Excerpts from the Press Conference
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. The really important news is that we are going to have a moratorium on news over Saturday and Sunday.
Q. Speaking of moratoriums, did you see the speech that Ramsay MacDonald made yesterday in which he said that an agreement had been reached that we should enter into a consultative pact?'
THE PRESIDENT: Careful; don't misquote him, get it right.
Q. Will you read it and comment on it, please?
THE PRESIDENT: You can print his language.
Q. What was that, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: You can print his language.
Q. What he said was that agreements were entered into here . . .
THE PRESIDENT: What did you say? I will have to read it to you.
Q. You will find it on the front page, in the box, in the Times. (Laughter)
THE PRESIDENT: For your information, I will read what he said. I take it that it was properly transmitted.
"One of the points we both considered and had very clearly in front of us was the menace to the tranquillity of mind of Europe which the recent events in Europe had created. We saw quite clearly the new risks with which the Disarmament Conference was being faced.
"Yet I am very happy to say that the United States Government is prepared to play a further part in tranquilizing Europe by agreeing, if the Disarmament Conference comes to anything like a satisfactory issue, to take its part in consultative pacts, the effect of which will be to increase the security of Europe and the safety of threatened Nations against war.
"This is a very considerable advance. Secretary of State Stimson began it in that courageous statement he made before he went out of office regarding the need to redefine neutrality and the present Government has expressed its intention of going further in making its obligations quite definite and authoritative. An announcement will be made in Washington in due time, when the matter is further considered and its details dealt with.
I will tell you what I am going to do. I will talk to you off the record about it. We haven't got to the point of saying anything, so it has to be entirely off the record and just informative..
Both platforms, I think certainly the Democratic platform, favored consultative pacts. Now, what is a consultative pact? It means, and it meant in the platform, that if all the Nations agreed to set up some kind of machinery for consultation in the event of an act of aggression, we would be very glad to have somebody there to consult with. I consider that to be a step forward. Do not get the idea that it means that we bind ourselves in the first instance to agree with the verdict. Now, that is a very different thing. We agree to consult. Therefore it does not tie the hands of the United States in any shape, manner or form and leaves our final action entirely up to us. Now, that is the simplest way of putting it. We in no way-in no way— are limiting our own right to determine our own action after the facts are brought out.
Q. Mr. President, did MacDonald give you to understand that that would be sufficient to satisfy the political security demands of Europe?
THE PRESIDENT: Again, I can tell you off the record that that position of ours seems satisfactory to the British and to the French.
Q. To what end do we consult?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me again illustrate, off the record. This disarmament proposal of MacDonald's which has been before the Disarmament Conference in Geneva quite a long time—a good many months—is divided into two parts. Part one is called "security" and part two is called "disarmament." Parts two, three, four and five are called "disarmament," and parts two to five bring up for discussion a definite plan for the taking of what might be called the first steps toward the objective. The objective, most simply stated, is to reduce and practically to remove eventually the weapons of offensive warfare, in other words, the weapons of attack. If we can limit and eventually remove the weapons of attack, you automatically build up and strengthen the weapons of defense. If you remove the weapons of offense and thereby strengthen the weapons of defense, you give security to every Nation, including the small Nations.
The simplest illustration is by asking what are the weapons of offense that render the weapons of defense ineffective? Well, there is gas. You can flood a fort with gas and make it untenable. Then there is heavy, mobile artillery, because you can smash a fort with heavy artillery and you can smash trenches with heavy artillery, and you can smash barbed wire entanglements with heavy artillery. Then there are bombing planes—probably planes of all kinds—because they can drop things on top of forts, on top of trenches and on top of barbed wire. Then there are what I call land battleships. Those are the perfectly enormous tanks—they are getting bigger and bigger every day—that will walk through a ditch and over various entanglements and very soon, probably, be able to walk over a fort.
If you can eliminate those eventually—I am talking about a long distance picture—if you can eliminate the weapons of offense, you have accomplished something and you have made the Nation secure against a sudden attack.
Well, that is something that has got to be done by steps. The MacDonald plan contemplates taking the first step.
That is the simplest way of describing what the MacDonald disarmament plan is; and, if the first step can be taken, there is a better chance of being able to take the second step and the third step and the fourth step toward the ultimate objective.
So much for the disarmament class of the MacDonald plan.
Then you come down to what is called "part one, security. Part one, security, proposes to set up certain machinery to determine who is the aggressor, and what will be done to the aggressor. There is a desire to work out some means of consultation in the event of an act of aggression in order to implement the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
Now, what that machinery may be is still very much in the air—the details of it. There are objections to the MacDonald proposal because it presupposes that if a Nation commits an act of aggression, a conference would be called which would meet and act as what might be called a jury on the act of aggression complained of. It also presupposes—and here is the weakness of it— that the aggressor Nation would be very quietly sitting still during this whole period. That is the practical objection; and they are trying to work out some more practical means of consulting together, in order to determine what constitutes an act of aggression.
The position that I have taken—this has got to be of[ the record, I am sorry, because it is a thing that has got to break on the other side if it does break at all—the position I have taken is that both parties here are entirely ready to sit at whatever kind of consultative meeting is provided for. The idea is to work out some sort of machinery and then, having sat there, there would be a report to Washington as to what the other Nations think and then we will be entirely free to do whatever we want to do. In other words, we would not be bound by the American who happened to be sitting in the consultative pact. He would report home.
Q. Mr. President, it seems to me that the consultative pact is almost identical to our relations with the League of Nations.
THE PRESIDENT: It is an entirely different thing. You cannot use comparisons in that connection.
Q. But we always took the stand that we would consult as things came up but do nothing obligatory—not be obliged to consult. With this new arrangement, would we be obliged to consult?
THE PRESIDENT: We would say quite frankly that we would sit in and consult. There is nothing particularly startling about that, when you come down to it.
Q. But we have that machinery now.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure. In other words, it sounds like a huge change in policy, but it is very little change in policy. It is an announcement that we are going to do something that we would do anyhow.
Q. Would the other countries be more bound by their delegates to the pact?
THE PRESIDENT: As I see it, the MacDonald suggestion was that in this consultation pact, at this conference, that the European Nations and Russia and Japan should agree, the larger powers by unanimous vote and the smaller powers by a majority vote. But you had better, some of you, read the language of it, because part of it is still very much in the air. It is simply something to try to build on.
Q. Mr. President, inasmuch as Premier MacDonald said something for publication and this that you have said is of[ the record, cannot you give us something on the record?
THE PRESIDENT: This is study, off the record.
Q. But it is not news. (Laughter)
THE PRESIDENT: I'm just trying to be helpful.
Q. May we use anything as coming from our own imagination or knowledge?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think it is just to enable you not to get stampeded by things coming over from the other side. . . .
Q. You said that our willingness to agree to the consultative pact would be dependent on something like success by the Disarmament Conference. What do you consider "something like success"?
THE PRESIDENT: I will say, offhand, that we are 100 percent behind the idea of taking the first step in the removal of the weapons of offensive warfare. We are for that step. And we will consider it successful, if we can get a substantial part of the proposed step. We want it to be very substantial, because, actually, we would like this first step to go a great deal further than it proposes to go.
Q. Is that off the record too?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that is off the record, all of it.
Q. I wonder if we can get down to something that we can print. Eugene Black, of Atlanta, Georgia, is he going to be president of the Federal Reserve Board?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I sent his name up this morning. . . .
Q. Mr. President, do you or do you not consider the solution of the war debt vital to the success of the Economic Conference?
THE PRESIDENT: Have I stopped tickling the soles of my mother-in-law? (Laughter) Yes or no?
I don't know, it is too difficult a question to answer. Are my mother-in-law's feet ticklish? (Laughter) In other words, of course some cleaning up of the debt issue would be a fine thing, but it is not necessarily tied in with the success of the Economic Conference. The two are not necessarily wired together. They may be, what shall I say, "platonic friends.". . .
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208126