The Failure of Disarmament

Since it was formed at the Paris Peace Conference, one of the League's most important aims was disarmament.

By joining the League of Nations, members committed to the aim of reducing their armaments, however, by 1930, Germany was to only country who had kept to their commitment (although this is because it was a term of the Treaty of Versailles).

To address the issue, the World Disarmament Conference was organised on the League and conducted in February 1932.

Prior to the conference, a Preparatory Commission was established in 1925 and 1931. They reported that members of the League were so minded to discuss the issue of disarmament.

The conference was led by former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson and was attended by representatives of over 60 nations, including the USA and the USSR.

By 1933, it was evident that negotiations had broken down. On the 14th of October 1933, Adolf Hitler pulled Germany out of the World Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations.

Despite the amount of time spent negotiating, the Conference had failed to settle any problems regarding disarmament. There were three main reasons for this.

  1. The Great Depression.

  • Social and economic effects of the Great Depression were being felt across the world. Many countries were facing the threat of revolutions and wished to maintain their level of armaments to minimise the risk and fight off any revolutions.

  1. The Manchurian Crisis. (click for more info)

  • The Manchurian crisis began in September 1931. There had been an explosion on the Japanese owned South Manchuria Railway in China. Japanese Army patrolling the area claimed the Chinese were responsible and Japan invaded Manchuria.

  • The Japanese were ordered to withdraw, but they ignored the League and announced their decision to withdraw in February 1933. Besides this, they also increased the size and strength of their navy.

    • Through this, Japan was breaking the commitments made in the Five Power Treaty of the Washington Conference in which they agreed to limit their Navy to 300,000 tons.

    • The expanse threatened US interests in East Asia, so they were determined to maintain their armaments.

    • Countries felt that they needed to maintain their militaries to protect themselves from Japanese imperialism (and other threats, such as potential revolutions).

  1. Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany.

  • Hitler had consistently campaigned for reversing the Treaty of Versailles and restoring Germany's military and nationalism. As a result, many European nations felt threatened and wished to maintain their armaments to protect themselves from German aggression.

  • At the World Disarmament Conference, Hitler demanded that Germany be allowed to increase their armaments in the interest of Self-Defence.

  • He believed that while Germany had reduced their armaments to a very low level under the Treaty of Versailles, no other countries had reduced their armaments according to their commitments at the Paris Peace Conference. Therefore, Germany was still in no position to defend itself against foreign powers.

    • Some of the delegates felt that Hitler's proposals were reasonable, however, France remained concerned of a German invasion, and refused to consider to disarm or allow the Germans to re-arm.

    • Due to the French refusing to negotiate, Hitler withdrew from the World Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October 1933.

In the end, the World Disarmament Conference was a failure.

Two major world powers, Germany and Japan, had both committed to rearmament and left the League of Nations. Many countries felt that this threatened their own security and national interest. Therefore, many countries, especially Europe and the USA, began to increase their arms.