500.A15A5/211: Telegram

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

182. The following is a summary of telegram No. 6 of October 24, 7 p.m.,53 from Mr. Davis in London:

The American and Japanese Delegations met on the morning of October 24.

Matsudaira and Yamamoto read statements substance as follows:

Possession of armaments necessary for national safety is the right of all nations. In considering disarmament due regard must be given that right to avoid impairing a sense of national security. Any disarmament agreement must be based on the principle of non-aggression and non-menace. To that end the leading naval Powers should fix a “common upper limit” which may not be exceeded but within which each power may equip itself as it sees fit. The upper limit should be as low as possible and “offensive arms” should be reduced or abolished in favor of “essentially defensive arms”.

The Americans raised questions as to the meaning of “common upper limit” and “offensive arms”. Yamamoto said the “upper limit” should be the same for all Powers and should be as low as possible. While Japan would not necessarily build up to the maximum it would be free to do so if security demanded. Any agreement not to build to the maximum would be interpreted by the Japanese people as a perpetuation of naval inferiority.

Regarding “offensive weapons”, Yamamoto felt it was a question of determining which vessels were peculiarly offensive. They regarded as such, in the order mentioned, aircraft carriers, capital ships, and 8–inch gun cruisers. The Japanese Navy considered submarines as defensive and their offensive character against merchant vessels would be ended by making universal and effective the London Treaty provisions in this respect.

Davis then summarized the American position of favoring continued adherence to the principles and bases on which the Navies had already been limited and reduced, plus a reduction in total treaty tonnages. Matsudaira said his Delegation was instructed to propose a new basis and could not accept a continuance of the present system. Davis inquired [Page 315] what had happened to change the relative equality agreed on in 1922. Yamamoto replied that the Washington Treaty established equality of defense for Japanese waters but not for the mid-Pacific. Since 1922 naval construction and technique and aviation had upset the equilibrium in favor of an attacking fleet and the old figures would not satisfy the Japanese people today. Also the inferior ratio caused “a certain country” to look on Japan with contempt, producing complications in the Orient. Matsudaira referred to the troubled political situation in the Far East and the rest of the world, declaring European events psychologically disturbed Japan and increased Japanese public unwillingness to accept present treaty principles.

Davis said that certain phrases used by the Japanese Delegation were susceptible of different meanings and it would be necessary to determine their exact meaning before considering whether the Japanese proposals could serve as a basis for future discussion. He added that it seemed that the Japanese suggestions might involve such fundamental changes as to require reopening all matters on which the existing treaties were based. He doubted the practicability and advisability of this now. The Americans had hoped it would be unnecessary to raise political questions, at least in the preliminary conversations. Matsudaira said that the Japanese proposals did not contemplate a change in existing political agreements or non-fortification provisions in the Pacific. The two Delegations then agreed to discontinue discussions until they had considered what had been said and until a further elucidation, promised by Matsudaira, had been made; also that the conversations were to be confidential.