500.A15A4/1075½

The Under Secretary of State (Castle) to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary: You asked me to think over and tell you what I thought of the proposal you told me yesterday the President was anxious to make in regard to naval reduction. In the light of all that is going on in Geneva, I must say that I can see certain advantages in it. There must, of course, be no question of sacrifices on our part which are not equally shared by others. Any suggestion, therefore, of a 30% reduction in navies, proportional in the cruiser as well as the battleship class, would have to be contingent on drastic reductions in land armament on the part of the non-naval nations. You will have noted that the French and British did not support our delegation on the aircraft carrier resolution of Japan.52 They merely abstained from voting and negative action of this kind will not prevent the Conference from lopping off here and there arms which we consider necessary, leaving us at the end opposed to any treaty which may be drawn up. Furthermore, we have always professed our willingness further to reduce our navy provided that ratios throughout are maintained. If we oppose, as we must, piecemeal action of the kind now going on, since it weakens our relative position should we not, unless we have a positive proposal to make, stand in the light of being merely obstructionists?

It is quite true that such a proposal would stand little chance of getting anywhere, but would it not be better to leave the onus on Japan rather than on the United States? In the Washington Conference we made success inevitable by showing our own willingness [Page 186]to make sacrifices, conditional always on proportional sacrifices from others. (I always felt that we took rather more than our share) and I think that it might well be better for us to take a similar attitude now, insisting however on equal cuts by the others in naval and/or land armament, than to be maneuvered into the position of refusing what the others may have agreed to.

There may be nothing in Baldwin’s suggestion of doing away with battleships53 as he may not have known of your talk with MacDonald. On the other hand, the abolition of the battleship, which would again make Great Britain mistress of the seas, would be a popular Tory policy. Furthermore, Baldwin, if he had learned from MacDonald that it was our navy which had protected Britain in the Far East, would hardly have suggested the sinking of our battle fleet unless he was willing to do his own protecting by sending British ships to the Far East. But again this would be a popular Tory policy. As long as MacDonald is at the helm we shall probably have no more of Baldwin’s ideas, but if anything happens to MacDonald we might have a counter plan in mind so that we shall not be alone with Japan in opposing reduction.

Personally, of course, I should prefer to have naval discussions put off until 1935, when we may have a better bargaining point—if Congress does not lie down on us altogether. Of course, what the President wants also is something which will clearly show a real reduction in expenses here as well as elsewhere. Is not that something which simply must be accomplished?

W. R. Castle, Jr.
  1. On February 22, the Japanese delegation suggested the total abolition of aircraft carriers provided the fitting of aircraft landing platforms or decks on other naval vessels was also prohibited. In the meeting of the Naval Commission on April 27, Hirosi Saito of the Japanese delegation proposed the selection of these vessels as aggressive weapons. (League of Nations, Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Geneva, 1932, Conference Documents, vol. i, p. 143 (Official No: Conf. D. 94.); Records.… Series D, vol. ii (Minutes of the Naval Commission), pp. 29 ff.)
  2. See telegram No. 169, May 13, 4 p.m., from the Ambassador in Great Britain, p. 121.