TOPICS OF THE DAY.
WITH the cause of international arbitration, so long as it is kept within reasonable limits and advocated on practical lines, we have the greatest possible sympathy. We see no reason why, for example, frontier disputes should not always be submitted to an impartial tribunal. The Alaskan boundary difficulty, for instance, was a most proper dispute to submit to the Hague Tribunal, and it was certainly not from any want of willingness on the part of this country that that difficulty was not so sub- mitted. Britain, indeed, as an essentially pacific and non-aggressive Power, would have nothing to lose should there be a general agreement to submit all international disputes first of all to arbitration. Such an agreement would not banish war from the world—we must never forget that the greatest and. longest war of modern times was a civil war—but it might do much to prevent international friction and uneasiness. Though between arbitration and disarmament there are many essential differences, we have in the abstract no dislike of the pro- posal that the nations should agree to disarm, or at any rate to reduce their armaments. If there could be a real Agreement on this point, and if the statesmen and the peoples could be trusted to maintain that agreement, it would unquestionably be good for mankind. To lighten the burden of militarism must increase human happiness. We are bound, however, to look at the question not merely in the abstract or from the point of view of the philanthropists and the philosophers, but as a, practical proposition. And if we do this, the problem, unfortu- nately, will be seen to wear a very different aspect than it does when discussed in vacuo.
What is the demand that is at present before the world in regard to this question of disarmament ? Is it that the great military Powers, the Powers like Germany or Austria which can dispose of three or four million armed men, should lead the way in reducing their armaments and agree to stop their ruinous competition ? Are the States in which the whole manhood of the nation is armed and organised for war to set an example to the rest ? By no means. The concrete proposition, as far as we under- stand it, is that Britain, which from the Continental point of view can hardly be said to have an army at all, but only a minute armed guard—a country which does not train the nation to arms, but merely raises a kind of glorified gendarmerie—is to show the way and set the example to the rest of the world. The world will consider whether it will follow, after we have reduced our arma- ments. When Englishmen doubt whether it is right or fair that they, of all men, should be thus asked to begin, the zealots for disarmament treat them as if they were the most bloodthirsty and immoral of mankind. They are addressed almost in the language in which the wolf accused the lamb of oppressing its mild and well-meaning neighbour by muddying the stream. We who have next to no soldiers are told that it is monstrous for us to object to making the first reductions. Surely this is a case in which one may protest,—Que messieurs les assassins commencent. It is the duty of the great military Powers to begin.
The course of events has for the time produced an effect in Russia equivalent to partial disarmament. That being so, it is surely the duty of the next great military. Power of the world—viz., Germany—to lead the way. Germany, whether rightly or wrongly we will not now consider, has contrived to get the name of being an aggressive Power, and she is certainly the most powerful of all the military States of Europe. Hence, if she were to inaugurate a policy of disarmament, there might be some hope of it being followed. France, it is clear, would be willing, while Germany's allies, Austria and Italy, could find no reasons for opposing reduction and many potent reasons for supporting it. But does any sane person believe that there is the least chance of Germany inaugurating this policy of disarmament ? In the abstract, no doubt, it may be possible to show that Germany favours disarmament ; but the question is not whether she ought to reduce her armed forces, but whether she will, in fact, do so. And this question involves another. Have the section of the German people who want disarmament the slightest influence over tbe German Government ? Again, the events of just a year ago do not tend to make one believe that the rulers of Germany desire reduc- tions, but point in exactly the opposite direction. A year ago Germany was engaged in threatening France with a bludgeon ; and though she forced France to yield for a time, she made it absolutely necessary for the French to protect themselves from further menaces by an increase in their armaments. Germany, with brutal frankness, reminded France of the fact that she was the stronger Power on land, and that if it came to a quarrel she would be able to overrun her neighbour. That is not the kind of argument which leads to disarma- ment. The reduction of armaments in Europe would be the easiest thing in the world if only Germany would abandon her aggressive world-policy, and lead the way in reduction. It is not too much to say, indeed, that not one of the democratic Powers of Europe could possibly resist following Germany's example were she to reduce her armed forces. The pressure from the Radical and Socialist Parties in Austria, France, Italy, and Spain would be irresistible.
Perhaps it will be said that we have not dealt with the whole case when we say that Britain should not be the first Power to be called upon to reduce her armaments, owing to the smallness of her Army. It is our duty, we may be told, to reduce our Fleet, and, as our Fleet is the greatest in the world, to take the first step. To that we would answer that our Fleet is the greatest in the world, not because we are in any sense an aggressive State, or because we want to coerce our neighbours by sea-power, but simply and solely because of the peculiar geographical dis- position of the British Empire. We are a sea-sundered Empire in the first place, and therefore we can only produce unity through the possession of sea-power. Again, we stand in this extraordinary position. The United Kingdom, the centre of the Empire, has become in effect a city with large parks,—that is, a community which cannot feed itself, but is, like a city, dependent upon external supplies. There is no other community of the modern world which absolutely depends upon sea transport for its livelihood. Unless the paths of the sea are kept open to our corn ships and cattle ships we must literally die of starvation. Therefore it is unreasonable to expect that we should begin the work of naval disarmament.
The plain truth is that the greater part of the talk about disarmament, or the reduction of armaments, is at present, at any rate, unreal and paradoxical. The nations are turning uneasily on their beds of pain—of pain produced by the sacrifices required by militarism—and in their malaise they call out for a reduction of armaments. Yet in truth none of them are willing to make these reductions. Some refuse because they cherish, either openly or secretly, ambitions which make a paramountcy of military power essential to them. Others, again, dare not reduce their armaments for fear of what'may befall them. They know —that the knowledge is unpleasant does not make it untrue—that in the last resort man is not governed by philanthropists or Sunday-school teachers, but by hard, cynical, anxious politicians, who, whatever they may say when they make speeches in Parliament, are as keen as American business men to snatch benefits, or what they consider to be benefits, for their own countries. It is essential that the British democracy should remember this fact, and should realise that on all previous occasions public chatter about disarmament and the federation of the world and so forth has ended in bloody warfare. There never was a period more full of partly hypocritical, partly honest sentimentality about peace and brotherhood than that which preceded the French Revolution. And we know how it all ended,—in the cruelest military despotism and the bloodiest series of wars that mankind has ever seen. The people of Britain may, and, as we think, should, do in a quiet and unsentimental way whatever they can to pro- mote arbitration and to increase friendliness among the nations, but for them to indulge in, or at any rate to act upon, the opportunist rhetoric about disarmament would be madness, and might imperil the liberty of the whole world.
After all, we cannot forget that there are in Europe great influences arrayed against those free and liberal institutions which men of all parties in England agree to cherish and desire to see spread throughout the world. The persons who control these anti-liberal and anti-democratic influences frankly dislike—we do not say hate, because hate is not the word to describe the attitude of cool statesmen and great Sovereigns—the liberalism, for which Britain stands, as subversive of all that they regard as best for mankind. They think that men should not govern themselves, but be governed by inspired Sovereigns and philosophic statesmen. What we call freedom they call the beginnings of anarchy. In view of this fact, there are ample reasons why the English people should stand on the defensive, ready to preserve the liberties they have won for themselves, and if possible to prevent similar liberties being destroyed among the nations of the Continent. We talk, no doubt, as if liberty must necessarily win, and as if political progress were absolutely secure ; but it is only talk. In truth, we have no right to count upon that security. At this very moment liberty and autocracy are locked in a death-struggle in North-Eastern Europe, and it may well happen that before that struggle is ended we shall see a secret and insidious, if not an open, appeal made by the autocracy in peril to its natural ally, the virtual autocracy in a neighbouring State. The Empress Catherine and Frederick the Great sent their troops into Poland in order "to protect the liberties of the Republic," —a protection which ended in the destruction of Poland. Again, Nicholas occupied Hungary with his troops in order to help his brother of Austria in asserting his legitimate rights. Do not let us be too confident that history is not going to repeat itself on similar lines.
Before we end we should like to recommend to the consideration of the British public Aesop's fable of the cock and the fox
"A cock sat on a tree-top. Come down,' said the fox from below, I have great news for you!'
What news?' asked the cock.
'All the birds and the beasts have sworn peace. There will be no more war, but we shall all live like brothers now. Come down, then, that I may congratulate you!' The cock did not answer, but strained his neck as if looking at something in the distance. What do you see ? ' asked the fox.
A pack of hounds, I think,' was the answer. Upon this the fox started up to go.
Surely there is no need to hurry,' said the cock, now that all are at peace !' No—no !' stammered the fox, making off quickly, but they may not have heard the news.'
I quite understand you,' the cock shouted after him."
Here, it seems to us, is just the lesson that our people want. They must never forget that, however much we may talk about universal peace and disarmament, and however much we may convince ourselves that the world is agreed, there is always a danger that there will be certain Powers, like the hounds, who "may not have heard the news," and who, not having heard it, will act. on their primitive instincts. If we are wise, we shall take the fable to heart.