500.A15 b/39

The Secretary of State to the Secretary of the American Representation on the Preparatory Commission (Marriner)

No. 8

Sir: Reference is made to the Department’s telegram AmMission No. 85, of December 29, 1926, and to the letter, dated December 30, 1926, which you addressed to the Secretary General of the League of Nations pursuant thereto.21

There is transmitted herewith a memorandum containing observations on the Report of the Joint Commission, and you will forward this to the Secretary General of the League with the request that it be circulated to the governments represented on the Preparatory Commission.

I am [etc.]

Frank B. Kellogg
[Page 167]

Memorandum Containing American Observations on the Report of the Joint Commission22

The Report of the Joint Commission represents, of course, merely the views of a group of individuals as to the economic effect of the reduction and limitation of armament and conversely as to the influence of certain economic and financial factors upon the problem of reduction and limitation of armament. The views of the individuals on the Joint Commission are interesting and represent a considerable amount of labor. However, the applicability of the conclusions reached by the Joint Commission and indeed the appropriateness of taking into account the economic factors suggested by the Joint Commission in approaching the concrete problem of the reduction and limitation of armament are matters solely for consideration and decision first, by the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference, and, second, by the governments represented thereon.

The American Government has noted that Sub-Committee B of the Preparatory Commission has been careful to reserve for all the governments represented on the Preparatory Commission the right to make any observations they may think fit either in written documents or orally in the course of the discussions at the forthcoming meeting of the Preparatory Commission. The American Government desires to make the following remarks relative to the subjects considered in the report of the Joint Commission, reserving the right to amplify those remarks before the Preparatory Commission.

Section I

This Section of the Joint Commission’s Report contemplates the supervision or regulation of certain essential national industries, and international agreements among such national industries looking to the divulgence of certain information and the rationing of manufactures. There is also contemplated a system for the collection and publication of statistics of manufactures.

The American Government, as has been repeatedly stated by the American Delegation at Geneva, does not view favorably any proposal partaking of the nature of international supervision of the administration of an agreement limiting armament. It believes that the surest foundation upon which to construct such an agreement is that of international good faith and respect for treaties. It believes that the introduction of the element of supervision and control is calculated to engender suspicion and illwill, the disadvantages [Page 168] of which would far outweigh any advantages to be derived from such supervision or control.

With regard to the specific suggestion of agreements between national industries, it may be pointed out that in the United States, at least, there might be grave legal and constitutional objections to an international agreement whose effect was to compel American industries to enter into agreements with industries of other countries.

It may further be pointed out that it is the practice of many countries, including the United States, to publish periodically statistics covering the production of various industries.

Section II

This Section of the Joint Commission’s Report may be divided into two parts:

The advisability of the insertion in a General Disarmament Convention of provisions similar to those contained in the Statute of the International Labor Office (Articles 411 to 420 of the Treaty of Versailles) and
The effect, economically, of inserting such provisions in a convention regarding the prohibition of certain forms of warfare.

As regards the insertion of such provisions in a convention limiting armaments, it is noted that the Joint Commission recommends a comprehensive plan of procedure, providing for investigation of complaints by a commission of experts and action upon the recommendation of that commission by the Council of the League of Nations.

Quite aside from the fact that the United States is not a member of the League of Nations and that consequently proposals calling for the submission of disputes to the Council for investigation and action would necessarily not concern it, the American Government desires to call particular attention to the declaration in which the American Delegation at Geneva joined with the Delegations of Chile, Italy, and Japan in the Report of Sub-Committee A on the questions contained in paragraph 2B of the report of the Preparatory Commission to the Council.23 The objections there set forth from the military point of view to a system of control similar to that contained in the Statute of the International Labor Organization would seem to be equally applicable from the economic point of view.

In regard to this general question, the American Government believes it appropriate to reiterate here the declaration which the American Delegation at Geneva made jointly with the Delegations of the British Empire, Chile, Italy. Japan and Sweden, with respect [Page 169] to the question of international control and supervision, the substance of which was as follows:

“… any form of supervision or control of armaments by an international body is more calculated to foment ill-will and suspicion between states than to create a spirit of international confidence, which should be one of the more important results of any agreement for the reduction and limitation of armaments. The execution of the provisions of any convention for the reduction and limitation of armaments must depend upon the good faith of nations scrupulously to carry out their treaty obligations.”

With reference to a proposal for commissions of inquiry, et cetera, submitted by certain delegations,—generally similar to the proposals of the Joint Commission,—the six delegations above mentioned submitted the following observations:

“(1) The work of the proposed Commission would be complicated in the highest degree. It should not only be regarded from a technical point of view (military and economic), but should also be regarded from a political point of view, since, as Sub-Committee A has already shown, the primary criterion as to whether the armaments of a country are designed for defensive or offensive purposes lies in an appreciation of the political intentions of the Government interested. The Commission in question would, therefore, be called upon carefully to take account not only of military and economic considerations, but also political considerations. In other words, the Commission should be composed of quite exceptional representatives of each country, and, if it were to do its work effectively, it should in fact be a kind of International General Staff.

“It would be extremely difficult for such a body to carry out its duties. It would be inevitably driven to encroach on the legitimate functions of these bodies which, in all countries, are entrusted by Governments with the duty of advising on the measures to be taken to ensure the safety of the State and to place it in a position to fulfil its international obligations.

“It has been contended by others that the above use of the term ‘International General Staff’ can not really be applied to a Commission of this sort; it was further contended that the powers of such a Commission would not differ appreciably from those of many existing commissions. The six Delegations submitting this declaration do not share this opinion; they know of no body whose duties would be comparable to the duties of the Commission proposed.

“(2) It would be very difficult for the proposed Commission to arrive at unanimous reports. More often there would be two or more divergent opinions, the choice between which would have to be taken by appeal to a higher body. In any case, in order to ensure the supervision of the execution by a State of its obligations, the Commission would require to investigate further and to complete its information and to invite that State to furnish observations and explanations. This would require considerable time, during which the situation under examination might change.

[Page 170]

“(3) If this organization were composed of all the States signatories of the Convention, it would be unduly numerous and its procedure would, therefore, be very slow. If, on the other hand, it were composed of some only among these States, the difficulty would arise of settling which of the countries adhering to the Convention should be represented on it.

“It has been contended by others that it cannot be claimed that the creation of supervisory organizations is impossible on material or practical grounds since many precedents already exist. It is further contended that a precedent could be found in the Opium Convention and in the Statute of the International Labour Organization. The six Delegations submitting this declaration wish to point out that there is no analogy between Opium and Disarmament, and as to the extension of the Statute of the International Labour Office to Disarmament, this could not be invoked as a precedent; on the contrary, Sub-committee A had been asked to examine whether the application of that statute was possible or not.

“(4) It is very doubtful whether the method of procedure contemplated for the proposed Commission can be in practice applied. An example will best explain the position. The commission receives reports which may possibly lead to the suggestion that in country X there are certain indications which might be considered to show that that country is not fulfilling its formal obligations, or to show the growth of aggressive intentions against country Y. What will be the position of the proposed Commission? They will find themselves obliged at once to study questions which have not only a technical, but a political aspect, and it is safe to assume that in many cases the members of the Commission will find themselves influenced by divergent political considerations. If the case is quite clear, these political considerations may be disregarded; but if, as is more probable, the position is a complicated one, then it is safe to say that these political considerations are bound to hamper an impartial inquiry. In such a situation it is to be feared that divergent opinions will come to light and the only way of removing them would be by verifying the situation on the spot. This means that a proper application of the proposed method would frequently lead to inquiries on the spot. The Delegations subscribing to this declaration consider that most unfortunate results both political and technical would follow from these inquiries. It is impossible to disregard the possibility that, in certain circumstances, one country might bring a charge against another in order to obtain, unjustifiably, information about the secret defensive organizations of the country accused. Moreover, the Delegations of the British Empire, Chile, the United States of America, Italy and Japan, are entirely unable to accept for their own Governments anything in the nature of itinerant inquisitorial Commissions.

“It was contended during the deliberations on this question that the ‘unfortunate results both political and technical’ mentioned above, which the six delegations submitting this declaration claim would follow from these inquiries, would in fact not exist since ‘inquiries of this kind have already been carried out to the general satisfaction’. Since, obviously, no such inquiries of this nature have ever been carried out in the past, it is difficult to understand how such a contention can be held.

[Page 171]

“(5) Further, it may be pointed out that if, in fact, it were decided to limit the task of the proposed Commission to examining, comparing and drawing conclusions from the variety of information at their disposal, the reports drawn up by the Commission would give rise to further objections.

“From the technical point of view, any conclusions at which the Commission might arrive ‘without inquiry and direct control likely to affect the secret military preparations of the different States’ would be liable to be completely erroneous and misleading. The result might be that technical Commission would be writing reports impugning the good faith of nations without having at their disposal the essential facts such as could only be gleaned from a first-hand study of the situation on the spot. And, in general, it is inconceivable that Governments can view, without irritation, the requests for explanations which would be the result of insufficient data and which might, therefore, be regarded, according to the different circumstances of the case, as vexatious, disingenuous, or actually provocative.

“(6) The work so far carried out by Sub-committee A proves in the opinions of the Delegations subscribing to the present declaration, that the only basis on which it is possible to hope for satisfactory and permanent results is the creation of an atmosphere of good faith. It cannot be denied psychologically and from all experience that the introduction of restrictions upon the sovereign rights of each State, tends to militate against the creation of this atmosphere. It is common knowledge that in every country restrictions of all kinds are necessary, but these restrictions have only been imposed as the result of experience and by the nation itself in the exercise of its sovereign powers. The Delegations of the British Empire, Chile, the United States, Italy, Japan and Sweden consider that restrictions of this nature should not be contemplated in international engagements except where absolutely necessary and with the fullest consent and approval of the nations concerned.

“With regard to this entire declaration, it developed during the proceedings on this question in ‘Subcommittee A that others contended that the authors of this declaration in setting forth their observations had stressed political and psychological arguments and omitted technical arguments. The signatories of this declaration are of the opinion, on the contrary, that they have submitted both technical and political arguments; but in any case it will be for the Preparatory Commission to make this distinction if it sees fit’.”

In regard to the second part of the Joint Commission’s answer to this question, relative to the insertion in a convention for the prohibition of certain forms of warfare of provisions similar to those in the Charter of the International Labor Office, it is observed that the recommendations of the Joint Commission confine themselves to the typical case of chemical warfare. It is further observed that these recommendations are conditioned upon agreements among the national industries concerned. The American Government does not consider that such agreements are in any way germane to the question of the limitation of national armaments. It is well known that the great [Page 172] majority of the chemical products which may be utilized for military purposes in time of war are essential to the daily peace-time life of industry.

Section III

This Section of the Report relates to questions concerning the convertibility of chemical factories for the manufacture of poison gas, and means for hindering their conversion to such use. Proposals to that end are made by the Joint Commission.

The views of the American Government as to the appropriateness of the conclusion of industrial agreements among chemical industries have been stated above. With respect to the proposal that each state undertake to establish as a crime at common law any exercising or training by military persons or civilians in the use of poisons or bacteria, and, in particular, the exercising or training of air squadrons, it is the opinion of the American Government that such a proposal is impracticable. In this connection, it may be pointed out that no nation could safely agree to refrain from preparations for defense against attack by chemical warfare regardless of the existence of international conventions prohibiting the use of such warfare. In order to prepare against attack by such warfare, training in chemical matters is essential. To forbid absolutely training in the use of poisons and bacteria would, in the broadest meaning, put an end to chemical and medical research. Such a measure would be impossible to administer.

Section IV

This Section deals with the possibility of using military expenditure as a criterion for the comparison of armaments, and of effecting arms limitation by a limitation of such expenditure.

The conclusions reached by the Joint Commission relative to the usefulness of taking into consideration military expenditures in the comparison or limitation of armaments serve to emphasize the point of view which has been expressed by the American Delegation on the Preparatory Commission, namely, that military expenditure constitutes neither a real measure for the comparison of armaments nor an equitable basis for the limitation of armaments. The Joint Commission’s report points out that certain groups of countries having similar military organizations, similar wage levels and standards of living, might profitably use expenditure as a standard for the comparison of their armaments. The American Government does not doubt that it might be possible for certain countries to employ such a method of comparison profitably as among themselves.

Without commenting in detail upon the conclusions reached by the Joint Commission on this subject, the American Government [Page 173] believes that the true relation of budgetary expenditure to the comparison of limitation of armaments is accurately stated in the declaration made by the Delegations of Germany, the Argentine, Japan, The Netherlands, Sweden and the United States at the meeting of Sub-Committee A of the Preparatory Commission as follows:

“The Delegations of Germany, the Argentine, Japan, The Netherlands, Sweden and the United States of America are of the opinion that while the reduction in national expenditure on armaments is highly desirable as one of the results to be attained by the reduction and limitation of armaments, this result would automatically follow from any effective reduction and limitation of armaments.

“They are strongly of the opinion that monetary expenditure for the creation and maintenance of armaments does not afford either a true measure of armaments or a fair basis for limitation of armaments. They hold this opinion for the following reasons:

“(1) The direct and indirect costs of personnel under the conscriptive and voluntary systems are so variable in different countries and in their overseas possessions and are influenced by so many different factors that these costs are practically impossible of simple and equitable conversion to a common basis.

“(2) Due also to differences in rates of pay, production costs, maintenance charges, costs of labour and material, varying standards of living, variations in the rates of exchange and lack of uniformity in the preparation of budgets, any attempt to apply this method of limitation would be unfair and inequitable.

“(3) The method of limitation of expenditure is an indirect method of obtaining a limitation or reduction of armaments. All methods heretofore considered have been positive and direct; the application of an indirect method seems highly undesirable as a means of accomplishing what might better be accomplished by direct methods.

“The above mentioned Delegations maintain their opinion that from a technical standpoint armaments can be effectively limited by direct methods.

“(4) While comparison without limitation is possible, obviously there can be no equitable limitation of expenditure by international agreement without a comparison. In other words, comparison of expenditure is a pre-requisite to equitable limitation of expenditure. Therefore, since comparison cannot be made between budgets of different countries, as has been agreed upon in the study of standards of comparison, it will be impracticable to use a budgetary method in any formula for the reduction and limitation of armaments.

“For these reasons the above Delegations are firmly of the opinion that the method of limitation of armaments based upon the limitation of budgetary expenditure is impracticable, inequitable, and hence inadmissible.

“Since the mandate of the Preparatory Commission calls for a reply to this question only in case the limitation of expenditure is considered practicable, and since in the opinion of the above-mentioned Delegations the method seems inapplicable, it would appear that the reply to the question submitted should be, that the limitation of expenditure is not a practicable method for the limitation or reduction of armaments.”

[Page 174]

Section V

This Section relates to the principle upon which it will be possible to draw up a scale of armaments permissible to the various countries, taking into consideration population, resources, geographical situation, length and nature of maritime communications, density and character of the railways, et cetera.

The views of the American Government are in general accord with the reply to this question contained in the Report of Sub-Committee A and it does not appear to be necessary to restate those views in this document. It may be observed, however, that the conclusions reached by the Joint Commission in reply to this question indicate with a fair degree of clearness that the only factor which can be applied with any accuracy is that of population and that the application of this factor in the matter of limitation or reduction of armaments should be merely a basis for the determination of the maximum allowable amount of personnel in the armed forces.

Section VI

This Section deals with the influence of the material resources of a country on its war strength.

It is noted that the Joint Commission has approached the consideration of this question apparently with a view to pointing out those factors which it would be necessary to equalize or to compensate for in order to allow the various countries of the world to wage war upon one another on a more or less equal footing.

The American Government does not desire to comment in detail upon the observations of the Joint Commission in this regard since it will be readily admitted that in order to wage an effective war a country must have either within its own borders or accessible to it elsewhere the necessary supplies of raw materials, manufactured goods, and financial resources. With respect to these materials, each country is faced with a separate problem which, in a general sense, can never be solved by artificial international agreements. Those countries rich in raw materials and industrial facilities cannot be deprived of that wealth nor can countries poor in such wealth be provided with it except through the normal course of agricultural and industrial development.

Section VII

This Section indicates certain elements of a country’s war-time power which are, in the opinion of the Joint Commission, capable of being expressed in figures.

It may be pointed out in passing that the list of the raw materials indicated by the Joint Commission as essential for waging war does not appear to be complete.

[Page 175]

Section VIII

The final Section of the report contains the Joint Commission’s views relative to the possibility of considering areas or regions of the world as essentially self-supporting economically. This question was raised in connection with the consideration of the practicability of regional agreements for arms limitation.

The American Government believes that the problems of land and air armament are particularly susceptible of regional limitation agreements quite regardless of whether the regions covered by such agreements might be economically self-contained or not. While the observations of economic experts on this subject are perhaps of interest, the practicability of regional agreements will be determined eventually by political conditions and by decisions of governments as to whether they wish to adopt a policy which promises an immediate limitation of land and air armaments.

  1. Letter not printed.
  2. Circulated by the Secretary General of the League to the Preparatory Commission and to members of the League, under date of Mar. 10, 1927.
  3. Report of Sub-Commission A, p. 165.