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Undoubtedly, economic circumstances played the most important part in determining the success of the disarmament policies and this is best portrayed in period following Great Depression in 1929. However, the role of aggressive nationalism and the rise of Hitler as well as the role of the League of Nations must not be undermined as they, too, determined the success of the disarmament policies. Best way to examine the effects of economic circumstances on the success of disarmament policies is too consider the successes of the Naval Convention (1922) as well as the Kellog-Briand Pact and the failures of the World Disarmament Conference (1932-4).
The idea of avoiding an arms race and spending the money on economic expenditure seemed very legible and it was only possible in the context of 1920s era where international cooperation was rising and Europe was relatively stabilised following the Locrano treaties. The stabilisation of Europe and hence an increase in international cooperation was only possible in good economic circumstances as Germany was receiving financial aid (800 million gold marks) from the USA to rebuild its economy. In this context, US was also shifting from its isolationist position. The positions of the countries who took part in the Disarmament Conference was that Britain and the USA wanted to avoid a naval arms race and economise. USA was anxious of the rise of Japanese power in the Pacific. By 1919, Japan possessed the third largest navy in the world and had begun a major naval construction programme. America and Britian responded by building their own Naval construction programme but both were wary of the cost of rearmament and wanted to spend the money on economic recovery. This situation led to a four-power treaty by which Britain, France and Germany were committed to respect each other’s right in the Pacific and then to the Washington Naval Convention in 1922. It halted the building of capital ships for 10 years and introduced a ratio of 3 for Japan to 1.67 for Italy and France to every 5 for Britain and USA.
However, arguing that the success of the Washington Naval convention was primarily due to the good economic circumstances and America’s strong economic position might be a bit reductionist as the memories of the First World War had convinced many countries to avoid another arms race which was considered so destructive and leading to the war in 1914.Furthermore, the Kellog-Briand Pact was singed between 15 states in 1928 which condemned war as an ‘instrument for national policy’ and in 1933 a further 50 states joined the pact. However, economic circumstances surely played the most important part given that this ‘avoid war’ attitude was present in the 1930s as well but could not lead to disarmament.
Also, relative successes of the League in 1920s did increase this sense of international cooperation so economic condition were not the sole determining factor. In 1921 for example, the League successfully solved a territorial dispute between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands and ruled that they should remain under Finish sovereignty- both countries agreed to its verdict. Its successes gave the League the necessary influence to draft an ambitious collective security agreement, the Geneva Protocol (1924) , by which the security of each state was guaranteed by the others. This was an important step towards disarmament as, if a nation did not feel secure, it could hardly disarm. The failures of the league in 1930s can explain failures of the disarmament policies to some extent.
Following the Great Depression of 1939, the volume of world trade fell by 70% and the sense of international cooperation gave way to a desperate sense of ‘everyman for himself’. As argued, international cooperation was the key factor for the successes of the Disarmament policies in the 1920s. However, in the difficult economic circumstances following the Great Depression country after country introduced tariffs on imported goods (hence why the volume of international trade fell) and above all, USA ceased giving financial aid to Germany which was agreed by the Dawes Plan (1929). This situation led to the rise of Hitler and aggressive nationalism in Japan and Italy. I would personally support the Taylor’s thesis where he argued that Hitler was acting like any other politician as he also wanted a revision of the peace treaties like Stresemann did. Hence, why he decided rearm and acquire colonies or Lebensraum in Eastern Europe. Britian and France with their large colonies had a significant advantage over Japan, Italy and Germany and this explain why competition to aquire colonies grow in bad economic circumstances in the 1930s. During the World Disarmament conference, Britian suggested a limit of 200 000 armed forces and in June 1933 France proposed an 8 year period to achieve this limit. France, Britain and the USA came close to an agreement but Germany left the disarmament conference in October due to the precise motive of acquiring Lebensraum explained above. With Germany out of the Disarmament Conference, its fate was sealed and it failed to achieve any agreements. Germany completely turned its back to international cooperation and withdrew from the League of Nations 5 days later. Therefore, difficult economic circumstances led to the rise of aggressive nationalism and in turn the failure of the disarmament policies.
Also, the obvious failure of the League in the 1930s also contributed to the failure of the disarmament policies. For example, the Abyssinian crisis of 1935, where Italy invaded Abyssinia to acquire territory and distract the public from the effects of depression on the economy, League failed to do anything other than condemning the Italian action and passing ineffective sanctions. This, and other instances such as the Manchurian crisis (1931) significantly reduced the authority of the league. Both Italy and Japan left the league in the following years. After all, the league was the first organisation to have included the idea of general disarmament in its covenant and one its aims was to encourage international cooperation and world peace. The failures of the played an important part in reducing international cooperation and leading to crises such the ones mentioned in the 1930s, hence, why disarmament became impractical at a time when nations pursued their own selfish acts of colonisation.
To conclude, a sense of international cooperation was key to the successes of the disarmament policies and this cooperation was only possible in good economic conditions as well as with a functional League of Nations. Following the Great Depression and hence bad economic circumstances, international cooperation declined as each nation focused on its own affairs to minimise the domestic effects on their economy. Particularly, the USA who could no longer help in rebuilding the German economy. In turn, this led to other nations such as Germany and Italy intended to crave their own empires in difficult economic times and this made disarmament impractical. Economic circumstances surely determined the success of the disarmament policies!
Question: 'Economic circumstances determined the success or failure of the disarmament policies pursued by major powers in the years 1921-1933'.How far do you agree with this view?
It would really help if you could let people know what exam board and level this is for.