Disarmament
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Mar 1934, p. 513-526


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Noel-Baker, Philip J., Speaker
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Speeches
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The great part to play in world affairs that is now that of the British people. The current power of the British Commonwealth and how that has come to be. The need for the abolition of war, the establishment of law and justice which the British peoples have achieved. The speaker's belief that only the Commonwealth can do what needs to be done. Disarmament now as the key to all the great changes which the world imperatively requires. The worsening situation in Europe. Germany's re-armament on the largest scale. France's response to that re-armament with her own increases. The armament race in the Pacific between Japan, Russia, and the United States. Armament budgets for Great Britain in a time of economic hardship. The status of the disarmament process and the Disarmament Conference. Finding solutions to the "dream" and difficulties of disarmament. Political decisions that now must be taken. Hope that the Conference will still succeed. The difficulty for governments to disarm. The speaker's plea for international disarmament at some point in the near future. What is meant when the word "Disarmament" is used and what kind of disarmament can be hoped for. Costs of armament. Making a choice between the old anarchy of the pre-war period and making a reality of the new international system which began in 1919. What real disarmament will mean. The purpose and aim of disarmament. An analysis of the arguments for and against disarmament. How to make an instrument of the League of Nations that can stop war. The dangers created by that new and revolutionary invention, the aircraft. Some bold and revolutionary suggestions. Why war survives. Making sacrifices for peace.
Date of Original:
27 Mar 1934
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
DISARMAMENT
AN ADDRESS BY MR. PHILIP J. NOEL BAKER
March 27, 1934

MAJOR W. JAMES BAXTER, the President, introduced the speaker.

MAJOR BAXTER: Gentlemen: Year, by year we see reports of amazing medical discoveries, cures for this, antidotes for that; alleviations that have lifted the burden of suffering from millions of people, butt there is one disease which is an ever-recurring menace and which up to now has defied the efforts of the most skilled and devoted humanitarians to overcome. I refer to War. One remedy for this disease is disarmament but tremendous obstacles are preventing the peaceful application of this remedy and yet disarmament is an ideal to which our noblest lives are consecrated, an ideal back of the minds of most thinking men. It is an ideal, also, which has brought into being conference after conference to conciliate, confer and even at times, concede in. an effort to reach this world ideal.

That there is a temporary recession in the disarmament efforts, even reaching the stage today where it is a limitation of present armaments, should not dim our hopes, believing as most of us do, that where the desire is earnest enough, the realization can not be far distant.

MR. NOEL-BAKER has rather turned the tables on the majority of the speakers we have at this Club in that he is an offspring of a long line of Canadians. Although born in England, Mr. Baker's ancestry goes back to several generations of Canadians. Mr. Baker has a distinguished record in the world of international law, diplomacy and international relations. He was a member of the League of Nations special committee during the Peace Conference. From 1924 to 1927, he was Professor of International Relations at London University and served as personal Secretary to Arthur Henderson, President of the Disarmament Conference from 1931 to 1933.

We have, thus the privilege of hearing a recognized authority discuss the pros and cons of one of the most vital and imperative questions of our civilization. It is with great pleasure that I introduce Mr. Noel-Baker.

MR. PHILIP J. NOEL-BAKER: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of The Empire Club: I begin by expressing my gratitude to you for the invitation you have given me to be your guest at this special meeting today. Toronto is a city, if I am rightly instructed, where the sense of the common tie of the British Empire is fresh and strong and vivid; where there is a living realization o f the greatness of the destiny which lies before the British people in the Commonwealth by which they are joined.

There was never before in history a time when the British people had so great a part to play in world affairs as they have today. The power of the British Commonwealth is such as no empire, no state and no people has ever wielded in the history of man. The visions of other nations have made of our Commonwealth at this moment the arbiter of the destiny of nations. Geography has placed us in a position where we are the arbiters of Europe, where we have a stake and a very vital stake in the international policies of every continent in the world. History has given us a position which is such that when we are leading in the cause of human progress we can rally behind us forces upon which no other nation can call.

All that makes our part in the present world situation one of supreme importance, but what makes it more important still is that at this time we have a contribution to make to the world which is unique and beyond estimation. For the world needs today precisely the things which the British peoples have won for themselves in the Commonwealth which they have made. The world imperatively requires, as the Chairman has said, that abolition of war, that establishment of law and justice which the British peoples have achieved. It is those things which have made of the British Commonwealth the most wonderful political organism the world has ever known and it is because of my profound conviction that the Commonwealth can bring these things to the world, that only the Commonwealth can do so, that it is the historic destiny of the Commonwealth to do so, because your Empire Club exists to keep alive a sense of the greatness of the Commonwealth and a sense of the responsibility which that greatness bears with it, that I am proud and honoured to be your guest today.

I am particularly happy to have been invited to speak on the subject of Disarmament, for Disarmament at this moment is the key to all these great changes which I have said the world imperatively requires. Disarmament, beyond question, is the greatest topic in, world affairs at this moment. I repeat, without fear of contradiction, the greatest topic in world affairs today is disarmament. I am well aware that at this moment many people are in a state of doubt and hesitation. I am well aware that skepticism is rife throughout the world. I picked up a paper in Montreal yesterday morning when I arrived and I found in it some quip by some unknown writer who said that every new disarmament plan seemed to bring a little hope to the manufacturers of armaments. There are some people today who are prepared to go as far as the Directors of Krupps, that great armament firm in Germany who said to a member of the British Disarmament Commission in 1919, that in his belief disarmament was a dream and not even a beautiful dream at that.

And I am well aware and none better, for I have been there, that the situation. in Europe is bad and growing worse. Germany is re-arming on the largest scale. France, heavily armed as she was before, is replying to Germany by great increases in the armaments she now maintains. Japan is starting an armament race on the Pacific in aircraft, in tanks and in ships of war which is compelling Russia and the United States to reply in kind. And then, in our own country, where our people especially desire that disarmament shall be brought about, even in Great Britain, in a period of rigid economy, in a period when we have been saving in every direction where it is possible to save upon our public budget, in a period when prices have been falling, our estimates for defence have risen in last year's budget and in this, by no less a sum than eight million pounds. Eight million pounds! And only a week or two ago, 160 Conservative members of Parliament refused to support their Conservative Government because it said it was not possible to give a million pounds to increase the allowance made to the children of our unemployed. Yes, I am well aware that the situation is grave. But I say again, without fear of contradiction, that it is not desperate, that the cause of disarmament is not yet lost, that the disarmament conference has not yet failed. It has been suspended since July last and methods of old diplomacy have been tried instead. But so long as the Conference is still in being, so long as governments are reluctant to take the responsibility for the failure, as they are today, so long as the peoples of the world desire as they do desire that this Conference shall succeed, I say the cause is not yet lost.

I will say more: I will say that the Conference while it was at work did achieve a very considerable measure of success. I remember, at the Peace Conference in 1919, Mr. Chairman, that a very distinguished member of our Foreign Office was able to write official minutes which were accepted .as conclusive in which he proved on technical grounds alone, disarmament could never be brought about. "How," he said in these minutes, "can you compare a battalion with a cruiser? How can you measure a tank against aircraft?", and the argument was accepted as proving that disarmament was a dream.

The Conference, in eighteen months of its labours, examined every technical aspect of every problem that disarmament involves. The experts did their best and their worst, and at the end of that eighteen month, every gone recognized that when the military experts spoke of technical difficulties, those technical difficulties, as a special delegate put it, were but political objections in uniform. Sir John Simon declared in October last: Every technical problem has been solved and all that remains to be done is that a few political decisions must now be taken.

Mr. Chairman, while no government in the world will take the responsibility for saying that political decisions are impossible there is still hope that the Conference will succeed and I will say more still. I believe that the truth is that the governments" whatever they might like to do, cannot give up disarmament even if they wanted to. They are like the man who has the wolf by the ears; they can't let go for they know that the moment they close the doors on the Disarmament Conference they will be in a position so terrible that the first object of their policy will become how they can open those doors again and restart the Conference which they have abandoned. That is why T hold that there is still hope that in this dark hour the door may not be closed; that is why I still believe, although disarmament may not be secured this year or next, yet sometime soon, this year, next year, the year after or the year after that, the first genuine disarmament conference for the reduction and limitation of all national forces by international agreement will inevitably be made.

And I ask this Club to notice that it is not for unilateral disarmament I am pleading today but for international disarmament, all round disarmament by agreement among the nations of the world.

It is not here, Mr. Chairman, that I have to argue that peace and disarmament are to be desired. It is not in Canada which, with the United States, has given to the world the most remarkable proof in history that disarmament is a practical policy and one that pays, that I need argue that disarmament is wise and right. It is not in Canada where the great appeal of Sir Arthur Currie is still ringing in your ears, that I need argue that we should avert the next war, if avert it we can.

I assume that every one in this room, like the overwhelming majority of people in Great Britain desires that disarmament shall be brought about and I ask the question: What do we mean when we use the word "Disarmament"? What kind of disarmament can we hope for?

I say at once, I would accept almost any measure of disarmament, as a first installment, of modest reduction such as that proposed in the last British memorandum, if that is all we can obtain, and limitation at the existing level if such a treaty can be made, though, personally, I doubt it. But I go on to say that any such modest half measure as that can only be a first stage and a first stage which must be swiftly followed by the next.

Stabilization at the existing level is not disarmament in any rational meaning of the word. I know there are people--a considerable number in my own country who say or rather said, more frequently before the Disarmament Conference began than today, that we are disarmed to the point that we have fully carried out the policy of disarmament, that we have made immense reductions in the armaments we used to maintain and which we require for the safety of our Empire.

I ask you, for one moment, to glance at that contention. We are spending today the same money that we were spending in 1914 when the Great War began. We are spending the same sum of money that we were spending before Armaggedon had commenced. And, remember that 1914 was the culminating climax of a long period of armament conditions.

Mr. Gladstone resigned from office for the last time in 1893. He resigned as a protest against the increase in naval expenditure which his colleagues in that Liberal Government proposed. The total estimate for all defence purposes against which Mr. Gladstone made his last dramatic protest amounted to £33,000,000. Ten years later, in 1903, it had become £44,000,000; and in 1908 it had become £50,000,000; in 1912, £ 60,000,000; and in 1914, £77,000,000. Two and one third times what it had been only twenty years before when Mr. Gladstone resigned! Competition at a rate we thought was frenzied. Competition--I can remember my father saying it many a time--competition, so severe that many people were asking if war itself would not be better!

And today, we are accepting that expenditure as the normal sum which we must spend and are getting for it what? Not the infantry battalions, not the cruisers that we got in pre-war years. We are getting aircraft anal poison gas, tanks and heavy artillery, of a kind we did not even dream of. We are getting weapons so immeasurably more destructive that the destruction of the last war will seem like child's play in comparison with the destruction of the next and I say, therefore, that while if you are making comparison with one country or another, you cart say if you like that we are disarmed to the edge of risk; I say while you may say that, if you take our nation together with other nations maintaining armaments on a corresponding level with those we maintain, they and we together are not disarmed to the edge of risk, we are armed to the edge of lunacy. Our society is more militarized today than it has ever been and if you take the nature of the weapons, the expenditure we make upon them, the organization of our governments for mobilization for war, the preparation of even industry for expansion in time of war, or any other test you like to take, I declare that our society is today more militarized than it has ever been.

And I say, at this crisis at which we have now arrived, we and the other nations have got to choose: either we are going on with the old anarchy of the pre-war period or we are going to make a reality of the new international system which since 1919 we have endeavoured to create, one or the other. We have reached the point in Europe where we have got to choose. Shams will no longer do. Sham disarmament,, a sham League of Nations that exists for some purposes of international cooperation but can not prevent war, shams of that kind will not meet our urgent need. Unless we can make a reality, a real disarmament and a real security through the League, we shall not avert the next war which now looms upon our horizon.

Therefore, I say, we have got to have real disarmament and I ask the question: What will real disarmament mean? Let's agree that we achieve it by stages. Let's agree that the first installment may be small. Let's agree that it may take five or ten years to reach the purpose we want to fulfill. But what is that purpose? What is the disarmament at which we are aiming?

As the Chairman has said, it was my privilege to spend eighteen months with Mr. Henderson at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, and I was convinced by my experience there that the essential problem of that Conference from the first day until the last was the problem of reaching an agreement with the German people, the problem of equality with Germany. Do not misunderstand me. I have never thought that equality in itself was a sacred principle. I have always thought that equality could be pushed too far. I remember the story of a man who used to be my colleague in the British House of Commons, Mr. McQuisten of Argyleshire. Mr. McQuisten, at the last general election was very considerably bothered by a lady feminist who followed him to all the meetings, asking about equality between the sexes and at last" as polling day drew near, at one great meeting she thought she would get a final answer, "yes" or "no." She said, "Will the candidate kindly tell the meeting whether he is in favour of full equality ire all regards between men and women?" Mr. McQuisten rose quickly to his feet and said, "Yes, Madam, I have always longed to be a mother."

I have always thought that equality could be pushed too far, and I have never thought that we could by a stroke of the pen reduce the armaments of the rest of the world to the level which we made Germany accept in 1919.

But it was also plain from the first day of the Conference until the last day that either we had to let Germany have back the armaments we had forbidden to her or else, by progressive stages, we had to get rid of those armament ourselves. We had a plain choice. Should Germany re-arm, or should we dis-arm? Should she have back the weapons she was not allowed to have or should we get rid of them ourselves? I was convinced that the only real disarmament must consist in getting rid of those weapons which in 1919 we decided that Germany might not have. Why did we not allow Germany to have certain categories of arms when we made the treaties of peace? We declared it in a letter addressed to her Government--because we desired to make it certain that Germany should not renew the aggression of which she had been guilty in 1914, because those weapons which we took away from her were calculated to assist aggression, they were calculated to help attacks against defence and from the first day of the Disarmament Conference onward, there raged a controversy as to what was meant by aggressive weapons. What weapons could be said to assist attacks against defence?

The Conference, the experts spent months discussing and they used oceans of ink in writing memoranda on the subject of the question whether there could be defined as aggressive certain categories of weapons or not.

I read a speech by an Admiral in England the other day in which he said that discussion was all nonsense, that of course you couldn't say that one weapon was aggressive and another wasn't; it all depended on what use you made of it. An umbrella might be a very aggressive weapon if it were used to poke out your neighbour's eye, but highly defensive if used to keep off the rain. And I am prepared to admit, from an expert's point of view, that the difference between a weapon, offensive and 'defensive, is the difference between a bottle half empty and a bottle which is half full. If you have been, as I have been on too many occasions, at the wrong end of a four-inch gun, you may find that it can be extremely offensive and, of course, it is not a question of morality at all. It is not more terrible to be poisoned by gas than to be smashed to smithereens by a shell and if you had seen, as I have seen, a single shell that killed 60 people and mutilated 100 more, you would not talk about morality as between one weapon and another.

But there is a practical sense in which the Disarmament Conference was right to decide that some weapons should be classified as aggressive and it is this: Certain weapons are in effect more efficacious than others in breaking down the defences which nations are able to create. If you look at the national defence systems which most nations today maintain, some weapons are likely to break down those defences and will be more efficacious than others in achieving that result. Therefore, I believe Sir John Simon was right to secure a resolution from the Disarmament Conference as he did in April, 1932, to the effect that offensive weapons should either be abolished or internationalized by general conference, and I think he was right to say that while we might not be able to define an offensive weapon, nevertheless you know it when you see it. It is like the man who said that he could not define an elephant but he knew one when he met one in the street. I think that Sir John Simon was right to include as he did in the speech in which he proposed the resolution that the weapons which should tie regarded as aggressive and, therefore, abolished by international agreement were the ones forbidden to Germany in 1918. And no one has been able to show, neither the experts, the Disarmament Conference nor anyone else, that those weapons were not aggressive in the sense in which I have just used the word.

It has been shown that the aircraft carriers, the submarines, the tanks and the heavy artillery and, above all, the aircraft, used on land and above the sea, are efficacious against national defences, are designed to break down the national systems of defence which nations now maintain and, therefore, I am convinced that the policy which we should pursue is to secure the abolition of those weapons and that only when we have secured it can we say that disarmament has been brought about. I am convinced that until we can get rid of tanks and heavy artillery we shall not be certain that some aggressor will not commit a sudden overwhelming surprise attack by land. Until we get rid of air forces we shall not be certain that some aggressor will not lay waste over night, the cities of the state which he has fixed as the victim of his aggression, and I ask this Club to remember that it is only a little more than a year since Mr. Baldwin, speaking its the House of Commons, gave a description of the next air war, so terrible that when he sat down in his place, the whole House of Commons remained immobile for a space of two minutes, a thing that had never happened in the history of British Parliament before.

Mr. Baldwin showed in that speech that if the next war comes aircraft will be used for the bombardment of great cities. He showed that against that danger there is no conceivable defence except the threat of reprisal of bombardment against the cities of the enemy state and the conclusions which he there presented are being confirmed every day by the leading air experts of our own and other countries who declare that nothing can be done by ay of an aerial defence which will enable one power to repel an air invasion carried out by an enemy state against the great centres of its population.

And I say that it is not tolerable that our civilization should depend upon the balance of opposing threats like that. It is not tolerable that Paris and Berlin and London should rest upon a balance of air forces, each nation only refraining from bombarding the capital of the other because it is afraid its own capital will be bombarded.

With armament competition of the kind we had before 1914 it would be absolutely certain that sooner or later one nation or another would make the sudden aggressive attack, would try to seize the moment when it could get a quick offensive before the defence was ready and the whole terrible holocaust would be let loose. And in that situation we have to consider how this disarmament can be brought about. It means drastic reductions; it means a great change in the policies which our governments will pursue; and nothing is more certain than that we shall not get that change unless we are prepared to make, as I said, a reality of the League of Nations unless we are prepared to pay the price. Paying the price today means something very plain and clear. It means that we must make of the League of Nations an instrument that can stop war, an instrument that can prevent aggression, an instrument that will bring aggression to an end if it be begun.

How can that be done? Well, Europe has been discussing a long programme of preventives, preventives which act against the state which violates the Disarmament Conference, in order to prevent it from continuing its preparations for war even before its warlike efforts have begun, the organization of it being national sanction of Article 16, to which we are committed and which, since it is an international treaty obligation, we, as British people" intend to observe; the acceptance of some definition of aggression, for example, the definition of President Roosevelt, that the aggressor is the country which invades the territory of a neighbour state; and, perhaps, also, broader measures even than that.

Let us recognize that aircraft is a new and revolutionary invention, that the dangers it has created are very real. Let us recognize that wild and revolutionary measures may be needed to get rid of those dangers and Europe is discussing the air problem in terms of the international situation, of commercial aviation and the creation of an international air police-internationalization of civil aviation; that is to say, the creation of aircraft for the international clearing of cargoes. If it can work for clearing cars on the railways, why not for aircraft as well? And as international police organized but under the command of, working at the orders of, the Council of the League of Nations. Why not? The French Government is able to organize a Foreign Legion which keeps peace in French colonies throughout the world and I read an article not long ago by a British officer who declared that in that Foreign Legion he had served in the battalion in which among the non-commissioned officers were an Englishman, an Italian, a Chinese, a Zulu and an Eskimo, while the Sergeant-Major was a Persian and he said there was less quarrelling in that Foreign Legion, less bullying by the non-commissioned officers, than in any British regiment of which he had ever known. He said that the loyalty of that Legion to the French Government which employed it was absolute and to the death and he ended by saying that if the League of Nations desired to create an international force, he was absolutely convinced that it could quite easily do so.

Bold and revolutionary measures, Mr. Chairman, perhaps, but necessary at the point at which we stand today. We are threatened by terrible dangers. We must do something new to prevent them and to stop the war that looms upon the horizon. These things we can do and I am very certain that if the governments would propose them they would find that the peoples would follow. I am very certain if our British Commonwealth could take the lead in laying such a program as this before the peoples of the world that the peoples would rally behind it in such a way that no government would be able to reject it and why should we not?

What does making a reality of the League of Nations mean? It means bringing into international affairs, the democracy, the justice for weak and strong alike, the rules of law which are the distinctive contribution of the British people to the civilization of mankind. That is why I say it is our historic destiny to bring to the peoples these great things which we have achieved for ourselves and if they mean sacrifices, I am certain that the peoples are ready to make them. There is nothing more pernicious in proposals for peace than to pretend that peace can be got for nothing. There may be risks in the policy of peace and we must weigh them against the risks of war. Sacrifices may be required. We must ask the people to make them if that be so, but I am certain we shall find that the people will respond.

Why do wars survive in an age when every day shows more clearly that it is the very sum of human folly? Not because it is cruel, not because it is useless. War survives because those who make war, the governments, have appealed to their nations to make the supreme sacrifice of all they hold dear in a cause which they all believe to be far greater than anything in their individual lives. That is true of every nation in the world.

Do you remember, Mr. Chairman, the story of the Chinese students? A thousand Chinese boys and girls, between fifteen and twenty years of age, who set off last year to march from Shanghai to Manchuria to combat the Japanese" marching a thousand miles in military column, carrying a coffin at their head for the first among them who should fall?

You can not get peace for nothing. You can only get it when our governments are prepared to ask of the people the same devotion and the same sacrifices for the cause of peace that have never hesitated to ask for the cause of war. When they do that, disarmament and peace will be secure. (Applause.)

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Disarmament


The great part to play in world affairs that is now that of the British people. The current power of the British Commonwealth and how that has come to be. The need for the abolition of war, the establishment of law and justice which the British peoples have achieved. The speaker's belief that only the Commonwealth can do what needs to be done. Disarmament now as the key to all the great changes which the world imperatively requires. The worsening situation in Europe. Germany's re-armament on the largest scale. France's response to that re-armament with her own increases. The armament race in the Pacific between Japan, Russia, and the United States. Armament budgets for Great Britain in a time of economic hardship. The status of the disarmament process and the Disarmament Conference. Finding solutions to the "dream" and difficulties of disarmament. Political decisions that now must be taken. Hope that the Conference will still succeed. The difficulty for governments to disarm. The speaker's plea for international disarmament at some point in the near future. What is meant when the word "Disarmament" is used and what kind of disarmament can be hoped for. Costs of armament. Making a choice between the old anarchy of the pre-war period and making a reality of the new international system which began in 1919. What real disarmament will mean. The purpose and aim of disarmament. An analysis of the arguments for and against disarmament. How to make an instrument of the League of Nations that can stop war. The dangers created by that new and revolutionary invention, the aircraft. Some bold and revolutionary suggestions. Why war survives. Making sacrifices for peace.