The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain ( Houghton )
My Dear Mr. Ambassador: At present it is the intention of the President to appoint Mr. Hugh Gibson to attend the preliminary [Page 52] arms Conference at Geneva and to give him as technical assistants and advisers Mr. Allen W. Dulles, of my Department, two representatives of the War Department and two of the Navy Department. Their names have been selected but as the Conference is going to be adjourned, the President has made no announcement. There may be a change in the technical advisers and assistants. I desire in this letter to set forth a little more in detail than I did in my telegram to you60 the attitude of this Government in relation to such conference. Whether these questions will any of them be disposed of by the preliminary Conference I cannot say but I thought it best to outline to you my views on the general subject.
- First, the scope of this Conference or of any limitation of armament conference. The suggestions in the invitation are very broad and cover a great many questions which, it seems to me, are entirely impractical. I believe the only practical bases for the limitation of armament are visible armaments and peace strength. This could include the trained personnel, the equipment, munitions and supplies, which can be mobilized immediately on the outbreak of war. No limitation on the basis of budgetary expenses is at all practical. That depends upon the rate of pay, etc., in each country. Any limitation based on the ratio of wealth, population or resources is also impractical. It is impossible to limit the war strength of any country. If the Conference is going into all these collateral issues, it is doomed to failure.
- Second, land disarmament is a regional question. I do not believe that any agreement can possibly be procured which will involve all the countries of the world in a scale limiting land armaments. The conditions are so different as to the relation of countries with each other, necessary forces for protection and many other conditions which would make it impossible to arrive at a general formula,—to illustrate, no land armament anywhere in the Western Hemisphere bears the slightest relation to land armaments of Europe. They are neither a menace to Europe nor an aid to Europe except in extraordinary circumstances such as brought the United States into the last War. Land armaments in South America bear no relation to land armaments in North America; neither do the armaments in the Far East (exclusive of Russia) bear any relation to those in Europe except as nations may require a certain number of troops to protect their colonial possessions. The question of reduction of land armament is primarily confined to the reduction of European armaments. The United States has no more than an academic interest or, I might say, a moral interest in this question. We cannot be expected further to limit our already reduced land armaments or agree to any system [Page 53] of limitation which would necessarily restrict us to a smaller army than any of the larger powers. I realize, of course, that the attitude of Russia may be a very important factor but this is a matter of more immediate concern to the European and Asiatic Powers. Our object in being represented at this Conference is to show in every reasonable way our sympathy and to give any aid consistent within our policy.
- Third, naval conference. Of course, the United States is interested in any naval conference. My general view on this subject is that a naval conference, if called, should be separate entirely from the land armament conference. If they are called together, it is evident that France and some of the other countries will immediately undertake to trade naval forces for land forces or land forces for naval forces, to make one dependent more or less on the other. It may be said that in limiting land forces, the naval forces must be taken into consideration. This can easily be done in a separate conference. Furthermore, there are five nations particularly interested in a naval conference, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. It would be impossible in my opinion to get all the world into a naval conference and make an agreement as to the standard of armament and the amount of armament each country shall have. To illustrate, undoubtedly South America, principally the A. B. C. Powers, are interested in the question of naval armament but the question there is limited entirely by their relation to each other and not by their relation to Europe or to the United States. It is undoubtedly true that Greece, Turkey, Russia and some other countries may be interested in the question of naval armament but this is largely regional and cannot now affect the armament of the larger powers. Furthermore, there is no prospect of any of these countries in the immediate future obtaining a naval armament which would in any way approach that of any of the Five Powers. There is undoubtedly a practical field in the further limitation of the size and number of cruisers, submarines and possibly air forces although the latter is a difficult subject and should be considered more or less by itself. The question of the prohibition of submarines will, of course, come up and I assume that France and the smaller powers will never agree to their abolition. I doubt if we would entirely but we would be willing, of course, to make an agreement as to the number.
- Fourth, airplanes. This is a most difficult question which would have to be discussed very largely by our technical advisers. So far as the United States is concerned, of course, its airplane forces could never be a menace or used against any foreign country nor against the air forces of a foreign country except as they may be transported by airplane carriers and the limitation of airplane carriers is a practical limitation of air forces. The situation is undoubtedly different [Page 54] in Europe. There, as I have said in relation to land armament, it is more or less of a regional question by reason of the short distances and the ease with which such air forces may reach neighboring nations.
- Fifth, it, of course, must be understood that the United States will not be a party to any sanctions of any kind for the enforcement of a treaty for the limitation of armament nor will it agree that such treaties to which it may be a party shall come under the supervision of any international body,—whether the League of Nations or otherwise. The agreement, so far as we are concerned, must depend upon the good faith of nations.
- Sixth, in any agreement for the limitation of naval armament, the United States would insist on the ratio provided for in the Washington Treaty and, so far as land armament is concerned, it would undoubtedly insist on the right to maintain forces equal to any other large power.
General considerations. I have thus imperfectly outlined the position of the United States. On the question of calling a naval conference, as you know, the President always has been willing to call such a conference as a continuation of the Washington Conference and I think he feels, as I have said to you before, that it would be appropriate that such a conference be called by him in the United States but I apprehend from what I learn from you and from the press that it is not the intention of the European Powers to attend any conference in the United States and that the League of Nations jumped into this matter, inspired to some extent by a desire to get ahead of the President. The President is not disposed to make the limitation of armament dependent on whether he calls a conference or whether somebody else does. He realizes that so far as land armament is concerned, it should be called in Europe and he is not going to occupy the position that he will not participate or do anything unless he can call the conference. The manoeuvres which have been going on in Europe of late about adjournment and the various conferences between Chamberlain and Briand lead me to believe that this conference, or any that may be called, is largely a gesture and that some of the countries have no intention whatever of making an agreement for disarmament. The Locarno Conference was undoubtedly a great step in advance even though it may not be the “cure all” that some now appear to consider it. Nevertheless I am disposed to give it credit for all it has done and it is a step forward. The nations gathering at Locarno, especially France, had said so much about security, disarmament and arbitration going hand in hand and that no disarmament could take [Page 55] place until there was guaranteed security, having obtained that, they felt as though they must, in order to satisfy their public opinion and that of the world, take some step towards disarmament. It was evident to me that they undertook to get an adjournment and hoped to cast the burden on the United States; in fact, I was directly informed of this by absolutely reliable authority and I counteracted it by cabling at once to Hugh Gibson to say to Sir Eric Drummond that we would be represented and were ready, that the President’s message represented his views on this subject, that we were waiting to send our definite answer until the act passed Congress. The moment it passed, I telegraphed acceptance. Finding that they could not place the onus on the United States, they then undertook to get an agreement between themselves and I take it that Great Britain refused to agree. Thereupon, France undoubtedly engineered the scheme to get a number of the countries to request an adjournment. The French Ambassador called on me the other day and explained the reason for the adjournment was that France was acting as an intermediary between Russia and Switzerland in order to obtain the presence of Russia and that Germany had not become a member of the League. However, I am rather inclined to believe that some of these European nations are not now, in any event, ready to make any bona fide disarmament of either naval or land forces and that they are trying to get all the world into a general scramble in order to have somebody to blame for the failure. So far as the United States is concerned, we propose to keep our skirts clear. If we had refused the invitation, it would have immediately gone out to the world that Europe could do nothing without the United States being present. We propose, as far as possible, to cooperate with them and, if there is a failure, for the blame to rest where it should. I may be mistaken about this and over suspicious. Nevertheless, the President was in no position to refuse to cooperate. Public opinion in this country, both in the Congress and out, would never have justified him in doing it.
I should be very glad if you could get the views of the British Government on these various questions in a general way. I cannot, of course, make known to the British Government my instructions to our delegation as the delegation may not ultimately be required to act on them and many of the instructions pertain more to a final conference than to the preliminary conference, which I appreciate is largely for the consideration of technical questions and the preparation of agenda. Nevertheless, knowing our situation and my views in a general way I should be glad if you could give me the British Government’s views, if Chamberlain is disposed to tell you. I should also be [Page 56] glad to have your comment as to the attitude of the various European countries and your suggestions as to whether it would be advisable and worth while for you to come over to talk with the President and me. I simply make this suggestion now because I do not wish to put you to the trouble of the long trip unless you feel that something could be accomplished which you could not do by letter.
Very sincerely yours,
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