763.72119 Military Clauses/91

Memorandum by the Secretary of State

Mr. Osborne, the British Chargé, called at Woodley at nine o’clock and left with me a statement, annexed hereto, of the views of the British Government on questions arising out of the notes exchanged between the German Government and the French Government regarding the work of the Disarmament Conference. This paper was printed by the press on the Monday morning following. When Mr. Osborne [Page 433]handed it to me, I read it through and told him one thing was clear about it,—that it was the work of an able lawyer. He said yes, he thought Sir John Simon had done it himself. I told him that the analysis of the purpose and effect of the Versailles Treaty which it contained seemed to me, on this quick reading, to correspond substantially with my own view. I then called Mr. Osborne’s attention specifically to the sentences in the last two-thirds of page five61 and said that these statements seemed to me to indicate that the British proposal would refer the question of whether or not the Versailles Treaty was to be amended, as well as the naval treaties of Washington and London, to the Disarmament Conference and that burning question would come up there; that otherwise if they were not amended those old treaties would stand. I said the paper indicated, however, that London thought the best result would be to have them all embodied into a general convention. Mr. Osborne replied that he had not gathered that impression before but when he looked it over he rather agreed with me. I said to him, however that I did have this slight question about the British note,—that possibly it was a little too diplomatic to make an impression on German psychology. I said there was an impression floating around that Great Britain was backing Germany on the question of equality of rights; that this had come to me from the Italian Ambassador, as well as from others; and that in view of this I was not quite sure whether the language of this document would make a sufficient impression to rebut and replace it but I hoped that it would, and I gave him some examples of cases illustrating the German psychology in question. This one statement of possible difference on my part made an impression on him for he repeated it, and for that reason I think it probably will be reported to his government.

H[enry] L. S[timson]

The British Embassy to the Department of State

Statement of the views of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom on questions arising out of the Notes exchanged between the German Government (August 29th) and the French Government (September 11th) regarding the work of the Disarmament Conference.

The exchange of notes which has recently taken place between the German and French Governments on the subject of “equality of status” in the matter of disarmament and the announcement made by the German delegate at Geneva that his Government regarded this question as necessary to be dealt with forthwith if their collaboration [Page 434]in the work of the Disarmament Conference was to continue, involve matters of the greatest importance for the future progress of the Conference and indeed for the future of disarmament itself. His Majesty’s Government and the whole British people are most deeply concerned to promote the success of the Conference and hold that international agreement (to which of course Germany must be a party) for the limitation and reduction of armaments would not only relieve the world from the burden of expense which is retarding its economic recovery but would be an immediate and solid contribution towards the preservation of world peace and the promotion of good feeling between neighbouring States. With a profound sense of their duty to promote appeasement and to search for the reconciliation of different points of view, His Majesty’s Government deem it well to make the following observations.
His Majesty’s Government feel constrained to state at the outset that they think it unfortunate that a political controversy of this magnitude should arise at this moment, when it is so necessary that attention and energy should not be diverted from efforts which are being undertaken, and are so urgently needed, to restore production and the commercial prosperity of the world. Granted that this question of equal status would have arisen before the Disarmament Conference concluded its work, there is a grave disadvantage in forcing it to the front at this stage. Germany has suffered, and is suffering, from the prevailing economic depression and widespread unemployment, and the other Signatories of the Treaty of Versailles have recognized this and have shown themselves ready in consequence to abate, and indeed fundamentally revise, their financial claims upon Germany. In view of Germany’s economic difficulties, the initiation of an acute controversy in the political field at this moment must be accounted unwise, and, in view of the concessions so recently granted to Germany by her creditors, it must be accounted particularly untimely. His Majesty’s Government earnestly trust that nothing may be now allowed to intervene which would retard the process of economic recovery which is so urgently necessary and which it will be the task of the approaching World Economic Conference62 to promote by all the means in its power.
But as Germany’s claim to a status of equality has been put forward prominently and threatens to impose an obstacle to the smooth and harmonious working of the Conference, His Majesty’s Government consider that they should offer some comments on the subject and make some suggestions as to how the claim might be dealt with. First, it is necessary to be clear as to what the claim [Page 435]involves and as to the actual treaty position. His Majesty’s Government can give no countenance or encouragement to disregard of treaty obligations. Although His Majesty’s Government do not understand the German memorandum to have stated the contrary view, they desire to associate themselves with the opinion that it could not be maintained as the correct legal construction of the Treaty of Versailles and connected correspondence that Germany is legally entitled to abrogate Part 5 of the Treaty of Versailles by any Disarmament Convention to be concluded or by the failure to conclude any Convention at all. If the preamble to Part 5 of the Treaty of Versailles is looked at, it will be seen that the Allied Powers, in requiring these limitations on Germany’s armaments, had in mind the object or reason therein indicated. That object or reason was to “render possible initiation of a general limitation of armaments of all nations.” To state what the object or aim of a stipulation is is a very different thing from making successful fulfilment of that object the condition of the stipulation. Still less is it possible to deduce, as a matter of legal interpretation of the Treaty, that the manner in which the object—general limitation of armaments—was to be fulfilled, was to be precisely the same manner in which Germany’s armaments had been limited by Part Five, for the only indication in the Treaty of the manner in which general disarmament is to be brought about is to be found in the very general words of Article 8 of the Covenant. The correct position under the Treaty of Versailles is that Part 5 is still binding and can only cease to be binding by agreement.
So much has been stated for the purpose of clearing the ground. But His Majesty’s Government do not understand that the case put forward by Germany is a legalistic deduction from the language of the Treaty of Versailles. It is rather an appeal for adjustment based on the fact that the limitation of Germany’s armaments contained in the Treaty was intended to be, and announced to be, the precursor of general limitation by others. His Majesty’s Government do not deny the fact and do not seek to minimise the force of the contention. So far as the Government of the United Kingdom are concerned, very large reductions in all departments of armaments have been made since the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Nevertheless the United Kingdom Government are earnestly collaborating at Geneva in promoting to the utmost of their power measures of further disarmament, both in the qualitative and quantitative sense, which would all tend in the direction of greater equalization.
It is the hope of the United Kingdom Government that there may result from Geneva, in spite of the difficulties that have been encountered [Page 436]and that are inherent in the effort of reaching world agreement, a really valuable measure of disarmament in which each nation will bind itself to a strict limitation, both in kind and in quantities, of its weapons of war. Such a result can be attained only if due allowance is made both for the needs and for the feelings of all the sixty-four States concerned. The objects to be aimed at are, in the case of the more heavily armed Powers, the largest possible reduction and, in the case of lightly armed States, at any rate no material increase. It would indeed be a tragic paradox if the outcome of the first Disarmament Conference was an increase in armaments and the actual rearming of any State. The United Kingdom Government therefore conceive the object of the Conference to be to frame a Disarmament Convention upon the principle that each State adopts for itself in agreement with others, a limitation which is self-imposed and freely entered into as part of the mutual obligations of the signatories to one another. There will thus be, as a result of the Convention, no distinct status: everyone’s armaments will be controlled by the same process: and the limitations which have already been prescribed by existing treaties—such as the various Peace Treaties or the Naval Treaties of Washington and London—will, save so far as they are modified by mutual consent, reappear in the voluntary and comprehensive compact about to be negotiated at Geneva. It will then be this last named document which is the effective obligation binding upon all. This conception of the work and purpose of the Disarmament Conference gives the answer, in the view of the United Kingdom Government, to the question of status raised in the communication of the German Government of August 29th.
Questions of status, as distinguished from the quantitative question, involve considerations of national pride and dignity, which deeply touch the heart of a people and keep alive resentment which would otherwise die down and give place to more kindly feeling. In the interests of general appeasement, therefore, it is much to be desired that any such questions should be disposed of by friendly negotiation and agreed adjustment, not involving either disregard of treaty obligations or increase in the sum total of armed forces. But this desirable consummation cannot be attained by peremptory challenge or by withdrawal from deliberations which are about to be resumed. It can only be reached by patient discussion through the medium of conference between the States concerned.
  1. This is paragraph No. 5 in the annexed statement.
  2. For correspondence relating to preparations for the Conference, see pp. 808 ff.