500.A15A5/846: Telegram

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

262. Department’s 157, December 10, 7 p.m.

The vernacular press reports the following statements made by the Navy Minister December 15 while explaining the naval budget at a meeting of representatives of political parties: the new armament scheme is not aimed at obtaining quantitative parity. It seeks to build up a fleet suitable for the national circumstances and national traits at minimum cost. Our objections to participation in the London agreement are that it does not provide for the entire national defense plans of each signatory to be disclosed to the others. Third replenishment program for 1937–1938 and subsequent fiscal years is a continuous expenditure. The Navy intends to preserve its secrets concerning naval construction. Publication of its defense plans for future years would impair security of national defense and entail dragging Japanese Government into naval competition, thus bringing about a financially deplorable situation.
Opinion prevails among Naval Attachés here that Japan will not revert to the 14-inch gun, that construction of one or more battleships as large as 50,000 tons with adequate protection against bombs, torpedoes and shell fire and mounting 16-inch or their equivalent in larger calibers is possible on the theory that such type might render obsolete the present types thus giving qualitative parity. Furthermore, analysis of the budget figures indicates that approximately 130 million yen will be allocated during the next fiscal year for the third replenishment program.
My British colleague has revealed to me in personal and confidential conversation that his Government possesses information to the effect that the Japanese Navy is now testing not only 16 but also 18-inch guns probably according to the British Naval Attaché on specially constructed monitors.
Our Naval Attaché has no direct information concerning the foregoing statement but concurs in the opinion that the construction of 16-inch gun types is being contemplated.
The British Ambassador believes that the Japanese will try to obtain some kind of a naval agreement next year but he feels that nothing can be done at present to ascertain their plans concerning calibers. If his information concerning the present testing of 16 and 18-inch guns is correct it would appear doubtful if the Japanese Navy is yet ready to formulate any agreement or that any concrete reply would be given to an inquiry concerning their intentions. Nevertheless the Japanese Navy can hardly fail to realize that if they intend to limit their gun calibers to 14 inches it is obviously to their interest that our own navy should be given timely information of that intention and that mutual and adequate guarantees should be afforded. When therefore the Department on the basis of its contacts in London feels that the time is ripe for an approach on our part we believe that nothing is to be lost and that something might be gained by frankly asking the Japanese what they intend to do so that we may be guided in our own naval plans for the future.
So far as the psychological moment for such an approach is concerned it may be said that the Japanese Government is at present in a politically precarious position. The Government has played its cards badly through inviting public censure over the agreement with Germany27 which has led to the impasse with Soviet Russia on the fisheries treaty.28 The Government is likewise incurring serious public criticism as a result of the failure of the negotiations with China. Its natural reaction in this situation is to seek closer relations with [Page 120] the United States and Great Britain but on the other hand to avoid any step which might incite further public criticism of its diplomacy. Any implication that the Government was yielding to foreign diplomatic pressure in matters affecting the Japanese Navy would have to be carefully avoided. There is no reason to believe that this status of affairs will alter appreciably in the near future.
From an informal casual conversation during the first official call of our Naval Attaché on the new Vice Minister of the Navy the Naval Attaché is now of the opinion that it is doubtful whether the navy officials will divulge any information relating to the building program. We therefore now feel that the only satisfactory method of obtaining information from the Japanese Government as to whether it proposes to proceed in accordance with article 4, paragraph 2, of the London Naval Treaty, 1936, is by formal and direct inquiry through diplomatic channels whenever the Department may find such an approach desirable.
The Naval Attaché has read and concurs in the contents of this telegram.
  1. German-Japanese anti-Comintern agreement, signed at Berlin, November 25, 1936, Foreign Relations, Japan 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 153.
  2. Protocol signed at Moscow, December 28, 1936, to regulate leasing of fishing grounds for one year; see despatch No. 2203, December 30, 1936, from the Ambassador in Japan, vol. iv, p. 451.