Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Welles) to President Roosevelt2

Step No. 1

Take up confidentially the proposal with the British Government in order to secure the latter’s support at such time and in such manner as may seem desirable to this Government.

Norman Davis3 believes that we should simultaneously communicate our intention of making such proposal to the French, German and Italian Governments for their confidential knowledge in order that we may thus make the effort to secure the assurance of their willingness to lend support and in order to avoid any belief on their part that any secret and prior agreement as to the nature of the recommendations to be formulated had been entered into between Great Britain and ourselves.

Step No. 2

The President calls in the diplomatic representatives of all nations to meet with him at the White House in order to hand to them copies of the proposal. The proposal is immediately thereafter made public.

Step No. 3

Should the replies to the proposal prove to be satisfactory, the President will direct the Secretary of State to proceed as follows:

Request the governments of the other American republics to cooperate by selecting two individuals, nationals of two American republics other than the United States, whom they consider most qualified to collaborate in the formulation of the recommendations listed in the proposal.
Request each of the following governments to designate a representative to take part in such formulation:
  • Sweden
  • The Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland
  • Hungary
  • Yugoslavia
  • Turkey
In order to avoid delay and to obtain the benefits resulting from personal interchange of views between the individuals so selected, it is urgently recommended that the nine individuals so designated be invited to meet in Washington with the representatives of the United States.
Inform simultaneously the Governments of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia that this Government will keep them closely advised of all developments throughout the formulative period in order to receive such suggestions and to hear such views as they may desire to express.

Step No. 4

Upon the completion of the formulation of the recommendations listed transmission of such recommendations to all governments.

It is my belief that the proposal in itself will lend support and impetus to the effort of Great Britain, supported by France, to reach the bases for a practical understanding with Germany both on colonies and upon security, as well as upon European adjustments. Great Britain and France are now equally persuaded that no approach to Italy is feasible unless this prior understanding with Germany is successfully attained.

Should this practical readjustment be discussed and pushed during the period when the recommendations envisaged in this Government’s proposal are being determined, it is obvious that each of the two parallel negotiations will be guided in part by the decisions arrived at in the other; this Government serving as a channel of information, and no more, insofar as the negotiations between and among the great powers of Europe are concerned. It is however probable that the influence of this Government with regard to the problem of limitation of armaments in both parallel negotiations would be helpful.

In this connection it is important to remember that in the Hitler–Halifax conversations4 Hitler expressed his willingness to agree immediately to the elimination of offensive armaments. It is equally important to recall that Mussolini six months ago publicly suggested that the President take the leadership in a move for immediate limitation and eventual reduction of armaments.5

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Step No. 5

It is impossible at this time to forecast with any precision beyond this point. Should the procedure indicated in Step No. 4 prove successful, the governments of the world will need do little more than ratify formally their approval of the recommendations formulated as the result of the President’s proposal, since their agreement in principle will have been made plain during the course of the negotiations. This formal ratification might be undertaken through diplomatic channels or through a general conference called specifically for that sole purpose.

If the German and Italian Governments do not reach a practical understanding with Great Britain and France as a result of their parallel negotiations above mentioned, it is possible that they will not acquiesce in the recommendations formulated as a result of the initiative of the United States. In such event, which would seem to be the worst of possible contingencies, this Government would at least have obtained the support of all of the governments of the world, other than those inseparably linked with the Berlin–Rome axis, for practical recommendations which would insure world peace and which would safeguard modern civilization. The rallying of public opinion on a world scale to those policies which alone can make for peace and economic progress would in itself be productive of practical good because of its inevitable repercussions on the German and Italian populations, as well as upon those smaller countries of Europe which have been feeling increasingly during these past three years that the great democracies have surrendered their leadership and that consequently they themselves, as a means of self protection, must align themselves with Rome and Berlin.

Finally, if Germany and Italy solve their practical problems with Great Britain and France it would seem probable that their present support of Japan will be very greatly weakened—at least to an extent sufficient to obligate Japan to make peace with China upon terms not inconsistent with the principles of the Nine Power Treaty.6

  1. Photostatic copy obtained from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N. Y.
  2. Mr. Davis held no official position at this time. He had been American delegate to International Economic and Disarmament Conferences, and to the Brussels Conference of November 1937, regarding the crisis in the Far East; see Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iv, pp. 1 ff.
  3. In November 1937; see telegrams No. 279, November 23, 1937, 2 p.m., from the Ambassador in Germany, and No. 735, November 24, 1937, 8 p.m., from the Chargé in the United Kingdom, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. i, pp. 159 and 177. See also German Documents, 1918–1945, ser. D, vol. i, pp. 39 ff.
  4. See telegram No. 244, May 25, noon, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. i, p. 655.
  5. Signed February 6, 1922, Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 276.