500.A15A4 General Committee (Arms)/105

The American Delegate (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

No. 109

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 107 of November 26, 1934,31 Section VIII, and to recall that when in Washington last December I discussed this matter with Mr. Moffat and Mr. Green of the Western European Section and we came to the conclusion that before reaching a decision it was better to wait and see how the French contemplate embodying such a theory in practice.

Since my return I have had several conversations with Massigli, Aubert and Jean Paul-Boncour32 on this subject and can further explain what appears to be in their minds.

They point out that the publicity on budget estimates for national defense expenditure will presumably be broken down from global sums for military, naval and air expenditures into sums which cover at least the broad divisions of such expenditure. What they desire is that in addition to this publicity of budget estimates for national defense expenditure, there should also be an advance statement of contemplated procurement of essential items of armament by numbers. [Page 11] Such a declaration would be a mere declaration of intention and involve no legal obligation to carry out such expressed intention. It would merely be an indication by a State so that the neighbors would have some degree of advance notice of the trend of contemplated procurement of important military and naval matériel.

I have taken the position with the French that my Government could not make up its mind on this subject until it received more accurate specifications of the thought that was contemplated. I also said that it was my own opinion that the greater the detail demanded the more would be the difficulty and that I would not even submit the matter to my Government if it was the purpose of the French to demand excessive detail in the declaration of intention.

The French delegates assure me that they do not contemplate asking for detail and there was worked out in a discussion this morning, purely for purposes of example, a certain breakdown of armaments into classes or divisions which the French say would be satisfactory to them. Such a division might be approximately as follows:

Land: Sea: Air:
Artillery Battleships Airplanes:
Tanks Cruisers bombers,
Armored cars Destroyers observation,
Ammunition for artillery Submarines pursuit

It would seem a useless complication to state the amounts and calibres of ammunition. Declaration of intention in regard to ammunition should be covered by a global sum embracing all classes.

If the sole object of the French proposal is to obtain advance information on contemplated procurement of the arms and armament mentioned above, we feel, though it has not been suggested to them, that their contention concerning these particular items might be met by inserting an additional requirement in an appropriate place in the present draft, which would provide that the H. C. P.’s,33 in view of the importance of the articles enumerated, would undertake to declare, at a moment to be determined, their contemplated procurement of those articles during such fiscal year; such declaration of intention not to be binding as to the distribution of funds to be appropriated and to entail no legal obligation as to their disposition.

If the information is confined to the foregoing broad divisions, as the French seem to desire, the matter would appear to us here in a different and less objectionable light than otherwise might be the case. It is my impression that in the submission by the War and Navy Departments to Congress of their budget estimates, all of the information the French desire is regularly contained therein and available to the public. Indeed, it would appear that anyone who [Page 12] attended the meetings of the committees of Congress or purchased the reports of those meetings would have available more detailed information than would be contemplated in the list given above. Thus the obligation to furnish this declaration of intention, generally as set forth above, would not bind us to reveal anything which is not already available to the public.

The French urge that the declaration of intention by the various governments will inevitably give rise to regional understandings as to procurement and maintenance of armaments which will in themselves tend to produce a limitation thereof.

This bargaining aspect is one which should have a strong Continental appeal. Moreover, the French are particularly anxious to include provisions of this sort and have sent a member of their delegation to Geneva several days in advance of the committee meeting to explain their ideas and to urge once more upon us the importance of this advance publicity. With this in mind and since it may not appear objectionable from the American point of view, you may consider it desirable to give this satisfaction to the French, who appear increasingly anxious to work out with us an acceptable formula for the convention of limited objectives.

On the other hand, it is not impossible that the French may consider that such a step may furnish a basis for subsequent propositions for budgetary limitation in future conventions. In my opinion, however, there is no necessity for contemplating the crossing of that bridge until we come to it.

I am submitting this matter to you in writing rather than by telegraph in order to present it in some detail. I should be happy, however, if you would be good enough to cable me your general views as the matter should be an active one within two weeks’ time.

Respectfully yours,

Hugh R. Wilson
  1. Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. i, p. 193.
  2. Permanent delegate of France to the League of Nations.
  3. High Contracting Parties.