Memorandum by the Secretary to the British Empire Delegation of a Conversation at the Department of State, December 12, 1921, 4 p.m.77


  • Present:—
    • the united states of america
      • Mr. Hughes
    • the british empire
      • Mr. Balfour, accompanied by Sir Maurice Hankey
    • japan
      • Baron Kato
      • M. Ichihashi (Interpreter)

(1) Baron Kato said that he had now received instructions from Tokio, and was prepared to continue the conversations in regard to the Japanese ratio. He then read in Japanese a memorandum, the gist of which was as follows:—There are three subjects to be considered: the ratio: the status quo in regard to fortifications and naval bases: the Mutsu. The Japanese Government considered the 10 to 7 ratio necessary to Japan’s naval security. He himself considered that the calculations of the Japanese experts were perfectly reasonable, [Page 91] and he greatly regretted that they had been unable to obtain the agreement of their American and British colleagues to it. The Japanese Government, however, approved of the high aims of the American Government and their desire for limitation of armament and the maintenance of the peace, and the Japanese people were earnestly desirous of a realisation of the plan. Consequently, he approached the subject from the broadest point of view. He was ready to consent to the ratio of 10–10–6, on condition that he obtained a definite understanding in regard to the status quo in fortifications and naval bases in the Pacific. If naval bases were developed in the Philippine Islands and Guam, where a fleet could be maintained and supplied, he feared there would be great dissatisfaction in Japan, and the better tendency in relations between the two countries which had lately been observable would be changed to hostility. If an entente in regard to the maintenance of the status quo in fortifications and naval bases could be established between the four Powers in a Quadruple Alliance it would contribute greatly towards the peace of the world. Such being the case, he wished to make clear that the ratio of 10–10–6 was not independent of the question of fortifications and naval bases, and he appealed for its favourable consideration.

Coming next to the question of the Mutsu, Baron Kato said that, according to the American proposal, the ship had been 98 per cent complete. The fact was that she had been 100 per cent complete at the end of October. She was fully paid for, fully manned, and had now steamed 2,500 miles. The American proposals had provided for the scrapping of old ships and ships under construction, but there was no other case of the scrapping of a brand-new ship. He and his colleagues in the Japanese Delegation could never explain to Japan why she should have to scrap a new ship, and if they agreed to it it would produce a very bad effect on the Japanese people. From a naval point of view he wished to emphasize that the Mutsu had now joined the fleet. She was complete with officers and men from her Captain downwards, and if she was destroyed the effect on her crew, who would perhaps see her destroyed before their own eyes, would be deplorable. The actual proposal of the American Government had resulted in 18 American capital ships, 22 British and 10 Japanese. If the Mutsu was retained, Japan would propose to scrap the Settsu.

Mr. Hughes said that before making a general reply he would like to ask what would be the ratio of tonnage involved in the retention of the Mutsu?

Baron Kato said that under the original proposal the proportion was 6 to Great Britain, 5 to the United States of America, and 3 to Japan. If the Mutsu were retained the figure for Japan would become 3.1.

[Page 92]

Mr. Hughes said that this did not take into account the extra armament, which would be of far greater importance than the mere difference between 21,000 and 35,000 tons.

After an observation by Baron Kato which was imperfectly understood, Mr. Hughes said he would like to preface his remarks by clearing up exactly what Baron Kato had proposed. As he understood it, his proposal was that Baron Kato, subject to the considerations he had mentioned, was willing to accept a ratio of 10–10–6. Was he correct in this?

Baron Kato said he agreed to the ratio of 10–10–6, but definitely in connection with the maintenance of the status quo in regard to the fortifications and naval bases.

Mr. Hughes said that if that could be arranged he understood that the ratio of 10–10–6 would be accepted.

Baron Kato repeated his previous remark.

Mr. Hughes then said that in regard to fortifications he would only confirm what he had said on the previous interview, namely, that there must be a difference between defensive and other coast defences. The American Government would never consent to, and the Senate would never approve, any restriction on the defences and naval bases at Hawaii. Their point was that it was so far removed from Japan that it could not be regarded as a menace. It was treated as a purely defensive base, and it was impossible for America to take any other view. When he came to the Philippine Islands and Guam, there was a different situation. While many people, including many influential people in the United States, regarded the naval bases in the Philippines and Guam as a rational part of the defences of the United States, and that they would have no offensive function, he could understand that others did not comprehend the fundamentally peaceful attitude of the American people. He was, therefore, able to understand Baron Kato’s point of view. Consequently, subject to the reservation on Hawaii, he was prepared to adjust his views and would be entirely willing to agree to the maintenance of the status quo in the Philippines and Guam. That is to say, no fortifications would be dismantled, but they would be retained in their status quo. He assumed that there would be a general agreement among the four Powers included in the Quadruple Treaty to accept the same condition. That is to say, the status quo should not be confined to America and Japan. He assumed that Japan would do the same as regards the outlying islands. If Japan were to fortify and create naval bases in the outlying islands, America could not agree to the status quo. In fact, all must be on the same basis.

Baron Kato said that of course Japan had hoped to include Hawaii, but after the explanation which Mr. Hughes had given [Page 93] he was willing to surrender this. If America would be willing to maintain the status quo, so would Japan.

Mr. Balfour said that as regards Great Britain the only place in question was Hong-Kong. He understood that the arrangement would not apply to Australia or New Zealand, the ports in which were not a menace to anyone. Hong-Kong might perhaps be considered in the neighbourhood of Japan, though he did not suppose that Japan had ever regarded it in any way as a menace.

Baron Kato said he quite understood that that was the British position.

Mr. Balfour said he was prepared to agree to the maintenance of the status quo of the fortifications and naval base at Hong-Kong.

Mr. Hughes asked if this applied to other islands in the Pacific?

Mr. Balfour replied that it did.

Baron Kato said that he had written out a short suggestion as regards the principles to be applied for the status quo. This was to the effect that in the outlying insular possessions of the Pacific there should be a maintenance of the status quo by the four Powers concerned in the Quadruple Agreement, and guarantees with regard to fortifications and naval bases, the main islands of Japan and the British Dominions being excluded.

Mr. Hughes said that on that basis he understood that Baron Kato would agree to the naval ratio?

Baron Kato said that on this basis he would be very glad to accept the naval ratio of 10–10–6.

Mr. Hughes said that this brought on consideration of the question of the particular application of this ratio. The American proposals had not dealt with ships constructed versus ships not constructed. America had had two ships which were 88 per cent completed, and a third 82 per cent completed, and the two former were now over 90 per cent complete. When the application of the scheme came to be considered, the principle to be kept in view was that of proportional sacrifice. That had to be applied to the particular case of the Mutsu. It was not only a case of the substitution of the Mutsu for the Settsu, but the whole naval programme was involved. The American Delegation thought they had established a fair rule. He himself would have to take up the question with his experts as to what would have to be done in the case of the Mutsu, but he would like to hear what Mr. Balfour had to say.

Mr. Balfour said that he, of course, would also have to talk to his naval advisers before taking a final decision. He would, however, make one preliminary remark. It was evident that the addition of a post-Jutland capital ship particularly affected Great Britain, who was strong in pre-Jutland capital ships, which had been much worn by four years of war service, but was weak in post-Jutland [Page 94] capital ships. It would be necessary for Great Britain to add post-Jutland strength in the proportion of 5 to 3 as closely as that could be arranged.

Mr. Hughes said that this meant that Great Britain would have to build.

Mr. Balfour said that without doubt Great Britain would have to build if the Mutsu were retained.

Baron Kato said he quite understood the British situation in regard to capital ships. If agreeable to the British and American Delegates, he would propose for the moment to postpone the question of the Mutsu and to confine the present meeting to the questions already discussed.

Mr. Hughes said that he had throughout been sensible of the effect which the retention of the Mutsu would have on the British Navy. He understood that with the exception of the Hood, which was only partly a post-Jutland ship, Great Britain had not a single post-Jutland capital ship. Japan, on the other hand, had the Nagato, and, he thought, some battle cruisers as well. If the Mutsu were added it seemed to compel Great Britain to build. He did not want to enter into a long argument, but he asked Baron Kato to consider the effect if the Mutsu were retained and the whole scheme were dislocated by the fact that Great Britain had to build. As regards his own Government, he did not suppose that they would be willing, if the Mutsu were retained, to scrap two ships which were almost completed. They understood that the whole scheme was based on the principle of proportional sacrifice. They had succeeded in reaching a point where everyone had been relieved of much effort in building and yet remained with the same proportional strength.

Baron Kato said that he quite realised the difficulties of Great Britain in particular, and in regard to the general understanding of the world. The question, from the point of view of Japan, amounted to this, that it was not the scrapping of a ship under construction. The question of the relative strength was a different one, and on this he thought an understanding could be reached, but the scrapping of a ship under construction was his difficulty.

Mr. Hughes pointed out that he did not seem to mind scrapping the Settsu, which was also a completed ship.

Baron Kato said she was not a modern ship.

Mr. Hughes said he understood she was a pre-Jutland Dreadnought.

Baron Kato said that the retention of the Mutsu did not involve increasing the relative naval strength of Japan. He felt it should be possible to reach a harmonious conclusion without any obvious alteration in the proportions of the three fleets.

[Page 95]

Mr. Hughes said he wished that he was in a position to associate himself in this, but if the attitude taken up by Japan involved Great Britain building instead of stopping her construction, he did not see how he could do so. If Baron Kato had some plan of surmounting the difficulty he would like to know what it was.

Baron Kato said he regretted exceedingly that the Mutsu had been included in the original American plan as a ship under construction, as this was not the case. As it was necessary to save the Mutsu he supposed it would be necessary for America and Great Britain to build one ship apiece.

Mr. Balfour pointed out that the new construction would have to be in the proportion of 10–10–6.

Baron Kato said that this ratio, he understood, was to apply at the end of ten years.

Mr. Hughes said he had always understood that it was to be applied now, in order to ascertain how much each had to sacrifice.

Baron Kato said that the present ratio was 6 for Great Britain, 5 for the United States, and 3 for Japan.

Mr. Hughes said that this applied only to tonnage and took no account of the armament of ships, as the American programme had done. Although 6–5–3 was the ratio in tonnage, 10–10–6 was the equivalent in efficiency.

Baron Kato said he realised that the retention of the Mutsu and the scrapping of the Settsu would not make the actual ratio very obviously different. In fact, the difference would be very slight. But the inclusion of the Mutsu as a ship in course of construction would be extremely difficult for Japan to accept. The ratio was a separate question.

Mr. Hughes then read the following extract from his speech in Plenary Session on November 12th:—

“The tonnage of these ships would be as follows: Of the United States, 500,650; of Great Britain, 604,450; of Japan, 299,700. In reaching this result, the age factor in the case of the respective Navies has received appropriate consideration”.

The difficulty was that the scrapping of the Mutsu would not be compensated by the retention of old ships. Baron Kato was one of the greatest naval experts in the world, and knew quite well that the Mutsu was a ship of the very latest type. To compensate her Great Britain would have to build, and the United States of America would have to finish certain ships. It was a pity to do this, because the scheme was on a perfectly fair footing without the Mutsu.

[Page 96]

Baron Kato said he was very sorry always to have to repeat the same thing. His fundamental difficulty was the inclusion of the Mutsu as though she had been in the course of construction. He admitted that the building of fresh ships was against the spirit of the scheme. It was not possible, however, for the Japanese Delegates to render a satisfactory explanation for the scrapping of the Mutsu. If the only way in which the Mutsu could be retained was for Great Britain and America to build, he saw no other way out. He was very sorry this was the only way.

Mr. Hughes said he greatly regretted the necessity of building in order that Japan might keep the Mutsu.

Baron Kato said he hoped it was clear that Japan did not want any increase in her naval strength.

Mr. Balfour said that he understood that Baron Kato was ready loyally to abide by the proportion of 10–10–6, on the understanding of status quo in fortifications and naval bases, but he was not prepared to adhere to the absolute numbers provided for in the original American scheme. While he had no desire to blame Japan, he must observe that the net result would be that Great Britain would have to build and the United States of America would have to complete ships in order that Japan might get a sentimental satisfaction. He quite understood the strength of the sentimental objections to the scrapping of the Mutsu. The crew was on board and were actually working together. They would see their ship towed out and sunk, and this would doubtless produce an embittered feeling both in the Japanese Navy and in the Japanese people. He felt, however, that Baron Kato must realise that there was another side to the question. The peoples of America and Great Britain, who had thought to see an end put to the building of capital ships, would see nothing of the kind, and would say that this was an unhappy termination to an arrangement which had been looked upon with so much hope and satisfaction by the whole world.

Baron Kato said he always had to come back to the same question, that it was impossible to include as under construction a ship that was actually completed. He could find no satisfactory reason for scrapping such a ship.

Mr. Hughes said that of course the American Government understood that the Mutsu had been very nearly, though not quite, completed. While he fully appreciated the sentiment, he thought that the arguments were practically as strong in the case of ships almost completed. The money investment, for example, in the case of the Colorado and the Washington, which were very nearly complete, was nearly as great as in the case of a ship that had been launched completed. The difference was not a difference between 100 percent [Page 97] and zero, but only a difference of about 10 per cent. If 40,000,000 dollars had been spent in completing one ship, and 40,000,000 dollars in almost completing another, the result was practically the same. America had no less than 15 ships under construction, some of which, when the scheme was announced, had been 88 per cent complete. Baron Kato ought to consider that in stopping the construction of 15 ships America made a very great sacrifice. The question was not one of retaining a particular ship, but of community of sacrifice. From a practical point of view there was no chance of America remaining where she was as regards capital ships if the Mutsu were changed to the Settsu. It would be regarded in America as altering the whole ratio, and he thought the same applied as regards Great Britain. Hence, if the Mutsu was to be retained, what was Baron Kato’s plan? It was a great embarrassment to have to accept a plan which involved two of the Governments in a continuation of building.

Baron Kato said he feared he had failed to make his position clear. Mr. Hughes had said that the difference was only 10 per cent, from a practical point of view, between a ship that was 90 per cent completed and one that was completed. This, however, was not how the Japanese felt in considering the question. He quite understood the necessity for America and Great Britain to build. He greatly regretted it, but if that were the only way he would like to see America and Great Britain each build one ship.

Mr. Hughes then summed up the position. Baron Kato had accepted the 10–10–6 ratio on condition of the maintenance of the status quo in fortifications and naval bases. As regards the application of the ratio to the Mutsu, however, he seemed regretfully to reach the conclusion that Great Britain and America would have to build. He thought the best plan would be to adjourn and consult the experts as to what should be done. He greatly regretted this, but he could see no escape from it. If the Mutsu were retained he was certain that the Naval Experts would not be satisfied unless America and Great Britain also built.

Baron Kato agreed, but asked if a definite conclusion might not be reached in regard to the ratio and the fortifications.

Mr. Hughes said that this question of the application of the principle was interdependent with the question of the ratio and the fortifications. It would be necessary to try and re-arrange the American scheme so as to balance the navies on the ratio of 10–10–6, the Mutsu being included in the Japanese list. It would be necessary to tackle this task. It would be hopeless to try and arrange matters on a new basis with the idea of reaching 10–10–6 some years hence.

[Page 98]

Baron Kato said he wished to make himself clear that when he said that America and Great Britain might build a new ship he had in mind the ratio of 10–10–6.

Mr. Hughes said it would be necessary to examine the list of ships and see what was to be added and what was to be left out, if Japan was to keep the Mutsu. He wished to have the list revised on the basis of 10–10–6, always taking into account the age factor.

Mr. Balfour agreed. Two principles were fixed, namely, the ratio in capital ships, and the status quo in fortifications and naval bases. What remained unfixed, owing to the fact that the Mutsu was to be retained, was the list of ships. Hence it was necessary to consider how the lists of ships should be re-arranged so as to maintain the ratio on the understanding that the Mutsu would be retained.

Mr. Hughes said that it would be necessary to consult the experts.

As regards publicity, he thought it would be desirable to announce the whole thing at once. He would rather hold back everything that had been agreed until he could see the plan as regards particular ships as a whole.

Mr. Balfour asked whether the French and Italian ratio would be affected?

Mr. Hughes said that this was a difficulty. It would be necessary, in re-arranging the ships so as to preserve the ratio of 10–10–6, to watch how the increase of tonnage would be affected, with an eye to France and Italy.

Mr. Balfour pointed out that otherwise it would scale up the navies of the whole world.

Mr. Hughes said that the practical thing for the moment was to keep what had happened strictly confidential, and to announce nothing. On the following day the matter could be threshed out. He proposed a meeting on the following day at 4 p.m.

Baron Kato thought it would be very easy to reach a decision.

It was arranged to meet on the following day at 4–30 p.m.

the dutch islands.

(2) Mr. Balfour said that he was about to see Jonkheer van Karnebeek, who wished to be able to return to Holland with some arrangement which would satisfy his people as to the Dutch Islands.78 Jonkheer van Karnebeek obviously felt rather in the cold in being left out of the Pacific Treaty when Holland had such large island possessions in the Pacific. He thought it was possible that some separate instrument might be devised whereby Holland could be admitted to the arrangement ad hoc when questions affecting the Dutch islands arose.

[Page 99]

Baron Kato said he himself did not feel much objection, provided that the Quadruple Treaty was not affected. It would be necessary, however, for him to consult his Government.

Mr. Hughes said he himself would feel no objection. In limiting the Quadruple arrangement to the four Powers he had had in view the’ special position of Great Britain and Japan.

Mr. Balfour undertook to mention these matters to Jonkheer van Karnebeek, with the greatest care not in any way to commit anyone.

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 corrections by Secretary Hughes. Words which he crossed out are indicated by canceled type; words which he inserted are printed in italics.

  2. See letter from Jonkheer van Karnebeek dated Dec. 9, p. 29.