This was a paper I wrote for the late, very much lamented George Urbaniak’s International Relations course when I was doing my MA. It was not received well by my class, who — well, they were all bright, so the failure to communicate why I thought this was interesting was all mine. More importantly this was a period in which I wasn’t reading Social Sciences stuff- or Cultural Studies or any of the theory which really would have helped me make my point. Or at least grounded it in established definitions. So I was constantly trying to reinvent the wheel, when I could have just read some Weber or something. Alas. I’ve been thinking about putting this paper online for a while, not because it’s particularly great, but b/c I hope there are lessons & mistakes that I hope students can learn to avoid in the future. I have done absolutely no editing to this paper, other than to convert it to the footnotes methodology needed for WordPress. So any errors or typos are entirely my fault.
Relationships between nations, like every relationship, are governed by discrete sets of rules, unspoken assumptions and ideas that may have been developed over time or been constructed for specific reasons. These rules or bases regulate the relative position of each member of the relationship, the way that they interact, and the products of those interactions. These bases are the foundation of international relations and as such are preconditions that allow diplomatic interactions between nations. As such, they need to be studied in order to fully understand diplomatic incidents separately from and within the context of changing international systems. The First World War irretrievably disrupted the pre-1914 international system, and the purpose of this paper is to examine the fundamental developments in international relations as shown by the Washington Arms Limitation Conference of 1921-1922. This paper will demonstrate that the doctrines, policies and methods adopted by the diplomats at the Washington Conference constituted a new set of diplomatic bases to replace those prior to 1914.
The analysis and argument of this paper are inspired by Joseph Maiolo’s monograph The Royal Navy and Nazi Germany. Maiolo re-examined the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 and provided an analysis of the fundamentals of British diplomacy as opposed to the origins, repercussions or success of the treaty. The paper is divided into three thematic sections. The first section will examine the bases of diplomacy and international relations prior to the First World War. The second section will provide context on the Washington Conference itself and include a historiographical examination. The third thematic section will provide a description of the new diplomatic bases. The analysis focuses on the fundamental nature of the new diplomatic basis, how it was created, and why it was created. The section will conclude with an analysis of the success of the new bases.
The international system of the early 20th century was the culmination of several hundred years of political, religious, legal, social and technological developments. The bases examined in the next section can be divided into related pairs ordered by importance. First, the diplomatic supremacy of the European political powers resulted in much of the world’s diplomacy extending from Europe to other parts of the world. Second, the traditional diplomatic methodology of military and economic alliances between nations resulted in global bipolarisation or division of the contested areas of the world between two rival factions. Third, European understanding of naval power as a source of national power reflected the corollary between strong seaborne commerce and naval powers built on commerce protection. The developments that affected each individual basis further affected the combined base-pair.
The most important basis affected was the global power hierarchy. Prior to 1918, the most powerful nations were the British, German, Russia, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. As a result those nations were the primary actors in international diplomacy that participated or influenced all significant diplomatic incidents and interactions. Despite peculiar variations such as the British emphasis on the naval power and commerce, the imperial nations were nominally equals as shown by the European response to the Boxer rebellion.
The primacy of the European powers and their frequent international activity resulted in Europe being the focus of the diplomatic negotiations and international treaties. European imperial possession of most of the world meant that treaties affecting Asia or Africa directly affected the Europe. The presence of the world’s major political and economic centres also resulted in the vast majority of international relations taking place in Europe. Important international treaties like the Declaration of Paris, and the Anglo-Japanese alliance indicate that diplomatic focus centred first on Europe, then the rest of the world.
Alliances formed through secret negotiations were the fundamental methodology of traditional diplomacy. Alliances involved an often military and economic relationship between two or more nations. Often formed with a strategic situation in mind, each member nation of the alliance had responsibilities to the other members. Traditionally the alliances were formed through secret negotiations and with secret clauses. Alliances were often altered by strategic and political developments, such as the transition from the Entente Cordiale to the Triple Entente.
Global binary polarisation was a direct result of the alliance system. Military alliances resulted in Europe being split between two competing alliance systems for continental conflicts such as the Wars of Spanish and Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War, Napoleonic Wars and the period immediately prior to the First World War. However polarisation between the European imperial nations resulted in their colonies and territories being similarly divided as well.
The importance of naval power within international relations was sparked by the writings of Captain Alfred Mahan of the United States Navy. Mahan’s writings on sea power highlighted the corollary between seaborne commerce and naval power, and his strategic ideas were adopted in particular by Germany during the late 19th century. In addition, that the Royal Navy had provided Great Britain’s international military power while protecting the British commercial power since the early 18th century and during the early 19th century made Great Britain the dominant world power only reinforced the connection between naval power and national power.
The commonly accepted theories of naval warfare and warfare in general were also a basis of international relations. It was accepted that naval forces were built to fight decisive battles between large ships, and to engage in guerre de course.1 The international system of warfare was based on commonly accepted weapons and strategies that struggled to accommodate aircraft, submarines and poison gas.
Despite the obsolesce or destruction of the above bases, some fundamental bases such as rivalry between nations remained. Despite being allied during the First World War, rivalries in Asia between the United States and Japan caused global tension due to the Anglo-Japanese alliance. In addition, Great Britain was committed to Imperial defence in the face of an American goal to build the world’s most powerful navy. Telegram 101 from Foreign Secretary Marquess Curzon to Arthur Balfour indicates a fear that if the Washington Conference failed, Britain would have to participate in a global arms race that it could not afford and did not have the political will to endure.2
The Washington Conference was organized by President Warren G Harding of the United States, who publicly announced his intent to hold an arms limitation conference in July 1921. The announcement was followed by the issuance of invitations to eight nations to participate in discussions.3 The Conference was dominated by the big three powers: The United States, Great Britain and Japan, whom were represented by Secretary of State Charles Hughes, the Right Honourable David Balfour, and former Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Baron Kato Takaaki respectively. Three international treaties were signed at the Washington Conference. The Five Power Treaty was a naval arms limitation treaty that limited the big three, France and Italy to maximum total displacements for several classifications of warship within a specific set of ratios. The Four Power Treaty committed the United States, Great Britain, France and Japan to maintain the contemporary spheres of influence within Asia. The Nine Power treaty signed between Great Britain, the United States, Belgium and Portugal formalized China’s independence and formalized Asia and China as an open market.
As a major and wideranging international conference, many scholars have examined the Washington Conference. Scholars such as political scientists as well as political and military historians have mainly examined the Conference from the political and military perspectives since the treaty has been signed. The conference also had a significant impact on warfare, and military scholars have also examined the implications of the treaty from a different perspective than that of the historians. The earliest scholarship was published shortly after the Conference itself concluded. This section will provide an overview of the English-language historiography in order to show how scholars have approached the conference and treaties.
The earliest scholarship immediately took on the traditional roles of historians and political scientists: to examine the causes and events of the treaty as well as the factors which affected them. The early scholarship took a traditional approach to examining the conference and is represented by the journal articles published quickly after the conference as well as monographs published later.
The most basic of the contemporary scholarship were articles which provided a basic narrative of the events at and results of the conference and feature in-depth narrative couple with superficial analysis. Quincy Wright in May of 1922 published a narrative that conveys the important dates of the conference, such as when certain topics were discussed. Wright’s narrative is significant for two reasons. The first is that it is an exemplar of the basic narrative. More importantly, Wright argued that the conference was not meant to be a substitute for the institution and mechanism of the League of Nations, but does not provide an in-depth explanation leaving only the superficial analysis and narrative.4
Prominent academics also published monographs in this style, including R.L Buell from Princeton, and Dr Yamato Ichihashi of Stanford. Buell was a prominent political scientist while Yamato had been secretary to Baron Kato.5 Both Buell and Ichihashi examine the causes and achievements of the Conference, but provide American and Japanese views respectively. Buell’s narrative focussed on the Japanese threat in depth through Japanese imperialism and the Anglo-Japanese alliance while Ichihashi examined the Chinese issues in depth. They also differ in their conclusions; Buell argues that the Four and Five Power treaties were successful in that they temporarily abated the Japanese threat to the United States while Ichihashi concluded that the treaty was a success given the maintenance of the Anglo-Japanese relationship and that only remaining issue in the Ameri-Japanese relationship was American restrictions on Japanese immigration.6
A second type of contemporary scholarship focussed on factors which may have affected the Washington Conference. These scholarly works featured more in-depth analysis than the previous category, but mainly focussed on the overtly political and diplomatic events. Alden H. Abbot’s article “The League’s Disarmament Activities–and The Washington Conference” argued that senior American diplomats such as Secretary Hughes were in favour of the League of Nations and therefore they could not have ignored it. The American inability to give any credit to the League made the gauging the impact of the League impossible.7 Like Wright, Abbott addresses the issue of the Washington Conference presenting a challenge to the League, noting that merely participating in the conference ended an American period of isolation, and speculates that the future disarmament efforts would require the United States to work with the League. 8
A third aspect of the scholarly work was the responses of naval officers to the Washington Treaties. Rear Admiral WV Pratt of the United States Navy provided an American naval view of the conference. Pratt highlighted the United States’ economic and naval sacrifices in order to laud the superiority of the naval officers whom were uniquely suited to understanding the relationship between naval power and national power.9 British naval officers also examined the Washington Treaty. Oxford history professor and retired Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond’s 1934 monograph Sea Power in the Modern World examined the treaties from a strategic perspective. Richmond examines the impact of the conference’s quantitative restrictions on the operational responsibilities of Great Britain and its European rivals France and Italy in a professional evaluation.10
Stephen Roskill’s Naval Policy Between the Wars provides a British perspective to the Conference similar in a way to Buell and Ichihashi’s work provide their national perspectives. Roskill served as the Royal Navy’s official historian until 1960, and his superior access to documents provide a British aspect to the narrative not available before. Roskill argued that the Washington Conference provided the powers with a great deal of flexibility in designing warships, with no treaty obligations to build to the limit. Roskill also argued the Washington Conference did result in the loss of British seapower during the 1920s.11
Modern scholarship has re-examined the Washington Conference as well. Robert Van Meter’s 1977 article “The Washington Conference of 1921-1922: A New Look” takes a traditional approach to the topic by looking at the causes of the Conference, but makes a new argument by connecting American domestic economic difficulties following the First World War to the Washington conferences. Meter argues that the Americans hoped that international disarmament would contribute directly to international stabilization. It was hoped that a more stable and more prosperous Europe would result increased demand for exported American goods.12 Despite the relatively traditional approach, Meter’s sophisticated analysis reinforces the trend towards more in-depth or fundamental analysis.
Corelli Barnett reverted to a more traditional British naval view of the Washington Treaty but his traditional argument is surpassed by more in-depth analysis. Barnett argues that the ‘hapless’ British diplomats permanently sacrificed British naval superiority despite the best efforts of senior officers of the Royal Navy.13 Barnett highlights the 10-year building holiday, and the intellectual domination of the “romantic internationalists” as major factors in the creation of the treaty. Barnett also highlights the Admiralty argument that while the Washington Treaty was intended to create peace by reducing naval strength, the destruction of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, defence of the British Empire actually required military and naval growth.14
In 1997 a collection of essays in memory of Donald Schurman included John Ferris’ work “The Last Decade of British Maritime Supremacy”. Ferris brings a new analysis of the Washington conference in light of the 1920s naval hierarchy and the 1930 London Naval Conference. Ferris argues that the Five Power Treaty reduced the Royal Navy at the same rate that international naval building would have.15 In addition, arms limitation provided a viable solution for the Royal Navy to protect interests that were being actively challenged by the Americans.16 Ferris’ work is significant not only for the argument made but also because Ferris looked beneath the surface of the conference and performed analysis of fundamental forces behind British foreign policy.
Given the destruction of the bases that had underwritten international relations, it was necessary to create a new set of bases that would be the basis of future international treaties. The next section of the paper will examine those bases.
At the most basic level, the Washington Conference made the new global power hierarchy official. The First World War directly resulted in the dissolution of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires yet preserved the power of the British Empire while increasing the power of the United States and Japan. Accordingly, articles IV and VII of the Five Power Treaty formalized the international power hierarchy that existed following the First World War.
The highest level of the hierarchy can be classified as global powers. The United States and Great Britain were each permitted total capital ship tonnage of 525,000 and aircraft carrier total tonnage of 135,000 tons.17 This reflected their position as the most powerful nations in the world with global responsibilities. The United States had embraced the international community through participation in the First World War, the Versailles negotiations and the issuance of invitations to arms limitation conference. Growing American participation in international affairs was combined with an American political will for military and particularly naval expansion. The combination of greater diplomatic and military power in combination with the will to use it necessitated global power status.
Great Britain as Europe’s leading naval and economic power represented the European imperial old guard. The Royal Navy was still the most powerful naval force in the world and possessed the greatest number of battleships, cruisers and submarines. Global military presence and responsibilities along with active participation in global affairs required recognition of Great Britain as a global power.
As the third important nation at the Washington Conferences, Japan was recognized as a secondary or hemispheric power. Not as powerful and therefore not able to participate diplomatically on the same global scale as Great Britain or the United States, Japan was nonetheless the most powerful Asian nation and simultaneously the most powerful nation in Asia. Accordingly, article IV permitted the Japanese Navy a total capital ship tonnage of 315,000 tons.18 The strategic situation prior to 1914 required and allowed Great Britain and the United States to transfer their most powerful military units to Atlantic and Europe, Japan’s default position as the most powerful nation in Asia was reinforced by military expansionism. The ratios of Article IV and VII recognized Japan’s status as a hemispheric power while formalizing Japan’s position relative to the global powers.
The treaty also recognized France and Italy as third tier powers, permitted a third of the tonnage of the global powers.19 The French Navy had been neglected during the First World War due to emphasis on trench warfare but was still a power within the Mediterranean Sea. Italy had not enjoyed military success during the First World War or diplomatic success at Versailles, but emerging fascism and militaristic expansionism made Italy a burgeoning power within the eastern Mediterranean and a rival to France.
The formal recognition of Great Britain, the United States and Japan as the world’s three most powerful nations was not a conscious diplomatic objective but rather an inevitable record of political and military reality. The avowed purposes of the Washington conferences were to implement arms limitation and arms reduction, and settle questions regarding Asia.20 Given the independence of the Washington Conference from the League of Nations, the treaties had to get legitimacy from the active participation of the most powerful nations in the world. Therefore, the Five Power treaty provided the other treaties with legitimacy by formalizing the identities of those nations and the relationship between those nations.
The formalization of the hierarchy also created the global power balance needed for arms reduction. While the five nations did work together diplomatically at the arms limitation conference, they were by no means allies. To emphasize that, one of the American goals of the conferences was to end the threat presented by the Anglo-Japanese alliance.21 Presenting the naval ratios of 5:5:3:1.76:1.67 enabled the diplomats were able to create a balance of power globally, hemispherically and locally while simultaneously allowing nations to defend themselves. The global powers needed to reduce arms expenditures while maintaining fleets and armed forces capable of defending their global and colonial responsibilities that were within the areas of influence of the other signatory powers. The Royal Navy had bases at Bombay, Malta, and the West Indies. The United States had military stations in the Philippines, as well as Puerto Rico. France had significant forces based in French Indochina. Besides the signatories of the Five-Power Treaty, the Dutch East Indies maintained colonial armed forces in addition to units of the Royal Netherlands Navy.
The ratios of the Five-Power treaty also needed to balance rivals within specific strategic regions. The Mediterranean Sea during the early 20th century was one of the most strategically important regions of the World. Control implied control of access to the Suez Canal as well as the oil resources of the Middle East. The attempted abolition of the alliance system and the tensions of post-Versailles European and global diplomacy required a strategic balance in the Mediterranean. France and Italy needed to be strong enough to maintain their position as regional powers, yet be limited so that they were balanced militarily against each other and the other nations with interests in the Mediterranean.
The second basis constructed by the Washington Conference was the broadened focus of international relations beyond the scope of Europe and European colonies. During the Imperial Conference immediately prior to the Washington Conference, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts opined that Asia would dominate diplomacy for the next half century.22 While the Versailles Treaty resulted in a relatively settled Europe, the Four and Nine Power Treaties globalized diplomacy and international relations.
The Four Power treaty signifies the transfer the expansion of diplomatic focus to Asia. The signatory nations agreed to maintain the status quo in Asia in terms of their areas of influence and specifically forbid the building of new fortifications. Only areas such as Sakhalin, the western coast of Canada, the United States, and Singapore were not included in the Treaty.23 The United States and Japan were equal signatories to Great Britain and France which demonstrates a shift of diplomatic power away from Europe. In addition, the Treaty dealt exclusively with spheres of influence within Asia without reference to the European politics.
The formalized shift of diplomatic focus to include Asia is significant for a number of reasons. Historically the European imperial powers had not so much negotiated with Asian nations as forced terms upon them as best shown by the Unequal treaties and the Opium Wars of the 19th century. The concurrent weakening of the European powers in Asia and the rise of the Japanese and Chinese nations during the early 20th century completely changed the way in which European and Asians powers related, as shown by the creation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902.
While it had been a powerful nation prior to 1914, Japan was even stronger relative to many European nations following the Versailles Treaty. Japan’s increasing strength and militarism combined with nascent imperialism would inevitably bring conflict with the United States. The USN would be unable to fight both the Japanese and the British, and one of the primary goals for the Washington Conference was to create a replacement for the Anglo-Japanese alliance. In its place, the Four power treaty recognized that the signatory nations had strong interests in the territorial and economic resources of Asia beyond what they controlled. American elimination of the alliance created a balance of power between rival nations in East Asia similar to the balance in the Mediterranean between France and Italy. Breaking ties between the Japanese and British would significantly reduce the threat to the United States, and create a balance as the former allies would have competing interests in China. The Four and Nine Power treaties therefore created a balance of competing powers and interests which would leave no one nation with an advantage and allow future diplomacy to rely on a roughly balanced situation.
The end of the First World War also signalled the end of secret treaties and traditional diplomacy. Secret treaties had a worthy place in the history of diplomacy, especially among the great powers of Europe such as the infamous Treaty of Dover and the secret treaty proposals published by Russian Bolsheviks to embarrass the Allies. While the post-First World War diplomacy and treaties were not strictly open knowledge, they were conducted much more openly. In particular, the diplomats in Washington gave frequent if not daily press briefings.
The diplomatic situation had been complicated by League of Nations. The creation of the League of Nations was supposed to remove the need for a traditional system of alliances since its members would have conflicts resolved through the League itself. The League would also provide a forum for binding international agreements on topic such as arms limitations. The intention was not paid out in reality and the League of Nations was significantly weakened by the fact that the United States Government refused to ratify the treaty and did not enter the League of Nations. Not only was one of the two most powerful nations in the world not missing, but nations such as the USSR and Germany were intentionally excluded. As nations that would be perceived as threats by the nations inside the League, their exclusion would at least initially bar most of the intended benefits of the league. With the former practices no longer valid and the first attempt at a new mechanism for international relations and diplomacy not fully functional, the Washington Conference represents another attempt at an international conference similar in some ways to the Versailles Conference of 1919. The existence of the Washington Conference validated the international conference as a new forum for international diplomacy for it successfully created three important international treaties and not only included but relied on the involvement of non-League member nations.
The significance of reverting to international conferences is important for a number of reasons. The first and most important is that the United States was not a member of the League of Nations. Since the United States was a global military, diplomatic and economic power any treaty would have to include the United States to have any legitimacy. This would be especially true for arms reduction and limitation treaties as treaties that did not involve the most powerful nations would have been diplomatically useless. Other nations that were inclined towards arms reduction would have been required to maintain or even increase their armed forces in order to protect themselves against the global military power that was not bound by the treaty. Conversely having the most powerful nations commit and actively participate in arms limitation and arms reduction would provide reasons for other nations to actively participate as well. International conferences also provided a way to work internationally as a group of nations without relying on the League. Given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the League of Nations, it would be sensible to create internationally binding treaties not reliant on the survival of the League. Where international conferences were the process instituted as the basis for future diplomacy, the international multilateral treaty was provided as the basis for the result of conferences.
One of the classic oversimplified causes of the First World War are the defensive and offensive military alliances such as the Triple Entente that split Europe and the world. The polarizing effect of military alliances was not just a product of the 19th century. British and European politics had been since the beginning of the Restoration era a succession of alliances created to suit the political and military needs of the situation. In each situation, England and then Great Britain joined a number of alliances which polarised Europe according to the war of the time. European wars such as the War of Austrian Succession and the Napoleonic Wars created vast and quickly changing alliances which divided Europe, and by extension the European systems of colonies between the two sides. That system ended with First World War. The international treaties as a product of international conferences would allow nations to negotiate international law at some kind of relative parity that preserved each nation’s individual goals. Ratification of treaties by individual nations would create a system of international law which could benefit the greatest number of people by limiting the effect to citizens of nations that have ratified. In addition, the international treaty system would not include binding defensive or offensive clauses and would directly allow rival nations with competing goals to work together where an alliance system would not.
The Washington Conference is often closely associated with the naval aspects of the Five Power Treaty, and it is in the naval portion of the discussions that the creation of absolutely artificial bases for future diplomatic discussions are most clear. While the ratios of sea power were used to examine the hierarchy formalized by the Washington Conference, even more telling are the classifications developed by Balfour, Kato and Hughes to regulate the tonnage and capability of both naval forces in general and ships specifically. Although the diplomats were guided by officers such as the British First Sea Lord Fleet Admiral the Honourable The Earl Beatty, the diplomats created an artificial global classification system to replace a number of national systems that had developed over decades and centuries.
Classification of fighting ships had been formalized with the turn of the 17th century and the development of the dedicated naval vessel. While these systems were flexible, they were almost universally adapted. The most well known is the British system, in which ships with one gun deck were known as Frigates and ships with two or greater gundecks were rated according to the number of guns carried. While a frigate may have carried up to 44 cannons, a First Rate ship-of-the-line such as HMS Victory carried over 100 cannons. With the introduction of the steam power the classification system evolved. During the late 19th century and prior to the First World War, ships were classified with names that corresponded to their duty within the fleet. The Line of Battle Ship became known simply as the battleship and were fully armoured warships armed with a small number of very large weapons such as 12” guns and much larger numbers of smaller guns such as the 6”. The age of sail frigate evolved into the steam cruiser designed for high speed long-distance transits. Cruisers were further broken down into armoured cruisers which possessed a full armoured belt and were often armed with a small number of 6” to 8” guns as main weapons with a larger number of smaller weapons. Protected cruisers were only armoured with an armoured deck protecting the engines and other machinery, and were smaller and less well armed than the armoured cruisers. Later, the light cruiser evolved at the beginning of the 20th century. Almost globally armed with a large number of 6” guns in single mounts spread out around the ship, light cruisers were armoured in the same manner as armoured Cruisers but were much smaller warships, and were the predecessor to the interwar and World War Two cruisers. The ubiquitous light warship the destroyer was created by the British in response to the development of torpedo boats by the Germans and other nations and were originally known as Torpedo Boat Destroyers as their job was to protect the battle fleet from torpedo boats. The Aircraft Carrier was so known because of its primary purpose of transporting naval aircraft.
The Conference’s classification scheme changed the system so that types of warships were classified according to displacement (tonnage) and armament. The most important discussion and the subject of most debate was the size of what the Treaty referred to as capital ships. The term battleship was not used because Great Britain and Japan had built a number of battlecruisers which despite not being intended to serve as line of battle units were often used as such due to their powerful armament. In the discussions, the diplomats at least made no distinctions between the Queen Elizabeth class superdreadnoughts and the later battlecruiser Hood, despite their vast qualitative differences. Articles V and IX stipulated that capital ships could be built up to 35,000 tons standard displacement, and armed with guns no larger than 16”. Aircraft carriers were allowed to be no larger than 27,000 tons and be armed with at most 10 guns of 6 or 8” calibre.24 Cruisers were limited to 10,000 tons displacement and guns no larger than 8”.25 In comparison, the Iron Duke class superdreadnoughts as typical as the largest and most powerful battleships of the Royal Navy during the First World War displaced 25,000 tons at standard displacement, armed with ten 13.5” cannons.26
The Washington Conference created an artificial classification scheme that completely changed the way in which warships were classified. The classification system provided an artificial logic that defied reality of naval warfare. Classification by displacement and armament would provide for easy regulation through treaties, but did not reduce the size of individual warships or their costs. Discussions during the conference highlight the fact that decreasing the size of individual warships in order to lower costs was not a priority, as Balfour and the Royal Navy would have accpted demands by American shipbulding firms for capital ships to be limited at 42,000 tons if the nations could not agree the lower tonnage.27 Significantly, the classification system meant for arms limitation resulted in the development of larger and more powerful warships than had existed previously.
An analysis of this sort is incomplete without examining whether the diplomats were successful. The bases constructed for the Washington Conference radically adjusted who participated in diplomacy, the mechanics and products of the diplomacy as well as the topics addressed by the diplomacy. The diplomatic bases created at the Washington Conference had the potential to be successful, but international developments resulted in eventual failure.
The most successful bases created were the international conference and the international treaty. The League of Nations did have some successes, but it was not as effective as it could have been had the United States been a member. Also, the inability of the League of Nations to deal effectively with military situations such as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia made the League obsolete. However, multilateral international conferences and treaties were successfully created if not globally binding. The London Naval Treaty was the planned continuation of the Washington Conference. Other successful international conferences include the International Committee on Safety of Life at Sea, convened in 1929, the Treaty of Lausanne which in 1923 set the borders of Turkey and the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928.
The remaining bases were not as successful, but they failed for different reasons and to different extents. The most successful of the failures was the power hierarchy. While the powers of the Five Power Treaty remained powerful nations within their regions and the World, other nations grew to be as powerful if not more so. The Soviet Union and Germany in particular became as powerful as France or Italy, if not as powerful as Japan or the global powers. Accordingly the system which served to regulate the balance of powers was inadequate to deal with the reality of German rearmament and the immense strength of the Soviet Union. The hierarchy while still viable within the nations first examined was invalid for the greater picture.
The general broadening of diplomatic focus from Europe to Asia and beyond was a failure due to diplomatic neglect. Despite the Four and Nine Power treaties, Asia and Africa were quickly banished from the consciousness of European diplomats. The failure of the League of Nations to act effectively regarding the Japanese invasion of Manchuria or the Italian invasion of Abyssinia indicated that Asia and Africa were too far away major to warrant serious and continued attention of European diplomats given diplomatic crises in Europe.
The most interesting failure is the naval classification system. It could be argued that the classicisation system succeeded because it was modified in at the 1930 London Naval Conference and made more detailed. For example, the cruiser classification was split in to heavy cruisers and light cruisers, both of 10,000 ton standard displacement but differentiated by 8” guns on heavy cruisers and 6” guns on light cruisers. However, the failures exceed the successes. The rearmament and modernization of the Germany Reichsmarine did not follow the ship classification system as constructed at the Washington conference. The warships known as panzerschiffe (transl. armoured ship) or ‘pocket battleship’ did not fit within the Washington scheme and therefore violated the framework as a basis for diplomacy. The panzerschiffes were designed to efficiently hunt merchant ships, and on a standard displacement of 12,000 tons they were armed with six 11” guns, a main battery nearly as heavy as some capital ships and far more powerful than any treaty cruiser. In addition, the classification system was not technically realistic. Given the assumption that every nation would build ships to the displacement, designers were forced to choose between reducing armament, armour, fuel load or speed, or ignoring the limit. Great Britain chose to stop building cruisers given the limitations of the Treaty classification, while the Italian Regia Marina chose to violate the treaty and build beyond the limit with the Zara class cruisers. On a larger scale, the British Nelson class battleships had their armament and armour radically resigned to within the treaty limits.
After the disruption of the fundamental bases of the international system as a result of the First World War and its aftermath, new rules were required to govern the interaction between nations. The procedures and policies utilized and adopted by the diplomatic delegations at the Washington Treaty constituted a new set of bases for future diplomatic interaction. The international conference as a means to produce multilateral treaties, the formalization of the international power hierarchy, and the naval classification scheme could have served as the foundation for future conferences however were unable to withstand international developments in the following decade. The study of these bases provides context for the mechanics of international relations and accordingly future scholarship should include this approach to studying diplomacy.
Abbott, Alden H. “The League’s Disarmament Activities–and The Washington Conference,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Mar., 1922): 1-24.
Balfour, Arthur. “In Continuation of No. 167 Telegraphic” in The Washington Conference and Its Aftermath 1921-1925, ed. D.K. Adams, vol. 9 of British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print Part II From the First to the Second World War Series C North America, 1919- 1939 ed. Kenneth Bourne and D. Cameron Watt.
University Publications of America, 1991.
Barnett, Corelli. Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War.
New York: WW Norton & Co, 1991.
Buell, Raymond L., The Washington Conference.
New York: Russel & Russel, 1922.
Curzon, George, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston. “No. 101. Personal and Secret” in The Washington Conference and Its Aftermath 1921-1925, ed. D.K. Adams, vol. 9 of British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print Part II From the First to the Second World War Series C North America, 1919-1939 ed. Kenneth Bourne and D. Cameron Watt.
University Publications of America, 1991.
Ferris, John. “The last decade of British maritime supremacy, 1919-1929”
in Far Flung Lines: Essays on Imperial Defence in Honour of Donald Mackenzie Schurman, ed. Greg Kennedy and Keith Neilson.
London: Frank Cass, 1997.
Richmond, Admiral (Retd) Sir Herbert . Sea Power in the Modern World.
New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934.
Ichihashi, Yamato. The Washington Conference and After.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1928. iii.
Pratt, Rear-Admiral W.V. “Naval Policy and the Naval Treaty,”
The North American Review, Vol. 215, No. 798 (May, 1922):590-599.
Roskill, Stephen. Naval Policy Between the Wars: Volume I The Period of Anglo- American Antagonism 1919-1929 New York: Walker and Company, 1968.
Stevens, William O. and Allan Westcott. A History of Sea Power.
New York: George H. Doran Company, 1920.
US Department of State. “Agreement between the United States of America, the British Empire, France and Japan, Supplementary to the Treaty of December 13, 1921; Signed at Washington February 6, 1922” in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1922 Volume I.
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1938.
Van Meter, Robert. “The Washington Conference of 1921-1922: A New Look.”
The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Nov., 1977): 603-624.
Wright, Quincy “The Washington Conference.” The American Political Science Review. Vol. 16, No. 2, (May 1922): 285-297.
Buell, Raymond L., The Washington Conference.
New York: Russel & Russel, 1922.
Ichihashi, Yamato. The Washington Conference and After.
Stanford: Stanford University Press: 1928. iii.
These two sources are excellent early narratives of the Washington Conference. These are best described as histories in breadth, as they provide detailed accounts of factors that led to the Washington Conference, in particular the Japanese threat to the United States and the Uncertainties regarding China. While these sources provide an important narrative, the analysis they provide is only basic. However, they are important contemporary explainations of the Conference.
Vinson, John C. The Parchment Peace: The United States Senate and the Washington Conference. 1921-1922. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1955.
This source is important because it provides a much narrower view than the previous two sources and focusses on the United States Senate and American Policy. The author provides a background for disarmament in the United States Senate prior to the First World War, then examines the conference itself. The first half of the volume is devoted to the Five power treaty and the populand and senatorial response, followed by an examination of the senatorial reception of the Four Power Treaty.
Buckley, Thomas H. The United States and the Washington Conference 1921-1922.
Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1970.
This source takes advantage of personal papers and archival sources not available to previous scholars. Accordingly the author takes advantage of memoirs and letters as well as Japanese and American archival research that included intelligence archives. This monograph was produced around the time of the 50th anniversary of the treaty as well as contemporary arms reduction talks. As a research tool this is a valuable source due to excellent footnoting, a significant bibliographic essay and an extensive and cross referenced index.
Fanning, Richard W. Naval Rivalry & Arms Control 1922-1933.
Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1995.
As modern scholarship this is a great source for looking at the Washington Conference and arms regulation in the context of the naval arms limitation and the London Naval Conference of 1930. While this is more naval history than international history, the greater importance of the Five Power Treaty warrants this examination especially given the failed conference at Geneva in 1927 and London. While this book is the product of significant research, the analysis is somewhat superficial and seeks to answer the questions of what groups or individuals impacted naval arms limitation and whether arms limitation was a good idea given the world situation between the wars. Finally, the author seeks to connect the topic with arms limitation in the nuclear era.
Memoirs, Naval Papers, Biographies
Chalmers, Rear-Admiral W.S. The Life and Letters of David Beatty: Admiral of the Fleet.
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.
Chatfield, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Ernie. Navy and Defence: The Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield. Volume II: It Might Happen Again.
London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1947.
Halpern, Paul G. ed. The Keyes Papers: Selections from the Private and Offical Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Baron Keyes of Zeebrugge.
Vol II 1919-1938. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1980.
Hunt, Barry D. Sailor Scholar: Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond 1871-1946.
Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982.
These sources provide interesting insight into the reaction of naval officers to the Washington Treaty. Beatty was First Sea Lord, while Chatfield and Keyes were Assistant Chief of Naval Staff and Deputy Chief of Naval staff, respectively. As senior members of the Admiralty, they were intimately involved with providing the diplomats with technical advice, as well as lobbying for the interests of the Royal Navy. These sources provide interesting context that illustrates the divide between the British government and the Admiralty and demonstrates the complexity within the British delegation to the Conference. Richmond was a former staff member of the Admiralty, and represented a faction with the Royal Navy that called for radical reassesment of the Battleship and more radical arms limitation than those at the Admiralty and his biography provides a comparison piece.
Richmond, Admiral Sir Herbert. “Smaller Ships, A Stop to Wasteful Competition”
Times of London, November 29, 1921, page 11.
This article is significant because it’s a passionate plea by Richmond to reduce the size of warships. Richmond argues that eliminating the battleship would be in the spirit of arms reduction, and that the Washington Conference provides an opportunity that cannot be missed.
- Trans. Race War, 17th and 18th century term for commerce warfare.
- Marquess Curzon of Kedleston. “No. 101. Personal and Secret” in The Washington Conference and Its Aftermath 1921-1925, ed. D.K. Adams, vol. 9 of British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print Part II From the First to the Second World War Series C North America, 1919-1939 ed. ed. Kenneth Bourne and D. Cameron Watt (University Publications of America, 1991) 36-37.
- Stephen Roskill, Naval Policy Between the Wars: Volume I 1919-1929 (New York: Walker and Company, 1969) 300-302.
- Quincy Wright, “The Washington Conference,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 16, No. 2,(May 1922): 297.
- Yamato Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1928), iii.
- Raymond L. Buell, The Washington Conference (New York: Russel & Russel, 1922). vii., Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After. 349-350.
- Alden H. Abbott, “The League’s Disarmament Activities–and The Washington Conference,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Mar., 1922): 22.
- Abbott, “The League’s Disarmament Activities”: 23-24.
- Rear-Admiral W.V. Pratt, “Naval Policy and the Naval Treaty,” The North American Review, Vol. 215, No. 798 (May, 1922): 599.
- Admiral (Retd) Sir Herbert Richmond, Sea Power in the Modern World (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934) 198-202.
- Roskill, Naval Policy Between the Wars, 330.
- Robert Van Meter, “The Washington Conference of 1921-1922: A New Look,” The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Nov., 1977):604.
- Corelli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: WW Norton & Co, 1991) 21.
- Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely, 22.
- John Ferris, “The last decade of British maritime supremacy, 1919-1929” in Far Flung Lines: Essays on Imperial Defence in Honour of Donald Mackenzie Schurman, ed. Greg Kennedy and Keith Neilson (London: Frank Cass, 1997) 155.
- Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After, 366.
- Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After, 366.
- Arthur Balfour “Copy of a Despatch (#3) From Mr Balfour to the Prime Minister” in The Washington Conference and Its Aftermath 1921-1925, ed. D.K. Adams, vol. 9 of British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print Part II From the First to the Second World War Series C North America, 1919-1939 ed. ed. Kenneth Bourne and D. Cameron Watt (University Publications of America, 1991) 29-30.
- Buell, The Washington Conference, 172-3.
- Buell, The Washington Conference, 3.
- US Department of State, “Agreement between the United States of America, the British Empire, France and Japan, Supplementary to the Treaty of December 13, 1921; Signed at Washington February 6, 1922” in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1922 Volume I (Washington: Government Printing Office 1938) 46-47.
- Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After, 366-367.
- Ichihashi, The Washington Conference and After, 367.
- William O. Stevens and Allan Westcott, A History of Sea Power (New York: George H. Doran Company) 398.
- Arthur Balfour. “In Continuation of No. 167 Telegraphic” in The Washington Conference and Its Aftermath 1921-1925, ed. D.K. Adams, vol. 9 of British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print Part II From the First to the Second World War Series C North America, 1919-1939 ed. ed. Kenneth Bourne and D. Cameron Watt (University Publications of America, 1991) 65.