500.A15A4/1563: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Mellon) to the Secretary of State

308. From Davis. Saturday afternoon18 at Checquers I discussed with MacDonald general disarmament problems. Lord Inchcape [ Inskip ], Attorney General, and Elliott, another influential member of the Cabinet were present during most of the conversation. As it has been arranged that we would meet again on Monday with Baldwin and Simon discussions of details were left aside. I emphasized that the experts’ conversations has been devoted largely to exploring the naval replacement programs, and that it was for us to examine the possibility of further reductions along the lines of the Hoover proposal. MacDonald said that he felt there was little chance of getting Japan to agree now to any substantial reduction or changes. I said that while this might be true it was important for our two countries to decide what they would be willing to do since, if we were in agreement, this fact might influence Japan. MacDonald [Page 537] emphasized that they had also to consider France and Italy; that the reductions, for instance which they could make in destroyers would be dependent upon getting France and Italy into the Naval Treaty. As regards destroyers I pointed out that neither they nor we were built up to the treaty tonnage in under age ships and that in view of the financial situation there was little likelihood of either of us building up to this limit. MacDonald admitted that it would be difficult if not impossible to get Parliament to appropriate the money necessary for the required replacements and particularly to bring the destroyers up to the treaty limit. I told him that if that were the case we ought to seize the strategic advantage of anticipating what would occur and use this as a lever to get substantial reductions in land and air forces.

Turning to the question of the General Disarmament Conference, we agreed that if the French should put forward their irreclaimable [irreconcilable?] plan19 it would further complicate the situation and that it would be wise if they could be persuaded to hold up any such plan pending an attempt to work out some general agreement on arms reduction. MacDonald said the Germans’ refusal to go to Geneva had left up in the air the question of future procedure. He asked what I thought about his going to Geneva, pointing out that he could not spare much time from London and that he could not afford to sit around in Geneva waiting for something to happen. I told him I thought it important for him to go to Geneva as soon as something could be prepared, but that it seemed to be a mistake to press the Germans too much until after their elections. He agreed that a failure of the Disarmament Conference would have a disastrous effect, that something must be done to save it, and that the most effective action would be for the United States and England to support a comprehensive plan and to try to get France to see the wisdom of going along; that assuming that the differences between the United States and Great Britain as to the future character of the navies can be reconciled, which seems possible, the important questions are: Will public opinion in the two countries be satisfied if there are no substantial immediate reductions? And can we exercise real influence on the Disarmament Conference unless we are prepared to contribute some naval reductions?

At the conclusion of our talk MacDonald remarked that one of the few bright spots in this gloomy world was the fact that England and the United States could talk frankly and freely together.

I continued the disarmament discussions of Saturday at a meeting [Page 538] at 10 Downing Street with MacDonald, Baldwin and Simon. After covering somewhat the same ground as Saturday, particularly as regards reductions in the destroyer and other classes, the following additional points were considered:

MacDonald inquired whether the Hoover proposal for scrapping one-third of the battleships meant that they should be dismantled in the near future; if so, this would be difficult for the British and presumably unacceptable to the Japanese. I replied that this was the purpose of the President’s proposal but that we must not forget that the proposal was part of a plan for lowering the whole level of world armaments and predicated upon general agreement on reduction and limitation of land and air forces as well as navies; that if it were not possible or advisable to scrap at this time five battleships we might consider the eventual reduction of total battleship tonnage and instead of immediate scrapping of battleships, lay up, but not demilitarize, a certain number to be scrapped only as and when replacements for the reduced total tonnage came along, ships so laid up not to be put into commission except in case of emergency or invoking of escalator clause. I said that this idea was quite personal and tentative as it had not been considered by our authorities. They felt the suggestion was interesting and worth further study. MacDonald then asked whether we insisted on an eventual one-third reduction in number of battleships. I replied that we were not insisting on anything but rather attempting to find a constructive way for securing a substantial reduction in armaments; in any event it seemed that public opinion both in England and in the United States would hardly be satisfied unless there were further naval reductions as a part of this general reduction. MacDonald said that if we could get rid of submarines the whole matter of reduction would be greatly simplified, but that at London Conference we had not seemed as anxious as they to abolish submarines and now were suggesting submarines of 1, 200 tons. I reassured him that we would use our influence with them to abolish submarines but that if they are not abolished we should each have the right to build submarines to suit our particular needs; that on this point there had apparently been no difficulty between our experts and theirs.

The question was then raised as to what should be said about the pending naval conversations in view of my early departure from London. I suggested that if we said anything it should be that the conversations had progressed satisfactorily but that it had not been either the purpose or desire to reach any specific final agreement as it is not possible now—that we had agreed in principle that there should be further substantial naval reductions but the extent and [Page 539] method of carrying these reductions into effect would depend upon agreement with the other naval powers and upon agreement for reduction of land and air forces. I stated, however, I would wish to consult Washington before agreeing upon any statement. (I would appreciate a cable as to whether you consider any such desirable. Its purpose if made would be to dispel impression in Japanese, French and Italian circles that they were to be confronted with any Anglo-American agreement on naval matters).

Turning to general disarmament questions I explained that we were prepared to join in discussions for the purpose of working out the problems of the Disarmament Conference, but that we would not care to participate in any meetings dealing with European political problems or the theoretical discussion of equality and that in the disarmament discussions we would expect to participate on the same basis as the others and not in the role of an observer. This statement of our attitude was much appreciated and I believe thoroughly understood.

Sir John Simon said he had been studying your speech of August 8th20 which he considered a very valuable contribution, particularly as to the effect of the Kellogg Pact21 on the principle of neutrality. He had not thought out fully just how this would work out and hoped that an opportunity could be found for the representatives of the two countries to consider this together. [Davis.]

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. October 22.
  3. For text of the French plan as presented, see telegram No. 455, November 15, noon, from the American delegate, p. 380.
  4. Post, p. 575.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 153.