500.A15A4/1488: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the American Delegate (Wilson)

212. On Friday last Sir John Simon outlined to you four methods of approach to a solution of the problem arising from Germany’s demand for “equality of rights”. He asked if I would comment on his message in order to learn whether I saw the picture in the same light.

In my opinion, the subject should be approached not from the point of view of a discussion of Germany’s rights, but of the policy of other nations in determining what they are willing to do in the Disarmament Convention (a) to modify or supplant Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, and (b) to carry out their legal and moral obligation to reduce their own armaments.

The following paragraphs refer seriatim to the four methods mentioned by Sir John Simon.

Incorporation of the obligations of Germany in the same document as that of the other states. During my stay in Geneva last Spring, Dr. Bruening indicated to Mr. MacDonald and myself that he would be willing to write into the Disarmament Convention the present German arms limitations (with minor variations) provided a footnote were inserted to the effect that these figures were voluntarily agreed to by Germany. This would take care of the situation during the life of the first Disarmament Convention, but would leave open the question as to whether the Treaty of Versailles were supplanted or merely suspended.
The same duration for Germany’s obligations as for those of the other states. This would relieve Germany from all its armament obligations at the expiration of the first Disarmament Convention, say in 10 years. After that time she would be free to rearm without limit not only on land but at sea. It may be that the European Powers, who are most immediately concerned, will feel that in order to preserve the present situation and make possible a disarmament treaty for 10 years, it is worth letting the future take care of itself. This, however is a problem which in my opinion is one primarily of European concern.
A qualitative criterion, in other words the right of Germany to have the same types of weapons as other states. We could not at present accept a situation whereby Germany would have the right to build a 35, 000–ton battleship at the risk of disturbing the delicate naval adjustments to which we are parties, and we would have grave objections to her right to construct submarines. To evolve a method that would be fair to all nations yet so restricted as not to reopen [Page 450]or complicate the naval situation, seems at first blush overwhelmingly difficult. I do not, however, exclude it as a possible field for compromise and if any specific suggestions in this sense should be offered, we should gladly examine them on their merits.
A quantitative criterion. This runs strictly counter to our thesis that armaments should be reduced and not increased and is hence unacceptable.

You may take a favorable opportunity to see Sir John Simon, and explain my feelings to him orally, requesting him to keep this message confidential and to regard it still as an expression of my present personal views rather than as a final conclusion of this Government.