500.A15A4 Steering Committee/69: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the American Delegate (Wilson)

211. Your 385, September 24, 9 p.m.

We agree with you as to the importance of maintaining a distinction between fixed and mobile guns, with adequate provision against the rapid conversion of fixed into mobile guns, and should prefer to see measures of limitation confined to mobile artillery. Limitation of fixed guns would, in our opinion, amount to an indirect limitation on the number or strength of fortifications, and thus be in contradiction to our thesis of strengthening the power of defense as compared with the power of attack.
We recognize, however, from the course of the debates during the last session of the Conference that it is improbable that you will [Page 339]succeed in obtaining the acceptance of our thesis in its entirety. Furthermore, inasmuch as we voted for the resolution of adjournment although in respect of artillery it falls short of the President’s Plan, we are prepared to adapt our views so as to fit them within the framework of the resolution provided they continue to embody the essential principles of our plan and safeguard our defense interests.
The resolution as it now stands recognizes (a) that heavy artillery should be limited not only by numbers but also by maximum caliber and (b) that separate treatment should be accorded coastal guns, guns in frontier fortifications, and mobile guns not employed for coastal defense. This classification is sufficiently close to the division into fixed and mobile guns, advocated by us, to enable us, if necessary, to accept it on the following conditions:
As regards “mobile land guns and other than guns employed for coastal defense”, you should continue to press for the acceptance of our original proposal which called for the abolition of mobile guns exceeding 155 millimeters in caliber.
As regards “guns in a permanent frontier or fortress defensive system”, no difficulty should arise from our point of view. We possess no extensive system of the type described apart from our coastal defenses, and could therefore, if necessary, probably accept any limitation of caliber which the other Powers can agree to as regards fixed guns for other than coastal defense.
Our principal preoccupation is thus in relation to our coast defense guns. As previously indicated, we do not hold out for the retention of our present railroad coastal guns and are willing to immobilize them. If, however, other Powers insist on the retention of mobile coastal guns, we feel that some system must be worked out to limit them numerically and/or to provide a definite prohibition against their use for other than coastal defense. We are opposed to any limitation whatsoever on fixed coast defense guns whether numerically or by caliber.
Other than on fixed coast defense guns, we do not anticipate any particular difficulty in applying to ourselves a quantitative limitation commensurate with any figures that other Powers might agree upon for themselves. We seriously question, however, the wisdom of complicating the problem of qualitative limitation by provisions for limitation of numbers. The difficulty at arriving at a ratio is already sufficiently great in connection with effectives and would in all likelihood lead to endless controversy when applied to all types of artillery.