500.A15A4/1633

The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State

No. 175

Sir: From various accounts which have appeared in the Tokyo vernacular press, it appears that the Japanese naval authorities expect that the present Anglo-American conversations on the question of naval disarmament will develop into a five-Power conference, composed of Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France and Italy, and that the Japanese authorities are making preparations accordingly. Instructions have been drafted and telegraphed to Mr. Matsudaira, the Japanese Ambassador at London, according to the spokesman of the Foreign Office, and Vice Admiral Nagano, one of the naval delegates to the general disarmament conference, has been ordered to return to Geneva as soon as possible, in order to be on the spot should the five-Power conference develop. Vice Admiral Nagano will leave Tokyo for Geneva on November 4th, according to the newspapers.

The instructions sent to Mr. Matsudaira are not to be divulged to the public, but the Tokyo Jiji, which has the reputation of being the [Page 544]best-informed newspaper in Tokyo on naval subjects (a retired Japanese naval officer is a member of the editorial staff) gives what is claimed to be the general policy of the instructions, although details are withheld. According to this newspaper, the delegates are to take a more positive attitude than that assumed at previous conferences and are to strive with firm determination to carry Japan’s points rather than to take a defensive stand. The general Japanese policy will be to increase the defensive strength of navies by reducing the offensive strength of other navies, instead of the former policy of endeavoring to maintain sufficient naval strength for defensive purposes but insufficient for offensive purposes. In the pursuit of the Japanese policies, the naval delegates are to rely on the close cooperation of the diplomatic officers, utilizing the new position of Japan in international politics since the Manchurian affair, as well as the claim of Germany for equality of armaments. Efforts are to be made to liquidate the disarmament problem at this conference without waiting for the second London Conference in 1935. The delegation is not to accept the former ratio of 10–10–6 for the Japanese Navy but is to endeavor to recover the ground lost at the London Conference. The authorities expect that a compromise will be effected between the American and British views on disarmament and that therefore Japan must be prepared to oppose an Anglo-American combination insisting upon the abolition of submarines and the continuation of the 10–10–6 ratio. The delegation is to insist upon the retention of submarines and the abolition of aircraft carriers if there is any reduction in the size of capital ships and if provision is made for the abolition of airplanes carried on other fighting vessels.

In conformity with the above policy, the instructions to the delegates include the absolute rejection of the disarmament proposal of President Hoover. The Baldwin proposal27 is now being studied, however, and decision thereon is being withheld for the time being. The Japanese naval authorities have compiled a counter-proposal, which has been forwarded to Mr. Matsudaira.

Comments

The policy of increasing defensive strength by decreasing offensive strength, as applied to the Japanese Navy, undoubtedly means that the Japanese counter-proposal contemplates the reduction in size of capital ships, the abolition of aircraft carriers, and the retention of submarines. The Japanese Army and Navy now fear aircraft attacks more than any other form of warfare, and they will undoubtedly [Page 545]strive to secure the abolition of vessels which can carry aircraft within striking distance of the Japanese coasts. At the same time, the naval authorities contend that submarines are defensive vessels (although some of the Japanese submarines are reported to be capable of cruising to the Pacific Coast of the United States and returning without refueling) and consequently Japan refuses to consider their abolition. (The Naval Attaché of the Embassy concurs in the opinion that the above will in all probability constitute the basis of the Japanese counter-proposal.)

The reference to reliance on the diplomatic arm, utilizing Japan’s new position in the world and Germany’s claim for armaments equality, implies an intention to drive diplomatic bargains in an endeavor to obtain support for Japan’s claims on the disarmament question. The Japanese naval authorities very evidently fear an Anglo-American combination against Japan in the conference, and hope to form a bloc in opposition to the combination.

The reference to the endeavors that the Japanese delegation is to make to “recover the ground lost at the London Conference” implies that a claim will be made for equality in naval armaments with the United States and Great Britain, or at least for a higher ratio than those agreed to at the Washington and London conferences.

A public statement was made by the spokesman of the Foreign Office at the time of the announcement of the disarmament proposal of President Hoover, to the effect that Japan is not interested in disarmament and would really prefer to increase her armament.28 It is probable, therefore, that the Japanese hope to wreck the conference. The delegation will reject the President’s proposal and will oppose the Baldwin proposal on most points. It is then expected to introduce a counter-proposal which will be entirely unacceptable to the United States and Great Britain, resulting in an impasse.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. For text, see Great Britain, Cmd. 4122, Miscellaneous No. 6 (1932): Declaration of British Disarmament Policy.
  2. New York Times, June 24, 1932, p. 2.