7 MARCH 1931, Page 4

France and Italy

THE failure of France and Italy to agree at the London Naval Conference about the respective strengths of • their navies has hung like a black cloud over the political landscape. The Three-Power Naval Treaty, between Great Britain, the United States and Japan, has had to be regarded as merely provisional, and the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference has performed all its work under the heavy sense that the best draft Convention which could be produced might be made waste paper by a fresh naval competition between France and Italy. Those dangers have mercifully been removed by the sudden, unexpected and ' brilliant success of British Ministers and the British Foreign Office. With all sincerity we con- gratulate them.

It is not the first time that Mr. Henderson has shown hittiself an extremely able negotiator. He has never done a better piece of work than this ; but as he never forgets that loyalty is the soul of effective co-operation, he has been the first to acknowledge what he owes to the unsparing efforts of 'Mr. Craigie of the Foreign Office. For a long time' r. Craigie has been working against all odds. He was told that he was fighting a hopeless battle, but he never' despaired, and he well deserves his share of credit for the -British 'achievement. ' But let us not be too British ! The enthusiastic co-operation of M: Briand and of M. Massigli and- Signor Rosso was simply in- valuable.

If we look back to what happened at the Naval Con- ference in London 'we shall be able to measure the ireniark- able progress whiCh has been made. Italy was then demanding " parity " • with France. France refused to give this claim • even serious attention. She was intent upon security in material terms and pointed out (logically enough from that point of view) that she had " two sea fronts to defend as compared with Italy's one. She had not only the Mediterranean front, where Italy was her Potential enemy, but the Atlantic and North Sea fronts, Where Great Britain and Germany • were her potential enemies. Italy, dropping parity, confined herself -Co Offering France a reasonable superiority. She suggested a superiority of 150,000 tons in obsolescent ships, but France held out for at least 200,000 tons in up-to-date ships. This deadlock could not be broken, and the result was that France and Italy stood out of the Treaty, while Great Britain, the United States and Japan came to an agreement which might, however, be broken if the non- Treaty Powers decided upon unexpectedly large building programmes.

The possibility of a new Franco-Italian naval com- petition has, indeed, been the principal danger in Europe. It would have been like the stone thrown into a pool ; the disturbance would have spread in an expanding circle to the outermost fringes. Now we have the immense satisfaction of knowing that there can be no competition for five years. Long before that time has passed the fears of the nations ought to have been calmed unless the statesmen manage their business very badly. If confidence grows, or even if there should be no increase of fear, there ought to be no risk of a new outbreak of naval building in 1936.-- And if a real measure of disarmament should be achieved next February the growth of confidence should be remarkable. . . • .

The present arrangement between France and Italy embraces not merely' limitation but reduction. The French and Italian' programmes of construction are' to be 'equalized, not only M regard to battleshipS and aircraft carriers—the classes dealt with in the Washington Treaty—but -also in regard to cruisers, destroyers and submarines. During the next five years building is to he merely for the replacement of old vessels. Finally, an attempt is promised to lower the level of the total tonnage. We have no details of figures at present because the negotiations have been secret. We do not . complain of that, brit would rather emphasize the advantage' of personal conversations conducted by statesmen, as in this case, apart from all the distractions of publicity. In one of its senses " open diplomacy " was always deceiving phrase. It surely must be plain that there is little chance of states- men agreeing if, when international feeling is running high, every argument in a diplomatic conversation-is made priblic and the newspapers of the different countries egg on' their own champions and try to intimidate their rivals. Open diplomacy in its proper and admirable sense means that every international agreement shall he ratified by the countries concerned and shall be registered at Geneva. There should be no such thing as a " secret Treaty." Geneva should be the Somerset House of the world, where documents are accessible to all.

A welcome fact is that Mr. Henderson has not.purchased French compliance by making any promise to her about land armaments such as might prejudice the Disarmament Conference. While expressing our pleasure we must not forget the possible repercussions upon the Japanese policy of relying upon her submarines. Ever since the signing of the Three-Power Treaty of London many Japanese have been complaining that Japan accepted much too easily the invitation to. reduce her submarine tonnage. It may be said in Japan now that though France has promised not to 'add to her total ton- nage, and may even reduce it, she still insists upon a dis- proportionate tonnage in submarines. There may, indeed, be a movement in Japan for acting upon that Article in the Treaty which would enable Japan to increase her tonnage upon declaring her intention to Great Britain and the United States. We do not seriously expect that any Japanese Government will take this step, for Japan has throughout shown good sense and good will, and the present Japanese Government have actually expressed satisfaction with the Franco-Italian agreement.

In connexion with the improved prospect for the Dis- armament Conference another good sign must be men- tioned. The experts who have been examining methods of limitation by reducing expenditure on armaments in the national budgets have issued a Report. The Report was written in the main by Mr. G. H. S. Pinsent, the British representative. It contains a questiodnaire, which it is proposed to send to the various Governments. If properly filled up this form should contain a complete return of expenditure on armaments, and the experts insist that it is urgently important for all the Govern- ments to give their answers before the Disarmament Conference meets. Although we prefer direct limitation to budgetary limitation, we gladly admit that if the forms are promptly and honestly completed there will be an invaluable basis of comparison which may make the work of the Conference more effective 'than seemed possible.. One difficulty has been the practice of some countries of granting credits for military and' naval expenditure over a term of years. In the circum- stances the expenditure of " a single 'year is *a poor clue. But the experts have met this 'difficulty- well enough by requiring expenditure to be calculated on an average.