World Disarmament Conference
- Assembled in Geneva at the behest of the League of Nations, the meeting that opened on 2 February 1932 was the largest international gathering since the Paris Peace Conference. It aimed at a convention substantially limiting "all national armaments. Years in preparation, it attracted delegates from about sixty states and was moderated by Arthur Henderson, Britain s former Foreign Secretary. Germany s delegation, while fluid, was led throughout by Rudolf Nadolny, a diplomat known for his courage and arrogance; the military was represented by Werner von Blomberg,* an NSDAP sympathizer. The proceedings attracted broad public attention, and Geneva was temporarily home to scores of pacifists and arms dealers.Burdened domestically by reparations* and depression,* Chancellor Heinrich Brüning* faced a growing demand in 1932 for German withdrawal from the League. Thus he viewed Geneva as crucial to preserving Germany s interna-tional commitment. Although Part V of the Versailles Treaty* (Articles 159-213) had instituted rigorous demands for German disarmament, its preface noted that such disarmament would make possible "the initiation of a general limi-tation of the armaments of all nations. In addressing the conference on 9 February, Brüning employed this statement to call for equality "of rights and security for all peoples. Great Britain and the United States sympathized with his remarks. The conference s opening deliberations ended in February; its tech-nical discussions, proceeding for months, were repeatedly interrupted and ulti-mately sank into a quagmire over the definition of aggressive weaponry. Yet Brüning gained a tactical victory in April 1932 when the British, American, and Italian delegates agreed to replace Part V of Versailles with an agreement ab-rogating limitations on German military strength. As France was concurrently embroiled in an electoral campaign, the French postponed consideration of the proposal; by the time it was reintroduced for debate, Brüning had left office.For Brüning, Germany's moral claim at Geneva was general disarmament; however, he hoped that the conference would embrace a principle of equality.Although he was replaced by Franz von Papen* in late May, Bruning's ambition was retained by Nadolny and Foreign Office Secretary Bernhard von Bülow.* But Papen was suspect at Geneva. Moreover, Defense Minister Kurt von Schlei-cher* disapproved of any concession that fell short of "full equality ; if con-sensus was not possible, he recommended that Germany quit the conference. Although he was chiefly concerned with German weakness vis-a-vis France, Schleicher also hoped to neutralize the NSDAP with concessions that might allow Germany to transform the SA* into a militia under army auspices. How-ever, this ambition entailed a revision of Versailles unacceptable to France.Schleicher's inflexibility induced the Foreign Office, led since June 1932 by Konstantin von Neurath,* to quit the conference in September. When the Ger-mans reappeared in December (Schleicher was then Chancellor), the conference concurred with the principle of equality within a system providing security for all nations. Hitler s* ambition was facilitated by this concession. Whether or not the conference succeeded, the issue of equality had been validated; should it fail, Germany would be entitled to rearm. When Blomberg assumed the Defense Ministry in February 1933, the Germans actually sharpened their intransigence in hopes that the conference would fail. But Hitler, still consolidating his power, dictated greater accommodation. Nonetheless, events in Geneva came to his aid. In March Britain s Ramsay MacDonald made an appeal for equality; his pro-posal became the basis for a formal disarmament convention. However, after a recess, France demanded that MacDonald's plan be modified. Hitler quickly exploited this demand, denouncing French intransigence and withdrawing from both the conference and the League of Nations. His move was extolled in Ger-many, receiving 95 percent approval in a November plebiscite. As Germany was a linchpin for the Geneva conference, Hitler s action destroyed it.REFERENCES:Bennett, German Rearmament; Kimmich, Germany and the League of Nations; Wheeler-Bennett, Pipe Dream of Peace.
A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. C. Paul Vincent.
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