Memorandum of a Meeting of Representatives of the State, War, and Navy Departments 65

After a few words of welcome and evaluation of the results achieved at the first session of the General Disarmament Conference, [Page 323]Mr. Castle opened the discussion of preparations for future developments at Geneva, notably (a) the meeting of the Bureau next September, (b) the naval conversations and (c) the next session of the General Commission in January, 1933.

A. Bureau Meeting. On the question of American representation at the Bureau meeting, both the War and Navy Department representatives felt that the principal problems to be discussed would be of a political nature and that it would be unnecessary to have any technical experts attend. They thought that Mr. Wilson would be our logical representative. The naval question was out in any case since the naval conversations which presumably must precede discussion in the Bureau have been postponed until October at the British Foreign Minister’s request. As regards effectives—which both Service Departments regard as one of the two vital issues (naval tonnage being the other) General Simonds felt that Mr. Wilson had a sufficient grasp and understanding of the problem to handle it without technical assistance. While he might, if he desired, call upon one of the military attachés abroad, General Simonds considered that Mr. Wilson was more familiar with the subject than anybody whom the War Department now has in Europe. Colonel Strong emphasized that the primary difficulty in connection with effectives was political and that once an understanding had been reached on political lines, technical solutions would follow almost automatically.

Mr. Moffat explained that in discussions with him the other day, General Simonds and Colonel Strong had brought out three principal problems regarding effectives: (1) Consideration of the application of a sliding scale to police components rather than to defense components with a view to meeting the needs of the smaller powers (see memorandum of conversation between Mr. Moffat and Colonel Strong, August 11);66 (2) the question as to whether or not naval effectives should continue to be included in our effectives formula—on this point the Army and Navy representatives were in agreement as to the desirability of covering land effectives only; and (3) the question of the extra-cadre effectives such as the Schupo, Hitler Army, the Fascist Militia, etc. As regards the third point, Colonel Strong, on a question by Mr. Castle, stated that the National Guard was not affected as long as Article 4 of the draft convention67 is maintained.

In discussing the principal functions of the forthcoming Bureau meeting, it was brought out that as regards part 2 of the resolution [Page 324]of adjournment,68 the Bureau’s task was primarily one of acting as a drafting committee in preparing detailed texts embodying the various points already agreed on; as regards part 3, the Bureau’s job was on the contrary one of endeavoring to translate principles into actual agreements. From this point of view, Admiral Hepburn felt that the Bureau discussions would be of fundamental importance and would largely determine the subsequent success or failure of the full conference.

B. Naval Discussions. Asked by Mr. Moffat how he thought the naval conversations foreshadowed in the resolution of adjournment should be conducted, Admiral Hepburn said he thought that conversations should first and foremost take place between ourselves and the British, thereafter with the French and Italians and only in the third instance with the Japanese. In order not to antagonize the Japanese by seeming to leave them aside during these preliminary conversations, Admiral Hepburn suggested that, while carrying on our main discussions with the other naval powers, we might ask the Japanese to submit their own detailed proposals for an equitable naval reduction in order that we might have an idea of just what they would like to see done. He felt that if it were possible to bring about a prior understanding among the other four naval powers, the Japanese would be more likely to be reasonable in the face of complete isolation. In this respect, Admiral Hepburn thought it doubly important for us to come to a full and frank understanding with Great Britain in view of the fact that British policy in the recent past had frequently appeared divided against itself as regards Japan. In the course of the further discussion it was brought out that the Japanese at the conference were already out on a limb not only as regards the large powers but also as regard the small ones. They had shown themselves distinctly uncooperative on the naval commission, for example on such questions as exempt vessels and replacements.

Mr. Castle asked whether the British might not conceivably come to Washington for the naval conversations. Mr. Moffat stated that when this idea had first been talked over here, it had been felt preferable to await Admiral Hepburn’s return from Geneva before going into the problem of the naval conversations. Asked by Mr. Castle whether he would be prepared to go to England in the event that the discussions should take place there, Admiral Hepburn said that, being temporarily assigned to the General Board, he was at the State Department’s disposal for the time being.

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Mr. Moffat asked him whether he thought political or technical questions should predominate in these naval conversations. Admiral Hepburn said he thought the two should go hand in hand. He felt, however, that the whole matter would require detailed study and the reaching of important decisions in Washington before the subject was taken up with the British.

Mr. Rogers brought up the question as to just what is the British policy regarding cruisers. Admiral Hepburn explained that while they were quite willing to abolish eight-inch gun cruisers, their principal pre-occupation with respect to cruisers as a whole was numbers. At London they came down to some fifty-live cruisers as their minimum needs as compared with over seventy demanded at the Three Power Conference.69 They have since felt, however, that the London figure is too small and they are anxious to increase the number. On the basis of a flat general tonnage reduction, Admiral Hepburn thinks, however, that the British may be willing to stick to the number of units agreed upon at London but he does not consider that they will be willing to go any lower.

Admiral Hepburn added that one of the principal difficulties with the British as regards cruisers arises from the fact that we have insisted on treating all types of cruisers as one category whereas in fact the eight-inch gun cruiser undoubtedly constitutes a distinct category. If cruisers were limited to six-inch guns, he thought there would be no difficulty in arriving at an agreement with Great Britain for a straight tonnage reduction.

On battleships, the Admiral said, the British position is similar to that on cruisers. They are more interested in numbers than in tonnage and feel that a reduction to ten battleships would not meet their requirements for wide dispersal in different parts of the world. Admiral Hepburn said he could sympathize with the British attitude since he was inclined to think-that we also needed more than ten capital ships. On a question by Mr. Castle, the Admiral said he did not favor a reduction in unit tonnage for capital ships at the present time inasmuch as the country would undoubtedly not ratify it. He thought it might come some time in the future.

On the question of capital ship replacements, Admiral Hepburn pointed out that if matters are left standing as they are now until the expiration of the Washington and London naval treaties,70 the three principal naval powers will be faced with such a large contingent [Page 326]of overage battleships that it will be extremely difficult to find the wherewithal to provide new ones in their place. Even if their construction is spread over several years, the financial drain will be very great. This is one of the main reasons for Great Britain’s desire to reduce the unit tonnage since they feel that Parliament is more likely to maintain the present total of fifteen ships if the cost per vessel is thus cut down.

In reply to Mr. Rogers’ question as to the British attitude on aircraft carriers, Admiral Hepburn said there was a difference of opinion as to their value between the Air Force and the Admiralty.

Commander Kinkaid stated that he had been a little disturbed over the fact that nothing had been done in the Naval Commission toward getting the small naval powers into general limitation. He thought that this would have been the logical first step. One reason for bringing in the small naval powers would be that it would weaken the alliance value of small navies; without such a limitation, the French would, for instance, be free to provide the Yugoslavs with enough funds to build up a large navy, thus providing France with an extra-treaty auxiliary fleet.

Mr. Rogers inquired as to the Franco-Italian situation. It was the consensus of opinion among the naval experts that the situation had if anything grown worse. The French in particular have hardened in their views. Italy’s trump card is the capital ship; the French are anxious to build new capital ships but I know that the Italians would construct ton for ton with them. On his trip to Rome, Commander Turner, in conversations with Italian officials, was frankly told that Italy had only fifteen billion lire to spend on national defense and that there was no chance of increasing that sum. Yet their basic policy remains parity with France and every one of their proposals in Geneva was consequently directed toward achieving this parity within the limits of the funds available to them, not merely with respect to navies but also notably as regards air armaments.

Mention was made of the fact that Admiral Pratt will be absent from Washington until September 9.

C. Budgetary Limitation. There followed a brief discussion of the question of limitation of expenditure and it was brought out that the only ones who are wedded to the idea of global budgetary limitation are the French and their satellites. The reasons for their insistence is not primarily military but rather a desire to get recognition in the treaty for budgetary cuts already made or still to be made as a result of parliamentary action. The general consensus of opinion was that we should not be represented in the next session of the budgetary committee opening on September 26. Admiral Hepburn [Page 327]thought the committee would not come to any agreement in any case and that it was likely that the committee will be about evenly split, even without the presence of the United States. Our principal objection to global limitation, Admiral Hepburn added, is that it represents a qualitative limitation on personnel which we cannot possibly accept.

Colonel Strong said that the reaction to Mr. Gibson’s statement regarding budgetary limitation in his concluding speech71 was in general that we had returned to our 1927 position.

D. Next Session of the Conference. It was agreed that there was small value in discussing the next session of the conference at the present time in view of the fact that it will in any case not meet before next January and its course will depend entirely on the intervening discussions of the Bureau and the informal conversations between the naval powers on the one hand and the land powers on the other.

  1. Present: Chairman, William R. Castle, Jr., Under Secretary of State. For the Department of State: James Grafton Rogers, Assistant Secretary of State; Jay Pierrepont Moffat, Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs; and Noel H. Field. For the War Department: Brigadier General George S. Simonds; Lieutenant George V. Strong; Major James Garesché Ord. For the Navy Department: Rear Admiral Arthur Japy Hepburn; Captain Alexander Hamilton van Keuren; Commander Thomas C. Kinkaid; Commander Richmond Kelly Turner.
  2. Not printed.
  3. League of Nations, Documents of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference, Series X, Minutes of the Sixth Session (Second Part), p. 510.
  4. Resolution dated July 23, p. 318.
  5. Conference for the Limitation of Naval Armament, held at Geneva, June 20–Angust 4, 1927; see Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  6. For text of the Washington treaty, see ibid., 1922, vol. i, p. 247; for text of the London treaty, see ibid., 1930, vol. i, p. 107.
  7. Ante, p. 305.