500.A15A4/1142: Telegram

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

145. I am sending you herewith the final text of the statement which the President will give to the press tomorrow morning for release at 10:30 a.m., Washington time. This text, however, does not contain the portion beginning “for the information of our own countrymen”75 which was cabled to you in our 141, June 20, 11 p.m. This latter portion is not to be circulated or used by you but it will be included in the President’s statement tomorrow substantially unchanged.

I now understand that you intend to present the proposals included in this statement at the meeting of the General Commission at 4:30, Geneva time, tomorrow.

You will note that the second paragraph under “Naval Forces” refers to “various technical considerations” which will be presented by the delegation at Geneva. The important technical considerations referred to are:

The conditions as to cruiser reduction as set forth in our 141, June 20, 11 p.m., paragraph 3, beginning “As to cruiser strength”; and
As to submarines no nation whether a treaty power or not, shall retain a tonnage greater than 35,000 tons or retain a greater number than 40 submarines of which no vessel shall exceed 1,200 tons.

The manner for explaining these conditions is left to your discretion. You should bear in mind, however, that they are an integral [Page 212]part of our proposals and should be so explained in an amplification of the President’s proposals at the time you present the latter. Otherwise there may be occasion for misunderstanding.

While the President’s proposal is subject to the conditions as to cruisers contained in our 141, June 20, 11 p.m., if it would help MacDonald to know that we would undoubtedly be willing to accept eventually the procedure suggested in your 262,76 you may so inform him. Again while the limitations mentioned above in respect to submarines are also an integral part of our plan and I am not authorized to change them, I am personally inclined to believe that possibly if it would make it more easy of acceptance by MacDonald, our Navy Department might eventually accept a lower individual limit on the size of submarines.

As stated over the telephone, the two suggestions contained in your 266, June 21, 2 p.m. have not been adopted.

Immediately after your speech tomorrow afternoon, please telegraph the text of the amplifications you may have made of the President’s proposals.

The final text of the President’s statement is as follows:

“The delegations at the World Conference on Disarmament at Geneva are engaged in discussions as to methods by which more comprehensive efforts can be made toward disarmament.

The following is the substance of instructions which have been given by the President to the American delegation for guidance in the discussions which are now occupying them. They are published in order that the American people may be fully and accurately informed.77

‘The time has come when we should cut through the brush and adopt some broad and definite method of reducing the overwhelming burden of armament which now lies upon the toilers of the world. This would be the most important world step that could be taken to expedite economic recovery. We must make headway against the mutual fear and friction arising out of war armament which kill human confidence throughout the world. We can still remain practical in maintaining an adequate self-defense among all nations; we can add to the assurances of peace and yet save the people of the world from ten to fifteen billions of wasted dollars during the next ten years.

I propose that the following principles should be our guide:

  • First: The Kellogg-Briand Pact, to which we are all signatories, can only mean that the nations of the world have agreed that they will use their arms solely for defense.
  • Second: This reduction should be carried out not only by broad general cuts in armaments but by increasing the comparative [Page 213]power of defense through decreases in the power of the attack.
  • Third: The armaments of the world have grown up in general mutual relation to each other. And, speaking generally, such relativity should be preserved in making reductions.
  • Fourth: The reductions must be real and positive. They must effect economic relief.
  • Fifth: There are three problems to deal with—land forces, air forces and naval forces. They are all interconnected. No part of the proposals which I make can be disassociated one from the other.

Based on these principles, I propose that the arms of the world should be reduced by nearly one-third.

Land forces. In order to reduce the offensive character of all land forces as distinguished from their defensive character, I propose the adoption of the presentation already made at the Geneva conference for the abolition of all tanks, all chemical warfare and all large mobile guns. This would not prevent the establishment or increase of fixed fortifications of any character for the defense of frontiers and seacoasts. It would give an increased relative strength to such defenses as compared with the attack.

I propose furthermore that there should be a reduction of one third in strength of all land armies over and above the so-called police component.

The land armaments of many nations are considered to have two functions. One is the maintenance of internal order in connection with the regular peace forces of the country. The strength required for this purpose has been called the “police component”. The other function is defense against foreign attack. The additional strength required for this purpose has been called the “defense component”. While it is not suggested that these different components should be separated, it is necessary to consider this contention as to functions in proposing a practical plan of reduction in land forces. Under the Treaty of Versailles and the other peace treaties, the armies of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria were reduced to a size deemed appropriate for the maintenance of internal order, Germany being assigned 100,000 troops for a population of approximately 65,000,000 people.78 I propose that we should accept for all nations a basic police component of soldiers proportionate to the average which was thus allowed Germany and these other states. This formula, with necessary corrections for powers having colonial possessions, should be sufficient to provide for the maintenance of internal order by the nations of the world. Having analyzed these two components in this fashion, I propose as stated above that there should be a reduction of one third in the strength of all land armies over and above the police component.

Air forces. All bombing planes to be abolished. This will do away with the military possession of types of planes capable of attacks [Page 214]upon civil populations and should be coupled with the total prohibition of all bombardment from the air.

Naval forces. I propose that the treaty number and tonnage of battleships shall be reduced by one-third; that the treaty tonnage of aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers shall be reduced by one-fourth; that the treaty tonnage of submarines shall be reduced by one-third, and that no nation shall retain a submarine tonnage greater than 35,000.

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.79 The relative strength in cruisers, destroyers and submarines was fixed, as between the United States, Great Britain and Japan, by the Treaty of London.80 For the purposes of this proposal, it is suggested that the French and Italian strengthen cruisers and destroyers be calculated as though they had joined in the Treaty of London on a basis approximating the so-called accord of March 1, 1931.81

There are various technical considerations connected with these naval reductions which will be presented by the delegation at Geneva.

General. The effect of this plan would be to effect an enormous saving in cost of new construction and replacements of naval vessels. It would also save large amounts in the operating expense in all nations of land, sea and air forces. It would greatly reduce offensive strength compared to defensive strength in all nations.

These proposals are simple and direct. They call upon all nations to contribute something. The contribution here proposed will be relative and mutual. I know of nothing that would give more hope for humanity today than the acceptance 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. See footnote 82, p. 215.
  2. June 20, 9 p.m., p. 194.
  3. This sentence was omitted from the press release issued by the White House on June 22.
  4. See art. 160 of the Treaty of Versailles, Treaties, Conventions, etc., 1910–1923, vol. ii, pp. 3329, 3399.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247.
  6. Ibid., 1930, vol. i, p. 107.
  7. Ibid., 1931, vol. i, p. 380.