your equipment is a very much more complicated matter, and the troops themselves may be of very varying efficiency, and therefore your unit of measurement is much more complicated. That is the next question that has to be examined. In that connection the methods of reduction obviously become important, because you may reduce not only by reducing numbers or by reducing budgetary expenditure but also by reducing the conditions of service, the period of service, and on that, of course, the whole question of conscription may be raised, and was slightly raised in the discussion that took place at Geneva.

Then the next question is the ratio of reduction, which is, of course, the great question. When you have got the preliminary difficulties out of the way, what is to be the force that is to be allowed to each of the nations? As to that the discussion was of a purely preliminary character at this stage. A great number of technical questions were raised in connection with the subjects that might be considered as bearing upon the ratio of reduction, and those were referred to technical Committees, but beyond that we did not proceed. And therefore I am unable to answer one of the questions put to me by the noble Lord, as to whether the standard allowed for Germany and the standard agreed upon by Latin-American countries was considered as giving a line on the standards to be allowed to other countries. I can only say that the matter really was not discussed at this stage, though no doubt when we come to the later discussions all relevant considerations of that description will have to be taken up.

In this connection and as part of the same question there is, of course, the question that we always come up against: When you are considering the standards to be allowed the nations, must you not also consider the amount of security that they have against aggression? That is a matter which is always strongly pressed by every Continental nation in every international assembly. What they say, and say with a great deal of force and truth, is that the more security you can have the more disarmament you can have, and if you are not going to give any increase in security then the disarmament can only be of a very moderate, indeed perhaps of a very insignificant, description. It was in connection with that that the German statement was made, pointing out—what is no doubt perfectly true—that once you begin to get a reduction of armaments you get increase of security, and that therefore your increase of security reacts again, and you are able to get a further reduction of armaments. That is a very encouraging fact, so that even if we have to begin, as it may well be that we shall have to begin, by a comparatively small reduction, there is every ground for believing that, once you have started in that direction, you will gradually increase your reduction as you increase your security. In connection with that the question of Article 16 was raised. I am not sure whether the noble Lord asked me about that, but he put it on the paper which he handed to me.


I do not think did, but I shall be much obliged if the noble Viscount will deal with it.


Article 16 provides that in case of aggression measures of coercion (I will not go into the details of them) are to be taken by all Members of the League against the Covenant-breaking State. What was said was, What exactly does that mean? That was really the substance of the question that was raised, though no decision was arrived at. "Is it possible," it was asked, "to define more closely what the obligation really will be under Article 16?" It became my duty to point out that that was a matter of the construction of the Covenant; it was not a matter therefore very conveniently discussed by a body which contained representatives of nations which were not Members of the League. It was ultimately referred to the Council of League itself to deal with, and I have no doubt that sooner or later we shall hear what conclusions they have arrived at. In this same bundle of questions bearing on the standard of armaments and on the condition of security one further question was raised. It was asked whether, where you have some regional security such as is produced by the Locarno Agreements, that will make it possible to have some measure of regional dis- armament. That question is also one which has been referred to our technical advisers for opinion.

Then my noble friend asked me a question about chemical warfare, and that undoubtedly is one of the great questions which we shall have to face. A very remarkable speech was made by the Belgian representative, M. de Brouckère on that subject. He drew a picture, not in the least exaggerated and well borne out by all the authorities that we possess, of the terrible results which may be expected from the unfettered use of chemical warfare, especially in combination with aeroplanes, and be pointed out the fearful destruction that would be wrought in great cities, not only on combatants but on the whole population, perhaps most upon the more helpless parts of the population, the women, the children, and the old people, who would be unable to protect themselves from so terrible an eventuality. His speech produced a very great impression on all who heard it in the Commission, and it was thought that we ought evidently to enlarge our questionnaire to some extent in order to raise that question. I myself drafted a number of questions, more with a view of examining what the actual state of things was at the present moment than with the purpose of suggesting what would be the best remedy to be applied. I will not read to your Lordships those questions—there are eight or nine of them—but they culminate in this question, which is perhaps worth mentioning. Our technical advisers are invited to consider what effective sanction can be proposed for the enforcement of the international Undertakings which already exist not to employ poison gas or bacteria in warfare. If some really effective practical sanction can be suggested that would be a very important advance.

Those are the broad questions which we had before us, and to deal with them the Committee appointed, or rather completed the appointment of, two sub-committees, a technical military sub-committee, which we called Sub-Committee A, which consists of technical experts in the three arms, the Air, the Navy, and the Army, and Sub-Committee B, which was to deal with the economic questions raised in connection with these matters. The Drafting Committee very elaborately went through the questions to which the noble Lord has alluded, and distributed them to these two Committees, pointing out exactly what information we required in order to enable us to consider them later. That was a very large part of what we did on this occasion. But we went in two respects a little further. We did decide, in the terms which the noble Lord has read out, that the reduction must be in our opinion of the peace armaments; that is to say, the armaments maintained in time of peace, rather than any attempt to deal with the potential war strength of a country. I think that is right and essential. You cannot really reduce the total war strength of a country. The war strength of a country ultimately depends upon its population and resources and those cannot be reduced by any agreement.

What you can reduce is the Army that is ready to attack, the aggressive force, and that is the essential thing to reduce. That is the thing upon which security depends. If you could really get all the armaments of the world so limited and reduced that there was no longer any aggressive force in existence which could at any moment pour across the neighbouring frontier and carry desolation and destruction into a neighbouring country, then you would have gone a long way towards the limitation of armaments which is contemplated under Article 8 of the Covenant. Therefore I believe myself hat the thing to limit is the peace armaments in that, sense; that is to say, the armaments which can be used for aggressive war without further preparation. There was a very long discussion, which is not yet finished, as to what exactly you are to include in the peace armaments, whether you are to include only the non actually with the Colours and their equipment or what are called the immediately mobilisable forces, which could be brought into existence within a few days of the declaration of war. That is a long and technical discussion with which I will not trouble the House. The broad proposition was accepted on all hands that what you are to operate on is the force in the country available for war, either at a moment's notice or at very short notice.

The noble Lord referred to the discussion about war potentials. That has always appeared to me one of the most fruitless discussions you can engage in. It is perfectly true that countries do differ in potential war strengths and if you are to examine the potential war strength of a country you are plunged into an examination of the whole of its resources, its material resources and its moral resources as well, for they do come in, as we know ourselves from our own experience in the last War. I have always shrunk from such an inquiry and I hope we shall never be driven to such an elaborate inquiry as that. I think there was a misunderstanding and that no one now maintains that we should reduce the ultimate war strength. If that ever was put forward it has been completely abandoned.

What is suggested is that in considering what actual armaments ought to be allowed to each nation it ought to be all-important to see what is its ultimate strength in this sense, that a very strong nation is not really in so great a danger of aggressive attack. Although it may be taken off its guard for a moment, in the end it is not likely to be overwhelmed, whereas a small nation or a weak nation may be overwhelmed and it is suggested that that ought to be considered in the consideration of the immediate armaments which are to be available. That is one of those semi-metaphysical propositions which I do not think will be of any importance when we get further into the discussion. I personally think that what will be the overmastering question will be: What are the armaments of the country next door? and that that is the question which will determine the armaments to be laid down. That was the first proposition to be laid down—that the reduction should be in the peace armaments.

The next, on the proposition of the French Delegation, was that the best way of beginning the final discussion would be for each country to bring forward the full limitation which it could make, with full reasons justifying the reduction it thought could be made. That would then be considered by the Conference, or whatever authority was appointed by the Conference, and it would have to be decided whether that was a sufficient reduction or whether a larger reduction might not be asked for from the country concerned. That is the state of things at the present moment. The Technical Committees are now at work. The Technical Military Committee has been at work since. It is now engaged on the very laborious task of answering the various technical questions we have put. It has worked very hard, but not rapidly. I have never regarded this as a question that can be settled with great rapidity. I would much rather it should be settled thoroughly and completely than that any attempt at rapidity of solution should be made.

The result of the meeting at Geneva is that a machine for disarmament has been brought into existence and actually put into operation. It is a going concern, which exists and which is at work. I think it is bound to produce some result, but whether it will be great or little, whether it will be substantial or insignificant, depends upon the future. I am quite sure that the greatness of its result will depend more upon the amount of security, upon what the French call the moral disarmament of the world, than on any other question. No doubt, although some of the noble Lord's friends may not agree with me, the greatest obstacle to moral disarmament at this moment is Russia. She will not come even to discuss disarmament. I do not suggest that the noble Lord is of that mind, but some of his friends might not agree with him on that point. There may be other countries who are also obstacles in the way. That is the state of things.

The noble Lord asked me whether I thought there were deep differences of opinion revealed by the Geneva discussion. I should say, certainly not. On the contrary, the most remarkable thing was that the Delegations came there with instructions to do their best for the success of the undertaking and of the movement in which they were engaged. I know that was the impression of very impartial observers, such as some of my American friends. My own impression is certainly very favourable. The Commission did better than I expected it would, made greater advances and showed a better spirit, but the fined result depends, as the noble Lord is well aware, not on what we do at Geneva, nor on the frame of mind in which the delegates come to Geneva, but on the will to disarm of the peoples of the world. It has been said, and I think with some truth, that Governments will never impose disarmament on the peoples, though the peoples may in some cases impose disarmament on the Governments. I believe that is true, and for this reason, that no Government will ever take the responsibility of so grave a step as material reduction of armaments unless it is perfectly certain that in doing so it has the support of the overwhelming mass of public opinion behind it. In this matter it is the opinion of the peoples of the world which will really determine it.

No one can doubt who has examined the matter of disarmament that it is a difficult subject, but it is not insoluble. The problems are not insoluble; they can be solved. We know they can be solved, for we see they have been solved in Latin America and elsewhere. The question is: Do you really want it? The arguments that induce the desire for it are overwhelming. The financial argument to which the noble Lord has alluded is one, but by no means the strongest, for disarmament. Upon a successful policy of reduction of armaments depends our chef hope of extirpating the curse of war and I personally, believe that as and when the peoples of the world come to believe that disarmament is a practical policy it can be done. Their will to disarm will grow and if there be Governments in Europe who are reluctant to disarm they will be compelled to do what their peoples desire.


My Lords, I desire to thank the noble Viscount for his exceedingly interesting speech. I do not think there is any point on which we disagree in principle and I am glad to hear from him, after he has been at Geneva, that, apart from the principles, in his view really satisfactory progress has been made in solving what we all admit is a very difficult question. There is only one matter to which I wish to refer. He said that there were certain Papers that he thought he might lay upon the Table. I understood that he would really lay upon the Table any Papers that he can in the same way that he promised to lay certain Papers on the Table in our discussion yesterday. I thank the noble Viscount for what he said in that respect. It is quite satisfactory and, with the permission of the House, I will withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.