Memorandum by the Secretary of State65

The Ambassador of Japan, accompanied by his Counselor of Embassy, came in, and, without any preliminaries, the Ambassador handed to me the following note, signed by himself, the effect of which is to give notice to the Government of the United States by the Japanese Government that Japan denounces the Washington Treaty, [Page 416] thereby terminating the same on January 1st, 1937, which note is as follows:

“No. 250

Japanese Embassy

Washington, December 29, 1934

Sir: I have the honor, under instructions from my Government, to communicate to you the following:—

In accordance with Article XXIII of the Treaty concerning the Limitation of Naval Armament, signed at Washington on the 6th February, 1922, the Government of Japan hereby give notice to the Government of the United States of America of their intention to terminate the said Treaty, which will accordingly cease to be in force after the 31st December, 1936.

Accept, Sir, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.

(Signed) Hirosi Saito

The Honorable Cordell Hull
Secretary of State,

I replied orally66 as follows:

“Very well, Sir. I shall proceed in accordance with the terms of the Washington Treaty in a suitable way to include the other Governments signatory to the Washington Treaty, namely, Great Britain, France and Italy, in the notice67 which your Government has this day given to the United States.”

The Ambassador then handed to me in writing a Note Verbale, under telegraphic instructions from Minister Hirota, for my information, which note is as follows:

“Japanese Embassy

December 29, 1934

Note Verbale

I have been telegraphically instructed by Mr. Hirota to say to you, on the occasion of handing you the written notice of the intention of the Japanese Government to terminate the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, in the following sense with suitable amplifications:—

As has already been made known to the American Delegation in London, the basic policy of the Japanese Government in the present disarmament negotiations consists in the discontinuance of the ratio system and the total abolition or the utmost limitation of aggressive war vessels. From that point of view, the Japanese Government considers it inadmissible to have the Treaty continue in force.

The Japanese Government entertains the desire that the preliminary negotiations shall be conducted in the friendliest spirit possible [Page 417] and, to that end, wished that all Powers concerned would conjointly make the notification of treaty termination. The proposal has not been accepted by any of the Powers, and the Japanese Government has been constrained to act singly in giving notice in accordance with the provisions of Article 23 of the Treaty itself.

It is, however, a matter of course that the Japanese Government has no intention whatever to proceed to naval aggrandisement or to disturb international peace. It will continue in its sincere endeavors to strengthen the relationships of peace and amity among all Powers, by participating as heretofore in the friendly negotiations with the other Powers concerned in which it will strive for the conclusion with them of a new agreement, just, fair and adequate in conception and consonant with the spirit of disarmament, to replace the Washington Treaty.”

The Ambassador added that Japan’s Foreign Minister, through careful handling of the delicate situation (or words to that effect) had felt that not he but his subordinate, the Foreign Office spokesman,68 should give out this statement of reasons for the denunciation of the Washington Treaty, which statement is as follows:

“To be released at noon, Saturday, December 29, 1934.

Statement of the Foreign Office Spokesman Concerning the Notice of the Washington Treaty of Naval Limitation.

In the recent preliminary conversations the Japanese Government have been exerting, in cooperation with the other Powers concerned, their most sincere efforts towards the achievement of a new agreement which will secure Japan’s national defence and which will bring about a substantial measure of disarmament, eliminating all possibilities of aggression from among the great naval Powers while lightening as far as possible the tax burden of the peoples. The Japanese Government, after careful consideration from this viewpoint, are convinced that the cause of disarmament can best be served and the security of the Powers permanently assured by concluding an equitable agreement founded upon the following principles which have been submitted to the other Powers:69

In view of the present state of extraordinary development in warship, aircraft, and other weapons of war, the existing naval treaties which recognize inequality of armaments among the Powers can no longer afford security of national defence to Japan. For this reason, the new treaty should rest not upon a ratio principle, but on the formula of an agreed upper limit for the armaments to be retained by each Power.
(a) In consonance with the spirit of disarmament, the said common upper limit should be fixed as low as possible.
(b) In order to render it difficult for any Power to attack another but easy to defend itself, the offensive arms should be totally abolished or drastically reduced, and the defensive arms adequately provided.

In the light of these basic principles, it is impossible for the Japanese Government to acquiesce in the continuation for a further term of the [Page 418] Washington Treaty of naval limitation, which not only permits the retention of the offensive arms, but admits disparity in naval strength through the adoption of a ratio system. Moreover, the allocation of an interior ratio, so detrimental to our national prestige, is bound to remain a source of permanent and profound discontent to our people. Consequently, our Government have long felt it incumbent upon them to give notice of their intention to terminate the said treaty at the end of the year 1936, namely, upon the expiration of the stipulated term of its life. Of this intention the British and American Governments were early given a fairly clear intimation. The Japanese Government, however, anxious to conduct the negotiations as amicably and effectively as possible, considered it preferable to make a joint notification of termination in concert with the Powers concerned and invited all of them to give such joint notice.

It was only when those Powers failed to accept the invitation that our Government decided to act alone and give notice to the Government of the United States of their intention to terminate the Washington Treaty in conformity with the stipulation under Article 23. Each Contracting Power has, of course, a full legal right to give such notice which is explicitly provided for in that instrument.

The present step taken by the Japanese Government is only a logical outcome of our fundamental policy which aims at the conclusion of another pact to supersede the Washington Treaty. Our Government desire fervently to arrive at an agreement which is just and fair for all the parties concerned and entirely in accord with the spirit of disarmament. They are prepared, despite the termination of the Washington Treaty, to pursue with undiminished zeal friendly negotiations with the other Towers.

So far from entertaining the slightest wish to enlarge her armaments, Japan endeavours to promote the cause of peace by establishing the principle of non-menace and non-aggression through the suppression or drastic reduction of the offensive weapons of war. It is their firm belief that when the other Powers, appreciating the essential fairness of Japan’s claims, consent to make a sweeping reduction in fighting strength along the lines proposed by our Government, then a full measure of security will be afforded to the Powers through the elimination of any possible menace from one another, and an enduring peace established upon a solid basis.”

The Ambassador then handed to me a proposed release of his own, covering the same subject matter as that of the Tokyo release. He undertook to explain that members of the press had been so persistent in their requests of him for a statement that this statement was the result:—

“For release, Noon Saturday, December 29, 1934.

Statement of the Japanese Ambassador, Mr. Hirosi Saito.

Although the Japanese Government has given notice, according to the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, of its intention to terminate the agreement, it has done so with the sincere hope to have a substitute accord that will embody the proposals we have made.

One feature of these proposals has been given, in my opinion, undue emphasis by critics. That is the claim for equality. We have also proposed a radical reduction in naval armament capable of [Page 419] aggression. We are proposing the total abolition of the big and expensive warships covered by the Washington Treaty, i. e. capital ships and aircraft carriers. We are ready to go down to as far as the half of our present naval strength. But too little has been said of this.

On both material and moral grounds we earnestly desire a substantial reduction that will free the nations of anxiety regarding the possibilities of war. We want the others to be free of any anxiety regarding us, and we want to be free of any regarding them.

It is to be noted that our claim for equality or parity is a necessary prerequisite to such real reduction in the navies. Furthermore, our proposal is not to have our navy the equal of that of the United States or Great Britain suddenly overnight. Japan wishes that a common maximum limit for navies will be agreed upon, and each Power to retain the right to build up to it as the necessity of the situation dictates.

The maintenance of excessive armaments is not only a heavy burden on all the peoples who support them but has the unfortunate effect of creating suspicions of purpose and giving rise from time to time to alarms. There is enough difficult work for each of the three great naval powers to do in its own country and its own proper sphere of the world without contemplating the possibility of war with either of the others and preparing for so remote an eventuality. Accord among them, therefore, ought to be attainable on a reasonable basis and happily there is plenty of time for an accord to be reached before our notification becomes effective two years hence.

But even if no accord can be reached I am not at all anxious over the consequences. The peoples concerned are all intelligent and their governments are rational. No one wishes to engage in damaging naval building competition. There has never been a serious armed conflict between the United States and any of the Far Eastern nations, and, as your Secretary of State and our Foreign Minister have agreed, there is no problem between the United States and Japan that cannot be settled by diplomatic means.70 Having no conflict of interest that is not overwhelmingly outweighed by our mutually beneficial relations there is no logical reason for us to compete in armaments. Therefore, as I see it, an end of suspicions and a development of accord is the part of wisdom as well as the duty of our nations.

It is gratifying and heartening to note that the governments of this country and Japan are now endeavoring to stop jingoes in both countries from making irresponsible and inflammatory utterances. It is time for all of us to ponder the situation seriously. Bearing in mind the friendship and statesmanship which have successfully solved many questions between our two countries in the past and the good sense and sportsmanship of the two peoples, I am always hopeful and optimistic.”

I thanked the Ambassador for his courtesy in handing me these news releases and acquainting me with them at this stage.

Thus ended the conversation save for some few Holiday comments back and forth.

c[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Transmitted to the Embassies in France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan; and the Legation in China, January 14, 1935, as enclosures to despatches Nos. 703, 673, 340, 666, and 1567.
  2. Formal reply by the Secretary of State is printed in Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 275.
  3. Transmitted by circular telegram of December 29, 1934, 4 p.m., to the Embassies in France, Great Britain, and Italy; and by notes of December 31, 1934, to the British, French, and Italian Ambassadors, and the Canadian and South African Ministers; communications not printed.
  4. Eiji Amau.
  5. See telegram No. 182, October 25, 7 p.m., to the Ambassador in Japan, p. 314.
  6. For exchange of informal notes on February 21 and March 3, 1934, see Department of State, Press Releases, March 24, 1934, pp. 160–162.