Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conversation with the, Japanese Ambassador (Hanihara), May 3, 1923

Gun Elevation.—The Ambassador said that he had received instructions from his Government with respect to the inquiry which the Secretary had made in a personal and informal way at his recent interview (see memorandum of April 12)26 and that he would endeavor to interpret these instructions. Count Uchida felt that there was danger that if negotiations were entered upon with respect to the matter of gun elevation and they did not result in an agreement between the two Governments that the effect would be unfortunate and might tend to impair the cordial understanding which was happily the result of the Washington Conference. For that reason Count Uchida felt that it would be better not to take up such formal negotiations, but to state the views entertained by the Japanese Government in the same informal and confidential way as that in which the Secretary had presented the subject. Count Uchida said that there were technical questions which would have to be considered. Many things might be done which would increase the actual capacity for offensive action in the case of a battleship which, nevertheless, were not prohibited by the Naval Treaty. For example, in the size and shape of shells, in the character of powder, with respect to casings, et cetera, changes might be made which would in effect increase the range. There were other matters besides the elevation of guns which would have an important bearing upon the offensive power of warships as, for example, in connection with torpedoes, wireless installations, et cetera. The treaty makers, very wisely, had not attempted to deal with all these things, but had established certain general standards for their capital ships. It must also be observed that two new ships were to be built by England and certain ships were to be completed by the United States, but there was no attempt to define all the particulars that went to make up the offensive power of the ships or just what should be done. Probably no agreement could have been reached about such details and so the treaty merely dealt with certain standards which were deemed to be practically sufficient without attempting to prescribe limitations as to everything that went into the actual fighting capacity of the ships. There were also [Page 33] to be considered the special provisions of the Treaty, Section 1 of Part III, as to France and Italy, which were permitted to increase their armor protection and the calibre of their guns, but these special provisions said nothing about gun elevation. In the light of all these considerations, Count Uchida had said that it was not the view of the Japanese Government that a change in the gun elevation, which did not require changes of the prohibited sort, in the ships themselves, would be a violation of the Treaty. This being so, if the Governments attempted to deal with the matter, it would be necessary to negotiate a new agreement upon this point and it was very doubtful whether it was wise to undertake special agreements as to particular details of this sort. Count Uchida would like to have the Secretary comment quite freely upon the views that had been expressed. The Secretary said that he cordially appreciated the frankness of Count Uchida in stating his views and the spirit in which the matter had been taken up. The Secretary referred to the fact that he had called attention to it in a purely personal and unofficial way, as he was not prepared to commit his Government with respect to the matter. It would be necessary before he could do that to confer with the President. He understood that for the present the matter was in abeyance until Congress met and the question could be taken up uninfluenced by the inaccurate information which had been received as to the changes in gun elevation on the British ships. The Secretary said that there were two questions. The first was with regard to the terms of the Treaty itself. The Secretary said he appreciated the force of the observations that had been made by Count Uchida and he did not care to discuss the matter from the technical standpoint with respect to the construction of the Treaty. He was gratified, however, to be advised as to the Japanese point of view upon that matter. The Secretary said that it was the second aspect of the question to which he desired to direct particular attention, although he was speaking in an entirely personal way. As to new ships there was, of course, no question but that, within the limitations of the Treaty, the Powers were at liberty to take advantage of the latest improvements in naval architecture and in developing the offensive power of these ships. Action of that sort would be expected and would not excite any public discussion. On the other hand, there were the existing ships which the Powers were entitled to retain under the Treaty, and the question raised was as to changes in the gun elevation upon these ships which had actually existed with certain guns and gun elevation at the time the Treaty was signed. The Secretary pointed out that if one Power proceeded to make changes in the gun elevation on these ships doubtless [Page 34] other Powers would be led to do the same and there would be created in the public mind a notion that if the existing ships were being changed for this purpose that the state of unrest and apprehension which it was intended by the Conference to remove, still existed to a considerable extent. If it were reported, for example in this country that the Japanese were changing their gun elevation on their retained ships, it would doubtless excite a good deal of comment here. On the other hand, if both Powers proceeded to make changes of this sort, each acting because the other was taking action, when they got through they might be in precisely the same position relatively as they were at the start and would have spent a good deal of money to no actual purpose. The Secretary said that while the technical point with respect to new ships might be well taken there was really a practical distinction between building what everybody expected to be built and making changes which it was not supposed would be made in the existing ships.

The Secretary wished to emphasize that it might be decided by this Government to proceed with the changes in gun elevation on its ships; that was a matter which was not within his Department, but he had sought to make the inquiry so that all phases of the question could be before the President when the final decision was made. The Secretary merely wished to know whether, as the question was up, there would be a disposition on the part of the Japanese Government to consider the matter as a broad question of economic policy. The Ambassador said that he fully understood the way in which the question was brought up by the Secretary and greatly appreciated the opportunity to have it considered and would not fail to report what the Secretary had said to Count Uchida.

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