500.A15A4/919: Telegram

The Acting Chairman of the American Delegation (Gibson) to the Secretary of State

85. At Tardieu’s request I had a long talk with him this morning with a view to seeing if we could work together to expedite despatch of Conference business after the adjournment. As the atmosphere of the conversation seems essential to a clear understanding I am telegraphing you the whole text of the memorandum of my conversation. Tardieu began by asking just how we are going to hit it off when we got to discussing the various French plans. I said I saw no reason why we need bother him if he confined himself to realities but of course if through an insistence on a universal symmetrical scheme he pressed for world wide arrangements we obviously should have to oppose him on many points but that it seemed clear to me that his only real concern lay in some agreement for Europe. He at first took issue with this on the ground that his plans were for members of the League and that this obviously meant that to a certain extent at least he must know what non-members were going to do but after some further discussion he agreed that real concern was for the situation in Europe but prospectively as a matter of strategy he would start with proposals of a broader scope and more far reaching than he expected to secure acceptance for. I then said that our attitude in these discussions would be in a large measure dependent on his own ingenuity in affording us justification for remaining out of the discussion and said he would give serious thought during the adjournment to how he could handle matters so as to facilitate our abstention.

As regards the armed forces for the League he obviously anticipates that the French proposal will not be accepted because of British and other opposition but believes that insistence on it at the beginning would increase his chances of securing agreement on some scheme for more effective and expeditious methods of consultation and mobilization of public opinion.

He said that this had been his first experience at Geneva and that he had been shocked by his experience in the Council where the small [Page 55] powers with nothing at stake and no risks were insistent on sending the great naval powers into enterprises that might readily lead to war; that he felt that the powers that had to take the principal risks should have the say as to how their force was to be used; and that to this end he was considering the possibility of an amendment to the Covenant under which, when the time came for examination of such problems, they would be referred to a subcommittee of those powers who would be called upon to take the risks.

After this he expressed his real anxiety that some effective means be worked out for advising with us in the event of an emergency and said that after all, when they talked about security, what they had most in mind as regarding America was some expeditious way of setting up, or ready to work on the same problem50 in the belief that usually such common or parallel work would insure our arriving at a common conception of the problem and how it was to be met. He said that of course if any way could be devised by which they would know that we would refrain from cutting across the course of action determined on by the League, that would be a maximum which could be hoped from America, but that he clearly recognized the difficulties of any such far reaching commitments and felt that the best course was to strive for an identity of treatment of the problem itself and leave the rest to work itself out in the Anglo-Saxon way. He said one great difficulty of America working with the League was the very widespread apprehension among the American people that when there was talk of consultation this was based on the desire of France to embroil America in European quarrels and extort from her commitments again to send American troops to Europe.

He is giving some thought to what he can do to make clear that France understands perfectly that there is no question of America using her forces in such a way or taking sides in European quarrels; that active participation by America in European affairs is to his mind fantastic and can be dismissed from consideration but that he feels very deep and genuine concern that something should be devised to enable them expeditiously to learn our mind on any problem of common concern where the interests of America and Europe are alike involved. Tardieu then said that he anticipated that at the opening of the next session he would be obliged to deal with the German contention set forth in Nadolny’s speech of February 1851 and with the German draft convention submitted at the same time. He stipulated he had been under considerable criticism in France for [Page 56] not having answered Nadolny at once but that this had been rather difficult because he was at the time in Paris in the midst of a ministerial crisis and the opening of the next session afforded an opportunity to deal with the matter more calmly than if there had been an immediate reply.

He said that he proposed to deal with the German contention first of all from the legal and historical aspect especially as regards their contention that article 8 of the Covenant involves a bilateral obligation imposing upon the Allied Powers the obligation of disarming to German levels. In order to reply effectively he will address himself perhaps more to Count Apponyi, who spoke on February 13, than to the Germans as the Hungarian delegate went more thoroughly into the juridical aspect of the problem. He also desires to do this for the purpose of avoiding anything in the nature of an attack solely on Germany.

He proposes at the start to contest the German claim that part V of the Treaty of Versailles52 is a contract and further that that contract was voided by German admission as a member of the League of Nations. He brings out the fact that at the time of signing the Locarno [treaties?]53 Germany exacted a special acknowledgment of her exemption from obligations under article 16 of the Covenant on the grounds that they were disarmed. In reply to the contention that the military clauses imposed on the defeated powers were the work of a moment of passion, he proposes to say that this was on the contrary the result of 7 years of careful thought on the part of responsible leaders and was designed to destroy the aggressive military machine just as at the Congress of Vienna similar measures were taken to destroy the aggressive power of the French military machine.

He may raise the question of the fulfillment of the military clauses by Germany by stating that a long period of faithful observance might create a definite claim to revision but that he is not in a position to say that there had been such fulfillment and that if it is desired to go into this matter it might be possible to create a committee to examine all the facts, et cetera.

I am rather disposed to think he will reconsider raising this question as it is his fundamental purpose to eliminate the German juridical arguments while at the same time maintaining a good atmosphere for negotiation along other lines. Furthermore, the idea might well recoil on him.

[Page 57]

He brought up the subject of “control” and said he hoped we could work out something more effective than the provisions in the draft convention for the Permanent Disarmament Commission.54 I said that the very word “control” was obnoxious to us and anything which could properly bear that label was doomed so far as America was concerned. He made the obvious reply that a great deal of misunderstanding had arisen over the difficulty of translation of the similar French word but that he wanted us to understand that regardless of some of the enthusiastics in France and other countries he was no more prepared to tolerate snooping parties in France than we were in America. His only concern was to provide for the centralization and availability of exact and coordinated information in which we could have real confidence. He said he did not feel that the provisions of the draft convention were really effective but that they could readily be amended so as to make them effective. I said that we would be very glad to consider any suggestions the French delegation might be able to draft to that end and suggested that he give them to us as far in advance of their presentation as possible in order that we might have full time to scrutinize them.

Tardieu then brought up the question of the Danubian Confederation and said he was confident he would be able to achieve something positive; that he felt he had already persuaded the British that his scheme provided real measures for economic rehabilitation and was free from political and other objectionable features. He is going to receive the German delegate and some legal representatives of the Berlin Foreign Office this afternoon in an effort to persuade them that they can afford to acquiesce in the arrangement. As regards Italy, he feels that they can accept the plan when they understand what he has in mind. He added that he thought the plan would not only be free from objection from our point of view but that it was along the line of economic rehabilitation which we would approve.

I asked him what prospect there was of completing the London Treaty55 and he said that while he had not had any negotiations on the subject since coming here he had been improving the general atmosphere between France and Italy and that he felt the situation was very encouraging. He thought he could bring about the agreement with England and Italy at some time in the fairly near future. He said quite frankly that he was in no particular hurry to do this as he pulled several irons in the fire with both England and Italy and that he had told the British that he was holding this out on [Page 58] them expressly because if he completed the London Treaty now he was not at all sure that they would be of a mind to meet him on other subjects later on. I told him that as I had been involved in this more or less continuously from the beginning I felt justified in impressing on him the great importance that we attach to the completion of the London Treaty, not only because of the fact that it was essential to continuing the movement for naval limitation but because of the great impetus it would give to the work of this Conference. Tardieu said quite soberly that he agreed with this and that he fully intended to bring about the agreement while we were here and when I added that you would be deeply interested to know his views as to the prospects he said I might tell you in confidence that he was satisfied that the prospects and atmosphere were very good.

Tardieu then brought up the question of the Lausanne Conference56 saying that that was “going to bring all the pots to a boil at the same time and pretty much on the same stove”. He said the field of the Lausanne Conference was very broad and that he felt that he might bring in for concurrent discussion the next or perhaps final stage of the Danubian Agreement and wondered whether there was any hope of persuading the American Government of sending a representative or an observer. I said that so far as I knew there was none on the very reasonable ground that the purpose of calling the conference was to reach an agreement between Germany and her creditors and that if we sent a representative the inevitable tendency would be to pass the problem straight to us without any attempt to make satisfactory settlement among themselves. Tardieu said that was all very well but that it was of the utmost importance to have somebody with whom they could talk even if he were not there in the capacity of an observer; that he believed that the Financial Committee of the League would be so concerned with the Danubian question and perhaps others that it would be necessary to have it meet at Lausanne concurrently with the Reparations Conference and that one of the advantages of this from his point of view was that the American members of the Financial Committee (in this case Norman Davis) would be present in Lausanne.

He told me of a conversation he had recently had on war debts with Schuler; I informed him I knew nothing of the questions raised. I am merely forwarding Tardieu’s comments to Edge for information.

The entire impression which I got from the conversation was that Tardieu was very much alive to the realities of the situation and to [Page 59] the practical advantages to be derived from cooperation with our Government and avoiding positions that will require us to take an attitude of opposition.

  1. Telegram in six sections.
  2. Telegram is apparently garbled here.
  3. For summary, see telegram No. 37, February 18, 2 p.m. from the Acting Chairman of the American delegation, p. 42.
  4. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, pp. 3329, 3398.
  5. October 16, 1925. For texts of agreements, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. liv, pp. 289–363.
  6. Documents of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference, Series X, Annex 1 (C.P.D. 211.), p. 423.
  7. Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armament, signed at London, April 22, 1930, Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. i, p. 107.
  8. See pp. 636 ff.