Memorandum by the Secretary of State

I find it difficult to write this memorandum because I have so much sympathy with the purpose of that of the President, but I feel so strongly that the method proposed by the President’s memorandum will defeat his own purpose that I feel it is necessary to enumerate my reasons for that feeling.

1. The opening paragraph is, in part at least, based on the assumption that it is possible to so dramatize a proposal that we can stimulate into action the European nations chiefly now struggling with the problems at Geneva. I am obliged entirely to disagree with this assumption. First, in the present situation, both here and in Europe, I think it is impossible to dramatize the problems of the Conference so as to project the compelling influence of a proposal across the frontiers of Europe and produce action there. Even in this country the people are so much more interested in other troubles at present that I doubt very much whether this Conference could be dramatized so as to hold their interest. This was the very strong opinion of Arthur W. Page when I consulted him on my return from Europe. It was the key-point of his analysis of the situation.

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2. Apart from very few circles of organized pacifists, I do not believe that a reduction of our Navy will be popular per se. They naturally want to get a good navy as cheaply as possible, but they want a good navy.

3. A proposal to further sacrifice our Navy would not, even indirectly, affect the problems of Germany, France and Italy. It is true our Navy affects the British Navy and it is true that the British Navy affects France, but this proposal would not change the British Navy so as to relieve France. France’s tender spot is the ferriage from Africa to Marseille. This spot is now controlled by the British Navy and under any possible reduction will continue to be controlled by the British Navy. Britain still absolutely insists upon the two to one power ratio in respect to the Mediterranean. So long as she does that and retains Malta and Gilbraltar, the British Navy will control France’s tender spot and nothing that we can do will affect France. In no other point does our armament touch or affect that of Europe at all and experience has unfortunately shown that the mere moral effect of a fine example by America will not lead European nations, immersed in their own political rivalries, to disarm.

4. The President says “for the Disarmament Conference to dissolve with a mere minor agreement will be a calamity.” If by this he means universal agreement of limitation, even those accompanied by only slight reductions, I do not agree. Experience has shown that by such partial steps only can nations progress towards disarmament and the principal one of such partial steps is a complete restriction of competition in armament which would be accomplished by such a general agreement. Experience has also shown that each such step leads to another and that the removal of the suspicion and rivalry, which is attendant upon competition, is one of the most effective steps toward further progress.

5. I believe the present Conference is now working towards such a general agreement of limitation and that it will eventually accomplish it. My visit to Geneva convinced me that the best method of promoting that progress was by helpful private discussion and not by dramatization or publicity. The quiet pressure of poverty is producing a gradual movement in that direction and I think the thing to do is to quietly help and stimulate rather than to try to drive it. The report of Norman Davis of the conference with Herriot 51 contained literally astonishing instances indicating hopeful possibilities. MacDonald is on better terms with Herriot than he was with Tardieu which will greatly help the process.

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On the other hand, it would be comparatively easy by the other method to provoke violent reactions by the corrupt and controlled French press. This would tend to set the process backward.

6. Of all the possible things that we could do, the one that I believe would most effectually help the gradual process towards an agreement now going on, would be the announcement I have already suggested to the President in respect to the Kellogg Pact and our action in case of a struggle between a combined Europe and an aggressor nation. Such an announcement may not be a political possibility but, after experience in two European disarmament conferences, I have no doubt or question as to the effect it would have. If nothing more, it would give certain proud, stubborn nations an opportunity to back down without losing their face. I append an itemized summary of comment as to the ten concrete proposals of the President.

H[enry] L. S[timson]
  • Proposal One. It would not be accepted either by Great Britain or Japan. It would be regarded as a mere gesture. It would reduce our own Navy beyond Admiral Pratt’s minimum, which was twelve battleships. If we made it, it would return at awkward moments hereafter to plague us.
  • Proposal Two. This aggravates the one distinct superiority which the technique of our Navy has obtained over all others and the one in which our Navy now places the most confidence.
  • Proposal Three. I see some real possibilities in this proposal so far as our own Navy is concerned, but I fear it would not be accepted by any of the European Navies, from Great Britain down.
  • Proposal Four. Action under this is directly dependent upon proposal five, which is quite impossible.
  • Proposal Five. Japan and France have already absolutely vetoed this and in that action are supported by all poorer or smaller powers.
  • Proposal Six. This excludes observation of gunfire which is the art in which our own Navy is most proficient.
  • Proposals Seven, Eight and Nine. These proposals have already been made by the American Delegation.
  • Proposal Ten. We have put forward the President’s proposal as a formula telling the French and the other nations that it was done in a spirit of helpfulness to provide a method by which they could reduce to the extent which hereafter they may find themselves able to agree. By so doing, we avoided an appearance of dictation which had already shown its explosive possibilities. As a result of the way [Page 185]in which we put this forward, the French General Staff has examined it sympathetically and has notified us of their substantial approval. I fear that to even suggest an actual ratio of reduction will lose this benefit. They feel that the suggestion should come from them and I think we will more surely get it by giving them a chance to make it.
H[enry] L. S[timson]
  1. Memorandum by Mr. Norman H. Davis of a conversation with M. Edouard Herriot, May 22, p. 132.