Mr. Norman H. Davis of the American Delegation to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I am enclosing two memoranda covering my conversations with Mr. Mussolini and the officials of the Italian Foreign Office which I have already summarized in my cables. My reception here was most cordial and I think that Mr. Mussolini and the officials of the Italian Government appreciated my coming here, particularly in view of the time I had previously spent in London and Paris.

Mr. Kirk and the officials of the Embassy have been most helpful in every way in arranging for my visit here and in putting me promptly in touch with Mr. Mussolini and the various members of his Government.

Sincerely yours,

Norman H. Davis
[Enclosure 1]

Memorandum by Mr. Norman H. Davis of a Meeting With the Italian Prime Minister (Mussolini) 32

After the usual greetings I congratulated him on the great improvements which have been made since my previous visit here several years ago, and also told him that in spite of all the difficulties which this and other countries were encountering now on account of the world depression he should feel quite gratified that through the régime which he has maintained Italy has suffered less relatively and has stood the depression better than any country I have visited. He seemed quite pleased at that. He then asked me what the Disarmament Conference was going to do and if we were going to get any disarmament. I told him I felt that there was a real opportunity now to do something largely because of the pressure of necessity and also of public opinion, but that it would depend partly on Italy and France getting together in a naval agreement; that we were of course quite pleased at his unqualified approval of President Hoover’s proposal and were glad to feel that he and President Hoover were both strong advocates of a substantial lowering of the level of world armaments. He said, what about France? I told him I was confident that M. Herriot had recently made a very courageous and far reaching decision in favor of peace [Page 551]through a reduction in armaments, and that it seemed to me that within the past two weeks there had been a very definite change in the French attitude. Whereas France had previously professed to be in favor of a reduction of armaments they never were quite able to bring themselves to the point of making the contribution which was essential if any real substantial measures were to be taken, but that now since the German threat to rearm unless their demands for equality are met—at least to a considerable extent—a crisis has been created and the alternative to German rearmament is disarmament on the part of the Powers who assumed moral commitment to proceed in this direction when Germany was disarmed. He asked if I was convinced that the French policy had changed materially. I told him I was convinced that there had been a change, that I could not guarantee that the change would be maintained but felt confident that the French would move forward now as they had decided to do, provided the Germans meet their generous move in the right spirit and provided Italy and England and the United States contribute their part and give their moral support. He then asked if I thought France really wanted to get together with Italy. I told him I did. In fact Herriot had said to me that he thought the United States could be very helpful in effecting a naval agreement between Italy and France, when I had told Herriot that I was going to Italy and Herriot had said he hoped I would do so. I then recounted the various conversations that have taken place from the very beginning of the Disarmament Conference up until the present. He wanted to know why I thought France had changed and was now really willing and desirous to reach an agreement with Italy on the naval question. I told him that of course I could not tell just what their mental processes had been but that my own impression was that the opinions expressed by the United States and England as to the importance of completing the Naval Treaty through the adherence of France and Italy had had some effect; second, that the situation created by Germany gave France more incentive to foster friendship with Italy, and, in the third place, I felt that Italy and France both had more pressing reasons as a matter of self interest in burying their differences and reaching an agreement with regard to the navy. He said that it was unquestionably in the interests of both of them and that Italy has always been ready and glad to make an agreement; that they had reached a tentative understanding in the so-called March accord33 which France refused to complete.

[Page 552]

He asked if Herriot had given me any definite proposal to submit to Italy. I told him no, that I had not asked for it, and in fact didn’t want it because I did not care to bring a proposal to him without his prior consent, but that I doubted if that would be the best way to handle it anyhow. He asked what I thought would be the best way, if I thought M. Herriot would be willing to send a naval representative here to try to reach an agreement with Italy. I told him I didn’t know about that but I was under the impression that it would be advisable, if not necessary, for England to take part in the negotiations for a naval agreement, and that, if it were desired, we would be glad to sit in and be helpful in any way we could; that Italy and France might each submit a proposal, or it might be better first for the respective naval experts to endeavor to arrive at a tentative basis, as they could talk freely without committing their governments. He said that while he wanted to reach an agreement he was reluctant to submit a proposal himself, because since France had turned down the March accord he felt that it was up to France to make the move; and that France must recognize that she must respect the dignity of Italy and her national interests. I told him that the procedure would be something we could think over, but that since both Italy and France have not [now] expressed to us their desire to reach a settlement, we could talk this over with the British and have the technical representatives have some preliminary talks and see if we could not evolve some compromise agreement. Without specifically saying so, he seemed quite willing to fall into line on any procedure that did not put Italy in the position of making a proposal that might be turned down by France.

We then had some discussion as to the Disarmament Conference, in which he showed impatience at not getting anywhere. I told him that it had been very trying on everyone’s patience but that the mere fact that we had sat in Geneva for so long without accomplishing anything very definite and satisfactory made it all the more necessary to go further now than we would have had to go had we reached an agreement at the early stages of the Conference. At the beginning public opinion would have been satisfied with an agreement merely to limit existing armaments. Through the delay, however, in even doing this, public opinion will not now be satisfied unless there is a substantial reduction and limitation, and I thought that if we could get France and Italy into the naval treaty quickly, this would prepare the way for an all round agreement, and we ought to be able to reach a general basis of agreement very shortly. He said he was pleased to have my views as to that, [Page 553]and hoped we might do something, and that Italy was ready to do her share. He then thanked me for my visit and said that he felt that it would have good results.

He then arose and we stood to talk a little and Mr. Suvich then spoke to Mr. Mussolini, and we invited Mr. Dulles in. We then got on to a discussion of the Manchurian question and the League’s action about that.

I mentioned a reference in Mr. Mussolini’s speech at Turin to the general effect that the power of the League has seemed to decrease in direct proportion to the distance from the subject with which it was dealing. I added that if this were really the case it would have a very unfortunate effect upon American collaboration, as it would go far to justify criticism which had been usually directed against the League in the United States, namely, that it was really a European institution. Here in the Manchurian problem was a real opportunity for the League to secure the collaboration of the United States in world problems of common concern and show that it was something more than a European institution. Further, the Manchurian problem presented a test of the principle in which Italy and all countries were vitally interested, namely, that treaties should not be modified by force of arms. At the present time there were two real danger spots in the world, namely, Germany and Japan, where the military element was in the saddle. In Germany there was an inflamed state of mind due to a deep and perhaps justifiable resentment. The German problem must therefore be handled by a real effort on the part of the Powers to carry out their obligations under the Treaty of Versailles and effect some substantial disarmament and thereby satisfy the element of justice in the German claim and at the same time prevent Germany from rearming. In the same way the Manchurian problem could be dealt with if Great Britain, Italy and France and the United States could agree upon a just and equitable line of action, and then firmly and unitedly support it. Mr. Mussolini made no specific comment but indicated his assent as to the necessity for common action by the Powers mentioned.

It was interesting that the one piece of furniture in the room, apart from the desk of the Chief of State, was a table on which a large atlas was opened to the map of China and Japan.

After we went out Mr. Rosso suggested that we sit down together the next day and discuss more in detail the naval question.

I also had a further talk about Manchuria with Mr. Suvich before we left the Palazzo Venezia as he asked me what I thought we ought to do about that situation. I pointed out that we would not wish to suggest to the League the course it should follow but that we had [Page 554]a real interest in the situation and hoped that through informal conferences with Italy, France and Great Britain a policy could be worked out which the League and the United States could support. It seemed obvious that the Lytton report should be accepted and to this Suvich assented. I added that the League people were also considering a resolution of non-recognition and non-cooperation with Manchukuo. Suvich said he had not thought about that and didn’t commit himself. I told him that in view of the resolutions the Powers had adopted I did not see how any Power could recognize Manchukuo without stultifying itself. Suvich made no comment.

N[orman] H. D[avis]
[Enclosure 2]

Memorandum by Mr. Norman H. Davis of a Conversation With the Italian Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Suvich) 34

Mr. Davis referred to the talk he had had with Mr. Grandi in London. At that time Ambassador Grandi had suggested to Mr. Davis the idea of a trip to Rome and subsequently, through Ambassador Rosso, the arrangements had been made. Mr. Davis had welcomed this opportunity to come to Rome, particularly as he was anxious to have an informal conversation with regard to the disarmament question with the Chief of the Italian Government and the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs just as he had had in both London and Paris during the past few weeks.

When he was in Paris Mr. Davis had mentioned to M. Herriot that he was planning a trip to Rome, and later, when the arrangements had been definitely made for the trip, he had advised M. Herriot that he was coming here. In response M. Herriot had said that he thought it was an excellent idea and M. Massigli, the French delegate to Geneva, had definitely stated that France was quite willing to discuss the naval problem with Italy if the latter desired.

Mr. Davis referred to his naval conversations with the British in London and said that these conversations had gone about as far as it was possible pending some adjustment between France and Italy. He mentioned that when questions of cruiser, destroyer and submarine tonnage came up, the English pointed out that their position would be affected by what was eventually done with regard to these [Page 555]categories by the Italians and the French. Further, it was quite generally recognized that the decision of the French to proceed with the construction of the capital ship Dunkerque would inject an added complication, and if this decision were carried out, would render an agreement between France and Italy more difficult. Mr. Suvich and Mr. Rosso immediately reacted to this suggestion and added that if France proceeded with the construction of one or more ships of the Dunkerque type, the only thing Italy could do, as she did not have the money to build a number of battleships, would be to build one battleship more powerful than the type being constructed by the French. While the building of the Dunkerque might be directed against the German construction of pocket battleships, its effect upon the Italian navy and the Italian answer were obvious. Mr. Suvich, supplemented by Mr. Rosso, then proceeded to outline the Italian attitude. Italy was willing to take up with France the question of naval limitation, but it must be recognized that they have already shown their good faith in the matter by accepting the so-called March accord which the French had rejected. Mr. Rosso, from his remarks, obviously retained a good deal of bitterness over the circumstances of this rejection, as he felt that the French had hid behind a technical interpretation of the agreement which had not been in the minds of either the French or Italian negotiators. If the naval conversations were to be resumed, France must recognize Italian naval problems and difficulties. It was not fair for France to base her naval needs on the possibilities of alliances against her and at the same time to fail to recognize that similar dangers of alliances against Italy were equally possible. Further, Italy could not recognize the principle of France’s right to a greater navy. Why should she? At the present time she had the right to parity and there was no reason to surrender this by agreement. On the other hand, Italy recognized that France now had a greater navy than Italy and Italy had no immediate intention of building up to parity.

In a very informal and general way, the Italian representatives then outlined the way they felt the problem should be approached:—As to capital ships and aircraft carriers, the situation was fixed by the Washington Treaty; as to submarines, both France and Italy should accept the 52,700 ton basis which the three leading naval powers had agreed to at London. (Upon being questioned, they admitted that it would be difficult to force France to scrap her excess underage submarine tonnage above this figure but thought that France could at least gradually scale down to the same figure as the other naval powers had accepted.) As to 8-inch gun cruisers, both France and Italy now had the same, and it was suggested that they stop at this figure. With regard to smaller cruisers and destroyers, [Page 556]a global category in the case of France and Italy, France now had a considerable superiority and it was suggested that these categories be treated on the basis of building programs over a long period of years, say twenty or twenty-five, at the end of which, if the allowed building programs were carried out, Italy would reach approximate parity. Meanwhile France would retain its superiority in these classes but the principle of parity would not be definitely raised nor would it be prejudiced as far as Italy was concerned.

N[orman] H. D[avis]
  1. Held at Rome, November 7, 5 p.m. Present also were Fulvio Suvich, Italian Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; Augusto Rosso, the Appointed Italian Ambassador to the United States; and Allen Dulles at the conclusion.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. i, p. 380.
  3. Held at the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Present also were Pompeo Aloisi, Chief of Cabinet in the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Augusto Rosso, the Appointed Italian Ambassador to the United States; Alexander C. Kirk, Counselor of the American Embassy; and Allen W. Dulles.