THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
The 44th Secretary of State, a true statesman
who displayed exemplary foreign policy leadership,
deserves more recognition.
BY MAXWE L L J . HAM I LTON AND JOHN MAXWE L L HAM I LTON
Maxwell J. Hamilton, a Foreign Service officer
since 2008, is currently the Department of
State’s Burma unit chief. He has previously
served in the Operations Center, Afghanistan,
India and Venezuela.
John Maxwell Hamilton, Maxwell’s father, is founding dean of the
Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State Univer-
sity, a senior scholar at the WoodrowWilson International Center for
Scholars and the author of numerous books. He was a Foreign Service
officer in the 1970s.
n Nov. 12, 1921, pre-eminent
statesmen from around the
world assembled in Washington,
D.C., to consider limiting the
growth of the Great Power fleets.
They were motivated by escalat-
ing tensions and the burgeoning
costs of a global arms race. Two
decades before Pearl Harbor, the
Japanese government was already spending half its revenue on
Hopes for an agreement were not high. No previous disarma-
ment conference had succeeded; the First Hague Conference in
1899 had only acknowledged the desirability of arms limitations.
Taking Stock of
Secretary of State
Charles Evans Hughes
But the calculus changed when U.S. Secretary of State Charles
Evans Hughes rose to address the delegates seated at Continen-
tal Hall’s specially constructed walnut table.
Prior to the conference, Hughes had concluded that the only
way to achieve success was with a bold proposal. This he sold to
President Warren Harding, one of our least visionary presidents.
He also convinced Harding of the wisdom of deviating from the
standard practice of first floating the proposal to the foreign
delegates in a closed session. Hughes feared this would give
naysayers too much room for maneuver. Instead, he unveiled the
specifics of the initiative in his speech welcoming the conference
A former Supreme Court justice who later became chief
justice, Hughes made the case like the lawyer he was. He opened
with lulling platitudes, and then stunned the audience by
proposing a 10-year freeze on the size of each country’s fleet.
Hughes named specific ships to be scrapped, beginning with
those of his own country, before turning to Britain and Japan. In
less than 15 minutes, said historianThomas Bailey, Hughes had
sunk more ships “than all the admirals of the world have sunk in
a cycle of centuries.” The result was the Five-Power Treaty, (also
known as the Washington Naval Treaty), signed on Feb. 6, 1922,
which scrapped warships under construction and halted the
production of larger warships for a decade.
Yet today, sadly, Hughes is all but forgotten, despite the many