500.A15A4 Plenary Sessions/96: Telegram

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

111. The delivery of the speech of which draft was transmitted in my 108, April 7, 9 [8?] p.m.,72 with later amendments will doubtless bring forth the suggestion that all types of so-called aggressive arms should be dealt with at once. Not only will it be proposed to include bombing planes with which, through your instructions, we are adequately equipped to deal but some will also press for the inclusion of the capital ship.

We therefore feel that we should be in a position when this idea is advanced to deal with it on the spot and before repeated demands make it perhaps more embarrassing. We have therefore prepared an extemporaneous reply quoted at the end of this telegram which in our opinion deals adequately with this question and puts the burden where it belongs on the great land powers to make some effort towards reduction before they demand further sacrifices from us. Unless you have contrary views I propose to use this text on the first occasion when the inclusion of capital ships is urged.

I am not communicating this to the Secretary73 but if the President approves the course suggested perhaps when you so inform me you will likewise inform the Secretary.

“If there is a feeling that the capital ship is an aggressive weapon I am glad the question has been raised for my Government has certain very definite views on the subject.

So far as the United States is concerned we have regarded these as defensive weapons, as floating fortresses, essential to carrying out obligations which the United States has accepted both unilaterally and under international agreement such as the maintenance of free traffic through the Panama Canal at all times.

Capital ships along with other forms of naval armament, are already strictly limited by international agreement among the great naval powers; they have been drastically reduced in number and their lives have been prolonged, thus obviating replacements and the danger of competition for a number of years to come.

In the interest of general agreement among the naval powers the United States at the Washington Conference sacrificed predominance in naval strength in its most powerful category, and since it has always maintained the smallest land force of any great power by so doing it agreed to forego a military predominance in its preferred arm, an act of self denial unprecedented in history.

The naval forces of the world have thus been limited and reduced. [Page 76] I am convinced, however, that my country would not refuse to deal still more drastically with the subject of capital ships whenever other nations whose primary reliance on armaments is placed on land forces have made the sacrifice of possible superiority over their neighbors which the United States made at the Washington Conference and when they have agreed upon a balance which would afford mutual security and world wide relief.”

  1. Not printed; for text of speech as delivered, see p. 76.
  2. Mr. Stimson was en route to Geneva.