American Diplomatic Agreements in the 1920s

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  • 0:08 War to End All Wars
  • 1:10 Washington Naval Conference
  • 3:39 Dawes Plan
  • 5:10 Kellogg-Briand Pact
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

After the War to End All Wars, diplomats were eager to find a way to prevent any further violence. This lesson talks about three major agreements signed in the 1920s that sought to bring stability to the world.

War to End All Wars

By the end of World War I, the world was tired of war. After all, the Great War was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But diplomats around the world knew that the chances of that were slim unless protections were put in place. The most well-known of these was the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson's grand meeting place for all nations. Ironically, America would be banned from membership due to political wrangling on the home front. Senate Republicans were fearful of the commitments that would come with membership in such an organization.

However, that did not mean that the country was completely pushed into isolationism. Instead, politicians saw that focused negotiations could yield beneficial results. Specifically, the United States focused on those efforts regarding arms control and trade that would lessen the likelihood of future conflicts. As an effect of this, the United States was critical in the development of three actions that aimed to limit the prospect of war.

Washington Naval Conference

Today, much of our communications is carried online and by satellite. As a result, many countries have, at least publicly, agreed to not attack the communications infrastructure of other nations. In the 1920s, that communication was almost overwhelmingly carried by ships on the world's oceans. Sure, technologies such as the railroad, telegraph and the wireless radio had greatly reduced the times required, but for most, the sea lanes were vital. As a result, control of the sea was of great strategic interest. In fact, it had been a massive buildup of warships between Britain and Germany that had helped contribute to the eagerness of both sides to go to war in 1914. Just like controlling weapons of mass destruction today, diplomats obsessed with the best way of controlling the warships that would wreak mass destruction on shipping lanes.

In 1921, many of the world's great navies met in Washington, DC, to negotiate a cap on fleet sizes. A few months later in 1922, an agreement had been reached, known as the Washington Naval Conference. The United States and United Kingdom would be given fleets that had to be equal to each other but were capped at approximately half a million tons of displacement. Tons of displacement is a common naval term for measuring the size of a ship, and to put it into perspective, the most famous ship in the British navy at the time, the HMS Hood, displaced 47,000 tons. These two nations were given the biggest fleets because it was thought they had the most to protect; the United States had two major coastlines, while the United Kingdom had a massive empire that stretched to India and Australia. France and Italy both settled for only a third of that tonnage, but after all, they had much smaller needs.

However, Japan, an island nation that depended on the seas for everything, was only given two-thirds of the capacity of the British and Americans. This was taken as a major insult by the Japanese, who felt that the Americans and the British were ganging up on them. Militant nationalists in Japan used the Washington Naval Conference as an example as to why Japan must be ready to defy the West.

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