England's Navy and Disarmament


FROM the point of view of the average educated Englishman, the naval situation to-day is the most extraordinary imaginable. If he is a middle-aged man, he will remember that, barely a generation and a half ago, all the powers combined spent less upon their navies than a single power does to-day. Then England and France spent more than the rest of the world together, and compared in capital ships as three to two. Together they owned more than half of all the battleships afloat, yet between them they spent far less than twenty millions sterling a year. The most expensive ship that either nation had, built or building, cost less than £700,000. To-day, although we are at peace with all the world, our navy is costing ninety millions sterling a year, and we are outbuilt, not by one, but by two powers.

The great change came before the war. Two men are primarily responsible for the new emphasis given to naval forces during the forty years preceding 1914 — two men whose minds and characters differed fundamentally. The American Mahan had been a midshipman in the Civil War, but had seen no other fighting, and was a student by nature. The Englishman Fisher saw, so far as one is apt to remember, no seafighting at all, his solitary experience of warships used in war being the bombardment of Alexandria. He, unlike Mahan, was no student. He was, indeed, proud of his ignorance of history and of his contempt for the so-called scientific doctrines of war. These are common failings of men who believe themselves to be practical, and have a native insight into the possibilities of physical science. Fisher was, in these respects, preëminent. His faith in what the inventors and manufacturers could do was unlimited. His impatience with the old-fashioned and the obsolescent was monumental. Like Mahan’s, his memory ran back to the Civil War, and he was apt to think of the sea-war of the future in terms of big guns and thick armor, and the revolution in material of which he had seen so much. It was Fisher who, in the early eighties, started the late Mr. Stead in his journalistic campaign on the ‘Truth about the Navy.’ It roused England. But it did more. It roused the whole of Europe to a sudden realization that England was England only when her navy was supreme. And this agitation had hardly got well under way when Mahan’s first book appeared. The world was now doubly awakened to the function of seapower in history. Here was Great Britain agitated from end to end in her effort to put her naval house in order; and here was Mahan seemingly giving away the secret of English greatness!

In little more than a generation the sea-aspect of the world had changed completely. Whereas in 1885 Great Britain was spending only eleven millions and a half on her navy, in 1914 she had voted over fifty millions; whereas in 1884 she had no naval competitor but France, in 1914 the Russian, German, Austrian, and Italian fleets would have been greatly superior to her, could they have combined. Germany alone, which had no fleet at all at the first date, had capital ships in number and in power equal to nearly seventy-five per cent of the British force. So much for Europe. The war with Spain had resulted in America’s having a very considerable navy; the war with Russia had done the same for Japan.

Yet on the eve of the World War, Great Britain had, built and building, forty-four dreadnought battleships and battle-cruisers, the United States had fourteen, and Japan seven. In other words, a brief seven years ago, Great Britain compared, in capital ships, with America as three to one, and with Japan as six to otto. She was rather more than twice as strong as the two put together. Russia and France were allies, Italy was neutral, the Austrian and Turkish fleets could not combine with the German, and war was declared before Turkey could get the two battleships building for her in England. With no rivals outside Europe, and with allies in Europe, Great Britain had a comfortable superiority over the neighbor that shortly was to be her enemy.

But great as was the contrast between the situation of 1914 and that of forty years ago, the contrast between 1914 and 1921 is more striking still.

Since t he engagement that took place off the Danish coast on the thirty-first of May, 1916, commonly — and erroneously — talked of as the ’Battle of Jutland,’ Great Britain has laid down and completed one battle-cruiser only — the Hood. She has built no other capital ships at all. To be strictly accurate, she has built other ships, bigger than any battleships, but they were insane freaks, the offspring of fantastic and unwarlike notions, whose fabulous cost and complete futility would have excited angry comment — except that the blunder of building them was submerged in other and more costly, more futile blunders still. The Hood, then, is the only ship we can show that can be said to embody any war experience at all. At Jutland, it will be remembered, the British battle-fleet did not get into action; it was the battle-cruisers that forced the fighting and suffered in the fighting. And the only ship we have completed is a battle-cruiser, and the only change we have made from the old design has been to eliminate the defects shown in action to be fatal in the other ships. Our only modern warship, therefore, is not a vessel of the most formidable fighting value, nor was she built after a full and mature examination of war experience.

Indeed, this experience was not available until after the surrender of the German fleet — it would, perhaps, be more correct to say, until we obtained from Germany, early in 1919, more or less complete data of what the German fleet had suffered from the attentions of Lord Beatty and his captains. But this information was shared with the Associated and Allied powers, and it was they, and not Great Britain, who made use of it. Thus, if the battleship is the most powerful of naval units, and if digested war experience is the best guide to building the best battleships, then it is the simple fact that the British fleet to-day does not possess a single unit that incorporates the lessons of the war. America and Japan, on the other hand, have either completed, or have due for completion within a year or two, sixteen battleships and battlecruisers apiece, all of which have been put in hand since the Hood was laid down, and most of which have, in one way or another, benefited by the fuller knowledge of the action off Jutland. And nothing that Great Britain can do can alter this state of things, for the next four or five years at least. During this period the British fleet will, in the strongest fighting units, compare with either the American or the Japanese fleet, as a fraction of one to sixteen!


Now neither of the two following propositions can be doubted. Battleship strength is the foundation of all sea-power. Without it decisive victory at sea is inconceivable. These are doctrines laid down by the Board of Admiralty over which Lord Beatty presides, and we must remember that they have been endorsed, without qualification, by the General Board of the United States Navy. They were, of course, equally true in 1914. They have been true throughout the history of naval war. It is the most powerful ships that ultimately prevail, if they exist in adequate numbers, and are employed according to right principles.

But these are doctrines which have always been subject to qualification, and it seems to be indisputable that there are factors actually existing and growing in importance to-day that must qualify these principles still further. First, there has been a development of other forms of sea-force, and these make the effective employment of a battle-fleet an infinitely more difficult matter than it was in 1914. There has been a continuous progress, not only in the range and power, but in the accuracy of the torpedo. It is now feasible to employ it from aircraft as well as from seacraft, surface and submerged. And aircraft and submerged seacraft have gained in range, in certainty of action, and in speed, to a most marvelous degree. Again, the means of communication at sea by wireless telegraphy and telephony have changed so greatly that the tactics for leading up to action or for avoiding it have been greatly facilitated; while the high perfection to which the hydrophone has been brought has made it possible to gain news, not only of submarines, but of surface craft, at far greater distances than was once thought possible, and with far greater precision. These things not only expose the huge and costly units of a battle-fleet to forms of attack undreamed of before the World War, — so that there is a precariousness about battleship strength actually more real than the most sanguine believer in the German attrition theory supposed in pre-war days, — but, what is probably more important, they increase the facility with which a weaker force can tire out a superior force by the successful evasion of action.

Again, each of the new factors I have mentioned is manifestly capable of increases in efficiency. Nor is it less manifest that to these factors new elements can at any moment be added, as invention, scientific research, and experiment bring new devices and new weapons into play. Putting these things together, two things become obvious: first, that a supreme battle-fleet will need a degree of anxious protection that will be both costly to prepare and embarrassing to use; and that, apart from this, the whole problem of employing a battlefleet to get its designed and desired effect will have been made incalculably more complicated and, therefore, more difficult.

The British Navy has actually had more experience of the novel factors in sea-war than has any other power; and it is natural to suppose — should it have to go to war again — that in this respect it must, for some years, enjoy a great advantage. If, then, it is true that there exist to-day forms of attack on battleship strength that have not existed heretofore, we ought to have something, at least, to set against our crushing material inferiority in fighting-ships of the most modern kind. So that the actual threat to Great Britain of a battle-fleet more formidable than she possesses, viewed as a material problem alone, is very far from being what it was seven years ago.

But this, of course, is far from being the only technical difference between the situation in 1914 and that in 1921. Then our most formidable sea rival was geographically cornered. The mass of our island lay straight across his path to the open sea. He was free to go into the Baltic and free to go into the North Sea. But the first liberty was of little value to him until he gained the Russian seaports by land conquest. He had nothing to gain in the early stages by an action with the Russian Navy; for, although that fleet was small in numbers, it was formidable in power, and more formidable in view of its excellent war-trained officer personnel. And if he had little scope in the Baltic, he had apparently less in the North Sea. For here he could do nothing with effect unless he could force a very superior fleet into action and defeat it decisively. To a great extent, therefore, the German fleet was neutralized by the disadvantages of its situation. If it had been a superior fleet, the situation would not have been wholly reversed. It could have denied British access to the North Sea until it was itself defeated; but if it could not force the British fleet to action, it would be compelled to contain it before it could itself proceed to close our southern and western ports.

The neutralization of an inferior British fleet would have presented problems to a superior German fleet wholly different from those which we had to envisage. The point is simple. When the threat of the British battle-fleet compelled the Germans to keep to their harbors, or limited them to a very restricted area beyond them, the whole menace of German sea-power was gone. The seas were free to British cruisers and British trade. The German lighter ships, — von Spee’s armored cruisers, Emden, Königsberg, Dresden, and the converted merchantmen, — these were all mopped up in a few months. There was nothing between any British ship and her home ports. But with the situation reversed this would not have been so. A British battleship force ‘in being,’unhurt, at Scapa in the north, and other forces at Plymouth in the south, could have issued from their harbors and stopped all German sea-borne services, and have harried the German cruisers that attempted to attack our own trade. Nor could the German fleet have left the British fleet on its flank and gone to the open sea to protect its cruisers. So great, in short, was the handicap of the geographical position, that Germany, to counteract it, would have had to possess a fleet twice as strong as ours, merely to win a naval equality.

The present naval situation is, of course, altogether and entirely different. A superior battle-fleet, based on the Atlantic seaports, seems free from the handicap imposed upon the German fleet; for, clearly, a stronger battle-fleet could not be confined to its harbors by a weaker force; and at first sight it would seem as if, with free access to the Atlantic, such a fleet would constitute the most formidable of all threats to Great Britain. But there a new principle affects the situation.

Modern ships have certain vast advantages over the wooden vessels of our forefathers. They have gained incalculably in power and in speed. They have gained still more in the facility with which they are free of every point of the compass. But they have lost in sea endurance, and they are far more dependent upon prompt and frequent access to their bases. And, being vastly more complicated, they need something more at their bases than provisions, ropes, spars, and sails. A modern naval base, to be of the slightest value to a battle-fleet, must be equipped with productive facilities of an engineering order, ample enough to constitute a manufacturing town of very respectable proportions. It must have all the advantages on which the manufacturing town depends for a constant supply of fuel, material, and labor. So vast, indeed, are the necessities of a modern arsenal, that it is practically impossible for one to exist if severed from the mainland of the country that owns it. No country in the world has so many coaling and other naval stations as has Great Britain; but outside Great Britain itself there is not one naval base that could support and supply a battle-fleet in war. Both the American and the Japanese navies, then, suffer — I am discussing this from the point of view of their being a menace to Great Britain — from this severe disability.

Thus, altogether apart from the difficulties that have accumulated during the past few years in employing a battle-fleet at all, British-sea power derives certain advantages from this factor of the distance that separates our bases and the focal points of our trade from the fleets materially superior to ours. In the light of these things, the fact that Great Britain no longer has a predominant fighting fleet has a meaning radically different from mere naval inferiority to a European power: it suggests that the difference is one, not of degree at all, but actually of kind.

Yet, when every allowance has been made, it remains a fact that, for the first time in modern history, Great Britain is not the putative mistress of the seas. The topsy-turvydom of the World War has brought us no surprise comparable to this. Time out of mind, the invincibility of the British fleet has been a fundamental doctrine of our national policy. What England owes to the sea is a commonplace of everyday knowledge. That England, cut off from the sea, must perish instantly and utterly, is a commonplace of military science. That for two hundred and fifty, years Great Britain has never, so far as material provision could prevent, been in danger of sea-defeat, is a simple historical fact. And when I say ‘in danger,’ I understate the fact. I mean that never, in all this period, was there a time when Great Britain could not face the sea-world in arms: indeed, at one period she actually did so, and with success.


Now, we shall not understand why it is that Great Britain no longer has the strongest fleet, unless we understand why for so long she had. It has been assumed that our greatness at sea arose originally — and naturally and inevitably — out of our greatness as a seafaring people, and to our owning and using a larger merchant-shipping than did other nations. And, again, it has been assumed that, as Great Britain was by far the wealthiest country in the world, her maintaining a greater navy was a natural and inevitable function of her wealth. But it is, of course, simply untrue that fighting navies derive from merchant navies by some preordained and unescapable process; and equally untrue that naval strength is, or ever has been, proportionate to a country’s wealth.

I shall not attempt to justify these statements by any complete summary of the historical facts that prove them. But there are a few instances in point that will suffice for my purpose. As to the first proposition, let me quote from Mahan’s Naval Strategy:

There is a further conclusion to be drawn from the war between Japan and Russia, which contradicts a previous general impression that I myself have shared, and possibly in some degree have contributed to diffuse. That impression is, that navies depend upon maritime commerce as the cause and justification of their existence. To a certain extent, of course, this is true; and, just because true to a certain extent, the conclusion is more misleading. Because partly true, it is accepted as unqualifiedly true. Russia has little maritime commerce, at least in her own bottoms; her merchant flag is rarely seen; she has a very defective seacoast; can in no sense be called a maritime nation. Yet the Russian navy had the decisive part to play in the late war; and the war was unsuccessful, not because the navy was not large enough, but because it was improperly handled. Probably, it also was intrinsically insufficient — bad in quality; poor troops as well as poor generalship. The disastrous result does not contravene the truth that Russia, though with little maritime shipping, was imperatively in need of a navy.

Here, then, is a case where a navy was essential, though there was virtually no merchant-shipping at all out of which it could germinate. That there have been great merchant marines without navies is, of course, equally true. Norway, with no navy at all, has a singularly high ratio of tonnage to population; and the huge leap in German merchant-tonnage between 1890 and 1909 is a not less striking instance in point. For until 1909 Germany had not even the rudiments of a fleet that could have been formidable at sea.

And as to navies being functions of wealth, this surely is not in the least degree tenable. People do not build fleets and ships because they can afford them as a luxury. Still less do they build them as an investment, trusting to their conquests or their loot to pay the bill. They build them only because they are a grim necessity. At least, this is certainly the explanation of Great Britain’s two centuries and a half of sea-supremacy.


England, after all, is one of the European nations. Until quite recently she was as inferior in population to one and another of her neighbors as she was in area. It was only toward the end of the eighteenth century that she became the wealthiest country in Europe; and although always dependent for a large portion of her wealth on the freest possible access to the sea, it was not primarily her sea trade, but the fact that she was the first of the world’s people to become a manufacturing nation, that explained why, for a century and half, hers was the richest people in the world. But, of course, she could not have become so without free access to the sea; and of all the nations that have ever been, she had the greatest interest in preserving this freedom. And she needed a free sea, not only to develop her trade, but for another purpose. Indeed, her trade itself arose out of that purpose.

The end of the fifteenth century, and the beginning of the sixteenth, was the age of the great sea-adventurers. But, of all the countries, England alone maintained the spirit that had first sent her sons afloat. Sometimes they went as colonists — to get a freer religious or political atmosphere than they could get at home; sometimes they went in search of wealth; sometimes, apparently, for the sheer fun of the thing. But, whatever the motive, the spirit of sea-adventuring, the desire for, and a determination to get, free use of the sea, became the mark of the Anglo-Saxon race. It is to this spirit that the northern continent of America, from the Mexican border to the North Pole, owes its control by the descendants of Englishmen; that half of Africa is under the flag of Britain; that India is a British dependency; that Australia is one of His Majesty’s Dominions; that China has been opened up to European trade.

Few, if any, of the statesmen of England visualized the enormous scale of national expansion that Destiny had in store for the British people. But they have never failed in the instinct that this people had to be free to expand. At every stage they perceived that there was only one thing that could prevent the English being masters of their Fate: it was that the sea should be closed against them. They saw that there was but one contingency that could so close the sea: it was that the other powers of Europe should combine to do it. There never was a possibility that such a combination would be a spontaneous and voluntary movement; but it was a danger, nevertheless.

The ambition to govern the whole world is an infirmity that has obsessed the minds — noble and otherwise — of many emperors and kings. But the collapse of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasion of Europe, the slow reconstruction of a new civilization to replace the old, the arrest of the world trade that had existed while the Roman Empire still stood — these and other causes made the business of world-conquest slumber, until Louis the Great emerged from his minority in the seventeenth century and found the whole power and wealth of France concentrated in his hands. His ambitions taught the English the lesson they needed; and when, a century and a quarter after Louis’s failure, his political and spiritual heir, Napoleon Bonaparte, came into the same heritage, his military genius seemed to promise success where Louis had failed. But long pondering on what she had escaped under Louis had prepared England for the emergency. It was during this period that the sea-doctrine of Great Britain had been formulated and had become fundamental.

The ‘Balance of Power’ had become the target of every modern carper at the old règime. But the adhesion of England to it arose from no insane militarism, nor from any blind devotion to an old-world and corrupt diplomacy. If for more than two hundred years we stood in the way of any one power in Europe dominating the rest, it was not because we were slaves to the pursuit of glory, not because we coveted the wealth of others, not because we reveled in the shameless chicanery of intrigue, but simply because we knew that it was all up with us if we did not. And the only way we could prevent France or any other country from dominating Europe was to keep the command of the seas in our hands.

In time of peace it is usual to talk of national forces, whether they are landforces or sea-forces, as implements of national ‘defense.’ In war, of course, there is only one use of force, and that is for an attack upon the enemy. If you wish to defend your territory you will, if you are wise, attack and destroy the force that threatens it. At sea there are no territories, and the traditions of seawar are not, therefore, confused by the military jargon of offensive and defensive strategy. The function of a fleet is to destroy, or neutralize the possible action of, the enemy’s fleet. But its function begins and ends with this. To be sure, if either of these ends is achieved, the way is open for the other arm. But the work proper of the fleet is over when the enemy’s fleet is rendered innocuous.

Thus, viewed politically, a navy is not an instrument of conquest. It does not threaten its neighbors — except indirectly — because it opens the way to military conquest. It was this truth that safeguarded the position of England in Europe. As it was our set policy to prevent the domination of any single power, it necessarily followed that, when the disposition to conquer showed itself in any one nation, we were always sure of allies, because it was we alone who could give effective help to those who were in danger of aggression. Thus the compulsion of national security drove us literally to make a virtue of necessity. It became our rôle to stand for liberty and right-dealing on the continent.

In the very nature of things, therefore, we could not follow our destiny without being a great sea-power, and our greatness at sea made us the arbiter and the judge among our neighbors in Europe. But this does not exhaust the advantages that sea-power gave us. From the earliest times sea-war has been the only form of war that has been regulated by international law. This, of course, is a very large subject, which I cannot pursue. Let it suffice to remind the reader that right into the nineteenth century the progress of armies was still marked by unchecked looting and the rape, murder, and torture of the non-combatant population. But, for a century before that, sea-war had been governed by the most rigid rules; and anyone — even an enemy — who suffered in his property or in his person, had access to an Admiralty court, where, if he had right on his side, he was sure of justice. The thing followed inevitably, of course, from the fact that the sea is a common highway, on which, except that they may not help an enemy, neutrals have equal rights with the combatants. But the point is that men fighting at sea, having first to respect the rights of noncombatant neutrals, — who, of course, did not figure in land-war at all, — were then compelled to recognize the personal rights of a noncombatant enemy. It is, I think, an interesting historical fact that the English, necessarily the great exponents of maritime law, and those best trained in its spirit, were almost the first to insist on a similarly disciplined humanity on land. It was the Duke of Wellington, in the Crimea, and afterward in France, who, by his practice, laid the foundation of all these rules for the protection of noncombatants, which much later on were embodied in the agreements of Geneva and The Hague.

Thus sea-war had a double influence on the national character. It made the English the protagonists of political justice and right dealing, and it trained the nation in the higher humanity that insists that the horrors of war shall be limited by the observance of civilized regulations. Nor was either influence limited to the European sphere. To my mind there is nothing fanciful in the idea that the successive abolitions, first of the slave-trade all over the world, and next of slave-owning in British possessions, were very largely due to the compulsory education that the British people received from seamen. I need hardly remind American readers of the influence of this example on the conduct of their forebears. And it is certainly an historical fact that when, after the Congress of Vienna, the old monarchies of Europe exhibited a deplorable reaction toward absolutism, — against which the popular elements in the South American colonies of Spain and Portugal rebelled, — it was at the instance of the British Prime Minister that President Monroe announced the famous doctrine ever since associated with his name. And it was certainly because of British sea-power that, at that most critical time, the doctrine was respected.

All these things are vaguely in the Englishman’s mind when he looks at the present naval situation and sees how lamentably Great Britain has fallen from her great estate. But he will be wholly wrong to blame his government for allowing this thing to be. The deeper and saner interpretation of our seasupremacy, while it lasted, is not that it corresponded with some such innate national pride as is echoed in ‘Britannia rules the waves’; not that it was a luxury which our old overwhelming wealth gave us, and our present poverty cannot afford; not that it was a natural outcome of our merchant-shipping, which, when all is said and done, is as dominant to-day as it was before the war: Great Britain maintained a seaforce superior to that of all other combinations of sea-force for just so long as her security as a nation made it imperative and — this is the point — for no longer. If our navy lasted long enough to defeat the German effort, and if that defeat left us without an enemy or a threat against us in any part of the world, then the British Navy had done its work. Whether America or Japan or any other country with whom we had coöperated to win had a larger fleet than that which we had inherited from pre-war conditions was, so to speak, a matter of indifference. Surprising as the man in the street has found the present naval situation to be, it has, of course, been no surprise at all to those who follow public events closely and who have attempted to understand the causes behind them.

That the American and Japanese fleets do not threaten Great Britain — and here I drop the technical argument and confine myself to the political situation — is certainly clear enough to-day. We have no differences that we know of with either country. We have an offensive and defensive alliance with Japan, against the world, except the United States; and we have a treaty of arbitration with the United States which, as both nations respect their plighted word, is no scrap of paper, but a bond.

It has happened in the history of nations that an unsuspected conflict of economic interests, an outburst of local passion, in which foreign nations suffer, or a sudden conflict of national interest in a third country has induced such violent words and feelings, that governments have been powerless to stem them. Any tension of this sort between Great Britain and the United States is, of course, very improbable. But should it arise, the treaty safeguards the position. Most of us think — and we are certainly right in so thinking — that the real reason why the treaty exists is because it is wholly unnecessary. There could, of course, be no better explanation of a written agreement. The Americans and the British would arbitrate in any event. Be this as it may, the treaty is there; and other things being as they are now. I repeat, neither the American nor the Japanese fleet seems to us a menace to any vital interest.

It, therefore, summarizes my argument to this point to say that the reason why Great Britain maintained a supreme fleet in former days is so obvious, that all who run may read. The mother nation and that league of free nations which is called the British Empire would have been at the mercy of aggression had it not been so. It bears repeating, that this is the sole and only reason why our fleet was maintained at its old relative strength. It is not so maintained to-day — again, for one reason only: the Empire is not threatened by aggression.


A final point must be made clear before I leave this part of the argument. If the British Navy, while it was supreme, was not a natural outgrowth of British wealth, while that also was supreme, so, too, the fact that, in the costlier and more powerful units, the British fleet has fallen to the third place is not in the least attributable to the fact that our wealth is not absolutely or relatively what it was. If I am right in saying that the supreme fleet arose from a supreme national emergency, — because without it the nation could not be secure in its possessions, or in its destiny, — then, certainly, I am right in going further and saying that, were those possessions or this destiny again threatened, the fleet would be made supreme again. There is no conceivable sacrifice that would limit it. We have a heavy war-debt, a legacy of heavy post-war extravagances. But from the day when the late hostilities began to the day they ended, it never occurred to a soul in these islands to say that we could not afford the sacrifices involved. No one did suggest, nor could anyone suggest, that five thousand millions, or eight or ten thousand millions, was the limit we could spend. So long as the war lasted, the nation was in peril. The rate of sacrifice had to be maintained until that peril was removed. The principle on which we acted was the principle on which we should act again, if, in time of peace, the threat of war reappeared.

It is important that this truth should be fully grasped, for otherwise we shall not get the Conference issues clearly in our minds. The Conference is commonly spoken of as if its immediate purpose were to bring about a tripartite agreement for the limitation of naval armaments. In other criticisms of mine I have given my reasons for saying that I do not think an agreement on this point is feasible. This doubt is a corollary of the theory I have just put forward. Armaments of all kinds, whether naval or military, either are a necessity of national safety or they manifest an intention to commit some unprovoked aggression on others. Or, of course, they may be the outcome of mere megalomania and vanity. If a nation fears no other nations, and yet maintains great armies or fleets, then, unquestionably, that nation’s conduct is inconsequent — unless it has itself a plan of conquest in mind. And if it fears aggression, it will assuredly maintain its force at the safety limit. No example of, and no pressure from, other nations — short of successful war — will be regarded as binding, if that nation believes that the circumstances in which the agreement was made have changed to its disadvantage. The law of preservation clearly admits no exception, and no nation can contract itself out of its obligations.

Even should such perfect accord be reached as to make each of our three countries willing to execute a contract by which none should build or maintain a navy above a stated strength, there would surely be very great difficulties in drawing up the schedule. Naval force is about the most unsettled thing there is. No one can say to-day how a navy will be composed ten years hence. And even to-day you really want a different navy for different wars. It is to me very hard to picture any unanimity, if each country is to have so many battleships, so many cruisers, so many destroyers, and so on. No type is of constant value; the ratio of types will vary as values vary; new types will come into being. Nor is the money limitation a much happier expedient. We can, after all, see and count ships; but once there is an obligation not to spend above a certain sum, be sure the busybodies and spyhunters will be at work — and that one or the other of us is spending more than we avow will be a constant rumor. I may be wrong. But I see no hope of a binding treaty that shall specify either the scale and kind of navy that is permitted or the amount that may be spent. Let us not forget how Stein defeated Napoleon on the limitation of Prussia’s army after Jena.

It seems to me, therefore, that we cannot look to the Washington Conference to result in an immediate agreement for disarmament. But there is no reason at all why immediate disarmament should not be the result of the Conference. For if armament is the outcome of fear, and the Conference can remove that fear, the end we have in view is automatically attained. While I submit that it is no use to tell Japan that she cannot afford, being a poor country, to spend a fabulous proportion of her revenue on her navy, it is of the utmost use that, in an open and public Conference, we should all be able to tell Japan that her possessions and the destinies of her people are in no danger. If we can convince her of this, her people will see to it that they are not taxed for unnecessary armaments.


The work before the Conference, then, is simple. I do not mean that to succeed in getting the work done will prove to be a simple affair. For it is far from easy for the spokesman of a country to be perfectly candid in a statement of national aims; and even if that were easy, it is not a simple business to make that candor intelligible and convincing to others. But, if the Conference is to succeed, it is precisely this that each country, through its delegates, must do.

The Senate has paid me the compliment of including in the report of its proceedings an article on the American Navy, written when the 1916 programme was under discussion; and if I refer to it now, it is because I can appeal to a question asked six years ago as one upon the reply to which the success of the November meeting depends. I had discussed the composition of the proposed new American fleet, and had pointed out that the ratio of battleships to cruisers and destroyers differed materially from the British ratio before the war, and suggested that war had shown the English ratio to be too high. From this I passed on to the question, what the strength of the American fleet should be. It was obviously not a point to which I could suggest the answer, and I had to be content with saying that the answer was to be found when the Americans had found a reply to the further question: from which country did they expect trouble? Now, if the proceedings at Washington could begin with frank statements from Japan and the United States and Great Britain as to what their world-policies are, we should, I submit, attain a definite result with very little delay. Either it will be found that each country can agree that the policies of the others are harmless to it, or we shall be faced by a certainty of conflict which no debate can remove.

To an Englishman it seems inconceivable that this historic meeting can break up without achieving its desired end. One simply cannot believe that the United States of America really fears any people, or can have so departed from the traditions of its past history as to plan the conquest of any territory, or the defeat of any nation, for the sake of glory. If the ‘open door’ in Asia is a principle of policy as fundamental as is the Monroe Doctrine to America, then it is a principle to which all Europe and Japan are already pledged; for it figures among the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. And, again, it is inconceivable that Japan can have any avowed policy which America is pledged to thwart; for the problems involved in the desire of Asiatics to settle in countries predominantly European are obviously not such as to lead to war.

Measured, then, by the true test of armaments, — national security, — there seems no reason at all why, after a candid interchange of views, America and Japan should not find it easy, if not to abandon the completion of their present programme, at least not to add to their forces for some years to come; nor, during those years, to maintain those forces fully armed, manned, and ready for action. After all, should they so agree, they will only be acting on a principle that Great Britain has already accepted as a guide to conduct. If we have built but one fighting ship of the first class in the last six years, and no ship of any class in the last three years, we have forborne for one reason and one reason only — there is no enemy for such ships to meet. If Great Britain can sanely abandon a doctrine she has held sacred for more than twice as long as America has held the Monroe Doctrine sacred, and has done so because the occasion for maintaining it no longer exists, then there is at least one occasion less for other nations to crave great strength at sea.