500.A15A4 Naval Armaments/162: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the American Delegate (Wilson)

244. For Davis. Rome’s 101, November 8, 3 p.m. I am of course in complete sympathy with your desire to see a long term naval treaty concluded which would obviate the necessity of another naval conference in less than 3 years. But I regard it as a sine qua non of such a treaty that (a) it provide substantial reductions for all categories of naval armament and not merely for certain limited types of varying strategic value to different Powers, and (b) that it leave intact the ratios established at London. There are at present serious obstacles to the fulfillment of both these conditions; the British are opposed to the former, the Japanese to the latter. There is thus grave danger that efforts looking toward a long-term treaty will not prove successful. Completion of the London Treaty on the other hand does not in itself raise the question of immediate reduction for the present parties to the Treaty, nor does it reopen the question of the ratios already established between them. If we skip this preliminary step under these circumstances and attempt to broaden the negotiations on the basis of a long-term agreement superseding the still uncompleted London Treaty, we risk—should the attempt fail—having neither a new treaty concluded nor the old one completed, and we would be obliged to enter the 1935 conference before the relative positions of all five Powers have been fully stabilized.

Briefly, I feel that it would be a mistake to forego a small step forward, the realization of which should be relatively easy and would greatly aid our position at the next naval conference, for the sake of a more ambitious undertaking, the success of which would at best seem problematical and the possible failure of which would greatly increase the difficulties which will face us in 1935. This is the more true in that, as I see it, the completion of the London Treaty would not only not prejudice the success of subsequent efforts looking toward a long-term treaty such as you envisage, but would encourage and facilitate the later negotiation of such a long term treaty.

Until some further progress is made in the Franco-Italian negotiations, which will enable Great Britain to discuss all categories of ships simultaneously, I remain extremely hesitant of seeing our naval discussions with Great Britain advance beyond the exploratory stage. While, for your strictly confidential information, we see no insuperable objection to the alternative suggestion found in your 301, October 19, 6 p.m., calling for a maximum displacement of 30,000 tons for a 12-inch-gun ship, provided the aggregate tonnage is raised from 412,000 tons to 420,000 tons, (a figure which would [Page 559]give us the option of building 14 maximum size ships or 15 ships of 28,000 tons), I am not prepared to authorize you so to inform the British until they advance proposals in the cruiser and destroyer categories which we can regard as offering a basis for useful discussion. I ask you to exercise especial care in giving no indication of the foregoing until I give the word, and tell it to you now merely to indicate that your suggestions, so far as they go, should eventually be productive of valuable results.

As regards laying up ships without demilitarization, I shall ask Adams and Pratt to make a further analysis.

I have sent Wilson several telegrams in the last day or two which mark a considerable advance in our position on various disarmament questions and which I hope will bear fruit.35 Your telegrams are always helpful.

  1. See telegrams Nos. 232, 234, 236, 240, and 241, November 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, respectively, pp. 363, 366, 370, 372, and 373.