An Air Limitations Conference Would End the Crazy Race of International Supremacy
THE French senate recently approved without reservations the naval limitations treaty which was drawn by representatives of the five leading sea powers at the Washington conference in 1921. This completes the ratification of that pact which two years ago meant so much to the world.
It still means a great deal. National fears have been allayed, a better understanding has been renewed among nations which lately endured war together, peoples have been relieved of appalling burdens of taxation and a substitute found, in one instance, for the old senseless armament contests so pregnant with danger and evil. This is all true, and yet the ratification of the 1921 naval agreement is of diminished significance because in the two years that have elapsed since it was written a new menace, or rather an old menace in new form, has presented itself. This is the race for supremacy in the air.
The fortification of the air, for offensive and defensive purposes, but chiefly the former -- a problem which passed unnoted in 1921 -- stands in 1923 as one of the principal causes of political anxiety which disturbs the [tranquility] of the world. It is virtually the only such problem in the militaristic category. The Washington treaty disposes of the sea-power question. The land-power question has about solved itself for the time being. Only France and Russia maintain large armies.
NONE can rightly question the wisdom of France in declining to reduce her military establishment below 461,000 native French and 199,000 colonial troops as long as Germany flouts her pledged work and will respond to nothing except force, and as long as Russia, though her peasants starve, keeps the largest army in the world, still with the hope of spreading the Red terror throughout Europe. She would have succeeded in some measure ere this had it not been for French bayonets. Her assault on Poland, stopped only by French tacticians at the gates of Warsaw, is evidence of that. The French army of today, however, is much smaller than it was in 1913, although it serves not only France but the world.
So the questions of land and of sea-power give no alarm; but with the question of air-power this is not so. In the amazing development of air armament France has taken the lead. For a long time she built quietly, apparently unregarded by other nations. Then suddenly the world awakened to the fact that France had so armed the air as to render herself not only virtually impregnable from attack, but had constructed an offensive weapon more swift and terrible than anything yet known.
THE sensitive mechanism of European diplomacy registered alarm all over that continent. Taking counsel of their fears, Britain and Italy feverishly began voting staggering credits and constructing planes to meet the French "threat." Russia imports German mechanics and German machinery and talks of building 10,000 fighting planes. The United States must do something. If the race is on we must enter. So the experts in Washington figure on doubling our air appropriation by next year and proceed to popularize the idea by [transcontinental] flights and speculation on a trip by air around the world. Facing the facts as they are, this is wise business.
But there is a better way out. That is to alter the facts -- to end this crazy air race as we ended the crazy naval race. It is worse than folly to say it cannot be done. It is stupidity to say so, because it can be done. An international conference for the limitation of air armament could remove this menace. One should be called. It should be called now. Delay complicates this situation and heightens the danger to everybody.