The Department of State to the British Embassy

Memorandum 10

The American Government has given careful consideration to the aide-mémoire left by the British Chargé d’Affaires on September 14, with regard to the contemplated building by the United States of four six-inch gun cruisers of 10,000 tons displacement. While recognizing that such construction is entirely within the terms of the London Treaty, the British Government nevertheless indicated the hope that the laying down of any six-inch gun cruisers larger than those now in existence might be deferred during the life of the Disarmament Conference or at least pending a further exploration of the qualitative limitations of future ships. More specifically, inquiry was made as to whether the American Government would be willing to forego the laying down of such ships, pending a discussion between the Governments of Great Britain, Japan and the United States, if the Japanese Government would agree to do the same.

In deciding to increase its navy at the present time, and in particular to construct a certain number of six-inch gun cruisers of the maximum permitted displacement,—a program which was publicly announced as far back as mid-June, and was followed by the actual awarding of contracts on August 3,—the American Government was actuated by the two-fold desire of (a) more nearly approaching the Treaty limits agreed upon at London and (b) rounding out its fleet to meet its particular needs. The fact that the Japanese Government had already begun the construction of two 8,500 ton cruisers was not a determining consideration. The American building program was based on the conviction, often restated, that within the total limitations for specific categories, each power should remain free to choose the unit tonnage best suited to its individual circumstances. On this basis, the American Government has never sought to question Great Britain’s desire to build as large a number of cruisers within her tonnage maximum as she deemed necessary, and has in fact not demurred at accepting a considerable numerical inferiority in this class of ship. Conversely, it has felt that it could not legitimately be criticised for wishing to build cruisers of a size more closely adapted to its special needs. Nor would it thereby increase its expenditures for it has been calculated [Page 387]that the total cost of construction and operation would be less if the tonnage available were utilized in building a smaller number of large cruisers (despite their greater individual cost) than a larger number of smaller vessels.

Reference was made in the British aide-mémoire to a discussion held on February 11, 1930, during the Naval Conference at London, wherein Mr. Stimson was quoted as doubting the probability of the American Government actually building six-inch gun cruisers of the maximum size allowed. It would seem that such a statment,—which parenthetically was not recorded in the memorandum of conversation prepared by the American delegation,11—could only be viewed as an expression of personal expectation rather than a statement of considered policy. The records in the Department of State show that during the course of the London Conference, the American delegates insisted that the contemplated division of the cruiser category into sub-categories should be by caliber of guns only and without tonnage differentiation, and that they opposed every suggestion for a unit limitation below 10,000 tons. In particular, Mr. Stimson, on February 20, 1930, explained his rejection of the British proposal12 for limiting six-inch gun cruiser tonnage to 7,000 tons on the ground that the maintenance of the larger tonnage had been the basis for American agreement to reducing the number of eight-inch gun cruisers from 21 to 18. Furthermore, the testimony offered in the public hearings connected with the ratification of the London Treaty can have left no doubt as to the American Government’s intention of concentrating at least a portion of its six-inch gun cruiser tonnage in vessels approximating the maximum allowed unit tonnage.

It is difficult therefore to understand the suggestion of the British Government that the construction of six-inch gun cruisers of large displacement would constitute the beginning of a new form of competitive building which might have as its result an increase in British total tonnage requirements. This suggestion appears to be based on the theory that the maintenance of a definite Treaty ratio requires a matching not merely of total tonnages within categories, but of unit characteristics, vessel for vessel. Such a theory seems contrary to the principle on which the London Naval Treaty was based, namely, that the method of limiting total tonnages by defined category, without attempting to limit numbers or unit characteristics within the category, was the best, if indeed not the only practicable way of reconciling [Page 388]divergent national needs and policies within the mathematical requirements of comparative treaty ratios.

It would not be amiss, furthermore, to point out that the annual naval programs of both Great Britain and Japan since the London Conference have manifestly been designed to assure to those powers the approximate naval strengths permitted by the treaty. In doing so, both countries have legitimately built or planned vessels of varying unit characteristics in accordance with their particular needs. Except in the case of cruisers of sub-category A, the construction of which had already been authorized in 1929, the United States until recent months has failed to build in any category an annual tonnage even approaching the quota necessary to bring the total up to the treaty limits. Even the recent belated program would still leave the United States in 1936 more than 150,000 tons short of treaty limits.

A major reason for this delay was the hope of the United States that the Disarmament Conference might result in an agreement drastically reducing armaments both on land and at sea. Throughout the Conference, this Government has been pressing for measures of actual disarmament. President Hoover’s proposal of June 193213 urged an immediate quantitative reduction in all naval categories, ranging from 25 to 33 percent. These suggestions proved unacceptable to the British Government which in the following month advanced a proposal for purely qualitative reductions in the case of future naval construction, meanwhile leaving existing tonnage untouched. During the autumn of 1932, efforts were made in informal conversations between Mr. Norman Davis14 and the British Government to reconcile the divergencies between the two plans, but without success.

The American Government stands ready at any time to explore,—either directly with the British Government or jointly with other interested powers,—ways and means to effect further naval reductions and in particular to assure the success of the Conference of 1935. But in view of the circumstances set forth the American Government, while fully appreciating the friendly spirit in which the British suggestions were made, does not see its way at the present time to alter its delayed naval construction program or to suspend the laying down of the four cruisers under reference.

  1. The text of the memorandum was approved by President Roosevelt, by Admiral Leigh, Chairman of the General Board of the Navy, and by Admiral Standley, Chief of Naval Operations.
  2. Memorandum not printed, but see paragraph beginning “As to the meeting on February 11 …” in Mr. Stimson’s memorandum of November 3, pp. 389, 392.
  3. See p. 393, third paragraph.
  4. See telegram No. 145, June 21, 1932, to the Acting Chairman of the American delegation, Foreign Relations, 1932, vol. i, p. 211.
  5. Chairman of the American delegation to the Disarmament Conference.