500.A15a3/26: Telegram

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


160. Reference your telegram No. 171, June 26, and your telegrams Nos. 168 and 169, June 25, 1929. It is not believed by the President and myself that it is at all feasible to hold a conference for any final action on reduction of armament at the present time. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • First. Should any conference be called now with powers to examine naval disarmament in all its phases including those phases which are technical, it is likely that the opposition of the naval experts in all countries to any conclusions arrived at will be aroused. This would operate to add to the burdens of ratification dangerously.
  • Second. Our naval experts are not yet prepared to present their final views and we must be ready to digest thoroughly the technical questions. It is necessary to convince the naval experts that reduction can go further than they at present think so we must have the time to do so.
  • Third. The door would be left open for criticism for lack of preparation for this conference. The last conference was generally the target of such criticism.

However, it appears to us that it would greatly contribute to the solution of our difficulties and would seem to accord with Mr. Mac-Donald’s views to have a preliminary nontechnical consultation of representatives strictly limited to examining certain broad questions of general policy. As a basis of any consultation as well as of the final conference it is assumed by us that the Government of Great Britain agrees with us accepting the general principle of parity between [Page 138] both our navies as axiomatic. On this point we would like to have an assurance. You should state frankly if it were declined that from our point of view no purpose would be served by a consultation.

We would suggest then if the Government of Great Britain agrees with us as to this point that the following questions be considered by a preliminary consultation to be held by representatives of the five powers:

Let the technical questions which are to be submitted to the experts in development of methods for ascertaining comparative naval strength be enumerated.
In order to consider whether or not the ultimate conference should deal with the whole gamut of naval strength or only with particular categories such as cruisers for instance, it is our desire that the ultimate conference should discuss the categories covered by the Washington treaty as well and deal with the entire question of all kinds of combatant ships.
The problem as to whether there should be actual reduction of present or authorized construction or merely limitation which will result in the construction programs being completed. Feeling strongly that the conference must result in reduction we believe that this can be done equably among the powers.
The problem of relative strength which will meet Japanese needs and also the problems of Italy and France. In case it were impossible to secure agreement with Italy and France, this fact, if developed at the consultation, would also probably determine whether they should be members of the final conference or whether it would be limited to Great Britain, Japan and the United States.

When these and possibly other questions have been settled and with the questions which are to be addressed to the naval experts determined upon, after an interval of some time for preparation and consideration the final conference, we believe, could then be called with the prospects of success immensely increased. The preliminary consultation in London would be favored by us but the location of the final conference must, it seems to us, rest naturally at our option since the movement was initiated from this country. At the present time we are not prepared to say finally whether it would be more desirable to have the conference in the United States or in some other country.

However, we wish to impress upon you strongly that there would need to be solely a preliminary consultation called for the consideration of limited and agreed questions, otherwise we are convinced that such haste is likely to bring disaster and to prevent success in ultimate and complete form. It is also felt that success from the British point of view, in view of the political balance of power, is dependent upon the Prime Minister being able to carry with him certain other strength and that if by hasty action he should have the complete opposition of the British Admiralty and should not have prepared the way carefully his defeat would not be unlikely. Such a contingency, you must realize, might not be altogether undesirable to him as an [Page 139] issue in his present precarious political position and might make him ready to take chances which we should not wish to bear. It is borne in mind that the British position vis-à-vis the League of Nations may necessarily influence them in the form of invitations which they are preparing to make.