The Acting Secretary of State to the Chargé in Japan (Dickover)

No. 1141

Sir: You are requested to consider, in the light of the general political situation in Japan, the advisability of approaching the Japanese Government with a formal inquiry as to whether it proposes to proceed in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 2, of the London Naval Treaty, 1936, which provides:

“No capital ship shall carry a gun with a caliber exceeding 14 inches (356 MM); providing, however, that if any of the Parties to the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament, signed at Washington the 6th of February, 1922,16 should fail to enter into an agreement to conform to this provision prior to the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty, but in any case, not later than the 1st April, 1937, the maximum caliber of guns carried by capital ships shall be 16 inches (406 MM).”

In a communication, dated July 9, 1936,17 the British Government notified us of the Japanese Government’s refusal to adhere to the London Naval Treaty, 1936. This raises the question whether Japan’s refusal to adhere to the 1936 Naval Treaty includes a refusal to accept the provisions of Article 4, paragraph 2, quoted above. For us a prompt reply to this question is imperative in view of the fact that the Navy Department is now completing the plans for the two capital ships which will be laid down early next year and much depends, from the technical standpoint, on whether these ships are to be armed with 14 or 16-inch guns. You will readily appreciate, therefore, that a clarification of the views of the Japanese Government in respect of the 14-inch guns is urgently necessary. We would wish you, however, before taking any action, to inform us of your conclusions so that we might consult with the British Government.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On October 15, the British Chargé d’Affaires in Washington informed us orally that he had received a telegram from his Government stating that Ambassador Clive, in reply to the question which had been put to him whether the time was opportune for making a formal inquiry of the Japanese Government in respect of the action [Page 112] it intended to take with regard to the limitation on caliber of guns on capital ships, had informed his Government that, in his opinion, the time was not opportune to place this matter before the Japanese Government. Nevertheless, the British Government had decided, in view of the fact that there was no evidence that the situation between China and Japan18 would improve in the immediate future, that it could no longer put off the presentation of this matter to the Japanese Government. The British wished, however, to ascertain beforehand whether this Government would concur in their addressing this inquiry to the Japanese Government, namely, whether the Japanese were prepared to conform to a 14-inch caliber limit on guns to be mounted on capital ships to be completed after the expiration of the present Naval Treaties on December 31 of this year.

That same day we replied to the British Chargé d’Affaires that we were agreeable in principle to the stand of the British Foreign Office to put the question in respect of gun calibers on capital ships to the Japanese Government but in the name of the British Government alone, not in the name of both Governments. We stressed, moreover, that the question should be considered of the effect the action of putting this question to the Japanese Government at this time would have and, further, what effect the causing of the Japanese Government to formulate a reply would have on the internal domestic political situation in Japan. We expressed our belief that, as far as these considerations were concerned, the man on the spot would be in the best position to decide. There seems to be a struggle at present between various elements in Japan as to the formulation of major policies and we would desire to avoid having any action taken which might have an adverse effect on the development of major policies in Japan.

Finally, on October 27, 1936, Sir Robert Craigie informed Mr. Atherton19 that some time in the previous week he had asked the Japanese Ambassador in London what he considered was the position of his Government in regard to the caliber of guns on capital ships. Ambassador Yoshida replied, according to Craigie, that he felt certain that his Government wanted the 14-inch gun but could not bind itself to this in view of public opinion and the fact that Japan had in the current year withdrawn from the Naval negotiations. Craigie felt, however, from what the Japanese Ambassador said, that his Government might be prepared to give an official assurance in writing that Japan would limit itself to 14-inch gun construction, with a face-saving device technically permitting it to notify interested Governments if it should decide to the contrary.

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It is desired that the Embassy give careful thought to the facts above set forth and determine at its earliest convenience whether, in the light of the existing political situation in Japan and of other related circumstances, an approach to the Japanese Government similar to that contemplated by the British Government should be made by this Government. It is requested that you inform the Department by telegraph of your conclusions and that, in the event of your arriving at the conclusion that such an approach should be made, you take no action in the matter pending the receipt of appropriate instructions.

Very truly yours,

R. Walton Moore
  1. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247.
  2. Ante, p. 104.
  3. See vol. iv, pp. 1 ff.
  4. See memorandum dated October 27, by the Counselor of Embassy in the United Kingdom, p. 145.