763.72119 Military Clauses/16

Memorandum by the Secretary of State

The British Chargé, Mr. Osborne, came and presented me with an aide-mémoire, which is annexed hereto, concerning the representations which Sir John Simon has made to the German Government on the subject of their démarche in regard to equality of arms. He also read to me from a telegram a few sentences, indicating that Sir John felt and had stated to the German Government that this was a very dangerous move for them to make at this time. In this telegram he stated also that the German Government had defended itself by saying that their attitude was merely a continuation of the position taken at Bessinge last spring in Geneva.

I at once said that this statement was not in accord with the facts; that my recollection was that Chancellor Bruening at Bessinge had taken a very different position from what the German Government was now reported as taking towards the French. I told Mr. Osborne that according to my recollection at Bessinge, at an interview at which Mr. MacDonald and Lord Londonderry, Chancellor Bruening and von Buelow, and myself and Mr. Gibson and Mr. Wilson were present, Chancellor Bruening said that Germany did not seek to raise her armament, nor did she expect France to come down to her level, that she only asked that France would make a material reduction paving the way for further reduction in the future and Germany asked to be relieved only from certain very technical or minor inconveniences. I then sent for my diary and read to Mr. Osborne the memorandum of the interview in question at Bessinge which took place on April 26, 1932,48 and which entirely corroborated my recollection.

I told Mr. Osborne that I was inclined to sympathize with Sir John’s apprehension, and Mr. Osborne asked me whether I intended to make any similar representation. I said I understood that Mr. Castle had already had a talk with the German Chargé on the subject and I would look into that and see whether any further representation was necessary on my part as I had just returned from an absence. But I told him to assure Sir John Simon that I shared his apprehensions and sympathized with his desire that Britain and America should consult with each other on the subject in order to avoid misunderstanding or divergence of action; that in general I was sympathetic with his attitude.

H[enry] L. S[timson]
[Page 422]

The British Embassy to the Department of State


On August 26th Sir John Simon informed the French Ambassador in London,49 in reply to an enquiry from His Excellency, as to whether the German Government had made any representations to His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom on the lines of their approach to the French Government in regard to equality, that so far as he knew, no such representations had been received. Count Bernstorff had, however, said, when notifying the adherence of Germany to the Anglo-French Consultative Declaration,50 that the matter would be raised.

2. Sir John said that as soon as any specific communication was received by His Majesty’s Government, M. Herriot would be fully informed. The French Ambassador said that M. Herriot would keep His Majesty’s Government no less fully informed.

3. Sir John said that there were three possible courses with regard to the German claims. The first was to reject them outright, the second and third alternatives were either to contemplate some upward change in German armaments, or to secure on the part of Germany’s neighbours a real reduction in armaments. He would like to know what attitude the French Government would adopt to the German demand; he himself disapproved of the first alternative and strongly deprecated the second; His Majesty’s Government wished to see a method of treatment which would promote general disarmament, applied to Germany’s aim.

4. The French Ambassador replied that M. Herriot was not proposing to reject the German claims outright; he would discuss the question and see whether agreement could be reached.

5. Sir John said that time would be necessary for consideration of the representations which it was understood the German Government would make. He would make a communication to the French Government a little later. In the mean time the question whether His Majesty’s Government could usefully urge upon the German Government the inexpediency of raising the matter in a challenging form at the present moment, was under consideration.

6. The French Ambassador thought that it would be more useful if His Majesty’s Government were to intervene on broad lines later on, and Sir John gained the impression that the French Government had come to the conclusion that a point had been reached where Germany was determined to raise the question specifically with them.

[Page 423]

7. On August 29th a further conversation on the subject took place between Sir John Simon and Count Bernstorff, of which the following is Sir John’s summary:—

“I told Count Bernstorff today that I had heard from the French Ambassador that the German Government contemplated early discussion with the French Government regarding Germany’s claim to equality of status in armaments. I understood that Herr Von Bülow added that Germany was approaching France alone because other Powers had raised no objection to the broad outline of the German claim. In order to avoid misapprehension I had told the French Ambassador that we had received no representations from the German Government on the subject beyond Count Bernstorff’s intimation, when notifying the German adhesion to the Anglo-French declaration, that diplomatic negotiations on German claims would be started. The question had not been raised since, though the possibility of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles being in effect overlaid by the final Disarmament Convention had been discussed informally at Geneva in April. Count Bernstorff confirmed my statement, whereupon I observed that there seemed to me no basis for inferring our assent. We had exchanged ideas, but certainly never expressed judgment. Count Bernstorff suggested that our side had derived from the conversation (between Herr von Bülow and Monsieur François-Poncet) an impression that was not intended. I said that at any rate there was now no possible misunderstanding, and asked him to inform the German Government accordingly. I then said that we regarded the present as a very inopportune moment to raise the discussion on the German claim. The immediate necessity of Europe was economic recovery, which must take precedence. The Lausanne settlement was provisional and nothing would prejudice success more than an upset of confidence. A big discussion with France was most likely to precipitate a clash of French and German public opinion. I requested Count Bernstorff therefore to represent strongly to the German Government our view that this was very unacceptable course to take at present.

Count Bernstorff undertook to report what I had said. The German intention was to continue the Geneva discussions of last April, and, in the first place, to ascertain privately how far the French would meet the German view. I remarked on the difficulty of insuring secrecy. Moreover the April conversations had been quadrilateral. As regards the expediency of raising the questions Count Bernstorff referred to the German internal situation. Germany was united in its disappointment at the result of the Disarmament Conference. I pointed out that only the Bureau of the Conference was to meet in September. The Conference would probably not resume till early next year.

“Before Count Bernstorff left, we exchanged assurances that the two Governments would keep each other fully informed. I said that this seemed to me doubly desirable in view or the recent Consultative Declaration.”

8. On September 1st the German Chargé d’Affaires communicated to the Foreign Office the text of a memorandum handed to the French [Page 424]Ambassador in Berlin on August 30th and made at the same time the following verbal communication.

The German Government hoped that His Majesty’s Government would not abandon the attitude adopted at Geneva and Lausanne regarding the German claim to equality of armaments. In the interest of peace a solution must be found for the problem. The German claim was to equality of status, not actual parity and failing agreement it would be impossible for the German Government to take part in the meeting of the Bureau of the Disarmament Conference.
The German Government wished to reply to the representation made to Count Bernstorff on August 29th. Both at Geneva and at Lausanne agreement in principle had been reached, and the German Government therefore did not understand why His Majesty’s Government now said that they had never approved the German point of view. The decision taken up now was the result of agreement reached at the Disarmament Conference between Herr Nadolny and M. Herriot. A conflict of opinion with France need only occur if the French Government were intransigent. The German Government would reply to any charges of infraction of the disarmament clauses with the greatest equanimity.

Washington, September 6, 1932.

  1. For text of memorandum, see p. 108.
  2. Aime Joseph de Fleuriau.
  3. See pp. 691 ff.