500.A15 Arms Truce/52: Telegram

The Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

171. My 170, September 29, 2 a.m. Following is text of report as finally adopted by Third Committee.

“In the general discussion of the report on the work of the League of Nations since the last Assembly a number of speakers emphasized the decisive importance of the result of the coming general conference for the reduction and limitation of armaments.

The Third Committee noted with keen satisfaction that the Council had fixed February 2nd, 1932, as the date for the convening of the General Disarmament Conference and that the confidence expressed by the Eleventh Assembly in this connection had thus been justified. The representatives of many countries expressed the opinion that the Assembly ought not to adjourn without contributing to the work of the said Disarmament Conference by preparing the moral atmosphere essential to its success by means of an act of international good will. This view was expressed by a large number of speakers in the Assembly, in particular by the first Italian delegate, Mr. Grandi, who announced a proposal for the institution of an armaments truce as a means of preparing the Conference. The matter was also the subject of a draft resolution submitted to the Assembly by the Danish, Norwegian, Netherlands, Swedish and Swiss delegations and referred to the Third Committee on September 12th last.

This draft resolution proposed that the Assembly should in the first place issue a solemn appeal to all who desire the application of the principles of peace and justice on which the Covenant is based to devote all their efforts to the creation of a world opinion strong enough to insure the success of the Conference and in the second place request the Council to urge the governments summoned to the Conference to [Page 465] abstain, pending its result, from any steps for the increase of the present level of their armaments.

The Third Committee was of opinion that in view of the close connection between its discussions on the subject and the work to be done by the Conference it would be desirable for those states not represented in the Assembly, but which are invited to take part in the Conference, to take part also in the work of the Third Committee relating to disarmament.

On the Third Committee’s proposal the President of the Assembly, in agreement with the General Committee on September 19th, invited the following states to be represented on the Committee:

Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ecuador, Salvador, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America. It was proposed that the states that were not members of the League should be represented in an advisory capacity only.

The following states accepted the Assembly’s invitation: Costa Rica, Egypt, Turkey, United States of America and Brazil, the latter being represented by an observer.

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics stated that in view, among other things, of the short notice given it was unable to send a delegate to take part in the discussions of the Third Committee. Being, however, always prepared to support any proposal for the limitation of armaments it would be disposed to associate itself with the proposal of the Italian Foreign Minister, Mr. Grandi, provided that proposal was adopted in a form obligatory on all countries, and that it covered all classes of armaments and that the signatories of the undertaking confirmed that it should not in any case replace or postpone the essential problem of disarmament or limitation of existing armaments which must be settled as quickly as possible.

The Third Committee had before it on the one hand the draft resolution presented by the five countries; on the other hand a concrete proposal proposed by the Italian delegation to give effect to the proposal made by Mr. Grandi at the Assembly. A discussion of some importance took place in connection with these proposals.

The idea of an armaments truce as a contribution to the preparation for the Conference met with general assent. But opinion was divided as to the forms and methods of giving practical application to this idea.

In the course of the Committee’s discussions the Italian delegation with the support of a certain number of other delegations, and particularly of the British delegation, submitted a draft resolution which in its view while based on the same motives as the five countries’ draft resolution was calculated to give more precise form to the idea of the armaments truce.

The Italian proposal was that each Government should undertake for a period of 1 year dating from November 1st, 1931:

Not to increase its expenditures on land forces already authorized for the current financial year, and not to exceed the total of such expenditure during the next financial year until the expiration of the truce.
Not to place any warship on the stocks provided always that vessels under construction might be continued and completed.
To suspend the construction of additional military aircraft, except to replace machines which are placed out of commission during the truce.

The British delegation completed the Italian proposal by an amendment to which the Italian delegation agreed, with regard to the procedure to be followed for the practical application of the Italian proposal.

The Committee moreover had before it certain amendments by the French delegation to the five countries’ draft resolution. Useful suggestions were also made by a large number of delegates.

The Third Committee was of opinion that a tangible gesture should be made, indicating not only the desire of the countries represented on the Committee to renounce for 1 year, as from November 1st, 1931, any increase in the present level of their armaments, but also creating before February 2nd, 1932, an atmosphere favorable to the success of the Great Disarmament Conference.

The Committee was fully conscious of the fact that such an undertaking could not and should not replace the decisions that might be reached on a contractual basis at the Conference itself.

Nevertheless it felt that it would be expedient to make a gesture which, although having a chiefly moral character, would be, in the Committee’s opinion, none the less effectual in its effects on the Governments and public opinion.

The Committee’s aim has been to prepare the moral atmosphere of the Conference by getting the present session of the Assembly to take a plain and palpable decision for an armaments truce. Certain delegations felt that a vague obligation was likely to lead to different interpretations and consequently to dangerous controversies, and that only definite obligations could answer to the end in view. But this made it necessary to elaborate a veritable convention, and only the Conference itself could do so at the outset of its work. Nevertheless other delegates including the Italian delegation pressed this proposal pointing out that otherwise the truce could not be utilized as an element in preparing for the Conference.

But the Italian proposal, which had the virtue of defining the obligations to be assumed, contained, as some delegations thought, technical difficulties as regards execution, caused by the definition itself and by the short period allowed the various countries between the adoption and the execution of the plan. The Committee strove to combine the advantages of the various proposals by eliminating their disadvantages, viz, by inviting the various Governments to assume material obligations which were nevertheless sufficiently flexible to allow them to be carried out. The result was the resolution, the text of which is given later. This resolution is intended to prevent an increase in the effort at present being expended on the whole of the armaments of each country.

Certain delegations made a point of stating explicitly that they did not regard as incompatible with the principle thus laid down, which must remain predominant, such measures as the normal carrying out [Page 467] of legal enactments relating to effectives, the regular execution of programs for the upkeep and renewal of land, naval and air material or fortifications and the constitution of the corresponding stocks.

The armaments truce will be brought about by means of an undertaking to be given in the form of a declaration by the various Governments before November 1st, 1931. Certain delegations consider that it is to be anticipated that in their replies states will take into account the position of their neighbors and especially those who are not members of the League of Nations.

If, as a result of unforeseen circumstances, such as are more likely to arise in the case of countries having responsibilities overseas, a Government should find itself compelled to suspend the operation of its declaration, the Secretary-General of the League of Nations should be immediately notified and should inform the other Governments concerned.

The Third Committee hopes that by unanimously accepting the proposed truce, the Governments members or non-members of the League will help to create an atmosphere favorable to the work of the important Conference to which they have been summoned.

The Third Committee therefore proposes to the Assembly the adoption of the following resolution:

Convinced that the crisis which at the present time is creating such profound disturbance among the nations of the world is due to a number of economic and political causes originating principally in the lack of mutual confidence between the nations, and,

Convinced that a renewal of the competition in armaments would necessarily lead to an international and social catastrophe,

The Assembly addresses a solemn appeal to all those who are desirous that practical effect should be given to the principles of peace and justice upon which the Covenant is based and urges them to devote all their efforts toward creating a world opinion strong enough to enable the General Disarmament Conference to achieve positive results, including in particular a gradual reduction of armaments to be continued until such time as the object laid down in article 8 of the Covenant is attained.

In view of the fact that an undertaking on the part of all states not to increase their armaments would help to create an atmosphere of confidence, to prevent competition in armaments and to prepare the ground for the success of the forthcoming Conference:

The Assembly,

Requests the Governments invited to the Disarmament Conference to prepare for this event by means of an armament truce and accordingly

Requests the Council to urge the Governments convened to the said Conference to give proof of their earnest desire for the successful issue of the efforts to ensure and organize peace and, without prejudging the decisions of the Conference or the programs or proposals submitted to it by whatever Government, to refrain from any measure involving an increase in their armaments.

[Page 468]

Likewise requests the Council to ask the Governments to state before November 1st, 1931 whether they are prepared for a period of 1 year from that date to accept this truce in armaments.”

  1. Telegram in two sections.