President Hoover to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: Please find enclosed herewith copy of the memorandum I read at Cabinet this morning. I am putting this forward only for your consideration.

Yours faithfully,

Herbert Hoover


In view of the continued economic degeneration of the world and of the ineffectiveness of accomplishment at the disarmament Conference, it may be desirable to consider a change in American policies in relation to this conference. It has been the well considered policy of the United States not to take the leadership of the conference because the problems are so essentially European, but to endeavor as a friend of all parties to secure that the governments primarily concerned should accept their real responsibilities and confine American activities to encouragement. The divisions and dissentions amongst them, the inability to get together on any constructive program; the economic situation in the world has become so much more acute, the need of the American people and the world generally for some lift in spirit. If it could be properly formulated some bolder constructive suggestion might help pull the world from this morass.

The world is spending $5,000,000,000 a year on armament, a large part of which is unnecessary for the maintenance of internal order. The balance is expended upon fears of invasion. I presume 2/3 of this sum would be totally unnecessary if the military forces of the world could be reduced to the minimum necessary for police forces. If such a thing could be brought about the governmental debt of the world could be discharged in 20 years from these savings alone.
Although we have made every human effort to curtail naval forces, we must recognize that the continuing naval strength of the leading powers is solely a relative matter and that it does bear some relation to the land armament (a solely European problem).
We have already suggested that statistically and for visualization purposes the police component of armies should be separated from the defense components. Standards have been set up by the disarmament conference which enables these calculations to be made in respect to each country using the standard set for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles as a basis of the police component. We have denominated the “defense component” as a matter of relativity. If we assume that any progress has been made through the Kellogg Pact49 and the League we can assume that the need for the defense component has diminished relatively among the governments possessing such components.
We have suggested that the world by agreement is now armed only for defense and as the dangers to the world are offensive action, therefore all major offensive weapons should be abolished which will render smaller defense components necessary and increase the potency of defense. It would also increase the importance of the Pact and the League processes of peace.
The question of naval relations to this problem has been raised. Our American Navy is about $1,000,000,000 in capital expenditure below parity with necessary early replacements. If we could secure a reduction of naval arms we could save this entire expenditure and make large savings in operation of forces at present maintained. If we were willing to take this step it is possible the British would also be willing. With ourselves and the British willing it is possible the Japanese might also join. Any step of this sort would of course involve a requirement that France and Italy should take part and such steps might in turn relieve demands upon France for large land forces and in turn relieve Italy for her forces in defense against France, etc.
As a result of these premises I am suggesting consideration of some proposal as follows:
Reduce by one-third the battleship strength of the world as now settled in the Washington and London naval treaties.50
Abolish all aircraft carriers.
Reduce cruiser strength provided for the three signatories of the London Treaty by one-third and require that France and Italy undertake no further construction of this category.
Reduce destroyer strength provided for the three signatories of the London Treaty by one-third and require that France and Italy make no increase in tonnage above present construction.
Abolish all submarines.
Abolish all military aviation except for scouting purposes.
Abolish all mobile land guns of more than 6-inch calibre.
Abolish all tanks.
Abolish poison gas.
Reduce defense component of all armies by one-third.

If such a program were announced with sincerity today it might give new hope and a new lift to the entire spirit of the world. For the Disarmament Conference to dissolve with a mere minor agreement will be a calamity. Civilization is seriously jeopardized by continuation of its present arms.

I recognize that armament is both a cause and effect of political instability and that while there are many points of political friction that need cure, yet they cannot be cured by any political agreements that the world is prepared to accept. But one of the contributions to cure is the dissolution of fear which haunts the world as a result of its massed armaments.

  1. Treaty for the Renunciation of War, Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 153.
  2. For text of the Washington treaty, see ibid., 1922, vol. i, p. 247; for text of the London treaty, see ibid., 1930, vol. i, p. 107.