Statement by the Honorable Norman H. Davis, Chairman of the United States Delegation, London Naval Conference, May 13, 1936 [29], [Extracts]

A full report of the recent Naval Conference in London and of the treaty which was signed on March 25 last has been made to the President, who in turn has transmitted this to the Senate. I should like, however, to make certain additional observations with regard to the treaty that is now before you for ratification.

At the outset, I must state that there are two regrettable but unavoidable omissions in this treaty. One is that two of the Washington Treaty powers, Japan and Italy, have not yet signed it; the other is that this treaty does not provide for any reduction in total tonnage or for a continuance of the principle of quantitative limitation established by the two previous treaties. The facts are, however, that it was not possible to secure agreement to that effect because all of the naval powers represented at the Conference, with the exception of Great Britain and the United States, refused to enter into a new treaty which continued the limitations and the ratios established by the present treaties. In fact, Japan left the Conference a few weeks after it began because the other powers were unable to accept as a basis for negotiation the Japanese proposal for a so-called common upper limit which, in effect, was to scrap the present system of naval limitation and, without regard to relative needs and security, to change the present ratio of 5-5-3 to 3-3-3 or 5-5-5. While recognizing Japan's right to equal security, which we believe was achieved under the Washington and London Treaties, it was obviously impossible to accept the Japanese proposal because, owing to the difference in relative needs and vulnerability, naval parity would give to Japan naval superiority.

As it was impossible to agree to continue existing treaties beyond the end of this year, it was necessary, after the Japanese withdrawal from the Conference, for the remaining powers to decide whether to throw up their hands and quit or whether to proceed to the negotiation of such a treaty as might be possible, in order to prevent if possible the chaotic situation that would develop upon the termination of the existing treaties in case there should be nothing to take their place.

Notwithstanding the difficulties that were inherent in this situation, it was decided to continue in conference, with the result that after considerable time and patient effort we succeeded in negotiating a treaty which, while preserving in a modified but practical way the principle of naval limitation, contains new and important provisions which largely offset the omissions.

Although some things which we wanted are not in this treaty, there is nothing in it to which we object. There is, in fact, no single provision of the treaty which is objectionable or unfair to any participating state or to any of the other naval powers, but there is much that should prove to be mutually beneficial. It can thus be hoped that those states who have not yet signed the treaty will readily adhere to its provisions. When one considers the difficulties which stood in the way of negotiating any treaty whatsoever, and what the situation would be without any treaty at all, it is indeed a source of real satisfaction that we were able to achieve as much as we did. We were indeed fortunate in being able to negotiate a treaty which not only preserves a structure of naval limitation but which establishes a basis for further progress toward naval reduction under more favorable conditions than now exist.

While the new naval treaty is less rigid and less far-reaching than the previous treaties, it has many advantages, and its lack of rigidity may well be one of them. The fact is that the Washington Treaty has been denounced because of its rigidity, and for the same reason the London Treaty could not be renewed, whereas the new treaty, which is more flexible, may be more enduring and prove in the long run to be more practical. At any rate, we have nothing to lose in trying it out, and possibly much to gain.

[29] Before the committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Hearings on the London Naval Treaty.

Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 316-18.

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