500.A15a3/150: Telegram

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


237. Your No. 254, August 31, 10 a.m., and succeeding telegrams relating to naval disarmament proposals.

In view of the revolutionary changes which are involved in the new proposals of the Prime Minister, we shall need to give reconsideration to the entire situation.
Mr. MacDonald’s proposal to scrap Hawkins class will be of great help in simplifying the problem, especially in presentation of it to the public. But his other proposals for the increase of British total tonnage and for the limitation of our 8-inch construction, the type to which our Navy is now committed, present a problem which to us frankly seems extremely difficult if not insoluble.
Mr. MacDonald thus abandons his previous proposal of seven new replacement, 6-inch ships and now proposes replacement program of fourteen new, 6,500 ton, 6-inch ships. By introduction of these fourteen new ships our previous discounts for age factor are entirely [Page 218] upset and discount to the British fleet is greatly diminished, reducing amount of allowable disparity between displacement tonnage of the two fleets. In place of the figures given in paragraph 3 of our 226, August 28, 9 p.m., for the British discount of 65,000 tons for a fifty-ship, 330,000 ton fleet we would now have a discount of only 51,000 tons for a 339,000 ton fleet whereby an evaluated British tonnage of about 287,866 tons instead of about 275,000 tons is left. The difference, therefore, between the American and British fleets after the application of the yardstick would be even greater than the mere 9,000 tons which has been added in their displacement tonnage to the difference.
His proposals to cut down the American fleet of large cruisers by five units present even greater difficulties. The American fleet by this proposal would be given a total of only twenty-eight units as against fifty units for the British fleet; a total of 250,000 displacement tons for the American fleet as against a total of 339,000 displacement tons for the British fleet or a disparity amounting to 90,000 displacement tons. To present anything approaching this to our public and Congress would be quite hopeless. The difficulties arising out of the desires of Japan and the attitude of the Dominions we recognize but on our side it is necessary for the Prime Minister to remember that the American policy of a 10,000 ton cruiser fleet has grown out of American needs for cruising radius which are quite as peremptory as the British peace time needs for police work which was presented so forcibly by the Prime Minister and which has been cheerfully recognized by us. The very foundation of this American large cruiser policy is cut by his present proposal.
He can see from this that he has confronted us with proposals which if they are capable of solution can only be solved after a thorough consultation with our Naval General Board and the basis of these negotiations entirely reconsidered. A week at least will be consumed for this and we feel that it is out of the question for us to formulate any reply which the Prime Minister can make the basis of a statement at Geneva. This cable is being sent hurriedly on account of his expressed desire to make such a statement concerning this. It is hoped that under the present conditions no statement will be made. Any statement which may lead to false hopes and baseless surmises in the press, we feel, will make even more difficult our difficulties in the ultimate Conference. This matter will be taken up by us with our Naval Board with the same earnest desire for an eventual agreement which has actuated us throughout but in all frankness the difficulties seem greater today than they have for a long time.