500.A4/319a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Japan (Warren)

209. Balfour and I had long interview with Baron Kato last evening.75 American position fully restated. It was made clear that if the question of naval ratio was considered in the light of a general conception of national needs, Japan would not be able to justify even as favorable a ratio as 10 to 6, with respect either to Great Britain or the United States, in view of Great Britain’s possessions and reliance upon sea power, and the two coasts of the United States, as compared with the peculiarly secure situation of Japan. However, it was to avoid fruitless discussion of national needs that this Government took existing naval strength as a basis for comparison. It was pointed out that apart from other considerations, Japan could not hope to change the existing ratio as this country could build as rapidly as Japan and it lay entirely with the American Government to prevent any betterment of the existing ratio on the part of Japan. Baron Kato spoke of the objection of Japanese experts to the inclusion of ships in course of construction, stating that they could only regard ships as part of naval strength which at the moment were ready to fight. It was replied that the American calculations did not count ships in course of construction for anything more than the actual percentage of completion, that is, a ship 90 per cent finished was taken at only 90 [Page 85] per cent, and so on. This 90 per cent could not be treated as nonexistent for it existed. In case of war the Government would not have 90 per cent to build but only 10 per cent. The ships thus in course of construction to the extent that they were built were thus actual factors of naval strength and if they were scrapped every impartial naval expert would recognize the fact that to this extent naval strength had been lost. The illustration was not a fanciful one as we had three battleships from 80 to 90 per cent completed which in case of emergency could be finished within a few weeks and the other ships according to the degree of progress representing the actual strength in hand. It was further pointed out that the test Kato suggested could not be applied as an existing ship might need replacement of engines, repair of hull, etc. and it was idle to take a ship that would require 3 months to repair as a part of fighting strength and ignore a ship of the most modern type that could be finished in a few days. It should be recognized that in no contingency whatever will the American Government, which has 15 capital fighting ships in course of construction ignore the work that has been done on them and not only scrap these ships but permit the extent of construction to be disregarded in estimating the relative sacrifices to be made under our proposal. On this basis the ratio was well inside 10 to 6, and the American estimate is liberal to Japan. Balfour stated to Kato that the British considered this ratio entirely fair to Japan and that it should be accepted.

In answer to Kato’s statement that it was difficult to explain to the Japanese people the sacrifice of the Mutsu I said that the ready explanation was found in the sacrifices offered by the United States. Kato said that the Mutsu had been completed. I said that the Mutsu had been taken at 98 per cent completed in the American calculations, and that the difference in tonnage was trifling; that it was unnecessary to argue over the mere fact of completion; that granted all that the Mutsu was, we had the Colorado, Washington, and West Virginia almost completed which were just as precious to us as the Mutsu to Japan and which we had offered to scrap; that the question of the Mutsu only came up in determining what sacrifices were equivalent if the United States scrapped her 15 ships. Our sacrifices were really more than we asked of Japan on any fair basis of calculation. That the plan was distinctly favorable to Japan, Balfour agreed.

Kato spoke of the question of naval fortifications and naval bases in the Pacific, in Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines as giving concern to Japan. I said that there should be a distinction between fortifications of an essentially defensive character and others that were ambiguous. I suggested that fortifying of the main islands [Page 86] of Japan was defensive and would be so regarded by the Japanese people; that I assumed the British would say the same with respect to the fortification of Australia and New Zealand. The United States felt in the same way as to Hawaii. No fortifications there were a menace to Japan and the United States in any event would insist upon retaining the full right to defend Hawaii by any fortifications it thought necessary. I recognized that there was a different situation with respect to naval bases at Guam and the Philippines but I said that the American Government did not propose to follow one proposal with another proposal while Japan did not indicate what she was willing to do; that if the question came down to the maintenance of the status quo as to fortifications of Guam and the Philippines, assuming that Japan and Great Britain and France would be willing to give similar agreements with respect to their islands (aside from the main islands), there would be no difficulty.

[Paraphrase.] The proposed quadruple entente between the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and France, concerning Pacific islands and peace in the Pacific, was also discussed, in a general way. It was stated that if such an arrangement were consummated, the last vestige of any cause for apprehension on Japan’s part would vanish. [End paraphrase.]

At conclusion, Baron Kato said that he was unable to make a definite reply; that he must make up his own mind and then inform his Government and receive its instruction, and then he would like a further informal discussion. To this we agreed, indicating however the importance of expedition in view of the sensational stories that are likely to be circulated while the actual situation remains unknown. I understand that Balfour has strongly indicated to Kato that if Japan refuses she will be much worse off in five years and that she will be responsible for the failure of the Conference, leaving her in a most unfortunate position before the world in refusing proposals which all regard as entirely to her advantage.

The foregoing will aid you in making the position of this Government clear.

  1. See memorandum of Dec. 2, 1921, p. 75.