500.A15/453: Telegram

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


199. Department’s 98, March 25. The statement could not, I am confident, be interpreted as a departure from the consistently maintained American position. Throughout the discussions, as you will recall, the statement by us that we deemed supervision vicious in principle and declined to accept it for ourselves was coupled invariably with the statement that no objection would be offered by us if others wished to apply it among themselves. If we are not to be illogical, we must take an occasion to reiterate our position either now or as soon as the question of supervision comes up. Should all the other powers consider that supervision by the League, applied to themselves but not to the United States, does not create suspicion but is, on the contrary, the only method to allay their mutual suspicions, opposition by us would not be consistent and would make our position untenable. The whole delegation, however, believes the statement in my 195, March 24, 11 a.m., or something like it, should be made promptly. Three courses remain open to us: [Page 185]

Make such a statement, thus removing any pretext for charging us with obstruction. This would leave us free to concentrate on trying to obtain in a separate convention what we regard to be essential. Also, this would clearly reveal our sincere desire for the promotion of achieved results.
Await the same proposal from France or Belgium (see my 196, March 24, 4 p.m.). Unless we anticipate them, they intend to make it in a day or so, thereby creating the impression of going to extreme limits of concession in order to make the convention acceptable to us. A refusal would be difficult, and agreement would make it appear that we accepted a favor conferred upon us.
Refuse the proposal in (2) above and fight for a general convention which would be acceptable to us. This course, in our opinion, is not to be considered. Most of the other delegations favor the use of League machinery to a greater or lesser extent, and most of them wish to apply supervisory measures among themselves. The best possible pretext to accuse us of rendering disarmament measures impossible would be afforded them if we oppose this course.

It should be kept in mind that the prospect of success for the Conference is problematical at best and that, if we do meet the situation handsomely, we shall leave to others the shouldering of their share of responsibility for the failure. Should we advance this proposal, the clearest indication will have been given that we are not fighting them politically, though we may not agree with them on technical matters.

Another consideration is that some indecision is evident among the French regarding their reply to our last naval invitation.34 Should we remove, in a conspicuously friendly way, what they consider to be the chief present obstacle in the way of their extreme League program, this may help in convincing them that, though on technical questions we have opposed them, no hostility to France was involved and we are anxious to treat with them in a friendly and generous way. Although this is pure conjecture, their decision regarding naval matters might be affected thereby.

Nolan35 approves as accurate the statement that we do not intend a material increase of our land forces, but this I do not deem of any consequence in comparison with the main point developed by me. If you prefer, therefore, this sentence could be omitted without the value of the statement being affected.

A general statement has been made by each delegation, except those of Argentina and Colombia. Owing to the special position of the United States respecting the League, it is felt that, until our views become known, no general discussion can profitably begin. While awaiting our statement, the Conference now marks time. Yesterday, [Page 186] however, I was informed by the Conference that it would be difficult to wait later than Monday. Although I do not desire to seem unduly insistent or nervous, I cannot conceal the whole delegation’s feeling that the situation is the most crucial developed so far during the Conference and that this factor has, under the circumstances, become of the utmost importance. Therefore, I trust that I may be enabled to make a general statement no later than Monday morning.

The delegation has most earnestly studied the entire problem but has not been able to evolve an alternative course. I cannot see how any other course than the one proposed by me will prevent the United States from incurring the odium of blocking the Conference. If the present recommendations are not approved, I beg to be furnished with the earliest instructions possible regarding the attitude I am to adopt in case another delegation proposes the double convention idea and also with specific instructions regarding the delegation’s future course.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. See pp. 1 ff.
  3. Maj. Gen. Dennis E. Nolan, military expert with the American delegation.