The Interwar Years (1919-1938)
Attempts at Reconciliation and Disarmament (1921-1930)
Though the League of Nations failed to pass any broad measures to achieve a lasting peace, the former Allies and Germany were reconciled on December 1, 1925 with the signing of the Locarno Pacts. The Pacts were intended to assuage French fears of resurgent German aggression. They included guarantees on the French-German and Belgian-German borders, signed by those three nations and with Britain and Italy acting as guarantors, promising to provide military assistance to the victim of any violation of peace along those borders. The Locarno Pacts also included treaties between Germany and Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and France, providing for the settlement of potential territorial disputes. Additionally, French-Polish and French-Czechoslovakian mutual assistance treaties were signed in case of German aggression.
The League of Nations, for its part, moved from its focus on settling conflicts to attempts to disarm the European militaries which had been built up during the war. In this arena it fared little better than it had in the latter. Disarmament was a major goal of the League. Article III of the Covenant of the League called for "reduction of armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety." However, despite this priority, the first major arms treaty was negotiated outside of the League, in November 1921. The United States convened the Washington Conference, attended by Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, China, Japan, and Portugal. The Conference resulted in a naval armaments treaty which set a ratio for tonnage of capital ships (over 10,000 tons, with guns bigger than eight inches) for Great Britain, the US, Japan, France, and Italy. The ratio agreed upon, in that order, was 5:5:3:1.67:1.67.
In 1925, the League of Nations appointed a commission to prepare a disarmament conference. The commission met first in 1926, and a number of times subsequently, all without success. Britain and France refused to cooperate, and without their participation, disarmament floundered. The League's inability to promote disarmament led United States Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand to jointly denounce war in the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, which stated that the signing parties condemned recourse to war, and denounced it as an aspect of policy. The pact was eventually ratified, often hesitantly, by 65 nations. Some nations signed while claiming exceptions for self-defense and such. The Kellogg-Briand Pact had no enforcement mechanism, but was based rather on the affirmation of the spirit of peace.
The last major League of Nations-sponsored disarmament conference met from February to July 1932 at Geneva, with 60 nations in attendance, including the United States. However, this conference, like it's predecessors, failed to secure any agreement, and organized disarmament remained an unaccomplished goal.
The treaties of the Locarno Pacts were the major part of France's efforts to surround Germany with French allies and discourage German aggression. Somewhat to France's dismay, the treaties worked to usher in a period of good relations between Germany and its neighbors. The frequently referred to 'spirit of Locarno' had a positive psychological effect throughout Europe and many believed a lasting peace would grow from that root. The Locarno Pacts were also important in that they represented a revival of traditional power politics and a rejection of the League of Nations as the arbiter of international relations. Power politics had outdone the League in its efforts to promote peace, and the Locarno Pacts demonstrated definitively that the major European powers were not interested in handing authority over to the League.
Similarly, the League repeatedly failed and was outdone by traditional power politics in its efforts to promote disarmament. The Washington Conference and the subsequent London Naval Conference of 1930 produced the only successful armaments agreements of the inter-war years. They were important steps toward disarmament, but served to frustrate Japan, whose leaders felt the nation was disrespected by the European nations, and repudiated the agreements during the late 1930s in preparation for World War Two. One fact that emerged clearly from the two conferences was that the United States, though it generally stayed out of European affairss during this era, lent great prestige to any affair in which it involved itself, and as an organizing unit commanded far more respect from the economically and politically distressed states of Europe than did the League of Nations, which was in effect, a weak coalition of these distressed states.
One reason that disarmament remained a nearly impossible goal for the League of Nations was its inability to persuade Britain and France to cooperate and act against their respective national interests. Britain was willing to support the vast reduction of land forces to a minimal level. However, France feared a German invasion on its borders and refused to accept any reduction in ground troops. France had no qualms about supporting drastic naval cuts, but Britain, an island nation, depended upon the navy for security, and refused to decrease naval strength. No arms agreement could be achieved while these powers refused to compromise. It took power politics and the presence of the United States to forge the little compromise that was reached.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact was important not because of any practical application, but because it successfully articulated the hatred and fear of war that had developed in Europe as a result of World War One. The Soviet Union, not to be outdone, quickly adopted its own Eastern peace treaty, the Livitinov Protocol, which was signed by the Soviet Union and four other states. The concept of rival peace treaties conveys the contradictions and absurdity of inter-war politics.