500.A15a3/145: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Dawes) to the Secretary of State


252. Late last evening, on delivering your No. 225, August 28, 7 p.m., I had a conversation with the Prime Minister.

He evidently intends to agree with your statements and after his return from Geneva will answer. All of the figures will be checked [Page 211] up by the Admiralty. According to his statement, the figure of 330,000 tons is certain.

As you assume in your No. 225 that the memorandum of agreement incorporated in it may cover, if the Prime Minister agrees, the whole ground prior to the Conference itself, I urge strongly that the following changes should be made in its present form: We should omit paragraphs 8 and 9; a new paragraph 8 should be made of paragraph 11; new paragraph 9 should be formed by paragraph 12, omitting the words “by the yardstick” in this paragraph; paragraph 10 remains paragraph 10; new paragraphs 11, 12, 13, and 14 are formed of 13, 14, 15, and 16.

I advance the following reasons:

This memorandum concerning what constitutes the preliminary agreement between the United States and Great Britain will be given to the public at a future date but before the meeting of the Conference. It will become known to all members of the Conference and will publicly become known to the press during the negotiations even if its publicity should be delayed until the opening of the Conference. You are directing the general attention of the public in paragraphs 8 and 9 of your telegram in a most prominent way to the possibility of disagreement concerning a method of procedure that is a probability only. In this way a technical naval question about very few ships compared to the total number involved in the negotiations is magnified and thrust upon the center of the stage as far as public opinion is concerned, thereby lending weight to an impression that before agreement can be reached, the yardstick must be found.

If the memorandum is not changed, the press, since it finds most news value in prospective controversies, will devote little space to the agreements contained in the memorandum which are of great importance and which would have the greatest public effect if they should be made public alone. If the public has been persuaded by the press to believe that any agreement resulting from the Conference will be inadequate from a technical point of view unless a yardstick can be agreed upon and can be so persuaded in the beginning of the agreement, the effect will be most unfortunate on the later ratification of any compromise settlement agreed upon. In this, I am only paraphrasing your No. 226, August 28, 9 p.m., which contains an entirely sound argument by which you decided that it would not be safe to allow even Great Britain and the United States, to say nothing of the other powers, to introduce a discussion of the yardstick at this stage of the proceedings. If it is unwise for the United States and Great Britain to attempt to introduce an actual discussion as to the details of the yardstick at this late stage of the negotiations between two parties who are both so anxious to agree, the question as to when such a [Page 212] discussion will become wise naturally arises. To me the answer appears obvious—only when we have discussed questions with all of the other naval powers in the same manner we have with Great Britain and have reduced the technical differences between us and them to the simplest form of statement as we have now with the differences of this sort between Great Britain and the United States. We must keep the ultimate reactions of the public constantly in view in every stage of these negotiations. The difficult technical controversy will become of minor importance in the minds of the public if they can be made to realize the relatively small amount of technical differences.

If paragraphs 8 and 9 are eliminated, the status of the present agreement between Great Britain and ourselves concerning the yardstick will not be changed as it will be covered by paragraph 12, even if the words “by the yardstick” are eliminated from it.

Paragraphs 8 and 9 are agreed by the Prime Minister as defining the attitudes of Great Britain and the United States to be taken toward the yardstick when the Conference considers this matter. This is only an outline of a procedure for approaching this problem for our two countries which seems at the present time the most reasonable course and unquestionably will be followed; but I desire to emphasize the point that when this document or another in its place which becomes later on the ultimate form of the preliminary agreement between the United States and Great Britain is made public, it should not give the public an impression of undue importance of this controversy over a yardstick as does this memorandum. It is possible that neglect of this matter might constitute an error that would be fatal. All newspaper writers on the subject of these naval negotiations are invited by the present statement to rehash immediately their articles concerning the yardstick and the idea of cynics will be that these difficulties are inherent in the whole problem instead of only a minor part of this problem. In my opinion, the importance of the yardstick should be recognized as also the probability that its use will be necessary, but we should not forget that long and complicated negotiations are sometimes quickly brought to successful conclusion near the time of final settlement by compromises. There is a distinct possibility that discussion between the different navies of the yardstick may result in a compromise concerning it and we might then see instead of the settlement fitted to the yardstick, the yardstick drawn up to fit the settlement. The unimportance of a controversy can be realized by the public although it does not understand the question. The professional arguments of two doctors upon the correct course of medical procedure to follow may not be understandable to the man in the street, but the relative importance of this argument if it affects the life of the patient can easily be undersood when he knows whether it concerns a light [Page 213] case of measles or a bad case of smallpox. There is, in my opinion, no way more likely to create everywhere the false impression that these small technical controversies we are now discussing are a severe case of smallpox rather than a light case of measles, as they are in fact, than to exploit them as has been done in your No. 225, paragraphs 8 and 9.

As stated in your No. 225 [226], a violent controversy would undoubtedly arise in the press which would becloud all of the matters of vastly greater importance upon which agreement has already been reached and would render much more difficult a final agreement in the Conference. This was fully discussed with the Prime Minister last evening and he raised no objection.

  1. Telegram in three sections.