500.A15A5/231: Telegram

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

18. My 17, October 31, 8 p.m.66 I initiated the discussion with the Japanese by stating that their explanation indicated that their proposals were based on two reasons: first, that technical improvements have modified relative security established by the Washington and London Treaties; and second, that the present treaties are detrimental to Japan’s national prestige in its relations with China.

In regard to the first, I said that we did not feel that there has been any technical improvement which has altered relative security.

As to prestige: since the war the nations of the world have developed the concept of adjustment of problems of international concern through cooperation. We sincerely hoped that Japan would continue to associate itself with this movement, and that it would not revert to the obsolete theory of independent action. To do so might be helpful to Japan in dealing with China, but it would not be helpful to Japan’s prestige throughout the world. I said that we recognized that Japan’s relations with China presented difficult problems; that we desired to work in the most friendly way with Japan in meeting problems disturbing to the Japanese people; but that the Japanese proposals could not be dealt with intelligently without reopening related political questions. I then asked whether the Japanese had weighed carefully what the effects would be of an abrogation of the Washington Treaty; however, I thought it would be difficult to prove that the security of Japan had in any way been prejudiced by the naval treaties.

Matsudaira explained, to our surprise, that Japan’s preoccupation with the problem of prestige has nothing to do with China and that he had no intention of giving such [impression?]. We reminded Matsudaira of Yamamoto’s reference to “certain country”. Yamamoto nodded assent. Matsudaira proceeded to say that he associated himself completely with the view that the three principal naval powers should work together to promote peace. However, Japan desires to cooperate on an equal footing with the other powers, which the Japanese [Page 324] people believe it cannot do so long as Japan is bound by an inferior ratio.

Admiral Yamamoto gave an extended explanation of his statement made at a previous meeting, that technical improvements have modified the relative security established by the Washington Treaties. Briefly, his arguments were that tremendous increases in radius of action and of speed of vessels and improvements in naval aviation had operated to give greater advantages to an attacking fleet than to a defending fleet; that the Washington and London Treaties had in each case created dissatisfaction in the Japanese Navy; that Japan had endeavored to make good the deficiency in restricted vessels by constructing vessels in unrestricted categories, thus occasioning similar construction by other nations; and that it was necessary to proceed on the basis of new principles.

Admiral Standley disposed effectively of these arguments by pointing out that the Japanese Navy has kept pace with other powers in the matter of technical improvements and that Japan has more new vessels than has the United States, for the reason that the United States refrained for 10 years from new construction in the hope that the other nations would follow its lead.

I observed that we are unable to appreciate the contention that a smaller navy affects a nation’s prestige, and that it would be as logical for us to argue that we were not on an equal footing with Japan because she has an army vastly larger than ours, as for them to argue that they are not on an equal footing with us because we have a larger navy. I jokingly asked if their proposal to bring their navy up to ours included the bringing of their army down to ours. Matsudaira replied that that was another matter.

I concluded the discussion by urging the Japanese delegation to give further consideration to the problems which their proposals would raise. Matsudaira suggested that it would be advisable to proceed slowly, in which thought we concurred.

It was understood that we would meet again but no arrangement was made for the next meeting.

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