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MARCH, 1940
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This study undertakes an objective investigation of the
international attempts (1919-39) to distinguish between aggres­
sive and defensive armaments for the purpose of limiting the ag­
gressive type. The inquiry is thus concerned with a special
phase of the phenomenon of disarmament— that phase which came to
be known as the "qualitative method." Continued demands for the
application of this method met with determined resistance, and a
series of controversies arose in two fields of activity, the dip­
lomatic and the strategic, closely united in practice, but sepa­
rated for purposes of analysis. The actions and symbols of both
the political representatives and the military experts of states
are therefore within the purview of this study; hence the inclu­
sion in the title of the words "diplomacy and strategy." The
author is, of course, a student of politics rather than a mili­
tary expert; but he takes at face value the axiom of the strateg­
ists to the effect that war is a continuation of political inter­
course with a mixture of non-political means, and is therefore a
"semi-political science." A further discussion of the objectives,
methods, and sources of the inquiry is contained in Chapter I.
The author acknowledges a special indebtedness to Profes­
sor Quincy Wright, of the University of Chicago, for his original
suggestion of the topic of this study, and for his invaluable
supervision and criticism during its preparation. Acknowledgment
is also due Professors William F. Ogburn and Walter H. C. Laves
for reading and criticism of the manuscript. For misstatements
and misinterpretations the author alone is responsible.
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General Nature of the Present Study
General Nature of the Attempt to Define
and Limit Aggressive Armaments
The disarmament concept
Types of armament control
The qualitative approach, 1919-39
. .
Acceptance of the Qualitative Principle
The opening discussions
Official acceptance and definition
Simple acceptance
Qualified acceptance
Internationalization versus Abolition
Background of the internationalization policy
French Internationalization proposals
The case for internationalization
The proponents of abolition
Action of the Conference
The Single versus the Double Standard
The general formula
The questions at issue
Action of the Conference
The Attempt at General Definition
The "extensive” interpretation
The technical interpretation
Action of the Conference
Personnel of the Armed Forces
The French argument
The German argument
Action of the Conference
Material of Land Warfare
Tanks ana armored cars
Material of Naval Warfare
In general
Capital ships
Aircraft carriers
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Material of Aerial and Chemical Warfare
Military aviation
Civil aviation
Action of the Conference
The chemical arm
The Offensive and the Defensive
The political theory of war
Offensive and defensive in principle
Qualification of the principle
Armaments in Strategic Theory
The concept of principles
Weapons and principles: the traditional view
Weapons and principles: the ''mechanical”
"Offensive” and "Defensive” Armaments
Recent direct treatment
Re-statement of the question
Land warfare
Aerial warfare
Maritime warfare
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At the World Disarmament Conference of 1932, the culmination of postwar disarmament activity, attention was particularly
concentrated upon the possibility of establishing, in strategy
and diplomacy, such a distinction between aggressive and defensive
armament as would permit limitation or abolition of the aggressive
type . This conception, which came to be known as the “qualitative
principle," is selected for analysis in the present study. By
way of introduction to such an analysis, this chapter attempts to
answer in preliminary fashion two sets of questions! (l) What is
the significance or utility of an extended consideration of the
distinction, if any, between offensive and defensive weapons?
What sources and methods are available for an objective investigation of the matter? (2) What is the general nature of the
qualitative principle, in terms of origin, method, and purpose?
How is this principle related to the general phenomena of arma­
ment and disarmament?
General Nature of the Present Study
To analyze attempts to define and to restrict offensive
weapons is to focus the inquiry upon a relatively narrow field,
but it may be that by this procedure insight can be gained into
broader aspects of world politics. The qualitative principle is
especially important in international relations from the standpoint of the disarmament movement, from the standpoint of domestic
legislation bearing upon neutrality and national defense programs,
and finally from the standpoint of scholarly comprehension and
appraisal of the role and implications of military activity as an
instrument of national policy. Prom all three standpoints, the
qualitative conception is significant because armament is a signifleant factor in international affairs. States utilize all
available means for attaining the objectives of their foreign
policy, and hence regard force as only one among many such means.
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But force is the ultimate recourse, the final argument to which
the strong can always appeal. Armament is the principal ingredi­
ent of any force capable of being effectively employed against a
recalcitrant opponent. Thus armaments appear as instruments of
diplomacy, as useful in time of peace as in time of war, the
silent partners of every diplomat. Hence great efforts are di­
rected toward
attainment of
that of rival
armament, the
the acquisition of armament strength, toward the
a superior position in military power relative to
states. But if armaments are important, then dis­
proposal to abolish armaments, is also important.
Every disarmament scheme gives rise to the suspicion that it is
designed to do by conference pressure, public opinion, and the
symbols connected with the peace movement what could not be done
at all, or not as economically, in an armaments race; disarmament
is apt to appear to military staffs as a means whereby some state
is seeking to advance its own power relative to that of its prob­
able enemies, by reducing the arms of the latter more than its
own are reduced, or by depriving the latter of certain favorite
weapons. Thus disarmament conferences, which for a dozen years
were prominent features of the postwar world, have tended to be­
come armament conferences, adjusting balances of power and dis­
cussing the means of waging war under the symbols of peace
As one aspect of the general disarmament issue, the con­
cept of qualitative disarmament has possessed the political char­
acteristics of the more general disarmament phenomenaj but more
especially has possessed these characteristics in accentuated
form, since it touches the heart of the relation between arma­
ments, strategy, war, and policy. According to the dicta of the
strategists, offensive operations are ultimately the sole means
of achieving political purposes by force, particularly if such
purposes include revision of the status quo; hence offensive
weapons, if they do constitute a distinguishable category and if
they are required for successful military attack, must in general
be indispensable to successful warlike activity. On the basis of
Cf. Salvador da Madariaga, Disarmament (New York, 1929),
pp. 57-64; R. G-. Hawtrey, Economic Aspects of Sovereignty (London,
1930), pp. 81-134; P. L. Schuman, International Politics (2d ed.;
New York, 1937), pp. 504-07; Quincy bright, frhe Causes of War and
the Conditions of Peace (London, 1935), pp. 49-72.
'Cf. infra, chap. i v .
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this premise, the advocates of disarmament eventually came to re­
gard the distinction between offensive and defensive armament,
and the restriction of the former class, as the main, though not
the exclusive, principle of action upon which depended the theo­
retical validity and practical success of the entire disarmament
On the basis of the same premise, the proposal to make
a qualitative distinction in .the enactment and enforcement of
neutrality laws periodically recurs; and in debates revolving
about national armament policy, the question continually arises
as to the purposes for which a nation's military forces exist—
whether for offensive or for defensive action.
Finally, from
the point of view of intellectual contemplation as distinct from
practical manipulation, we may focus attention upon this re­
stricted subject in the expectation that a detailed view of such
a subject will reveal governments and strategists acting in a man­
ner permitting us to draw conclusions concerning the dynamics of
foreign policy, and the relation between national policy and arma­
ments, or particular types of armaments.
This study utilizes two principal sources, the diplomatic
discussions of the international disarmament conferences, and the
politico-strategical theories of military experts. Since the
qualitative principle attained its most complete recognition at
the World Disarmament Conference of 1932, the records of this con­
clave are emphasized to a greater extent than the proceedings of
naval conferences and preparatory commissions. In using the mili­
tary sources, this study assumes with Karl von Clausewitz, the
"father” of modern strategical doctrine, that war is a continua­
tion of political intercourse with a mixture of non-political
means, and hence is an appropriate subject for political investi3
The Disarmament Conference of 1932 adopted this principle
as the norm of conduct by which most of its efforts were to be
guided (infra, chap. ii) .
4Infra. pp . 12 f ., 14 f .
For discussions from various points of view, sees Alfred
T. Mahan, "Current Fallacies upon Naval Subjects," Lessons of the
War with Spain and Other Essays (Boston, 1899), p p . 277 f f .;
Charles A. Beard, The Idea of National Interest (New York, 1934),
pp. 331 f f .; George Fielding Eliot, The kamparts We Watch (New
York, 1938), pp. 110 ff.
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Perhaps It would have been possible to proceed by ex­
amining directly the actual historical effects which selected
military inventions exerted, after their introduction, on offen­
sive and defensive methods of warfare. In other words, military
history of a highly detailed and technical nature might have be­
come the principal source. However, disarmament diplomacy and
the political theory of war were selected instead as the basic
sources because they bring together in relatively limited compass,
and in a form comprehensible to the student of politics as dis­
tinct from the military technician, the most widespread knowledge
of both the political and the strategical aspects of the question.
General Nature of the Attempt to Define
and Limit Aggressive Armaments
The disarmament concept.— Since disarmament activity pro­
vided the initial Impetus in the search for a distinction between
offensive and defensive armaments, It is with the concept of dis­
armament that the analysis begins. This concept is not new,
either as an aspiration of the philosopher seeking a warless
world, or as a governmental method of preserving or disrupting
the balance of power and the status quo. Thus the idea of limit­
ing military force definitely emerges in the modern literature of
peace at least as early as 1577; the tradition Is continued
through a series of classical essays to the flood of proposals
emanating from the authors of the nineteenth and twentieth cen9
Prior to the 19.20*8, disarmament as a means of affect6
On War, trans. Col. J. J. Graham (rev. ed.; London,
1918), I, “S3; III, 121. Cf. infra, chap. iv.
Date of the work of Jean Bodin, Six livres de la Republlque, opposing standing armies (cited by Quincy Wright, Limitation
of Armament. International Relations Clubs Syllabus No. XII, pre­
pared for the Institute of International Education [New York,
1921], p. 9). Prior plans of world organization suggested alli­
ance against the Turks, with an increase in armaments (Hans
Wehberg, Die Internationale Beschrflnkung der Rttstungen [Stuttgart
and Berlin, l6l9J, p. 3).
A. C. F. Beales, The History of Peace (New York, 1931),
pp. 26-41; Wehberg, op. clt'l, pp. 5-9; F. M. ftussell. Theories of
International Relations (New York, 1936), pp. 169-78, 194-261;
6. L. Lange. Hlstolre de 1 *Internationalisms (Christiania, 1919).
9Wright, o p . clt.. pp. 9-18; Wehberg, op. clt.. pp. 9-252;
Russell, op. olt.. chaps. xlv. xlxt Beales, op. cit., chaps, iiixi
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ing the balance of power is chiefly found in the practice of de­
priving a militarily defeated enemy of weapons. This custom is
probably as old aa the history of warfare between organized
states; in particular, it was necessarily a common device at a
time when defeat of a country in war ordinarily led to its politi­
cal extinction. Classical instances of severe disarmament meas­
ures imposed upon a vanquished foe which is, however, allowed to
retain its political independence, begin to appear by 404 B.C.10
Later instances are numerous and familiar,11 the most famous, per­
haps, being the disarmament required of Germany and her allies at
the close of the World War.
Before the World War, however, states not being subjected
to military coercion usually preferred to retain the means of mak­
ing war. Considerations of economy or calculations of power ex­
pediency might induce in isolated instances the adoption or disqussion of disarmament measures. 13 But as a general rule, altera­
tions in the balance of power occurred through competitive build­
ing of armaments and their use in warfare, rather than through
their limitation or destruction by international agreement. War
was regarded as the ultimate instrument of national policy, and
armaments were the
These time-honored
as a result of the
tional language in
indispensable implements by which, war was waged.
military assumptions were by no means discarded
World War. But a modification of the tradi­
which military affairs were publicly presented,
^Vhen Athens was required by victorious Sparta to destroy
certain fortifications and surrender warships (George Grote, His­
tory of Greece, VI [London, 1888], 449 f.). Rome frequently in­
cluded in dictated peace terms surrender of the enemy's war ele­
phants and battle fleets (Theodor Mommsen, History of Rome, trans.
W. P. Dickson [New York, 1900], II, 436, 509; IV, 49) .
11 See Wehberg, o p . clt., pp. 252 ff.
'The Treaties of Peace. 1919-1925 (New York, 1924), I,
95 ff., 307 f f ., 497 f£ .; II, 672 f f . Aside from the German case,
the best-known instance is probably the disarmament imposed upon
Prussia by Napoleon in 1808 (cf. F. Schoell and M. de Koch,
Hlstolre abregee des traltes de palx. IX [Paris, 1817], 22; C. M.
Nollet, Une experience de disarmament [2d ed.: Paris. 1932], pp.
vlll ffj~'
For lists of such instances, cf. Wright, op. clt.. pp.
10-18; Wehberg, op. clt.. pp. 168-295. The Rush-Bagot Agreement
of 1817, the Hague Peace Conferences, and the Anglo-German naval
conversations before 1914 might be cited as typical Instances,
Illustrating various approaches.
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and a new conception of the nature and utility of disarmament,
brought into being a period which might be called "The Disarma­
ment Interlude," dating from the armistice of 1918 to the appear­
ance of large-scale rearmament programs by the beginning of 1934.
During this era the Great Powers and the small nations, in the
League of Nations and out, conducted numerous negotiations con­
cerned with the prospect of abolishing or reducing their military
forces. This postwar official activity was more extensive and
continuous than ever before; it produced more concrete results in
the shape of actual armament elimination and budgetary economy,
as well as more hopes and verbalizations. Disarmament was all
things to all nations, but from the point of view of international
politics, the fm e t ion which it actually and most successfully
fulfilled was a double one; it protected the status quo of the
Treaties of Peace by preserving the military predominance of the
victors of the World War, being thus for a dozen years Intimately
related to the balance of power; and it served as the symbol of
public demand for gestures favorable to peace, without at the
of intime
way restricting
by demand
the design
violence to military
the equally
strong public
and manipulation
security.of man. Perhaps the term originally meant the
total abolition
military forces
of postwar
police contin­
The termof
thus in
in the
period to
in recent
usage purposes,
it has become
cover abut
of meanings,
and policies.
with two expressions
of armaments"
and "limi­
the word
denotes "reduction
the possibility
or the practice
tation of armaments."14 Perhaps in its inception the term had
reference only to physical war materials, but It is now, as a re­
sult of the postwar years, so Indissolubly linked with political
factors such as security and moral disarmament, that a 11 means of
exercising any restraint upon the use of armed violence, whether
direct or indirect, whether operating upon the weapons themselves
or upon the will of the users of weapons, have been discussed at
disarmament conferences. It would appear preferable, however, to
use the term "international control of armed force" to indicate
14Strictly speaking, "reduction" has been defined as "gen­
eral and simultaneous decrease"; and "limitation" as "abstention
from increase" (Wright, o p . oit., p . 7, n.) .
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this latter and broader interpretation of the disarmament con­
cept .
Types of armament control.— What form is this inter­
types of
limitation of armed force to assume? What alternative
restriction may be applied? In general, six types of
control have assumed prominent places in the inter­
negotiations* (l) limitation as to location (demilitari­
zation or "geographical disarmament"); (2) control of the private
manufacture and sale of arms, ammunition, and implements of war­
fare; (3) limitation as to the manner of use (rules of inter­
national law governing the conduct of hostilities); (4) limita­
tion as to the necessity or desirability of use, an indirect ap­
proach designed to eliminate the "causes" of armaments, and
involving such security procedures as outlawry of war, inter­
national organization for the maintenance of peace, sanctions
against the aggressor, and so forth; (5) limitation as to size
(quantitative disarmament); (6) limitation as to form, or func­
tional characteristics, or qualities (qualitative disarmament).
The natures of these various types of armament regulation may be
briefly indicated, though it is the purpose of this study to con­
sider in detail only the type last mentioned.
Geographic disarmament is concerned primarily with the
location of armed forces. It seeks to reduce, limit, or eliminate
the importance of military activity in certain territory— usually
an area of great strategical significance or tense political re­
lations— as a potential base or theater of operations. The appllcation of the idea may result in creation of buffer states or
buffer areas between potential enemies; in the non-fortification
of a boundary line; in modification of the utility of specified
naval bases; or in complete prohibition of the maintenance of any
kind of military organization in some zones.
The geographic
approach may be closely connected with the qualitative method.
For example, the relative offensive or defensive capacity of
battle fleets varies considerably according to the number, loca­
tion, and defensibility of naval bases. Again, destruction of
fortifications in a strip of territory, in the absence of simult
For historical analysis, see J. H. Marshall-Cornwall,
Geographic Disarmament: A Study of Regional Demilitarization
(London, 1935).
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taneous qualitative measures, may leave that strip at the mercy
of an enemy having military force capable of rapid offensive em­
ployment .
Control of the private manufacture and sale of armaments
seeks, from the standpoint of domestic pressure groups and the
formulation of internal policy, to reduce the alleged influence
of the producers of armaments in lobbying for increased military
appropriations, sabotaging disarmament, and fomenting "war scares,’
armament races, and localized hostilities in backward and colonial
areas. This type of control is also of fundamental importance
from the standpoint of the balance of power. For example, elimi­
nation of the international armaments trade might considerably
augment the relative power of states whose arms-producing mecha­
nism approached self-sufficiency; or, again, might deprive cer­
tain states of the advantages inherent in command of the sea, and
hence reduce their relative rank in the scale of military
Armaments may also be regulated by recognizing the legiti­
macy of their use in general, but prohibiting their employment in
certain ways. This method envisages the creation of a norm of
conduct or binding rule of international law. Weapons are not
rendered mechanically incapable of certain uses by altering their
physical structure, but governments and officers in command of
such weapons are prohibited from ordering their use in the pro­
scribed manner. This was the first method of military restriction
to be attempted in the modern era; from the time of Grotius one
branch of international law has been devoted to rules on the man17
ner of conducting warfare.
Though ancient, these attempts to
"humanize” war are not in good repute at present owing to viola­
tions during the World War and after. Needless to say, the real
object behind such efforts has frequently been, not to make fight­
ing more humane, but to deprive an opponent of the use of an ef­
Cf. P. J. Noel Baker, The Private Manufacture of Arma­
ments. Vol. I (London, 1936).
17C f . T . A . Walker, A History of the Law of Nations (Cam­
bridge, 1899), Vol. I. International use of this method in a
"legislative” manner is typified by the Hague Peace Conferences
(cf. A. P. Higgins* The Hague Peace Conferences [Cambridge,
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fective weapon.18 Consequently, regulation of the use of weapons
Is a principle occasionally revived in connection with qualitative
disarmament. So pervasive was this idea that the Pis armament Con­
ference was compelled to include limitation as to use in its defi19
nition of the qualitative method.
Closely akin to the method just discussed is the indirect
approach, which would proceed not by direct action against weapons,
but by eliminating or modifying the political conditions which
’'cause” armaments, which induce the maintenance of military forces.
This idea, circulating under the names "security” and "moral dis20
rests upon twin assumptions: that states are heavily
armed at present because they fear attack; that to achieve dis­
armament it is necessary to extirpate violence, whereupon states,
feeling secure, will automatically part with weapons. The diffi­
culties of this approach are obvious and enormous, involving noth­
ing less than complete reorganization of the international rela­
tions of the world. Logically, the security method would embrace
a means of dispensing "justice," a formula for reconciling the
conflicting claims of the status quo and the revisionist states.
As a matter of fact, however, the security discussions were ini­
tiated by Prance, and the concrete proposals of the Third Republic
were designed primarily to maintain the status quo. Hence, how­
ever theoretical the debate might become in terms of world in­
tegration, the security difficulty at bottom rested on the refusal
of the "satiated" states to surrender the armaments which they re­
garded as the only effective guarantees of the settlement closing
This conception was an important factor in the efforts
of the greater naval states to restrict the free use of the sub­
marine as a commerce destroyer (cf. infra, chap. iii).
19 Infra, chap. i i .
The term "moral disarmament" is frequently used to mean
limitation of the disposition to use armaments (cf. remarks of
M. Briand in 1921, U. S. Government, Conference on the Limitation
of Armament [Washington, 1922], pp. 116, 132). The term is also
used in a narrower sense to refer to limitation of propaganda for
change in the status quo (cf. League of Nations, Conference for
the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Conference Documents
[Geneva, 1932-36], pp. 66 ff.). The term "economic disarmament"
is sometimes used to refer to limitation of the economic instru­
ments or objectives of foreign policy, such as tariffs, exchange
controls, etc. (cf. J, H. Richardson, Economic Disarmament [Lon­
don, 1931]).
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the World War.21
When quantitative disarmament Is applied, the absolute
magnitude of the various categories of the armed forces Is fixed
at certain levels, all forces In excess of that limit being dis­
banded or destroyed, and their re-establishment prohibited. This
involves at the outset definition of an armaments ratio, or deter­
mination of the relative quantities of armaments permitted to
various states after the entry into force of a disarmament conven­
tion. Attempts to establish such a ratio, whether by reference
to an abstract norm, or by resort to negotiation and compromise,
leads to political conflict; for those states which possess a pre­
ponderance of force over traditional rivals inevitably demand that
this superiority be legalized and perpetuated, while states rela­
tively inferior in degree of military preparations seek parity or
equality. More particularly, the armaments policies of Germany,
Italy, and Japan have been dominated by such conceptions, with the
demand of Germany for "equality of status" providing the immediate
occasion for the breakdown of the Conference of 1932.
Due to
the ratio difficulty, the quantitative method, despite limited
successes in the naval conferences, has never been applied on a
general scale to armaments as a whole. Nevertheless; the ques­
tion of quantity remains a factor of the utmost importance in
military strategy, national expenditure, and diplomatic calcula­
tion. Even the discussions which must, for convenience, be la­
beled "qualitative" can be appreciated only when It is remembered
that the issue of the ratio still overshadows all the negotiations
21 Infra, chap. 11.
"For efforts to base a ratio on abstract principles, see
League of Nations, Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Con­
ference, Report of Subcommission A (Geneva, 1926), pp. 12 ff.,
144-47; Subcommission B Report N o . I (Geneva, 1926), pp. 23-26;
Documents of the Preparatory Commission (Geneva, 1926-31), I, 20
f., 27 f., 30; II, 18-25, 31, 47; VI, 55, 243 f.; VIII, 203. For
efforts, both successful and unsuccessful, to base a ratio on
negotiation and compromise--with states having the most efficient
actual or potential armament systems obtaining the highest level
of armaments in the ratio--see the documents of the postwar naval
conferences cited In notes 20, 38 of this chapter.
C f . infra, chap. i l . For typical statement of the
Italian position, see Documents of the Preparatory Commisalon.
IV, 14; for Japan, see U. S. Department of State, The London Naval
Conference. 1955. Conference Series, No. 24 (Washington, 1936),
pp. 216-22.
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The qualitative approach. 1919-59.--Finally, a prelimi­
nary survey of qualitative disarmament may be attempted. As far
as the term "qualitative" itself is concerned, any quality or
characteristic of armament might have been selected for limita­
tion: but "capacity for aggressive employment” was the quality
actually emphasized in the Geneva negotiations.
Hence the
qualitative principle, as officially defined, involves the aboli­
tion or reduction, or alternatively, the internationalization in
a world police force, of those classes of weapons and forms of
military organization deemed "aggressive," or "offensive," or of
greater utility to the attack than to the defense.26 It is ob­
vious that each of the types of disarmament mentioned above is
related in some degree to the proposal to restrict offensive arms,
for any one of these types, by producing alterations in the mili­
tary system of a state, might increase or decrease its aggressive
capacity.26 But the qualitative principle is distinguished from
these other approaches by its reliance upon direct rather than
indirect means. It assumes that war and insecurity result from
the possibility of using military aggression as an instrument of
national policy; hence it proposes to eliminate aggression by
denying to national armed forces the weapons indispensable to the
offensive. It envisages a future armament equilibrium in which
actual resort to hostilities would end in stalemate, and assumes
The term "qualitative" is sometimes used in a more general sense to indicate any quality or characteristic of armament
which is limited by agreement--for example, the gun-power or
speed of a ship (R. Chaput, Disarmament In British Foreign Policy
[London, 1935]; Arnold J. Toynbee [ed.j, Survey of International
Affairs, 1936 [London, 1937], pp. 51 ff.). The present study,
however, employs the term only with reference to the one quality
of offensive capacity.
Infra. chap, ii .
For example, demilitarization of territory would probably delay, if not prevent, attack in certain zones. The effectiveness of weapons on the offense would be curtailed If the manner of their use were regulated. And if all armaments, as a
result of general security measures, were never used for any purpose other than that of defense, their "offensiveness" would disappear. Each of these operations would achieve results similar
to those sought by qualitative disarmament. Or quantitative disarmament alone, to cite an instance on the other side, might conceivably, though not inevitably, make offensive action more profitable through restoration of maneuverability and surprise, facjtors which are vital to attack but which tend to disappear as
military forces become larger.
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that, when the impossibility of successful offensive action be­
comes apparent, the tendency to attack will disappear.
Preoccupation with various segments of the qualitative
idea was implicit in a number of scattered international transac­
tions prior to, or aside from, the Disarmament Conference of 1932.
Thus during the World War the United States, in connection with
neutral rights and obligations, made an attempt to distinguish
between offensive and defensive weapons. The American government
maintained that belligerent merchant vessels armed for the "sole
purpose of defense" did not acquire the character of warships and
hence might enjoy the rights of peaceful merchantmen tin American
ports. Armament was said to be defensive if the caliber of the
guns did not exceed six inches, if the guns were few in number,
if none was mounted on the forward part of the vessel, if the
quantity of amnunition carried was small, if the ship was manned
by its usual crew and officers, if it continued in the same trade
in which it was engaged before the outbreak of war, if it took on
board a normal quantity of supplies, if the cargo consisted of
articles of commerce, if the vessel carried passengers unfitted
for military service--especially women and children--and finally,
if the ship was slow.2^ Here the test of offensive or defensive
character appeared to be intent, as measured by external criteria.
Later, the United States recognized that a vessel defensively
armed in relation to a cruiser was capable of using its arms of­
fensively against a submarine; and since any weapon was superior
to a submarine's defensive construction, "any armament" on a merOQ
chantman was "offensive."
Here the test appeared to be physical
capacity for attack, as shown by experience.
A few months later, however, it was declared that a merchant vessel is presumed
to be armed for defense, but that this presumption might be over­
come by "conclusive evidence of aggressive purpose"; hence if a
Note of Sept. 19, 1914, to belligerents. U. S. Department of State, Foreign Relations, 1914. Supplement (Washington,
1928), pp. 6 1 1 - 1 2 . -------- ------ --- -----2®Note of Jan. 18, 1916. Ibid., 1916, Supplement (Wash­
ington, 1929), p. 147.
At the Washington Conference of 1921 the United States
declared that "defensive armament [of merchant ships] was almost
sure to be used offensively [against submarines] in an attempt to
strike the first blow" (Conference on the Limitation of Armament,
pp . 496, 552).
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vessel carried a conmiission or orders directing It under penalty
to use its arms aggressively, or if it was conclusively shown to
have so used them, its status was that of a ship of war.
size of the vessel, strength of armament, and its offensive or
defensive force are i m m a t e r i a l H e r e the test once more ap­
peared to be intent, with offensive intent being strictly con­
strued. Thus the United States, after attempting to make a fairly
absolute distinction between arms, apparently came to the view
that their offensive or defensive character depended on circum­
stances,32 though it continued to maintain that the distinction,
in principle, existed.
Preoccupation with the qualitative idea is also implicit
in the military provisions of the Treaties of Peace, the limita­
tions imposed upon Germany (and the other former Central Powers)
having been drafted with the partial object of "rendering it im­
possible for Germany to resume her policy of military aggres­
sion."34 This impossibility of aggression, however, was due not
only to the qualitative abolition of weapons of attack, but, in
part at least, to the disparity of force, both qualitatively and
30Note of March 25, 1916.
Supplement. pp. 244-48.
31,Ibid.. p 247.
Foreign Relations, 1916,
'Cf. Charles C. Tansill, America Goes to War (New York,
1938), pp. 409-29; Edwin Borchard and W. P. Lage, Neutrality for
the United States (New Haven, 1937), pp. 83-124; Charles Cheney
Etyde, International Law Chiefly as Interpreted and Applied by the
United States (Boston. 1922). II. 469-72.
Two later indications of American attitude might be men­
tioned; (1) The United States in 1928 refused to accept in the
Havana Convention on Maritime Neutrality the clause which assimi­
lated armed merchantmen to warships; (2) in the General Declara­
tion of Neutrality of the American Republics, formulated by the
Panama Conference of 1939, it was provided that the signatories
"shall not assimilate to warships belligerent armed merchant ves­
sels if they do not carry more than four 6-inch guns mounted on
the stern, and their lateral decks are not reinforced, and if, in
the judgment of the local authorities, there do not exist other
circumstances which reveal that the merchant vessels can be used
for offensive purposes" (Allen W. Dulles, "Cash and Carry Neu­
trality," Foreign Affairs. XVIII [January, 1940], 183 f.j.
09 J
"Reply of the Allied and Associated Powers to the Ob­
servations of the German Delegation on the Conditions of Peace,"
June 16, 1919, H. W. V. Temperley (ed.)t A History of the Peace
Conference of Paris (London, 1920-24), II, 303.
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quantitatively^ established between the armed and the disarmed
powers. When the question of applying similar methods to the
armed forces of the former Allied and Associated Powers was raised
in 1926, the Preparatory Commission of the League of Nations, on
the advice of the military experts composing its Subcommission A,
abandoned such an approach on account of the difficulty of devis­
ing a technically accurate and politically acceptable definition
of aggressive weapons.
Meanwhile the Washington Conference of 1921-22 had met,
according to Secretary of State Charles E. Hughes, "to the end
that offensive naval warfare will be no more";
but despite this
observation the Conference did not make the qualitative idea its
guiding principle, though it did discuss the offensive character
of certain weapons.3*7 The naval conferences at Geneva (1927) and
London (1930 and 1935) also afforded a limited recognition to the
distinction between offensive and defensive armaments, while re58
fusing to be dominated by such a conception.
Finally, in connection with the debate in the United
States over the Neutrality Act of 1939, former President Herbert
it r»
Hoover suggested that American law prohibit the sale of "weapons
of attack on civilians, that is: bombing planes, their ammunition,
poison gas and submarines," while permitting trade in "instruments
or defense" such as pursuit planes and anti-aircraft guns.
proposal made no effort to distinguish qualitatively between arms
employed exclusively against strictly military objectives; it re40
ferred solely to weapons threatening to civilians,
and was thus
35'Report of Subcommlsslon A , pp. 141-43; infra, chap. iii.
36 Conference on the Limitation of Armament, p . 112.
37 Infra, chap. iii .
Records of the Conference for the Limitation of Naval
Armament (Geneva, 1927); U. S. Department of State, Records of
the London Naval Conference of 1930, Conference Series, No. 6
(Washington, 1931); The London Naval Conference. 1955. C f . infra,
chap. iii.
The New York Times, Oct. 11, 1939, p. 16.
^ " i have not proposed that we divide every kind of weapon
in war into defensive weapons and offensive weapons........
I have proposed is to limit our basis of action, first, to
part of war carried on against civilians . . . ." (ibid.,
21, 1939, p. 6).
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identical with only one of the three criteria of offensive char41
acter laid down by the Disarmament Conference of 1932.
Charles A. Lindbergh agreed that the United States should impose
an embargo on offensive arms .
Both publicists admitted that a
qualitative distinction would be "difficult," but not more diffi­
cult than other distinctions attempted in neutrality legislation.
According to Mr. Hoover, moreover, the "American general staff"
in 1932 advised that a distinction between weapons devoted mostly
to attack on civilians and those devoted mostly to their defense
was "feasible and practical."
Partial attempts, then, to distinguish between offensive
and defensive armaments, and to limit the former, were not infre­
quent during the postwar period. But it was only at Geneva, in
1932, as will be seen in the next chapter, that the qualitative
principle was accorded the full status of a major premise.
League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the
Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Series B, Minutes of the
General Commission (Geneva, 1932-36), p. 116. Cf. infra, chap.
The New York Times, Oct. 14, 1939, p . 10.
42Ibid., Oct. 21, 1939, p. 6. The American attitude on
armed merchantmen and the Hoover proposals are exceptional in­
stances apart from the main theme of qualitative disarmament.
The latter aims at rendering war physically impossible, while the
American attitude and the Hoover proposals result in a kind of
"moral association" of the United States with the use of defen­
sive, as opposed to offensive, instrumentalities of warfare, af­
ter hostilities have already come into existence. Qualitative
disarmament denies offensive arms to both parties in a war? the
Hoover suggestions deny such arms in effect to the "defender"
(since the "aggressor” will presumably have prepared himself in
advance with the weapons of aggression to a much greater extent).
These suggestions, if generally adopted, would encourage the
building up in time of peace of huge stocks of offensive weapons-the very opposite of qualitative disarmament. Prom the technical
point of view, the American attitude on armed merchantmen is also
untenable; any naval gun may be used offensively against a sub­
marine . This policy is apparently dictated in part by the desire
of a great naval power to place restraints upon a weapon (the
submarine) which tends to disorganize somewhat the surface com­
mand of the sea exercised by great naval powers. Moreover, in
international law a belligerent warship would appear entitled to
consider an enemy armed merchantman as an enemy warship, whether
armed "offensively" or "defensively" (c f . Hyde, op. cit.. II,
469 ff.; Borchard and Lage, o p . clt.. pp. 83-12477^
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Despite the very limited character of its recognition in
the earlier negotiations, the qualitative theory of disarmament
rather unexpectedly re-appeared in 1952 to dominate the discus­
sions of the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Arma­
ments . These discussions revolved about serious conflicts of
policy on several fundamental qualitative Issues: (l) Should the
principle of segregating and limiting offensive armaments be ac­
cepted at all by the Conference? On the basis of what defini­
tions, interpretations, and reservations, explicit or implicit,
would the armed powers find such acceptance possible (the issue
of acceptance)? (2) Assuming that they could be identified, how
were offensive weapons to be disposed of (the issue of abolition
versus internationalization)? (3) Should the regime of qualita­
tive limitation apply to all countries equally, or were those
states disarmed by the Peace Treaties to remain under special dis­
abilities (the issue of the single versus the double standard)?
(4) What general or abstract criteria could be established for de­
termining what type of armaments was offensive (the issue of defi­
nition)? (5) Finally, specifically what particular weapons could
be brought within the formulated definition and subjected to spe­
cial restrictions? The first three of these questions relate to
the definition and scope of qualitative disarmament as a general
principle, while the last two refer to the application of the
principle. It is the purpose of the present chapter to explore
the principle; subsequent chapters will discuss the application.
Acceptance of the Qualitative Principle
The opening discussions.--The qualitative principle was
first suggested to the Conference in the opening proposals and
addresses of a number of delegations during the plenary sessions.
The French government was the first in the field; its proposal of
February 5, 1932 (known as the Tardieu Plan), while devoted mostly
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to security measures, referred to aerial preparations as "the war
arm whose character is most specifically offensive and the most
threatening to civilians/1 and to "those branches of the national
armaments which are at once the most powerful, the most useful in
attack, and the moat ruthless from the point of view of the civil­
ian population."2 Sir John Simon on behalf of the British govern­
ment drew a more elaborate distinction between the quantitative
and the qualitative ideas, defining the latter as the "method of
excluding by international agreement from use in warfare certain
defined instruments or methods." He favored the simultaneous ap­
plication of both systems, but recommended that special attention
be paid to limiting weapons in a manner to weaken the power of
the attack and thus remove temptation to aggression.
The Ameri­
can delegation also laid special stress upon qualitative disarma­
ment. "Since practically all the nations of the world," declared
Mr. Gibson, "have now pledged themselves not to wage aggressive
war, we believe this Conference should and can successfully de­
vote itself to the abolition of those weapons which are devoted
primarily to aggressive war."4 Germany was preoccupied with the
question of equality, but referred to the necessity of limiting
"instruments of aggression."5 Italy agreed with Germany on
equality and with Great Britain on the quantitative method, but
emphasized more especially that the Conference must "examine first
of all the question of prohibiting all war material of a specific­
ally aggressive character."6 The Japanese delegate also noted
that the functions of certain arms, such as aircraft carriers,
were "of the most aggressive nature."7 The Soviet representative
thought total disarmament of greater utility than the qualitative
method alone, but reminded the Conference that the Soviet Union,
■'‘League of Nations, Conference for the Reduction and Limi­
tation of Armaments, Conference Documents (Geneva, 1932-36), p.
113 (hereafter cited as Conf. Docs., etc.) .
2League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the
Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Series A. Verbatim Records
of Plenary Meetings (Geneva, 1932J, p. 62 (hereafter cited as
Rees ., A, etc.).
Ibid.. pp. 57, 58.
3Ibid., p. 69.
Ibid.. p. 66.
5Ibid.. p. 73.
Ibid.. p. 75.
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In 1928 in the Preparatory Commission, had been the first to pro­
pose "complete destruction of the most aggressive types of arma­
ments."® Altogether the delegates of more than thirty states sig­
nified, in the opening plenary discussions, their acceptance of
the general principle of qualitative restrictions in one form or
Official acceptance and definition.— Without taking any
action on these proposals, the plenary Conference transmitted them
to its General Commission for action. The latter body immediately
rejected total disarmament as proposed by the Soviet Union, and
then turned down, by ignoring, a resolution submitted"by the
United States which not only made qualitative disarmament the ba­
sis of work, but went further and named weapons suitable for the
method.^® The Commission next formally made the qualitative prin­
ciple, minus the mention of any particular arms, one of the basic
norms of its future labors by unanimously adopting resolutions in
the following terms:
Without prejudice to other proposals which fall to be
discussed under later heads of the agenda, the Conference
declares its approval of the principle of qualitative dis­
armament--! .e ., the selection of certain classes or descrip­
tions of weapons the possession or use of which should be
absolutely prohibited to all States or internationalized by
means of a general convention.
In seeking to apply the principle of qualitative dis­
armament, as defined in the previous resolution, the Confer­
ence is of the opinion that the range of land, sea, and air
armaments should be examined by the competent special Com­
missions with a view to selecting those weapons whose char­
acter is the most specifically offensive or those most ef­
ficacious against national defense or most threatening to
These resolutions were the result of a draft presented by the
British delegation and amended by the Bureau of the Commission;
the amendment included the idea of internationalization along
8Ibid., p. 86,
®Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Survey of International Affairs.
1952 (London, 1953), p. 210.
^League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the
Reduction and Limitation of* Armaments, Series B, Minutes of the
General Commission (Geneva, 1952-56), pp. 12, 40 f . (hereafter
cited as Rees., B, etc.).
11 Ibid., pp. 113, 116.
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Vlth the idea of abolition after it became apparent that France
and her allies would not accept the idea of abolition or prohibition alone. 12 Other resolutions adopted at the same time referred
to the necessity of advancing toward disarmament by stages, within
the framework of the Preparatory Commission’s draft convention;
repeated the formula of Article 8 of the Covenant, "reduction to
the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforce­
ment by comnon action of International obligations"; and declared
It necessary to take account of the geographical situation and
special circumstances of each state. 13 Again in the General Reso­
lution of July 23, 1932, which concluded the so-called "first
phase" of the Conference, the General Commission decided: "That a
primary objective shall be to reduce the means of attack.
This resolution was adopted by a vote of forty-one to two, with
eight abstentions, the lack of unanimity being due not to the in­
clusion of the innocuous qualitative phrase, but to other parts
of the resolution which certain delegations found objectionable.
While the Conference thus accepted the qualitative method
in principle, all states did not embrace it with equal degrees of
enthusiasm. Of course, all the delegations were dominated by se­
rious mental reservations concerning the question of whether this
or that particular weapon was, or was not, "offensive" in nature; 16 but in regard to the fundamental principle itself, even
as qualified in the resolutions just quoted, marked differences
of opinion and policy existed between those who espoused a rather
simple and direct interpretation of the theory, and those who
tolerated it only in the light of various special modifications
and alternatives.
Simple acceptance.— The United States, Great Britain and
the Dominions, Switzerland, and the "northern neutrals" (the
Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark) espoused a relatively simple
and direct interpretation of the qualitative principle.
"simple and direct Interpretation" is meant a conception of quali12 Ibid., pp. 94, 97-113.
14,Conf. Docs., p. 268.
13Ibid., pp. 81 f., 91, 93,
^®Recs., B, p. 205.
16Infra, chap. H i .
'Rees., B, pp. 38-40, 41 f., 43, 71, 94-96, 100 f.,
104 f., 106-09, 122 f.; Conf. Docs., pp. 138 f., 141, 144.
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tative disarmament not modified by other complicating general
principles. The states mentioned did not, for example, as other
powers did, accept the qualitative theory and then consider it
distinctly subordinate to certain additional imperatives of policy,
such as "security," "total disarmament," or "equality of status."
Instead, they insisted, as Mr. Gibson of the United States re­
peatedly declared, that the feeling of insecurity on the part of
governments and peoples was due to fear of attack, which was based
on the existence of weapons capable of overwhelming the defense;
thus they continually emphasized the necessity and utility of ap­
plying the qualitative idea to get rid of arms which,they regarded
as the chief cause of insecurity. With powerful arms restricted,
the other great problems to which so much attention was paid would,
in their view, be almost automatically solved.
By "qualitative"
these states understood the abolition, and perhaps also the regu­
lation, of armaments, but not their internationalization; though
they were compelled to accept inclusion of the latter idea in the
General Commission's definitions, they opposed any further step
directed toward realization of such internationalization.
group of powers was, of course, very sensitive to quantitative
considerations, but since abolition was at the same time reduc­
tion, application of the qualitative method was not inconsistent
with quantitative limitation.
Thus an Anglo-American school of
thought embraced a conception of disarmament based primarily on a
single general principle and not fundamentally qualified by other
intricate theories.
Qualified acceptance.--Certain multiple and complex con­
siderations did, however, modify the attitudes assumed by Germany,
Italy, Japan, and Turkey, constituting what might be called the
"qualitative-equality" group. These states, especially Germany
and Italy,
were also insistent proponents of the theory of
limiting aggressive armaments, and to that extent they agreed in
the main with the Anglo-American school of thought, but dominat­
ing their outlook upon the entire disarmament problem were vari19 Infra. pp. 32 ff.
18.Rees., B, pp. 38-40, 42 f.
20Rees.. B, pp. 94, 96, 122 f., and especially 349.
81Ibld.. pp. 43 f., 45, 96 f., 129 f., 168.
Docs.. pp. 119, 123.
Cf. Conf,
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ous questions of national policy and prestige which are summed up
by the term, "equality." Germany demanded equality of status in
regard to her armaments which were limited by the Treaty of Verjsailles.22 Italy, seeking extension of her power and prestige,
had for some time been indignant at any attempt to assign her a
military position inferior to that of France.
Turkey, desiring
emancipation from the pressure of the powers, was an advocate of
"universal equality," that is, the reduction of the armaments of
every state to the same level.
The Japanese government, pur­
suing supremacy in the Far East, sought naval parity with the
United States and Great Britain. At the Conference of 1932, Japan
not only considered the qualitative principle as secondary to this
quest, but also agreed in only a very qualified manner with Mr.
Gibson's theoretical argument. Thus M. Sato remarked that in­
security was the result not only of the existence of certain
weapons, but also of disturbed political conditions or superior
quantitative forces; he made his acceptance of the qualitative
system dependent on the elimination of insecurity from these
causes, and proved lukewarm toward proposals for doing away with
powerful land armaments. 25 Later, however, Japan apparently be­
came convinced that qualitative naval arrangements would also en­
hance her control of Asiatic waters; for in the London Conference
of 1935 Japanese parity claims were supplemented by insistent de­
mands for abolition or restriction of offensive maritime weapons.26 This group of states, then, accepting with various decrees
of enthusiasm Mr. Gibson's case for the qualitative methody pro­
posed a wide extension of the principle, provided their special
requirements were met in the field of the ratio (quantitative
Ibid., p. 188. Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary con­
curred in this attitude (cf. ibid., pp. 189, 193, 199).
Rees., A, p. 73; League of Rations, Preparatory Commis­
sion for the disarmament Conference, Documents of the Preparatory
Commission (Geneva, 1926-31), IV, 14 (hereafter cited as Docs.
$ ♦ 0 .. etc.).
24.Rees., B, pp. 59-61, 78, 138, 202.
25.Ibid., pp. 70 f.
26.U. S. Department of State, The London Naval Conference.
1935. Conference Series, No. 24 (Washington, 1936), pp. 63, 96,
107-11, 133-37, 175-78, 208, 216-22. Cf. Conf. Docs., pp. 444
. '
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equality), and in the matter of equality of status (qualitative
equality, such that any weapon permitted to any state should he
permitted to all states) . But no member of the bloo was willing
under any conditions to accept a special and discriminatory re­
gime for itself.
Prance and the French allies, while somewhat reluctantly
accepting the qualitative principle, also attached to it a spe­
cial meaning. French disarmament policy, in the Conference as
'elsewhere, was subordinated to an all-pervading conception of se­
curity. In unqualified terms, the French representatives stated
over and over again that their adherence to any qualitative limi­
tation, or in fact to any disarmament measures whatever, was ab27
solutely conditional upon a prior realization of security.
a special application of this familiar preoccupation, the dele­
gates from the Qua! d'Orsay agreed to the qualitative system only
when it was defined to Include, along with the idea of abolition,
the Idea of internationalization, that is, the surrender by a
state of its more powerful armaments to a world police force es­
tablished as part of a far-flung network of guarantees and sanc­
tions . French efforts were devoted to bringing about interna­
tionalization and preventing abolition. Moreover, France consid­
ered a rigid system of supervision of the execution of disarmament
undertakings as an integral part of the qualitative principle.
Finally, and most significantly, in the end the French government
consistently spurned the qualitative method unless the latter were
interpreted In such a way as to perpetuate in the case of Germany
the discriminatory system of limitation contained in the Treaty
of Versailles.
Since these issues are, however, more fully dis­
cussed in a later section of the present chapter, it is unneces­
sary here to dwell further on the French rejection of the AngloAmerican thesis.
The Soviet Union, enamored first of total disarmament,
and then combining with it a security thesis approaching in scope
27For typical statements of this position (which was in
general supported by Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania,
and Yugoslavia), see; Docs. P . C .. II, 112* League of Nations,
Particulars with Regard to fcjfaefrosltion of Armaments in the Vari­
ous Countries. No. 5: France (Geneva, 1931): frees., B, pp. 257,
347, 665-^0,389.
28,Cf. infra, pp. 37 ff., 51 ff,
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that propounded by the French, has indorsed the qualitative prin­
ciple only as a partial and supplementary solution. In the
U.S.S.R. view, measures of armament limitation must go much fur­
ther than the mere elimination of certain types of weapons. Hence
the Soviet delegates originally demanded total, ;complete, and gen­
eral disarmament, that is, the abolition of all military forces
of any kind; falling that, they suggested proportional and pro­
gressive disarmament, that is, percentage cuts with the more
heavily armed powers making the greater reductions. The draft
conventions embodying these schemes contained severe qualitative
restrictions--methods more drastic than any of the proposals la­
ter presented, involving, among other things, destruction of the
machinery, patterns, and plans for the re-manufacture of arms of
the type prohibited.
When the Soviet government first began to
participate In the Geneva negotiations, it regarded security as
an impractical and arbitrary factor "generally employed to demon­
strate the necessity of maintaining or Increasing armaments."50
Sanctions "would Inevitably become, in the hands of a dominant
group of powers, an Instrument of aggressive policy against other
powers."5^ Schemes such as that for an international police force,
besides providing for no real disarmament, were impractical in
themselves, since the world army would either be too small to af­
fect the situation, or would become a tool In the hands of a state
which had won a leading place in the International organization
commanding the army. Hence the Soviet delegations were convinced
that the triumph of socialist principles, removing the causes
giving rise to armed conflicts, is the only absolute guaran­
tee of peace. So long, however, as these principles prevail
in only one-sixth of the world, there is only one means of
organizing security against war, and that is total-and gen­
eral disarmament .32
Later, however, in consequence of its famous reorientation of for­
eign policy following the rise to power of Chancellor Hitler in
Germany, the Soviet Union abandoned its opposition to security
programs and even began to exhibit concern for security. It
29Docs. P . O .. V, 10; VI, 347-55; Conf. Docs., pp. 124 ff.
30.Docs. P . C .. X, 400. Cf. ibid., pp. 18 f.
51League of "Nations, Assembly, Treaty of Mutual Assis­
tances Replies from Governments (Geneya, 1924), p. 10.
32.Rees., A, pp. 86 f.
:. . . . . . . .
M .........
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joined the League, concluded alliances, and at Geneva afforded
limited support to the French thesis, especially in the matter of
defining the aggressor.
Thus the Soviet Union appeared at
first to fear that world organization would become the means by
which the Great Powers intervened in Russian affairs, though la­
ter, when more immediately threatened by the expansionist-tend­
encies of the Third Reich, it regarded peace as "indivisible,”
and sought support from other powers similarly threatened. But
the Soviet government did not abandon its convictions in the
field of disarmament, strictly so-called. The kind of disarma­
ment it sponsored, though having little chance of acceptance and
even, perhaps, being deliberately designed to prevent acceptance,
served a dual purpose: if not adopted, it furnished a basis for
continued propaganda against the "capitalist” powers; if adopted,
it would assure Soviet security against military interference by
the Great Powers, while at the same time permitting the U.S.S.R.
to retain "police forces" in sufficient
numbers to dominate the
smaller neighbors of the Union.
Apparently the Soviet govern­
ment was convinced that quantitative proposals were essential to
achievement of these purposes. Hence it continued to urge adop­
tion of the closest practical approach to the total destruction
of arms, and thus remained preoccupied fundamentally with the
quantitative idea; while it still accepted the qualitative prin­
ciple, it did so under the impression that this principle should
represent a starting point rather than a complete system.
While the Conference was unanimous in holding that one of
the major objectives of disarmament should be imposition of ef­
fective restrictions upon weapons lending preponderance to the
aggressor, it was sharply divided into criss-crossing schools of
thought on the interpretation to be given this objective. Though
one group of states presented a relatively unreserved and simple
indorsement of the qualitative principle, another group accepted
it only as a part of wider systems--and, as has been indicated,
53Ibid., B, pp. 257 f.
34Pocs. P . O ., V, 10; VI, 237-85, 547-55.
33For typical later statements, see: Rees.. B, pp. 657-61,
677 f ., 685 f .; League of Nations, Records of the Conference for
ithe Reduction and Limitation of Armaments. Series C. Minutes of
the Bureau (Geneva, 1$55-56J, pp. 9, 55 (hereafter cited as fteos..
'C, etc .) .
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at least three such wider and fundamental systems emerged.
Internationalization versus Abolition
After acceptance of the qualitative principle, the first
of the leading issues arose over the problem: what to do with of­
fensive weapons after they have been defined and identified? It
may appear premature to discuss the manner of disposing of offen­
sive arms before it has been decided which arms are offensive,
and even before it has been determined whether or not such a de­
cision is possible; but the General Commission proceeded in this
reverse order because the abolition versus internationalization
controversy began to emerge from the very first attempt to define
the qualitative principle itself. For the sake of clarity this
exposition follows the same order.
Background of the Internationalization policy.--Franee
was the leading exponent of Internationalization, and this concep­
tion, to repeat, was only a special application of the French pre­
occupation with security and guarantees. '’Security, ” as the term
is used in the disarmament negotiations, possesses two distin­
guishable connotations. In a general or literal sense it denotes
freedom from the fear of danger, lack of governmental or popular
misgivings as to the safety of the state; in a derivative and spe­
cial sense, peculiar to Geneva, it refers to an international se­
curity program, to the collective political means of assuring the
national safety.
In its first meaning security is predominantly a subjec­
tive phenomenon. That Is to say:
Security consists in the absence of any danger of aggres­
sion; but there are two ways of judging of this absence of
danger. It may be regarded from the objective point of view
of the reality or unreality of the danger, or from the sub­
jective point of view of the feeling of the country concerned
that it is or is not secure. Now It is not sufficient for
third parties to realize that the circumstances of a certain
country are such that no real danger threatens it. That coun­
try Itself must feel the same.36
Security understood in this sense Is a condition sought by all
states, not by France alone; it is with respect to the second
meaning of security that the French attitude differs from that of
®®League of Nations, Committee on Arbitration and Se­
curity, Memorandum on Arbitration. Security and Articles of the
Covenant (Geneva. 1927), p . 15.
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the majority.
Considered in its Geneva meaning as a specific program of
political aotion, security consists in its broadest aspects of
four distinct, but closely connected, commitments: first, an un­
dertaking on the part of each state that it will never resort to
military force except in self-defense; second, an obligation bind­
ing all states to submit international disputes to compulsory
settlement by pacific procedures; third, an agreement establishing
a formula and a jurisdiction for the identification of an aggres­
sor; and fourth, an engagement facilitating the prompt and effec­
tive application of collective sanctions against persistent aggressors.37
Both conceptions of security have intangible and extra­
territorial implications. Whether thought of as a psychological
condition or a political program, security involves not merely
guarantees against attack on the home territory of a country, but
in addition an absence of fear as to the safety of the state's
policy, prestige, liberty of action, economic welfare, and prop­
erty, no matter in what parts of the world these elements have
their manifestations. As the pre-war French ambassador to Berlin
has remarked:
When I have said that security must always be the car­
dinal aim of France, that term must be understood in its
fullest sense. There is a France outside our own frontiers.
Just as England cannot permit her communications with India
to be menaced in Egypt, and just as the United States con­
siders that one of her elementary interests is to safeguard
the Panama Canal, just so France must guard her communica­
tions with her possessions in North Africa and preserve her
freedom of action in the Mediterranean....... Security I
The term signifies more indeed than the maintenance of a
people's homeland, or even of their territories beyond the
seas. It also means the maintenance of the world's respect
for them, the maintenance of their economic interests,
everything in a word, which goes to make up the grandeur,
the life itself, of the nation. °
According to French policy, security in this fullest sense
must be realized before disarmament could begin; the French mili­
tary establishment must remain huge until reliable international
guarantees could be substituted for arms. "As each government re57Cf. ibid.. p. 14; Docs. P. C., VI, 121; Conf._Docs.,
p. 679.
58Jules Cambon, "The Permanent Bases of French Foreign
Policy." Foreign Affairs. VIII (1930), 183.
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mains the sole Judge of the minimum quantity of armaments which
is necessary for its security, it is only to the extent to which
external support takes the place of a portion of the nationalgo
armaments that the latter can and should be reduced.
The mildest form of external support advocated by France
consisted of the conclusion of an elaborate general agreement
supplementing and extending the principles of the Covenant in the
direction of the proposals of 1924 and 1933, with emphasis upon
an automatic system of sanctions against the aggressor, equipped
with positive, military, coercive authority, and devoid of the
elements of doubt and delay. The most extreme form of external
support demanded by France has been an international police force
operating under the control of a world organization empowered to
assess responsibility for aggression and suppress hostilities.
In all, three official proposals to this end have been produced
by French governments; one was submitted to the Peace Conference
at Paris in 1919,
and the other two were presented to the Dis­
armament Conference in 1932--the Tardieu Plan of February 5, 1932,
and the Harriot Plan of November 14, 1932. It is in the content
of these plans that the significance which France attaches to the
term "internationalization" must be sought.
French internationalization proposals.--Since these two
schemes were almost identical in their essential qualitative
ideas, attention may be concentrated on the latest one, that of
November, 1932. 41 This proposal, in so far as it deals with of­
fensive weapons, may be summarized as follows:
A series of military arrangements applicable to Europe
would be instituted with the double object of reducing the aggres­
sive capacity of the national forces and specializing certain ele­
ments with a view to sanctions. Aggressive land weapons, "espe­
cially such as would facilitate an attack upon permanent fortifi­
cations (powerful artillery and powerful tanks}," would be
prohibited to national armies, but turned over to the interna­
League of Nations, Assembly, Report of Temporary Mixed
Commission (Geneva, 1923), Part I, p. 16.
4®H. W. V. Temperley (ed.), A History of the Peace Confer­
ence of Paris (London, 1920-24), VI. 452 f.» P. R. Miller, TEe
drafting of the Covenant (New York, 1928), Vol. I.
4^Conf. Docs ., pp. 435-39.
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tional forces. National professional armies would, be abolished,
being replaced by limited, short-term, volunteer forces, organ­
ized according to a prescribed pattern. Each state would form,
however, a small number of professional units and would place
these units at the disposal of the League. The offensive arma­
ments prohibited to the national armies would be stored in-each
of the contracting states and would be made available to the vic­
tim of an aggression. In case of "legitimate self-defence," each
state would regain the use of its professional contingent and its
stored stocks of offensive weapons .
(2) Naval limitations and reductions would apply to types
best suited for aggressive purposes, and especially to the larger
fleets. Every naval power would undertake to place a certain pro­
portion of each category of vessel at the disposal of the League
in case of aggression.
(3) An international body would manage civil air transport
in Europe under safeguards designed to prevent the use of civilian
planes for war purposes. Ultimately, an organically international
air force of military planes would be set up by the League, the
material consisting of planes (especially bombers) handed over by
states, the personnel consisting of officers voluntarily enlist­
ing. Until such an idea could be realized, certain specialized
aerial units would he available to the League for emergency use,
and aerial bombing would be prohibited.
(4) These military arrangements would be co-ordinated
with a wide range of political pacts of guarantee, pacific settle­
ment, and identification of the aggressor.42
The case for internationalization.--Thus French delega­
tions, demanding internationalization of powerful arms, have op­
posed the alternative, abolition of such arms. The case for the
French view of the matter Is based on half a dozen primary argu­
ments .
The first of these relates to probable non-observance of
the terms of a treaty forbidding possession or use of certain
weapons. While admitting that battleships are difficult of con­
cealment, the Qua! d'Orsay has insisted that all other armaments
42The Tardieu Plan of February, 1932, did not provide for
ithe standardization of European effectives, and contained less
elaborate and detailed security provisions (cf. Conf. Docs., pp.
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could be secretly manufactured and stored In significant quanti­
ties. Moreover, Prance has assumed that a state bent upon aggres­
sion would not hesitate to break faith in this manner, because in
Order to wage war it would have to violate the Pact of Paris and
a large number of similar obligations, and a fortiori, it would
breach a less solemn engagement, namely, the disarmament conven­
tion. Agreements creating new rules of international law relat­
ing to the conduct of hostilities, or prescribing the manner in
which states are to use the arms retained, were considered even
more susceptible of violation, since both experience and logic
proved that a state in the midst of war would use every means at
hand, whether proscribed or not, for the prosecution of the con­
flict. In the event of violations of either type, in the French
view, there would be no means of compelling the violator to de­
sist if all states had destroyed their offensive weapons; hence
such arms must be placed in the custody of an international au­
thority which could employ them to coerce a potential aggressor
guilty of clandestine evasions or open breaches of faith.
The second argument has to do with the question of con­
vertibility. In French eyes, there is no sharp dividing line be­
tween war materials and peace materials, but only a fine grada­
tion. Therefore, if powerful war materials were abolished, peace­
time implements and machinery of certain kinds, capable of rapid
transformation into armaments, would constitute effective weapons
of war. Great merchant ships could reappear as cruisers, agricul­
tural tractors could become tanks, police forces and other organi­
zations with a semi-military structure could become armies, civil­
ian planes would soon be changed into bombers, and so on. With
actual armaments destroyed, these adapted implements might be
formidable instruments in possession of a power with aggressive
intentions. If, on the other hand, argue the French, a world
force had charge of the more powerful arms, It would be able to
overcome armies fighting with only the converted machinery to use
as weapons.
Moreover, according to France, armament races would not
be ended, but would merely assume a new form. The new race would
be a competition in technical improvements in the permitted types
of weapons remaining after the prohibited types had been scrapped.
45Recs .. B, p p . 52, 55,
' C'.f; ■‘
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Thus M. Tardieu:
We have all heard mention--and I fully appreciate the
skill of German engineering— of what is called the pocket
battleship. Do you suppose that the engineers will forbid
themselves to devise, after the pocket battleship, the
pocket siege-gun or the pocket aeroplane? Of course they
will not.4*
In the fourth place, the French government does not- agree
with the Anglo-American thesis concerning the direct connection
between a feeling of insecurity and the presence in the world of
certain kinds of armaments. In the French view, insecurity may
be due to other factors as well as to weapons; for example, to
the known or announced plans of neighboring states or to'a spirit
of aggression, violence, and militarism. According to M. Tardieu,
the lack of direct relation between insecurity and modern weapons
can be proven by reference to the year 1905.
At one time . . . . there was not one single battleship of
heavy tonnage, not one submarine, no military aircraft, no
tanks, no heavy long-range artillery. We were in precisely
that position which inspires some of our colleagues . . . .
with a hope of security. But the year in which the world
was in that position was 1905. Do those of us who were
alive then remember it as a time when a feeling of security
in European countries was either general or Justifled?45
Aggression, so the case proceeds, is a political concept
depending on the intentions of a state, not on the weapons it hap­
pens to possess . "The French proposals to internationalise cer­
tain armaments were based, not on the idea that these armaments
were specifically aggressive, but on the idea that it was necessary to provide the League of Nations with a powerful force. «46
If the more powerful armaments were abolished, then the means of
warfare legitimately remaining to a state could still be employed
offensively whenever that state, in the course of its history, de­
veloped aggressive intent. Therefore, it is reasoned, aggression
could only be inconvenienced, not seriously crippled, and it might
even be aided in case the aggressor established himself on the
territory of the defender by a surprise attack, for without weap­
ons of offense the defending army would have no means of dislodg44Ibid., p. 55.
League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the
Reduction and Limitation of Armaments. Series D, Vol. II, Min­
utes of the Naval Commission (Geneva, 1957), p. 61 (hereafter
•cited as fteos.. D. II. etc.) .
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ing the invaders.4*^ Since aggression is a matter of intent, the
French thesis holds, it must he suppressed after the intent has
been made evident; it must be eliminated by confronting the poten­
tial aggressor with infinitely superior forces leaving no doubt
of his ultimate defeat. It is thus necessary to endow the in­
ternational authority charged with stamping out attacks with the
most powerful armaments, in order to prevent an equality in quali­
tative equipment between the aggressor and the defender-sanctions
group. To abolish offensive arms would create an "immoral”
equality between the aggressor and the forces engaged against him,
a condition to be avoided at all costs.
Thus the French case
maintained that it was impossible to suppress attack through al­
tering the physical characteristics of the military organization;
rather must the mental intentions of potential aggressors be
changed by overawing them with the threat of superior force.
Why did France demand for each reduction in armaments a
price paid in security? Under conditions then existing, military
superiority as an Instrument of national policy was indispensable
to the French government if it was to attain one of its primary
international objectives, namely, the perpetuation of the terri­
torial and political order created by the Treaties of Peace.* The
only device readily replacing such predominance of force and yet
effectively serving the same purpose emerged from French dialect­
ics as an infallible machinery of guarantees, furnishing protec­
tion through International collective action to established legal
rights. Thus the French government demanded, as the price of
armament reduction, the formation of an international armed force,
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and this demand served a double purpose: it delayed disarmament
for an indefinite period, thus assuring the short-run maintenance
of French military hegemony on the continent; or, if acceded to,
it was expected to result in an agency for the forcible suppres­
sion of attempts to alter the status quo. On the level of diplo­
matic debate, therefore, the controversy over internationalization
of offensive weapons was concerned with the possibility of replac­
ing armaments by the integration of world organization; on the
level of policy, it originated in the refusal of certain satiated
but threatened states to surrender their armaments unless the
function of perpetuating the status quo, or at least of prevent­
ing its change by violence, was transferred from national armed
force to an international authority.
The proponents of abolition.— Most of the states repre­
sented at the Conference either preferred abolition to interna­
tionalization as a method of dealing with offensive weapons, or,
while not wholeheartedly embracing the qualitative idea, at least
opposed the French scheme for a world police force. The case for
abolition rested more upon a negative than upon a positive basis .
The "abolition” group of states had from the beginning assumed
that "qualitative" meant "abolition," and they were somewhat taken
aback when France accepted the qualitative principle, at the.same
time insisting that it included internationalization also. Thus
those favoring abolition contended for the qualitative principle
and for abolition in the 3ame breath, making little or no distinc­
tion between the two In their arguments.
Perhaps the most vigorous and extensive case for the de­
struction of offensive weapons was advanced by the American dele­
gation. The latter implied that such a step would serve two major
purposes: first, it would deprive a potential aggressor of the
technical means required for successful attack under modern condi­
tions, thus reducing the profits of aggression; secondly, it would,
by rendering sudden attack and defeat obviously impossible, allay
the psychological condition of "insecurity" underlying disturbed
political relations and governing the progressive Increases in
armed forces .
This argument tacitly assumed that while to some extent
fear causes armament, to a much greater extent armament causes
fear. According to Mr. Gibson:
Fundamentally, the demand for security arose from doubts on
the part of a government and its people as to their ability
/ IV
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successfully to withstand an invasion.........Apprehension
on this score struck at the very roots of national confidence,
and, under stimulus of fear, governments and peoples instinc­
tively demanded ever greater armaments.........It was idle
to speculate as to whether such apprehension was well-founded.
Apprehension as to national safety was not to be dealt with
by pure logic nor peace established by argument alone.......
For instance, it was clear that some of the nations which
maintained the highest level of armaments, adequate presum­
ably to deal with any possible aggression were among those
most fearful for their national safety.
This feeling of anxiety, in the American view, was more acute than
in the past because the offensive had gained the ascendancy over
the defense. Specialized types of weapons, capable of striking
suddenly and rapidly, brushing aside all measures of resistance,
naturally engender national nervousness and diplomatic tension.
"Before technical progress had reached its present proportions
there was a certain inherent superiority in defense," so that a
state with fortifications was able to repel invasion; but with
the development of modern weapons such fortified positions pre­
sented no obstacle to an aggressor; for
a new war would see frontier fortifications rapidly demol­
ished by heavy mobile artillery. Trench defenses with their
barbed-wire entanglements necessary for linking up the in­
tervals between fortifications would be effectively demol­
ished by tanks and possibly after a gas attack the inyading
infantry would be able to advance with relative ease.50
The same idea was succinctly expressed by President Roosevelt in
his disarmament message of May 16, 1933:
Modern weapons of offense are vastly stronger than modern
■weapons of defense. Frontier forts, trenches, wire entangle­
ments, coast defenses— in a word, fixed fortifications— are
no longer impregnable to the attack of war planes, heavy
mobile artillery, land battleships called tanks, and poison
gas. If all nations will agree wholly to eliminate from pos­
session and use the weapons which make possible a successful
attack, defenses automatically will become impregnable, and
the frontiers and independence of every nation will become
secure. The ultimate object of the Disarmament Conference
must be the complete elimination of all offensive weapons.51
Thus the United States proposes to concentrate attention
upon aggressive armaments as the crux of the whole disarmament
dilemma. Since the demand for security arises from fear of in­
vasion, which in turn is based on "the existence of peculiarly
49Ibid., p. 38.
50Ibid., p. 39.
51U . S . Department of State, Press Releases. Weekly No.
190, p. 352.
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aggressive weapons In land warfare"— note the term land warfare52
it is necessary to destroy those arms designed for attack, thus
restoring the superiority formerly enjoyed by the defensive, elimi­
nating the fear of invasion, and thereby inducing a feeling of se­
curity .
This conception represents a special application of Ameri­
can postwar policy toward Europe. The United States has assumed
that preservation of world peace is an American interest, but its
traditional isolationist tendencies have prevented outright par­
ticipation in forms of international co-operation regarded as in­
compatible with the historic premises of American policy. Secure
in geographical remoteness and naval power, and inclined to con­
trast the European armed nervousness with the relatively disarmed
and peaceful condition of the Americas, the United States has
viewed disarmament as the surest guarantee of security, and as a
single, practical problem, to be solved by direct action against
armaments, not by indirect approaches designed to remove the
"causes" of weapons. The United States has thus in general consistently rejected French security doctrine. 53 But the American
case for qualitative disarmament appears to represent a partial,
though not extensive, concession to the French position; the
American argument is thus "an attempt to meet the demand for se­
curity without making political commitments. Its purpose was to
satisfy the supposed psychological premise of the French thesis
while adhering rigidly to the American thesis.
Delegations other than the American, likewise resting
their cases basically on the fundamental idea of destroying arms
52Rec3., B, p. 39. Cf. ibid., pp. 122 f. In the Naval
Commission, however, the American delegate declared that no dis­
tinction could be drawn between offensive and defensive arms In
the naval sphere (Rees,. D, II, 27; infra, chap. Hi) .
On May 22, 1933, however, the American delegate (Norman
Davis) declared that the United States would consult with other
states with a view to averting conflict. Moreover, if it was de­
termined after consultation that a state had resorted to force in
violation of its obligations, and if sanctions were applied, the
United States would refrain from action tending to defeat the col­
lective effort to restore peace. This policy was, however, to be
valid only in the event disarmament was achieved. Cf. Rees., B,
p. 475.
Council on Foreign Relations, The United States in
World Affairs. 1952 (New York, 1933), pp. 233 f .
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which "determined th.8 aggressive capacity of a state,"5® also
pointed out various subsidiary advantages claimed for the quali­
tative system: Considerable economy would be effected in national
expenditures. The system could not be rejected on the ground
that the prohibitions laid down would not be observed, for not
only would a nation not be guilty of such a breach of faith,- but
it would be practically impossible in the technical sense to re­
construct offensive armaments in a short space of timej or at any
rate it would be more difficult to rebuild them after their aboli­
tion than to violate an undertaking to place them at the disposal
of the League in some future contingency. It was not necessary
to consider the "war potential," that is, the resources of a state
capable of military employment, but only powerful arms ready for
rapid use, since these were the elements indispensable to an ag­
gression. Internationalization was not a disarmament measure, in
any legitimate sense of that word, but might even serve as a jus­
tification for increases in armaments. Retention of offensive
weapons in order to make them available to an international force
would neither deprive the aggressor of the technical means of at­
tack, nor reduce the feeling of insecurity to which threat of ag­
gression gave rise. Humanization of warfare, though mentioned,
was evidently recognized as a weak argument, for it was not
In short, the group of delegations demanding aboli­
tion saw countless advantages in this method, but based its case
primarily on a conception of security closely analogous to that
advanced by Mr. Gibson.
The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands,
Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the British Dominions, and Switzerland,
in addition to the United States, all subscribed in substance to
variants of this theory.
Except for Germany and Italy, the
policies of these states might be called status quo, but this
idea of the status quo differed from that of Prance. Great Brit­
ain, like the United States, was a Great Power with isolationist
tendencies, inclined toward a balance of power attitude, and re­
55Reos., B, p. 56 (Italy).
56Cf. especially ibid., pp. 40, 42-43, 56, 58, 94-97, 107,
217-22, 655-57.
57Ibid., pp. 36-73, 215-62; "Survey of Proposals," in
Conf. Docs., pp. 93 ff.
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garding herself as not immediately threatened; other members of
the group consisted of small nations whose "neutrality” might be
endangered by the French security program, but whose security
would be enhanced by the disarmament of the Great Powers. Germany
and Italy subscribed to this qualitative argument with mental
reservations concerning the ratio.56 The U.S.S.R., while it could
not be listed among the convinced advocates of abolition, opposed
the French alternative.59 Japan also, though inclined as much to­
ward regulation of the use of arms as toward their abolition, was
antagonistic toward internationalization.
Action of the Conference .--The Conference was not,com­
pelled to make a direct choice between internationalization and
abolition, but after January, 1933, it apparently proceeded upon
the tacit assumption that the latter method would govern its fu­
ture decisions. Not only did an overwhelming number of the de­
tailed proposals forming the subject-matter of Its debates .en­
visage abolition,61 but this conception was indirectly Indorsed
by the Conference when, on June 8, 1933, the General Commission
adopted a resolution making the British draft convention of
March 16, 1933, the basis of the future disarmament treaty.
This draft was based squarely upon a policy of abolition.
this time the Conference had in effect rejected the French propo­
sitions by Ignoring them. After the opening months of 1933 the
French government Itself seemed Inclined to abandon, at least
temporarily, the Internationalization approach. Thus M. Daladier
in a speech of October 8, 1933, referred to the acceptance by
France of prohibition of aggressive armaments, on condition that
all French desires in the matter of security and supervision were
satisfied.64 France was at that time seeking to Implement its
general security policy with two disarmament methods substituted
for internationalization: first, supervision, that is, the estab­
56 S u p r a , p . 21.
59Recs., A, p. 83; B, pp. 50, 167, 234 f.; C, p. 9.
60Ibld.. B, pp. 70 f., 107.
61Conf. Poes., pp. 93 ff .
62Recs., B, p. 630.
6®Text: Conf. Docs.. pp. 476 ff.
64Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Survey of International Af­
fairs. 1935 (London, 1934), p. 300, n.
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lishment of a permanent international authority empowered to con­
duct periodic armament investigations in each country, in order'
to prevent rearmament or the infringement of any restrictions; u
second, insistence that disarmament obligations could be assumed
by Prance only on condition that a double, discriminatory standard
of limitation be instituted, one regime to apply to the World War
victors and neutrals, the other to be a continuation of the mili­
tary clauses of the Peace Treaties imposed upon the former Central
Powers. So far as the qualitative principle was concerned, then,
attention was shifted, prior to any formal decision on the matter,
from the issue of internationalization versus abolition to the
problem of a single versus a double qualitative regime.
The Single versus the Double Standard
While almost any of the fundamental Issues connected with
the qualitative principle involved conflicts of policy, prestige,
and power sufficient to wreck the disarmament negotiations, in
the actual event it was the controversy over German equality of
status which sounded the knell of the Conference. "Equality,"
though subject to various shades of interpretation as to details
and application, meant basically that Germany demanded the recog­
nized right to possess, after the entry into force of a disarma­
ment convention, the same quantity and type of armament as any
other Great Power. In a word, equality meant abrogation of the
military provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Such a condi­
tion could be achieved in practice by alternative methods: quanti­
tatively. world armaments could be scaled down to the level left
Germany after .Versailles, or,Germany could be allowed to build up
to the world level; qualitatively, other powers could destroy
types of weapons forbidden the Reich in 1919, or Germany could be
permitted to acquire any kind of armament legally retained by any
other state . Down to 1933-34, the Reich emphasized the first and
third of the possibilities just mentioned, but in 1933 and 1934
it became more and more Insistent upon realizing its objective-by
the second and fourth of these possibilities. This attitude rep­
resented one aspect of the tendency of a state dissatisfied with
the status quo in general to secure freedom to acquire in the fu­
ture a relative armament position adequate to compel respect for
its claims to increased recognition, authority, and territory.
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While the problem of German equality of status is thus seen to
have implications going far beyond the qualitative principle alone,
It is relevant to discuss in this place those aspects, of the gen­
eral question which could be summed up in the phrase, "the issue
of the single versus the double standard"— that is, should the
elimination of offensive weapons apply to all states equally, or
should some of the powers be permitted to retain various cate­
gories of powerful arms denied to Germany under a new disarmament
treaty, as they had been denied to her under the Versailles pro­
visions? For present purposes, it will be sufficient to indicate
the general formula which dominated this problem, and then to
sketch the principal issues which precluded agreement.
The general formula.--Even before the Conference, Germany
had furnished numerous indications of her attitude on equality of
status. For Instance, when at the behest of France the Preparatory Commission inserted in its draft convention of 1930 an artide confirming the Versailles stipulations in regard to the
armaments of the Reich, and thus envisaging a double standard of
limitation, the German delegation entered a general reservation
to the proposed treaty.6® The principle of equality was incidentally referred to at the beginning of the Conference, but did not
become the subject of official controversy until the General Com­
mission undertook to frame a resolution concluding the "first
phase" of its labors (July 23, 1932). Upon the refusal of the
Commission to incorporate in this document a statement recogniz­
ing German claims, the Reich announced another formal reservation
which amounted to a withdrawal from the proceedings until such
time as its demands should be satisfied.
In the ensuing diplo­
matic negotiations undertaken with the object of inducing the re­
turn of Germany to the Conference, the German government declared
that it could accept a disarmament treaty only if the latter re­
placed the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and con­
tained "no differential provisions."67 After four and a half
months of discussion,
a five-power declaration of December 11,
6 5D qcb.
P. C .. X, 261 f., 264.
66Recs., B, p. 188; C, p. 3.
®7J. W. Wheeler-Bennett (ed.), Documents on International
Affairs, 1932 (London, 1933), p. 187.
68Toynbee, Survey, 1952^ pp. 258 ff.
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1932, produced the return of Germany to Geneva by means of a com­
promise formula to the effect that Germany would be granted
’’equality of rights in a system which would provide security for
alienations." All armament limitations, including those which
should apply to Germany, were to be embodied in a single disarma69
ment treaty.
Thus Germany carried a major point in securing
formal recognition by the powers of the principle of equality of
status, but Prance had caused the insertion of a security clause,
thus enabling the Qual d'Orsay to assert on all subsequent occa­
sions that actual gun-for-gun equality between Germany and Prance
would be the negation of security for the latter.
This formula of December 11 was reiterated time and again
in the subsequent tedious and acrimonious equality conversations .
Whenever an inclination to forget this formal recognition of the
equality principle was evinced, German representatives were quick
to remind the world of itj and Prance was no less ready to em­
phasize the security side. Even Germany eventually began to stress
security, but interpreted the term to mean that the Reich would be
safe only after it possessed the same amounts and kinds of armaments as its neighbors. 70 Thus when the Conference passed on be­
yond the general formula and began to discuss actual measures of
disarmament, the gulf between Prance and Germany was seen to be
as wide and as deep as ever.
The questions at issue.— With the general principle of
equality settled, what problems of application remained to vex
the proceedings? The chief conflicts of a qualitative nature
centered about the questions of (1) sample weapons or prototypes,
(2) standardization of armies,71 and (3) the transitional or pro­
bationary period.
As already noted, the Reich advocated the abolition and
prohibition of offensive arms, and extended its definition of the
latter to drastic lengths commensurate with the degree of German
disarmament under the Peace Treaties. 72 In the equality dispute,
Germany reiterated its willingness to accept the outlawry of any
weapon, provided possession and use of such weapon were forbidden
69Recs .. B, pp. 214 f.
70Cf. ibid.. p. 422.
71This topic is discussed infra, chap. iii.
See references in note 22, this chapter.
_______ <!'
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to all countries and not to Germany alone. But if any arm could
legally be retained by any country, then Germany must be allowed:
to have it; and if such arm turned out to be one not permitted __
under the Peace Treaties, then the Reich must be allowed to ac­
quire it, and to that extent rearmament must be countenanced.
Germany insisted that, if various states refused to destroy cer­
tain weapons, it was because these arms were defensive, and the
Reich could not equitably be denied defensive weapons .
This first disarmament convention must put an end to all
qualitative discriminations. The same categories of arms
must be forbidden for all states and the same categories
must be authorized for all. No doubt, the best way to-dis­
arm and to bring about equality of rights would be to pro­
hibit now, in all countries, those arms which were prohib­
ited in the Peace Treaties......... Should, however, the
Conference decide to make a different distinction between
prohibited and permitted arms than that contained in the
Peace Treaties^ the practical consequences should be
Those weapon-categorles which are not generally forbidden
by the convention must in principle be allowed to Germany.”’
These German claims have been stoutly resisted by Prance.
The latter has, it is true, conceded equality of status in prin­
ciple, but has made the practical achievement of such a condition
dependent upon a complex variety of undertakings, the most impor­
tant of which concern standardization of European armies, and
supervision during a transitional period. Prance has supported
the suggestion that execution of the projected disarmament treaty
involves two periods. During the first of these, lasting four or
five years, Germany would be required to transform her long-serv­
ice, professional army into_a short-servlce, mass army, which
could be larger than the then-existing Relchswehr, but which must
include within its numerical limits the Nazi Schutsztaffel and
Sturmabtellung, as well as other "pre-military and para-military
'formations." While this transformation was in process, other
countries would be reducing their armies, until by the end of the
7SRecs., Bj p • 393•
74Wheeler-Bennett, Documents. 1952. pp. 187 f. Cf.
Nadolny in the General Commission, Rees., B, pp. 421-25, 464;
Neurath in the German press, May 11, 1933, Toynbee, Survey. 1933.
p. 265; Hitler to the Reichstag, May 17, 1933, Wheeler-Bennett
(ed.), Documents on International Affairs, 1933 (London, 1934),
pp. 196-208; various German notes of 1933 and 1934 in Conf. Docs..
pp. 759 ff., 764 ff., 771 ff.
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first period there would be between France and Germany quantita­
tive equality in number of effectives stationed in the home ter-'
rltory--but France still refused to include in any calculation of
parity her North African garrisons. An elaborate system of inter­
national supervision and investigation f,on the spot” would be in­
stituted to insure the loyal execution of these obligations. .
Though infrequently called such officially, this first stage was
evidently regarded as a ’’probationary" period, during which Ger­
many would be placed on trial and carefully watched, through the
system of supervision, for any indication of disloyalty in carry­
ing out the agreement. During the first period, however, the
Versailles terms applicable to weapons were to remain in force,
that is, even though permitted an enlarged army, Germany could
not equip this army with any type of armament not allowed it by
the Peace Treaties. Only during the second period could Germany
gradually construct the weapons which were to be retained by all
countries as defensive arms .75 Thus France absolutely and uncon­
ditionally denied the claim of the Reich to "samples" or "proto­
types" of forbidden armaments until at least four years of con­
tinued French military supremacy had passed. "The French govern­
ment could not accept an immediate reduction of its armaments
which would be accompanied by an immediate rearmament of a quali­
tative character of the powers bound by the military clauses of
the treaties.
It should be noted that this demand was almost
exclusively qualitative in nature, that is, Germany did not pro­
pose immediately to attain full quantitative parity in those arms
which other countries, by refusing to destroy, defined as defen­
sive; rearmament was to be "symbolic," to consist in the construc­
tion of "sample" weapons or "prototypes" of various kinds. Full
quantitative equality would not be realised until after the ex­
piration of a "transitional period,” during which the disarmament
of the heavily armed powers would take place; but immediate crea75Recs., B, pp. 263 f., 390, 425 f ., 578 ff.; C, pp. 14961; Wheeler-Bennett, Documents. 1952, pp. 189 ff.; Toynbee, Sur­
vey. 1933. pp. 292 ff., 297 f.; various French notes in Gonf.
£>ocs .. pp. 761 ff., 759 , 768 ff ., 774 ff. Cf. also, Republique
franqaise, ministers des affaires etrangeres, Negoclatlons relatives a la reduction et a la limitation des armements. l4 octoEre
1655-17 avrll 1954 (Paris.1934).
Barthou to Henderson. Feb. 10, 1934, Conf. Docs., p.
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tion of a "symbolic qualitative equality" was regarded by the Ger­
man government as a sine qua non.
Action of the Conference .--The inability of the Powers to.
solve the problem of equality, particularly in its qualitative
aspects, led directly to the disintegration of the Conference.
After Germany had returned to Geneva in consequence of the formula
of December 11, 1932, the conversations revolved mainly around the
British proposals of January 30 and March 16, 1933, which admitted
the right of the Reich to immediate and full equality in defensive
weapons, but postponed attainment of complete equality until the
other powers had, four or five years hence, abolished offensive
The German claim to samples of any weapon retained by
any power during the first period was resisted by Prance, the
United Kingdom, and the United States; Italy, however, espoused
Germany's moral right to samples.'78 After a period of obstruct­
ive tacties during the first reading of the British draft conven­
tion in the General Commission, Germany accepted this draft as
the basis for a future treaty; 79 but in "parallel and supplement­
ary" negotiations through diplomatic channels, continued to urge
the "samples" theory. After Britain had been brought to modify
its draft in the direction desired by Prance in the matter of
Germany withdrew from the Conference (October 14,
Subsequent negotiations lasting until the spring of
1934, and momentarily revived from time to time in 1935,
to produce any result. Without Germany, the Conference was dead,
though its demise was not officially recognized until the summer
of 1935. On March 16, 1935, Germany unilaterally repudiated the
disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles
and proceeded
T fT f
77Ibid., pp. 473, 476 ff.
78Ibid., pp. 745 ff., 748 ff., 754 ff., 883; Rees.. C,
pp. 89 ff., 183; Toynbee, Survey, 1932, pp. 282 f; Survey, 1935,
pp. 292, 297 f.
79Reos., B, p. 464.
80lbid.. C, pp. 181-83.
Ibid., B, p. 646. On October 21, Germany gave notice
of withdrawal from the League of Nations also.
Conf. Docs., pp. 743-76; Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Survey of International Affairs, 1955 (London, 1936), pp. 2-33.
8gIbid., pp. 140-46.
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openly to speed up that extensive rearmament program which had ap­
parently been proceeding more or less secretly for some time.
The issue of the single versus the double standard of qualitative
limitation thus proved to be the insoluble question which resulted
in suspension of the Conference negotiations.
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Rather than wait until all the difficult questions of
principle analyzed in the preceding chapter were settled or com­
promised, the Disarmament Conference of 1932, simultaneously with
its discussion of such issues, embarked upon the formidable task
of identifying aggressive weapons. This project involved,
firstly, the formulation of general or abstract definitions of
armaments of attack, or the establishment of criteria by which
offensive types might be accurately distinguished from defensive
types; it involved, secondly, the application of this general
definition to particular cases, i.e., examination of the range of
land, sea, and air armaments to determine whether this gun, that
plane, or the other ship possessed the qualities which had been
declared the characteristic marks of an offensive ana. The post­
war naval conferences also examined certain weapons from the point
of view of their aggressive qualities, but considered neither the
questions of principle discussed above, nor the possibility of a
general definition.
The Attempt at general Definition
At the outset of the-Conference of 1932, various delega­
tions expressed considerable skepticism as to the possibility or
utility of attempting to make a distinction between offensive and
defensive Implements of warfare. In fact, the debate revealed
two schools of thought on the subject. One of these put forward
an "extensive* Interpretation of aggression which took into ac­
count most of the factors involved in national security, and which
insisted that all efforts to frame a technical definition based
on the physical characteristics of weapons were dangerous and
anti-rational exercises, doomed to end in confusion and futility.
A second interpretation endeavored to take an eminently practical
view of the situation by declaring that, while rigid theoretical
distinctions would often be nullified by the necessary exceptions
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and qualifications, it was possible on the basis of reasonable
negotiations and restricted strategic assumptions to arrive at aconsensus on the question of what weapons were more offensive in.....
Each school of thought could point to the conclusions for­
mulated in 1926 by the Preparatory Commission's Subcommission A.
This body of military experts declared that armaments "incapable
of mobility by means of self-contained power," or transportable
only after long delay, were "only capable of being used for the
defence of a State's territory." Moreover, a country's military
force was organized primarily for defense if the quantity of new
armament possessed was small, if the number of immediately avail­
able effectives was small or decreasing, if the term of service
was short, if "refresher" courses were infrequent, and if expendi­
ture was low or decreasing, and devoted mainly to fixed defensive
works rather than to modern material. But "the principal test
whether a force is designed for purely defensive purposes or
built up in a spirit of aggression remains in any case the inten­
tions of the country concerned"; hence the qualitative character
of a weapon might continually change in accordance with the chang­
ing political attitude of the government possessing it.1
The "extensive" interpretation.— The first thesis on the
subject of definitions was advanced primarily by the French dele­
gation. While admitting that powerful armaments, because of their
capacity to demolish permanent fortifications, "serve rather for
the offensive than for the defensive," France shifted the argu­
ment from the technical to the political sphere by drawing a dis­
tinction between the terms "aggression” and " o f f e n s i v e T h e
former was a political idea referring to the character of a state's
foreign policy; the latter was a method of using weapons. This
attitude implied that countries attempting forcible alterations
of the status quo were aggressors, while those resisting such ven­
tures were acting in self-defense, even though they also utilized
the most powerful armaments. According to M. Tardieu:
Every arm can be employed offensively or defensively in turn.
That is the fact to which we always come back.........The
only way to discover whether arms are intended for purely
1League of Nations, Preparatory Commission for the Dis­
armament Conference, Report of Subcommission A (Geneva, 1926),
PP. 141-43.
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defensive purposes or are held in a spirit of aggression is
in all cases to inquire into the intentions of the country
Prom this point of view, virtually all the armaments of a particu­
lar state are offensive whenever a policy of armed aggression is
adopted, while all such weapons are purely defensive if utilized
by a nation defending itself against attack.
Thus, declared the
French, the armaments to he subjected to a special qualitative
regime should not be called "specifically offensive"? they were
simply the more powerful, the more nearly perfect, the more ca­
pable of rapid and decisive action, the more dangerous to the .
civilian population. 4 iiThe French proposals to internationalize
certain armaments were based, not on the idea that these armaments
were specifically aggressive, but on the idea that it was necessary to provide the League of Nations with a powerful force. »5
All such weapons, while making possible sudden and successful ag­
gression, were also indispensable to the defense, that is, the
defender might require them in order to counter-attack an invader
entrenched in another country's territory.
Or even, as the Japa­
nese delegate remarked in affording limited support to the French
thesis, "A country engaged in a war of defense might be obliged
for strategic reasons to assume the offensive."^ Moreover,
whether a weapon was offensive or defensive would depend in any
case upon "the different geographical and political ciroumstances
of the different countries," on the way in which armaments were
League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the Re­
duction and Limitation of Armaments, Series B, Minutes of the Gen­
eral Coiaalsslon (Geneva, 1932-56), pp. 53, 51 (hereafter cited as
Rees.. B. etc.7. Cf. ibid., Series D, Vol. I, Minutes of the
land Commission (Geneva', 1935), pp. 14, 40 f., 46, 5fe (hereafter
cited as Rees.7 D, I, etc.).
Report of the Naval Commission to the General Commis­
sion" (hereafter cited as "Report N. C."), in: League of Nations,
Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Confer­
ence Documents (Geneva, 1932-36), p. 216 (hereafter cited as Conf.
Docs.. etc .) .
%ecs ., B, p . 52.
®Ibid., Series D, Vol. II, Minutes of the Naval Commission
(Geneva, 1937), p. 61 (hereafter cited as Rees.. D. II. etc.).
6Ibld.. B, p. 51.
chap. ii, n. 47.
Cf. ibid., pp. 258, 260; and supra.
^Recs ., D, 1, 23.
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used, "on the undertakings given in peace-time by the various
countries regarding their employment and the manner in which
these undertakings were honored in war-time," and on the factors
mentioned in Article 8 of the Covenant, that is, "national safety"
and "the enforcement by common action of international obligeQ
Thus the "extensive" French interpretation represented
an effort to draw into the discussion virtually all the elements
of national security, and to make the definition of offensive
weapons relative to the entire political, legal, strategic, and
moral status of the world at a given moment.
French delegations drew a double conclusion from this
argument. On the one hand, they insisted that the impossibility
of distinguishing between offensive and defensive armaments on
any legitimate basis precluded the application of the qualitative
principle as interpreted by the "abolition group" of states. On
the other hand, it was urged that, since the more powerful armaments were as necessary to the defender as to the aggressor in
the event of hostilities, it was imperative to internationalize
them in order that they might always be available to a defender,
never to an aggressor.
Thus France has utilized the debate over
definitions to advance its own internationalization proposals and
to attack abolition as advocated by other powers. In keeping with
this line of argument, France has supported all endeavors to transform the question of identifying offensive armaments into another
security discussion involving, not the technical characteristics
of arms, but the objectives and intentions of the unsatiated
states. Thus France has welcomed such projects as that of the
Soviet Union relating to the definition of the aggressor,^ and
that of Belgium relating to a procedure for determining the facts
of an aggression.^ This attitude of France was in effect a de­
mandfor freedom to utilize attack
or the threat of attack as a
means of preventing violent rupture of the Versailles settlement
regarded as an indivisible system. For example, French policy
8Ibld., D, II, 75} "Report
N. C.,” Conf. Docs., p. 216.
®Recs., B, pp. 50-53, 253-62.
10Ibld.. pp. 237 ff., 262; ibid.. Series D, Vol. V, Min­
utes of the Political Commission (Geneva, 1936), p. 51 (hereafter
cited as Reos., D. V. etc.) .
i:LIbld.. B, pp. 410 , 559} D, V, 61.
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contemplated, an offensive against Germany on the western front in
case the Reich sought diplomatic or military victories in easternEurope; hut according to the French argument, action which might,
in relation to a single theater of operations, he offensive,
would, in a wider sense, he an aspect of national defense, since
maintenance of the status quo in its entirety was deemed a vital
interest to be defended at all points.
The technical interpretation.--To the opposing school of
thought, the French thesis appeared as the negation of qualita­
tive disarmament. The group of states placing a "technical" em­
phasis upon the matter of definition admitted the difficulty of
drawing a hard and fast theoretical distinction between weapons
of attack and weapons of defense, hut insisted upon the possi­
bility of deciding that some armaments were more offensive than
others. According to Sir John Simon, drawing of an exact line of
division was impossible because there always are some cases near
the line. "But that was no reason for saying that there were not
stretches of territory on either side which all practical men and
women knew to he well on this or that side of the line. n 12- Or as
M. Grandl maintained, consnon sense suggested that the more power­
ful, the more deadly, the more perfect arms, those capable of the
widest range of action and the greatest threat to civilians, were
better suited for the offensive.
Or, according to the Nether­
lands: "The question was not to determine the absolute character
ofthe weapons, but to make a comparison: the offensive character
must preponderate over the defensive character.
According to
these conceptions, the qualitative idea itself presupposed aggres­
sive intentions, that is, weapons defined as offensive were under­
stood to be such only in case the nation using them adopted a
policy "directed towards the invasion and violation of the terri­
torial sovereignty of a country," Hence the task of definition
was the task of considering "whether there are weapons which, in
the event of armed aggression directed suddenly against the ter­
ritorial sovereignty of a state, offer, in virtue of their in­
herent specific character, greater advantages to the aggressor
12Ibid., B, p. 115.
1SIbld.. p. 57.
14Ibld.. D, I, 19.
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than to the nation which is the victim of aggression."1® It was
unnecessary and irrelevant to extend the discussion to all the
items of national safety; "all considerations of relative total
national strength should he excluded from the technical question."
Moreover, the British, German, and Italian delegations were con­
vinced that sufficient experience with the limitation of aggres­
sive weapons existed to furnish a practical guide to the future.
They referred specifically to the abolitions contained in the
Peace Treaties and Imposed for the purpose of rendering military
aggression impossible; they directly or impliedly proposed that
the Conference rely upon the Versailles prohibitions as a stand1 fi
ard of reference in its effort to identify offensive armaments.
In the main, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ger­
many, Italy, and the "northern neutrals” adhered to this inter17
The Soviet Union, while not espousing this doctrine
in any positive fashion,dissented from the French view.
many and Italy, however, were unwilling to admit that the concept
of national defense could be restricted to invasion or violation
of territory. Differences In quantity might make the weapons of
the more heavily armed states offensive, while "national defense
was a far wider question than defense against threatened invasion
only: for some countries at least, national defense connoted also
the maintenance of their supplies in time of war. i«19
Action of the Conference.--At the same time that it ac­
cepted the qualitative method in principle, the General Commis­
sion produced a first approximation toward the definition of of­
fensive weapons. In a resolution of April 22, 1932, it requested
Its technical subcommissions, in seeking to apply qualitative dis­
armament, to draw up a list of arms which were (1) "the most spe­
cifically offensive," or (2) "most efficacious against national
■^"Report N. C.," Conf. Does.. p. 216. This terminology
is adapted from a memorandum of the United States (cf. Rees., D,
II, 73 f .) .
16Ibld., B, pp. 56 f.; D, I, 9 f., 22; D, II, 24; Conf♦
Does .. p. 749.
17Cf. Rees., B, pp. 36-73; D, I, 11-14.
^"Report N. C .," Conf. Docs., p. 217: Rees.. D. I. 42 f.:
D, II, 49.
19Ibld.. p. 77; cf. "Report N. C.," Conf. Docs., p. 217.
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defense," or (5) "most threatening to civilians."2® It remained
for the military suhcommissions, each in its own way, to interpret
and elaborate upon this formula. The Land Commission contented
itself with noting that the first and second points in the Gen­
eral Commission’s resolution in reality constituted a single cri21
The Chemical Commission and the Air Commission accepted
their terms of reference with no apparent qualms.
The various
oommittees set up to deal with the problem of effectives were
given more restricted tasks. The Naval Commission, however, was
dubious as to the precise significance to be attached to its in­
structions* it consequently spent considerable time in a prelimi23
nary exploration of the three criteria of aggressiveness.
hearing expositions of the political and technical concepts of
definition, the Commission adopted the following resolution:
The Naval Commission having found that nearly all naval
weapons possess to some extent both an offensive and defen­
sive character at the same time;
Being convinced that it is very difficult, if not impos­
sible, from a purely technical point of view, to define the
criteria of these arms so far as their mainly offensive or
defensive character is concerned, since this character often
varies according to the circumstances of the different coun­
Has come to the conclusion that it can most usefully
answer the questions put by the General Commission in giv­
ing them the following interpretation:
Supposing one state either (a) adopts a policy of armed
aggression, or (b) undertakes offensive operations against
another state, what are the weapons which, by reason of
their specific character, and without prejudice to their de­
fensive purposes, are most likely to enable that policy or
those operations to be brought rapidly to a successful con­
No attempts other than these of the General Commission and the
Naval Commission were made to formulate a general definition of
20Rees.. B, p. 116.
21 -
Report of the Land Commission to the General Commis­
sion" (hereafter cited as "Report L. C."). in Conf. Docs., pp,.
227 f.
22,lReport of the Air Commission to the General Commission"
^hereafter cited as "Report A. G .”), In Conf. Docs.. p. 245;
Chemical and Bacteriological Weapons: Special Committee Report"
(hereafter cited as "Report Chem. ), in Conf. Docs., pp. 210 f .
23Recs.. D, Vol. II.
24"Report N. C.," Conf. Docs., p. 217.
Cf. infra. pp.
65 ff.
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aggressive armaments. In fact, the later endeavors of the Con­
ference were concentrated on achieving agreement In regard to par­
ticular weapons, and determined efforts were made to avoid the
pitfalls of generality.
Personnel of the Armed Forces
Only a relatively small portion of the numerous and in­
tricate conversations revolving about the question of effectives
is relevant to qualitative disarmament. For the most part every
discussion of military personnel tended rapidly to sink Into a
morass of technicalities, definitions, and misplaced commas;
One part of the effectives controversy did, however, center on
the problem: what type of army organization, if any, is Inherently
offensive or defensive?
The French argument.— The French plan for the creation of
an international force26 submitted November 14, 1952, with the de­
clared object of strengthening the defense by reducing the forces
of aggression, sought to turn attention from material to effect­
ives, from armaments to personnel. According to the French dele­
It is much less Important to inquire whether a particu-.
lar type of material can facilitate aggression than to de­
termine the form of military organization which in a given
area and in given political conditions would make a policy
of aggression more difficult. . . . .
Obviously the intrinsic nature of the weapon, its cali­
ber and tonnage were Important, but still more important
was the question of the army which would use it
Hence the French memorandum proposed that the land establishments
of the states ot continental Europe be reconstituted to conform
to a standard pattern— a national army of limited numbers serving
for short terms. This standardized type of force was declared to
be one "not adapted to a sudden offensive" because of the slowness
of its mobilization and deployment, a condition which, from the
25Cf. the documents of the various special committees on
effectives: Rees., D, I, 100-08; Conf. Docs., pp. 275, 583, 654,
665, 911.
26Ibld., pp. 435 ff .
27Ibld., p. 435.
Cf. Rees., B, pp. 301, 347.
28Ibld.. p. 266.
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international point of view, had the advantage of allowing more
time for the procedures of pacific settlement to function before
being confronted with a fait accompli. Moreover, a militia army
implied reserves, and to call up reserves a mobilization order
was necessary, thus eliminating the possibility of secret opera­
tions. Again, soldiers "taken from the heart of the nation, who
are called up for periods of training, who then return to theii*
homes, and who, before they can again become armies, must be mobi.,29
lized and trained over again,
were especially unsuitable for
efficient attack until some weeks or months had elapsed after
mobilization. But a large conscript army could be a valuable de­
fensive organization, due to its ability to man the entire length
of a threatened frontier and lay down a protective curtain of
fire against an invader.
The professional army, on the other hand, was declared by
the French proposals to be admirably adapted to a policy of ag­
gression. Its constant state of readiness for action, its capa­
bility for instantaneous and secret mobilization and movement,
and its capacity for rapid and decisive maneuver, made it particu­
larly suited to "rapid attacks, to coups de force, to adventures."
"its leaders would consequently seek for victory in rapid suc­
cess." But such an army, because numerically small, was not
adaptable to the defensive operation of deploying along the bound­
ary and awaiting the attack of the enemy. Hence the conclusion:
The professional army was especially suitable for the of­
fensive . The army with short-term service.........was
specially suitable for the defensive
However, from the standpoint of capacity for aggression,
the most efficient type of armed force, according to the Quai d'
Orsay, was the mixed type, consisting of a small, professional
nucleus immediately available, plus masses of conscript reserves
subject to eventual mobilization. 32 Without publicly saying so
directly, France appeared willing to support the implication that
the German Relchswehr. as of 1933 and 1934, was of this mixed and
hence offensive type, for France insisted throughout the negotia­
tions over standardization of European armies that the personnel
29Ibid.. p. 260.
50Ibld.. pp. 280 f.
glIbld.. p. 281; cf. pp. 445, 260.
g2Ibld.. pp. 281, 445.
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of the Sturmabtellung and Schutzataffel organizations in Germany,
as well aa certain police forces and the Labor Front, must be
counted in any computation of German effectives. In other words,
it was strongly hinted that Germany had a professional army, as
demanded by the Peace Treaties, and also had succeeded in build­
ing up conscript reserves, or their equivalent, by encouragement
of "pre-military or para-military" training in ostensibly nonmilitary formations. France demanded, therefore, that Germany
attain the equality of status promised by the declaration of De­
cember 11, 1932, by transformation of her professional army into
a militia or conscript army of increased numbers, and that certain
non-Reichswehr organizations must be included in the number of effectives permitted to Germany in this new army.
On the other
hand, France refused to admit that armies stationed in colonial
territories, even though completely professional in their organi­
zation and at no great distance from the home country, were of­
fensive in nature. The French delegates maintained that only
troops utilizable for the secret launching of a rapid attack
could be considered offensive forces; colonial units, because of
the time and publicity necessarily connected with their trans­
portation to Europe, were not thus immediately available for ag34
gressive purposes.
The German argument.— Germany, though not unalterably op­
posed in principle to the standardization of armies, viewed the
question with nvery great reserve."“35 The German delegations
agreed that a fundamental aim should be to give military forces
a defensive rather than an offensive character, but sought to re­
turn the qualitative discussion to the field of actual weapons,
a field from which it had been diverted by the French proposi­
tions. Hence the Reich declared that the really decisive factor
in determining aggressive capacity was not the organization of
the army, but the armament and equipment at its disposal. No
force, however well-trained, could be employed for aggression if
it did not possess the requisite weapons, and this deficiency
could not be remedied by length of service or rapidity of mobili3SIbid., pp. 314, 316 f.; Conf. Docs., pp. 762, 769.
S4Recs., B, pp. 307, 339 f., 442; Conf. Docs., pp. 768 f.
35Recs.. B, p. 424.
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zation. The main task of the Conference remained the abolition
of offensive war material, thus Imposing upon all armies, whatover their form of organization, a defensive character.
But even aside from the question of weapons, Germany could
not agree that a short-ser\'lce army was capable of use only for
the national defense. On the contrary either type of army, de­
pending on its training, material, and morale, was available for
either attack or defense. 3*7 In fact, the German delegates ex­
pressed pained surprise at the distinction drawn by Prance be­
tween offensive and defensive army organizations, when In the
case of weapons the Quai d'Orsay had maintained that no such distinction was discoverable, that the only way to determine whether
armaments were held in an aggressive spirit was in every instance
to inquire into the intentions of the country concerned. 38 The
German representatives also pointed out that the Treaty of Ver­
sailles had Imposed a professional army upon Germany on the ground
that such a system was defensive; nevertheless, fourteen years la­
ter the Reich was requested to accept an entirely different or­
ganization on the ground that a mistake had been made the first
time. 39 Germany, it was declared, might better ask other powers
to adopt the system which had been thrust upon her. 40 Moreover,
the only professional armies in continental Europe belonged to
the former Central Powers, so that the French proposal had the
appearance of being directed exclusively against this one group
of states. In the German view, this one-sidedness was aggravated
by another series of facts: The new conscript type of army pro­
posed as the standard pattern would have its principal strength
concentrated in;trained reserves, and states which already had
armies of this type had formed in the course of years vast -reser­
voirs of such trained reserves. But the states compelled by the
Peace Treaties to organize professional forces exclusively had
been unable to form such reserves. Consequently when the proposed transformation of European forces had been effected, enormous differences would exist between the supposedly standardized
armies, since one group of powers, the victors in the World War,
S6Ibid., pp. 289 f., 298, 422;
Conf. Docs., p. 765.
37Recs.. B, pp. 288 f.
58Ibld.. p. 278.
39Ibld.. pp. 277 f., 429.
40Ibld.. p. 424.
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would dispose of fourteen more classes of reservists than the
states defeated in 1919.
Thus Germany categorically denied
the offensive character of the German Reichswehr," and as far as
the form of organization was concerned, urged that "there was
very little difference, from the point of view of military tech,,42
nique, between a defensive and an offensive army.
When the French standardization proposals first appeared,
Germany vigorously Insisted the question be referred for study to
a permanent commission, a solution which would have postponed any
decision for some years.43 Later Germany accepted the principle
of standardization, particularly after it had been incorporated
in the British draft convention, but formulated various reservations designed to safeguard the military situation of the Reich.44
Thus it was insisted that not only European, but all, forces would
have to be standardized on the conscript model;43 that various
German formations such as the S.A. and the S.S. were non-military,
and hence to be excluded from any calculation of German effee4g
that overseas and colonial armies stationed near the home
country would have to be included in the short-service scheme; 47
and finally, that the problem of land weapons wouid have to be
solved in a manner satisfactory to Germany before any transformation of the professional Relchswehr could begin. 48
Action of the Conference.— Before November 14, 1952, the
discussion of effectives had been largely devoted to non-qualitative technical problems following paths marked out by the Prepara49
tory Commission.
With the appearance on that date of the
Tardieu Plan, however, the conversations assumed for a time a dis­
tinctly qualitative flavor, and culminated in the acceptance by
the Conference of the French point of view. On the proposal of
41Ibld., pp.
42Ibid., pp. 445, 446.
43Ibid., pp.
424, 455.
44Ibid., pp.
464, 473;
43Recs.. B, pp. 443, 424.
Conf. Docs.,
p. 761.
46Conf. Docs.. p. 767.
47Recs.. B, pp. 289, 304 f., 307 f ., 339, 428, 441; Conf.
Docs.. p. 765.
48Recs., B, p 473; Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Survey of
International Affairs. 1935 (London, 1934), p. 299.
4^Supra, n. 25.
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Prance, the General Commission adopted a resolution declaring
that a short-service army of limited effectives was the type hav­
ing the "most defensive character,” and consequently was the pattern to which all continental forces should conform. 50 Twentyone votes were recorded in favor of this decision, while one dele­
gation voted for a German counter-proposal which would have made
the question of effectives subordinate to the matter of offensive
weapons, and five voted for an Italian alternative which embodied
51 The Commission also decided by close
an attempted compromise.
votes that standardization should not apply to overseas forces,
and that pre-military and para-military experience should be reck52
oned in the period of training.
The British draft convention
of March, 1933, took account of these decisions by providing for
standardization of the European forces.
By this time the differ
ence of opinion over effectives had become entangled in the more
general problem of equality of status; in fact, the standardiza­
tion controversy formed one of the principal components of the
equality dispute. As already indicated, the apparent determina­
tion of a majority of the Conference delegations, led by Prance,
to transform the Reichswehr into a mass army, under conditions un­
favorable to Germany in the matter of trained reserves, overseas
troops, and unofficial marching organizations, coupled with a re­
fusal to afford satisfaction to the Reich's claims in regard to
offensive weapons, convinced Germany that she was to be subjected
to a double and discriminatory standard in the application of the
qualitative principle. Such a standard, amounting to a perpetua­
tion of the Versailles regime, Germany refused to accept, and con54
sequently withdrew from the Conference .
The controversy over
the offensive-defensive character of army organization was thus
one of the major factors in decisions marking the breakdown of
the Conference. Later efforts through diplomatic channels were
unavailing, so that the problem of military personnel in its
qualitative aspects remained unsolved.
This controversy in its entirety was an excellent illus50Peb. 23, 1933.
Rees.. B, pp. 283, 285.
51Ibld.. pp. 290, 296, 303.
53Arts. 14-18.
52Ibid., pp. 308, 318 f.
Conf. Docs., pp. 478 f.
54Supra. pp . 42 ff.
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tration of the tendency of technical arguments to follow the flag,
The French army was a short-service, conscript force, with avail­
able masses of colonial troops; the German army was a small, pro­
fessional organization, allegedly supplemented by marching units
of military value. Each state Insisted upon the defensive nature
of its own, and the aggressive character of its opponent's, mili­
tary system, and in so doing each was seeking a relative gain in
Its own diplomatic bargaining strength.
Material of Land Warfare
When the Conference turned from problems of definition
and personnel to consider the non-human material of land warfare,
it entered a presumably narrower and more technical field, but
one which, in the actual event, proved to be replete with possi­
bilities of disagreement, and which served to invoke the widest
political implications, extending far beyond the technical realm.
Only three categories of land weapons were discussed to any ex­
tent in the negotiations: artillery, tanks and armored cars, and
Artillery.--In the plenary discussions opening the Confer­
ence, numerous proposals were made for the abolition of various,
types of land artillery, some delegations emphasizing caliber as
an indication of offensive character, others stressing in addi55
tion range and mobility.
An American proposal
for the aboli­
tion of mobile guns exceeding 155 millimeters (6.;1 inches) in
caliber revealed three shades of opinion in the General Commis­
sion. The United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Japan moderately sup­
ported the United States, but Germany, Italy, and the U.S.S.R.
thought that guns of lesser caliber were also offensive, while
France, Poland, Spain, and Yugoslavia regarded guns of greater
caliber as defensive.
Instead of acting on the American sug­
gestion, the General Commission referred the entire question of
qualitative land disarmament to the Land Commission.
88League of Nations, Conference for the Reduction and
Limitation of Armaments, Preliminary Report on the Work of the
Conference. compiled by Arthur Henderson (Geneva, 1936), p. 58
Thereafter cited as Prelim. Rep., etc.).
56Recs.. B, p. 41.
57Ibid.. pp. 42-7S.
58Ibld.. p. 116.
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The latter, however, wag unable to agree on the question
whether, or to what extent, artillery was an offensive armament.
Instead, it r e p e a t e d the f a m i l i a r dictum, "all a r t i l l e r y c a n be
used for offensive and for defensive purposes," but added that
its offensive capacity becomes greater with increases in its
power and range. 59 More particularly, the Commission held that
the mobile artillery most threatening to national defense was
that "capable of destroying permanent fortifications of consider­
able strength," that is, guns above 320 millimeters (12.6 inches)
caliber In the case of very strong forts, or above 250 milli­
meters (ten inches) In the case of works of medium strength.
Moreover, the Commission implied that artillery of a caliber less
than seventy or one hundred millimeters was defensive, pointing
out that it could he employed effectively only against the least
protected positions. 60
With regard to artillery of a caliber between 100 and 250
millimeters (3.9 and ten inches), however, the disagreement was
more marked. Prance and Japan Insisted that this category of gun
was more useful to national defense than threatening to It;
a second school of thought, led by Germany, Italy, and the Soviet
Union, declared that all artillery above seventy or one hundred
millimeters was offensive, 62 while the United States and the
United Kingdom regarded offensive character as beginning when the
caliber reached 155 millimeters. 63 As an additional complica­
tion, Germany announced that the limit above which artillery was
an offensive weapon was "lower in proportion as the means at the
disposal of the defender are weaker ; while Prance countered
with a formula to "the effect that offensiveness depends on the
power of the opposing guns, the nature and protection of the tar­
get, and the whole of the war activities on each side, as well as
ii -
5^"Report L. C.," par. 5a, Conf. Docs., p. 228. Prance
at first desired to add a statement to the effect that defensive
capacity also increased with an increase in the power and range,
but finally accepted a carefully re-worded text (cf. Rees., D,
I, 32 f .) .
®®nReport Ii. C.,” pars. 5b, 5c, Conf. Docs., p. 228.
61Reos.. D, I, 23, 40, 43-45.
62Ibid., pp. 21 f., 27 f., 35, 21, 43.
65Ibid.. pp. 27, 34, 36, 38, 109.
v.'.vi'.'V ’•
64Ibid., p. 44.
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,Jon the strategic situation then existing, which situation gen­
erally varies according as the offensive is launched by a defender
by way of counter-attack on an aggressor who has penetrated the
defender's territory, or is undertaken by an aggressor with the
Intention of invading the territory of another state.
The Commission split in much the same manner on the ques­
tion of what artillery is threatening to civilians. One group,
led by the United Kingdom, considered that two hundred millimeter
guns with a range of more than fifteen miles had this characteristic;
while a second bloc, led by Germany, Italy, and the
Soviet Union, discovered such a quality in all guns over 105 mil­
limeter caliber ranging more than nine miles. The latter states
would not go beyond nine miles in defining the battlefield be­
cause of the gradual shading off of military positions beyond
this strip, and their gradual merging with civilian activities.
France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States singled
out artillery designed to fire more than thirty miles as espe­
cially dangerous to civilians, and declared that if the battle­
field were to be defined it would have to include a zone extend68
ing for at least thirty miles behind the front line.
The political and technical disputes emerging from the
proceedings of the Land Commission were never reconciled. The
general resolution of July 23, 1932, concluding the “first phase”
of the Conference, declared that maximum caliber limits should be
fixed in the future treaty for artillery, a distinction being
made between coast-defense, fortress, and mobile guns; but no figures were mentioned. 69 After declining to adopt the French pro­
posals, the General Commission accepted the British draft conven70
tion of March, 1933, as the basis of its work.
This document,
as passed through a first reading, provided that existing artil­
lery up to a caliber limit of 155 millimeters might be retained,
®®"Report L. C.," par. 5d, Conf. Docs., p. 229.
66Recs.. D, I, 27.
67Ibid., pp. 21, 48; “Report L. C.,” par. 5e, Conf. Docs..
p. 229.
68Conf. Docs., p. 236.
^ Recs.. B, p. 154; Conf. Docs., p. 269.
Rees., B, pp. 402 f.
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that no replacements or new construction of guns beyond a
caliber of 115 millimeters was to be permitted. All mobile land
guns above 155 millimeters in caliber were to be destroyed, onethird" of them within a year after the conclusion of the treaty,
the remainder within three years.
These provisions were ac­
cepted subject to numerous amendments and reservations, some of
which, for example, those of France, made final approval contin­
gent upon the realization of various political conditions con­
nected with security; and some of which suggested different cali­
ber limitations and different time periods within which prohibited
material might be destroyed.'
After the first reading of the
British draft, the restriction of artillery was not again dis­
cussed by the Conference proper.
Tanirs and armored cars.— At the plenary sessions eight
delegations, including Germany, Italy, and the U.S.S.R., suggested
the complete prohibition of tanks,73 and this proposal was later
supported in the General Commission by the United States and the
United Kingdom.74 In the Land Commission, however, the most se­
rious disagreements occurred on this very question, with at least
three distinct schools of thought emerging from the discussions.
A first group of states, including Germany, the other dis­
armed countries, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the ''northern neu­
trals," declared that all tanks were offensive weapons. This bloc
emphasized the element of surprise made possible by use of these
new implements; it stressed the fact that tanks are even useful
in attack on fortifications, because of assistance rendered the
infantry in reducing the intervals between strong points, and be­
cause in cultivated areas a complete system of tank traps is not
possible.75 Moreover, while tanks are admittedly valuable to the
defense, "the menace which they constitute to the defense within
the hands of the aggressor outweigh the advantages which they
might confer on the defense."76 In addition, Germany pointed out
71Arts. 19-22.
Conf. Docs., pp. 479 f.
7gRecs., B, pp. 481-93; Prelim. Rep., annex 5.
73Ibid., p. 58.
74Recs.. B, pp. 41 f.
75Ibld.. D, I, 66, 68, 60, 73 f., 78 f.; "Report L. C.,"
pars. 14-15, Conf. Docs., pp. 230 f.
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that tanks -ware particularly offensive used against countries not.
permitted anti-tank guns or tanks; and, Joined by the other dis­
armed states, declared that tanks were menacing to the civil popu­
lation because of the possibility of outflanking the defender and
penetrating deep into his territory, thus exposing his population
to direct duress, or so damaging its morale as to render the task
of the attacker easier.
On the latter point, others in this
first group either did not express an opinion, or thought tanks
not dangerous to civilians, assuming no violation of international
A second group, led by the United Kingdom, insisted that
in determining the qualitative character of tanks the Conference
must rely upon weight, only the heavier machines being offensive.
These states agreed that the principal element in the offensive
character of tanks was to be found in their capacity to effect
surprises, to deliver a rapid and decisive blow; but this capacity
was dependent on their speed, radius of action, weapon-carrying
ability, and agility in crossing or reducing obstacles. Since
each of these factors affected weight, the power of the tank would
have to be determined by its weight. Hence this group of states
declared that tanks above twenty or twenty-five tons in weight
were offensive; below that figure medium and light machines were
more useful to the defense for police work, for scouting, or as a
mobile reserve.
These delegations also held that tanks, whatever their size, were not particularly dangerous to civilians. 80
A third opinion was expressed in a special memorandum
submitted by the French delegation,
in the substance of which
Japan concurred.1
France declared that only tanks capable of
assaulting modern fortifications of medium strength could be con­
sidered offensive, and that the minimum weight of such machines
was seventy tons. No other armored vehicle was an offensive
weapon. In support of 'his position, the French asserted that
77Recs.. D, I, 69; cf. pp. 71, 73, 79.
78Ibid.. pp. 77, 84; "Report L. C.,w par. 15, Conf. Docs..
p. 231.
79Recs., D, I, 63-65, 79; "Report L. C.," pars. 17-20,
Conf. Docs .. pp. 231 f.
88,,Report L. C.,M par. 21, Conf. Docs., p. 230.
82 Ibid., p. 78.
81.Rees., D, I, 67 f., 81.
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tanks were necessary in conducting a counter-offensive against an
invader entrenching himself in foreign territory, and affirmed
their increasing usefulness to the defense in the following ca­
pacities: (-1) as support to defending infantry; (2) in fortifica­
tions, as ’’mobile forts” capable of moving up to close breaches
made in the permanent works; (3) as defense against attacking in­
fantry. Hence any discrimination on the basis of weight would
not be justified; heavy tanks could be used offensively, and vice
versa. In fact, if tanks are exposed to anti-tank guns, "it may
toe necessary for their protection, whether passive (armor) or ac­
tive (armament) that their weight should be considerably increased
. . . . without reference to the offensive or defensive character
of such employment.”
Finally, the French delegation declared
that tanks were not dangerous to the civil population.
The problem of armored cars grew directly out of this con­
sideration of the tank question, for the Land Commission found itself unable to distinguish between armored cars and tanks. 84 Af­
ter failing to discover what an armored car is, the Commission at­
tempted to find out whether or not it was an offensive weapon;
but once again was hopelessly divided. The first school of
thought on tanks--that which regarded tanks of all kinds as of­
fensive— subdivided on the matter of armored cars. Hungary, Italy,
Norway, and the Soviet Union thought all such machines offenQC
the United Kingdom, Finland, and Spain thought none of
them was offensive; 86 while another group led by Germany believed
such cars offensive when equipped for use off the roads and on
the battlefield. 87 The second and third groups on the matter of
tanks refused to regard any armored cars as weapons of attack. 88
83”Report L. C.,” par. 22, Conf. Docs., p. 232.
8^"Report L. C.,” par. 8, Conf. Docs., p. 229. This fail­
ure to distinguish between armored cars and-tanks drew from the
delegate of the United States the following comment: "The man in
the street would have no patience with the inability of some
forty technicians to distinguish between two objects which a
child could tell apart, probably by their appearance and cer­
tainly by their performance" (Rees., D, I, 62 f.).
86Ibid., pp. 65, 76, 78.
85 Ibid.. pp. 66, 71, 77 f.
87 Ibid., pp. 68 f., 73 f., 79.
8®"Report L. C.,” par. 26, Conf. Docs., p. 233.
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One special question, connected with both tanks and ar­
mored cars, produced a comic Interlude in the discussions. A sub-,,
committee of experts reported to the Land Commission that conver­
sion "Of peacetime commercial vehicles into tanks or armored cars
was possible, within three weeks in the case of the former and a
week or ten days in the case of the latter; and that in some in­
stances the converted machine would approach genuine armament in
effectiveness. 89 Certain neighbors of the Soviet Union, namely,
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, and Yugoslavia, paid particular
attention to the Soviet tractor industry in the course of this
argument.90 Thus Poland alleged that the annual output of Soviet
tractors had quadrupled since 1951, and that many of the machines
were of fifty or sixty horsepower with tracks similar to those
placed on tanks. 91 In a caustic rejoinder, the Soviet delegate
declared that the machines were designed solely for cultivation.
Wheeled agricultural tractors capable of six kilometers
an hour were the danger . What was the latest Renault tank?
What could be done with the Skoda combined wheeled and
tracked tanks? . . . . Agriculture, not disarmament, was
what the delegations were at Geneva to talk about.9®
The Commission of course reached no decision on the matter; its
Report simply reflects the various shades of opinion.
The Brit­
ish draft, after first reading by the General Commission, provided
that the maximum limit for the unladen weight of a tank shouldbe
fixed at sixteen tons, all heavier machines to be destroyed.
Italy, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, and Prance submitted
amendments or reservations. 95 ^This tentative text accompanied by
numerous exceptions represented the final action of the Confer­
ence on tanks.
Fortifications.--The German delegation requested the
Land Commission to study the possible offensive character of cer96
tain fortifications.
This the Commission declined to do; it
contented itself with reproducing in its Report the German con89Recs., D, I, 124; "Report L. C.,” Appendix 2, No. 5,
Conf. Docs., pp. 239 f.
90Recs.. D, I, 69, 69-81.
91Ibld.. p. 69.
9gIbld.. p. 66.
94wReport L. C.,M pars. 30-34, Conf. Docs., pp. 233 f .
95Prellm. Rep., pp. 168-71.
96Recs.. D, I, 85.
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tentions together with the comments of other nations. Contrast­
ing the French •works with its own demilitarized zone, Germany
maintained that forts were offensive and dangerous to civilians
whenever located so near the frontier as to bring the neighbor­
ing country within the range of their artillery, or so near as to
serve as a base of attack. Further, the offensive power of such
works was increased if the adjacent state had no fortifications,
or only very weak ones. 97 Italy, though considering that forts
were in principle defensive, agreed in the main with the German
position, while the United Kingdom thought that any offensive
value possessed by forts resulted from their guns and personnel,
matters which should be discussed separately.
The French and
Belgian delegates naturally denied the validity of the German
argument. They insisted that forts were situated near frontiers
because vital areas requiring protection were often near the border, and pointed out that forts were useless in surprise, which
was essentia'! to attack, because their location was known. More­
over, offensive operations required invasion of a neighboring
country, and the forts, being fixed, could not be taken along;
but to the defender forts were an important element of resistance.
"Consequently, the more purely defensive are the Intentions of a
country, thei greater the proportion of Its resources that
It devotes to fortresses; and, on the other hand, if its Inten­
tions are aggressive, it will keep almost all its resources for
the field army.
Fortifications were not the subject of any
later consideration by the Conference.
Conclusion.— These technical disagreements over the quali­
tative characteristics of land material evidently reflected the
military doctrines and armament positions of the various coun­
tries . States having an inferior position in the matter of heavy
artillery, whether because of treaty prohibitions as in the case
of Germany, or for budgetary or other Internal reasons as In the
case of Italy, sought to Insure abolition of the heavier guns,
leaving only the lighter categories with respect to which they
occupied a less inferior status and in which they might compete
less expensively. Moreover, a state Inclined toward expansion In
eastern Europe might well wish to remain on the defensive on the
97Ibid., pp. 124 f.
" ibid.. p. 128.
"ibid., p. 126.
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western front. If Prance possessed only light guns, she might
not be able to overcome the western defenses in time to render
adequate assistance to her eastern allies. Other states, such as
the United Kingdom or the United States, neither fearing invasion
nor desiring to use unlimited land operations as an instrument of
policy, occupied an intermediate position. Muta11s mutandis.
similar comments apply to tanks. Prance considered her large
tanks defensive; Britain, with many medium-sized tanks, declared
such machines defensive; Germany, having no tanks, viewed all
such weapons as offensive--and so on through the catalog of na­
tional opinion. The small and "neutral41 states regarded all
heavy artillery and tanks as offensive, fortifications as defen­
sive. In nearly every case the possible use to which the instru­
ments of war might be put in hypothetical, but definite, military
contingencies came clearly into view to determine the replies of
the experts to supposedly purely technical questions .•L0°
Material of Naval Warfare
Perhaps the most Interesting discussion Involving the application of the qualitative idea to specific weapons occurred in
the Naval Commission, which, unlike the other technical groups, <_
openly dealt with the relationship between armaments, policy, and
strategy. The naval specialists considered the question of mari­
time weapons in general and then undertook separate studies of
the possible offensive nature of capital ships, aircraft carriers,
and submarines. But the Commission, perhaps due to its frank
ventilation of dangerous and complicated issues, was unable to
achieve even the! measure of agreement recorded by the other tech­
nical commissions; its Report consists merely of a series of opin­
ions advanced ' the leading maritime powers on the various items
of its agenda
In general.— As previously noted, the American delegation
in the General Commission had carefully limited its specific pro­
posals in the qualitative field to land and air forces, though
Cf. League of Nations, Armaments Year-Book. 1952
(Geneva, 1932); P. de Balia, The New Balance of Power in Europe
(Baltimore, 1932).
^■^"Report N. C.," Conf. Docs., pp. 215 ff.; Rees.. D,
II, 126 ff.
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its argument for the abolition of aggressive armaments was couched
in general terms apparently applicable to all branches of military^.
force. In the Naval Commission, the United States maintained its
security formula, that Is, it insisted that the most important
factor in creating Insecurity was fear of invasion, which was
based on the existence of certain weapons peculiarly adapted to
destroying the. power of national defense .
But the United
States now declared that the offensive-defensive classification
of armaments could not be extended to navies.
There is little similarity or analogy between land and
naval warfare so far as offense and defense are concerned.
The primary element in security is security against inva­
sion and the forcible destruction or usurpation of terri­
torial sovereignty. No nation exercises sovereignty at sea
in a territorial sense. The object of naval warfare is con­
trol of the sea, and this control has to do with commerce.
Whatever its importance or however vital to a nation's eco­
nomic life, the Integrity of ocean-borne commerce cannot
reasonably be compared to the security of its territorial
sovereignty. . . . .
The distinction between '’aggressive" and "defensive"
weapons cannot be applied to naval forces. Naval forces
themselves cannot effect invasion or exercise sovereignty
over enemy territory. On the other hand, they are the
first line of defense against invasion.1*3
Consequently, in the opinion of the American naval experts, the
Commission, in attempting to decide what maritime arms were offen­
sive, should fir81 assume that a country had adopted a policy of
aggression directed toward violation of the territorial sover­
eignty of another state, andcshould then be able to discover what
naval weapons would offer greater advantages to the aggressor
than to ths defender. As will be see.n__again later, the United
States thought that "no naval type can be characterized as
specifically 'offensive.' . . . .Nor can any naval type be said
to be 'efficacious against national defense' Or 'threatening to
civil populations.' "-1-04 This attitude was reiterated by the
American delegation to the London Naval Conference of 1935, Mr.
Norman Davis declaring that "whether any particular type of naval
vessel is offensive or defensive depends entirely upon the use
that is made of it.”105
102Ibid.. p. 26.
10gIbld.. p. 27.
U. S. Department of State, The London Naval Conference.
1935. Conference Series No. 24 (Washington, 1936J, p. 224. Speak­
ing of warships, Mr. Davis also said, wIf they are any good at
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The United Kingdom, though its delegation produced no
elaborate argument parallel to that of the United States, con­
curred, with the possible exception of submarines, in the conclu­
sion "just quoted. Vice-Admiral Pound thus declared that the
qualitative resolution of the General Commission was based on the
idea that recent scientific improvements in armaments had resulted
in giving some weapons a specialized capacity to break down the
defense; but "such developments had not taken place in the naval
sphere.”1®6 At the London Conference of 1935 Admiral Sir Ernie
Chatfield declared that ”it is a recognized fact" that division
of warships into offensive and defensive categories “is wholly
impracticable, and is indeed a problem that baffles solution."1®'7
Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union declared that all
warships of the type prohibited to Germany by the Treaty of Ver10S
sallies were offensive.
In addition, Japan by implication,
and the Soviet Union directly, discovered a relation between the
quantitative nature of a navy and its offensive potentialities,
the U.S.S.R. asserting that large fleets, because of their size,
were better fitted for undertaking operations at a distance from
their home ports and near the coasts of other countries. 109 The
Japanese delegates, after remaining silent through most of the
1932 proceedings, emerged in 1935 as the leading advocates of
qualitative naval dlsarmament, asserting that "offensive weapons
should be reduced to the minimum in favour of essentially defen­
sive weapons, so as to facilitate defense and to render attaok
difficult."11® Prance insisted that all warships were both offen­
sive and defensive "by turns, according to the strategy employed
in a campaign or the tactics adopted in battle, according to
whether they were used for an offensive purpose one day and- a de­
fensive one the next, and vice versa.”111 Therefore the qualita­
all, they are all offensive beyond the three-mile limit” (ibid.,
P. 1 4 0 ) .
106Reos.. D, II, 23.
But cf. infra, pp. 72-75.
3.07The London Naval Conference.
1935. p. 228.
108Recs ., D, II, 24 f., 29 , 40 , 49.109Ibld.. p.
110The London Naval Conference. 1935. p. 96. This would
secure "a state of non-menace and non-aggression among the Powers”
(ibid., p. 63).
111Recs.. D, II, 35.
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tive nature of maritime units depended on whether the state using
them was the aggressor or not. Spain suggested that the noffen- sive character of naval armaments must he determined according to
the destructive power of the arms, the possibility of rapid con­
veyance to the places where they might be used, and the conditions
permitting them to remain at these places for the whole time re112
quired to exert their action."
After these widely differing views had been recorded, the
Naval Commission passed on to a consideration of certain individu­
al units of the fleet. No other organ of the Conference undertook
a general qualitative discussion of navies in broad terms.
Thus the great maritime powers, implying that land arma­
ments were more aggressive than naval weapons, regarded as defen­
sive their use of fleets as instruments of national policy. The
navy as a whole, and every unit in it with the exception of sub­
marines (which tended to disorganize fleet action), were, in their
view, primarily for defense. States with lesser navies could
never be expected to indorse this doctrine; instead they argued
that some warships were offensive, others defensive. And in gen­
eral, the smaller the fleet possessed by a state, the more naval
types that state was eager to assign to the offensive category.
This fundamental divergence of attitude permeated the more spe­
cific discussions of the character of each type of vessel.
Capital ships.--On the question of battleships, the Con­
ference delegations divided into two distinct groups. One bloc,
consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan,
declared that dreadnaughts were not offensive weapons; 113 the op­
posing school of; thought, though differing internally on certain
points, was inclined toward the view that capital ships were in
principle aggressive armament. In 1935 Japan transferred its alleglance from the first to the second group. 114
The argument of the first group began with an assertion
of defensive character. Capital ships were declared to be in112 Ibid.. p. 39.
At the Washington Conference of 1921, both Britain and
the United States Incidentally referred to capital ships as offen­
sive arms. Cf. U . S . Government, Conference on the Limitation of
Armament (Washington, 1922), pp. 100, 570.
The London Naval Conference. 1955. pp. 96, 218 f.
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dispensable components in the national defense of great maritime
powers, due to the peculiar strategic position of such powers;
since, for certain countries, the defensive utility of battle­
ships- thus far overshadowed their offensive potentialities, they
could not be stigmatized as aggressive weapons.
For certain countries having great maritime interests,
vital lines of overseas communication, or long coast-lines
to defend, and which are dependent to a large extent on
their fleets for their security, the capital ship consti­
tutes the essential backbone of their defense forces. 115
Our own fleet, for example, is built around the battle­
ship as the principal type. The category of capital ships
. . . . determines the usefulness of our fleet to meet the
naval necessities imposed upon us by our individual geo­
graphical and political situation.
Abolition of capital ships, then, would deprive the great naval
nations of an absolutely essential, weapon, and would "involve an
entire recast of the theory of naval armament," necessitating an
unacceptable reorganization of fleets.
Moreover, according to this group of states, the capital
ship was not offensive unless it was capable of breaking down na­
tional defense, a feat which could only be accomplished with
battleship participation by preventing a country from obtaining
supplies, or by supporting an invasion. 117 The objective of na­
val warfare, it was true, was control of the sea, a matter associated with commerce.
But battleships were actually "the least
effective and the most inefficient with respect to action against
merchant craft" ; ^ 9 other vessels were employed in blockade and
commerce destruction. In the British view, the effectiveness of
blockade was due to general naval superiority and not to the use
of capital ships; while in addition any weapon, and not alone
blockading vessels, could destroy defensive resistance by exer­
tion of sufficient pressure over a long period of time, so that
mere command of the seas was not a criterion of offensiveness,
and particularly not in relation to the capital ship.
In the
matter of support to invasion, the United States admitted that
1-1 A
115Recs ., D, II, 128.
•^^Statement of the United States, ibid., p. 27.
'iiV i
117Ibid.. p. 46.
118Ibid.. p. 27.
119Ibld.. p. 128.
12QIbld.t p. 46.
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naval power allied with military power might constitute a
threat. If the function of the naval power was to project
the military power beyond the legitimate defensive area of
that power, then naval power would constitute a menace.^21
But the United States, it was pointed out, maintained a small
army, and therefore Its large navy was not an offensive projec­
tion of land strength, the element necessary to occupy and hold
territory. Also, "it should not be forgotten that it was solely
the existence of navies for defensive purposes which had enabled
1 22
certain countries to reduce their land armaments.11
The Brit­
ish delegates dwelt at some length on the disadvantages of the
capital ship when supporting a troop landing in the face of hos­
tile shore batteries, and concluded that since the battleship
would come out second best against coast fortifications, it lacked
capacity to break down national defense.123 Thus the great naval
powers maintained that in the case of capital ships defensive
qualities preponderated, and therefore abolition could not be con­
The "anti-battleship" bloc was not convinced by these
arguments. Prance, favoring proposals designed to restrict the
free use of great fleets, desired reduction of the tonnage and
gun caliber of capital ships. The French delegation, of course,
repeated its formula to the effect that the battleship, in common
with any naval type, could be used in turn for either attack or
defense; 124 but in regard to the largest ships one exception to
this generalization was advanced. Prance had decided that a ves­
sel was specialized for the offensive whenever its cost was ex­
cessive, and whenever It sacrificed protection (armor) in order
to secure greater fighting capacity (speed, radius of action, gun
power) .
The exception was Intended to prove the offensiveness
of the German "pocket battleship,” though the argument remained
on the plane of generality until the German delegate accepted the
challenge and undertook to demonstrate the inherently defensive
character of the Reich’s new vessel. 126 Germany, however, agreed
that the larger warships were offensive, and consequently pro­
posed fixing the maximum size at ten thousand tons and the maxi­
mum gun caliber at eleven inches (the Versailles limits). Ships
121Ibld.. p. 44.
123Ibid., p. 46.
Cf. p. 23
125Ibid., pp. 35 f.
124Ibid., pp. 34-36
126Ibid., pp. 41-43
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larger than this, it was asserted, could overcome the defense be­
cause of their effectiveness in blockade and because of their sup127
port of troop landings.
The Soviet Union supported Germany in
substance. 128 Italy declared that the battleship was aggressive
because it combined maximum protection with maximum striking
power, giving it command of the sea and enabling it to starve the
defense into submission.
The lesser naval powers, then, sup­
ported by the smaller states of the world, viewed the capital
ship as an especially fit subject for application of the qualita­
tive method of disarmament.
Aircraft carriers.— With two exceptions, the lineup of the
delegations on the question of aircraft carriers reproduced the
cleavage existing in the case of capital ships. Thus the United
130 while
and the United Kingdom thought carriers defensive,
Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union found them offensive.
Japan and France were the exceptions? the former viewed these ves132
sels as better adapted to the attack,
the latter regarded them
as aids to defense.
The United States and the United Kingdom pointed out that
the aircraft carrier was a particularly vulnerable type of war­
ship, serving only as an aerodrome from which planes could be
launched. In addition, the United States insisted that these ves­
sels were Ineffective either in controlling commerce or in support­
ing attack on foreign shores in the face of hostile, shore-based
aircraft? that they were not employed independently in a manner
to endanger civilians? and that their sole function consisted of
auxiliary reconnaissance safeguarding the fleet against surprise.
Consequently, according to these delegations, carriers must be retained as useful defensive weapons.
France in a rather ob127Ibld.. pp. 25, 40 f.
128Ibid.. pp. 28, 49.
129Ibld.. pp. 24, 44 f.
150Ibid.. pp. 23, 27, 53, 55 f.j "Report N. C .," Conf.
Docs., p . 219 .
l®^Rees., D, II, 24 f.. 29, 54? "Report N. C.," Conf.
Docs., p. 2& T T
--152Ibld.. p. 221? Rees., D, II, 29 f., 56 f.
153wReport N, c . . " Conf. Docs., p. 220? Rees., D, II.
33 f., 53.
----------134Cf. ibid., pp. 27, 55 f.
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aeure statement declared that whenever a state adopted a policy
of aggression all its carriers were offensive; but otherwise, and
on the further assumption that bombers were to be prohibited, the
aircraft carrier was not especially threatening to national defense or to civilians. 135
Japan led the attack on aircraft carriers. The Japanese
delegation emphasized the mobility of this type and its capacity
for surprise attack, pointing out that its planes could work havoc
far inland, that it increased the number of points to be protected
by the defender, and that it nullified the defensive value of
shore-based aircraft. These vessels were, therefore, more suit1
able for the offense than for the defense.
Some sixteen dele­
gations, including Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union adhered
to these views in substance. 137 Japan continued to press these
views vigorously at the London Naval Conference of 1935. 138
Submarines.— Undersea craft have been the subjects of.
qualitative debate for a longer period of time than any other
weapon. As early as the Washington Conference (1921), Great Brit­
ain condemned the submarine as offensive, while Prance, Italy,
and Japan stressed its defensive qualities. 139 The same cleavage
existed in the London Conference of 1930.
The United States,
though seeking to impose legal restraints on the use of submarines
against merchant shipping, was unwilling to classify them as offensive arms in naval battles prior to the Conference of 1932. 141
At the latter meeting, submersibles were the objects of vigorous
condemnation on the part of a number of delegations, led by the
United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and Germany, while
on the other hand about an equal number of countries, led by
France, Italy, and Japan, regarded the submarine as essentially a
IS^Report N. C ..n Conf . Docs .. p. 220.
1S6Ibld.. p. 221.
157Ibid.. p. 220.
l^^The London Naval Conference. 1955. pp. 175, 218 f.
Conference on Limitation (Washington), pp. 102, 274,
488, 528, 460, 490, 541.
140U. S. Department of State, Records of the London Naval
Conference of 1930, Conference Series, No. 6 (Washington, 1931),
pp. 78-92”!
^ ^ Ibld., passim; Conference on Limitation (Washington) .
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defensive weapon, or at least not necessarily an offensive one.
The United States found the submarine a menace to nationaldefense because of its potentialities in the matter of surprise.
"Of all naval weapons, the submarine is best adapted, by reason
of its specific character, to carry out secret preparations of de­
cisive effect in sudden offensive operations against the naval de142
fense forces of another power.”
But it was on the question of
threat to civilians that the discussion in the Naval Commission
particularly turned, the United States and the United Kingdom be­
ing especially bitter concerning the possible use of the submarine
against merchant vessels in time of war. According to these, dele­
gations, the peculiar construction of submersibles resulted in
their inability to assure the safety of non-combatants in the
course of the exercise of the right of visit and search, a circum­
stance opening the way to incidents and retaliation, and leading
inevitably to the wholesale violation by submarines of the rules
of international law. 143 A distinction was drawn between surface
and undersea vessels in this connection.
The submarine . . . . was subject to exactly the same rules
as were surface ships. What is noteworthy is that the sur­
face ship followed these rules and the submarine did not.
. . . . No rules can alter the inherent limitations of the
submarine....... The fact remains, therefore, that should*
another war unfortunately take place in the future, the
temptation to use the submarine in an inhuman manner will in­
evitably be greater than the temptation so to use surface
Hence the United States and Great Britain joined in declaring
that the submarine fell within the third of the General Commis­
sion’s qualitative criteria, namely, threat to civilians, while
the United States also thought this type specifically offensive,
though the British did not.
The Soviet Union agreed with the
American delegation?
and Germany pointed out the factthat the
Treaty of Versailles had in effect stigmatized submarines as aggressive weapons.147
^4^Conf. Docs., p. 222.
14gRecs.. D, II, 24, 58, 65 f.
144,,Report N. C.," Conf. Docs., pp. 221 f.
146Reos., D,
II, 29; ’’Report N. C.,” Gonf. Docs., p. 225.
147Ibid.. p.
224; Rees.. D, II, 25, 58, 61.
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The French delegation declared that, while undersea ships
were hseful both In attack and defense, their "defensive charac­
ter" was "clearly preponderant," making them "indispensable" for
the protection of certain countries.
Moreover, France, Italy,
and Japan agreed that these boats were especially defensive when
operated by the lesser navies.
By its very existence and by the uncertainty as to the place
and degree of the danger which It constitutes, the submarine
is the best defense of small or medium navies. . . . . Its
abolition would be equivalent to increasing the inequality
between the weak and the strong.149
Italy introduced a conception based on the idea of the interde­
pendence of armaments; the submarine, it was said, was defensive
as long as battleships remained in existence, but if the latter
should be prohibited it would then become offensive in relation
to other less powerful naval types'. Hence Italy suggested the
abolition of both submarines and capital ships.
So far as the
participation of submerslbles in commerce destruction was con­
cerned, France and Italy insisted that undersea boats, being bound
by the same rules governing the operations of surface craft
against merchant vessels, were in exactly the same position. Sub­
marines could be used In a manner contrary to international law
or threatening to civilians, but so could all other vessels; hence
the submarine could not be singled out for discriminatory treat­
ment. It was not possible to draw conclusions from the World War,
the special and illegal use which was then made of submarines re­
sulting from a political and not a technical cause, that is, from
the orders which governments issued to their commanders, and not
from the structural features of the ships themselves, "in these
circumstances, the reproach of inhumanity With regard to noncombatants cannot be adduced against the submarine. **151
Cruisers.— The qualitative nature of cruisers was neg­
lected except by the conferences at Geneva (1927) and London
(1955). At the former meeting, the British delegation maintained
’Report 19. C.,
32 f., 55, 60 f.
Conf. Docs.. p. 225; cf. Rees., D, II,
C.,1* Conf . Docs .. pp. 225 f.
150Ibld.; cf. Rees., D, II, 24, 62.
60 f .
•^51"Report N. C.," Conf. Docs., p. 225; Rees.. D, II,
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that ten-thousand-ton cruisers fitted with eight-inch guns— the
type which the United States desired to build--were enormously
more offensive than the smaller vessels armed with six-inch guns
and favored by the United Kingdom.
To this, the American dele­
gation replied that it could not
but feel that every warship possesses essential offensive
characteristics and that no ship is built for the sole pur­
pose of defending itself against attack. We cannot follow
the reasoning which attributes to 6-inch-gun cruisers a
purely defensive role, We are told that they will police
trade routes and protect British commerce on the sea. But
in order to afford effective defense to British commerce
upon the seas, these cruisers must in time of war effect­
ively deny the sea to others.^-®®
The United States and Britain compromised the cruiser issue in
but at the 1935 conference Japan attacked the large, or
"A Class," cruiser as an offensive arm.
Conclusions.--The stalemate revealed in the Naval Conmission was not terminated by the subsequent Conference proceedings.
The General Commission suggested negotiations outside the Confer­
ence machinery, but these proved unproductive over a period of a
year and a half.
Various proposals having qualitative bear­
ings, and reproducing the national attitudes already noted, were
submitted to the General Commission directly, but were not dis- 157
The British draft convention of March, 1933, which
ignored qualitative naval disarmament, was accepted as the basis
of the future treaty, subject to numerous reservations and amendments. 158 As the chairman of the Naval Commission reported on
March 27, 1934, the last date of any naval discussion in the Con­
ference, "no appreciable changes had occurred in the positions al152Records of the Conference for the Limitation of Naval
Armament (Geneva, 19&7), p . 28.
153Ibid., p. 43.
154Records of the London Naval Conference of 1930. passim.
^ ^ The London Naval Conference. 1955. pp. 218 f.
156'Prelim. Rep., pp. 75-81.
157Conf. Docs., pp. 455 ff., 444, 480} Rees., B, pp. 63135.
158,Prelim. Rep., pp. 173 ff., for text, amendments, and
-A: m
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ready assumed toy the various delegations."1 ^
Such positions had evidently been directly produced by
the maritime situations of the various states. The United States
and Great Britain, with great battle fleets, asserted the defen­
sive character of capital ships and aircraft carriers, but re­
garded the submarine, the principal naval weapon capable of threat­
ening the supremacy of surface sea power, as offensive. Powers
with lesser navie3 took the view that the main components of the
battle fleet were aggressive, but submarines were defensive. On
the sea as well as on the land, technical opinion naturally and
inevitably depended upon politico-strategical estimates, not
solely upon the inherent qualities of naval weapons examined as
things in themselves.
Material of Aerial and Chemical Warfare
During the plenary sessions of the Conference, five states,
including Germany, suggested the abolition of military aircraft,
while eight delegations, including the Italian, proposed restric160
tions upon air bombing or bombers.
The Air Commission, however,
was unable to discover any aerial type which was unqualifiedly of­
fensive; instead it considered military aviation as a homogeneous
whole and produced a Report replete with technical relativity.
Since chemical means of warfare, though dealt with by a separate
committee of the Conference, were generally recognized as con­
stituting a menace principally because of their connection with
the air arm, 161 it is convenient to discuss them here also..
Military aviation.--The Air Commission elaborated a dis­
tinction between the use and the construction of planes, that is,
between the offensive character which certain aerial armaments
might derive from the manner of their employment in war, and the
offensive capacity which might be imparted to them by special
structural features. With respect to the first element, the Com­
mission noted that all air arms, whatever their specialized char­
acteristics, and even Including civil aircraft, could be used "to
160Ibid., p. 80.
159 Ibid., p . 81.
161,League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the
Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Series D. Vol. Ill, Min­
utes of the Air Commission (Geneva, X932), pp. 110, 113 (hereafter cited as Rees., S, III, etc.).
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some extent" for offensive purposes, "without prejudice to their
defensive uses." More especially,
if used in time of peace for a sudden and unprovoked attack,
air armaments assume a particularly offensive character. In
effect, before the state victim of aggression can take the
defensive measures demanded by the situation, or before the
League of Nations or states not involved in the conflict can
undertake preventive or mediatory action, the aggressor state
might in certain cases be able rapidly to obtain military or
psychological results, such as would render difficult either
the cessation of hostilities or the re-establishment of
The Air Commission here appeared to fall in with ‘the "extensive"
interpretation of aggressive weapons;
by implication it es­
poused the view that all air armaments were offensive whenever a
state adopted a policy of armed aggression, and that such arma­
ments were more offensive in proportion as the attack was sudden,
deliberate, and without warning. With respect to the second ele­
ment, namely, structural characteristics, the conception of the
Commission might be summarized by the term "relativity." The of­
fensive efficiency of any particular type of aircraft appeared to
depend on a rather delicate calculation of the relation of the
plane (useful load and radius of action) to the vulnerability of
its objective, the latter factor in turn being directly relative
to the "geographical situation and special conditions of each
Thus the Commission examined the various targets
against which aerial attack might be directed, such as fortifica­
tions, lines of communication, munitions factories, and so forth,
and attempted to state, In terms of useful load of bombs, the
1 flC
type of plane effective against each.
In relation to the
majority of these objectives,' only the larger bombing planes pos­
sessed specialized offensive value, but In the matter of the vi­
tal centers of a country and its civilian population different
conclusions were reached. Aerial aim was said to be inaccurate
against small targets, but if'
the objective attacked is very extensive— In particular,
when air armaments take the oenters of population of a
country as their obJective--precislon of aim becomes less
C.," Part I, Conf. Docs.. p. 245.
163Cf. supra. pp. 45 ff.
164"Report A. C.," Part II, Conf. Docs., p. 246
165Ibid.. pp. 247 ff.
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necessary, and even aircraft of low power but in large num­
bers may prove effective owing to the moral, if not the ma­
terial, results which they can obtain.........In general,
this action may be all the greater, the smaller the country
attacked and the denser its population, or if the vital cen­
ters are situated near the frontier........ All aircraft,
without alterations of any kind, and whatever their tonnage,
may constitute danger to civilians, whether used directly to
attack civilians or against military objectives situated in
densely populated areas ,166
The Commission therefore concluded that while all air armaments
were to some degree offensive, those planes permitting bombard­
ment of vital centers were especially effective against national
defense and especially menacing to civilians. Because of its Inability to define bombers, 167 however, the Commission was unable
directly to stigmatize bombing planes as offensive weapons, so
that those states favoring the abolition of bombing from the air
had to be content with condemnation by means of a circumlocu­
Though the Air Commission secured fairly general agree­
ment on its main conclusions, several Important dissents were re­
corded. The German delegation insisted that all aerial armaments,
without any distinction as to type or category, were offensive,
especially in relation to a country which had been forbidden to
acquire any means of defense, either on the ground or in the air,
against attack by planes. The refusal of the Commission to in­
clude in Its Report reference to the special situation of coun­
tries bound by the Treaties of Peace led Austria, Bulgaria, Hun1gQ
gary, and Germany to decline to accept any of the findings.
The Soviet delegation, also regarding all military aircraft as
offensive, was especially annoyed by the Commission's relativity;
it declared that references to geographical situation* special
circumstances, atmospheric conditions, and other factors were an
166Ibld.. pp. 247, 249.
It was pointed out by some delegations that the same
planes were used for both bombing and scouting operations (Rees.,
D, III, 35) .
1®®The circumlocution; "The aircraft ... . . that may be
regarded as mo9t efficacious against national defense are those
which are capable of the most effective direct action by the drop­
ping or launching of means of warfare of any kind" (Conf. Docs.,
p. 246).
169Ibid., pp. 249, 252 f .
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attempt to divert the discussion from its proper channels
Italy, Belgium^ Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland thought it possible to state definitely, in terms.
of size and technical characteristics, what planes were offen171
sive .
The Netherlands delegate in particular insisted that
bombers were specifically offensive.
The strategic principle that the chief elements of effective
offense were surprise and the possibility of swift concentra­
tion of forces at a given spot, was only too well known.
Bombing aircraft possessed these qualities in the highest
possible degree. The eminently offensive nature of such air­
craft was generally recognized.172
On the other hand, twenty delegations, including those of Prance,
Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, even voted for
insertion in the Report of a statement to the effect that those
air armaments most efficacious against national defense, namely,
craft suitable for bombing, might also be most effective for defensej but twenty-two delegations voted against this proposal. 1*73
Finally, it should be noted that the United States and Great Brit­
ain objected to the assertion, placed in the Report at the behest
of Japan, that the offensive character of planes carried on air­
craft carriers was increased by the mobility of the carriers.
According to the American delegation, the factor of "capability
of arriving at an objective" had already been considered in rela­
tion to all planes, hence special mention of carrier-based air174.
craft resulted in counting their mobility twice.
Civil aviation.— The Conference also considered the pos­
sible offensive character of civil aviation. In fact, the Confer­
ence organizations concerned with the air devoted most of their
time to discussing the perils of commercial planes, to the neglect
of military machines. 175 The argument of those delegations which
insisted upon including civilian aircraft in any attempt to identii
fy aggressive
armaments might be summarized as follows: 176 Material
170Ibid., pp. 255 f .
171Ibld.. pp. 253 ff.
172Recs., D, III, 34.
17®"Report A. C.," Conf. Docs., p. 250.
Ibid.; cf. Rees.. D, III, 36-38.
Cf. ibid.. pp. 93-116, 313 ff.; Prelim. Rep., pp. 87 f.
176Cf. Rees., D, III, 108, 112.
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employed in the various civil aviation services can be rapidly
adapted to effective military use, except that commercial planes
are not suitable for fighter or pursuit services, since these de­
mand special features in the way of ceiling, climbing speed, acro­
batic flying, and so on, not found in civil craft. But the mili­
tary activity to which civil planes are not readily adaptable,
namely, pursuit, is essentially defensive, while those war serv­
ices in which commercial machines are especially useful, such as
bombing, are primarily offensive. ”lt may be affirmed, then,
that the military use of civil aviation material is more effica­
cious for offensive than for defensive purposes in the air."'*'77
Limitation of air armament, the argument continued, would only
serve to enhance the offensive value of civil aviation; more espe­
cially, those countries having better military than civil air­
craft could not agree to surrender the former, containing defen­
sive elements, and thus place themselves at the mercy of another
country's highly developed commercial fleets adaptable to the of­
fensive. Since it was admittedly impossible to limit the develop­
ment of commercial flying, this point of view urged that such fly­
ing must be internationalized, that is, either managed or con­
trolled by an international authority which would guard against
adaptation to national military uses. The delegations of Prance,
Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, and Yugo17a
slavia supported the essential portions of this point of view.
Certain other states naturally found these arguments un­
impressive. Thus the United States and Canada emphasized the re­
gional character of the question and expressly excepted the North
American continent from any scheme of internationalization. 179
Germany, though admitting that civilian planes might be valuable
as an adjunct to, or in the absence of, military aviation, in­
sisted that commercial machines were of no war value to a country
which had been unilaterally forbidden to have a military air force.
The Reich regarded the problem as one of preventing the adaptation
of civilian planes to war purposes, and urged that the rules im­
posed upon Germany with this object in view would be sufficient
177Ibld.. p. 112.
178Ibld.. pp. 93-97, 101 ff., 106-09, 112 ff.; Prelim,
Hep.. p . 89 .
179Recs., D, III, 106, 110.
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f :
| '
[ -: I
: :I
K~‘ I
also for disarmament.'*'®® The Soviet Union agreed with this dec181
.Great Britain also thought the important question
was'that of demilitarizing civil aviation, but was prepared, with
some reluctance, to discuss internationalization.
Action of the Conference.— 'Paced by the two conflicting
opinions revealed in the Air Commission, one strongly advocating
the abolition of bombing aircraft, the other maintaining that for
technical reasons such a step was impossible, the General Commis­
sion fell back upon the expedient of framing rules for the con­
duct of hostilities. Thus the general resolution of July 23,
1932, concluding the ’’first phase” of the Conference, provided
that "air attack against the civilian population shall be absolutely prohibited," and that "all bombardment from the air
shall be abolished," subject to measures to be agreed upon for
rendering such abolition effective. These measures were to in­
elude a quantitative and qualitative limitation of military
planes international regulation of commercial machines. 183
The British draft convention of March, 1933, provided for the
abolition of bombing from the air except for police purposes in
outlying regions;for study of the question of abolition
of military aviation and internationalization of civil aviation by a
permanent commission; and for abolition of war planes exceeding
three tons in unladen weight.1®4 These articles passed through
the General Commission in a first reading, but subject to so many
reservations, particularly on the part of the supporters of inter183
nationalization, as to deprive them of virtually all force.
Meanwhile the Air Commission had caused a subcommittee to produce
i og
rules for preventing the military use of civil machines;
the General Commission discharged the Air Commission and appointed
an Air Committee.
The latter immediately became entangled in the
question of civil aviation, and disbanded in 1933 at the insist187
ence of the United States, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan.
A Rapporteur for Air Questions was next appointed; he confined
180Ibid., pp. 98 f.
181Ibid., p. 99.
182Ibld.. p. 105.
1830onf. Docs., p. 269.
184Ibid.. pp. 485-88.
Prelim. Rep., pp. 180 ff.; Rees., B, pp. 529-46.
186Recs .. D, III, 513 ff.
187Prellm. Rep., pp. 87 f.
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himself to reporting that no progress could be made because of
the increasing, tendency of certain states to view the air problem
as an integral part of general political or naval conditions.
The General Commission attempted in June, 1934, to revive the Air
Committee, but the latter refused to meet.
No further action
has been taken; thus the air negotiations of the Conference broke
The chemical arm.--Only a limited portion of the Confer­
ence discussion of chemical armaments is relevant to the question
of offensive weapons. The Special Committee on Chemical and Bac­
teriological Weapons, after noting that chemical substances ".can
be described as weapons of warfare only in virtue of the use that
is made of them," unanimously reported that when utilized for the
injury of an adversary such substances were most threatening to
civilians, a fact which justified their Inclusion in qualitative
disarmament. A majority of the members of this commission were
also of the opinion that chemical warfare was specifically offen­
sive, but a number of delegates insisted that it was invaluable
to the defense as well as to the offense. The Committee also de­
cided that bacterial methods were threatening to noncombatants,
as well as revolting to "the conscience of humanity"; that incen­
diary shells menaced civilians; and that flame-throwers caused
needless suffering. Therefore it recommended adoption of a rule
of international law forbidding the use in war of chemical sub­
stances, and suggested that Incendiary projectiles, flame-throwers
and all appliances specially designed for chemical or bacterial
warfare be abolished and prohibited. 190 In a second study, made
at the request of the Bureau, 191 the Special Committee proposed
that all preparations for chemical, incendiary, and bacterial war­
fare be prohibited in time of peace as in time of war, but that
this ban not include devices or training intended to protect
against these forms of hostilities. In addition, the Committee
188League of Nations, Records of the Conference for the
Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Series C, Minutes of the
lureau (Geneva. 1955-56}. p. 19*7 (hereafter cited as Rees.. 'C.
etc .)• Conf. Docs., pp. 878 ff.
Rees.. B, pp. 681 ff.; Conf. Docs., p. 904.
190»pep0rt Chem.," No. 1, Conf. Docs., pp. 210-15.
191Recs .. C, pp. 10-12.
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recommended sanctions against a state violating its undertakings
la regard to the’ use of gas.
Finally, in a third report the
Committee declared that no effective means existed for supervision
of the preparation of defensive material, or for enforcement of
the prohibition against chemical warfare. A ban on the manufac­
ture of substances would be of limited value, since any state
with a chemical industry could improvise the means of chemical
warfare, and there were no appliances employed exclusively for
such warfare.
The British draft convention, read a first time
by the General Commission, provided for prohibition of the use in
war of chemical, bacterial, or incendiary methods. All prepara­
tion for such warfare was forbidden in time of peace, except that
the right to experiment with gas defense was recognized. Super­
vision of these provisions was intrusted to a permanent commis­
sion, and the right of reprisal in case of violation was ad194
No further action was taken by the Conference.
The Disarmament Conference, though unanimously embracing
qualitative disarmament in principle, found it Imperative to de­
cide at the outset, before any definitive treaty could be con- >
eluded, first, what was meant by the qualitative method; secondly,
whether offensive weapons should be abolished or internationalized;
thirdly, whether a qualitative regime should be applied equally
or unequally; fourthly, what were the criteria for recognizing an
offensive arm; and finally, in specific terms what weapons were
offensive. The Conference was not successful in concluding inter­
national agreements bearing definitely upon these points. It did,
however, record a kind of consensus regarding the offensive char­
acter of certain armaments. The majority of states represented
agreed at one time or another, and in a general way, that heavy
mobile artillery, large tanks, capital ships, aircraft carriers,
submarines, bombing aircraft, and chemical and bacteriological
means were offensive, either because they were effective in break­
ing down national defense, or because they were particularly in­
jurious to civilians. Such an agreement did not, however, ap­
1920onf. Docs., pp. 370 ff.
19gIbid.. pp. 448 ff.
194Ibid., pp. 488 ff.
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proach unanimity, for a considerable minority of states insisted
that every weapon included in the above list, except the chemical ..
arm, was defensive. And in every case this minority included one
or more of the Great Powers. In fact, the majority against each
of the armaments named was assembled because the small powers were
numerous and were eager for a maximum of disarmament, a step which
mould better guarantee their independence than an armed peace.
Since such states could not hope to attain security by building
up their own armaments, they sought to reduce the armaments of
the Great Powers which might endanger such security. To this bloc
of small states was added In each Instance Great Powers who for
one reason or another were inferior in some armament to rivals,
or who were displeased with certain weapons which threatened to
disorganize to some degree their own organization of force. The
minority urging the defensive nature of the weapons in the above
list included, or perhaps was exclusively composed of, states with
obvious special interests. But these interests could not be ig­
nored, when disarmament always depended upon those who had the
armaments, and not upon those— usually a majority--who did not
have the armaments. Hence the situation at the Disarmament Con­
ference almost automatically precluded a disarmament convention
of a qualitative character. But from the standpoint of impartial
observation, as distinct from practical manipulation, it is pos­
sible to extract from the situation a tentative conclusion to the
effect that the weapons In the above list are the more offensive.
It is then necessary to turn to military theory in an attempt to
discover whether, and to what extent, this tentative conclusion
is warranted by that body of knowledge and speculation.
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Despite prolonged international negotiations utilizing
the services of military experts no less than those of diplomat­
ists, the Disarmament Conference of 1932 pursued with limited suc­
cess answers to the queries: what is an offensive armament? how
may it be defined in general terms and specifically identified?
But this search for the elusive formula was not, as we have seen,
completely objective or disinterested; technicians as well as
statesmen were representatives of particular national states. As
such, they tended inevitably to stigmatize as aggressive those
weapons which a potential enemy might employ effectively against
their own forces, and to excuse as defensive powerful armaments
having a vital role in their own national military plans.1 Where,
then, is objectivity to be sought? Is it possible to turn to the
writers on military strategy, to those professional students of
the art of war who have attempted through centuries of observa­
tion and practice to grasp the principles of victory and to state
them in generalized form? At first glance, here, if anywhere, a
species of technical objectivity lacking in diplomatic negotia­
tion might be anticipated; the military strategists, writing, in a
pre-disarmament era, were Interested not so much in out-trading a
prospective opponent as in educating future commanders in the art
of winning wars, 2 hence they might be expected to consider the of­
fensive or defensive potentialities of armaments with a high de­
gree of detachment. This detachment is, of course, strictly
limited in scope. The plea of Clausewltz for a national strategy
1Sugra, chap. ill.
2Military theory, however, »
"does not pretend to give the
power of conduct in the field; it claims no more than to Increase
the effective power of conduct" (Julian S. Corbett, Some Prin­
ciples of Maritime Strategy [new ed.; London, 1918], p . 2).
Karl von Clausewltz, On War. trans. Col. J. J. Graham
(3 vols., rev. ed.; London, 19I8J . This work, the foundation and
Ais;- ;
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was not forgotten; the most abstract of theorists was still a mem­
ber of a particular state, and usually among the most ardent of
patriots. Both the classical strategist and the expert attending
the Disarmament Conference were interested in achieving victory
for the countries which they represented, the former by gaining
advantages in the actual employment of military force, the latter
by securing negotiated advantages in the peacetime balancing of
power customarily preceding overt violenoe. But the latter neces­
sarily became an advocate presenting an ex parte case, while the
former was impelled to somewhat greater freedom in the search for
truth. On balance, then, and despite its limitations, the pro­
posal to survey the writings of the military strategists in an
effort to discover a more objective solution to the riddle of of­
fensive weapons would appear to hold forth interesting possi­
At the outset, however, it is desirable to enter further
reservations and to note the necessity of an indirect approach.
It is difficult to search traditional military writings for an un­
equivocal and direct answer to the question of what is offensive
armament, for strategic theory does not, as the layman might sup­
pose, devote any considerable space to an extended discussion of
the various weapons of warfare, their characteristics and poten4
tialities. 'The classical treatment of armed forces proceeds
from a different basis; it attempts to formulate an abstract con­
ception of the inner nature of war, and to compress the essence
of successful warlike activity into a few generalized principles
or elements.
The Offensive and the Defensive
An answer to the qualitative question must, then, be
sought indirectly. Since military theory does devote considerable
attention to distinguishing between the offensive and defensive
as forma of hostilities, it is relevant to turn to this material
In order to note the abstract characteristics ascribed to these
starting point of modern theories on war, first appeared as Vom
Krlege in 1832, and was first translated into English in 1873.
4For example, the work of Clausewltz, op. cit.. contains
more than a thousand pages, but not more than a dozen direct ref­
erences to weapons.
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differing modes of waging war, and In order to determine the re­
lationship, if any, existing between this particular aspect of
strategic thought and the problem of offensive-defensive weapons.
~ The political theory of war.— In the generally accepted
view, any consideration of the offensive and the defensive must
begin with the political theory of war. This theory maintains
that war in the broadest sense of the term Is fundamentally an
instrument of national policy, a relation between states differ­
ing from other relations only with respect to the character of
the means employed to achieve desired ends; as Clausewltz remarked
war is a continuation of political intercourse with a mixture of
non-political means. s At first glance, this formula may appear
too obvious to be enlightening. But from such a conception, de­
veloped relatively late In the history of military thought, flows
a whole series of Important principles relating to the nature of
war. Since military and naval operations are merely the means
utilized to realize policy, the first necessity of a proposed line
of conduct in war is that the means adopted conflict as little as
possible with the political conditions which called forth hostili­
ties. While in practice accommodation and reciprocity will in­
evitably be the rule as between the political and the military ex­
igencies, policy is supreme. The military commander would natu­
rally be entitled to demand that the objects of policy should not
be incompatible with the capacity of the military instruments to
achieve those objects; the political heads of the state, on the
other hand, are equally entitled to require that military action
be regarded as merely a manifestation of policy and remain subg
ordinate to It. More concretely, we may envisage a military
staff requested to prepare a plan of war against another state.
First of all, of course, such a staff would seek an answer to
certain questions: what is the war about? is the enemy likely to
attempt to take something from us, or will we seek to deprive him
of something? do we aim at the complete overthrow of our adver­
sary, or will certain lesser checks than complete destruction of
5Clausewitz, op. cit.. I, 23; III, 121.
Ibid., Ill, 124-27. Apparently, however, the current
German philosophy of "totalitarian war" requires that policy be
subordinate to military considerations (cf. General Erich Ludendorff, The Nation at War, trans. A. S. Rappoport [London, n.d.],
PP. 9 4 f . ) .
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his political and military power be sufficient? In short, the
military authorities might ask,
What is the policy which your diplomacy is pursuing, and
where, and why,, do you expect it to break down and force
you to take up arms? The staff has to carry on in fact
when diplomacy has failed to achieve the object in view,
and the method they will use will depend on the nature of
that object. So we arrive crudely at our theory that war
is a continuation of policy, a form of political inter­
course in which we fight battles instead of writing notes.”
This political conception of war is not as old as stra­
tegic thought; it was not until the beginning of the nineteenth
century that it was fully elaborated by Clausewltz and to a lesQ
ser extent by Jomini. It is often said that until the politi­
cal theory of war came to be emphasized, no broad theoretical
basis existed to permit -evaluation of the many well-worked-out
details, or to enable the separation of the constant from the
temporary factors in warfare.
The wars of the French Revolution
and Napoleon, and the contemporary period of speculative activity
produced the new .formulas. Napoleon’s methods appeared to give
war an entirely new aspect; it was no longer a question of pro­
longed maneuver or methodical thrust and parry between profes­
sional armies, but rather rta headlong rush of one nation in arms
upon another, each thirsting for the other's life, and resolved~
to have it or perish in
the attempt.
Although the assumption
that these developments were entirely new was not strictly accu­
rate, so great was the shock produced by the Napoleonic tactics
that the earlier examples were forgotten or ignored.^ General
Karl von Clausewltz, in attempting to explain the phenomena of
the Napoleonic era, presented-a political theory of hostilities
based upOn the relations central to the abstract objective of war
He began with the idea of war as
an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to ful­
fil Jour will......... In order to attain this object fully,
Corbett, op. clt.. p. 14. The last sentence of the quo­
tation is a paraphrase of Clausewltz, op. clt.. Ill, 130.
Baron de Jomini, Precis de l.1art de la guerre (Paris,
1838), pp. 42-90.
9Corbett, op. clt.. p. 14.
10Ibid.. p. 15.
H rCf. Basil Henry Liddell Hart, The Ghost of Napoleon
(New Haven, 1934).
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the enemy must be disarmed, and disarmament becomes there­
fore the immediate object of hostilities in theory.1
If this idea be followed to its extreme, 15 the act of violence
must .be directed against the enemy's main forces with the utmost
possible energy, for .
he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the
bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his ad­
versary uses less vigor in its application.
To introduce into the philosophy of war itself a prin­
ciple of moderation would be an absurdity
This was the concept of "absolute” war, the kind of war Napoleon
had supposedly taught, or re-taught, Europe. But Clausewltz im­
mediately qualified these theoretical extremes, noting that in
actual practice war did not always reach the ultimate position
postulated for it in theory.
The probabilities of real life take the place of the concep­
tions of the extreme and the absolute. In this manner the
whole act of war is removed from the rigorous law of forces
exerted to the utmost.
The political object now reappears.15
Clausewltz apparently saw that while war in the Napoleonic period
had approximated his idea of the "absolute" war, wars in other
eras had been different. He decided that the energy and intensity
of the national effort would always be modified by political con1g
aiderations, that Is, by the object of the war.
.Tomini at the
Clausewltz, op. clt., I, 2.
Ibid.. I, 6: "Thus reasoning in the abstract, the mind
cannot stop short of an extreme, because it has to deal with an
extreme, with a conflict of forces left to themselves and obey­
ing no other but their own Inner laws.”
14Ibid., X, 2, S.
15Ibld.. I, 10, 11.
This led to the distinction which Clausewltz made be­
tween "absolute" (or "-unlimited”) and "limited" objectives in
war. In the "absolute” form, the immediate object of a state's
military effort is the overthrow and complete destruction of the
enemy's power, for nothing short of this Is presumed to be suffi­
cient for attainment of the political purposes which Induced such
a state to take up arms. In the "limited form, on the other
hand, one party seizes some desired object by means of a rapid
offensive, and then remains on the defensive, in possession of
such object, in the expectation that the other side will grow
tired of the war, or will not dispose of offensive strength ade­
quate to re-take the seized possession (op. clt., Ill, 87 ff.) .
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same time independently reached approximately the same conclusions
by a different process of reasoning. In his final work he classi­
fied wars into nine categories according to their political objects7 and noted that the character of the military operations
would be profoundly affected by the nature of the ends to be at­
tained.17 War was, in fact, a means of securing political values,
a "real political instrument," a "continuation of policy by other
Offensive and defensive In principle.— If the political
theory of hostilities, with its decided emphasis upon the basic
national object of the war, has been discussed at some length in
the present inquiry, the reason lies in the fact that it is from
this conception of war that the military philosopher's classifi­
cation of warlike activity Into offensive and defensive springs.
It Is essential, however, first of all to discriminate between
several "levels of analysis," namely, policy, operations, and.In­
struments. The broadest concept, the theory of war in general
(hereafter referred to in this chapter as "grand strategy"), re­
lates to the employment of military violence for realization of
the objectives of foreign policy. A second level embraces two
subdivisions: strategy more narrowly defined, that Is, the theory
of directing armed forces within the theater of operations toward
the more immediate military goals; and tactics, or the theory of
the actual combat with the enemy formations. The third level has
to do with armaments, or the instruments with which operations
are carried on; this level Is primarily a matter of tactics, but
requires special mention in the present study for the purposes of
emphasis and clarity. These distinctions must be kept in mind
because military thought frequently regards some aspect of war­
like activity as defensive on one level of analysis, offensive on
another, and vice versa. However, military thought concerns It­
self in the main with the first two levels, and only incidentally
170p . clt.. pp. 42-90.
18Clausewitz, op. clt., I, 23. Cf. Friedrich von Bernhardi. On War of Today, trans. Karl von Donat (2 vols.; New York,
1914) and fhe'War of the Future in the Light of the Lessons of
the World War. trans. F. A. itolt (New York, 1921); Ferdinand Foch,
The Principles of War. trans. J. de Marinnl (New York, 1918);
Colmar von der Goltz, The Conduct of War, trans. Joseph T. Dickman (Kansas City, Mo., 1896); Sir F. Maurice, Principles of
Strategy (New York, 1930); Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, National
Policy and Naval Strength (London, 1928).
Safe'.. ■
, .x, ,
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sheds light on the third.
In the theory of grand strategy, the offensive or defen­
sive character of a state's military operations is regarded as de­
pending on whether the object of the war for that state is posi­
tive or negative; if the aim is positive, if the desire is to
wrest something from the enemy, the action is aggressive; if the
intent is negative, if we merely seek to prevent the enemy taking
something from us, the war is defensive.
We must not forget that war is born of politics and serves
to continue it....... A nation which in its historical de­
velopment has arrived at a state of rest, or even is in a
decline, will not be politically aggressive, and will only
go to war when forced into it. A natural result of this is
that it will generally await the attack........ Vigorously
ambitious nations and states, on the contrary, do not lack
positive purposes, in the pursuit of which they become po­
litically aggressive. . . . . Such things, however, can
only be obtained by a strategical offensive; for if we wait,
the opponent will certainly not bring them to us
Or as the matter is put by a modern naval strategist;
A "defensive" policy is one of non-interference in the af­
fairs of other nations, and of security for that which one
possesses; and an "aggressive" policy is one of interfer­
ence in other nations' affairs or of taking--whatever or
however justifiable the claims of necessity may appear to
be--8omethlng which another nation or nations possess.
In other words, the aggressor is regarded as that state which
seeks by the use of violence to change the status quo, to revolu­
tionize the existing political equilibrium, to alter a prevailing
distribution of prestige, possessions, and power.
This is an abstract method of analysis containing two ele­
ments; one is that of political intent or object; the otherj that
of the overt use of armed force. The latter alone is not stifficient to warrant application of the term "aggressive”; from, the
point of view of grand strategy, strategy, and tactics, violence
may be emplqyed either offensively or defensively, and while it
.must be employed before the other half of the conception (that is,
political intent) can become significant, it is the subjective
element of psychological intention, or the motivated object for
which war was undertaken, which really governs the definition.
Do the national formulators of policy take up arms in order to
Goltz, op. clt.. pp. 33 f.
Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, Sea Power in the Modern
World (Hew York. 1934), p. 28.
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retain? Then they are defending. Do they resort to force in oro\
der to acquire? Then they are attacking.
The difficulties of applying this idea to actual circumstances are apparent. Military
thought recognizes these difficulties, but, on the basis of its
first premises, persists in the formulation and finds it useful
despite qualifications or exceptions. Needless to say, the mili­
tary theorist uses the term "offensive" without any connotation
of moral or ethical opprobrium; neither the aggressive actions of
states, nor strategical offensives, nor the weapons of attack,
are regarded as "bad," or immoral, or unjust. Usually, if the
subject is broached at all, an attitude of moral neutrality is as­
sumed toward the varying forms of hostilities; or, alternatively,
a conclusion somewhat as follows is reached: since the strategic
offensive is ultimately the only effective method of winning a
war, whether a state's object in such war is positive or nega­
tive-^ common assumption in military thought--and since it is
the duty of the commander to achieve victory, taking up the
strategic offensive at some stage of the operations becomes for
such commander the highest ethical obligation.
While the general objective of a state's military opera­
tions is thus the governing standard of reference by which the
offensive or defensive character of its part in the war is deter­
mined, another and subsidiary criterion, logically related to the
abstract conception of the objective, is added. This criterion
considers the action taken in pursuit of the objective in terms
of degree of movement toward the armed forces, territory, or pos­
sessions of the enemy. Thus a forward movement for the purpose
of taking possession of the objects of the war as determined by
the political circumstances from which it springs is the normal
sign of the strategic offensive, while a condition of relatively
immobile waiting, of expectancy, is the characteristic mark of
the strategic defensive. In fact, Clausewltz declares that the
idea of war does not originate with the offensive, because that
"form has for its absolute object, not so much fighting as the
Cf. Clausewltz. op. clt., Ill, 215: In political lan­
guage, a defensive war is one which a state carries on to main­
tain its Independence."
22Cf. Graham in translator's Preface to Clausewltz, op.
clt.. I, vi-x; Bernhardi, War of Today, II, 454.
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taking of possession of something .,,2s The notion of fighting, of
hostilities, has its inception in the defense, which interposes
itself between the invader and his objective, and waits; natu­
rally, the invader will deliver blows in order to rid himself of
this obstacle, and hence the defense will be found in an attitude
of expectancy, awaiting the blows of the aggressor.
What is defense in conception? The warding off a blow.
What is then its characteristic sign? The state of expect­
ancy (or of waiting for this blow). This is the sign by
which we always recognize an act as of a defensive charac­
ter, and by- this sign alone can the defensive be distin­
guished from the offensive in war. 4
Referring to the first two of the three levels of analysis men­
tioned above, Clausewltz continues:
In tactics every combat, great or small, is defensive if we
leave the initiative to the enemy, and wait for his appear­
ance on our front......... [In policy and in strategy) the
defensive remains that which it was in tactics. 5
Obviously this subsidiary criterion, movement, is of a more objec­
tive nature than the element of intention, but, as indicated la­
ter, strategic theory brings forward reservations. In particular,
it is insisted that offensive movements.on the level of operations
cannot necessarily be considered evidence of aggressive intention
on the level of policy.
Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan combines these two criteria,
intention and movement, into one succinct characterization of the
I here use the word aggressive in no invidious or condemna­
tory sense, but in that neutral moral significance which in­
heres in its derivation, of motion towards an end to be at­
tained, or a something needed— a phase of the world-wide
struggle between the haves and the have-nots.27
While intent and movement are therefore the fundamental
norms for the distinction between offense and defense, certain
auxiliary criteria frequently emerge in terms of the relative
advantages enjoyed by each form of action. Thus the defense Is
89,Clausewltz, op. cit.. II, 166.
24.Ibid., II, 133, 149. Cf. Goltz, op. clt.. p. 28;
Alfred T . Mahan, Naval Strategy Compared and Contrasted with the
Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land (London.
— -----------lSl'l), p. 278.----26Infra. pp. 94 ff
86,Clausewltz, op . cit.. II, 135.
27Some Neglected Aspects of War (Boston, 1907), p. 69.
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said to be superior with respect to the tremendous fire-power of
modern automatic weapons; the possibility of securing greater sup­
port from geographical features (including entrenchments and for­
tifications); and economy of effort, the latter arising from the
assumption that attack is more exhaustive of the resources of the
belligerent using it than is defense. On the other hand, the ad­
vantages of attack include such elements as concentration, sur­
prise, mobility, and morale. The assailant is able to mass supe­
rior force at the decisive point selected in advance; to spring
suddenly upon his adversary; to make use of the delay of the de­
fense in improvising counter-measures; to utilize more freely
such factors as the threat from several quarters, maneuver, and
envelopment; and lastly, to sustain effectively the morale of his
From the point of view of weapons, the more interest­
ing elements in this series are those of surprise and mobility,
since both are characteristics of the offensive which might result
from the mechanical implements of hostilities. The more particu­
lar bearing which these factors, as well as those of intent and
movement, have upon the possibility of distinguishing between of­
fensive and defensive in relation to specific weapons is discussed
Qualification of the principle.— Although military thought
in the first analysis thus discriminates sharply between the of­
fensive and the defensive in the abstract, immediately upon push­
ing the inquiry onejstage deeper it begins to qualify the preci­
sion and clarity of the distinction. It is only as a broad con­
ception that this classification on the basis of the political
objective has value; it must "not be pushed by pure logic to ex­
treme conclusions out of touch with the events of history. Stra­
tegic theory here reverts to the three levels of analysis noted
above, policy, operations, and instruments. 29 It is true that in
the majority of wars the belligerent with the positive object on
the level of national policy has normally resorted to the offen­
sive with respect to strategy, tactics, and weapons; while the
side with the negative political purpose has acted generally on
^®Cf. Goltz, op. clt.. pp. 36-39, 43-45, 50-55, 58-60;
Mahan, Naval Strategy, pp. 277 ff ., 295 f.; Bernhardi, War of
Today. II, 1-32.
Richmond, Sea Power. p. 209.
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the defensive at the strategic, tactical, and instrumental levels. 30 But this is not necessarily the case always and every­
where; a trend toward attack or defense at one level does not invariably require a similar trend on the other levels. 31 A state
with a revisionist foreign policy will likely be compelled, of
course, to adopt the offensive line in strategy, tactics, and
weapons, because it is considered improbable that a status-quo
state will bring to such an aggressor the things which, by hy­
pothesis, the former controls and the latter seeks to acquire .
Nevertheless, in order to be successful at the point selected as
decisive, the aggressor must utilize defensive strategy in other
zones, in order to guarantee the security of the main action.
The "principle of security," a fundamental tenet, requires that
the offensive include a supporting defense.
For the classification "offensive and defensive" implies
that the offensive and defensive are mutually exclusive
ideas, whereas the truth is, and it is a fundamental truth
of war, that they are mutually complementary. All war and
every form of it must be both offensive and defensive. No
matter how clear our positive aim nor how high our offen­
sive spirit, we cannot develop an aggressive line of
strategy to the.full without the support of the defensive
on all but the main lines of operation....... And even
when it comes to men and material, we know that without a
certain amount of protection neither ships, guns nor men
can develop their utmost energy and endurance in striking
power. ~. . . . So also with defense. Even in its most
legitimate use, it must always be supplemented by attack.®®
Thus military thought breaks the war down into a series of thea­
ters, zones, and individual operations, and the attitude of a
belligerent toward any member of this series may differ, with ref­
erence to the offensive-defensive polarity of its objective and
movement, from the general trend fixed by his main war plan.
Even more forcible, however, is the dictum that the offen­
sive alone gives victory; the maximum result of the defense is
merely stalemate. Hence the strategists are agreed, almost withSOCorbett, op. clt.. p. 27; Goltz, op. clt., pp. 32-35.
S1Ibid., pp. 29 f.
Cf. ibid., p. 65; Maurice, op. clt., pp. 158 ff.
Corbett, op. clt.. p. 26. Gf. Mahan's reference to
"the fundamenta 1 principle of all naval war, that defence is in­
sured only by offence" (quoted by H. Rosinski, "Command of the
Sea," Brassey's Naval Annual. 1959 (London, 1939], p. 85).
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exception, that even that country which is in general acting
on the defensive must at some stage of the war pass to the offen- „
sive in order to avoid defeat.34
But once war is decided upon, whether in purpose defensive
or offensive, it is only by offensive action that a favor­
able decision will be obtained. History presents no single
example of mere passive defense achieving final victory.^5
It might be objected that a state which takes up arms in order to
preserve, one with a negative political object, would have reached
its goal, that is, achieved victory, if it were merely successful
In warding off the blows of the enemy and preventing him from
carrying out his aggressive designs. If the logic of the politi­
cal conception of war be followed rigorously, this objection car- .
ries decisive weight. But the theorist replies, directly or by
implication, that this objection leaves out of account the feel­
ings of the defender's population, the demand for vengeance; it
omits the element of risk, the consideration that if the defender
does not eventually embrace the positive object of overthrowing
the enemy and the means of effecting this, he will be continually
exposed to the threat of renewed attack; it disregards the proba­
bility that an attempt to be strong everywhere, by a dispersal of
force, will result in weakness everywhere; and finally, it fails
to take cognizance of the fact that the purposes of the war may
change in the course of hostilities, so that a state starting
with the negative object of mere defense may soon come to formu­
late a policy of altering the status quo by destroying the mili­
tary power of its assailant and thus precluding a resumption of
the aggression.
Consequently, both the aggressor and the de­
Goltz, op. cit.. pp. 28, 56; Bernhardi, War of Today.
II, 453, 212; Maurice, op. clt.. p. 144; Goltz, The Ration In
Arms. trans. P . A. Ashworth TEondon, 1904), p. 156; $. B. Hamley,
^he Operations of War Explained and Illustrated (London, 1866),
P. 44; M. W. Halieok. Elements of Military Art and Science (New
York, 1846). pp. 43 f .; Bernhardi, War of Future, pp. 174 f .,
177 f.
33George Fielding Eliot, "The Offensive Still Gives Vic­
tory,1* Foreign Affairs. XVII (1938), 59. For Instance, in the
American Revolution, the American forces remained on the "grandstrategical" defensive, that is, made no effort to invade Great
Britain; but on a number of occasions they assumed the strategi­
cal offensive against British troops In America.
Cf. Goltz. Conduct, p. 18; Bernhardi, War of Today.
II, 194.
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fender in a war are compelled to employ the strategical and mech­
anical means of attack.
This preference of military thought for the offensive,
condensed somewhat too baldly, perhaps,
in the familiar maxim,
?,a good offense is the test defense," has led to a secondary defi­
nition of the defensive which regards it as an offense in abey­
ance, or a defense conducted offensively. Thus Clausewltz deolared the defensive to be the stronger form of waging war,
in reaching this conclusion he had passed from his conception of
the defense as a static state of expectancy, of warding off blows,
to the idea of a condition which only waits a favorable moment for
transforming itself into the counter-offensive .
Thus we are
told that an absolute defense is an "absurdity” which "completely
contradicts the idea of war."^8 In a "rightly conceived" defense,
“we wait for the moment when the enemy shall expose himself to a
counter-stroke, the success of which will so far cripple him as
to render us relatively strong enough to pass to the offensive
h 41
Preference for the offensive leads General J. P. C. Puller,
one of the leading British exponents of mechanization, to attempt
to apply to the third level of analysis the abstract characteris­
tics of offense deduced from the first two levels. Taking as his
prototype a struggle between two unarmed men, Puller finds that
each of the combatants, In order to defeat his enemy, "must move
towards him, he must hit him, and he must prevent himself from be­
ing hit." The physical elements of warfare are thus moving,
guarding, and hitting; or mobility, protection, and striking power.
According to Puller, "offensive" means weapons or striking power,
while "defensive" means protection; and both these factors, co­
ordinated by mobility, are integral parts of every separate act
of war. Hence a tank moving toward the enemy would be offensive,
defensive, and mobile, all at the same time, while a heavy gun in
Of. Corbett, op. clt.. p. 29.
S8Clausewitz, op. clt.. II, 149.
59Bernhardi, War of Today. II, 22, 24.
Clausewltz, op, clt.. II, 133.
Corbett, op . clt.. p. 25; Mahan as quoted by Rosinski,
"Command of the Sea, op. clt., p. 85.
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the rear would be defensive because it protects the infantryman
in making a bayonet assault. 42 Puller's analysis, though it goes
much further than military theory in general and contains impli­
cations inapplicable to disarmament, nevertheless presents certain
valuable insights relevant to the present inquiry. Thus the
Fullerian conception clearly suggests that armament in which is
combined to the highest degree the three elements of mobility,
protection, and striking power is relatively more offensive— in
the sense that it is more nearly indispensable to the attack in
tactics, strategy, and grand strategy— than armament in which
these factors exist to a lesser extent.
Summary.— The political theory of war distinguishes' between offensive and defensive on the basis of the objective, or
the intent of the national policy from which a state's war ac­
tivity springs, with movement as a subsidiary criterion. The
sharpness of this distinction is qualified by reasoning tending
to show that the two forms are complementary rather than mutually
exclusive. More especially, it is insisted that no matter whether
the role of a state, on the level of policy, is offensive or de­
fensive, the military means utilized, in terms of strategy, tac­
tics, and weapons, must partake of both offense and defense,
though primarily of the former. Military thought thus asserts
that the difference between offensive and defensive is a differ­
ence in objectives, not a difference in the means employed to
reach the objective.
Armaments in Strategic Theory
Military thought, then, in its discussion of the offensive and defensive, emphasizes abstract principles rather than
material weapons. This tendency leads naturally to the question:
what is the role which strategic theory as a whole assigns to
armaments? Weapons and means of warfare were in one stage of de­
velopment when the foundations of the doctrines analyzed above
were laid in the early nineteenth century, but since that time
the Implements of combat have, outwardly at least, been completely
transformed. Do the criteria for distinction between the offense
42The Foundations of the Science of War (London. 1926),
pp. 147 f.. 299: The Reformation of War (New York. 1923), pp.
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and defense formulated a century ago remain valid despite subse­
quent changes in military technique? If the answer is in the af­
firmative absolutely, our inquiry might end at this point with
the conclusion that the use made of weapons, rather than their
characteristics, determines their offensive or defensive nature.
It is, therefore, ho digression to consider the relation of weap­
ons to principles.
The concept of principles.— One of the notable features
of strategic theory is its tendency to insist upon the immuta­
bility of the principles of war in the face of rapidly changing
mechanical techniques and a continuous flow of new inventions.
Thus Captain Mahan concluded that the principles of naval strategy,
being based upon “fundamental truths,” were "in themselves un­
Two recent American military writers, looking
tack upon armament progress from the vantage point of the present,
render a concurring opinion:
From its earliest beginnings, this group fighting--war— has
been governed by certain fixed and immutable principles, the
correct application of which to the varying conditions of
conflict has brought victory, while ignorance or disregard
of them has meant defeat and even ruin.44
Or, as General Palmer puts the case, a difference must be noted
between the outward form of military exertion and its inner na-.
There are transitory aspects of war dependent upon the char­
acter of weapons and modes of transportation at different
stages of human development. From this ephemeral point of
view there is the greatest possible difference between war
as conducted by Alexander the Great or Hannibal and war as
conducted by Foch or Hindenburg. There is also a more per­
manent aspect of war as an expression of armed force in the
evolution of human affairs. From this more fundamental
point of view, war is the same today as it was when an .un­
known conqueror erected the first pyramid........ 4&
45Mahan, Naval Strategy, p. 2.
44R. Ernest Dupuy and George Fielding Eliot, If War Comes
(New York, 1937), p. 27. "The principles themselves are not to
be too rigidly applied: they are to be obeyed rather in the
spirit than the letter” (ibid., p. 36).
John Palmer, Statesmanship or War (New York, 1927),
pp. 1-2. Of. Maurice, op. clt., pp. <342 f.; Bernhardi, War of
Today. I, 31; Tasker H. Bliss, in Preface to Oliver Spaulding,
Hoffman Nickerson, and John W. Wright, Warfare. a Study of
Military Methods from the Earliest Times (New York. 1925). p. vii.
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The task of the military theorist is thus first of all that of
discovering the permanent laws of war, and secondly that of con­
tinually adapting these generalizations to the constantly chang46
ing outer form of hostilities.
Weapons and principles: the traditional view.— It follows
from this conception of eternal principles that the classical tra
dltion in military theory has assigned to weapons a somewhat sec­
ondary role as part of war's “outward appearance in form," or one
of the "varying conditions of conflict," the study of which prop­
erly belongs more to the realm of tactics than to the province of
strategy. Armaments are regarded as constituting one of the tac­
tical means for the attainment of strategic ends. Hence weapons
would normally influence the higher phases of strategy only Indi­
rectly, through the effects which they exert on tactics, or the
combat; and in any case these effects would be limited by, and
subordinate to, the permanent precepts of strategical doctrine. 47
The best weapons and the best troops will be of little value
If not employed in accordance with sound strategical prin­
ciple. This is a fact which Americans tend to disregard.
The criticism of the Russian strategist Golovin, that Ameri­
cans tend to place overemphasis on technical performance (as
of a given model of airplane, or a certain tank) while neg­
lecting strategical considerations, Is by no means illtaken.*8
Therefore in classical theory weapons are regarded as altering,
not the substantive nature of the immutable principles of war,
but only the procedural manner of their application to special
circumstances. Jomini remarked that armament innovations re49
formed practice but not principles,
and Clausewitz by Implica­
tion stated a similar conclusion:
The necessity of fighting very soon led men to special
Inventions to turn the advantage In their own favor: in con­
sequence of these the mode of fighting has undergone great
alterations; but in whatever way it is conducted its concep46'Bernhardi, War of Today, I, 32 f.
Cf. Mahan, Naval Strategy, pp. 2, 6-8; Bliss, in Pref­
ace to Spaulding, Nickerson, and Wright, op. cit.. p. v.
George Fielding Eliot, Bombs Bursting in Air: the Influ­
ence of Air Power on Internationalize lat ions (New York. 1959).
p. 9.
49Quoted by Mahan, Naval Strategy, p. 4,
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tion remains unaltered, and fighting is that which consti­
tutes war ,so
Or finally, to- quote once more Dupuy and Eliot,
it may he said with accuracy that while modern weapons and
methods have not changed the basic principles which have
guided the great commanders of all ages, profound changes
in their application have been brought about.
It might be useful to venture a distinction, firstly, be­
tween the "pure" theory of strategy and tactics on the one hand,
and its application on the other; and secondly, between armament
as an abstract conception on the one hand, and particular types
of weapons on the other. In the "pure” theory of strategy, the
existence and function of armament regarded as an abstract in­
strumentality is tacitly assumed, but the potentials of specific
weapons are not universally emphasized or explored, the formulators of such doctrine apparently preferring to concentrate at­
tention upon those elements In military activity capable of being
stated in the form of enduring generalizations. In the applica­
tion of strategical principles, however, the fundamental impor­
tance of particular types of arms, of the tactical means, is rec­
ognized, their capacity to carry out objectives is considered,
and changes in tactics due to armament development are studied.
Thus for the military commander concerned with applications, if
not for the theorist, strategic possibilities
are conditioned not only by the strength, location and re­
sources of potential foes, but by the instruments of war­
fare at the disposal of both sides— their weapons and the
characteristics thereof.........National strategy must,
then, take into consideration not only the principles of
the art of war, but the national situation, and the tacti­
cal means available for the execution of strategical mis­
sions. The:best strategy in the world will avail little
If the tactical means are not at hand for exploiting its
Granted that the production of new instruments reacts up­
on the tactical means at hand and necessitates a fresh applica­
tion of ancient strategical principles, does it alter the rela­
tive position of the offensive and the defensive? In answering
this, a question to which it probably devotes insufficient atten­
tion, traditional military thought emphasizes the small number of
50,Clausewltz. op. clt., I, 84.
51Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt♦, p. 37.
52Eliot, Bombs Bursting in Air, pp. 8-9.
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► .JmM102
inventions which have in actuality revolutionized war.®® Thus
Major Eliot, casting a glance backward over the history of weapon
development, can discover but three innovations which have changed
the fundamental character of hostilities: discipline, gunpowder,
and the aeroplane. Of these, he regards only the last as being
any better adapted to offensive than to defensive operations. 54
On an evolutionary as distinct from a revolutionary scale, how­
ever, the tendency of new implements of warfare to upset the
equilibrium between the offense and the defense in a local, tem­
porary, and limited manner is admitted. But the transitory na­
ture of this disturbance is immediately stressed; it is said that
every time a new weapon aiding the attack is developed, a defense
against it is at once devised, and conversely, every armament ad­
vantage accruing to the defense is without delay counteracted by
new offensive techniques.
The history of naval science, as of military science, has
been a continual seesaw between means of defense and weap­
ons o f .offense, with neither holding the lead for long. A
new weapon is introduced which can seemingly render useless
the protective equipment of existing ships. Persons in whom
a flair for the spectacular supplements a weakness in his­
tory at once announce that all the navies of the world are
doomed. A few years, and the ingenuity of naval designers
creates a counteracting protective. The balance is turned,
and remains so until the next offensive weapon is invented.
Thus it was with the high-powered gun, the mine, the tor­
pedo, the submarine. And now, the airplane.55
This characteristic feature of armament development has been re­
ferred to as the "constant tactical factor," that is
every improvement in weapon-power has aimed at lessening ter­
ror and danger on one side by increasing them on the other;
consequently every improvement in weapons has eventually been
met by a counter-improvement which has rendered the improve­
ment obsolete; the evolutionary pendulum of weapon-power,
Cf. Palmer, op . clt., pp. 1-2; Bliss, in Preface to
Spaulding, Nickerson, and Wright, op. clt.. pp. iv-vii.
54Bombs Bursting in Air, pp. 11-13.
55Sutherland Denlinger and Charles B. Gary, War in the
Pacific (New York, 1936), p. 23. Cf. Bernhardi, War of Today.
II, 151; Ludendorff, op. cit.. pp. 94 f.; Maurice, op. olt..
p. 23; Bliss, in Preface to Spaulding, Nickerson, and Wright,
op. cit... pp. v-vi; J. P. C. Puller, "Military Inventions, Their
Antiquity and Influence on War," Army Quarterly. XXV (1933), 22736; J. F. C. Fuller. "Science and War," The Nineteenth Century
and After. CIII (1928), 88-96.
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slowly or rapidly, swinging from the offensive to the protec­
tive and back again in harmony with the speed of civil pro­
gress .56
Though this particular terminology is not in common use, agreement
upon the principle involved seems to be rather general. For in­
stance, American military opinion at present is said to admit that
in land warfare the fire power of modern automatic weapons, plus
the rise of the "nation in arms,” gives an advantage to the de­
fensive in certain tactical circumstances, such as those pecul­
iarly prevailing in France in the period 1915-18. But it is
pointed out that the resulting stalemate was local and temporary;
it did not exist in other zones, where Russia, Serbia, and Rumania
were destroyed by offensive action, and it did not last indefi­
nitely, even on the western front, where continual offensive pressure eventually reaped the fruits of sea power .57 Again, for ex­
ample, the traditional view declares that the offensive successes
claimed for the tank in the World War have been greatly exagger­
ated, and have, in any case, as recent experience tends to demon­
strate, been offset so far as the future is concerned by the de­
velopment of anti-tank guns, tank traps, troop behavior, and so
forth, and by the failure, on the side of the tank, to solve the
problems of replacement and fuel supply.
In fact, a large share
of the initial success of new weapons is attributed to surprise.
In this connection, two types of surprise should be distinguished:
that due to lack of knowledge on the part of the enemy that a par­
ticular weapon exists ready for use in significant quantity, and
surprise flowing from uncertainty as to where a blow utilizing
known armaments will fall. The latter type is an ancient prin­
ciple of war, especially advantageous to the offensive, and may
be expected to continue in use despite weapon changes. 59 Thus
future surprise attacks by mechanized forces will doubtless yield
decisive results, given the proper conditions, but so will sur56J. F. C. Fuller, "The Mechanization of Warfare," What
Would Be the Character of a New War? inquiry organized by the
Inter-Parliamentary Union, Geneva (New York, 1933), p. 50.
®^Eliot, "The Offensive Still Gives Victory," op. clt..
pp . 53—58 •
Germains. lxn« iiiBcnaiiizttnua ux war \uuuuuu, ±.vai/t p a a a i m .
^Maurice, op . cit.. pp. 191-213
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prise attacks with older type arms also, given similar favorable
circumstances. As for the first type of surprise, the history of
war inventions tends to emphasize the slowness and distinctively
international character of peacetime improvements; no weapon has
been perfected with secrecy and rapidity as the exclusive national
property of any one state. At an early stage all nations secure
access to the information, and develop not only the armament, but
measures against it.
In wartime, this open international condi­
tion no longer prevails; yet even here it has proven Impossible
to hold back a new weapon until It has existed in quantities suf­
ficient to exert a really decisive effect, for experiments had to
be made and troops trained in the new tactics, and these experi­
ments inevitably warned the enemy and enabled the preparation of
Therefore, according to the traditional view,
whatever the original effect of the weapon-Invention, immediately
after its first appearance on a militarily feasible scale, It be­
gins, In the face of countervailing mechanics and tactics, to lose
its power to enhance the attack at the expense of the defense,
and vice versa.
Weapons and principlest the "mechantcal11 dissent .--Dissent
from various essentials of this traditional position is, however,
registered by a new "mechanical" or "scientific" school of mili­
tary thought which has arisen since the World War to emphasize
the overwhelming importance of mechanized weapons and means of
The adherents of this point of view do not deny
the validity of the whole body of classical doctrine, but they do
present a special interpretation of its application to the present
which is not acceptable to the majority of military writers. More
especially, they insist that the tactical means available have
been so far altered by the progress of military invention that
60VIctor Lefebure, "The Decisive Aggressive Value of the
New Agencies of War," What Would Be the Character of a New War?
pp. 96 ff.
®^Xbid., p. 101; Maurice, op. clt., p. 214.
Cf. especially, J. P. C. Puller, The Reformation of War;
Foundations of the Science of War; The Dragon’s Teeth (London.
1952j; On Future Warfare (London,' 19&8); War in Western Civiliza­
tion. 1852-1952 (London, 1952); and B. H. Liddell Hart, Europe in
Arms (New York. 1937); The Remaking of Modern Armies (London,
1927); The British Way in Warfare (London. 1932); The Ghost of
Napoleon (Hew Haven. 1934); Through the Fog of War (New York.
i§58); ffhe Defense of Britain (itew York, 1959).
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nothing less than a complete reorganization of forces will any
longer permit attainment of the purposes of war. To substantiate
this contention, reliance is placed upon an interpretation of the
last 'war diametrically opposed to the traditional conception of
that struggle. The ’’mechanical11 school holds that the tendency
since the American Civil War, the first of the great wars using
the breech-loading rifle, had been toward enormous increase in the
masses of men under arms, and in the range, casualty-producing ca­
pacity, and rapidity of fire of infantry weapons, without any
counteracting growth in the means of advancing against this fire;
and that this tendency culminated in the World War, when the use
of the machine gun on a vast scale produced nearly four years of
static siege warfare because unprotected soldiers could not go
forward against a machine gun in a trench. In other words, by
1914 a cycle of weapon development had enabled the defense to gain
ascendancy over the offense. In the view of the ’’mechanical”
school, artillery, though responsible for limited successes, was
unable, in spite of its lavish use, to convert the deadlock into
a war of movement. It remained for the tank, motor transport,
and the aeroplane, in the closing stages of the struggle, to exer­
cise more decided tactical effects and to exploit the results of
ocean blockade.
All this, it is said, points the way to the offensive of
the future. For the newer instruments of mechanization and motor­
ization would make it possible to resurrect the attack and restore
it to its rightful place as the decisive road to victory in short
wars of maneuver. The pendulum of military invention was oh the
side of the defensive in 1914, but it is now potentially on the
side of the offensive, provided present armed forces are reduced
in numbers and reorganized around the new devices— in other words,
mechanization, not mass,
will win. Various members of the
The ’’mechanical” school reserves some of its sharpest
criticisms for the idea of ’’the nation in arms.” Thus Liddell
Hart maintains that Clausewitz, missing the essential points in
the Napoleonic system, emphasized mass ("in the sense of massed
formation" and ’’also in the sense of masses, or hordes") over­
much, and that this doctrine, minus the qualifications of Clause­
witz, came to dominate military thought before 1914. Emphasis on
this factor and neglect of weapons, it Is said, led directly to
the World War stalemate; "not merely stalemate, but massed sui­
cide— more truly, homicide— was the penalty of Clausewitz's theory
of mass” (Liddell Hart, Qho3t of Napoleon, p. 129; cf. pp. 118-44).
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"mechanical" group speak of various future possibilities, of aero64
planes abolishing armies and navies,
of mechanized forces ren­
dering infantry obsolete, of engagements between monster "land
battleships" (tanks), of chemical attacks, of paralyzing blows
struck at the civilian will or the centers of military command
rather than against the enemy armed forces. 65 Only a few of the
mechanical enthusiasts, however, are ready to sound the knell of
the traditional branches of service, but all of them do insist up­
on a reformation carried to the extent of building the structure
and doctrine of armed forces around the new instruments, rather
than using these weapons as adjuncts to the old arms. But since
general staffs have not accepted these views nor re-made their
forces on anything like the scale demanded, the position remains
similar to that of 1914, that is, the defensive is presumably
64However, relatively few writers now maintain that new
developments have revolutionized naval warfare. Moreover, it
should be noted that navai war has long been "mechanized." The
greater part of the disagreement between the traditional and
mechanical" schools here discussed is concerned with land and
aerial, rather than naval, warfare. Among recent evaluations of
naval weapons from various points of view, the following deserve
mention: Captain Bernard Acworth, The Navy and the Next War (Lon­
don, 1934); Lieutenant Commander A. C. Bell. £ea Power and the
Next War (New York, 1938); Commander Russell Grenfell. Sea Power
In the ffext War (London, 1938); Lieutenant Commander J. M.
Kenworthy. New~Wars. New Weapons.(London, 1930); Admiral Richmond,
Sea Power in the Modern World, and The Navy (London, 1937); Sir
Reginald. Bacon, "The dapltal Ship." Brassey's Naval and Shipping
Annual. 1921-22 (London, 1922), pp. 85-93; Sir William J. Berry,
"Capital Ships and Cruisers," ibid., 1931 (London, 1931), pp. 10413; V . Feo, The Future of the Submarine,11 ibid.. 1926 (London,
1926), pp. 115-25; Melvin F. Talbot, "The Future of Sea Power, a
Speculation," The Nineteenth Century and After, CVII (1930), 17988; C. Dennis Burney, "Sea Pewer and Air Bower.” Journal of the
Royal United Service Institution. LXXill (1928), 262-671; J1. V.
Sreagh, "The Fleet of the Future.11 ibid.. LXXIV (1929), 678-94;
A. F, E. Pallister, "The Effect of Air Power on Naval Strategy,"
ibid.. LXXII (1927), 339-57; G. B. Thompson, "The Submarine in
Future W a r f a r e i b i d ., LXXVI (1931), 511-19; Sir Herbert Rich­
mond, "The ,Weapon—o7’ the Weak,'” ibid.. LXXVII (1932), 497-503.
For others, see Bibliography.
On tanks, cf. Fuller, On Future Warfare, passim. The
doctrine that victory may be won by concentrated air attack on
civilian centers is sometimes known as "Douhetism," or the "Blue
Sky School." Cf. G. Douhet, II domlnlo dell* aria (Rome. 1921);
and Probabill aspettl della guerra future (Palermo. 1928);
William Mitchell, Winged Defense (New York. 1925) . For balanced
and succinct criticisms of the "Blue Sky School,” see: J. M.
Spaight, Air Power in the Next War (London. 1938). pp. 37 ff.;
Eliot. Bombs Bursting in Air, passim.
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superior, hence the prediction that the next war will end in
stalemate and attrition. Moreover, according to General Puller,
the forthcoming deadlock is the guarantee of attack on noncompatants, for the belligerents, finding themselves unable to ad­
vance on the military front, will utilize planes, gas, and seagg
power to demoralize directly the civilian will.
This view in­
sists that war, since it is an instrument of policy, should be
made with profit, or at least should not shatter the economic and
social fabric of both victor and vanquished; but the only profit­
able war is a short one, and the only short war is a mechanized
- .67
Enough has already been said in the analysis of the tra­
ditional view above to indicate the distaste which orthodox mili­
tary thought evinces for many aspects of the "mechanical” concep­
tion. The new precepts are regarded as "rationalizations” which
must be "accepted with rather more than the traditional grain of
Pear that absorption in technique, in particular meth­
ods, is causing neglect of the art of war, of correct principles,
is often expressed.
The "mechanical" school is, however, a
variant, not an entirely new philosophy, even though its conclu­
sions are sometimes completely at odds with traditional views.
Thus it agrees with the traditional preference for the offensive
mode of action; in fact, its main objective consists in restoring
the offensive to its former power . But the "mechanical” school
holds that forces as at present constituted simply lack the tacti­
cal means for successful offensive. Because of this it has been
urged in Great Britain that, in the absence of complete mechaniza­
tion, troops be;trained only for the defense.7® "Mechanical” and
traditional views also agree on the tendency of military invention
to balance an "offensive" discovery with a "defensive” one, and
66Puller, "Military Inventions, Their Antiquity and Influance on War," op. cit.. pp. 227-36.
67Cf. Liddell Hart, British Way in Warfare, passim.
®®Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt.. p. 38. Cf. Bernhardi, War
of Today. II, 163,1175.
■Cf. Sir P. Maurice, in Preface to Germains, op. clt...
pp. x, xii.
Cf. Liddell Hart, Defense of Britain, and the refutation
by Eliot, "The Offensive Still Gives Victory," op. clt.. pp. 52 f.
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vice versa; but the former places relatively greater emphasis up­
on the defensive power of "pre-mechanization” weapons, and also
greater emphasis upon the offensive potentiality of modern arms,
nhil©-traditional theory puts less stress both upon the defensive
oapaclty of older-type armaments and upon the offensive capacity
of mechanized implements. The majority of military theorists, to
recapitulate, while not entirely neglecting weapons, regard arma­
ment evolution as altering, not the immutable principles of war,
but only their special application, the history of weapon develop­
ment tending to show that neither the offensive nor the defensive
secures the upper hand permanently as a result of new inventions.
This entire discussion, however, lends considerable support to
two views which figured prominently in the disarmament negotia­
tions: first, the idea that there is a distinction between offen­
sive and defensive armaments; and second, the idea that tanks and
aircraft must, in general, be assigned to the offensive category.
"Offensive11 and "Defensive” Armaments
Recent direct treatment.--Thus far the discussion has cen­
tered about military thought chiefly in its theoretical aspect.
This aspect deals only indirectly and secondarily with weapons,
making it necessary to seek a distinction between offensive and
defensive arms in a similar indirect manner. After the question
was raised by the prominence of the qualitative principle at the
Disarmament Conference, however, certain direct approaches to the
problem began to appear .
The majority of recent publicists, when faced with the di­
rect question, declare flatly and emphatically that there is no
distinction between weapons of offense and those of defense. On
the other hand, a few regard some weapons as more specialized for
one form of operation than for the other; and even some of those
unable to agree with this idea in general sometimes fall into the
habit of referring to weapons as offensive or defensive, despite
their refusal to admit the distinction. Thus Major Eliot in one
place speaks of the "practical impossibility in a military sense
of distinguishing between offensive and defensive weapons,
though elsewhere he notes that "the airplane is essentially and
^George Fielding Eliot, The Ramparts We Watch (New York,
1938), p . 6.
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inherently an offensive weapon."72 Likewise, Admiral Richmond
declares: "it is difficult to imagine how any man who has made
even a superficial study of the problem of defense, whether on
land or sea, is able to persuade himself that some instruments
are 'aggressive, * others 'defensive.'"75 It is obvious, he con­
tinues, that all arms have to some extent both an offensive and
a defensive character. Armaments are simply an effective means
for the concentration of force, which is indispensable for both
offense and defense.
In a later statement, however, Richmond
is content to observe that the distinction between weapons of
attack and of defense is a matter of "peculiar difficulty."75
In so far as it exists at all, it is to be found in quantitative
form: "if a navy as a whole, or certain categories of its units,
appears larger or more numerous than the needs of defense seem to
require, the interpretation which will be placed upon it will be
that its object will be not defense, but offense."76 Thus weap­
ons would assume an offensive or defensive character according to
the intention of their users, and quantitative strength would be
an objective index of subjective intention.
General J. P. C. Puller- entertains a similar conception.
In 1932, he held that it was impossible to answer the qualitative
question, because
72Eliot, "The Offensive Still Gives Victory," op. cit..
p. 57.
■’Sir Herbert Richmond, "Britain's Naval Policy: Some
Dangers and Delusions," Fortnightly Review. CXXXI (1932), 414.
74Ibid., pp. 415 ff. Cf. Captain Alfred C. Dewar, "The
Disarmament Conference, 1932," Brassey's Naval and Shipping An­
nual . 1953 (London, 1933), p. 60: "Offence and defence are sub­
jective terms dependent on circumstances, applicable to agents
but not to the instruments of agency. . . . . The fact is that a
weapon is defensive when used defensively and under circumstances
of defence, and offensive when used offensively." Cf. also:
H. von Kuhl and Hans Gareke, "Die Landrttstung, Handbuch des
Abrftstungsproblems. ed. Th. Niemeyer, Vol. I (Berlin, 1928),
firittes Stack, pp. 94-99; Captains Vanselow and Gadow, "Die
Seer&stung," ibid., Viertes St&ck, pp. 19-20.
75Richmond, Sea Power, p. 209.
Ibid., p. 211. The same idea was put forward by Lord
Chatfield of Great Britain in 1935. Cf. U. S, Department of
State, The London Naval Conference. 1955. Conference Series, No.
24 (Washington, 1936), pp. 1^6-27.
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all weapons must of their very nature he aggressive; con­
sequently the problem resolves Itself into one of degrees
of aggression. Some weapons undoubtedly possess a higher
offensive power than others....... 77
A year later, however, Puller asserted:
If the problem of aggression is beset with difficulties,
that of the aggressive weapon is surrounded by absurdities,
for the simple reason that an inanimate thing cannot be
aggressive. . . . . In brief, aggression is a political
and not a military question, and though armies, navies and
air forces are political instruments, unless policy is ag­
gressive they in no sense can become aggressive.7®
Both Fuller and Richmond maintain that the real basis of the clas­
sification which the proponents of the qualitative principle
worked out at Geneva was not offensive versus defensive arms, but
rather newer versus older, or larger versus smaller, weapons. Re­
striction of the more powerful armaments would not prevent hos­
tilities, for the offensive would be attempted with the less ef­
fective instruments, as in 1914; but a decision would be delayed,
leading to long and destructive wars instead of short and profit­
able ones. Size, modernity, power, and efficiency are declared
to be no criteria of offensiveness. 79 Of course, the very object
of qualitative disarmament is to insure that wars will be long
and destructive, and will end in stalemate, on the supposition
that this condition, after it becomes apparent, will deter states
from going to war at all. These arguments of Puller and Richmond
would thus appear to furnish considerable support to certain of
the assumptions of proponents of the qualitative principle.
Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, on the other hand, insists up­
on the possibility of classifying weapons as offensive and defen­
sive. Though admitting that all weapons are offensive in the
sense that they inflict injury, and that all arms can be useful
77 J. P. C. Fuller, "what Is an Aggressive Weapon?" Eng­
lish Review. LIV (1952), 601.
Puller, "Aggression and Aggressive Weapons: the Ab­
surdity of Qualitative Disarmament, Army Ordnance. XIV (1933),
7 f. Cf. Lieutenant Colonel E. E. Calthrop, “Weapons or War."
Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, LXXIX (1934),
285 f .
7®Puller, "Aggression and Aggressive Weapons: the Ab­
surdity of Qualitative Disarmament, op. clt.. pp. 7-11; Sir
Herbert Richmond, "The Problem of Disarmament: Geneva and the
Navies," The Nineteenth Century and After. CXII (1932), 279 ff.
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to defense as well as to attack, he nevertheless declares that
the point of the qualitative principle is not that certain
weapons are in themselves more offensive than others, but
that they alone make it possible under modern conditions
to make a decisive offensive against a neighboring country.
. . . . It would be foolish to pretend that any solution may
be a complete solution— as foolish as to portray anything in
terms of black and white. It is only the technical experts
who use this as an argtunent for doing nothing. For practi­
cal purposes it suffices if a solution is reasonably effec­
tive, and does something towards achieving the object in
• view. And I cannot see how anyone can deny that the aboli­
tion of heavy artillery and heavy tanks would be a definite
handicap to the offensive, and so a discouragement to ag­
In part, this conception appears to be based upon the "mechanical"
school's interpretation of the World War. It is said that in 1914
the defense was virtually impregnable, but that the development
of artillery and the tank restored offensive capacity. Hence
"abolish such weapons by agreement, and there would be little
chance of successful aggression"; the "just reason" for qualita­
tive disarmament "lies in the fact that by curtailing the initial
power of aggression it may hinder an aggressor getting his way."
Liddell Hart, however, seems to restrict the possibility of identi­
fying aggressive armaments to land warfare.
Re-statement of the question.— At this point it would seem
appropriate to interpret and re-state the qualitative problem in
the light of the various relevant factors, in order to arrive at
some tenable conclusions regarding its inner nature.
The basic criterion in military theory for discriminating
between offense and defense is that of intention or objective.
On the level of policy, the former is associated with an acquisi­
tive or revisionist foreign policy, the latter with a protective
or status-quo attitude. On the level of operations, similarly,
offense has a positive, defense a negative, purpose. It is impos­
sible in the light of this principle to establish a fixed classi­
fication of armaments on a qualitative basis, for either the termi­
nology cannot be used at all in relation to weapons, or else the
offensive or defensive character of armaments depends upon the in­
80B. H. Liddell Hart, "Aggression and the Problem of
Weapons," English Review, LV (1952), 73. Cf. Europe in Arms,
pp. 154 f.
®^Liddell Hart, "Aggression and the Problem of Weapons,"
op. clt.. pp. 72 f.
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tention of the user. Weapons, being inert mechanical contrivances
incapable of having an intention apart from the humans controlling
or directing them, can be employed offensively or defensively in
turn,— and their nature is rapidly transformed to accord with
changing political objectives. In a general sense, according to
this conception, all arms utilized by the defender in a political
sense would be defensive, even though some of them facilitated
counter-attacks carried out in furtherance of this protective pur­
pose; in a narrower sense, all agencies utilized by a military or­
ganization standing on the strategical defense could be called
defensive, even though some of them were actually employed in tac­
tical counter-attack. In a tactical sense, Instruments devoted
to holding a position, as distinct from taking it, would be de­
fensive, even though some of them inflicted damage, as well as
merely warding it off.
This point of view is logical, but as a matter of analy­
sis it Is also essential to distinguish the actual effect and the
ultimate purpose of armaments from their mode of action. Obvi­
ously, almost any arm can to some extent be used either offen­
sively or defensively, in terms of political objectives or stra­
tegical results. Such objectives and results depend upon the
total political and military situation, not exclusively upon the
distinctive qualities of particular armaments. But even though
the remote results and purposes of a specific weapon may be either
offensive or defensive, that weapon may be able to achieve those
effects only by acting offensively. The mode of action Is thus
Important also. Armaments must be scrutinized at all "levels of
analysis," and not solely at one such level; they must be regarded
In relation to their immediate targets, as well as in relation to
remote political ends. But even with respect to these remote po­
litical ends, it would seem not inappropriate to recognize the
possibility that certain armaments are more nearly indispensable
to the aggressor than to the defender. This idea is implicit in
the manner in which the Naval Commission of the Disarmament Con­
ference interpreted the qualitative question: "Supposing one
state either (a) adopts a policy of armed aggression, or (b) un­
dertakes offensive operations against another state, what are the
weapons which, by reason of their defensive purposes, are most
likely to enable that policy or those operations to be brought
• - '- 'M u
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rapidly to a successful conclusion?"®® In other words, it is con­
ceivable that bhere are certain armaments which, even though ca­
pable of both dffensive and defensive use, contribute more to the
success of the attacking state than to the success of the defend­
ing state. If such is the case, no misuse of language is involved
in referring to such armaments as ”offensive.M In summary, then,
when the term "offensive” is applied to weapons, it is to be under­
stood in one or both of two senses: (l) certain armaments can only
act offensively, that is, by attacking, whatever their differing
effects and purposes at political and "grand-strategical" levels
of analysis? (2) in the event that aestate adopts a policy of ag­
gression, or undertakes offensive military operations, certain
weapons are indispensable to the rapid and decisive success of
such policy or operations.
It is obvious, as the Naval Commission also remarked, that
offensive or defensive character often varies according to the
circumstances of the different countries involved. The idea of
relativity pervades the whole discussion; "offense" and "defense"
connote relations between two objects, and the qualitative char­
acter of a weapon is a relation between its functional nature and
the forces immediately opposed to it. The problem is not to deter­
mine the absolute character of a weapon, but to make a comparison;
to discover whether or not the offensive potentialities predomi­
nate, whether a weapon is more useful in attack or in defense.
This conception takes account of the possibility that the oppos­
ing qualities of the instrument may be so Intermingled and bal­
anced that it is both offensive and defensive. Moreover, any
offensive-defensive classification should be visualized not as a
sharp division of categories, but as a continuum or graduated se­
ries. It is impossible by logical dichotomy to express accurately
relations which in reality shade into one another insensibly.
Thus weapons at one end of the scale might be clearly offensive,
those at the other end defensive, while in the center would ap­
pear instruments differing so slightly one from the other that
they could be called both— any division between these would be
82League of Nations, Conference for the Reduction and
Limitation of Armaments, "Report of the Naval Commission to the
Commission." Conference Documents (Geneva, 1932-36). p.
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purely arbitrary.83
Finally, in a re-statement of the qualitative problem, it ,
is convenient to refer to what may be called the "operative” or
"manipulative," as distinct from the "detached" or "contempla­
tive," point of view. In this study, an effort is made to adhere
to the latter, that is, the qualitative principle Is explored as
an item of investigatory curiosity, not with the purpose of ini­
tiating practical action in the field of disarmament. The "opera­
tive" standpoint, however, aims at grasping enough fundamental
distinctions to enable action to be taken; hence many of the nearscholastic abstraction* involved in an objective commentary would
be considered unimportant to those interested in action, rather
than thought, concerning disarmament, "international legisla­
tion," like domestic legislation, might establish its own cate­
gories and definitions, and these formulations might be somewhat
arbitrary without thereby destroying the purposes for which such
legislation exists . In short, it would be possible for the advo­
cates of the qualitative method, provided general agreement could
be attained, to proceed to the establishment of a new treatyregime for armaments without awaiting a completely scientific solu­
tion to the qualitative question. On the other hand, it Is neces­
sary to ask, what would be the consequences of the abolition of a
particular weapon? It is certainly possible that an Instrument
83The unit of military organization to which attention is
to be paid also needs to be considered. The term "weapon In its
etymological sense perhaps means casualty-producer or instrument
inflicting damage. This is the meaning dominating General Fuller
when he declares that all weapons are offensive to some degree,
because all are capable of producing injury to an adversary
(supra, n. 78). From this point of view, only an instrument in
thenature of an immobile shield could be defensive. It would be
too pedantic to dwell overmuch upon this idea, which is capable
of being carried to extreme lengths; but it would perhaps be pref­
erable to speak of "armaments" rather than "weapons." Thus it is
clearly more reasonable to consider as units, tanks, battleships,
submarines, and so on, than to break these instruments down Into
lesser units and, for example, discuss separately the qualitative
character of a tank's guns, its armor, Its motor, and its tread.
With respect to even larger units of organization, it has some­
times been said that a militia army is more defensive than a pro­
fessional army (Palmer, Statesmanship or War, passim); but it has
also been argued that the professional army is defensive, because
"it has the quality of constant and unprovocative readiness, and
is thus no more menace at a crisis than at a time of quietude
(Liddell Hart, The Remaking of Modern Armies, p. 259).
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might be called "offensive" in theory, and yet the results of its
prohibition might be disappointing from the international point
of view and dangerous from the standpoint of national defense.
Merely because it is intellectually possible to designate a weapon
as offensive or defensive, it should not be conclusively assumed
that its abolition is therefore desirable. Such considerations
as these must be constantly kept in mind as the discussion pro­
ceeds .
Military theory recognizes as a subsidiary criterion of
distinction between offense and defense the factor of movement to­
ward an objective. The offensive is characterized by mobility,
the defensive by stability. The former advances, takes positions,
and delivers blows; the latter is concerned with awaiting the ap­
pearance of the assailant, holding positions, and warding off
Recent discussion is inclined to stress "moving, guard­
ing and hitting,” or mobility, protection, and striking power as
the "three basic elements of war."®® Thus Liddell Hart declares
that offensive power depends on the presence of these qualities,
while Puller finds them operative in every act of war, without
distinction as to offense or defense.
Dupuy arid Eliot empha­
size particularly mobility and striking power, with protection
entering by Implication.
Striking power--or' fire-power, if you will--stops mo­
bility........ Rock slinging and javelin throwing forced
man into heavy mail. Mobility came into its own -until the
clothyard shaft of the English archer stopped it. And the
armored knights who fell at Crecy heard the first rumbling
of the bombards which were to toll the further eclipse of
mobility. So down the ages, with striking power and mo­
bility vying for supremacy. . . . .87
In theoretical conception, however, the defense disposes espe­
cially of striking power and protection, to a lesser extent of
mobility, while the offense possesses mobility and striking power,
84Cf. supra. pp. 92 ff.
. 8®Liddell Hart, The Remaking of Modern Armies, pp. 10 f.,
47, 50, 115 f .
Ibid.; Puller, Foundations of the Science of War, p.
148. Cf. also Russell Grenfell, "Relative Uaval Strengths Quali­
tative Examination," Brassey's Naval Annual. 1938 (London. 1938),
pp. 60 f .
^Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt., pp. 103 f.
Ramparts. p. 200.
Cf. Eliot,
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and protection to a lesser degree. Even the striking power and
protection of the offensive are in a sense mobile forces, neutral
izing defensive f^re and facilitating the advance; in defense the
same-elements are stable, aiming at holding fa3t and stopping ad­
vance . Movement or mobility hence emerges as a significant cri­
terion of distinction, one which is more objective in nature than
that of intention, and one which is applicable to weapons apart
from their users; "and mobility is essentially an offensive
quality." 88 Armament which greatly facilitates the forward move­
ment of the attacker might be said tentatively to possess rela­
tively greater offensive power than weapons which contribute pri­
marily to the stability of the defender. This factor cannot be
considered conclusive, however, even in theory; and in practice
its attempted application, as will be seen presently, sometimes
leads to difficulties.
Land warfare.— On the land, tanks and heavy artillery
have been regarded as possible offensive instruments. On the
level of policy and of strategy, of course, tanks may be used
either offensively or defensively, through their ability to de­
liver either attack or counter-attack. But though the effect or
purpose may be either offensive or defensive, they can only act
offensively, by moving forward to assault the enemy. Naturally
this offensive power is more efficient against sane targets than
against others; and considerable controversy exists as to the de­
gree of effectiveness of tanks in future wars. Their offensive
values and tendencies are frequently recognized, however, as for
instance in the British Field Service Regulations:
Tanks have a considerable cross-country capacity, can break
down or cross wire entanglements, and combine a high degree
of protection for their crews (against the fire of rifles
and machine guns) with great mobility and the power to de­
liver a considerable volume of aimed fire while in movement.
These characteristics make armored units formidable in at­
tack and give them an important moral effect against un­
armored troops.
This statement implies that the offensive potentialities of the
tank are due to the combination in one instrument ofprotection,
striking power, and mobility, with emphasis upon the latter fac­
tor.One school of
tank enthusiasts ascribes extraordinary powers
®®Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt.. p. 195.
89Quoted, ibid.. pp. 110-11.
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to armored machines, particularly if embodied in a separate force
designed to act directly against the communications of the enemy,
the centers of his military command, and his civilian will. Such
implements, it is said, may be decisive.
These extreme views
do not seem warranted in the light of the tank's inherent limitaQ1
tions and the development of defensive measures against it.
is not, however, necessary to adopt an extremist position in or­
der to recognize that the tank and the armored car, whatever their
purpose or effect, must primarily act offensively.
In the case of artillery, opposing offensive-defensive
considerations are closely balanced. This instrumentality chiefly
disposes of striking power, to a lesser extent of protection, and
to a limited degree of mobility. Offensively, it destroys the
protection of the defender and facilitates forward movement of
assaulting Infantry; defensively, It inhibits the advance of the
attacker. Von Bernhardi summarizes the situation In declaring
the fire power of Infantry which have not been rendered
helpless by artillery Is far too great and destructive for
it to be overcome even by a superior force without the
help of the sister arms. Thus the attacker especially can­
not possibly dispense with powerful artillery support, and
it will be a necessity for the defense also if his own in­
fantry is prevented from making full use of its weapons by
the hostile artillery fire.®2
It would thus appear that artillery is able to act either offen­
sively or defensively. It is true, however, as von Berhardi im­
90,Cf. the works cited supra. n. 62.
91„The inherent limitations of the tank might be summa­
rized as follows: (1) lack of concealment due to size and noise;
(2) limited fire, due to poor vision, eccentric motion, limited
arc, and lack of ammunition; (3) sensitivity to ground (streams,
stumps, pits, etc.); (4) strain on crews; (5) lack of central
control while in action; (6) limited range and duration of ac­
tion, due to difficulty to fuel supply. Recently, tank traps,
mines, infantry flame tactics, and anti-tank guns have been added
to artillery (which was effective in 1918) as defenses against
tanks. In the World War, tanks achieved successes at great cost.
For example, in a French attack of July 18, 1918, 324 tanks were
concentrated, but only 225 got into action, and 102 of these be­
came casualties. Of a total of 1,949 French tanks engaged in the
War, 748 were lost. Cf . Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt.. pp. 106-10.
But it is said that under favorable conditions tanks and planes
co-operating will have tremendous offensive value (Eliot, wThe
Offensive Still Gives Victory," op. clt., p. 56).
92Bernhardi, War of Future, p. 61.
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plies, that artillery is armament without which a country having
adopted an aggressive policy or undertaken offensive operations
cannot carry that policy or those operations to a successful con­
clusion. Under this interpretation it might he designated, as
von Bernhardi calls it, an "offensive arm,"
particularly in the
case of heavy, long-range, mobile types able to destroy permanent
fortifications. Light mobile artillery, on the other hand, though
offensively valuable as close support in the assault, is less ef­
fective against defensive works, but efficient against armored or
unarmored troops advancing in the open. Prom the "operative"
point of view, if heavy mobile artillery were denied the offense,
the defense would have less need of the same instrument for
counter-battery work, and the remaining lighter guns would be
more useful to the defense than to the offense wherever the former
had the opportunity to construct permanent or strong field forti­
fications. Thus artillery appears to be both offensive and defen­
sive in action, though certain considerations point to the hypothe­
sis that the heavy mobile types are somewhat more offensive than
Aerial warfare.— Major Eliot aptly summarizes the qualita­
tive position of aircraft:
The airplane is essentially and inherently an offensive
weapon. It cannot hold a line. It can act with great
flexibility, and over a wide front, but it is limited as
to its time of flight and as to its total military load.
Admirably adapted to the purposes of surprise, it is the
weapon par excellence of the side which possesses the ini­
tiative . It is far more formidable when used In the execu93Ibid., p. 152.
9^Cf. General M. J. Challeafc, "Tactics and Material,"
Army Ordnance, XII (1931), 161-64. Cf. also on the question of
land weapons: Hans Ritter, Die Zukunftskrleg und Slene Waffen
(Leipzig, 1924); Major E. W. Sheppard. (Pankn in the Next War
(London, 1938); M. Swarte, Die mllltflrlsohen Lehren des grossen
Xrleges (Berlin, 1923)} Lionel Dimmock, "The Problem of the Tank,"
Army Quarterly. VIII (1924), 276-80; Sir P. Maurice, "Military
Lessons of the Great War," Foreign Affairs, VII (1928), 20-29;
M. P. Grove-White, "Some Aspects of Future Wars on Land," Journal
of the Royal United Service Institution, LXX (1925), 467-77; G. E.
Hudson. "The Tasks of the Army." ibid77 LXXVIII (1933), 773-78;
Sir Frederick A. Pile, "The Development and Future of Armoured
Fighting Vehicles," ibid., LXXVI (1931), 377-95; General von
Seeckt, "Modern Armies7ir ibid., LXXIV (1929) 123-31; J. C. Tilly,
"Some Thoughts on Tanks," ibid., LXXII (1927), 535-40; D. A. L.
Wade, "The Future of Mechanization," ibid., LXXIV (1929), 695704.
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tion of a plan in which its intervention at the right time,
and place has been carefully
a competent
staff than it is in warding off an attack conceived by some- ■"
one else and striking at an unforeseeable time and place.®®
Hence- the air force as a whole is an offensive instrumentality;
"even when its strategic purpose is defense, it acts offensively
to accomplish that purpose," and"in a tactical sense” it "can
m 96
only attack.
What is true of air power as a whole is also
true of nearly every individual type of plane. Thus military air­
craft is divided into four general classes: observation, for recon­
naissance; pursuit, for air fighting; attack, for assault on
ground troops; and bombardment, for destruction of material ground
With the possible exception of observation, each of
these can only act offensively, whatever its strategical function.
Moreover, not only air enthusiasts, but sober and well-balanced
writers, see in the airplane a means of striking in certain cases
directly at the source of enemy power, his civilian centers and
civilian will, without first having to overthrow the armed forces
which protect that will.
It is this, power of direct action which constitutes the
revolutionary element in air power........It is a thing in
itself— a direet contribution to war as an instrumentality
for achieving political ends, rather than to war in the clas­
sical sense of a struggle between armed forces.9®
9®Eliot, "The Offensive Still Gives Victory," op. cit..
p. 57.
Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt., pp. 80, 81.
Ibid., p, 65.
9®Eliot, Bombs bursting in Air, p. 13. Cf. also on the
question of aerial arnfiments, in addition to the works cited
supra, n. 65: Major General E. B. Ashmore, Air Defence (London.
1927); Sir Charles Burney, The World, the Air and the Future (New
York, 1929); C. F. Snowden Gamble. The Air Weapon. Vol. I (London, 1931); E. J. Kingston-McCloughry, Winged Warfare (London,
1937); Henri A. Niessel, La mattrlse de l'alr (Paris. 1928);
William C. Sherman, Air Warfare fltew York. 1926); A. M. P.
Vauthier, Le danger adrlen et l !avenler du pays (Paris, 1930);
J. 0. Andrews, "The Strategic Role of Air Forces," Journal of the
Royal United Service Institution, LXXVI (1931), 740-43; 11Saracen,"
11Air Forces and the Offensive." ibid.. IXXVIII (1933), 802-04;
A. E. Blake, "The Future of Air Warfare," Fortnightly Review.
CXXVII (1930), 29-40; J. M. Bourget, "La limitation des armaments
aerlens, est-elle possible?" L»esprit international. V (1931),
194-211; A. G. R. Garrod, "The Influence of Aviation on Inter­
national Relations," The Air Annual of the British Empire, 1950
(London, 1930), p p . 1-15; P. R. C. Proves, "The Influence of
Aviation on International Affairs." Journal of the Royal Insti­
tute of International Affairs. Vtll (1^29), 289-318; Edward P .
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This capacity, in part at least, to achieve strategical effects
by direct action against civilian centers would seem to strengthen
the claim that air power is offensive.
Maritime warfare.— The question of sea power and naval
instruments is an extraordinarily difficult and complicated one.
The ultimate objective of maritime war is "directly or indirectly
either to secure the command of the sea or to prevent the enemy
from securing it.
Command of the sea protects the belligerent
possessing it from Invasion (from the sea), enables him to utilize
the sea lanes freely for his own commerce and to deny them to the
enemy, and permits him to support overseas expeditions aiming at
invasion of the adversary’s territory. Since the enemy normally
disputes control of the oceans with his naval forces, the means
of obtaining such command consists fundamentally of defeating the
hostile fleet in decisive action. If this proves impossible,
military and commercial blockade may be resorted to in order to
"remove from the board" a fleet which declines to fight to a de­
In accomplishing the purposes for which it exists, it ap­
pears that the naval instrumentality as a whole primarily acts
Warner, "Aerial Armament and Disarmament," Foreign Affairs. IV
(1926), 624-36; Edward P. Warner, "In the Disarmament Labyrinth:
Can Aircraft Be Limited?" ibid., X (1932), 431-43; J. A. Chamier,
"England and Air Power," ibid., XIII (1935), 309-18; C. Dennis
Burney, "Sea Power and Air Power," Brassey's Naval and Shipping
Annual. 1923 (London, 1923), pp. 122-30.
99Corbett, op. clt., p. 77.
10°Ibld., pp. 77-149; Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt.. pp.
147 ff. In addition to works cited supra, n. 64, the following
should be mentioned in this connection: Mahan, Waval Strategy;
Allan Westcott (ed.), Mahan on Naval Warfare: Selections from
the Writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan (Boston, 1918); Geoffrey
Drage, Sea Power (London, 1931); Richmond, Sea Power in the Mod­
ern World; Otto Groos, Seekrlegslehren im Llohte dea Weltkrleges
^Berlin, 1929); R. H. Beadon, The Sea Power of Germany and the
Teaching of Mahan," Journal of the Royal United Service Institu­
tion. LXVIII (1923), 499-507; H.Rosinski, "Command of the Sea,”
op. clt.. pp. 85-100; Archibald Colbeck, The Strategical Aspect
of War against Commerce,” Edinburgh Review, CCXXXIV (1921), 35875; J. F. C. Fuller, "The Purpose and Mature of a Fleet," The
Nineteenth Century and After. XC (1921). 699-715; H. Rundle, "The
Principles of Imperial Naval Defence," Brassey’s Naval and Ship­
ping Annual. 1925 (London, 1923), pp. 155-64.
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It should he kept in mind that the fleet is primarily
an offensive weapon; it properly acts on the offensive even
when its strategical mission is one of defense.
Whether the ultimate purpose be defensive or otherwise, a
fleet must act offensively to accomplish its ends.101
Modern fleets possess to a high degree a combination of
mobility, striking power, and protection, due to their radius of
action, heavy guns, and armor-plate. The mobility of the fleet
is, of course, limited by the fuel endurance of the destroyer,
the least far-ranging type of vessel necessary to fleet action.
This radius is about 2,500 miles from the base; while individual
vessels have a longer range, the fleet as a whole is tied to its
base by a tether of this length, or else subjected to the slow­
ness and vulnerability in action of a cumbersome supply train.
Bases are thus all-important. In fact, the elements of sea power
are said to be three In number: the navy, the merchant marine,
and bases, The latter, of course, are not armaments In any strict
sense of the term, but they are an important element in maritime
power, giving to the fleet its mobility— and "mobility is essen­
tially an offensive quality."102
It should be kept In mind that the fleet is primarily an of­
fensive weapon......... Since the sole function of a naval
base is to give the fleet support within a given maritime
area, it follows that the primary purpose of the base is of­
fensive and not defensive) as has already been said of great
land fortresses,10’
Hence naval bases, from the H,operative point of view, are the
most significant offensive element in connection with sea warfare,
even though the difficulties in the way of attempting to limit
them would probably be insuperable.
101Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt., pp. 160, 195,
102'Ibid., p. 195. Cf. League of Nations, Preparatory
Commission for the Disarmament Conference, Report of Subcommis­
sion A (Geneva, 1926), pp. 141-43.
103.Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt., p. 160. Cf. also H. J. S.
Brownrigg, "Naval Bases in Relation to Empire Defence," .
of the Royal United Service Institution, IXXVII (1932), 46-62:
<T7 J. TJ.' Little'; ""Naval Bases and Sea Power,'1 ibid.. LXXIV (1929),
55-62; Sir P. D. C. Sturdee, "The Importance of Battleships,
Cruisers, and Suitably Placed Bases for Maintaining the Overseas
Communications," ibid., IXVIII (1923), 623-40; C. H. N. James,
"Naval Bases and Fighting Power," Brassey's Naval and Shipping
Annual. 1925 (London, 1925), pp. 107-20.
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The mobility, protection, and striking power which the
fleet as a whole possesses varies, of course, as to balance arid
combination among the various types of vessels. Thus the capital
ship-as the most powerful unit of the fleet probably represents
these qualities at their highest. For this reason, attempts have
been made to single out various vessels of the fleet and designate
them as offensive, the implication being that the types not so
singled out are defensive. Such distinctions, however, are diffi­
cult to draw. Armaments must be considered in relation to their
immediate objectives or targets; from this standpoint, the cruiser
and the destroyer are as offensive as the capital ship, the air­
craft carrier, and the submarine. The cruiser has, for example,
as one of its objectives commerce destruction, which can only be
accomplished by offensive action, however defensive it may be
strategically and politically. In actions with the fleet also,
the smaller vessels act on the offensive even when their purpose
is protective. 104 The larger units, however— the capital ship
and the aircraft carrier— disposing of a longer cruising radius,
more powerful guns, and superior protection, in various combina­
tions, represent a more formidable combination of mobility, strik­
ing power, and protection than the smaller units; they are, there­
fore, more nearly indispensable to the state whose grand strategy
is aggressive in relation to maritime Interests.
In the light of the Naval Commission’s Interpretation of
the qualitative question, the offensive or defensive character of
naval power depends upon circumstances, for a fleet would not in
all cases be an Instrument without which a country adopting a
policy of armed aggression or undertaking offensive operations
could not hope to succeed with rapidity and decisiveness. As
Admiral Richmond and others point out, a country, like a fortress,
may be overcome by assault (invasion) or by investment.^"®® But
sea power alone is unable to defeat a nation by invasion, though
it may contribute materially to that result by supporting the
transportation and landing of troops and terrestrial armaments .
Primarily, sea power proceeds by investment, that is, by bringing
104Cf. Richmond, ”The Problem of Disarmament: Geneva and
the Navies,” op. clt., pp. 279-88.
10®Q,uoted, Dupuy and Eliot, op. clt.. p. 149. Cf. Sir
Herbert Richmond, Naval Warfare (London, 1930), pp. 15, 49, 58 ff.
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pressure to bear on the external communications of a country, the
effectiveness of such pressure being measured, by the degree of de­
pendence of that nation’s military effort and economic life on
such-communications. In the case of a country dependent to a de­
cisive extent upon the sea lanes (for example, the United King­
dom) , its opponent must have maritime strength in order to be suc­
cessful in armed aggression or offensive operations against its
home base (unless air power proves capable of delivering a "knock­
out blow"); If a state is not so dependent, sea power Is limited
in its effects. In the light of this criterion, the offensive or
defensive nature of the naval instrument would depend entirely,
or nearly so, on the relative circumstances of the various states
It must, then, be concluded that In order to reach its
maximum degree of effectiveness, the fleet as a whole, and prob­
ably nearly every individual unit in It, must necessarily act of­
fensively, even though on the political or strategical level its
function may be essentially defensive.
In the course of this survey of military theory as it
bears upon the problem of qualitative disarmament, certain con­
clusions have from time to time been suggested. In the next chap­
ter, these conclusions, as well as those which have emerged from
earlier chapters, will be drawn together in an attempt to evalu­
ate in their entirety the postwar efforts to define and to limit
aggressive as distinct from defensive armament.
106Cf. Richmond, "Britain's Naval Policy: Some Dangers
and Delusions." op. clt., pp. 414-25. Of. also works cited supra.
nn. 64, 100.
. - d H .
i f c ;
. . .
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Any attempt to evaluate the qualitative approach to dis­
armament, a program of world legislation involving tremendous
changes in existing methods for the conduct of international af­
fairs, must begin by positing three primary questions: Is the
proposal sound in principle? Can it be adopted? If adopted,
will it prove satisfactory in practice? Since the qualitative
idea was never put to the test of practical operation, the third
query constitutes one of the minor "if's of history” which can­
not be discussed short of entering a highly conjectural realm
of discourse. But the first two questions are susceptible of
analysis on the basis of probabilities, though not on the basis
of certainties, and such an analysis may even incidentally sug­
gest, plausible surmises regarding an answer to the third ques­
tion. Hence this chapter begins with an evaluation of the quali­
tative principle as a principle, and ends with an evaluation of
qualitative disarmament in international politics.
The qualitative concept embraces two main branches,the
proposal to abolish, and the proposal to internationalize, offen­
sive weapons. The idea of abolition has for Its immediate objec­
tive the creation of a stable military situation reducing or
eliminating the probability of victory by offensive action, a set
of armament conditions which would, in the event ofresort to hos­
tilities, produce stalemate, limiting even the triumph of the de­
fender to preservation of the territorial status quo.
The object of qualitative disarmament is to increase the
possession of defensive weapons and to decrease the posses­
sion of offensive weapons, under the assumption that if each
country has a perfect defense and no country has an offen­
sive force capable of penetrating these defenses, then in­
vasion has become physically Impossible . This conception
that the object of a disarmament conference is to prevent
the possibility of territorial invasion has been emphasized
especially by the American delegation at the Disarmament Con­
^Quincy Wright, The Causes of War and the Conditions of
Peace (London, 1935;, p . 58.
i . i
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The qualitative idea implies that if attack is thus rendered dif­
ficult through destruction of the material means of assault, war,
which is called into existence by the initiative of attack and
the resistance of defense, would become improbable. The method
is thus an effort to manipulate the balance of power. It assumes
that dynamic society produces an unstable and continually shift­
ing equilibrium of material forces— components of national power—
between states. Certain nations are constantly gaining in power,
others are losing. Lack of technique for measurement of the ex­
tent and nature of this process leaves room for differing esti­
mates of national diplomatic and military strength, and provides
opportunity for collision between military organizations each of
which believes itself to be the probable victor. Moreover, some
consnentators, after reviewing war in world history, conclude that
an inevitable tendency toward stalemate exists, "in which victory
can be won only by years of mutual attrition, so expensive to the
victor that war ceases to be an efficient instrument." The policy
of qualitative disarmament is Intended to reinforce this tendency
toward a stable balance of power, on the assumption that if every
resort to hostilities ends in stalemate, then war has ceased to
be the profitable Instrument of national policy which It is in an
unstable power situation. General recognition of the Ineffective­
ness of war-as a tool of diplomacy, it is further assumed, would
induce statesmen to abandon its use In favor of more efficient
methods for attaining the objectives of foreign policy.
A psy­
chological feeling of security would be Induced in the popular
and governmental mind, devices for pacific settlement of inter­
national disputes would be provided an opportunity to function
free from threats of sudden resort to force, experiments in peace­
ful change could be undertaken. Thus the ultimate alms of the
qualitative method, the preservation of peace and the establish­
ment of security, would be achieved.
In Its "abolition" form, the qualitative Idea advanta­
geously avoids numerous difficulties which serve to perplex and
embarrass other programs with similar objectives. For example,
it renders less necessary complex decisions as to the aggressor
Ibid., p. 49. Cf. J. Holland Rose, The Indecisiveness
of Modern War and Other Essays (London, 1927) .
5Wrlght. op. clt.. pp. 8-11, 49 ff.
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in international conflicts* it avoids the paradoxical effort to
secure consent to a peaceful solution on the part of the disput- „
ant which has the more to gain by rapid offensive action? it re­
frains from spreading the area covered by war through undertaking,
in the form of military sanctions, such offensive action against
an aggressor as is necessary to deprive him of gains accruing
from attack? it lays aside extensive verbal and moral commitments
standing unimplemented, and operates instead upon the material
world of armaments, on the assumption that while the treaty pledge
may be violated instantaneously, time is required for the recon­
struction of armaments once destroyed.
The second form which the qualitative concept assumes,
that of internationalization of offensive armaments, presents an
essentially different nature . The immediate objective of inter­
nationalization is not elimination of the possibility of military
victory, nor the production of military stalemate. By prohibit­
ing arms of attack to national forces, it is true, international­
ization would contribute to this result? but the creation of a
world army or police force possessing the means of offensive ac­
tion and pledged to assist the defender as opposed to the aggres­
sor would have the effect of furthering offensive victory on the
side of the original defender, and even of making such triumph
more decisive. Internationalization would embrace and magnify,
rather than avoid, the difficulties of other peace programs.
Thus it would necessitate rapid and exact operation of war-prevention machinery? it would depend upon the observance of complex
treaty pledges? it would call into being additional perplexities
associated with such subjects as determination of the aggressor,
provocation, organization of an international army, and establish­
ment of control over it? it might tend to enlarge the scope of
hostilities, if once •undertaken, far beyond the bounds of the
original outbreak. The internationalization concept would seem to
be based to some extent upon the ancient distinction between just
and unjust wars, modified by the later conception that a just war
is not necessarily one fought by the side which has abstract jus­
tice in its favor, but is one conducted by the nation which is de­
fending itself against attack, or is co-operating with other na­
tions in resisting an effort to use war as an instrument of na­
tional policy. As a matter of fact, the internationalization form
of the qualitative negotiations is not, in principle, properly a
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part of the qualitative concept at all. Internationalization is
a logical extension into the military realm of the French security
program, a magnification of French security policy to the ultimate-degree of organization and unacceptability, discussed under
the term "qualitative" because of the bargaining power of French
delegations in disarmament conferences, not because of its logi­
cal relation to the main qualitative theme. The internationaliza­
tion proposals are so extensive in their ramifications, involving
nothing less than complete reorganization of the world, that it is
expedient to consider them outside the main topic of this chapter.
Comprehensive consideration of all the features of the French in­
terpretation of qualitative disarmament--an international army,
for example— would carry the discussion entirely too far afield.
In the remainder of the present chapter, therefore, attention will
be directed to the "abolition" aspect of the qualitative concept.
The qualitative idea, thus limited, implies an end and a
means. The end to be attained is the establishment of security
and the elimination of war from the international system. The
means for the realization of these purposes consists of the aboli­
tion and prohibition of offensive armaments. The end and the
means are connected, and the qualitative principle is born, as
the result of a series of primary assumptions or postulates:
(1) that it is possible in a military and political sense to draw
an intellectually defensible distinction between offensive and de­
fensive armaments; (2) that by denying offensive weapons to all
states, military attack will automatically be made impossible, or
so difficult as to become improbable; (5) that by this exclusion
of military offense, war will be prevented and security guaran­
teed, because attack initiates war and brings defensive operations
into existence, hence without attack there will be no defense and
no war; (4) that the "functions" in international affairs now
served by the exercise of violence--in particular, the periodic
revision of the status quo— either could be adequately served by
other agencies, or are not essential.
An exploration of the first assumption was undertaken in
the preceding chapter, and the conclusions there reached tended
to emphasize the following considerations. The complexity and
difficulty of attempting to state the qualitative distinction are
enormous. Military theorists, writing before the-advent of the
qualitative idea in practical politics, employ an indirect ap-
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proach dealing only secondarily with weapons, and devoted to dem­
onstrating that the distinction between offensive and defensive
is one of the objective, rather than one concerned with the mate­
rial-means (armaments) utilized to reach the objective. The of­
fensive is associated with the positive political object of ac­
quiring, the defensive with the negative purpose of preserving.
In this sense, armaments, being a means without any intention
apart from their users, would be attacking or defending according
to the subjective aims of those commanding them. Despite this
general trend of military theory, however, it is possible to dis­
cern certain features of the offensive in the abstract which might
also be considered characteristics of a weapon of assault, namely,
striking power combined with protected mobility. Writing since
the qualitative Idea became a matter of wide discussion, a number
of military publicists do extend these conceptions, drawn by im­
plication from classical military thought, to cover the case of
weapons; they maintain that the qualitative program is sound in
principle and feasible in practice. On the other hand, a majority
among recent commentators insists that no stable classification
of weapons into offensive and defensive categories is possible .
It is argued that the character of armament is governed by Its
strategical use rather than by its inherent qualities. This
group, however, though denying the validity of the qualitative
distinctions, frequently falls into the habit of referring to
various weapons either as offensive or defensive. When the com­
mentators declare that a weapon is offensive or defensive accord­
ing to circumstances of its use, they are relying on a "grandstrategical" frame of reference; when they label a certain weapon
as offensive or defensive, without reference to its use, they are
basing their remarks on the mode of action of the weapon, not on
its strategical employment. For, as was seen above, a weapon
may serve, in the broader strategical sense, either for the of­
fensive or for the defensive, may be capable of acting only, or
almost entirely, in an offensive manner. Hence It seemed pos­
sible, in the preceding chapter, to assert that certain weapons
are offensive in one or both of two senses: (l) they can only act
offensively, that is, by attacking, whatever their differing ef­
fects and purposes at the higher levels of analysis; (2) in the
4Supra, pp. 112 f .
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event that a state adopts a policy of aggression, or undertakes
offensive operations against another state, they are the weapons
which are indispensable to the success of such policy or such
operations. Therefore, the first assumption of the qualitative
principle would appear to possess a high degree of validity; it
is possible, as the military experts recognize, to distinguish
between offensive and defensive armaments— always provided, how­
ever, that such a distinction is based .clearly upon a careful ree
statement of the essential elements of the problem.
The second assumption inherits certain difficulties from
the first. Even after re-statement of the question, some weapons
are found to be both offensive and defensive, and in many other
instances it is impossible to determine which arm is specialized
for attack and which for defense. Therefore, any qualitative pro­
gram actually adopted might result in the destruction of some de­
fensive weapons and the retention of some offensive arms; or might
result in the disorganization of national defense as well as in
the disorganization of attack. But despite this risk, it would
appear that tanks, heavy mobile artillery, military aircraft (par­
ticularly bombers), naval types such as capital ships, aircraft
carriers, and submarines (against commerce), and the instruments
of chemical and bacteriological warfare, are such powerful instru­
ments of offensive operations that, from the "operative11 point of
view, their elimination would enhance, though it could not guar­
antee, military stability. Such of these weapons as can only act
offensively are also defensive, of course, in the sense that by
acting offensively they may be contributing strategically or tac­
tically to defense; moreover, powerful weapons which are indis­
pensable to the success of aggression or offensive operations, may also doubtless be Indispensable to successful defense, if
both aggressor and defender possess them. But here the "opera­
tive" point of view emerges; if certain weapons necessary to the
success of the aggressor were abolished, a check to aggression
would be administered, and the defense would have less need of
the same powerful armaments.
It appears to me a reasonable deduction that a quick
decision in war implies the victory of the aggressor, of
^ o r such a re-statement, see supra, pp. Ill ff.
6Supra, pp. 114 f.
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the nation which has prepared for war as the instrument of
a designedly aggressive policy. . . . . Now it is surely
indisputable that any strengthening of the defensive at the
expense of the offensive is a discouragement to aggression.
Thus it is beside the point to argue that a country that is
defending itself needs such weapons to eject an invader, for
the abolition of these weapons would help the defender far
more than the invader. It is to the preponderant advantage
of the defender that there can be no invasion in the first
place. If there is no possibility of successful attack,
there is no need for a counter-stroke— and no need for the
defender to have the means of making it. Thus only a poten­
tial aggressor loses by giving up these aids to the offen­
sive ,7
Thus It could be concluded that the definition and destruction of
offensive armaments would contribute powerfully toward the preven­
tion of aggression and the elimination of war. But the method is
not decisive; it would not necessarily forever preclude military
attack. It would, it is true, In proportion to its effectiveness,
eliminate the probability of sudden and immediate assault, but
the possibility of planned rearmament in the instruments of at­
tack would remain. One can imagine a state unable to protect or
advance, by the provided peaceful means, interests which it con­
siders essential to its existence, deliberately undertaking remanufacture of the devices indispensable to aggression. Due to
the production lag," such arms could not be produced instanta­
neously In significant quantities, and it is probable they could
not be produced secretly on a large scale if the safeguard of a
well-organized system of International disarmament supervision
were instituted. But if, when all plans were secretly laid,, ac­
tual manufacture began suddenly, the potential aggressor would
thus be a step ahead of other states in possession of the means
of offensive victory, and the advantage thus gained might be suf­
ficient to enable it to win the ensuing struggle. Other coun­
tries could not, immediately upon learning of the rupture of the
disarmament arrangements, bring pressure to bear upon the violator
by occupying his territory, for, under the qualitative hypothesis,
they would lack the military means indispensable for territorial
^Basil Henry Liddell Hart, "Aggression and the Problem of
Weanons.11 Engl1sh Review. LV (1932), 72, 74 f.
Of. Victor Lefebrue, Scientific Disarmament (New York,
1931), passim.
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Complete acceptance of the third assumption is, in part,
precluded by the analysis just made of the second assumption. If,
after application of the qualitative method, military attack re­
mains possible, then war is not prevented and security is not
guaranteed. Even if the second assumption were admittedly valid,
however, the third still presents certain difficulties. After
offensive weapons were destroyed, military hostilities by the
utilization of defensive arms might still take place, either be­
cause knowledge of the Inevitable stalemate was imperfect, or be­
cause military strategists did not agree with the formulators of
the qualitative system as to the impossibility of victory with
the arms remaining, and were willing to assume the risk. More­
over, war is not exclusively a rational procedure, with logically
interconnected means and ends, but is in part a blind act of
force, a release for elemental drives within the individual and
group personalities. 9 To the extent that this psychological hy­
pothesis is valid, elimination of offensive weapons, and hence
presumably of the possibility of profitable victory, would not de­
ter resort to hostilities. Such hostilities with defensive arms
would, in proportion to the effectiveness of the qualitative ar­
rangements, probably end in stalemate, if offensive arms were not
re-acquired in the course of fighting. It would, however, be
difficult to imagine states engaged In war adhering to the dis­
armament agreements which prohibited construction of the weapons
of attack.
Finally, we come to the fourth assumption, which deals
primarily with the problem of peaceful change. It would not, per­
haps, be difficult to defend logically the proposition that the
status quo, the existing distribution of power, prestige, and pos­
sessions, should not be altered by forcible means. But the matter
presents greater complexity in the realm of international poli­
tics; that is, in the political sphere certain nations prefer war
and the use of force to submission to a condition of affairs which
they regard as unjust, or Immoral, or contrary to their vital In­
terests . To assume that the status quo should not be changed by
violence is only half the problem; the other half is to devise a
Cf. Caroline E. Playne, The Neuroses of Nations (New
York, 1925), and Society at War. 1914-1916 (Boston, 1931);
Harold D. Lasswell, World Politics and Personal Insecurity (New
York, 1935).
'. &m i*M & i n .
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means of changing it peaceably. In the absence of such a work­
able method of peaceful change, the history of international re-,
latlons tends to support the hypothesis that force will be em­
ployed to effect the change. It is true that forcible change in
the status quo implies aggression, which would presumably require
for its success aggressive weapons, and that these, under the
qualitative idea, would be eliminated; nevertheless, it might be
expected that when a state of affairs which a Great Power re­
garded as intolerable arose, such a ’’revisionist” power would
plan for the large-scale resumption of the production of offen­
sive armaments. A somewhat more optimistic estimate might en­
visage the possibility that after the destruction of weapons of
attack, the instruments of diplomacy would not be armaments in
existence and a readiness to use them, but rather the economic
and industrial power necessary to rebuild weapons of attack most
rapidly. In other words, those states possessing a high "war
would dominate the international scene, because if
their opponents went beyond certain limits in resisting their dip­
lomatic demands, they could utilize their industrial mechanism
for the reacquisition of offensive arms, which in turn would be­
come the means of direct military pressure against recalcitrant
adversaries. What would happen if two states approximately equal
in war potential came into diplomatic collision? If it were pos­
sible for the governments of the two countries to estimate quite
accurately which would win in the event of an armament race and
ensuing hostilities, the weaker would doubtless give way, short
of its political extinction being demanded, just as at the pres­
ent time, it is frequently said,'*''*' if it were possible to estimate
fighting effectiveness accurately, no wars would be fought, be­
cause the obvious loser would always yield. But capacity for the
future production of offensive armament is at least as difficult
^Slfar potential might be defined as the maximum military
power which a state could develop, measured by the maximum armed
forces and equipment that it could place In action If it had
every facility for thorough preparation in the course of pro­
longed hostilities; war potential thus Includes existing armaments
plus all objects capable of being transformed Into armaments and
all processes contributing to such transformation (Cf. Phillip J.
Noel Baker, Disarmament [London, 1926], p. 256; Lefebrue, op.
clt., p . 31).
■^Lasswell, op. clt., p . 57.
•, .-iSi&Efe. ■
•. i
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to appraise as fighting effectiveness. Hence if, after qualita­
tive disarmament, two states each of approximately equal war po-^
tential were involved in dispute, the probability seems to be that
on some occasion neither would give way because each would opti­
mistically consider its own chances of victory superior to those
of its opponent. Consequently, each would begin to reconstruct
offensive armament, and a war situation similar to the present
would reappear.
The qualitative principle was not adopted as the norm of
international conduct in the field of armaments; but this rejec­
tion was due primarily, not to the fact that the concept was
weighed impartially and internationally found wanting, but to the
fact that it became entangled in political controversies. Prom
the outset, the postwar disarmament negotiations have been domi­
nated by certain fundamental political issues— fundamental in the
sense that they had to be disposed of before powerful states would
agree to armament limitation; political in the sense that they re­
flected the policy and power of a state, and related to matters
which governments insisted upon having examined in the light of
the national interests involved, rather than on the basis of le­
gal or equitable rules. It is inevitable that considerations of
haute politique should govern the attitudes of states toward a
given program of armament redaction or limitation, for armaments
are the most significant instruments of national policy in the
present stage of international relations. Governments formulat­
ing a particular foreign policy, or deciding upon a specific
course of external action, are in the last analysis dependent to
an extraordinary degree upon power for the success of their plans.
Since the expectation of violence prevails in the international
community, military force or the threat of force is the most for­
midable and most obviously compelling element in the system of
power relationships. Armaments thus resolve themselves into dip­
lomatic tools, more useful in time of peace than in time of war,
and wielded not by military commanders, but by the diplomatic con­
tingent .
The diplomacy of the Great Powers is carried out not exclu­
sively, not always openly, not even always consciously, but
always nevertheless on such a principle. The foreign secre­
tary of this or that nation may be the most conciliatory man
on earth; yet the minimum which will be granted to him by his
adversaries will be considerably the higher for the fact of
his armaments. At their lowest, therefore, armed forces are
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on© of the most formidable tacit elements in international
policy; at their highest, the most formidable, indeed, the
determining factor .12
Armaments contributing powerfully to the offensive form of war­
fare have a special potency in this system, on the common military
assumption that the offensive alone gives victory. As a modern
combination of Machiavelli and Frederick the Great might construe
the precepts of Clausewitz:
When peaceful negotiation fails to solve a political
question, the controversy assumes another form of politi­
cal intercourse known as war.
Now when a controversy assumes this second form, it
is decided not by the best cause but by the most force.
Therefore, if I have enough force I can always compel sub­
mission to my will without reference to the merits of my
Furthermore, if I am known to be invincible in this
second form and always eager to embrace it, I can enforce
my will beyond my Just rights even while political action
is still in its normal peaceful form, because I can always
threaten a resort to the second form if I am not humoured.
My policy should therefore be to prepare for sudden
victorious attack. With this assured, I will be able to
make my neighbors pay me a sort of commutation of victory
even in time of peace.
Therefore, I propose to maintain a striking force al­
ways ready for offensive military action.13
It is the conscious or unconscious perception of these
tendencies which causes the greater proportion of armament con­
sultations rapidly to resolve themselves into armament confer­
ences. Any diminution in the relative armament strength of a
state means a proportionately diminished ability to carry its na­
tional policies through to what it regards as a successful conclu­
sion. Conference delegates are determined to maintain, and are
disposed to increase, their nation's armament power relative to
that of other states; hence they scrutinize every scheme of reduc­
tion with minute care, and uncharitably search for the special
motive prompting its proposal. Pervaded by this atmosphere of
mutual distrust, disarmament gatherings are led to discuss the
means of waging war under the name of peace. Disarmament discus­
sions have never been able to evade or ignore this intimate union
of policy and armaments; up to the present, all attempts to debate
Salvador de Madariaga, Disarmament (New York, 1929),
pp. 57 f.
■^®John M. Palmer, Statesmanship or War (New York, 1927),
pp . 5 f .
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armed forces apart from the tacit purposes for which they exist
have resulted in academic disputations as meaningless as those in­
dulged in by the medieval schoolmen.
The negotiations concerned with the definition and limi­
tation of offensive armaments were no exception to this trend.
The political representatives as well as the military experts of
each state were impelled to denominate as aggressive those weap­
ons which were more vital to the plans of a prospective diplo­
matic or military enemy than to the strategical dispositions of
their own forces. The nationality of armaments— the political pur­
poses behind them— and not their inherent character, became the
decisive factor in replying to the qualitative question. "The
Germans demanded payment in the coin of French and Polish disarma­
ment; the French in the coin of British and American commitments;
the British in the coin of French disarmament and American eommitments--and so on through the whole catalogue of sovereign selfcentered nations.nl4 All this clearly emphasized the fact that
the time-honored assumptions of diplomacy had not been completely
discarded in favor of a new world order. Diplomatic and military
experts have traditionally been charged with the duty, not of in­
suring peace through disarmament, but of securing the victory of
their respective states In the event of resort to diplomatic con­
tests or military conflicts. Thus the object of qualitative dis­
armament is the exact opposite of the object of military and dip­
lomatic strategy. While governments have, in the postwar period,
appeared to embrace the objectives associated with disarmament
and collective security, this change from a policy of preparing
for victory to a policy of organizing peace has been at best tenta­
tive and ambiguous. There has been no thoroughgoing abandonment
of the classical purposes of high politics. Maintenance of peace
has been frequently recognized as a national interest of the high­
est order; but simultaneously certain objectives which could be
attained only by violence have also been recognized as national
interests of the highest order. The present epoch may be a period
of transition An world history— transition from the exclusive pur­
suit of national interest, with war as an accepted instrument of
national policy, to the co-operative establishment of the condi14Arnold J. Toynbee (ed.), Survey of International Af­
fairs. 1953 (London, 1933), p. 175.
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tions of peace. But the latter goal is not yet in sight; it re­
mains a period of transition.
But the postwar disarmament negotiations, including those
concerned with the qualitative method, have not been utterly de­
void of accomplishment. They have, it is true, failed to estab­
lish a military stability making sudden attack improbable and
serving to delay or prevent war, and their failure has been the
signal for new armament races and new hostilities; "the history
of the World Disarmament Conference during the year 1932 [and fol­
lowing years] casts a searching light upon the character and prospects of the Great Society of the day,
emphasizing the violence
then in existence and more to come. But when the present outbreak
of force has ended once more in confusion and futility, then the
question of armament and disarmament will once again occupy the
peacemakers, and then the disarmament accomplishments of the years
following the First World War will come into their own. For in
this era the question of armaments was at least internationalized,
that is, removed from the exclusive and mysterious realm of na- .
tional sovereignty, and placed in the arena of practical diplo­
matic negotiation. Elaborate institutions, procedures, and or­
ganizations, designed to deal with disarmament from every conceiv­
able angle, were built up. Military experts and political repre­
sentatives- made thorough explorations of armament problems; and
these studies may well serve as future mines of information, il­
lustrative of strategical conceptions as well as of national in­
terests and purposes, useful both to the statesman and to the
student. Comprehensive disarmament schemes were produced by re­
sponsible political organs, and compromises were reached on moot
point8 of land, sea, and air armament reduction. A naval race
was postponed for two decades, and a political equilibrium was
established between great maritime states. Doubtless all this
will have to be done over in the new balance of power which will
emerge from the present resort to arms; but a starting point at
least exists. In short, if judged by reference to some remote
and ideal standard, the accomplishments in the field of disarma­
ment appear thus far extremely modest, indeed, totally inadequate
to the demands of the times; but if adjudged in the light of his­
torical perspectives and practical possibilities, these accom15Ibid., p. 173 •
.•. •'
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plishments assume the role of constructive first steps.
Thus far, the qualitative principle has been criticized
with almost maximum severity. But this is merely another way of
stating that the principle is not perfect, is not a panacea. In
the last analysis, after all the inherent defects and dangerous
risks of the concept and its application have been pointed out,
it Is difficult to envisage clearly any alternative which is more
than a mere acquiescence in, or even a hastening of, common dis­
aster. In no event, however, can qualitative disarmament be re­
garded in abstract Isolation, apart from other devices for operat­
ing international affairs. General disarmament, of which the
qualitative method forms a part, seeks to establish only one among
the several indispensable conditions of peace. A substantial por­
tion of the above criticism of the qualitative concept demon­
strates that complete application of this concept would not render
war impossible, but would, in the absence of broader measures,
only serve to postpone it. Evidently the conditions of peace in­
clude not only the stable balance of power which the qualitative
approach seeks to establish, but also a system of International
law Intolerant of violence, a desire for peace in the human popu­
lation superior to all conflicting desires, and an organization
of the world community adequate to restrain hostilities.
armament can only be expected to Impose upon nations contemplat­
ing war a period of preparatory delay of such duration as to fur­
nish the perfected mechanisms which future generations may devise
in these other areas of control an opportunity to function with
the requisite freedom from Blitzkrieg. If this other machinery
of adjustment is inadequate or ineffectual, then disarmament alone
can never assure the maintenance of peace. But disarmament, and
especially the qualitative type, is of fundamental Importance.
If it Is true that armament limitation in part depends for Its
practical efficiency upon the other conditions of peace, it is
even more true that the latter depend to a considerable extent up­
on disarmament. For without measures which insure against rapid
resort to arms in time of crisis, the machinery of adjustment can
never operate fairly; the whole edifice of peace crumbles to the
ground at the first glimpse of a mobilization order. National
safety can be achieved only through a disarmament scheme which
1%right, op . clt., pp. 2-3.
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precludes sudden attack— the aim of the qualitative method— and
through a political organization which strives to eliminate the
reasons for attack. United, these measures constitute the strong­
est- hope for future peace. Separated, they are meaningless.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
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Baty, T.
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Challeat, General M. J. ’'Tactics and Materiel,” Army Ordnance,
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Davis, John W. “Anglo-American Relations and Sea Power," Foreign
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Festina, Lente. "Why Are Nations Armed? Why Should They Disarm?
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Feo, Commandant de V. "The Future of the Submarine," Brassey's
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Fuller, Captain A. G. "Fact versus Fancy in Disarmament," Na­
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Fuller, John Frederick Charles. "Aggression and Aggressive Weap­
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_______ . "Military Inventions: Their Antiquity and Influence
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_______ . "One Hundred Problems of Mechanization," Army Quar­
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_______ . "Problems of Mechanical Warfare," Army Quarterly, III
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_______ . "Progress in the Mechanlcalizatlon of Modem Armies,"
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_______ . "Science and War," Nineteenth Century and After, CIII
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Grey, Viscount. "Freedom of the Seas," Foreign Affairs, VIII
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Groves, Brigadier General P. R. C. "The Influence of Aviation
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Hilton, Captain R. "Fire Power or Armor," Journal of the Royal
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James, Commander C. H. N. "Naval Bases and Fighting Power,"
Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual, 1925, pp. 107-20.
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Moore, Charles G. "American Naval Policy," Brassey's Naval and
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