Disarmament Efforts U.S. Department of Seal
Department of State

Despite its lack of participation in the League of Nations, the United States was at the forefront of extensive efforts at disarmament during the 1920s and 1930s especially to restrict the growth of naval tonnage, considered to be a key measure of military strength. It helped that the major naval powers--Britain, the United States, and Japan--recognized the crushing financial costs of a naval arms race. Organized and hosted by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, the first naval disarmament conference was held in Washington the winter of 1921-22 with eight nations in attendance. Hughes proposed that a large proportion of the world's battleships and heavy cruisers simply be scrapped. The agreements reached included the Five Power Treaty, which established a "holiday" on the building of new warships for 10 years and set a tonnage ratio of 10:10:6:31/2 :31/2 for Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy, respectively and bound the signatories to scrap 66 capital ships. Other treaties signed at Washington abolished the two-decade-old Anglo-Japanese Alliance, endorsed the Open Door policy in China, compelled Japanese withdrawal from Siberia, and allowed the United States access to the Island of Yap. Unfortunately, a naval race in classes of vessels not covered under the provisions, especially light cruisers, continued over the balance of the decade. The major naval powers attempted to rectify the situation at the London Conference of 1930, where Japanese parity in the other vessel classes of ships was recognized. Tensions in the Pacific preceding World War II caused a second conference held in London in 1935-36, but it failed when Japan abrogated the earlier pacts. In addition to naval disarmament, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand engineered a pact at the 1927 Geneva conference to outlawed war entirely. This was the high point of interwar disarmament. in the true "Spirit of Locarno." The Kellogg-Briand Pact, like the Washington and London conferences, failed to prevent the outbreak of another general war. Although American support for these conferences was evidence of a new American internationalism, disarmament itself would not overcome the forces leading to World War II.

Additional Reading:
Robert H. Ferrell. Peace in Their Time: The Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact (New Haven, 1952).
Emily O. Goldman. Sunken Treaties: Naval Arms Control Between the Wars (University Park, Pennsylvania, 1994).