Failure at Geneva



Since 1924, the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference had played a secondary role. The Franco—Italian problem, however, demonstrated the interactions of the problems of European security with all aspects of arms control in the inter-war period. The failure to secure Franco—Italian adherence to the London Treaty caused the British naval authorities to look again to the forthcoming Disarmament Conference as offering the possibility of a more comprehensive settlement of European security questions. This would permit the extension of the Washington—London system both to France and Italy and to lesser naval Powers on comparable and proportionate lines.1 The Admiralty did not want further reduction of the British naval forces: merely the limitation of other powers’ presently uncontrolled forces. In the United States Navy Department, comparatively insulated from the pressures created by Mediterranean naval rivalry, feelings were cooler towards the impending Conference. The General Board of the Navy approved in October 1931 a massive volume of position papers for the conference known as the ‘Grey Book’.2 While this claimed that the ‘Navy Department heartily approves of limitation and reduction of armaments . . . as a means of promoting efficiency and economy’, it outlined the Navy’s opposition to any attempt at limitation by global tonnage totals,3 personnel limits,4 budgetary controls,5 and the restriction of naval aircraft. Along the existing lines of quantitative reduction, the Board suggested reductions in the submarine and destroyer classes, the latter to be dependent on the former.6 In the qualitative area, it listed its opposition to almost all possible constraints upon the existing characteristics of different classes of vessel, urging again only the abolition or the reduction in size of submarines, and graciously agreeing to a reduction in the size of vessels in the London Treaty’s exempt class from 600 tons to 100 tons displacement.7 The Board did favour the abolition of chemical warfare, but stated that it would ‘defer to the judgement of the War Department with respect to [such] questions’.8


European Security General Commission Aircraft Carrier Draft Convention Preparatory Commission 
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© Christopher G. L. Hall 1987

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