500.A15A4/1173: Telegram

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

274. The private conversations between American, British and French delegations have been continuing. For description of conversations of the June 20 see our 263, June 20, noon [midnight].95 In view of press of other matters in connection with President’s plan have not reported in detail our conversations of the 21st, 22nd and 23rd but this cable will cover all important points raised by these meetings.

We would be glad to have Department’s views since these questions will arise in the pending private conversations in connection consideration of the President’s plan.

Has Department any comments to make on the recommendations of the Committee on Chemical and Bacteriological warfare (see Conference Document 12096). As you will see from our 263 this report was approved at private meeting of June 20 in which we concurred as we found the report acceptable.
Can we accept any maximum limit of unladen weight for airplanes? See our 218, May 27, 9 p.m.97 In connection with such determination the following hypotheses might be considered:
If bombardment aviation is eliminated and we had a numerical limitation permitting us to retain approximately 250 transport [Page 229]and flying boat types a maximum limit of unladen weight around 1800 kilograms might be accepted without affecting plans for planes other than bombers.
If it proved impossible to obtain total abolition of aerial bombardment we would presumably desire a much higher limit for unladen weight than suggested under (a). The British and French have tentatively suggested maximum unladen weight of 3 tons provided that exceptions are made in particular to allow of maintenance of troop carrying transports and flying boats. Further, if total abolition not accepted would Department consider acceptance following formula tentatively discussed in our meeting:

“All kinds of aerial bombardment shall be prohibited at a distance of more than (blank) kilometers from the front except in the case of air bases and long range gun emplacements, such prohibition to be applicable as between the high contracting parties. The front should be defined as the line where the two military forces are in contact in time of war. The following provision should apply to bombing by naval air craft: ‘Prohibition aerial bombardment on the coast inland of a zone (blank) kilometers wide, except in the case of air bases and batteries of artillery, aerial bombardment within this zone of (blank) kilometers being subject to the provisions concerning bombardment by naval forces contained in convention 9 of The Hague.98 Extension to the air arm of the conventions governing the conduct of naval forces in regard to hospital ships and neutral or enemy merchant vessels (conversations [conventions] 1099 and 111 of The Hague)’”. (This definition of naval bombardment proposed by the French not yet accepted by the British).

What basis for numerical restriction of aircraft would be approved? This question obviously presents great difficulties since Great Britain will refuse to accept any limit lower than that of France and we would naturally refuse to [accept?] inferiority in this branch vis-à-vis Great Britain. Attitude of Japan in this regard must also be considered.

Concerning artillery, the French have presented a memorandum stating that they cannot place confidence in making a distinction between fixed and mobile artillery inasmuch as fixed artillery can be rendered mobile. They are willing to fix a maximum calibre of artillery to be used in the formation of field forces. Below this limit they will consider no limitation other than that of expenditure. They [Page 230]will accept a limitation above this figure and scrap any guns which exceed in calibre the maximum set for naval forces. Between the minimum thus set and the maximum (equal to naval maximum) they will accept numerical limitation holding such material subject to special regulations notably with relation to fixed emplacement as well as supervision by the League and availability to the League. They add that as far as numbers are concerned they will accept limitation at their existing numbers.

Concerning tanks, they have suggested a limit around 30 tons but have not made clear as to whether they will scrap tanks of superior tonnage or treat them as they propose to treat big guns above the minimum limit.

On the morning of June 22nd the subject of limitation of expenditures was discussed and the discussion finished on the morning of the 23rd. It was decided to agree upon the matters that must be discussed although these subjects have not been considered or approved by any of the three governments and the position of the United States that it considered limitation of expenditure as complementary to direct limitation of material was made abundantly clear. It was taken for granted that any limits of expenditure should be based upon the figures to be determined according to the rules which are framed by the budgetary committee of the Preparatory Commission, rules destined to prevent the concealment of items of military expenditure under different budget headings. It was likewise taken for granted that any limitation should apply to army, navy and air expenditure as a whole and most important of all that it should apply to the figures of present expenditure (that is to say, the expenditure of the present fiscal year). This was intended to cover the situation presented by the fact that practically all governments are making stringent reductions in their next budget. It was proposed that the reduction should be a specified percentage from the expenditure of the present year, this figure to be fixed at a later stage when the various reductions of armaments to be effected by the convention could be envisaged as a whole. The following exceptions were listed:

—Nations which could show to the satisfaction of the Permanent Disarmament Commission that they had within the last 5 years effected reductions in expenditure might be entitled to count these reductions toward the required percentage.
—Any expenditure for new construction necessitated to reach the ratios of naval powers as provided by the London and Washington Treaties2 should not be subject to the required reduction.
—Expenditure upon permanent fortifications not including their artillery shall not be subject to reduction.
—Provision shall be drawn to cover unforeseen emergencies in something of the form proposed by article 50 of the draft convention, and a further provision shall be prepared to meet the contingency of great changes in price due to the fluctuations in the purchasing power of money in accordance with the proposals of the budgetary committee. It should likewise be matter for consideration how the provisions of article 10 of the draft convention relating to special reduction in expenditure upon land material should be taken up.

We insisted that article 10 of the draft convention was highly important to us and indeed indispensable to our acceptance of any form of limitation of expenditure.

The question on which we would like your views is whether under these conditions and foreseeing the need for expenditure to reach treaty levels you are willing to envisage a global budgetary limitation under conditions set forth above. It is clear from our conversations here that nearly all the nations of the world will desire and press for a global limitation of expenditure and it appears to us that if our naval requirements are adequately taken care of we should agree. Furthermore the reduction which the United States is making in the coming year would probably more than cover any percentage that could possibly be agreed on.

On the afternoon of June 23rd the three powers discussed part 6 of the draft convention. In general this part proved acceptable to all. Senator Swanson raised the point that the competence of the Permanent Disarmament Commission should be enlarged to study and present plans for future disarmament conferences. It was agreed that provision for such studies should be made.

The only exception taken to the provisions of this article was that of the French who were vigorously insistent that they had accepted part 6 when they believed that limitation and reduction would take place under the terms of the draft convention. Now however that qualitative disarmament has been injected into the discussions they felt it would be imperative to add to the provisions of this section some method of local investigation. The French were most insistent that without such provisions there could be absolutely no qualitative disarmament. Their idea is that each state should have the right to bring a complaint under article 52 of the draft convention and that the Disarmament Commission should decide whether the complaint is justifiable and if so order, if it deems best, investigation on the spot. We expressed very vigorously our difficulties and it was finally left that the French should draft a text on this subject bearing in mind the difficulties of the public opinion in America and Great Britain.

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During this discussion the French also raised the point that they are very anxious to obtain a convention on the private manufacture of arms and said that there might be a possibility of a system similar to that provided in the narcotic treaty.3

  1. Telegram in four sections.
  2. Ante, p. 178.
  3. Conference Documents, vol. i, p. 210.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Convention respecting bombardment by naval forces in time of war, signed at The Hague, October 18, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. ii, p. 1225.
  6. Convention for adaptation to naval war of the principles of the Geneva Convention (1906), signed at The Hague, October 18, 1907, ibid., p. 1229.
  7. Convention relative to certain restrictions with regard to the exercise of the right of capture in naval war, signed at The Hague, October 18, 1907, ibid., p. 1236.
  8. For text of the Washington treaty, see Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247; for text of the London treaty, see ibid., 1930, vol. i, p. 107.
  9. Convention for limiting the manufacture and regulating the distribution of narcotic drugs, signed at Geneva, July 13, 1931, Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. i, p. 675.