Memorandum by the Secretary to the British Empire Delegation of a Conversation at the Department of State, December 2, 1921, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.70


  • Present:—
    • Mr. Hughes
    • Mr. Balfour
    • Baron Kato
    • Sir Maurice Hankey and Mr. . . . . (Japanese interpreter) were also present.

Mr. Hughes opened the conversation by stating that he had received a report of the failure of the technical experts to agree in [Page 76] regard to the proportion of capital ships to be assigned to Japan. No doubt his colleagues had received the same report. It seemed that there was no important difference between the experts as to the facts, that is, as to the calculations themselves, but rather as to principle. It appeared to him that the result of the technical enquiry was to leave the decision to be taken on lines of broad policy rather than on technical grounds. The best plan, therefore, had seemed to him to be that the three Heads of Delegations should meet together to talk the matter over in a friendly way.

Mr. Balfour recalled his own conversation on the previous day with Baron Kato, which he had fully reported to Mr. Hughes. In the course of this conversation Baron Kato had indicated a possibility that it might help him in accepting the 60 per cent, ratio if an agreement could be made for the maintenance of the status quo in the Pacific in regard to the matter of fortification. Possibly this would be a good point at which to start the discussion.

Mr. Hughes said it would be useful to him to hear very fully from Baron Kato himself how he felt on this matter. He thought that if each side could make his point of view perfectly clear it would help towards a settlement.

Baron Kato then proceeded very frankly to state his own position in the matter, explaining that he did so in no controversial spirit, but because he desired that Mr. Hughes should fully understand his point of view and his difficulties. He began by explaining that he would state his case in rather a different order to that which he had used in explaining the matter to Mr. Balfour, but that the points he made would probably be the same. He recalled that during the last 12 or 18 months there had been a certain reaction in Japan against the burden of armaments. He thought that the same manifestations had occurred in the United States of America and the British Empire. The consequence was that when, in March last, he had been approached by a representative of the Associated Press who asked him whether Japan was ready for a general measure of limitation of armaments, he had replied in the affirmative, and he had indicated that Japan might be ready to give up part of her 8-and-8 programme of capital ships. Baron Kato then recalled that relations between Japan and the United States of America had not been as good as he himself would desire them to be during the last few years. There had, however, been a distinct improvement during the last year or so, and this had been especially marked since the present Administration had come into office in the United States of America. Consequently, when he himself came to Washington he had arrived with a double determination, first, to obtain a real limitation of naval armaments, and, second, to secure a definite and permanent improvement [Page 77] in the relations of the two countries. When he had heard Mr. Hughes’ scheme he had at first hardly been able to realise its full purport, but his immediate second thoughts had been that it was essential to accept it in principle. He had asked his colleagues on the Delegation to meet him, and had strongly impressed this upon them. He had also instructed his naval experts to examine the scheme in this spirit, and had reported in the same sense to Tokio. From his experts he had received no less than seven reports of criticisms on the American proposals. He had rejected all these except two, and only two remained. At this point Baron Kato stated that he definitely associated himself in the views of his technical experts. The ratio of 10–10–7 which the Japanese experts had supported had, as a matter of fact, been worked out some time ago in Tokio. Moreover, these views were supported by the Japanese Government and Parliament. On the present occasion, however, he had no desire to argue the question on technical issues, as such a controversy was likely to lead to no result. He would only say that he himself believed that Japan was entitled to a ratio of 70 per cent, in capital ships. As an instance he also referred to the question of the Mutsu. He recalled that this ship had been practically completed some months ago; that she had steamed 500 miles under her own steam; and, finally, that she had been put in commission two days ago, and was about to join the active fleet. To put her on the scrap heap would be most difficult for him to justify, and very unwelcome to public opinion in Japan. In these circumstances he had had to ask himself, supposing he were willing to concede the 60 per cent., by what arguments could he justify it to his own people? Unless he could completely satisfy them, the concession to the American point of view in regard to the 60 per cent, ratio in capital ships and the Mutsu would rankle in the minds of the Japanese people and leave public opinion in a state which was contrary to that good feeling between the two peoples which was an essential part of a real settlement and which he himself so warmly desired. He had pondered deeply over these matters during the last few days, with the result that he felt in a condition of the utmost difficulty and doubt. He would like to be helped by suggestions as to how he could justify himself to his own people. It was in these circumstances that he had had his conversation with Mr. Balfour. Baron Kato admitted that the conclusion of the proposed quadruple agreement in regard to the Pacific would be of great assistance to him. Yet another thought had occurred to him which might help matters. He had noticed that whenever news was received in Japan of the erection of fortifications in the American islands in the Pacific it had caused a feeling of alarm and apprehension. It would therefore be of great [Page 78] assistance if an agreement could be reached to maintain the status quo in the Pacific in regard to the fortification and the creation of naval bases. What would help him would be if the United States of America could agree not to increase the fortifications or the naval bases at Guam, the Philippine Islands and Hawaii. If this could be conceded, Japan on her part would agree not to fortify the four islands named to Mr. Balfour. (The islands named to Mr. Balfour by Baron Kato were:—Formosa, the Pescadores and Oshima.71) Even if this were granted, however, Baron Kato said he would have considerable difficulty in accepting the 60 per cent.

Mr. Hughes began by thanking Baron Kato very warmly for the very frank and full exposition he had given of his own difficulties. He felt that this would be of very great assistance towards reaching an agreement, and he wished to say that he himself appreciated the difficulties of Baron Kato’s position. He thought, however, that it would help matters if he himself were to set forth equally clearly and frankly the American point of view on this question. Mr. Hughes said that he fully reciprocated Baron Kato’s desire for improved relations between Japan and the United States of America. He was certain that no American Administration had ever desired anything except good relations with Japan, but, speaking for himself, he could say definitely that from the first moment of assuming office it had been his earnest desire to establish good relations. He could assure Baron Kato that there was nothing which the American people more desired than to live in amicable relations with the Japanese people.

At this point Mr. Hughes said he thought it would be useful to Baron Kato if he explained what his thought had been in proposing the ratio of 60 per cent, for Japan. In introducing this subject he said that in the American view Japan was placed in an extraordinarily favourable position under these proposals as compared with the other two Powers. America, for example, had two coast lines, and her fleet was normally divided between these. The two detachments could not be concentrated on either side unless absolute security could be felt in regard to the opposite coast. For the British Empire he could hardly venture to speak in the presence of Mr. Balfour, who had himself eloquently explained the British dependence on sea-power and on long lines of maritime communications in the speech he had made in an open meeting. Japan, however, was in the fortunate position of possessing no great Naval Power as a near neighbour. In fact, she had absolutely nothing to fear from any of the countries in her vicinity, and had not anything like the same dependence on sea communications as Great Britain. It was, [Page 79] however, to escape a general discussion as to national needs that the American Government had taken, as a basis of its proposal, the existing naval strength. This showed the actual ratio. Not only was it entirely fair to take existing naval strength but it was also pointed out that Japan was not in a position to change the relative strength, for if Japan built more ships the United States was also able to build and to maintain the ratio as it was.

Further, the American Government felt that in calculating the existing naval strength it was impossible to overlook ships which were actually under construction. They had not treated these ships as fully constructed but had counted simply the actual percentage of construction which had been effected. Thus, a ship 90 per cent, constructed was taken at 90 per cent., not at 100 per cent. Similarly with a ship 80 per cent, or 50 per cent, constructed, and so on, according to the degree of completion. It was impossible to ignore facts, and what was actually constructed could not be treated as non-existent.

For example, in case of emergency, if a ship were 90 per cent, constructed the nation would have the advantage of that 90 per cent, and would only have to construct 10 per cent. To the extent of 90 per cent, it was ready. If the United States scrapped all its ships in course of construction, he thought it would be recognized by every impartial naval expert that its naval strength had been correspondingly depleted.

Continuing, Mr. Hughes said that he found it impossible to agree with Baron Kato that the test should be whether at the moment of an emergency a ship was actually ready to fight. He gave as an illustration the fact that it often happened that at a given moment ships in the active fleet were for some reason or another out of action. One ship might have developed some defect in her hull and another in her engine; a third ship might have her ordnance not mounted. In such circumstances it might even happen that months would elapse before a fully completed ship was ready for active service. A ship that was building might often be ready for service in a shorter time than a ship which had been in service for years. And, moreover, there could be no comparison between the value of a new ship, especially when the ships under construction would embody all the lessons of the late war, and older ships which for one reason or another might be more or less out of repair.

Mr. Hughes referred to a list of the ships under construction and pointed out that at the time when he had announced his proposal for the limitation of armament no less than two of the capital ships under construction had been about 88 per cent, completed, [Page 80] and a third about 82 per cent. He believed that of the two former, one was now more than 90 per cent, complete.

Mr. Hughes said that he felt that one should be entirely candid in such a conversation, the object of which was to remove all misunderstanding, and he was bound to say that the American people would never consent to scrap the ships in course of construction, on which they had spent $330,000,000, and at the same time not count what they actually had in course of construction as a part of their naval strength.

Coming to the cask of the Mutsu, Mr. Hughes said that he fully appreciated the difficulties of Baron Kato’s position. He believed that at the time the American proposals had been announced the Mutsu had been about 98 per cent, complete. Supposing, however, circumstances had arisen involving the use of the navy of the United States of America, it would have been possible to complete several of the ships under construction within a month. If, therefore, Baron Kato wished to know how he was to justify to Japan the sacrifice of the Mutsu, surely his best line of argument was to explain the sacrifices which America was making. She was not giving up merely one ship but three ships which were very little behind the Mutsu, and no less than 15 capital ships which were under construction, many of which were in an advanced stage. He had stated all this in no controversial spirit at all, but merely to explain to Baron Kato that, if he had his own difficulties in dealing with the Japanese people, he (Mr. Hughes) would have even greater difficulties in persuading the American people to make any alteration in the percentage originally proposed.

Coming now to Baron Kato’s proposals in regard to a status quo in the matter of fortifications and naval bases in the Pacific, Mr. Hughes prefaced his remarks by stating that it was impossible for him to consider these matters except as part of the acceptance by Baron Kato of a general agreement which would also embrace the proposed quadruple entente in the Pacific, as well as the proposals of the American Delegation on limitation of armaments. It was impossible for him, after the great concessions involved in the proposals for limitation of armaments, to go on making further concessions without some return. Subject to this Mr. Hughes indicated that the American Delegation might be willing to consider a proposal for a status quo in regard to fortifications and naval bases which should be undertaken mutually and reciprocally by all the parties to the proposed quadruple understanding. In saying this Mr. Hughes emphasized the distinction between fortifications which could be used by fleets required for offensive purposes and purely defensive works. Hawaii, for example, was situated so far from Japan that it could [Page 81] not be regarded in any sense as an offensive base. The fortifications and naval base there were purely defensive, and should, therefore, be excluded from any arrangement. In discussing this aspect of the matter Mr. Hughes also supposed that Japan would wish to exclude her bases in the main islands of Japan, and that the British Empire would wish to exclude the ports in Australia and New Zealand which might fairly be said to come within the same category. Mr. Hughes concluded by reiterating that his thought in giving this very full explanation to Baron Kato had been to make him fully aware of the American point of view and American difficulties. He had made his statement in no controversial spirit, and only with the utmost desire to prepare the way for a permanent settlement.

Baron Kato thanked Mr. Hughes for his very clear statement. He himself fully appreciated the arguments which Mr. Hughes had used. He feared, however, that many of these arguments were not of a character which would appeal to the Japanese people. He would not, on this occasion, make any reply to Mr. Hughes’ arguments, as he felt that mere controversy would not lead to a settlement. He felt now that the best course for him to take was to telegraph his views to his Government in Tokio and on receipt of their reply, he would be in a position to negotiate further. He expressed the strong hope that when he did receive a reply, the subject would be taken up at an intimate and informal conversation such as they were now engaged in.

Mr. Hughes acceded to this view. He then asked if Mr. Balfour would set forth the British point of view.

Mr. Balfour said that he could do this very shortly. The British Government in accepting the proposed ratio of 10:10:6 had done so not on as the reasoned result of an exact calculation of the needs of the three nations, but rather as a general rule which appeared to them to be a fair one. practical principle of easy application which would not lead to unfair results. If the basis adopted had been a precise calculation, he thought he would have no difficulty in showing that of the three nations concerned in the agreement, the British Empire came out worst. However, as his Government had accepted the ratio, he felt that there was no necessity for him to develop dwell on this argument on the present occasion. He himself, and his technical advisers felt that Japan, owing to geographical and economic considerations, was perfectly secure under this ratio. The conclusion of the proposed quadruple arrangement would increase this security. At the same time, Mr. Balfour expressed his sympathy with Baron Kato’s desire for the maintenance of the status quo in the Pacific in regard to naval bases and fortifications. This would undoubtedly contribute towards a sense of security in Japan; and would be a natural corollary to the conclusion of the agreement for the limitation [Page 82] of naval armaments, as had been tacitly assumed in previous conversations in all the discussions which had taken place on the subject.; and was the natural corollary of the naval agreement. If the quadruple arrangement was completed and an understanding could be reached for the maintenance of the status quo in regard to fortifications in the Pacific among the Powers represented in the proposed quadruple entente, he thought that Japan could accept the 60 per cent, ratio with the utmost equanimity and confidence in her future security.

Baron Kato then repeated his proposal to telegraph to Japan, which was accepted by Mr. Hughes and Mr. Balfour. He said that he feared a week would expire before he could count on receiving an answer as telegraphic communications with Japan were very congested.

Mr. Hughes then asked Baron Kato if he could say anything as to the attitude of the Japanese Delegation towards the proposed quadruple entente. Not a word had been said up to the present time to France about it, but he would like to be in a position in the next few days, if possible, to approach the French Delegation.

Baron Kato said that he had telegraphed to Japan on the subject but had not yet received a reply. The Japanese Delegation in Washington, however, were perfectly satisfied with the proposal and he had no reason to believe that his Government would take any different view. He even indicated that it would be reasonably safe to approach the French Delegation in the matter.

Mr. Hughes said, however, that he was very reluctant to do this owing to the embarrassing situation in which all would be placed if by any chance the Japanese Government should subsequently raise any objection.

Baron Kato then undertook to telegraph to Japan asking them to expedite a reply.

Mr. Balfour explained that he would be leaving Washington on the following day, first for Baltimore and afterwards for New York and would not be back before Wednesday. At Mr. Hughes’ request he undertook to designate one of his colleagues to whom Mr. Hughes could refer in case any question of emergency should arise, such as an urgent need to make a communication to the French Delegation in regard to the proposed quadruple entente. Mr. Balfour indicated Lord Lee as his locum tenens.

Mr. Hughes said that if any question of emergency arose, he would get into communication with Lord Lee who could be accompanied by Sir Maurice Hankey if desired.

In conclusion Mr. Hughes said that the Press were immensely interested in these conversations and he felt that the best course would be for each of the Delegates to inform his own Press that the [Page 83] present meeting had taken place but that no further information could be given. He would leave it to Baron Kato, if he wished, to announce that he had telegraphed to Japan.

Mr. Balfour said that for his part, he intended to say that the conversation in no way modified his previous opinion that the outlook of the Conference was extremely satisfactory and promising.

Mr. Hughes said that perhaps each of those present might adopt this line.

M. P. A. Hankey
  1. No agreed official minutes of this conversation were made. The American delegation used the memorandum prepared by Sir Maurice Hankey.

    The file copy of this memorandum bears the notation: “Sir Maurice Hankey’s draft as revised by C[harles] E. H[ughes] and by Mr. Balfour”. Secretary Hughes’ corrections were apparently made on an earlier copy not found in the files. Mr. Balfour’s corrections are initialed on the file copy. Words crossed out by Mr. Balfour are indicated by canceled type; words which he inserted are printed in italics.

  2. See Sir Maurice Hankey’s letter of Jan. 17, 1922, p. 246.