The French Chargé (De Laboulaye) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: By your informal notes of July 12th and August 31st, addressed respectively to Mr. Jusserand and [Page 766] myself,13 you have expressed the wish to know the views of my Government with regards to the adoption of the plan submitted by the Representative of the American Government, for the distribution of the former German cables, at the meeting of Sub-Committee No. I of the preliminary conference on Electrical Communications held in Washington on March 6th, 1922.

Pursuant to the conversation I had a few days ago with Mr. Phillips, I have the honor to transmit to you in the note herein enclosed the results of the examination to which the French Government has proceeded on that subject.

Believe me [etc.]

André de Laboulaye


The French Government has examined with the closest attention the plan for distributing the ex-German cables as submitted to the representatives of the powers by Mr. Fletcher at the meeting of the first subcommission of the International Conference on Electrical Communications held at Washington March 6, 1923 [1922].

As this document constitutes only an initial attempt intended to enable the respective Governments to set forth their views on this subject, the French Government feels at full liberty to frame the following observations:

It wishes to remark first of all that certain data used in preparing the plan submitted by Mr. Fletcher are not entirely correct.

Thus the plan seems to take it for granted that the value of the ex-German cables has been permanently fixed by the Reparation Commission.

Now, to the knowledge of the French Government, certain appraisements which ought to figure in the fixation of this value, though, however, of slight importance (calculation of depreciation, wear and tear, deduction of certain expenses of establishment, etc.), are still under discussion before the Commission, while others which have been accepted by the other Allied Powers have not yet been accepted by the United States.

Furthermore, if we compare the figures appearing in Mr. Fletcher’s distribution plan with those furnished by the Reparation Commission (subject to the slight uncertainties referred to above, the amount of which does not exceed 3 percent), we shall note considerable discrepancies among them as shown by the table appended hereto.

On the other hand it will be well to observe that in determining the value of the ex-German cables according to their cost price alone [Page 767] and after making a deduction for depreciation through wear and tear, the Reparation Commission is acting within its jurisdiction, since the purpose of its mission is to determine the intrinsic value of the cables with a view to crediting the value thereof to Germany. But it seems that, for purposes of a distribution among the Allied and Associated Powers, account ought to be taken of the degree of economic importance and utility of the cables. As a matter of fact it is impossible to place on the same footing cables which connect different points of the coast to Africa, the traffic over which is exceedingly small, and trans-Atlantic cables with much greater traffic.

As the French delegation proposed to the conference of October, 1920, it would be well therefore to assign to the value of each cable a coefficient to be fixed according to the data indicated above. Account ought also to be taken of the expenses of readjustment to which these cables have given rise.

Finally, the French Government has noticed that two ex-German cables whose approximate appraisement was made by the Reparation Commission, viz, the Yap-Shanghai and Yap-Menado cables, are not mentioned in the plan submitted by Mr. Fletcher.

Now these two cables constituted the subject matter of an agreement concluded in last December between Japan and the United States, and when, as in the case of the other agreements reached at Washington, the French delegate, Mr. Sarraut, gave it his endorsement, this was done only ad referendum.

The French Government by no means thinks of refusing its final approval to this arrangement, but it deems it its duty to maintain, as Mr. Jusserand expressly specified during the labors of the Commission, that the question of distribution of the cables forms an aggregate from which the Pacific cables cannot be separated. Consequently the Yap–Shanghai and Yap–Menado cables ought henceforth to appear in the distribution plan.

Furthermore, in the opinion of the French Government the Yap–Menado cable ought to appear therein with a different assignment than that given it in the American-Japanese agreement, since the Netherlands, which received it, does not figure among the five Allied and Associated Powers and possesses no right to the ex-German cables. As the French representative likewise pointed out during the course of the discussion, it will be the duty of that one of the five Allied and Associated Powers to which the cable is assigned, to conclude such arrangement afterwards with the Netherlands as it may deem proper. However, the value of the Yap–Menado cable will have to be placed, in the distribution, to the account of that power and the latter will be debited therewith toward Germany in the Reparations account.

[Page 768]

On the other hand the French Government deems it necessary to frame certain objections as regards the principle involved in making the distribution in equal parts, as underlying the plan presented by Mr. Fletcher.

As a matter of fact this principle does not take into account annex VII, section I, part VIII (Reparation) of the Treaty of Versailles, in which Germany waived, in behalf of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, all rights and titles which she possessed to the cables enumerated in said annex.

This transfer of the cables by Germany to the Principal Allied and Associated Powers is really in the nature of reparations. The provisions of the treaty which relate thereto appear in Part VIII (Reparation), viz. article 244 and annex VII. This character furthermore is confirmed in the final paragraph of this annex, which reads thus:

“The value of the above mentioned cables or portions thereof in so far as they are privately owned, calculated on the basis of the original cost less a suitable allowance for depreciation, shall be credited to Germany in the reparation account.”

This annex VII is referred to in the second paragraph of article 237, relating to the distribution of the successive payments to Germany.

Now it should be observed that part VIII of the Versailles Treaty was accepted as valid by the United States and was mentioned as such in the enumeration contained in article II of the peace treaty between the United States and Germany of August 25, 1921.15

The value of the cables transferred to the Principal Allied and Associated Powers by the putting into force of the Versailles Treaty ought therefore to be considered as one of the payments referred to in article 237 but made exclusively for the benefit of the said Principal Powers. Article 237 furthermore provides that the payments of Germany “shall be distributed by the Allied and Associated Governments in the proportions determined by them in advance and based on the equities and rights of each.”

Neither during the peace conferences nor since the treaty went into force has any arrangement been concluded on the distribution of the cables which is of such a nature as to diminish the validity of these provisions.

On the contrary, since the treaty went into force some general agreements have been concluded among the Allied Powers with a view to distributing Germany’s payments among them and it would seem that in the absence of other bases the coefficients fixed at Spa, [Page 769] for instance, on July 16, 1920,16 might be utilized in fixing the distribution of the cables between France, Italy, Great Britain, and Japan. These countries would then have no transfer to make to one another in consequence of the assignment.

As the United States failed to participate in this agreement, it would seem to be now merely a question of the share due them by virtue of the provisions of article 237 of the treaty.

In addition to the foregoing considerations, owing to which the French Government regrets its inability to join in the distribution plan of the ex-German cables submitted to it, the French Government desires to state the reasons why it believes it is justified in urgently demanding that the ownership of the German cable from Brest to New York be preserved by France.

The French Telegraph Cable Company, as a matter of fact, now possesses only three cables:

The P. Q. cable, dating from 1879, worn out, in a bad condition, often interrupted, and hard to repair.
The Brest–Cape Cod cable, opened up to operation in 1898, but a long section of which is without intermediate landing or relay, whereby its transmitting capacity is reduced.
The ex-German cable, which, with an intermediate landing and relay at the Azores, possesses a transmitting capacity superior to the two preceding ones.

On the other hand the American cable companies, to which the Brest–New York cable would without doubt be retransferred, already own or control 13 cables connecting North America and Europe. Moreover these companies have, with the consent of the German Government, recently decided to lay two cables between the United States and Germany under very rapid conditions, these cables being provided with all improvements and enjoying a process which enables an efficiency obtained which was hitherto unknown.

Under these circumstances we are warranted in saying that the independence of communications between the United States and Europe is amply assured and that general American interests would not be threatened if the Brest–New York cable were left to France in the distribution to occur. While there is no doubt that the resumption of this cable and its assignment to the United States would gravely compromise the possibilities of operation of the French Cable Company and make it very difficult for it to insure free communication in future between the French Government and North America.

In framing the foregoing observations and suggestions, the French Government confidently hopes that the United States Government [Page 770] will kindly take them into account when the question of distributing the ex-German cables comes up again for discussion.

Fletcher plan Reparation Commission Differences between valuations of the Reparation Commission and those of the Fletcher plan
Length Value Length Value
[Miles] Gold marks [Miles] Gold marks [Gold marks]
Emden-Fayal No. 1 1616 3,814,698 1616 3,904,159 +89,461
Faval-New York No. 2 1785 6,780,009 1785 5,992,069 -787,940
Emden-Fayal No. 2 226 674,405
Borkum-Teneriffe 1860 7,067,363 1860 7,125,158 +57,795
Teneriffe-Monrovia 1791 5,446,138 1791 5,457,951 +11,813
Monrovia–Lome 170 441,000 170 462,970 +21,970
Lome–Duala 610 1,740,058 610 1,737,940 -2,118
Borkum–Brest 240 600,000
Emden–Fayal No. 2 91 271,553
Emden–Fayal No. 2 1353 4,037,480 a1669 b5,010,223 +26,785
Fayal–New York No. 1 2290 6,780,009 2290 6,938,992 +158,983
Yan–Guam 563 1,171,348 563 1,196,464 +25,116
Monrovia–Pernambuco 1862 5,800,548 1862 5,847,299 +46,751
Constantinople–Constanza 185 550,332 185 633,062 +82,730
Emden–Viaro 860 1,247,910 860 1,243,255 -4,655
Yap–Shanghai 1790 5,343,367
Yap–Menado 1076 2,350,315
  1. Note of August 31 not printed.
  2. File translation revised.
  3. For text of treaty, see Foreign Relations, 1921, vol. ii, p. 29.
  4. Ibid., 1920, vol. ii, p. 406.
  5. The difference in length is only apparent. It arises from the fact that the figure of the Reparation Commission represents the total length of the cable, including the two sections assigned to Great Britain and France (1353 plus 226 plus 91 = 1669 [sic]).
  6. The value assigned by the Reparation Commission is likewise that of the total value of the cable. The figure 5,010,223 of the Reparation Commission should therefore be compared with the sum total of the three portions of cable referred to in the Fletcher plan (674,405 plus 271,553 plus 4,037,480=4,979,438 [sic]).