500.A15A4/1130: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Acting Chairman of the American Delegation (Gibson)

136. I am sending you a rough draft of a public statement which the President is considering making in the immediate future. He desires to talk with you about it on the telephone tomorrow Sunday after you have received it, in order, if possible, not to embarrass the delegation in the conferences which are proceeding in Geneva. He thinks some strong leadership immediately necessary, principally to forestall the danger that participants in the Lausanne Conference54 [Page 187]may put up to this country a demand for relief from debts which is not really defensible in the light of Europe’s armament expenditure.

Please wire me immediately when this is received and hold yourself and Davis in readiness to discuss the matter with the President when called on the telephone.

The statement is as follows:

“The time has come when we should cut through the brush and adopt some concrete method of reducing the overwhelming burden of armament which now lies upon the toilers of the world. Not only does economic recuperation depend upon meeting this problem positively but the state of international fear and friction which contributes to the loss of confidence throughout the world must have remedy. I believe it practicable to cut the expenditure of the world for arms by at least ten billions of dollars during the next ten years.

“I have therefore instructed the American delegation at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament to lay the following proposal before the Conference in the name of the United States. This program has been approved by the members of the American delegation to the conference. It has been approved by the Secretaries of State, War and the Navy, by the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Operations of the Navy.

“If the Kellogg-Briand Pact means anything it means that nations have agreed that they will use their arms only for defensive purposes. The purpose of this proposal is therefore to reduce the armament of the world to a defensive basis. The armaments of the world are relative to each other and we propose to maintain that relativity.

Land Armament. The land armaments of the world have two purposes: One is the maintenance of internal order as a supplement to police forces. This portion may be called the police component. The other is the military strength necessary for defense against external enemies which may be defined as the defense component.

“Under the Treaty of Versailles the German army was reduced to an army denominated as the force required for the maintenance of internal order.55 Under its terms Germany was assigned 100,000 troops for a population of approximately 65,000,000 people. I propose therefore that we should accept a force of soldiers proportionate to that allowed Germany under the Treaty of Versailles as being sufficient for the police component of each nation, with such variations as may be necessary for preservation of order in colonial possessions, or to equalize the relative weight of different types of troops. The excess number of troops now maintained by each nation in the world after deducting a police component thus calculated, will be the defense component of each. Having denominated these two components in this fashion I propose that there should be a reduction of 33 1/3 per cent in the strength of all land armies over and above [Page 188]the police component. The numerical strength of the American army is already less than this police component. In order, however, to reduce the offensive character of all armies I propose that there should be adopted the proposals already made at the Geneva conference: that is to say, for the abolition of all tanks, all chemical warfare, and all mobile guns of over 6-in. calibre. This proposal would not limit the establishment of fixed fortifications of any character on frontiers and seacoasts. It would give increased relative strength to such defenses. The American army will make these sacrifices along with the other nations of the world.

Aviation. All military aviation except observation planes at sea to be abolished. This will do away with bombing and other types of planes capable of offensive action and attacks upon civil populations. Such reduction in aerial arms can not be accomplished without reduction of submarines to a defensive basis in respect to size and numbers.

Naval Arms. The relative strength of naval arms in battleships and aircraft carriers, as between the five leading naval powers was fixed by the Treaty of Washington. The relative strength in cruisers, destroyers and submarines was fixed as between the United States, Great Britain and Japan by the Treaty of London. At the time of the Treaty of London a discussion was conducted as to the Italian and French Governments who found themselves unable to agree as to their relative strength in these arms. For present purposes, I suggest that the naval strength of France and Italy be calculated at the figures as proposed in London.

I propose that battleships, aircraft carriers, etc. should be reduced by one third; that cruisers and destroyers be reduced by 20 per cent; that submarines shall be reduced proportionately in total tonnage and each submarine limited to 250 tons in size, thus rendering them a completely defensive weapon.

“In the category of cruisers it is proposed that the different nations shall have the option to retain their 80 per cent tonnage strength in any subcategory which they may select.

“The effect of this will be to save tremendous construction in replacement expense upon all nations. It will greatly reduce offensive strength and relatively increase defensive strength of all nations.

General. These proposals are simple and direct. They call upon all nations to sacrifice something. The sacrifices will be relative. I know of nothing that would give more hope for humanity today than the adoption of such a program with such minor changes as might be necessary. It is folly for the world to go on breaking its back over military expenditure and the United States is willing to take its share of responsibility by making definite proposals that will relieve the world.”

  1. For correspondence relative to the Lausanne Conference, see pp. 636 ff.
  2. See art. 160 of the treaty, Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, pp. 3329, 3399.