500.A15a3/621: Telegram

The Chairman of the American Delegation ( Stimson ) to the Acting Secretary of State


4. For the President and the Acting Secretary of State. My telegram No. 1, January 18, 1 p.m.2a Yesterday afternoon I had a conversation of about three and one-half hours with Prime Minister MacDonald. Of this time we spent two hours quite alone. The Prime Minister’s son was present for half an hour and Marriner and Craigie3 joined us for the last three-quarters of an hour. As a result of the Parliamentary session the Prime Minister appeared tired. He said to me that he had never known any day whether or not before the day’s session was over he might not find himself out of office.

He agreed with me that if the heads of the delegations were allowed to constitute a steering committee that would be the best system, but that the fact that Tardieu4 wanted to bring Briand5 with him to the first meeting to discuss the subject somewhat complicated this. Furthermore, it appears likely that should Tardieu be wanted back in France, Briand might be agreed upon as the head of the delegation. The matter has been left in abeyance until other delegations are heard from, although I said I would be quite willing to come alone even if France brought two.

The Japanese, the Prime Minister said, had been very stiff in demanding a 10–10–7 ratio. Admiral Takarabe6 was very firm indeed, although he felt that Wakatsuki7 appeared somewhat more conciliatory. I told him that if a treaty which started out with a condition precedent of such a ratio for Japan were submitted to the American Senate, I felt that there was no possibility of its being accepted. I pointed out that Japan would be more reluctant to allow any treaty to be made without them which might make it possible for Great Britain and the United States to build against them fully two to one, and I also mentioned the financial difficulties of building in Japan at the present time. The Prime Minister agreed with me absolutely on the necessity for remaining stiff against this preliminary demand by Japan for 10–10–7. After Marriner and Craigie [Page 3] had joined us, somewhat later, we reverted to the question of possible face-saving clauses for the satisfaction of Japanese public opinion. The question of Japan’s financial necessities was again stressed by us, and we agreed that unless the battleship program were coupled with a simultaneous agreement on auxiliary vessels we would not consent to its alteration.

The French, the Prime Minister said, had been acting very badly in the whole matter, but they had become somewhat more conciliatory since his rather stiff answer to their last note. He said that with reference to the proposed Mediterranean Pact8 what France desired was a guarantee, which he could not give of course, nor would he be willing to enter into a treaty which would not embrace all the powers of the Mediterranean, including Yugoslavia and Spain. The Spanish Ambassador had told him, he said, that after the Conference had got under way, Spain could not be brought into it. I told him that if the French were satisfied with a consultative treaty I had a feeling that they might not stand out for an absolute guarantee. Then the Prime Minister told me that in the strictest confidence he would show me a draft which he had made on this subject and which was precisely in the form of the Pacific treaty between the four powers.9 I told him that I felt that the first article of that treaty as he adapted it might be just the ladder that the French would need to come down on.

After this we discussed the points causing the irritation of the French against the British: (1) the attitude of Snowden at The Hague;10 (2) the suspicion resulting from the visit to America of the Prime Minister;11 and (3) the about-face on the trained reserve question made by Cecil.12

Tardieu, I pointed out, had won a victory at The Hague, and as he felt reassured respecting the visit to Washington, the other items would be less troublesome. MacDonald also told me that he was prepared to concede the position on trained reserves, and that, in talking to Marriner, Craigie had supplemented this information by saying that this was a concession which they would not wish to make too early in the proceedings and at any rate certainly not before the Conference had opened.

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His discussion of Italy’s position he opened by saying that Italy was worse than France, and, as I expressed some surprise, he depicted Italy’s economic restlessness and her strong desire for colonies now in the possession of France. In the matter of French and Italian naval building, I told him that I felt, of course, quite disinterested except insofar as it might have reference to the British.

Before we began discussing the possibility of making economies in battleships, Craigie and Marriner had joined us.

The first economy suggestion was that replacements be postponed.

The second was that the units be reduced in size.

The third was that the number of units be reduced.

MacDonald said that while I was at sea he said almost exactly the same thing in a press statement and that, therefore, my statement of the case was almost telepathic. I had already seen an excerpt from it, I said, which stated that he would consent to a full holiday extending until 1936.

Then I offered him congratulations on the advances in this position from that which he had adopted while in Washington. He said that both politically and financially he regretted to have to do this but that this was a point on which he felt he must yield, although he was really worried by the industrial aspect of the matter. I have told him that I desired to warn him that probably we would not be able to go along with Great Britain regarding the question of reduction in size of ships, particularly during the period of transition, and that it was our opinion that not much economy would result from it. The question of the reduction we felt should be by numbers; he said that the British Admiralty, in his opinion and Craigie’s, would agree to a reduction in numbers, and he further pointed out that he had been told by the Japanese that if numbers were reduced they would expect an addition to their ratio. It might be dangerous, I pointed out, to reduce the difference in strength existing between battleship fleets and other war vessels, especially with regard to the three main naval powers, and in this matter he said that he felt that there was a practical identity of interests between the United States and Great Britain.

The conversation was most friendly in its whole tone, and I feel that from the British delegation we will have a full measure of cooperation.

  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Not printed.
  3. R. L. Craigie, head of the American Department of the British Foreign Office.
  4. André Tardieu. President of the French Council of Ministers and chief of the French delegation.
  5. Aristide Briand, French Minister for Foreign Affairs and member of the delegation.
  6. Japanese Minister of Marine and member of the delegation.
  7. Reijiro Wakatsuki, chief of the Japanese delegation.
  8. See the French memorandum of December 20, 1929, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, p. 299.
  9. Treaty signed at Washington, December 13, 1921, ibid., 1922, vol. i, p. 33.
  10. Philip Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer and head of the British representation at the international conference held at The Hague, August 6 to 31, 1929. See Great Britain, Cmd. 3392, Misc. No. 5, (1929): Protocol With Annexes Approved at the Plenary Session of the Hague Conference, August 31, 1929; also Cmd. 3417, Misc. No. 7 (1929): International Agreement on the Evacuation of the Rhineland Territory.
  11. See Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. iii, pp. 1 ff.
  12. Viscount Cecil of Chelwood. See League of Nations, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 78, “Records of the Tenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly, Minutes of the Third Committee (Reduction of Armaments),” p. 72.