500.A15/646: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Wilson)


23. Your No. 14, February 27, 4 p.m. The suggestions contained in your despatch No. 202 [209?] and in letters to Marriner10 on the subject of the course to be followed by the American delegation at the forthcoming meeting of the Preparatory Commission have been carefully considered by me with the result that it appears wiser, by reason of developments which have taken place since the writing of the letters above mentioned, with special reference to the changes recommended by the House Committee on Naval Affairs in the naval program, not to assume the offensive at the opening of the meeting, either with a statement issued in the United States, which you might find it necessary to defend, or by an opening statement in any form to be made by you at the first meeting. The Preparatory Commission has met four times previously with practically the same personnel at every [Page 243]meeting and is a continuing body; preliminary statements of policy do not therefore appear necessary. Any such effort on our part moreover would, in my opinion, be likely to give the impression that this Government felt it necessary to apologize for its past attitude or to defend itself against attacks on the subject of disarmament. It seems to me, furthermore, that there is not the slightest danger of a gratuitous attack on the naval question by Great Britain, and the opportunity for making such an attack would not be offered to any power before the Commission reaches the naval sections of the second reading of the draft convention.

In considering the Russian proposal, the whole idea is so impractical that no detailed discussion appears to be called for, and you might well content yourself, in my opinion, with agreeing with the delegates of those powers more immediately interested that a better ground for some hope of tangible and concrete results in disarmament is offered by the methods embodied in the draft conventions and partially agreed upon by the powers thus far represented on the Commission than by the Soviet Government’s drastic scheme, although the latter may have been proposed in an earnest endeavor to be of assistance.

While, of course, it would seem of little use to proceed with the second reading of the draft convention if no report shall have been received from the Security Commission, nevertheless, the United States is not opposed to any procedure which other powers might find agreeable. Should a report have been forthcoming from the Security Commission the American attitude on this subject has been clearly evidenced by the exchange of notes with France on the proposal made by M. Briand,11 in the attitude of the American delegation at the Havana Conference,12 and in the position taken by the United States on the extension of the arbitration treaties.12a The documents pertinent to these subjects will be transmitted to you by members of the American representation who are sailing on March 3, and I believe that these documents will enable you to show the eagerness of the United States to contribute to the security of the world so far as it can by the development of the resources of inquiry, conciliation and arbitration, not only in the Western hemisphere, the region of its primary interests, but throughout the world, as indicated by its manifest desire to conclude bilateral arbitration pacts with specific countries, and “likewise a multilateral treaty open to subsequent adherence by any and all other Governments, binding the parties thereto not to resort to war with one another”.

[Page 244]

Should the policies of this country be attacked on specific points you should, of course, vigorously state our position. Adequate material for such defense will be found in the proceedings at the Geneva Naval Conference13 and in our revised naval program. There will be sent to you among other documents, all pertinent papers on the naval program of 23 cruisers and 1 aircraft carrier, to be completed in 6 years and to be laid down within 3 years, as well as the House Committee’s recommendations. It would be most desirable, in case of attack, to speak frankly. It seems best, however, to leave to your discretion the question of such replies, which can be made when you feel that the appropriate occasion has arisen and after you have sounded out the sentiment of the meeting.

The French naval attaché has informed Admiral Jones of conversations in Paris between Vice Admiral Kelly, who will be the naval adviser to the British Delegation to the Preparatory Commission, and the Chief of the French Naval Staff. These conversations indicate that the French, while maintaining their thesis of total tonnage in principle, are willing to alter the Boncour proposal. For the life of any treaty to be concluded, a division of tonnage would be made into five groups, namely: Capital ships, aircraft carriers, service auxiliary vessels between 2,000 and 10,000 tons, service auxiliary vessels under 2,000 tons, and submarines. Since the first two categories of this division are presumably fixed until 1936 (or for the life of the treaty) by the Washington Agreement,14 only discussion of the remaining three classes is left open. The French would desire, furthermore, as a qualification to the division above mentioned, that any one of the categories might be increased by a percentage to be agreed upon but that such percentage, of course, would have to be deducted from one or both of the other columns; and, moreover, that six months, or preferably a year’s notice, should be given of any changes in the subgroupings. Some such scheme, according to the Navy, would be acceptable to this country in principle and might result in substantial progress toward ultimate agreement between the naval powers. The pertinent documents on this subject will be taken to Geneva by Admiral Jones.

Since the third session of the Commission there appear to have been no developments which would necessitate a departure from the stand we have previously taken on air and land armaments or any modification of the instructions in the premises.

  1. J. Theodore Marriner, Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs. Letters not found in Department files.
  2. See pp. 1 ff.
  3. See pp. 527 ff.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. ii, pp. 615 630 passim.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  6. Treaty of February 6, 1922, for the limitation of naval armament, ibid., 1922, vol. i, p. 247.