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The President's News Conference

April 11, 1930


THE PRESIDENT. I have prepared some notes on the results of the London Conference. As it involves a great many figures and it is very technical, I will have the text mimeographed for you in a few minutes.

I am very greatly pleased with the final success of the Naval Arms Conference in London, and I have today telegraphed the delegation expressing my approval of the result achieved and my admiration for their patience and determination in a very arduous and difficult negotiation. And I wish to congratulate the delegations of the other governments for their constructive and courageous action.

The most vital feature of its great accomplishments for peace is the final abolition of competition in naval arms between the greatest naval powers, and the burial of the fears and suspicions which have been the constant product of rival warship construction. It will be recalled that prior to the three-power conference at Geneva in 1927, when France and Italy felt obliged to decline attendance, there was naval competition in all craft except battleships, and there was constant international friction. Consequently, on the failure of that Conference rival naval construction and expansion received even new impulses, and resulted in increased international suspicion and ill will and appropriations by practically every government for the expansion of naval construction. There was a steady drift towards immensely increased navies.

When I undertook this negotiation it was after a critical examination of the experience before and during and after the Geneva Conference, and a determination that the causes which brought about the failure of that Conference could be met provided we had adequate preparation and adequate preliminary negotiation. At that time we realized, and we have realized at all times since, that the particular setting of the continental nations because of the inseparable importance of land armies in their bearing on naval strength, together with the political agreements that reduction of such arms implied, made a five-power agreement extremely improbable, as the United States could not involve itself in such agreements. The French and Italian Governments have shown the utmost good will in this Conference in an endeavor in the interest of world peace as a whole to support the present solution just as far as they could do so, and they have joined in the present agreement in many of the important provisions.

Now, it is difficult to estimate the precise reductions in warcraft tonnage which have been brought about by the agreement because of the factor of normal replacement and additional tonnage authorized but not yet constructed in the different countries. Nine battleships are to be scrapped of a total of about 230,000 tons, the replacement of 16 or 17 others to be deferred for 6 years. The various navies in the agreement are to reduce some 300,000 to 400,000 tons of other categories in the next few years as they become obsolete, but in some categories some of the powers will need to increase in order to come up to the standards set. The net balance will be a very considerable decrease in the world's actual tonnage as it stands today.

The economic importance of the accomplishment can best be measured in terms of the situation developed during the Geneva Conference. That Conference broke down upon the feeling of the British representatives that is was necessary for them to create or maintain a navy of a total of nearly 1,500,000 tons. Their prewar navy was very much larger than this. The American delegates were not able to agree to this basis as it implied such a very large amount of naval construction in the United States that it was hopeless to expect public support, and it meant a perpetually inferior navy.

The British suggestions at Geneva were approximately this:

1. Maintain the battleships as provided in the Washington Treaty, maintaining the British battle fleet at 606,000 tons, and the American battle fleet at 525,000 tons.

2. Aircraft carriers as in the Washington Treaty at a maximum of 135,000 tons.

3. A cruiser tonnage of about 450,000 tons in 70 cruisers.

4. Although actual figures were little discussed the conversations appear to have indicated a destroyer tonnage of about 225,000 to 250,000 tons, and a submarine tonnage of about 75,000 tons, or a total fleet of nearly 1,500,000 tons on a British basis, or 1,420,000 American basis owing to our inferiority in battleship tonnage through the Washington Arms Treaty.

If this fleet had been adopted as the basis of parity, it would have cost the United States somewhere upon different calculations from $1,400,000 to $1,750,000 for replacements and new construction to attain it with greatly increased maintenance costs.

The present agreement calls for parity of American and British fleets of approximately:

1. A battleship basis to each of us of about 460,000 tons, but no replacements for next 6 years on either side.

2. Aircraft carriers as in Washington Arms Treaty at a maximum of 135,000 tons.

3. A cruiser basis of 339,000 tons if the United States exercises the option of the same types as Great Britain, but, if the United States builds a larger ratio of the large cruisers, our tonnage would be 323,000 tons. It represents a reduction of about 20 ships in the basis of the British cruisers fleet.

4. A destroyer tonnage of 150,000 tons and a submarine tonnage of 52,700 tons each.

That is a total fleet basis of, roughly, about 1,136,000 tons--slightly less if we build the larger cruisers instead of following the British fleet-as compared with about 1,500,000 tons as the British basis at Geneva, showing a reduction of something like 364,000 tons below that basis to the United States and Great Britain and a proportional reduction to Japan. In bringing this about the British scrap four 8-inch gun cruisers and five battleships while we scrap three battleships, thus bringing about a parity in battleships which was not attained under the Washington agreement. The Japanese navy under the proposed agreement will amount to something near 800,000 tons. These results are to be arrived at by scrapping and by obsolescence and by construction in some categories prior to 1936, when we meet again in a general conference.

The cost to the United States of replacements and new construction during the next 6 years until the further conference will be upon various estimates from $550 million to $650 million as compared to a sum of between $1,400 million and $1,750 million if we attempted to achieve parity on the Geneva basis. And to this latter would need to be added the additional cost of maintenance and operation which would make the saving on the present basis as compared with the Geneva something up to nearly $1 billion in the next 6 years.

These savings are not alone to the United States but to Great Britain and Japan as well. The total savings to the world is perhaps $2,500 million below the Geneva basis--and the world was steadily drifting towards the Geneva basis. This sum, devoted to reproductive enterprise, would contribute an enormous amount to restoring the prosperity of the world.

There are no political undertakings of any kind in the present treaty, except an agreement for the regulation of the conduct of submarines against merchant ships in time of war. The whole agreement is a great step in world peace, and for the first time is an assurance of American parity in naval strength.

Note: President Hoover's one hundred and second news conference was held in the State, War, and Navy Building at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 11, 1930. The White House also issued a text of the President's statement about the London Naval Conference (see Item 113).

Herbert Hoover, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210481

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