Memorandum by the Chairman of the American Delegation (Davis) of a Conversation With the French Ambassador (Laboulaye)77

At the afternoon tea of Mrs. Hull, Mr. de Laboulaye called me aside to inquire about the naval situation. He said that he had read in the press of an interview78 I had given which indicated a somewhat different point of view from that which Secretary Hull had expressed to him previously. I told him that in the first place the account of the interview, particularly that in the Hearst press, was quite inaccurate and that there was no difference between Secretary Hull’s point of view and my own with regard to this matter. He said he did not understand whether or not we had agreed to grant to Japan the right of equal armaments with an agreement not to exercise it. I told him that both the British and ourselves had rejected that proposal on the part of the Japanese and as I had stated fully in the speech which I made in London on December 6, our view was that a naval agreement should be based on equal security and that the British proposal which was still under consideration was that we should in effect maintain the present relative positions finding another method for doing so rather than that in the existing treaties. He wished to know just what the British proposal was. I replied that in effect it was to maintain the present provisions of the treaty fixing the type of vessels that could be constructed but not fixing the amount of tonnage of the respective categories; that the question of tonnage would be taken care of through unilateral declarations of building programs for the next six years which would be attached to the treaty but with a provision in the body of the treaty that the programs should not be altered without consultation and twelve months previous notice. He then said that this would seem to furnish a good basis for agreement between France and Italy and that this was in effect the same position France had taken with regard to Italy. I told him that I understood in fact that the statement of the American position, which I had made in a speech in London on December 6, explaining the difference between equality of armaments and equality in security had been most favorably received in France. I then told him I had therefore been most surprised at the note which the French Government had just sent with regard to the Japanese denunciation of the Washington Naval Treaty as I could not understand just what it meant and why it was sent at all. He [Page 425] said that he assumed his Government was looking ahead to a future naval agreement and that they wanted to be in a strategic position to uphold their point of view when the time comes. I told him that in my opinion it implied that while France had not been willing to denounce this treaty herself, she was delighted that it had been denounced by Japan. I remarked that since France has vital interests in the Far East, I wondered to what country or countries she was looking to protect her interests there. Was it to be by independent French action, or through Japan, or through cooperation with the other interested Powers? I told him that the crux of the problem in the Far East was whether or not Japan was going to cooperate with other interested Powers in accordance with existing agreements in order to promote peace and so forth and that in some respects the problem was similar to that in Europe with regard to Germany He said that there was a considerable similarity. He said that he would communicate further with his Government and attempt to clarify the issue to them.

Norman H. Davis
  1. Copies transmitted to the French Ambassador and to the Ambassador in France.
  2. New York Times, January 7, 1935, p. 11.