The World Disarmament Conference, 1932

What was the World Disarmament Conference?
Between 1932 and 1934, a World Disarmament Conference was run by the Disarmament Commission in Geneva.
Why was the World Disarmament Conference held?
One of the main aims of the League was to encourage disarmament. However, it had failed at this in the 1920s. There was growing pressure for disarmament in the 1930s for 2 key reasons:
  • The Japanese invasion of Manchuria had shown the League was weak against powerful countries with a large military force. Japanese military strength was also increasing.
  • Hitler had recently been elected to power on a pledge of work and bread by rebuilding Germany's army. The League was afraid of the increasing military strength of countries like Germany and Italy.
What were the key events of the World Disarmament Conference?
The first meeting for disarmament took place in July 1932, even though some countries were still unwilling to disarm. There were 5 key events:
  • Germany began by putting forward the idea that all countries should disarm to the same level as Germany. However, this upset the French.
  • By December 1932 all attendees had agreed to treat Germany as an equal. The League was optimistic about reaching an agreement.
  • However, this changed in 1933 when Hitler was elected as chancellor of Germany and began to secretly rearm the nation.
  • At the conference in May 1933, Hitler promised not to rearm Germany if all other countries destroyed their arms within 5 years. In October 1933, France refused.
  • Following this, Germany left the League of Nations in November 1933.
Why did countries disagree at the World Disarmament Conference?
The World Disarmament Conference failed to reach any decisions, as many individual states were anxious about their own internal troubles.
  • France was mostly unwilling to disarm, but might have been prepared to do so had it received guarantees from the US and Britain. However, neither country would do this.
  • Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, and accused France of failing to take disarmament seriously. He used it as an excuse to leave the conference altogether.
  • Japan left the League during the conference as a result of the Manchurian Crisis, and it became apparent disarmament was unlikely.
  • The German delegates walked out early in the talks because their country wasn't treated equally by the other members. They returned, but Germany began to rearm secretly.
  • France, Poland and Czechoslovakia were already worried about the German threat and the League's protection looked increasingly insecure.
What was the impact of the World Disarmament Conference on the League of Nations?
The failure of the conference led people to question the League's efficacy. It was supposedly committed to reducing arms, but it took more than ten years to bring leaders together to discuss the issue, and members then left the League when talks broke down.
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