The Ambassador in Japan ( Grew ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1333

Sir: I have the honor to suggest that the Department will have observed that there exists here at present a period of comparative tranquility in the field of Japanese naval affairs and their discussion, [Page 69] a period which was ushered in upon the return last winter of Vice Admiral Yamamoto from London. With the exception of occasional flurries in the press such as the comment directed against the United States Navy in connection with the recent naval maneuvers in the Pacific, and statements made from time to time by individuals who wish to keep the thought of the “Crisis Year” before the public, there has been a tendency to avoid the bluster and emphasis upon Japan’s naval needs which marked the periods preceding and during the preliminary naval conversations held at London last year. This new trend has formed the subject of a recent despatch* and is of the greatest importance as it applies to Japanese policy as a whole; the purpose of this despatch, however, is to examine the extent to which it may apply to the specific question of Japan’s naval policy and her attitude toward the Naval Disarmament Conference which should be held this year in accordance with the terms of the London Treaty of 1930.19

The Department will recall from despatches on the subject last year the considerable difference which existed at that time between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Navy Department on the question of the then proposed abrogation of the Washington Treaty;20 Mr. Hirota had his way and notice of the proposed abrogation was postponed until December and after it had been determined that no agreement could be reached at London, despite the fact that the Naval authorities had been pressing for abrogation even before the preliminary conversations had begun. The significance of this lies in the fact that the difference which existed between the civilian and the military authorities was one of method or tactics rather than one of objectives. Mr. Hirota, no less than Admiral Osumi,21 stood firm for abrogating the Washington Treaty but he stood for that group which is today being given an opportunity of trying to reach the Government’s ends by more conciliatory and tactically wise, although none the less firm, methods than those employed during recent years by the military leaders. There is no doubt, then, that the new policy of maintaining a less vocally aggressive attitude concerning Japan’s demands for naval parity is sponsored by the civilian authorities in an attempt to avoid the atmosphere of irritation which constant reiteration was rapidly building up. It does not mean, however, that the Government’s position with regard to naval parity is altered in [Page 70] the slightest degree, nor is there any indication that it will be. The reasons underlying this position are as strong, if not stronger than ever.

The Japanese demands for the abolition of the ratio system are based upon two fundamental things: first the necessity of having a navy of sufficient strength to instrument [implement?] her policy of exercising uncontested dominance over “East Asia”, and second the passionate desire for equality in rank with the first class powers of the world. The analogy with the state of mind prevailing in Germany immediately suggests itself, and I think it not an exaggeration to say that the determination of Japan to rid herself of the restricting bonds of the Washington Treaties22 (albeit she signed them voluntarily) is as great as the determination of Germany to rid herself of the similar restrictions imposed by the terms of the Versailles Treaty.23 This means that if the Disarmament Conference takes place this year, or even next, one must envisage the possibility that Japan is prepared to blast the Conference, to defy world public opinion and take unilateral action to attain her ends, whatever may be the consequences. Such is the temper of the world today. And in the case of Japan it is perhaps not to be wondered at; for she has successfully defied world opinion at Shanghai and in Manchuria and has left the League of Nations without dire consequence, and now she is further encouraged by the spectacle of Germany unilaterally abrogating the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and vastly improving her international position by so doing. And for that matter, who shall say that Germany herself did not take courage from Japan’s previous actions in casting off the restraint of treaties and agreements such as those referred to?

With these considerations in mind, together with the realization that Europe is rapidly become [becoming?] a vast armed camp even though its avowed purpose may be for keeping the peace, it appears scarcely possible at present that the attitude of the Japanese Government, whether directed by the civilian or the military authorities, will undergo any appreciable change by the time the Naval Disarmament Conference of 1935 takes place, if it does.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Embassy’s despatch No. 1279, May 3, 1935. [Footnote in the original; for despatch No. 1279, see vol. iii, p. 148.]
  2. Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. i, p. 107.
  3. Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament, signed at Washington, February 6, 1922, ibid., 1922, vol. i, p. 247. For correspondence relating to denunciation of the treaty by Japan, see ibid., 1934, vol. i, pp. 405 ff.
  4. Japanese Minister of Marine.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  6. Signed June 28, 1919, Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3329.