500.A15A5/207: Telegram

The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State 42

230. Reference my telegram No. 201, September 13, noon.

I have just received from an entirely different source information tending to support my interpretation of the third sentence in Yoshida’s letter to the effect that budgetary considerations may be the basic factor controlling the policy of the Japanese Government at the London Naval Preliminary Conversations.
A highly placed Japanese official recently told one of my colleagues that the hope of escaping the intolerable financial burden which a prolongation of the naval construction programs permitted by existing agreements would impose upon Japan is at the root of the proposals to be made by Japan at London; that this consideration was even greater than the desire to abolish the ratio system which is so repugnant to the Japanese nation.
My colleague is informed that Japan intends at London to propose the abolition of the existing agreements and their replacement by a simple agreement fixing a maximum global tonnage for the United [Page 310] States, Great Britain and Japan; that if such a proposal is accepted Japan would hope that the United States and Great Britain would conclude a “gentleman’s agreement” with Japan not to increase their naval forces beyond reasonable limits necessary for the defense of each. Japan would declare the tonnage which she believes necessary for her own defense and would wish the others to do the same.
Failing an agreement of this kind Japan would have no other recourse after denouncing the existing agreements than to seek by other means, such as non-aggression pacts, to discourage if not prevent a naval armament race.
In asserting the value of this and other information which has been conveyed to the Embassy through intermediaries and other forms of so called “back stage play” it should be borne in mind that all the evidence from the days of Townsend Harris43 to the present time reveals the fact that these are the accepted methods employed by the Japanese in dealings of every sort, even among themselves, and are not restricted to use only when foreigners are involved. Information such as that contained in this and previous telegrams should not necessarily be discarded because of the method by which it was conveyed. The Japanese Government is a complicated organization which is not subject to control by any one person or single group of persons. All decisions of importance are reached through a series of discussions and compromises among different departments, in which different groups and points of view must be taken into account. The different groups treat with each other through intermediaries and seldom approve directly until the ground has been cleared by informal interchanges of this sort.
While men such as Kabayama,44 Yoshida, Sugimura45 and others speak without authority to commit anyone they are nevertheless in close and constant touch with and even participate in the councils of those who are in fact shaping the country’s policies; when they speak they must be considered as accurately reflecting what has actually occurred during the discussions.
It is true that during the Manchurian venture in 1931 we were receiving assurances from the civil authorities which were rendered nugatory by the action of the military; the present situation is not however analogous. The military are not operating upon the battlefield but in the arena of diplomacy which by its very nature is more adapted to the employment of methods with which the civil authorities, some of whom represent the less chauvinistic elements, are more [Page 311] familiar and in which, therefore, they may hope in a measure to succeed.
This does not necessarily mean that the liberal elements will have their way at London but they may well exert more influence on the final outcome than would be generally believed from a consideration only of the press and public announcements made by the military during the past 6 months.
The foregoing observations are submitted in the hope that they may assist the Department in correctly evaluating the information transmitted in this and previous telegrams.
  1. Repeated as telegram No. 1, October 17, to the Chairman of the American delegation to the Preliminary Naval Conversations.
  2. First Minister Resident in Japan, 1859–61.
  3. Count Aisuke Kabayama, member of Japanese House of Peers.
  4. Yotaro Sugimura, Japanese Ambassador to Italy.