500.A15/462: Telegram

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

214. Proceedings of the present Commission forced ahead at such a pace as to preclude careful work or any effort at negotiation or compromise. … If work was being carried on at a normal rate most of the things we wanted would be brought out in the discussions but now we must state them each time lest the discussion be closed before our views are made known. We are agreed that the best course for us is to let other people state our views where they will; otherwise, to state them ourselves as briefly as possible and in an entirely objective manner and further to keep out of controversial debates except [Page 191] where it is essential to make our views on technical matters clearly of record.

Thus far the discussions have been on technical matters but at rate we are proceeding we shall probably reach discussion of a number of highly controversial subjects of a political character by Wednesday evening. These include budgetary expenditures, supervision and control, matters involving the use of League machinery in administering disarmament provisions of treaty and in all probability discussions of security under the authority of the Council.

These questions will arise one after another and will be the subject of bitter controversy; as controversies increase in bitterness there will be a fresh effort to choose a scapegoat for any failure of the Commission. We are at a stage of distinct jockeying. As matters now stand there are so many delicate European questions that need adjustment that so far as I can gather the inclination of those countries would be if possible to avoid recriminations among themselves and seek the scapegoat elsewhere. If on each of the contentious questions about to be considered we adopt an antagonistic attitude with no constructive or conciliatory offers we must expect that there will be a serious and perhaps plausible effort to hold us primarily accountable for failure. We can of course make a statement in connection with each of these problems that on account of our special conditions and special views we will not accept or be a party to any solution involving use of League machinery. But if this attitude of bare opposition is adopted we fall into a very dangerous situation. It is of course possible that delegations may give us a way out by suggesting a separate convention but it is becoming increasingly likely that they will emphasize and give wide publicity to our opposition to every proposal irrespective of the League, which many of them claim is the only way of bringing about effective measures of disarmament and thus make a concerted effort and saddle upon us the responsibility and blame for rendering agreement impossible.

I am still of the opinion that a bold suggestion of a treaty limited to disarmament provisions, accompanied by a protocol for its enforcement, would be the most sure means of warding off the real danger above set forth. In view however of your repeated instructions disapproving this, the force of which I entirely appreciate, it remains to be seen if the same result cannot be reached by other means. One way still appears to offer hope of bringing us safely out of the delicate situation I have described, while it likewise conforms to the limits laid down in your recent telegraphic instructions. I therefore venture to recommend that we take occasion whenever the first of these enforcement questions arises to make a general statement which applies not only to that particular question but to the purpose of the whole idea [Page 192] of League machinery and authority; to make it perfectly clear that we will not accept any measure of League jurisdiction, any obligation to the League for information or otherwise, and that the whole idea of sanctions, supervision, et cetera, whether carried out under the League or not, is thoroughly unacceptable to us; that on the other hand we must recognize the fact that all the other members of the committee are members of the League and that we cannot stand in the way of their adopting such measures as they may deem desirable no matter how impractical or unworkable they may appear to us; that we would be wanting in frankness if we did not make it clear that our failure to accept these reasonable measures was not due solely to our nonmembership in the League but primarily because we believe them unsatisfactory and unworkable; that we hope our views to this effect will be given their earnest consideration as we are reluctant to see them adopt any measures which in our opinion can lead to no practical results; that the fundamental part of our doctrine is that the way to disarm is to disarm and that the most effective sort of treaty is only one which specifies the disarmament provisions upon which governments are able to agree and leaves to their good faith the enforcement of these provisions. In this connection I purpose to refer to the Washington treaty as a successful example. We believe that any attempt to control, direct or spy will inevitably tend to foster mistrust and suspicion and take us farther away than ever from our common goal. However if the other members of the Commission are able to reach agreement among themselves for measures of this sort and really believe that they will be efficacious, the American Government would not stand in the way of such agreement; that of course we could not become a party to it and that they might feel they preferred such an agreement among themselves to an entirely different agreement to which the United States could become a party; that in this event we should of course offer no objection and should warmly welcome any measures of success which might be achieved by their agreement. We might then say that we were sincerely desirous of becoming a party to a general limitation treaty and that we hoped some method could be found which would enable them to suggest the measures they deemed desirable while at the same time recognizing our special position and our convictions.

At this point I should throw out the suggestion that the treaty should contain merely disarmament provisions leaving its enforcement to the good faith of each Government. This would obviate the objection in your telegram to suggesting a double convention but would leave it open to some other delegate to suggest that there be a separate protocol as to enforcement among the other League members. However, as indicated above, the situation has so changed from that set forth in my earlier telegrams that we cannot rely confidently upon [Page 193] other delegations’ helping us out in this manner. The situation needs some active stimulation. I would therefore propose to take steps with a view to insuring that when I make my statement and suggestion as above set forth another delegation will propose that my suggestion of a limited treaty be complemented by a protocol [of] enforcement as between those believing in supervision and control, and I can then accept this suggestion. I feel fairly confident that I can satisfactorily handle this phase of the situation.

It seems clear to me that the proposal of a single treaty confined to disarmament provisions and with no proposals on our part of a separate agreement among League members obviates the objection raised in your 101, March 29, 4 p.m., that this would be called an American plan. We should be confining ourselves to a suggestion which could not be distorted as you feared would be the case with my original suggestion.

Any general statement of this sort, in order to have its maximum effect, should be made whenever the first question involving the use of League machinery or authority arises. It will come with much lessened effect if we have made reservations on one or more points and then come out with a general statement. It will then look as though we had been forced into it as a matter of self-protection, whereas if we do it spontaneously we may get the credit of trying to find some helpful way of meeting one of the definite problems of the Conference, and furthermore any stand we later take on technical problems will bring less resentment than if we are opposed to the continental thesis all along the line.

Commission finished first reading of air armaments today and begins naval armaments tomorrow morning. I do not see how we can help getting on to the question of enforcement of the treaties by Thursday at the latest. An immediate action is therefore essential. Marriner will be able to explain the very involved situation here which makes it imperative that we lose no time in divorcing ourselves from these European quarrels and confine ourselves strictly to the technical aspects of disarmament which in themselves I fear offer insurmountable obstacles.

I therefore request your authorization to pursue the course outlined above which, moreover, I believe falls within the limits of your instructions. I may be required to take a stand on one or more of these questions by Wednesday evening and hope you can give me your full instructions by that time. I earnestly hope you can agree with the foregoing as none of us can see any other effective way of emerging with credit from the present delicate situation.

  1. Telegram in two sections.