Non-Interventionism

Postwar Isolationism

Despite the United States’ participation in World War I and President Wilson’s efforts to shape the terms of postwar peace, the majority of American politicians and the American public continued to support isolationism as long as the U.S. entry into World War II seemed unavoidable.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the reasons behind U.S. isolationism following World War I.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The United States’ participation in World War I convinced many that the long-cherished position of American isolationism should be embraced even more fervently in the world changed by the first global conflict on such a massive scale.
  • Despite common reservations about the United States breaking its tradition of staying away from global entanglements, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave his famous Fourteen Points speech, in which he delineated principles for world peace that were to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I.
  • The Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles, which automatically rejected the United States’ membership in the League of Nations.
  • Although the United States was unwilling to commit to the League of Nations, the country followed ambiguous foreign policy and signed a number of international treaties and agreements in the 1930s.
  • Non-interventionism  took a new turn during the Great Depression. President Herbert Hoover repeated the United States’ commitment to isolationism while his successor, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, translated this commitment into a number of foreign policy decisions, including introduction of the Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America.
  • Hitler’s growing power in the 1930s and the resulting outbreak of World War II in Europe forced the United States to abandon its long-standing non-interventionist stand.

Key Terms

  • Good Neighbor Policy: A policy introduced in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that promoted the principle of non-intervention and non-interference in the domestic affairs of Latin America. It was introduced after a period when the United States’ military repeatedly intervened in Latin America, usually in order to protect its own interests in the region.
  • League of Nations: An international organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the first World War. Proposed by President Woodrow Wilson, its goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy, and improving global quality of life. The U.S. never joined the organization.
  • Kellogg-Briand Pact: An international agreement, in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them. ” It was signed by Germany, France, and the United States in 1928 and many other nations after that.
  • Irreconcilables: A bi-partisan group of Senators who opposed the Treaty of Versailles in the United States in 1919.

World War I and American Isolationism

The United States’ participation in World War I convinced many that the long-cherished position of American isolationism should be embraced even more fervently in the world changed by the first global conflict on such a massive scale. The discussion intensified at the time when the United States entered World War I and continued even in light of wide political and popular support for the U.S. entry into the Great War. Despite common reservations about the United States breaking its tradition of staying away from global entanglements, in January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave his famous Fourteen Points speech, in which he delineated principles for world peace that were to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I. One of the points proposed in the speech was the establishment of the League of Nations–an international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. The Fourteen Points speech was the only explicit statement of war aims by any of the nations fighting in World War I. While European powers allied with the United States welcomed the speech, some of the most influential European leaders considered it too idealistic.

Isolationism after World War I

Despite the United States’ participation in World War I and Wilson’s international efforts to establish a new, peaceful global order, non-interventionist tendencies of U.S. foreign policy were in full force in the aftermath of the war. The Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles, which automatically rejected the United States’ membership in the League of Nations. A group of Senators known as the Irreconcilables, identifying with William Borah and Henry Cabot Lodge, two prominent Republican politicians known for their commitment to isolationism, had objected the clauses of the treaty which compelled America to come to the defense of other nations. The results of the 1920 elections, with the victory of Republican Warren G. Harding supporting American opposition to the League of Nations, proved that the isolationist stand enjoyed substantial support among ordinary Americans.

Although the United States was unwilling to commit to the League of Nations, the country followed ambiguous foreign policy and signed a number of international treaties and agreements. Congress passed the Knox–Porter Resolution, bringing a formal end to hostilities between the United States and the Central Powers (signed into law by President Harding in 1921). Soon after, the US– German Peace Treaty of 1921 was signed in Berlin, the US–Austrian Peace Treaty of 1921 was signed in Vienna, and the US Hungarian Peace Treaty of 1921 was signed in Budapest. In August 1928, Germany, France, and the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a brainchild of American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand (following the original signatories, other nations joined, eventually reaching the number of 62). The pact aimed to outlaw war and show the United States’ commitment to international peace. However, it did not hold the United States to the conditions of any existing treaties; it still allowed European nations the right to self-defense, and it stated that if one nation broke the pact, it would be up to the other signatories to enforce it. The Kellogg-Briand Pact was more of a sign of good intentions on the part of the U.S., rather than a legitimate step towards the sustenance of world peace.

Non-interventionism or isolationism took a new turn during the Great Depression. President Herbert Hoover repeated the United States’ commitment to isolationism while his successor, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, translated this commitment into a number of foreign policy decisions, including the introduction of the Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America. The policy aimed to replace earlier military interventions of the United States in Latin America with the principle of non-intervention and non interference in the domestic affairs of Latin America. The attention of the country focused now mostly on addressing the problems of the national economy. The rise of aggressive expansionism policies by fascist Italy and the Empire of Japan led to conflicts such as the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. These events led to rhetorical condemnations by the League of Nations and official American response was muted. America also did not formally take sides in the brutal Spanish Civil War.

While the U.S. Congress passed a number of so-called neutrality acts in the 1930s, fascism in Europe gained massive influence and the continent was on the brink of war. When in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the outbreak of World War II, Americans were divided over the question of non interventionism. The basic principle of the interventionist argument was fear of German invasion. By the summer of 1940, France suffered a stunning defeat by Germans, and Britain was the only democratic enemy of Germany. In a 1940 speech, Roosevelt argued, “Some, indeed, still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we … can safely permit the United States to become a lone island … in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.” A national survey found that in the summer of 1940, 67 percent of Americans believed that a German-Italian victory would endanger the United States, that if such an event occurred, 88 percent supported “arm[ing] to the teeth at any expense to be prepared for any trouble,” and that 71 percent favored “the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men.”

However, there were still many who held on to non-interventionism. Although a minority, they were well organized and had a powerful presence in Congress. Ultimately, the ideological rift between the ideals of the United States and the goals of the fascist powers empowered the interventionist argument. In 1941, the actions of the Roosevelt administration made it more and more clear that the United States was on a course to war. This policy shift, driven by the President, came in two phases. The first came in 1939 with the passage of the Fourth Neutrality Act, which permitted the United States to trade arms with belligerent nations, as long as these nations came to America to retrieve the arms, and pay for them in cash. The second phase was the Lend-Lease Act of early 1941. The act allowed the president “to lend, lease, sell, or barter arms, ammunition, food, or any ‘defense article’ or any ‘defense information’ to ‘the government of any country whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States.'” American public opinion supported Roosevelt’s actions.

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Isolationist sentiments: An anti-war protest sign reads “No Foreign Entanglements” prior to U.S. entry into WWII, circa 1942.

War Debts and Reparations

Germany was required to pay massive reparations in the aftermath of WWI, which led to the country’s devastating economic situation.

Learning Objectives

Describe Germany’s reparations following World War I, including the Dawes and Young Plans, and their effect on the German economy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • World War I reparations were compensation imposed during the Paris Peace Conference upon Germany following its defeat in World War I by the Allied and Associated Powers that formally held Germany responsible for World War I.
  • The 1919 Treaty of Versailles and the 1921 London Schedule of Payments required Germany to pay 132 billion gold marks (US$33 billion) in reparations to cover civilian damage caused during the war.
  • Under the burden of the reparation demands, the German economy was on the verge of collapse and Germany was not able to meet the payment requirements. As a consequence of a German default on timber deliveries in December 1922, the Reparations Commission declared Germany in default, which led to the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923.
  • In 1924, the Dawes Plan that ended the occupation of the Ruhr and reorganized the payment of reparation was proposed.
  • In 1929, the Young Plan proposed a new payment schedule and established the final sum of debt.
  • The Great Depression led to the final collapse of the international system of debt developed after World War I.

Key Terms

  • Young Plan: A program for settlement of German reparation debts after World War I, written in 1929 and formally adopted in 1930.
  • Article 231: The article of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles (knows as the “War Guilt Clause”) that declared Germany responsible for all “loss and damage” experienced by the Allied and Associated powers during World War I.
  • Occupation of the Ruhr: A period of military occupation of the major industrial region in Germany by France and Belgium between 1923 and 1925 in response to the Weimar Republic’s failure to continue its reparation payments in the aftermath of World War I.
  • Treaty of Versailles: The major peace treaty at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
  • Dawes Plan: A 1924 plan to end the Ruhr occupation and reorganize the system of reparations imposed on Germany in the aftermath of World War I.

Reparations after World War I

World War I reparations was compensation imposed during the Paris Peace Conference upon the Central Powers following their defeat in World War I by the Allied and Associated Powers. Each of the defeated powers was required to make payments in either cash or kind. However, it was Germany that was officially held responsible for World War I and while other Allied Powers’ payments were soon dramatically reduced or cancelled, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI, and the 1921 London Schedule of Payments required Germany to pay 132 billion gold marks (US$33 billion) in reparations to cover civilian damage caused during the war. Part of the sum was never expected from Germany and was included to deceive the Anglo-French public into believing Germany was being heavily fined and punished for the war.

An important factor that contributed to this development was a massive debt that American allies, most notably France and the United Kingdom, owed to the United States in the aftermath of World War I. As the United States demanded its debtors to repay their loans, both France and the United Kingdom hoped the postwar reparations from Germany would enable them to do so. A massive economic crisis that ensued in Germany as a result of these policies is considered to be the major factor in the eventual growth of Hitler’s popularity and power.

Germany after World War I

Article 231 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles (knows as the “War Guilt Clause”) declared Germany responsible for all “loss and damage” experienced by the Allied and Associated Powers during World War I. The article noted that “Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

After negotiations, the 1921 London Schedule of Payments established the sum of 132 billion gold marks to be paid by Germany. This sum was a compromise promoted by Belgium against higher figures demanded by the French and Italians and the lower figure the British supported. It was divided into three series of bonds: “A” and “B” bonds together had a nominal value of 50 billion gold marks (US$12.5 billion)—less than the sum Germany had previously offered to pay. “C” bonds, comprising the remainder of the reparation figure, were included in the document to convince the public that Germany was held fully responsible for the war, but the Allied force recognized that the German government would be unable to pay the sum. Taking into account the sum already paid between 1919 and 1921, Germany’s immediate obligation was 41 billion gold marks. To pay toward this sum, Germany could pay in kind or in cash. Commodities paid in kind included coal, timber, chemical dyes, pharmaceuticals, livestock, agricultural machines, construction materials, and factory machinery. The gold value of these would be deducted from what Germany was required to pay.

Weimar Republic

Germans (between 1919 and 1933 referred to as Weimar Republic) viewed Article 231 and the resulting reparations requirement as a national humiliation. German politicians were vocal in their opposition to the article in an attempt to generate international sympathy, while German historians worked to undermine the article with the objective of subverting the entire treaty. The Allied leaders were surprised at the German reaction; they saw the article only as a necessary legal basis to extract compensation from Germany. American diplomat John Foster Dulles—one of the two authors of the article—later regretted the wording used, believing it further aggravated the German people.

Under the burden of the reparation demands, the German economy was on the verge of collapse. As some of the payments were in industrial raw materials, German factories were unable to function, and the German economy suffered, further damaging the country’s ability to pay. By late 1922, the German defaults on payments had grown so regular that a crisis engulfed the Reparations Commission; the French and Belgian delegates urged occupying the Ruhr, Germany’s major industrial region, as a way of forcing Germany to pay more, while the British delegate urged a lowering of the payments. As a consequence of a German default on timber deliveries in December 1922, the Reparations Commission declared Germany in default, which led to the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923. Particularly galling to the French was that the timber quota the Germans defaulted on was based on an assessment of their capacity the Germans made themselves and subsequently lowered. The entire conflict was further exacerbated by a German default on coal deliveries in early January 1923. The occupation, which led to the death of some German civilians, provoked pro-German sentiments within the international community.

A young german man plasters a wall with bank notes

Hyperinflation: Germany, 1923: banknotes had lost so much value that they were used as wallpaper.

The Dawes Plan and the Young Plan

The Allied occupation of the Ruhr industrial area contributed to the hyperinflation crisis in Germany, partially because of its disabling effect on the German economy. In response to the crisis, the Dawes Committee, chaired by Charles G. Dawes, proposed a plan in 1924. The Dawes Plan ended the occupation of the Ruhr region and reorganized German payments, which contributed to some level of stabilization of the German economy.

The Dawes Plan managed to end a major international crisis and Germany was able to meet its payment requirements. However, the plan was a temporary measure and in 1929, a new committee was formed to re-examine reparations. It was chaired by the American banker Owen D. Young and presented its findings in June 1929. The Young Plan was accepted and was ratified by the German government in 1930. It established a theoretical final reparation figure at 112 billion gold marks (US$26.35 billion), with a new payment schedule that would see reparations completed by 1988—the first time a final date had been set. In addition, foreign oversight of German finances was to end with the withdrawal of the Reparations Agency, which would be replaced by the Bank for International Settlements. The bank was established to provide cooperation among central banks and to receive and disburse reparation payments. A further loan of US$300 million was to be raised and given to Germany.

The Great Depression

In March 1930, the German government collapsed and was replaced by a new coalition led by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning. During 1931, a financial crisis began in Germany. In May, Creditanstalt—the largest bank in Austria—collapsed, sparking a banking crisis in Germany and Austria. In response, Brüning announced that Germany was suspending reparation payments. This resulted in a massive withdrawal of domestic and foreign funds from German banks. By mid-July, all German banks had closed. Until this point, France’s policy had been to provide Germany with financial support to help Brüning’s government stabilize the country. Brüning, now under considerable political pressure from the far-right and President Paul von Hindenburg, was unable to make any concessions or reverse policy. As a result, Brüning was unable to borrow money from foreign or domestic sources. Further attempts to enlist British support to end reparations failed; the British said it was a joint issue with France and the United States. In early July, Brüning announced “his intention to seek the outright revision of the Young Plan.” In light of the crisis and with the prospect of Germany being unable to repay her debts, United States President Herbert Hoover intervened. In June, Hoover publicly proposed a one-year moratorium to reparation and war debts. By July, the “Hoover Moratorium” had been accepted.

With the Great Depression now exerting its influence, the Bank for International Settlements reported that the Young Plan was unrealistic in light of the economic crisis and urged the world governments to reach a new settlement on the various debts they owed each other. During January 1932, Brüning said he would seek the complete cancellation of reparations. His position was supported by the British and Italians, and opposed by the French. Because of the political differences between countries on the subject and impending elections in France and Germany, a conference could not be established until June. This delay brought about the downfall of Brüning’s government. On June 16, the Lausanne Conference opened. However, discussions were complicated by the ongoing World Disarmament Conference. At the latter conference, the U.S. informed the British and French that they would not be allowed to default on their war debts. In turn, they recommended that war debts be tied into German reparation payments, to which the Germans objected. On July 9, an agreement was reached and signed. The Lausanne Conference annulled the Young Plan and required Germany to pay a final, single installment of 3 billion marks, saving France from political humiliation and ending Germany’s obligation to pay reparations.

The British economist John Maynard Keynes, in his best-selling 1919 book, argued that reparations threatened to destabilize the German economy and hence German politics. Keynes’ views greatly influenced the way historians and economists assess the post-WWI reparations. Many agree that the economic crisis and the sense of national humiliation resulting from the unrealistic demands paved the way for Hitler to take over power and, eventually, led to the tragedy of World War II.

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Between 1923 and 1925 France and Belgium occupied the German industrial region of the Ruhr. Germans fervently opposed the occupation.: Protests by gymnasts from the Ruhr at the 1923 Munich Gymnastics Festival. The sign on the left reads “The Ruhr remains German.” The right placard reads “We never want to be vassals.” German Federal Archive, 1923.

Attempts at Disarmament

In the aftermath of World War I, many international efforts leading to disarmament were undertaken, but they all eventually failed to achieve their stated goal.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the treaties resulting from the Washington Naval Conference, the Spirit of Locarno, and the World Disarmament Conference and reasons for their ultimate failure

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After World War I, many attempts at disarmament, or the reduction or abolition of the military forces and weapons of a nation, emerged worldwide. In 1921, during the Washington Naval Conference, three major treaties were signed: Four-Power Treaty, Five-Power Treaty ( more commonly known as the Washington Naval Treaty), and the Nine-Power Treaty. It also produced a number of smaller agreements.
  • The Locarno Treaties were seven agreements negotiated in Locarno, Switzerland, (October 5 October 16, 1925), in which the Western European Allied powers and the new states of East Central Europe sought to secure the post-World War I territorial settlement and normalize relations with defeated Germany.
  • In August 1928, Germany, France, and the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, brainchild of American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand (following the original signatories, other nations joined, eventually reaching the number of 62). The pact was an international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.”
  • Between 1932 and 1934, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the member states of the League of Nations convened the World Disarmament Conference. The international talks failed to achieve the disarmament goal.
  • The League of Nations was powerless to stop the re-militarization of Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1930s.
  • Japan and Germany voluntarily withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, and Italy withdrew in 1937. Finally, the league expelled the Soviet Union in 1939 after the invasion of Finland.

Key Terms

  • Treaty of Versailles: The major peace treaty at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied powers. It was signed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
  • Spirit of Locarno: Term used to refer to hope for international peace during the interwar period that came as a result of the Locarno Treaties. It was demonstrated in Germany’s admission to the League of Nations, the international organization established under the Versailles treaty, to promote world peace and cooperation, and in the subsequent withdrawal of Allied troops from Germany’s western Rhineland.
  • Kellogg-Briand Pact: An international agreement, in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.” It was signed by Germany, France, and the United States in 1928 and many other nations after that.
  • League of Nations: An international organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. Proposed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, its goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy, and improving global quality of life. The U.S. never joined it.
  • World Disarmament Conference: A conference attended by member states of the League of Nations, together with the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and organized to actualize the ideology of disarmament. It took place in Geneva, with representatives from 60 states, between 1932 and 1934. It failed to achieve its stated goal.
  • Washington Naval Conference: A military conference called by President Warren G. Harding and held in Washington from November 12, 1921, to February 6, 1922. Conducted outside the auspices of the League of Nations, it was attended by nine nations. It was the first international conference held in the United States and the first disarmament conference in history.

After World War I, many attempts at disarmament, or the reduction or abolition of the military forces and weapons of a nation, emerged worldwide. Historians writing in the 1930s began to emphasize the fast-paced arms race preceding the outbreak of World War I. Additionally, all the major powers, except the U.S., committed to disarmament in both the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations. Simultaneously, an international nongovernmental campaign to promote disarmament developed throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.

Washington Naval Conference

The Washington Naval Conference, also called the Washington Arms Conference or the Washington Disarmament Conference, was a military conference called by President Warren G. Harding and held in Washington from November 12, 1921, to February 6, 1922. Conducted outside the auspices of the League of Nations, it was attended by nine nations—the United States, Japan, China, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Portugal—regarding interests in the Pacific Ocean and East Asia. Soviet Russia was not invited to the conference. It was the first international conference held in the United States and the first disarmament conference in history.

The conference resulted in three major treaties: Four-Power Treaty, Five-Power Treaty (more commonly known as the Washington Naval Treaty), and the Nine-Power Treaty. It also produced a number of smaller agreements. The Four-Power Treaty was signed by the United States, Great Britain, France, and Japan. All parties agreed to maintain the status quo in the Pacific by respecting the Pacific holdings of the other countries, not seeking further territorial expansion, and mutual consultation with each other in the event of a dispute over territorial possessions. The Five-Power Treaty was signed by the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy. It limited the construction of battleships, battle cruisers, and aircraft carriers by the signatories. The numbers of other categories of warships, including cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, were not limited by the treaty, but those ships were limited to 10,000 tons displacement. The Nine-Power Treaty affirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China as per the Open Door Policy (keeping China open to trade with all countries on an equal basis, keeping any one power from total control of the country). It was signed by all of the attendees to the Washington Naval Conference.

These treaties preserved peace during the 1920s but are also credited with enabling the rise of the Japanese Empire as a naval power leading up to World War II.

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Battleships being dismantled for scrap in Philadelphia Navy Yard, after the Washington Naval Treaty imposed limits on capital ships, U.S. Naval Historical Center. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California:
Scene at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, December 1923, with guns from scrapped battleships in the foreground. One of these guns is marked “Kansas,” presumably an indication that it came from USS Kansas (BB-21). Ship being dismantled in the background is USS South Carolina (BB-26).

The Spirit of Locarno

The Locarno Treaties were seven agreements negotiated in Locarno, Switzerland, (October 5–October 16, 1925), in which the Western European Allied powers and the new states of East-Central Europe sought to secure the post-World War I territorial settlement and normalize relations with defeated Germany (at the time referred to as Weimar Republic). The treaties were formally signed in London on December 1, 1925. Ratifications for the Locarno Treaties were exchanged in Geneva on September 14, 1926, and on the same day, they became effective. The treaties were also registered in the League of Nations Treaty Series on the same day.

The principal treaty concluded at Locarno was the Rhineland Pact between Germany, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Germany formally recognized its new western borders acted by the Treaty of Versailles. Furthermore, the first three signatories undertook not to attack each other, with the latter two acting as guarantors. In the event of aggression by any of the first three states against another, all other parties were to assist the country under attack. Germany also agreed to sign arbitration conventions with France and Belgium and arbitration treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia, undertaking to refer disputes to an arbitration tribunal or to the Permanent Court of International Justice. France signed further treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia, pledging mutual assistance in the event of conflict with Germany. These essentially reaffirmed existing treaties of alliance concluded by France with Poland on February 19, 1921, and with Czechoslovakia on January 25, 1924.

Kellogg-Briand Pact Of 1928

In August 1928, Germany, France and the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, brainchild of American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand (following the original signatories, other nations joined, eventually reaching the number of 62). The pact was an international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.” Parties failing to abide by this promise “should be denied the benefits furnished by this treaty.” In general, the agreement aimed to outlaw war and show the United States’ commitment to international peace (the U.S. did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles or became a member of the League of Nations). However, it did not hold the United States to the conditions of any existing treaties, it still allowed European nations the right to self-defense, and it stated that if one nation broke the pact, it would be up to the other signatories to enforce it. The Kellogg-Briand Pact was more of a sign of good intentions on the part of the U.S., rather than a legitimate step toward the sustenance of world peace.

The World Disarmament Conference

Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations gave the League the task of reducing “armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations.” A significant amount of the League of Nation’s time and energy was devoted to this goal, even though many member governments were uncertain that such extensive disarmament could be achieved or was even desirable. The Allied powers were also under obligation by the Treaty of Versailles to attempt to disarm, and the armament restrictions imposed on the defeated countries had been described as the first step toward worldwide disarmament. The League Covenant assigned the league the task of creating a disarmament plan for each state, but the Council devolved this responsibility to a special commission set up in 1926 to prepare for the 1932–34 World Disarmament Conference.

Members of the League of Nations held different views toward the issue. The French were reluctant to reduce their armaments without a guarantee of military help if they were attacked; Poland and Czechoslovakia felt vulnerable to attack from the West and wanted the League’s response to aggression against its members to be strengthened before they disarmed. Without this guarantee, they would not reduce armaments because they felt the risk of attack from Germany was too great.

The World Disarmament Conference was an effort by member states of the League of Nations, together with the U.S. and the Soviet Union, to actualize the ideology of disarmament. It took place in Geneva, with representatives from 60 states, between 1932 and 1934. A one-year moratorium on the expansion of armaments, later extended by a few months, was proposed at the start of the conference. The Disarmament Commission obtained initial agreement from France, Italy, Japan, and Britain to limit the size of their navies. The talks were beset by a number of difficulties from the outset. Among these were disagreements over what constituted “offensive” and “defensive” weapons and the polarization of France and Germany. The increasingly military-minded German governments could see no reason why their country could not enjoy the same level of armaments as other powers, especially France. The French, for their part, were equally insistent that German military inferiority was their only insurance from future conflict as serious as they had endured in the First World War. As for the British and U.S. governments, they were unprepared to offer the additional security commitments that France requested in exchange for limitation of French armaments. The talks broke down and Hitler withdrew Germany from both the Conference and the League of Nations in October 1933.

Ultimate Failure

Ultimately, these disarmament attempts failed to halt the military buildup by Germany, Italy, and Japan during the 1930s. The League of Nations turned out to be ineffective in its efforts to act as an international peacekeeping organization. It was mostly silent in the face of major events leading to the second World War, such as Hitler’s re-militarization of the Rhineland and occupation of the Sudetenland and Anschluss of Austria, which had been forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. In fact, League members themselves re-armed. In 1933, Japan simply withdrew from the League rather than submit to its judgment, as did Germany (using the failure of the World Disarmament Conference to agree to arms parity between France and Germany as a pretext) and Italy in 1937. The final significant act of the League of Nations was to expel the Soviet Union in December 1939, after it invaded Finland. Thus, all agreements and disarmament attempts failed.