500.A15/447: Telegram

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

195. If you decide upon the adoption of the second course indicated in my 191 March 23, 11 a.m. I would suggest that I take an early occasion to make a statement somewhat along the following lines. For example, I have sought to avoid on the one hand appearing to be obstructive and on the other the appearance of a swan song. There are some repetitions but they are intentional to make sure of driving home essential points.

“With the submission of the drafts, which are now before us, the work upon which we are engaged has assumed a new aspect. Heretofore [Page 180] we have been engaged upon the discussion of a number of technical questions but now we have before us texts which embody not only technical views by [but] the political views of various Governments as to the practical solution of actual problems of the limitation and reduction of armaments. I cannot [but] feel this is a distinct step forward on the basis of very valuable technical work which has already been done. We are now in a position to begin the thorough examination of the still more difficult and involved political problems. While the American delegation does not feel that it can usefully submit an additional draft convention, it welcomes the candor which has prompted the presentation of the drafts now before us which are of the greatest value in that they indicate how far certain Governments are disposed to go, and secondly, the methods which they feel can best solve these problems. I think I can say that in a general way the drafts before us indicate certain schools of thought which have been developed in the course of lengthy discussions as to the most acceptable methods of limiting and reducing armaments. It may best serve the avowed purpose of these drafts and facilitate the work of the Conference if I offered at this time certain frank comments on a type of provisions common to all of them. I refer most particularly to those provisions in both drafts which envisage utilizing the machinery and authority of the League of Nations in carrying out the provisions of a final treaty either through providing for security, the punishment of an aggressor state, or international inspection and control of armaments.

During the discussions of the past few days I have been greatly impressed by the obvious conviction of many delegations [that] the solution of the armament problem can best be found through utilizing in full measure the machinery and authority of the League of Nations. The sincerity of this conviction commands our fullest respect, not only our respect, but a growing belief that this very confidence in the efficacy of the League as an organ of peace may indicate that these nations are feeling their way forward surely to a solution of their problem. The American delegation believes that the possibilities of such a solution deserve the most careful friendly examination and if it be found that this is the way to accomplish the task it will rejoice in every measure of success that may be achieved. Moreover, my Government is deeply and genuinely sensible of the friendliness and good will which has been shown throughout these discussions in an effort to deal in a practical manner with the problem created by the fact that the United States is not a member of the League of Nations. As has been brought out in these discussions this constitutes a difficult problem and it may be that even infinite goodwill will not suffice to obtain the advantages sought by those who wish to use the authority of the League and at the same time make adequate [provision?] for the existing difficulties created by America’s nonmembership. I am confident, however, that if this extremely difficult problem cannot be solved it will be through no lack of careful study and goodwill. There are other governments which are not members of the League, but the American Government is the only one among them which is here represented to bring forward this point of view. The fact that my Government is not a member of the League imposes very definite limitations as to the undertakings which it is in a position to give in connection with [Page 181] a convention of this sort. In the course of the discussions in the Preparatory Commission and its subcommissions, it has repeatedly been made clear that any convention, in order to be acceptable to my Government, must take full account of the fact that it is not a member of the League and further that it is not in a position to subscribe to international agreements based on supervision or control. I trust it will be clearly understood that I am not bringing up this question in any spirit of criticism or with a view to raising doubts as to the effective measures or desirability of the methods. I am merely calling attention to a fact.

I realize that there is a broad difference in the possible types of conventions which might be drawn up. On the one hand there is the type of convention which some delegations here might be ready to accept in which they would utilize in a very extended form the authority and supervision of the subtreasurer. At the other extreme is the form of convention which would be acceptable to my Government, namely, a general international convention binding as between the contracting parties and depending for its fulfillment upon international good faith and respect for treaties without recourse to the League.

Regardless of the views of any delegation or group-meeting of delegations and regardless of the particular situation of any delegation, what this Commission is chiefly concerned with is the elaboration of a convention which will most effectively deal with the problem of the limitation and reduction of armaments. In the view of my Government everything should be subordinated to that end. After the very exhaustive studies which may be made by the members of this Commission it may be felt by many delegations that the problem can best be solved by the adoption of a text which involves the full use of League machinery and the [conferring?] of definite and extensive powers on the League. If in the reasoned opinion of this Commission that course will accomplish the purpose for which it has been convened, my Government would not wish its special situation to be considered an obstacle to general agreement. We quite realize, as I have said, that a treaty utilizing to the full the machinery and authority of the League might best be calculated to meet the problem even if the United States should be unable to become a party to it. On the other hand a treaty which takes full account of the special situation of the United States in such measure as to make it acceptable to us might be considered of doubtful value in dealing with the situation in other parts of the world and my Government above all desires that its special position shall not impede the adoption of the most effective convention possible.

I have ventured to set forth these views in explanation of my Government’s position but I have not done this with the desire to ask the Preparatory Commission to give its immediate attention to this special problem. It will, I hope, be taken care of in the normal course of discussion incident to the preparations of a draft convention in which work the American delegation will take its full share, since any decision of the Commission not to make special provision for America’s status would in no way diminish our interest in the general problem.

In this connection the Commission will wish to consider how far the general question or problem of armaments will be affected if a draft is adopted to which the United States cannot become a party. It may [Page 182] perforce be felt that the armaments of my country hardly require the measures of supervision and control prescribed in the proposed convention. It may also be borne in mind that with respect to naval armaments we are already strictly bound as regards certain classes of ships by a treaty which still has a number of years to run.31 Under proposals which have recently been made by the President32 we are seeking to reach an agreement which we hope will result in limitation of the classes of ships not already dealt with in the Washington treaty. As regards our land armament, it is well known that it has been reduced to a figure far below that of any other country with anything [approximating] our population and that our whole history and tradition is in the direction of a military establishment reduced to a minimum. While I am of course in no position to give any undertaking on behalf of my Government at this time, I am authorized to say that there is no present intention of materially increasing our land forces. I do not wish to urge this view upon the Commission but merely submit it for consideration in connection with the general problem which I have raised.

My Government is thoroughly alive to the very real problems which confront many of the countries here represented. It quite realizes the great complexity of the query which they are now called upon to meet. It is this recognition of the difficult position of other countries which has led my Government to authorize this declaration of its position. It feels that the problem at issue is so great that it will willingly subordinate its own desire to join in this convention to its still stronger desire to witness the successful conclusion of a concrete achievement which, even if it should fall short of the utmost desirable, would still be a most noteworthy contribution to the cause of peace and an alleviation of armament burdens and, it may well be hoped, constitute an incentive to further accomplishments in the same field. This is a task which will call not only for intelligence and industry but for great courage and indefinite [infinite?] tolerance. My Government is most anxious to contribute its full share and will work wholeheartedly for the success of this effort in that spirit.

A number of my colleagues have referred in very friendly terms to their anxiety to draw up a text which can be accepted by my Government. Monsieur Paul-Boncour in his admirable presentation of the French draft showed clearly that he had made an earnest effort to reconcile his belief in the efficiency of League authority with his desire to bring America into the final treaty. We are deeply sensible of the friendly spirit which prompted him to go to the lengths [to] which he has gone in [preparation?] of his draft. In examining Lord Cecil’s draft it is obvious that he has been animated by the same spirit. My Government on its part is most anxious to find some solution of the problem which will enable it to accept a draft convention which commends itself to the other members of this Commission as effective and desirable. I recognize that the problem is difficult but with the good [Page 183] will which has been shown here it may be possible to find a way out. One thought which occurs to me is that some method might be devised of dividing the text toward which we are working into two parts—one of them to contain merely the actual provisions for the limitation and reduction of armaments and the other to consist of those provisions which members of the League may desire to apply for their enforcement through League agencies. This might be worked out in such a way that my Government could give its adherence to the first convention accompanied by such separate undertakings as might make this adherence acceptable to the states members of the League while they could apply the second convention as among themselves. I am not offering a carefully elaborated plan for it is my purpose to avoid this and to offer this as one possible means of meeting the problem in a way acceptable to all. It may be that other delegations can suggest a still better solution and I shall be very grateful if they will be good enough to give me the benefit of their suggestions on this subject.”

  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament, signed at Washington, February 6, 1922, Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247.
  3. See the Department’s telegram No. 26, Feb. 3, 8 p.m., to the Ambassador in France, p. 6.