500.A15A4 Steering Committee/56

Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (Moffat)

The French Chargé d’Affaires called on the Secretary of State this morning to discuss with him the situation which has arisen from the German démarche on equality of arms. The Secretary asked Mr. Moffat to be present.

Mr. Henry told the Secretary that in spite of the conciliatory nature of the French reply to the German note, the German Government had decided not to be present at the meeting of the Bureau in Geneva next week, although it would continue to watch the efforts of the Disarmament Conference. In the circumstances the British Government was anxious to postpone the meeting of the Bureau. This the French Government could not consent to for reasons given in a memorandum, copy of which is attached. He added that Mr. Massigli had had a talk the day before with Mr. Marriner, who indicated that the American viewpoint was that it would be better for the meeting of the Bureau to be held (see Paris telegram No. 352 [532]).77 The Secretary replied that he personally would regard it as unfortunate if the meeting did not take place on the scheduled day. On points of immediate procedure, therefore, the two Governments agreed.

Mr. Henry then went on to say that as the French interpreted the German note, it was an insistence that the Allied Powers come down in the first disarmament convention to the level of Germany. If [Page 330]they only came down part way, then Germany would be free to come up to their level. The Secretary remarked that he did not feel that the text of the German note went as far as this. Mr. Henry replied that the French interpretation was based not only on the text of the note, but on the speeches of von Papen and von Schleicher and on the oral statements of Foreign Minister von Neurath to the French Ambassador at Berlin, François-Poncet.

Mr. Henry then asked what would be the attitude of the American Government if the French interpretation of German intentions was correct and she would proceed to rearm up to the level to which the other Powers had reduced. The Secretary replied that this was a question which he could not well answer. He said it was the type of question which an Anglo-Saxon instinctively avoided. It implied settling in advance action under different contingencies and he saw no profit or advantage in so doing. What he would say to Mr. Henry was that we were exceedingly concerned with the situation brought about by the German démarche. It ran the risk of resulting either in a rearmament by Germany or in an interruption in the process of disarmament by others. We felt that we were in the midst of practical negotiations at Geneva. We would not admit that the conference was a failure, but felt that concrete results might be forthcoming. We agreed with the French that disarmament must be a gradual affair, marking, step by step, the progressive reduction of armaments. We felt that Germany’s activities, even the withdrawal of her cooperation at the conference, should not prevent the continuation of its work. We regarded the French note as conciliatory in tone and hoped that it would be possible, in spite of the difficulties that beset us, to work out some practical solution which would reduce armaments in the world.

Mr. Henry said that he entirely understood the Secretary’s point of view and felt that the French and American attitudes were not so far apart. Later in the day, Mr. Henry remarked confidentially to Mr. Moffat that he was thinking of sending a personal message to Mr. Herriot to the effect that if France supported the American thesis concerning Manchuria at the League of Nations, he thought it would influence Mr. Stimson in viewing the French viewpoint with full sympathy.

P[ierrepont] M[offat]

The French Government’s objections to the postponement of the meeting of the Disarmament Conference Bureau are summarized as follows:

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The resolution of July 23rd has entrusted the Bureau with a task the completion of which must precede the meeting of the General Commission. If the German delegate is not present at the deliberations, the German Government will thus be placed in a position similar to that of the numerous Powers which are not members of the Bureau and which will be at liberty to examine afterwards the propositions which this agency of the Conference is going to formulate.

From the point of view of procedure, there is therefore no objection to the Bureau performing its task without a German representative.

On the other hand, most of the problems dealt with in the resolution of July 23rd can be discussed by the members of the Bureau whether a German representative be present or not.

In fact, the technical matters pertaining to heavy artillery, tanks, military aviation are of no concern to Germany where these various materials are either abolished or limited to levels much below those likely to be adopted by the Conference. In this respect, the German position is clear: the Reich wants the Conference to extend to all Powers the limitations prescribed by the treaty.

As for the man-power of the various armies, the trade in arms and the fabrication thereof, these are matters that, as far as Germany is concerned, have already been decided upon by the Versailles treaty.78

It is not to be expected that Germany is going to protest against the extension of chemical warfare prohibition, which has been already stipulated by the Versailles treaty.

In naval matters, the Bureau is expected simply to perform a task of study and coordination, the technical discussions being for the present at an end. The Reich is at liberty to participate in the negotiations between naval Powers not signatories of the Washington treaty.

As for the limitation of the armament expenses, the experts have already resumed their work in the absence of their German colleague. Their task is expected to be a long and arduous one and their conclusions therefore are not going to be submitted to the Conference before a certain length of time. Germany’s abstention is no sufficient motive for the experts postponing their work at the present time.

In the matter of armaments control, Germany has to abide by the stipulations of the Versailles treaty and the absence of the German delegate can constitute no obstacle whatsoever.

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The only serious difficulty pertains to the internationalisation of civil aviation, a problem for the discussion of which the German participation is obviously very desirable.

In the speech delivered on the 12th of September, Mr. von Papen has made it clear that Germany would agree to be again represented at the Conference if the question of “rights’ equality” were solved according to the Reich’s wishes. This would imply for France the admission that Part 5th of the Versailles treaty is to be considered as void, thus encourage Germany to reject in fact every compromise solution and to formulate additional requests for rearmament. In this instance, again, a postponement of the work of the Bureau, would mean a deadlock for the disarmament Conference./.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3329.