500.A15 a 1/525: Telegram

The Secretary of State to President Coolidge

Following very urgent telegram received from Gibson yesterday:94

“No. 149. Saito and Ishii called upon us tonight and stated that they had been studying the possibilities of finding some measure of agreement which would avert complete failure; that they had worked out hastily an idea in tentative form which they would like to submit to us before submitting it to the British Delegation; that they realized it had many shortcomings but was meant merely as an indication of a general scheme for dealing with construction up to the time of the 1931 conference while avoiding the irreconcilable difference in regard to the eight inch gun. The document they submitted reads as follows:

‘1. The British Empire and Japan to undertake that before December 31, 1931, they shall not lay down, except for replacement, any more auxiliary vessels besides those included in their authorized programs, it being understood that the said programs shall not be altered except in so far as is provided for in the next following article.

2. The number of cruisers of the ten thousand ton class shall not exceed twelve each for the United States and the British Empire and eight for Japan.

The British Empire shall be at liberty to utilize in such a way as she may see fit the remaining cruiser tonnage in her authorized programs.

The maximum unit tonnage of cruisers of smaller class shall be eight thousand.

3. The United States to undertake that at no period before December 31, 1931, cruiser tonnage shall exceed that of the British Empire.

The contracting parties to undertake that they shall furnish to one another information concerning such building plans and programs as may be decided upon before December 31, 1931; provided that in the event that any of the contracting parties shall consider that readjustment of the present agreement is required as a consequence of any plans or programs adopted by any of the other contracting parties a conference shall be called with a view to secure such readjustment.

4. Questions regarding auxiliary vessels not provided for in the present convention shall be settled in a later conference to be held as soon as possible and not later than the beginning of 1931.’

I stated that I wanted to assure them of our very warm appreciation of the helpful spirit which had prompted them to seek a solution; that we were sincerely desirous of some reasonable agreement [Page 149] and that we shared their view that it would be deplorable if the only result of the President’s invitation should be (as a result of disagreement over a technical problem) a renewal of competitive building and they could be sure that their proposal would be examined in the most sympathetic spirit.

Admiral Jones raised a number of questions as to points in the proposal and said that we should, of course, have to study it very carefully before we were in a position to discuss it intelligently. We suggested that we should call on them tomorrow morning for further discussion.

Further comments on this proposal in the morning.”

The following is a paraphrase of the delegation’s comments on the Japanese idea outlined above:95

“I think you understand that this proposal is based on the idea that Great Britain and Japan should not undertake to construct any cruisers, other than those authorized at present, before the end of 1931 and during this time should the United States desire she will be able to bring her cruiser strength up to the British strength. Of course, the word ‘authorized’ should be defined most carefully and should, it is our opinion, include only those vessels under construction and for which appropriations have been made, which would give, according to their figures, a British tonnage in cruisers of approximately 378,000 tons. We are also of the opinion that the proposal would be more acceptable if the authorized programs were expressed in total tonnage figures not to be exceeded before 1931 by either the United States or Great Britain.

As the Japanese themselves were the first to state, the draft submitted by them is only a rough outline and would need many alterations, additions and amendments.

Concerning paragraph four, we are of the opinion that it might be well at least to give consideration to the question of whether an agreement could not also be concluded now concerning destroyers and submarines so that we might have a better basis on which to work out and consolidate the limitation of auxiliary craft in 1931.

We find it difficult to understand how the Japanese suggestions could prove acceptable to the British even as a basis for discussion since this would necessitate surrender by the latter in regard to the question of eight inch guns and such a surrender would be mitigated only by the fact that the agreement would contain no mention of such guns. Therefore, even though as far as we are concerned certain points of the proposal would have to be modified, we believe that the responsibility for rejecting it, if this is done, should rest with the delegates of Great Britain, and if the latter are in reality ready to avail themselves of the suggestion of the Japanese delegates to meet our position, we ought not ourselves assume the responsibility for rejecting the initiative taken by the Japanese. Such rejection on our part might lend itself to the interpretation as a declaration that it is only upon our own terms that we are prepared to negotiate.

I saw Saito this morning with Admiral Jones and informed him that since the exchange of views last night between the American [Page 150] and Japanese technical advisers it appeared that the results of such a scheme would have to be carefully studied and elaborated in greater detail before it would be possible to estimate whether it would bring about a naval holiday in reality. We suggested that Saito should communicate his idea to Bridgeman in view of the short time remaining to us. This morning he is seeing Bridgeman for this purpose.”

I replied yesterday, after consultation with the Navy, as follows:96

“Should a proposal such as that contained in your telegram No. 149 be put forward, it ought to be given very thoughtful consideration. Lacking more particulars it is not possible to judge of it here. Surely, we would be unable to concur in the proposal that the British Empire should build up to the program which it has authorized, which would bring its total tonnage up to approximately 465,000 tons, nor is it our understanding that America’s laying the keels of 10,000 ton cruisers would be considered to prevent us from bringing our Navy to an equality with Great Britain in 9,800 ton ships or other classes of cruisers. Naturally, it would be far wiser to permit Great Britain to turn down this proposal than for us to do so.”

Frank B. Kellogg
  1. Sent Aug. 1, midnight, received Aug. 2, 4:18 a.m.
  2. Telegram No. 150, Aug. 2, 1 p.m.
  3. The quotation is a paraphrase of telegram No. 91, Aug. 2, 8 p.m.