500.A15A5/225: Telegram

The Chairman of the American Delegation (Davis) to the Secretary of State

16. We met today with the British Prime Minister, Sir John Simon, First Lord of the Admiralty,57 and First Sea Lord.58 MacDonald began by referring to our conversations of last June and July. He mentioned the personal message from President Roosevelt59 which he had appreciated and to which he had replied60 explaining the reasons that made an increase in cruisers a vital necessity for them. He said that we had agreed to defer further discussions at the time but that [Page 319] he wondered if we had any new thoughts on the subject. I reiterated what I had stated to him, as reported in my 14, October 27, 8 p.m., and said it seemed to me that in view of the vital and fundamental issues raised by Japan we would not be facing realities if we were to enter into technical discussions over a treaty that would never be signed unless there is a change in the Japanese attitude. I added that this was particularly true in view of the fact that Hirota had informed the American Ambassador in Tokyo September 18th [17th]61 that Japan intended to abrogate the Washington Treaty at the end of this year and that this statement had since been confirmed to me in private by Matsudaira and at a meeting with the Japanese this morning when Matsudaira had openly repeated his previous assertion. Simon here interjected that he had reached the conviction that the Japanese intended to abrogate the Washington Treaty.

We then put each other up to date with regard to our discussions with the Japanese. The Prime Minister stated that the British in their several meetings with the Japanese had endeavored to obtain an accurate picture of the Japanese position which he said the British had come to realize was an even more serious problem to Great Britain than to the United States; but that, cost what it may, Great Britain was determined to meet the situation in view of its far-flung responsibilities with a fleet adequate for defense in the Pacific and a fleet for home defense. He had come to the conclusion that either this fleet must be built of sufficient size for the purposes outlined or they must seek a political agreement covering the Pacific which would give them the security that they needed there. He said the Japanese had indicated to the British as they had to us this morning that their common upper limit included Italy and France and anybody else, which the Prime Minister said might one day include Germany and even Russia and create an even more impossible situation, and to which he had told the Japanese they could not agree.

The Prime Minister then explained that he felt we must continue a most sympathetic and patient attitude with the Japanese, that the matter was so profoundly important that we must explore every possible path. The Prime Minister however said that in the event that a three-cornered agreement was impossible he never questioned, and indeed welcomed, parity with the United States, but that that parity must be based upon Great Britain’s conception of the risks they had to face and not on an arbitrary figure imposed upon Great Britain by the United States.

I replied that the last thing the United States desired to do was to impose upon any nation and particularly upon Great Britain, a [Page 320] treaty incompatible with her national safety, but that we must both consider, in the event that Japan walked out, how we can both adopt a course which will not invite a naval race with Japan. We must leave on Japan the onus of a race if it should come.

I pointed out, however, that I was somewhat at a loss to know how to continue the conversations with the Japanese particularly in a return courtesy call which the American delegation was paying in the near future. The Prime Minister and Sir John Simon both made the suggestion that I should urge the Japanese to contemplate the situation that would be created if no treaty were reached. They added that if we both continued separately to impress upon the Japanese in all friendship and in patience that we could not contemplate acceptance of fundamental changes in the existing treaties and if they were made really aware of the unfortunate situation that would result for all concerned, including themselves, if the treaty were abrogated, the Japanese would eventually realize that we have a common point of view and this might give some hope of their changing their attitude. It is evident to me that the Japanese delegation had made a point to the British that they had not raised in their discussions with us, namely, that their desire for increased armaments in the Pacific was due to their fear of the American Fleet. The Prime Minister stated that they had proposed to the Japanese that a face-saving device be devised coupled with a limitation as to building programs over a period of years; that this suggestion had not at first been repulsed but that later in the discussions the Japanese had adopted the same rigid attitude that they had taken with us.

At the conclusion of the conversation I again sounded out the British position on tripartite meetings and found an almost unanimous opinion that such an eventuality must be considered when the Japanese position was definitely cleared up but that for the moment nothing would be gained by it particularly as it might be construed as an Anglo-American attempt to coerce Japan.

There is no question in my mind as to the deep concern with which England views the Japanese policy. No solution has been reached in their minds. They desire that there should be further bilateral talks with the Japanese and another meeting between the British and American delegations, possibly the latter part of this week. By that time I hope we will be in a position to go into more positive attitudes.

In order that there should be no misunderstanding I asked the First Sea Lord whether in view of the importance of the Japanese situation he did not think that at present any technical discussion between the Admiralty and Admiral Standley would be unnecessary and inadvisable and he replied emphatically, yes.

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MacDonald said that if the Japanese definitely refused to recede from their position, as seemed most probable, it would then be necessary and desirable for us to sit down together and discuss how we should deal with the resultant situation, particularly with regard to our own navies. He thought it, however, inadvisable for the United States and Great Britain to attempt to do this until all hope of a tripartite agreement is exhausted.

  1. Sir Bolton Meredith Eyres-Monsell.
  2. Admiral Sir Ernie Chatrleld.
  3. See telegram No. 270, June 26, 9 p.m., to the Ambassador in Great Britain, p. 277.
  4. See telegram No. 364, June 27, 9 p.m., from the Ambassador in Great Britain, p. 281.
  5. See telegram No. 204, September 18, noon, from the Ambassador in Japan, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 253.