500.A15A5/589: Telegram

The Chairman of the American Delegation (Davis) to the Secretary of State


22. We had a discussion with the British delegation at the Admiralty this morning, following our meeting with the Japanese, at which we discussed future procedure after exchanging information on our conferences with the Japanese.

Although the Japanese had evidently been sent to London under strict and limited instructions, it would be unwise to press for speed or to attempt to come to any conclusions before the Christmas adjournment was the opinion of both delegations. The Japanese might refuse to enter into qualitative discussions after the holidays, if an attempt were made at this time to end quantitative discussions. The best procedure would be to permit a general discussion of the British proposal for limitation of programs, followed by a discussion of the French proposal for a pre avis,25 it was agreed. It is probable that these discussions would not be completed by December 20, and it would seem that the wisest course would be for the chairman to suggest, at an appropriate time in January, that inasmuch as the discussion of quantitative proposals appeared to have been exhausted for the time [Page 290]being, we should now consider other matters such as qualitative limitation without implying that the quantitative question had been disposed of by the Conference.

Since any discussion of programs is bound to lead back again to the ratio question, the British did not appear to have much hope as to the acceptance of their proposal by the Japanese. Notwithstanding, if the Japanese had come to a realization of the material difficulty of trying to achieve equality in fact with Great Britain and the United States and were seeking a way out which would save their faces, a solution might be found along the lines of limitation of programs which without specific ratios would enable the Japanese voluntarily to declare a building program in harmony with the relative strengths formulated.

Some kind of quantitative limitation might serve to make it easier for the Japanese to accept qualitative limitation was also brought out by the discussion. The British suggested, in this connection, that it would be unwise to let the Japanese think that Great Britain and the United States would not take the initiative in building larger and newer types of ships in any case. It might make the Japanese more tractable if we could let the idea get around that we would consider building new types, if there is no qualitative limitation.

The British were informed by Admiral Standley that the Panama Canal would not be an obstacle to building larger capital ships, and Lord Monsell25a stated that he thought it would be desirable to dispel any illusions on this score which might have been shared with the British by the Japanese.

The opinion was expressed by me that at a later date it would be well for the British and ourselves to inform the Japanese definitely that any change in the relative strengths through the action of one country would certainly be most disturbing to the other countries and that the United States and Great Britain would most certainly match any building done by the Japanese in such a way as to maintain the treaty proportions in force at this time.

  1. System of advance notification; The London Naval Conference, 1935, p. 98.
  2. First Lord of the British Admiralty and presiding officer of the Conference.