HENRY NOEL BRAILSFORD
THE WAR OF STEEL AND GOLD
A STUDY OF THE ARMED PEACE
ON the wall of a big room at the Admiralty there used to hang, and may still hang, an oddly decorated map of the world's seas. The decorations were movable points which indicated the varying positions of German merchant vessels. It was a map which could be used with great effect in conversation, and the effect was one which the Admiral whose pride it was, produced very willingly. Here he sat with the wireless installation on the roof above him, a genial, capable spider, with the world for his web. He knew every day the approximate position of every German ship. He knew a little more accurately where his own cruisers, scouts and commerce-destroyers and armed merchantmen were stationed. He had worked out to a nicety the orders which would radiate from the big poles overhead, if ever war were declared. The rapid arming of British merchantmen on the high seas played a great part in the scheme, and the official calculation promised that about four-and-twenty hours would suffice to make every German merchantman a British prize. The reckoning was probably optimistic, but it was delivered with great assurance, and the Admiral was convinced that the navy which he commanded was an efficient predatory organisation. It was a flattering dream to indulge, and somewhere in the dimmer regions of the professional consciousness there may have lurked the recollection that such a sweeping of the seas, if it could be effectively carried out, would mean for the service that accomplished it, wealth "beyond the dreams of avarice." For the King's regulations make the value of a prize of war the "perquisite" of the crew which takes her. You may see in the Old Kirk of Haarlem a superb monument to a fortunate Dutch captain of the seventeenth century, who amassed an untold fortune from the pillage of English ships. The law of war still sanctions this legalised piracy. The prizes are richer, and the machinery of capture incomparably more effectual, but nothing else is changed.
The British Admiralty has a costly skill in advertising. It advertised the "Dreadnought" and our estimates show the result. It advertised that elaborate map, and the result was the growth of a set determination among the middle-class of the new industrial Germany, that a war which might cost it its merchant fleet, should not be lightly declared. The late Chancellor of Germany has put this from his own standpoint in a few telling sentences. (Imperial Germany, by Prince von Bülow, p. 18 of the English translation.)
When in the spring of 1864 the English Ambassador in Berlin drew the attention of the Prussian President of the Council at that time to the excitement in England caused by Prussia's advance against Denmark, and let fall the remark that if Prussia did not cease operations the English Government might be forced to take arms against her, Herr von Bismarck-Schönhausen replied: "Well, what harm can you do us? At worst you can throw a few bombs (shells?) at Stolpmünde or Pillau, and that is all." Bismarck was right at that time. We were then as good as unassailable to England with her mighty sea power, for we were invulnerable at sea. We possessed neither a great mercantile marine, the destruction of which could sensibly injure us, nor any oversea trade worth mentioning, the crippling of which we need fear.
To-day it is different. We are now vulnerable at sea. We have intrusted millions to the ocean, and with these millions the weal and woe of many of our countrymen. If we had not in good time provided protection for these valuable and indispensable possessions, we should have been exposed to the danger of having one day to look on defencelessly while we were deprived of them. But then we could not have returned to the comfortable economic and political existence of a purely inland State. We should have been placed in the position of being unable to employ and support a considerable number of our millions of inhabitants at home. The result would have been an economic crisis which might easily attain the proportions of a national catastrophe.
In these sentences Prince von Bülow explains the origin of the modern German navy, in so far as it is the creation of German public opinion. Our Admiralty was ill-advised enough to supply the advocates of a great German navy with an object-lesson and an argument by the seizure of the German liner Bundesrath during the South African War. With the anger and alarm created by that incident there began a revolution in German habits of thought, and the Reichstag, which had always hitherto resisted the ambitions of the Kaiser, was now with ease induced to vote large programmes, and to increase them periodically.
We need not suppose that the fear of the effect of the British doctrine of capture at sea was the chief motive of German statesmen in increasing the German Navy. Navies are valued by statesmen primarily as instruments of pressure held in reserve by diplomacy. Had the need of defending commerce been their guiding thought, the German Government would have made an attempt to ascertain whether on any terms the British Government could be induced at last to fall into line with the United States and other Powers, which have for a generation demanded the reversal of this barbarous doctrine. It has never taken that course, and there is some reason to believe that the German Admiralty has recently come to perceive the value of capture at sea. What is that value? The power to destroy an enemy's commerce is at the first glance a tremendous weapon of menace or aggression. It would be devastating in action, and it is only a little less valuable as a threat. But in the balance it can be of advantage only to the stronger Power, and one may question whether even that Power could draw great profit from it, unless its aggression were sudden and unexpected. If, as Mr. Arthur Lee stated in a speech to his constituents while he was a Civil Lord of the Admiralty in Mr. Balfour's Government, we dispensed with a declaration of war, following the Japanese and Bulgarian precedents, undoubtedly our fleet could dispose of a great part of the German mercantile marine on the first day of the unforeseen opening of hostilities. With a more regular and honourable procedure the advantage would be less, for Germany can also use the resources of wireless telegraphy, and manifestly large numbers of her ships at the first warning would seek the shelter of a neutral port. The blow to the economic life of Germany which would follow from the suspension of her shipping trade, though very serious, would not be fatal. She can at need raise all the food stuffs she requires for her own wants, and she has railway communication with neutral States. The loss to her industry from the stoppage or interruption in the import and export of its raw material and its produce would hardly be felt in time of war, for the first consequence of mobilisation would be that all the mines and factories which depend on male labour would be forced to work half-time or even to close down. Export in any event would cease on the outbreak of war. The loss to Germany would be limited to the risk of the seizure of her ships at sea and their cargoes, and the extent of that loss would evidently depend mainly on the suddenness of our aggression.
In attempting to answer the question, Of what value is capture at sea from the British standpoint? we are faced by a sharp divergence between commercial and naval opinion.(20) Naval opinion is decidedly, though not unanimously, in favour of the doctrine. Commercial opinion, more particularly in such centres as Liverpool, is as decidedly against it. Parties are divided, and a leading Conservative like Mr. F. E. Smith, who speaks for Liverpool, is in agreement with Lord Loreburn, who has presented the case against capture largely from the standpoint of a Liberal who desires to civilise international relations. It would be superfluous to attempt to summarise at any length a controversy in which all the arguments are familiar. The Admiralty's case, in one sentence, is that the capture of an enemy's shipping gives to a Power which has no army capable of attack or invasion, the only effective means of injuring an enemy. That argument, as we have seen, requires some reserves. The injury, to begin with, would be overwhelming only if our attack were sudden and unexpected, or in plain words if it were a deliberate aggression made before the resources of diplomacy had obviously been exhausted, before mediation had been attempted, and without a formal declaration of war. Few British statesmen would in public agree with Mr. Arthur Lee in recommending such a brutality as this. Further, it is untrue that "capture" is the only means of injuring an enemy. In the first place all the German colonies are vulnerable from the sea, and so long as our main fleet commanded the Home waters, some of them could be seized and held, if we so desired it, by comparatively small forces of British or Indian troops. In the second place the destruction of Germany's fighting fleet would deprive her diplomacy for a decade or two of one of its main sanctions. The argument used by all statesmen that armaments are necessary to back diplomacy falls to the ground, if it be questioned that the loss of the German fleet would cripple her future action in world-politics. It is true that the fear of losing her mercantile marine must always make Germany reluctant to engage in a trial of strength with us. In that restricted sense, the maintenance of the doctrine of capture may help to prevent war. But the class which has most to lose is not the warlike class; the merchant community needs no such deterrent. To the warlike class in Germany, the Prussian ruling caste, the risk of losing colonies and warships would seem a graver misfortune than the loss of the mercantile marine. Moreover, if Germany did meditate aggression, she could with ease take precautions in advance against the greater part of this loss.
If the advantages claimed from a British standpoint for the maintenance of capture are problematical, the risks to which it might expose us are tremendous. However efficient and however powerful our navy may be, it cannot absolutely insure our mercantile marine against all risk of capture, and if the war broke out suddenly, its losses would be relatively heavy. The effect would be felt at once in the rise, first of insurance premiums, then of freights, and finally of prices. All the inevitable disturbance to banking and trade which any war must cause to any elaborately-organised modern community would in our case be aggravated by the doubt whether our food supply could be maintained uninterrupted and our factories steadily supplied with raw material. One may feel sure in cold blood that nothing worse than a momentary interruption of any of our chief sea-routes is possible. But it is less easy to feel certain that public opinion, with its indices in credit and prices, would remain perfectly steady when the inevitable incidents began to occur. Some panic, some stringency, some privation there probably would be at the best. On the other hand, if any of the more romantic dangers which the popular novelist is fertile in inventing were ever to occur, and our fleet were for a time taken by surprise, or outclassed by some new invention, or outnumbered by an improbable combination, it is obvious that our own chosen weapon of capture could be turned against us with deadly effect. If victory were delayed, if the fleet had for any reason to fight a prolonged battle for the absolute command of the seas, our dependence on imported supplies would reduce us much sooner than our antagonist to a position in which we must sue for terms. The case for capture, whether from the British or the German standpoint, is, in short, extremely problematical, and to maintain it at all is to take a gambling chance. Germany, as the weaker power at sea, could gain by it only if she began the war suddenly and treacherously, if she evolved some new and deadly weapon, or if she brought about some wholly improbable combination of forces against us. Under normal conditions, the only gain to her would depend on our nerves; she might do just enough against us to make a panic, and against this small gain must be set the risk of a great though not fatal loss of wealth. We, on the other hand, stand to gain much, if the moment for attack were of our choosing, but much less if the war were forced upon us. Disasters and unforeseen combinations may seem improbable, but in balancing gains and losses, we cannot afford to forget that, should disaster ever happen, the stoppage of our sea trade and loss of our mercantile fleet would instantly force us into a humiliating peace, from which we should emerge to face economic ruin.
If this be a fair summary of the probable results from the doctrine of capture at sea, it is puzzling that the directors of the British and German navies should maintain it. It is above all puzzling that they should both maintain it. If it must have a decisive effect in war, that effect cannot be equally advantageous to both. With half the world's shipping under our flag, one might suppose that our .clear course, if we mean to thrive by commerce rather than piracy, would be to press for every reform of international law which would protect commerce. The Germans, content to possess a fleet which stands to ours nominally as ten to sixteen, and really as much less, ought, one would imagine, to reject a weapon which can be wielded with a balance of advantage only by the stronger fleet. Is the case really so doubtful that two Powers which apparently occupy opposite positions can reach the same result, when that result is obviously not the course of safety? We have to deal with shrewd and capable men; it is clear that there must be a good explanation of this riddle It stares us in the face. Capture at sea is maintained by both navies, because it supplies the prime argument by which industrial and peaceable nations can be induced to maintain great navies. As a strategical device it is of doubtful value to both, and if it is valuable to one, it must therefore be disastrous to the other. As a spur and lash to public opinion it is absolutely indispensable. The German Navy Act was passed by no other means, as the extract from Prince von Bülow shows. In our case we need only glance at current controversy. When Mr. Churchill and his friends, after securing a navy overwhelmingly and permanently superior to that of the only Power which could attack us, go on to demand more ships, what is their argument? It is that we must consider our "whole-world requirements "; we must remember that much of our corn comes to us from the Black Sea and India through the Mediterranean, and that commerce on its way to the colonies must be protected by local fleets. There is a good answer to this, but in all frankness it is a plausible, and at first glance, a weighty argument. In every country the instincts of civilised men are against armaments. We would nearly all of us, unless we have sons in the service or shares in Armstrong's, abolish armaments, if we could, or at least have less of them. There are few men who doubt in their better moments that war and armaments are absolute evils. Those whose interest or professional duty it is to maintain armaments, must force us to think that the evil is a necessary evil, and that we shall be ruined if we discard it. These capable minds study strategy. The more important part of strategy for them is not the alignment of embattled navies; it is the management of public opinion. They are at war not with Germany but with the instincts of civilisation. The chances are incalculable of a war with Germany, but the battle against civilisation grows every year more difficult. The more one studies this enigma of the maintenance of capture, the more does the conviction impose itself that this monstrous and barbaric practice is upheld solely because public opinion would become unmanageable without it. That is why it is equally useful to Mr. Churchill and to Admiral von Tirpitz, to the stronger and also to the weaker fleet, to the Power with the greater, and to the Power with the lesser stake. It is in itself an affront to every civilised instinct. Modern peoples conceive of war as a quarrel between governments, but this is a predatory plot against the property of individuals. The individual naval officer is by this doctrine authorised to rob the individual merchant of his ship and its cargo, and to sell them for his personal profit. Such practices were once permissible and common in land warfare; they are now rigidly forbidden. Every argument which tells for the capture of private property at sea, might be used as legitimately in defence of unlimited loot on land. One might just as plausibly say that if a nation knew that the price of defeat would be the sacking of its cities, the slaughter of non-combatants, and the violation of women, it would think twice before it went to war. But the deterrent never works in this way. No nation voluntarily goes to war in any circumstances unless it hopes to win. The expectation of loot was in more barbarous ages a potent incentive to war, and within certain limits one must suppose that the doctrine of capture acts in the same way, in so far as it acts at all as a motive.
But its real operation is not in making wars. Wars are not the world's chief danger to day. What it helps to make is the everlasting war of steel and gold, the constant struggle with mounting budgets and lengthening lines of armoured ships. Abolish the doctrine of capture, and at the first blow navies might be vastly reduced. We in this country would have most to gain. Gone would be our anxiety about our long lines of communication and our scattered fleets of food-carrying ships. The talk about "world-wide requirements," exaggerated even now, would then have become patently foolish. With this fear removed at once from our mind and from those of the Germans, the problem of naval armaments would be faced in a wholly new atmosphere. Our navy would have been restricted to what ought to be its only function---the defence of our coasts from invasion. Our rivals, realising that it no longer threatened their commerce, would in their turn have to ask themselves why they require a navy. They can deal with an invader when he lands, or while he is landing. In both countries the chance of defending vast navies on the hypocritical plea that they are purely defensive, would have become less promising, and an arrangement to reduce them would in every country encounter less suspicion and less resistance.
Our opponents have their strategy; we must have ours. The first step towards a reduction of armaments is to divide those who now support them. They fall into two classes. Much the greater number both in Britain and Germany is composed of those who in their hearts neither desire war nor enjoy paying for armaments. They act under pressure of a supposed necessity, the defence of commerce. To this class belong most of our merchants and manufacturers in the middle-class, and all of the working-class which is by custom or temperament Liberal or Conservative. To the other class belongs the caste which governs and finds employment in the Empire and the services, and the larger financial and investing world which sees in the navy an insurance for its capital exported abroad. It is this latter class, a large and growing class, which is the enemy. It is rich capable, and influential, a formidable antagonist even when it stands alone. But at present it does not stand alone. It has cleverly contrived by the artificial and anachronistic doctrine of capture to rally to its side both in Britain and Germany, the peaceable middle class which wants no adventures, hates war and looks askance at armaments. Abolish capture and this class regains the possibility of following its natural instincts and its clear interests. Our problem is not, as pacifists too readily suppose, how best to influence disinterested opinion. No mass of opinion can under present conditions be disinterested, save that of the proletariat, which is nearly powerless. But the interest in defending its ships and cargoes from capture, which on the whole ranges the mercantile and industrial class on the side of armaments, is artificial and unnecessary. This class can be detached by the simple expedient of bringing the customs of sea-warfare into line with those of land-warfare, in a word, by abolishing the doctrine of capture. Before this Government fixes its policy at the next Hague Conference, Parliament, if it respected itself, would insist on the preliminary discussion of this question. If the Radical Group and the Labour Party realised the vast importance of this issue they would not hesitate to declare in advance that they would back their opinion by a vote. The abolition of capture is of incomparably greater consequence than the reduction which may be brought about by agitation in the naval estimates of any one year. It is the key to all future reductions. A reduction at present is out of the question and never has been won. All that can be won by efforts that avoid this main issue is a diminution in the rate of increase. The centre of our battle is here, and the position will be lost, if our delegates are once more allowed to go to the Hague with the old instructions.
There is another step which might well be taken at once, in the hope of detaching interests from the forces which make the armed peace. Pacifists tend to argue that the armament firms are the only interest or the chief interest which maintains armaments and war. It has been the purpose of this book to show that the chief interest is something far more powerful, far more considerable, and much more widely diffused than the traders in war possess. It is the interest of the whole class which exports capital abroad. But it would be folly to ignore or minimise the direct interest of the trade. It is an interest which happens to be firmly entrenched in political circles, and as the exploit of Mr. Mulliner shows, it is a singularly alert and energetic interest. If public life continues to develop on the present lines, the great scandal of to-morrow will be a discovery that the Liberal Party Funds have been invested not in Marconis, but in Krupps. The way to meet this evil is so simple that one need waste little space in discussing it. Every one can see it, and every one will see it, when they choose to see it. The most rigidly individualistic Liberal need not scruple to admit that there is one monopoly which ought to be in the hands of the State---the manufacture of arms. If the State arsenals and dockyards forged our armour-plate and built our ships, there would, at all events, be no direct interest with a stake in the increase of armaments. There is no question that the State can do it. It builds ships still, though in constantly diminishing numbers. Nor would there be any difference in the quality of the brains employed. The great firms are glad to engage our admirals as directors, when their term of service is expired, and the great naval architects are employed now by a firm and then by the State. The obvious argument that competition secures lower prices can no longer be maintained, for the great firms have formed a close ring. Indeed, the case for nationalisation deserves to be considered, if only that the State may free itself from the domination of this ring. It has become so powerful that the State now neglects to keep its own arsenals, factories and yards employed, and actually hands over to contractors work for which it possesses itself all the necessary plant. The first step is to insist that the existing yards and factories shall be fully employed, and the next to take over from private hands one or more of the best equipped yards, so that the whole work of the State may be completed by its own resources. Until this is done, we shall always suffer from the occult and interested pressure of a small but powerful group of contractors and investors whose profits depend on the maintenance and grow with the increase of our armaments. Were this done not only in Britain but in every country of Europe, there would be within a year a surprising diminution in the demand for armaments. Newspapers in some inexplicable way would lose their keenness in manufacturing scares, while the Navy League and the Flottenverein would be left lamenting the decline in their subscriptions.
The problems raised by the army are in our country of secondary interest, and they have at present comparatively little bearing on the relation of armaments to opinion. The whole conception of the Expeditionary Corps calls for criticism, but it is useless to attack it while our diplomatic position is what it is. This corps is governed by the idea that it may have to serve on the Continent as an auxiliary force to a French army defending the northern frontier against a German invasion. So long as our exclusive intimacy with France continues, and so long as we pursue the phantom of a balance of power, such a force will be necessary. Given these premises, it is, indeed, an absurdly small force for the purpose in question. It would, however, be an utterly excessive provision for our needs, if we entertained no thought of intervening in Continental warfare. Second in importance to the Expeditionary Corps stands the force which we maintain in India. Its size is really determined by our political policy there. As we continue the programme of the Delhi proclamation, our rule in India must become gradually less dependent on the sword in a white hand. The ideal of self-government, however slowly it is developed, must in the end mean that India will provide for her own defence and her own police. Every step towards the realisation of that ideal is also a step towards the time when the Anglo-Indian army may be reduced and even abolished. A party of reform which aimed at cutting away the buttresses of interest which maintain the present level of armaments, would turn its attention also to the native regiments in India. A system which refuses to Indian soldiers any rank above a subaltern's, means primarily that a great number of positions are kept in these regiments for British officers. These positions are among the perquisites of Empire, and their maintenance reinforces the caste feeling at home which tends to maintain and extend Empire. Open these positions to natives, and our own governing class will lose one small contributory motive which goes to make it Imperialist and militarist in sentiment. What is true of India is equally true of Egypt, though everything there is on a smaller scale. South Africa is another point at which an economy might be effected. A Dominion so absolutely self-governing that it cannot be checked even when it affronts every instinct of our race and every principle of citizenship by sending Labour leaders into exile untried, has no right to ask the Empire for a contribution towards its own defence. It has the protection of the navy, while it escapes the burden of taxation. It no more needs the assistance of the army than do Australia and Canada. It ought to be possible to withdraw these troops and to reduce the army by a number equivalent to theirs. These however, are minor questions, and their influence on opinion is slight. It is hardly possible to hope for any great change in the scale or cost of the army, so long as it remains primarily a force for service abroad in a scattered Empire.
Some pacifists are tempted to look in one form or another at proposals for the creation of a home defence force based on compulsory service. If it were possible to hope that this might become our principal and ultimately our only armed force, the scheme would be attractive, if it did not involve prolonged service in barracks, and would answer to a healthy ideal of a citizen's duty. One dreads, however, the use which would be made of it to inculcate conceptions of blind obedience, automatic discipline and social subjection. But the main objection to it is that it would certainly be, while our present political conditions endure, in no sense a substitute for the navy and the overseas army, but an addition to them, and a further burden piled upon the present cost of the armed peace. To give any countenance to this proposal at present is an excessively risky strategy, which may well lead, not to a decline, but to an immense increase in militarism. When the navy has been reduced to the comparatively modest dimensions which would suffice if capture at sea were abolished, when the army has been cut down by the abandonment of the struggle for a balance in Europe and the gradual emancipation of India, it will be time enough to urge that a citizen army would be the most self-respecting form of national defence. Paradoxical as it may seem, universal service in a citizen army, for short terms of service without the brutalities of military discipline, and with the minimum number of professional officers, is the true pacifist ideal. Professional armies, whether on land or sea, are an offence against democracy and against human dignity. But pacifists would do well to see their way to the drastic reduction if not the abolition of mercenary armies, before they begin to smooth the path for the creation of another force which under actual conditions would certainly be used to further ambitions that are not theirs.
We have dealt with certain aspects of the problem of armaments in which it directly touches public opinion. Clear away the artificial stimulus to the creation of great navies which the doctrine of capture supplies, remove the incentive which the traders in war possess to manipulate the moods and convictions of a democracy, and some of the superfluous obstacles will have vanished which now prevent the reduction of armaments. Allow that this has been done, and the question of ways and means still remains. Is it reasonable to hope for a limitation by agreement in the present condition of Europe? If politics were governed by cold reason, it ought to be so. It is not the absolute strength of navies and armies which determines victory, but the comparative strength of the two combatants. If the ratio of the British and German fleets were really fixed at sixteen to ten fighting ships, the result would be the same, however far the reduction went. Restrict the two Powers to eight and five capital ships apiece, and it is obvious that they would enter a conflict with exactly the same chances as they do to-day, when the Dreadnoughts built or building approach the forties and the thirties. It will be objected that the breadth of the seas, the length of our lines of mercantile communication, and the magnitude of the commercial fleet which our navy has to protect, establishes for us something like an absolute standard: we must have ships enough to be able to scatter a certain number over all the seas. This argument, however, would have little cogency if the practice of capture were abolished. One may admit that geography does for certain Powers establish something resembling an absolute standard. Russia must have two fleets, one for the Baltic and one for the Black Sea. France was in the same case, until her confidence in us (a confidence which rests, we are told, on no treaty), enabled her to withdraw all her fighting ships from the Atlantic, to concentrate them in the Mediterranean. The United States has had in the past to consider both the Atlantic and the Pacific, though the Panama Canal will presently make them in effect one sea. With such geographical factors to reckon with, it is obvious that for each Power there is a certain minimum. Russia (to take the clearest case) builds in the Black Sea solely against Turkey; in the Baltic she has to consider Germany, and her obligations to France. Theoretically the balance of naval power would be the same in Europe if all the fleets were simultaneously reduced by one-half or by nine-tenths. This alluring yet elusive truism inevitably haunts the minds of pacifists. The interests of contractors and younger sons may be the chief reason why we never wake up one morning to learn that this beneficent operation has been carried out by some magical impulse of common-sense., But it is not quite the only reason. There is the troublesome geographical difficulty. There is also, above all, the financial disparity between certain Powers. There is an advantage for a rich Power in raising the scale of preparation for war. To put the matter crudely, we know very well that if fleets once sank to eights and fives, Germany could afford by a sudden effort to raise her five to ten. On the other hand we reckon that while the actual numbers stand at the forties and the twenties, she lacks the means to exceed her present limit. If geography lays down a minimum for every Power, finance limits the maximum. The same thing is true of armies. In one sense every European Power has reached the maximum, because they all long ago adopted universal service for every able-bodied man. But the term of service varies in length, and in poor countries the full legal term is not always exacted. When France last year raised the term of service from two to three years, in order to have a larger force always with the colours on her eastern frontier, she took a course to which Germany might retort in kind. If the Germans should in their turn raise the term of service, their superiority would once more be crushing. But the French reckon on their financial advantage, and speculate on the reluctance of Germany, deeply involved in naval expenditure and hard pressed to reconcile her taxpayers to their burdens, to take so drastic a course. It may turn out that the French reckoning is at fault, but in a desperate strait it seemed a hopeful gamble with chances. It is such considerations as these which maintain the present level of competition in the war of steel and gold. There is for some Powers an advantage in forcing the pace and raising the scale, and that is the main reason why it would be chimerical to propose, in the present posture of the struggle for a balance, that the world's fleets should be halved, or the service-time of conscript armies fixed (let us say) at a year. That is no reason for desisting from such proposals. But it is well to realise in advance the objections (often unspoken), which they are certain to encounter 'in the minds of the world's rulers.
It is still a new experience for Englishmen to think in terms of a Continental system. The present generation grew up in "splendid isolation," and the fact which has impressed itself on all our minds in recent years has been not so much that we are a member of the Triple Entente which is at issue with the Triple Alliance, but rather that we are involved in a ruinous naval rivalry with Germany. Inevitably all our thoughts, about the reduction of armaments turn to the navy, and base themselves on Anglo-German relations. It is a dangerously insular habit of thought. For good and evil we are embraced in a Continental system, and if we mean to treat separately with Germany, we must begin by quitting this system. While we remain within it, we cannot afford to neglect the views and interests of our partners. By all means let us quit a combination which we ought never to have entered, but what we do should be done deliberately and openly.
More than once proposals for reduction have been publicly and officially made on our side, and on each occasion they have called forth vehement and not unreasonable protests from the French press. The French see in any arrangement which would permit Germany to economise on her navy, a plan which would enable her to spend the more upon her army. In plain words, if she were to cease her spendthrift building of Dreadnoughts, there would be nothing to prevent her from raising the term of service with the infantry by six or twelve months. The French attitude is frankly egoistic, but so is ours. The worst of such egoism is that it can only aggravate the European unrest. We profoundly desire a relief from our own naval expenditure, but as good Europeans we cannot wish that the result should be an acerbation of the military rivalry on the Continent. It may be well to add that it was not for this reason that our proposal failed. Mr. Churchill's "Naval Holiday" met with no response in Germany, first of all because he was content to make his "offer" in public here, with the manifest intention of disarming his Liberal critics, and took no steps whatever (so Admiral von Tirpitz has stated) to convey it officially to the German Government. It failed, secondly, for the even simpler reason that it was, in plain English, a thoroughly dishonest offer. While he undertook to cease building against Germany for a year, he reserved to himself the right to accept ships from the colonies, and to build ships for use in the Mediterranean. The Germans know very well that in case of need both the colonial ships and the Mediterranean ships would hurry under forced steam to join the North Sea fleet. The same exceptions vitiate Mr. Churchill's 16 to 10 ratio.
While the present grouping of the Powers continues, the problem of armaments cannot be split up into a Franco-German and an Anglo-German problem. It is a European problem. Every Power is under obligations to its allies or partners, and separate arrangements can hardly be considered, unless these alliances and understandings have first lapsed. It follows that the naval problem cannot be treated in isolation from the military problem. If armaments are to be arrested or reduced by agreement, the understanding, one is inclined to think, must embrace the Six Great Powers, and it must cover armies as well as navies. Possibly the most hopeful proposal which could be put forward would not attempt to lay down rules for the building of ships or to define the terms of military service. It would look broadly at the expenditure upon armaments for sea and land. It would provide that for a term of years no increase should be made by any Power above its present armaments budget under either head, or, better still, that these totals should be reduced by a certain percentage. Even this is not a wholly satisfactory formula. No two Powers reckon their expenditure on exactly the same system, and confidence could hardly be preserved unless loans to meet current expenditure were rigidly forbidden. But the chief difficulty would not lie in defining the formula. It would begin when the Powers looked anxiously round to discover whether rivals were not evading the agreement to maintain armaments at the present level. When one begins to reckon, not in terms of single Powers but in terms of groups, there are clearly two ways of increasing one's military resources. One may add a few corps to one's own army, or one may acquire an ally. If after concluding an agreement not to increase his own Budget, Mr. Churchill were to persuade the Malays or the Canadians to build Dreadnoughts for him, the Germans would rightly feel that they had been cheated. It was the suspicion that the Balkan League was really an auxiliary force attached to the main Slav army of Russia, which was adduced by Germany as a reason for increasing her army in 1913. Sweden or Roumania might conceivably attach themselves to the Triple Alliance. The Young Turks have been in a chronic position of comfortless detachment ever since the Revolution, and have offered themselves in turn to each group. Spain is or was a semi-detached partner of the Triple Entente. In short, an agreement among the Great Powers to arrest or reduce armaments would be subject to grave suspicion, so long as the struggle for a balance of power continues. If one group added to its strength by acquiring even a minor ally, its rival would feel that it could no longer be expected to refrain from balancing this gain by increasing its own armaments.
The moral is that armaments depend upon policy, and in our day not on the policy of single Powers, but on the aims and conduct of coalitions. One readily discerns certain preliminary steps which must be taken if we would prepare public opinion for their reduction. The aim of this book has been to analyse the permanent material factors which explain the competition in armaments. We found the main cause in the effort to adjust the balance of power in such a way that the capital of the Powers which attain a balance favourable to themselves, may be exported with advantage to distant regions where it will enjoy a monopoly. It need not surprise us to find that when we attempt to solve the problem of armaments in isolation, we are promptly confronted with a more difficult issue. It will not be solved until Europe substitutes the ideal of a Concert for the attempt to reach an unattainable and unstable balance of power.(21)
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