Disarmament Speech

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Disarmament Speech  (1923) 
by Stanley Baldwin
A speech given by Stanley Baldwin MP, British Prime Minister, on the question of disarmament. Given to the House of Commons on 23 July 1923.

Very little, if anything has been said to-day about one of the greatest difficulties which we find facing us in dealing with this question, and that is that fighting instinct which is part of human nature. I propose to say a few words about that first, with a view to explaining how, in my view, we have to attempt to eradicate it, or, at least, to combat it, so as to produce that will to peace without which all efforts by legislation, arbitration, rule or otherwise, must be vain. That fighting instinct in man is the instinct of the tiger. It dates from his creation, and was probably given to him to enable him to fight for the survival of his species, for the provision of space in which to bring up his race, and to provide food for it; and we find through the ages that that instinct, whether in democracy or empire, or among individuals, has had full play. We find it even among men whose political views can be classed as pacifist, and that is the reason why we have often found in history that men of pacifist views were advocating policies which must end, if carried to their logical conclusion, in war.

I need only remind Hon. Members that there was a considerable agitation some little time ago, with which I personally had great sympathy, and which was conducted very largely by those who, in all other respects, were of a peculiarly pacific turn of mind, and that was that this country-if there is any work to be done in this world, it is always our country, and I am thankful for that-that this country should in some way or other rescue Armenia. The only means by which Armenia could have been rescued was at the point of the sword. I may remind Hon. Members that for the thirty years preceding one of the longest and bloodiest struggles in history, the Civil War in America, the anti-slavery agitation in the North-Eastern States was very largely, if not entirely, in the hands of professional pacifists and anti-militarists, and when the agitation had brought matters to the point that it meant either surrendering the principle of anti-slavery or going to war the pacifists, quite rightly in my view, said: " It shall be war," realising, as was said during the late War, that there are times when moral issues may even triumph over peace.

In the same way some of those to-day who are loudest in their protestations of international pacifism are loudest in their protestations that nothing but a class war can save society. No truer word was ever said by a philosopher than was said by Kant, a century ago or more, that we are civilised to the point of wearisomeness, but before we can be amoralised we have a long way to go. It is to moralise the world that we all desire, and I have merely mentioned these innate characteristics of human nature to make us realise, as I think we sometimes fail to do, what difficulties there are before us in carrying out a policy with which everyone in this House is in sympathy. We have to remember one more thing besides that, that since the War we must not make the mistake of thinking that what may be war weariness is necessarily an excess of innate good will; and we cannot help noting that there has arisen in Europe, in the few years since the peace, a strong local feeling in different places of an extreme nationalism which, unless corrected, may bear in what is not of itself an evil thing the seeds of much future peril for the peace and harmony of Europe.

But, taking into full consideration these points, on which I have touched somewhat summarily, I think there are compensations, and I think before I have finished I shall be able to show that the human race is progressing, though slowly, and is full of a conscious, though hardly as yet articulate, desire for further progress in the same direction.

I have often thought, with reference to the late War, that one of the most terrible effects of it- possibly a double effect-has been that it has shown the whole world how thin is the crust of civilisation on which this generation is walking. The realisation of that must have come with an appalling shock to most of us here. But more than that. There is not a man in this House who does not remember the first air raids and the first use of poisoned gas, and the cry that went up from this country. We know how, before the War ended, we were all using both those means of imposing our will upon our enemy. We realise that when men have their backs to the wall they will adopt any means for self-preservation. But there was left behind an uncomfortable feeling in the hearts of millions of men throughout Europe that, whatever had been the result of the War, we had all of us slipped down in our views of what constituted civilisation. We could not help feeling that future wars might provide, with further discoveries in science, a more rapid descent for the human race. There came a feeling, which I know is felt in all quarters of this House, that if our civilisation is to be saved, even at its present level, it behoves all people in all nations to do what they can by joining hands to save what we have, that we may use it as the vantage ground for further progress, rather than run the risk of all of us sliding in the abyss together.

The conscience of the world is not stilled yet, but on the Government side of the House there rests a responsibility which cannot, in the nature of things, be felt by those who sit in opposition. We have to remember that a great deal of what has been said to-day, and if I may use the phrase in all good faith, some of the dreams which have been mentioned to-day are no new thing. We have to remember that in the French wars of Queen Anne's reign there was just the same longing for, and the same dream of, universal peace that so many of us feel to-day. One hundred years ago that same feeling, in different forms, animated many different breasts. Napoleon at St. Helena had dreams too late for him, but dreams of a united Europe with a united congress on the American model, of which he would be the chief and the dictator. At Vienna such dreams were heard of. The Tsar Alexander, a prototype of the late Tsar, whose dreams of peace were shattered only too cruelly, propounded a scheme of Holy Alliance which at that time came to nothing, because he spoke to a world that was not yet ready for it.

We believe that any attempt at this moment to convene an international conference would not only not lead to success, but would lead to the indefinite postponement of any possibility of achieving the ends which we all desire. In my view the moment cannot arise to approach this problem, with any chance of success, until the conditions of Europe with regard to Reparations and the security of frontiers is settled, and I feel that it would be hopeless to expect a definitely favourable answer-to give only two instances; and I do not wish on this occasion to be more explicit-from France, for instance, before she had obtained a settlement of Reparation and security, or from Poland until she could feel that her frontiers were secure against that gigantic and powerful neighbour along her eastern borders.

The first step to be taken is the step that we are taking now. That is, to attempt a settlement of these existing problems of Reparation, and in taking that step I am animated by as ardent a desire that it may lead ultimately, and at no distant date, to the consideration of these questions which we have been discussing to-day, as I am desirous of it leading to a discussion and settlement of those questions which have kept the countries of Europe apart during all the years which have succeeded the Great War. Let us never forget that sometimes in the darkest day the beginnings of better things are not only attempted but successfully achieved. It was in the darkest days of the struggle of the Thirty Years' War that Grotius worked on international law and led to the foundation of that science which, though it has not brought peace to the world, has yet brought into being a code which has helped the world in its peaceful development, and will continue to do so.

It has been during those dark days of the last three or four years that the Washington Conference was held, which has led to a limitation of naval armaments that, until that Conference was held, I am convinced the statesmen of all countries would have considered to have been impossible, impossible even to have been debated, and impossible in its fulfilment. This year, some of the most valuable exploratory work has been done, and is being done, by the League of Nations. The League of Nations has been occupied in considering this very question of disarmament, and the possibility of linking it up with guarantees of security, universal in their application as such guarantees must be: and such a universality is, indeed, a first and absolute essential to make any prospect hopeful of limitation of armaments.

Now, those efforts of the League of Nations are on the point of taking concrete form in the shape of proposed Treaties, which will be submitted to the Governments of Europe for their consideration, probably after the meeting in September of the General Assembly of the League of Nations. I can promise, at least for this Government, and I am certain that the same will be true of all the leading Governments of Europe, that the work that the League of Nations has done, the form in which their work will be presented, will be examined, not only with the sympathy and the interest that such work deserves, but with an earnest desire, at the first moment when it appears to be practicable, that the aims of the League, if not in the exact form in which they have suggested they should be brought about, shall be brought into effect in Europe.

As was well said by the Hon. Member for Preston [Mr. T. Shaw], in the course of his speech, there is one great instrument of peace in this world, and that is the British Empire. It is a great instrument, not only in its size, and its population, and its wealth, but more than ever a great instrument in this, that it is not only an Empire, but it is a large assembly of free nations, not all of the same kin or the same tongue, but animated largely by a common purpose, and all alike equally desirous of seeing extended in every corner of that Empire or Commonwealth those ideas of liberty, and justice, and freedom which we believe are in our hearts, and which we hope to see spread throughout our Empire and throughout the world. In that collection of nations, which now spreads throughout the world, there is something of hope for the human race, because though it may seem a dream, it may yet some day be possible for peoples in so distracted a Continent as Europe to feel there may be something for them to learn from the development, from the union, and from the ideals of our great Empire, and we may possibly be able to show them a better way, which in years to come they may tread, and find the solution that to-day seems so difficult.

As I have tried to explain to the House we cannot see our way to accept this Motion and take immediate steps, believing as we do that such steps would be rather a bar to future progress than a help. Yet I do say this, that when we are sufficiently fortunate, as I pray we may be, to have seen brought about, with our aid, such a settlement in European conditions as I indicated earlier on, then the time will be ripe and we shall be ready to take our part, in so far as we can, whether through such schemes as have been proposed already or through others, in bringing about that limitation of armaments which we believe to be essential for the future progress of civilised mankind. It is an easy thing to say, as many men say to-day, that this country should cut herself adrift from Europe, but we must remember that our island story is told, and that with the advent of the aeroplane we ceased to be an island. Whether we like it or not, we are indissolubly bound to Europe, and we shall have to use, and continue to use, our best endeavours to bring to that Continent that peace in which we and millions of men up and down Europe have an equal belief and an equal faith.

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