500.A15A5/451: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Atherton )

211. We have given careful consideration to your 359, August 9, 7 p.m., and your 361, August 10, noon, and desire you to seek an early opportunity to convey to the British Government the following observations:

There are proposals made in the memorandum to the French and Italians with regard to tonnage and gun calibre of future construction which are contrary to the views we have repeatedly set forth. They do not accord with the explanation given by the British of their middle course proposal advanced last year50 that such proposal was to include first: measures of qualitative limitation which were not to be devised in an effort to change existing types but were rather to prevent competition in new types, and second: programs for future construction which would have as one of their objects the maintenance of present ratios as closely as possible.

It was understood that this middle course proposal would be studied by both the American and Japanese Governments and that the British Government would keep in touch with the two other Governments to determine whether such proposal offered substantial hope of agreement and that it would arrange, in the light thereof, for the calling of a further meeting.

The British Government is now, however, upon its own initiative, and without prior discussion with us, endeavoring to reach “a sufficient measure of European agreement” so that it can put forward “as a European view” proposals which it must have known embodied such a wide divergence from existing treaty types as to make them unacceptable to the United States.

In the circumstances, while we wish to be as cooperative as possible and share the desire of the British to reach agreement on general naval limitation, we feel that little hope of achieving these aims is offered by a conference so long as the positions of the two major participants are still so far apart.

As a preliminary to any such meeting we feel that it is of primary importance that the two Powers possessing the largest fleets should reach more nearly a community of views than now exists. We had expected that during “the process of exploration” and before the British Government had embarked upon a definite program of proposals [Page 92] which include major questions of fleet construction they would have made a further attempt to reconcile such differences as are now shown to exist. While, in view of the denunciation of the Washington Treaty which was then impending, no attempt was made to reach agreement on technical questions between the United States and Great Britain during last year’s preliminary conversations it was brought out at that time that there would be little difficulty in reconciling the technical views of the two navies. In the circumstances, we have had in mind suggesting through you that we might have some informal exchange of views, without publicity—say between the Naval Attaché in London and officials of the Admiralty—on our respective positions in an attempt to clear up divergencies with respect to future building, qualitative limitation, and disposal of overage tonnage. We are still prepared to undertake such conversations at the earliest date convenient to both Governments.

You should leave at the Foreign Office a memorandum embodying the substance of this telegram and mail a copy for the Department’s records.51

  1. For minutes of meeting between the British and American delegations, November 14, 1934, 3 p.m., see Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. i, p. 334; see also Report of the Delegates of the United States, p. 2.
  2. Memorandum dated August 17 was left at the Foreign Office by the Chargé (500.A15A5/477).