500.A15/493: Telegram

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

234. My 233.42 Statement follows:

“Mr. President: The French and British draft conventions which we have now been engaged in examining for the past fortnight have unquestionably constituted a noteworthy contribution to the solution of the disarmament problem. Whereas in last year’s stage of the work of the Preparatory Commission and its subcommissions we were necessarily engaged in the discussion of technical questions, these drafts now embody not only the attitude taken on technical questions, but also the political views of various Governments as to the most practical [Page 201] methods of solution of the actual problem of the limitation and reduction of armaments. During the course of our present deliberations many delegations have again found occasion to reaffirm their technical views on points under discussion; nevertheless we are becoming more and more engaged in consideration of the still more difficult and involved political problems which the preparation of a final draft convention necessarily presents. The American delegation has not felt that it could usefully submit an additional draft convention but it has welcomed 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, further, the methods which they feel can best solve the question at issue. 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 might 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 both 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.

During the general discussion it was clearly the obvious conviction of many delegations that the solution of the armaments problem can best be found through utilizing in full measure the machinery and authority of the League of Nations. My Government, however, is deeply and genuinely sensible of the friendliness and good will which was shown throughout the general discussion 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 was brought out in the discussion, this fact constituted a difficult problem. I am confident, however, that if this problem cannot be solved it will be through no lack of careful study and good will. There are other governments which are not members of the League but the American Government is the only one of them which is here represented. The fact that my Government is not a member imposes very definite limitations as to the undertakings which it is in a position to give in connection with 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 cannot accept the jurisdiction of the League and further that it is not in a position to subscribe to international agreements based on supervision or control.

It will be recalled that in the discussions above referred to the delegates of the United States, as well as those of the British Empire, Chile, Italy, Japan and Sweden, set forth their views that any form of supervision or control of armaments by an international body would be extremely complicated and impractical; they also affirmed their conviction that such measures would be more calculated to foment ill will and suspicion between states than to create the spirit of international confidence which should be one of the most important results of any agreement for the reduction and limitation of armaments, and that the execution of any convention must depend upon the good faith of nations scrupulously to carry out their treaty obligations. I will not [Page 202] take up the time of the Commission in reviewing the detailed objections of these delegates to any such form of supervision or control, but I should be wanting in frankness if I did not make it clear that our nonmembership in the League is not the only reason for our unwillingness to accept measures of this character. We are opposed to them primarily because we believe them unsound and unworkable. We cannot divest ourselves of the idea that the only practical way to disarm is actually to disarm, and that the most effective sort of treaty is 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 desire to remind the Commission that there is a disarmament treaty which has now been in effect for four years and which, dependent for its enforcement solely upon international good faith, has been observed by all the high contracting parties in the most faithful and scrupulous manner.

I trust it will be understood that I am not attempting to open up again the whole question here involved but I believe it, however, my duty to state fully and frankly the opinion of my Government as to the best method of enforcement of international conventions irrespective of the consideration that it is not a member of the League of Nations. Nevertheless, this nonmembership is a fact which bears upon the framing of any convention in which my Government is to take part and I feel it advisable at the present moment once more to call attention to this fact.

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 described the efforts he had made to reconcile his belief in the efficacy of the League authority with his desire to bring America into the final treaty. We are deeply sensible of his friendly spirit. 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 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 League. 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 solely upon international good faith and respect for treaties without recourse to any international agency for its enforcement.

I have already set forth, and I trust with adequate clarity, the reasons why my Government is opposed to any measures of international supervision and remains firmly of the opinion that any attempt to control, direct, investigate, or inquire within the territory of a high contracting party will inevitably tend to foster mistrust and suspicion and take us farther away than ever from our common goal. I am, therefore, constrained once more to affirm the belief of my Government that a convention of the kind which we are now [Page 203] attempting to frame should confirm [confine?] itself to provisions of disarmament pure and simple, leaving its enforcement to the good faith of each Government. Nevertheless I fully recognize the fact that all the other members of this Commission are at the same time members of the League. If they are able to reach agreement among themselves on measures for utilization of League machinery and believe that they will be efficacious we would not stand in the way of their adopting such measures as they may deem desirable, no matter how impractical they may appear to us. If, therefore, all the other Governments here represented desire the machinery of an international body to deal with the enforcement of the treaty, and insist upon it for themselves, and if any way can be found to accomplish what they desire for themselves and at the same time to eliminate the feature of international machinery so far as the United States is concerned, my Government is ready to cooperate with them in a sincere endeavor to solve that problem.”

  1. Telegram dated Apr. 13, noon: “My 214, April 4, 8 p.m. Made statement this morning.”