500.A15A4 Steering Committee/565
Address by the Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) Before the Bureau of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, May 31, 1937
It is with mixed emotions that we meet today, after a pause in our work which has lasted more than two years. Much has happened: We have passed through crises that have left a feeling of tension throughout Europe, we have seen nations tend to revert even further into the shell of economic nationalism; and most of us, far from reducing our armaments, have felt called on to make large increases. The result is a burden of capital expenditure that makes the need of disarmament more and more imperative. We realize more clearly than ever the necessity of reaching the goal we set ourselves,—the limitation and reduction of armaments,—and yet at the same time we are realists enough to recognize that we are in a vicious circle which must be broken at some point before we can profitably resume active negotiations. The absence of at least two great Powers from our midst would render much of our work illusory, and an apparent determination throughout most of the world to carry through given arms programs gives little promise for an early reversal of policy.
In reviewing the past few years my Government feels that one of the principal causes for our lack of success was the fact that during the very period when the nations were seeking agreement to reduce military armaments they were not at the same time adjusting their political differences, and furthermore making adjustment more difficult through an increase in economic armaments. Many of us feel that we have hitherto been attempting to segregate one of several interdependent problems and have tried to solve the problem of armaments without concurrently attempting the solution of the others. May we not even have erred in attempting to attack the effect while disregarding the causes? As to the political problems involved, we are not primarily concerned and I do not propose to make observations on this subject, but as to the economic causes my Nation is deeply interested with you all, and I consider this a useful occasion in which to present its views.
So long as nations seek to stifle trade or artificially divert it from one customer to another, so long as they close natural markets by excessive restrictions and diminish the sum total of world trade by bilateral balancing, so long as they subsidize hopelessly uneconomic supplies of raw materials and penalize at one and the same time their [Page 21] own consumers and their natural foreign sources of supply, so long as the efficacy of existing restrictions must be maintained by further and more stringent restrictions—so long, I say, as these things continue, a sense of insecurity arises which today is being answered, without being allayed, only by military preparation. Is it too much to believe, if trade were freed of its excessive impediments and whole populations as a result were given a chance to produce marketable commodities, that internal conditions would improve and the urge to nonproductive military expenditures would be allayed. The world must be changed from a war economy to a peace economy. Let us bear in mind this phase of our problem and let us urge on our Governments renewed efforts to alleviate this basic cause of present-day excessive armaments.
My Government believes that the day will soon come when we can, and must, make another move forward in our task, and when it comes, let us see that this time our work is crowned with success. Already there are some signs that a more favorable atmosphere exists and that there is a growing appreciation that something constructive must be done. Meanwhile, let us keep our organization intact, even if for a while inactive; let us do nothing to impair its usefulness for although the Conference has not arrived at concrete agreements, it has done a vast amount of preparatory work which can be capitalized when the moment comes to go forward.
We should know that when circumstances favor it, we can meet again without delays owing to having to organize a new conference, and that we are casting aside neither the work done nor the experience gained. In short, I believe that the sense of this meeting should be against its embarking at the moment on active negotiations but for standing ready to renew them the instant an appeasement in the field of economic armaments justifies a new political approach.