500.A14/286: Telegram

The Chairman of the American Delegation (Burton) to the Secretary of State

54. Military and Naval Committee have adopted a report to General Committee, going on record as to the need for dealing adequately with the subject of gas warfare. Report states that present Conference is not competent to deal with the subject and recommends that an international conference be called for the purpose as soon as possible.

It seems evident that this is part of a plan to keep this question in the hands of the League Secretariat. Delegation aware of possible difficulties in our accepting invitation to such a conference. On the other hand if we decline to participate we shall appear in the unenviable light of having started the whole movement without a sincere desire for results.

One possible solution lies in the fact that a convention on this subject could be drafted very briefly and simply and that it does not really require the calling of a large international conference.

We could probably keep direction of the whole matter in our own hands if, on the presentation of the Military and Naval Committee report, delegation could state that it welcomed this evidence of a desire to deal effectively with the problem of gas warfare and that it was authorized to state that as soon as the powers represented at this Conference as well as other interested powers felt that it is opportune to take further steps in this matter the President of the United States will be glad to extend an invitation to such countries to designate their diplomatic representatives in Washington or such other representatives as they may desire with a view [to] agreeing upon the text of a convention with regard to the prohibition [of] the use of poison gas.

Such a suggestion made at the right moment could hardly be refused and if Department feels that it is desirable for the United States to keep the initiative which it took both at the Washington Conference and here with regard to poison gas the above action may be necessary. [Page 56]Further, we would thereby avoid the embarrassment of making reservations as to attendance at a possible future conference which would probably be held under the auspices of the League.

Delegation appreciates that we are already a party to a treaty on this subject and that at the present time we might not desire to go further than we have already gone in that treaty. It further realizes that there may be other plans for a conference of a very much broader scope and that the above suggestion may not harmonize with such plans. However, it is felt that this suggestion should be clearly placed before the Department and as the report of the Military and Naval Committee may be considered at early meeting it is very important the instructions be received at the earliest possible moment. Consider it imperative that this or some equivalent action be taken so that our country may retain initiative and that course of our delegation be consistent with its original action in pressing this matter.