500.A15A4 General Committee (Arms)/287

The American Delegate (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

No. 112

Sir: Supplementing my telegram No. 1035, of April 13, 5 p.m., I have the honor to report that the Committee on the Regulation of the Manufacture of and Trade in Arms adjourned Saturday, after examining and adopting the report of the first reading of the project which the American Delegation had submitted.

These two months of negotiation represent a period full of the most difficult decisions that I have been called upon to make in negotiations. They also represent a period in which negotiation was carried on in the strangest possible atmosphere. The negotiations at Geneva were obviously and continuously conditioned upon events of major political importance happening in Europe. It will be remembered that during this period the Franco-British accord was reached in London;74 the British White Paper on German rearmament was published;75 Hitler developed his famous cold in the head; the reorganization of the German Army was announced;76 the visits of Sir John Simon and Eden to the capitals of the Continent took place, and finally the conversations at Stresa were begun,77 to be followed immediately by the Special Session of the Council of the League on France’s complaint as to Germany’s violation of the Treaty of Versailles.78

It will be remembered that Mr. Norman Davis and myself had prepared the ground as thoroughly as we were able to before the presentation of our project. We thought we had eliminated surprises, especially from the side of the British, as we had even informally left a copy of our project with them in London before the presentation to the Bureau. We had expected that our troubles would lie in the endeavor of France and other Powers to widen the scope of the treaty. Hence I had anticipated that apart from indifference and possible hostility from Italy, the only major objection to our scheme would be an indifference on the part of Japan.

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The Department then will understand my surprise at being faced with the British decision when Lord Stanhope reached Geneva. It was apparent at once that without a prompt and serious change in British policy nothing in the nature of a united text could be expected. This was the more true in view of Great Britain’s prestige. The vigor with which they defended their project, and their insistence upon it as the only practicable basis had built up the conviction in the minds of many of the Delegates that if anything was to be done it would have to be done on the basis of the highest common denominator of their opinion, namely, the plan which the British, Italians and eventually the Poles and Japanese appeared willing to accept. There is no evidence, however, that the French and those who support them would accept a minimum text.

Although in many respects the text shows a harmony of views between the French and ourselves, there are however real differences in the conception of this treaty between the French and certain Continental States on the one hand and ourselves on the other. It is clear that the French are primarily interested in what the publicity and supervision features of the proposed treaty would reveal with respect to German armament, both from the point of view of “forewarned is forearmed” and also possibly from the more constructive point of view of reduction of programs, once these are known sufficiently in advance. To us the purpose of the treaty is to eliminate certain evils and abuses in connection with the arms trade. We believe that appeasement of international relations would ensue, but it would be a by-product. In other words, the French idea is based upon preparation for war, while ours is for correction of abuses in peace time.

It is natural that the French conception of the purposes of the treaty leads to maximalist development whereby there should be the greatest amount of advance information on the most extended scale and inspection during manufacture with respect to matériel.

Our draft based as it was on previous texts worked out at Geneva, contained many elements inserted to satisfy the French. As the discussions continued, the diverging conceptions became more apparent and we came to recognize that those portions of our text on which the French were most insistent were in many respects those which we had inserted with the greatest reluctance.

As to the text itself, I think very little explanation is necessary. The divergencies and accords are clearly indicated and a reading of the left hand column, together with the center column, where there is no opposition, will give a clear idea of the British proposal. I commend also for its lucidity the speech of Mr. Stevenson in the final meeting (contained in the Minutes of the Meeting of April 15th), which gives an excellent analysis of the British point of view. (I append one [Page 50] copy of Mr. Stevenson’s speech79 as the Minutes are not yet available, but will be forwarded shortly).

The text shows a multitude of reservations in the right and left column. I invite attention to the fact that most of the reserves hinge upon three important differences of opinion:

Publicity of orders;
Whether reports are to be on value only or on values and numbers;
Inspection on the spot.

If accord on these three points were to be realized, most of the reserves would fall automatically.

I think it well to explain one article: “Chapter V. General Dispositions—Article c. Derogations.”

The text of this article is based on former Article 88 of the British Draft Convention, which in turn was derived from a similar article in the project of convention prepared by the Preparatory Commission.80 It developed in the discussions in the Legal Committee that a number of States felt that this escape clause was necessary. During these debates no mention was made of the feature of consultation contained in the penultimate paragraph of this article. The debate was confined to the advisability or non-advisability of an escape clause. Our Representative on the Committee therefore felt it wise not to introduce a discussion on the matter of consultation but to confine it to the principle of whether or not an escape clause was advisable. Article c. was never debated in full Committee, since the report from the Legal Committee was only received a day or so before the last session. Since, however, this article contained something in the nature of an engagement to consult, I thought it wise to offer a firm reserve on the whole article without going into details as to why. This reserve will be found in Part III “Observations and Reserves on the Matter of the Draft Text, No. 86 [92].”81

There was no disposition on the part of any of the Delegations to press for an immediate resumption of the work or for embarkation on a second reading in the immediate future. It was felt by all that the divergencies were such that the principal producing governments must get into an agreement as to the general type of text acceptable before it could be useful to start on a second reading. It looks now as if the governments will have to decide eventually whether they desire to have a minimum treaty, such as the British propose, or to refrain from further efforts in this matter until the future discloses whether [Page 51] or not there is to be a general treaty of limitation, in which event undoubtedly Great Britain and presumably Italy will modify their attitude.

In any case, with events of vast importance taking place on the Continent, it would undoubtedly be a mistake to push further in this matter in the immediate future and until we have seen something as to the nature of the settlement arrived at, or the complete political anarchy to follow failure to reach such a settlement.

One additional copy of this despatch is being transmitted for the use of Mr. Norman Davis.82

Respectfully yours,

Hugh R. Wilson
  1. See British Cmd. 4798, Miscellaneous No. 1 (1935): Joint Communiqué … Conversations between the French and British Ministers in London, February 1st to 3rd, 1935.
  2. British Cmd. 4827 (1935): Statement Relating to Defense Issued in Connexion with the House of Commons Debate on March 11, 1935.
  3. For decree of March 16, 1935, see vol. ii, p. 296.
  4. See British Cmd. 4880, Misc. No. 2 (1935): Joint Resolution of the Stresa Conference Including the Anglo-Italian Declaration and Final Declaration, Stresa, April 14, 1935.
  5. League of Nations, Official Journal, May 1935, p. 569.
  6. Not printed.
  7. League of Nations, Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Geneva, 1936, Conference Documents, vol. i, p. 7.
  8. Ibid., vol. iii, p. 821 (Official No: Conf. D. 168).
  9. Former head of the American delegation, 1933–34. Mr. Davis continued to be consulted on matters pertaining to disarmament, and was appointed Chairman of the American delegation at the London Naval Conference, December 1935. For correspondence concerning the Conference, see pp. 64 ff.