The Chairman of the American Delegation (Stimson) to the Acting Secretary of State
[Received 7:20 p.m.14]
16. For the President and the Acting Secretary of State. Tardieu, Briand, MacDonald, Henderson,15 and Morrow dined with me on Tuesday evening. The French had as their interpreter Paul Mantoux.16 The British Prime Minister said he considered it desirable to know what matters were to be discussed at the plenary session today and in the meantime what progress we could make. He was turning over in his mind whether it would not be desirable that the respective delegations hold separate meetings, as for example, between Japan and the United States, between Japan and Great Britain, between Great Britain and the United States, or between France and Italy.
France, Tardieu stated, favored both reduction and limitation of armament but felt that further limitation was the pathway to reduction. It was felt by Henderson that disappointment would result if reduction could not be achieved and that a bolder policy of reduction should be aimed for by the Conference at the outset. This was agreed to in not quite such strong terms by MacDonald. It was suggested by Tardieu that if we should use the present programs of the various Governments as a basis, making it clear that the Conference would result in a reduction in the programs as distinguished from reduction of existing navies, this would be a beginning of reduction of armament. The question of ratios and its consequent concomitant of prestige arose later in the evening. It appeared, I said, that because minds were fixed on prestige, programs were apt to be large. It was pointed out by me that possibly this desire might be satisfied in either one of two ways, by raising the ratios or by a change in the nature of the contract. The dangers inherent in the first method were then pointed out by me, that is, that reduction on the one hand would be prevented by it and antagonisms on the other aroused by it.
The method which I had discussed with the President was then suggested by me, that is, to avoid all implications of contractual inferiority by merely setting out programs which could not be departed from without a notice say of one year and without giving sufficient reason therefor, thus releasing the other signatories from [Page 7] their corresponding programs. The French seemed to consider this suggestion as helpful and I am informed that Tardieu privately said he considered their difficulties might be solved by my proposed second method. I was informed by Hankey17 on the following day that he was urging this method upon the Prime Minister as for a long time he had been convinced that it would be the ultimate solution.
I conferred yesterday with the Prime Minister concerning agenda of today’s plenary session and informed him that I did not propose to set out a long and detailed argumentation for the maintenance of a large navy and that I hoped that he and the other nations would do likewise as it did not seem wise to me to dig in behind any set statement of needs and the reasons why they should be adopted. This was not agreed to altogether by him as I believe the political effect of some patriotic statement of Britain’s dependence on the sea was valued by him at this time. Mr. Wakatsuki, upon whom I subsequently called, agreed to the limitation of his statement to generalities. This was done by him. The statement of the Italians was likewise based on the point of view that no reduction could be too great and that naval needs were relative. It was still apparently considered politically necessary by the French that a detailed statement be made by them.
There was no friction in this morning’s plenary session; the election of Sir Maurice Hankey as Secretary General and a decision that in case of absence of the Prime Minister the chair should be taken by the heads of the other delegations in the English alphabetical order completed the organization of the Conference. The policy suggested in the paragraph above was followed in the speeches. A very long exposé of French coast line area and commerce was read by Tardieu, who frequently stressed the point that these items for France were only exceeded by similar statistics for Great Britain, the United States and Japan. During most of Tardieu’s speech his manner was restrained and almost perfunctory, giving the impression that the effect at home was the essential object of his speech. He stated, however, in the last paragraph that any idea of absolute needs was necessarily modified by relative considerations such as a condition of naval agreement and security. The speech of the Italian delegate was moderate and conciliatory, only stating in principle that equality with the navy of the largest European continental power was the Italian need.