500.A15a3/25: Telegram

The Ambassadors in Great Britain and Belgium (Dawes and Gibson) to the Secretary of State


168. With reference to your telegram No. 150, June 21, 3 p.m., suggesting that we offer recommendations concerning what steps we [Page 133] consider would be most effective at the present time to carry the work forward, our opinion is that the next logical step would be to convene a meeting of non-technical Governmental representatives to consider this matter. Until the various special needs, obligations and worries of each of the five naval powers have been discussed and dealt with in a broad manner, we run the risk of striking a deadlock on purely technical questions before arriving at a discussion of the broader field upon which we must reach an agreement. From our point of view it would seem advisable that some other power should take this next step. Should we take the initiative it might be interpreted as our insistence, in the face of indifference on the part of other Governments, of consideration of our proposals. Both the Italian and French Governments may be safely eliminated as they will hardly take any initiative and therefore the choice lies between the Governments of Great Britain and Japan. Should the suggestion of the meeting be made by the British Government, it would have the advantage both in Great Britain and in the United States of showing a spontaneous desire to proceed with consideration of proposals made by us. Moreover, should the French prove obstructive they will have to justify their attitude not to the United States but to the British Government which would have a distinctive advantage from our viewpoint. While the French may prove somewhat obstructive, this attitude, if careful attention is given to the form of invitation, may be made more difficult for them. In this connection, the Department will recall that the French Government refused an invitation to the naval conference held in Geneva in 1927, on the ground that the League of Nations should be the sole agency to deal with all disarmament matters. Should agreement grow out of these propositions, incidentally, it is hard to see on what grounds the French Government could demand that these discussions be deliberately delayed until the Preparatory Commission should take general action on the question. If the invitation made it clear that the French proposal of 1927 for methods of naval limitation was to be used as a basis of discussion, French obstructiveness could be rendered still more difficult.

Some of the French naval experts, at least so I understand, express doubt as to whether a method applicable to France and Italy can be found in our suggestions. They also indicate their belief that it is possible to discover some other method which would meet their problem with Italy. The French might be told that so long as this solution keeps them within limits which cause no misgivings to the British Government the three principal naval powers would not object to a different method being adopted by them. Agreement between the five naval powers upon the two methods and their application to the different groups is, of course, desirable. Should the French and Italians decline to negotiate you may still feel that we could well go [Page 134] ahead in an endeavor to bring about an understanding among the three other powers. The British would probably object to a rigid agreement under such conditions on the ground that they could not bind themselves without having some knowledge as to the intentions of the French. The political clause which we suggested in 1927, as outlined hereinafter, might be used to meet such reasonable misgivings on the part of the British.

The following is a rough summary of our suggestions:

A proposition to be made upon the initiative of Great Britain or Japan providing for the appointment of a civilian commission on naval disarmament, on which commission the five governments would be represented by two members each.
The government which makes the proposal should, in transmitting its suggestion to the five nations, recommend that the suggestions of the United States should govern the conference regarding methods of negotiation.
It should be made clear by the proposing government that in this conference, participated in by the five naval powers, it should be thoroughly understood that the first objective would be the full and informal exchange of views which the representatives of the five interested nations agreed upon last month as a necessary preliminary to further profitable endeavor. A treaty providing for a program of naval reduction covering all the navies represented would, of course, be the ultimate endeavor. The conclusion of such a treaty might be a logical outcome if the work progressed satisfactorily. If a longer time was needed for the consideration of the application of the principle to any particular nation or nations, any of the remaining nations in consultation with the other members of the commission would be free to consider treaties between themselves provided a reduction of their armaments was the purpose of such a treaty.
As we suggested at Geneva in 1927, the treaty might include a provision under which, if the building program of a nonsignatory power assumes such proportions as to give concern to one of the signatories, the latter would have the right to summon a three-power conference for the purpose of examining the situation and, if unable to secure satisfactory agreement with the nonsignatory power, to relieve itself from the obligations of the treaty within a fixed period; such a provision however would only be inserted in case a treaty for naval reduction should result from the conference which involved less than all the nations there represented.

A treaty for naval reduction executed by the three principal powers alone under the above general arrangement and after full consideration and consultation with the other powers, would be feasible without awaiting a possibly delayed agreement between Italy and France which are concerned with their own questions of relativity primarily. Should these countries, that is, Italy and France, not desire to reduce their navies or settle the question of their relativity, it would seem to be of no disadvantage to them either collectively or separately in case an agreement is reached between the [Page 135] three great naval powers regarding their own problems of naval reduction. If these two countries did not join in the desired treaty covering the five powers, questions of the result of an unrestricted construction program on their part and its relation to the whole question would have to be taken into consideration. A present forward step in naval reduction could not be endangered by delays over the question of Italian and French relativity by the proposition outlined above.

It would appear that the chances for success would depend to a large extent upon initiative at this time and the adoption of the right methods of procedure. The statesmen could begin their general discussions while the technicians were preparing the yardstick under such an arrangement. At the present time a most favorable atmosphere exists between the three principal naval powers as concerns a settlement based on general principles in the near future, and conversations concerning the technical yardstick proceeding concurrently will not preclude a discussion of this more important matter. Taking into consideration the importance of action while general psychology is so favorable, we should not delay too long the work of building the house when we may lose the impulse as well as the essential material for its construction by awaiting too long the completion of the minor implements of internal measurements, yardsticks, carpenter’s squares, and so-forth and so-forth. While these tools must be employed before the house is completed they are not necessarily important in the first steps of construction. However, the whole enterprise from the beginning must be decorated with the background of the concurrent use and consideration of technical naval opinion, we all understand, as this is especially desirable for its influence upon public opinion, including that of congresses and parliaments to whom we must sell the house under construction.

Foregoing is our attempt to express our interpretation of what has been said from time to time by President Hoover during the discussions of this naval question.

Dawes and Gibson