Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Letter Read at the London Naval Conference.

December 09, 1935

In asking you to return to London to continue and expand the conversations begun last June, preparatory to the naval conference in 1935, I am fully aware of the gravity of the problems before you and your British and Japanese colleagues. The object of next year's conference is "to frame a new treaty to replace and carry out the purposes of the present treaty."

The purposes themselves are "to prevent the dangers and to reduce the burdens inherent in competitive armament" and "to carry forward the work begun by the Washington naval conference and to facilitate progressive realization of general limitation and reduction of armament."

The Washington naval conference of 1922 brought to the world the first important voluntary agreement for limitation and reduction of armament. It stands out as a milestone in civilization.

It was supplemented by the London naval treaty of 1930, which recognized the underlying thought that the good work begun should be progressive—in other words, that further limitation and reduction should be sought.

Today the United States adheres to that goal. That must be our first consideration.

The Washington and London treaties were not mere mathematical formulae. The limitations fixed on the relative naval forces were based on the comparative defensive needs of the powers concerned; they did not involve the sacrifice of any vital interests on the part of their participants; they left the relative security of the great naval powers unimpaired.

The abandonment of these treaties would throw the principle of relative security wholly out of balance; it would result in competitive naval building, the consequence of which no one can foretell.

I ask you, therefore, at the first opportunity to propose to the British and Japanese a substantial proportional reduction in the present naval levels. I suggest a total tonnage reduction of 20 percent below existing treaty tonnage. If it is not possible to agree on this percentage, please seek from the British and Japanese a lesser reduction—15 percent or 10 percent or 5 percent. The United States must adhere to the high purpose of progressive reduction. It will be a heartening thing to the people of the world if you and your colleagues can attain this end.

Only if all else fails should you seek to secure agreement providing for the maintenance and extension of existing treaties over as long a period as possible.

I am compelled to make one other point clear. I cannot approve, nor would I be willing to submit to the Senate of the United States, any new treaty calling for larger navies. Governments impelled by common sense and the good of humanity ought to seek treaties reducing armaments; they have no right to seek treaties increasing armaments.

Excessive armaments are in themselves conducive to those fears and suspicions which breed war. Competition in armament is a still greater menace. The world would rightly reproach Great Britain, Japan and the United States if we moved against the current of progressive thought. We three Nations, the principal naval powers, have nothing to fear from one another. We cannot escape our responsibilities, joint and several, for world peace and recovery.

I am convinced that if the basic principle of continued naval limitation with progressive reduction can be adhered to this year and next, the technicalities of ship tonnage, of ship classes, of gun calibers and of other weapons, can be solved by friendly conference.

I earnestly hope that France and Italy, which are full parties to the Washington treaty, will see their way to participate fully in our efforts to achieve further naval limitation and reduction.

The important matter to keep constantly before your eyes is the principle of reduction—the maintenance of one of the greatest achievements of friendly relations between Nations.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter Read at the London Naval Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under


Simple Search of Our Archives