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The President's News Conference

April 23, 1929


THE PRESIDENT. This is a famine day. I have one appointment. That is Mr. Lawrence M. Judd to be the Governor of Hawaii, as Governor [Wallace Rider] Farrington, after several terms, refuses to continue any longer.

Q. Where is he from, Mr. President ?

THE PRESIDENT. Hawaii. They can give you some notes on his previous career and doings outside, I expect.


There is one point on some of the questions that came up that is entirely background, and not for quotation. This is for your own information in respect to the conference. I don't want to discuss that conference in its progress, of course, and this was clarification of one point.

It has been the view of Mr. Stimson and the rest of us that the key of reduction of armament was to find a new formula. I endeavored to explain that to you some weeks ago--a new method of evaluating naval strength which took into account the other factors besides tonnage. The tonnage factor is only one, as you know, of the five or six factors that are involved, and that the whole purpose of further progress would rest upon the successful finding of some base outside of the one factor of tonnage, on which there can be no general agreement. And tonnage does not represent the fighting strength of ships.

The other point on which there seems to be some little confusion-there is no question of compromise of ideas or compromise of any-I should not express it that way. It is a question of finding a new base for discussion, that often enough when discussions come to an end on a particular line, an entirely new base enables progress to be made. So do not quote me on no "compromise" because it is not a question of compromise one way or the other. It is finding a new base for discussion.

There is nothing in the air about the calling of naval conferences, but merely to see if on this occasion we can work out a base which would render progress possible.

The other point emphasized by Mr. Gibson was change in psychology from limitation, which has become more or less a term for increased construction, back to the fundamental conception of these relationships, which is a reduction in armament. There is no question involved here of relative strength. That is not under discussion. The American [p.108] Government has always insisted upon parity, no departure from any ideas of that character.

That is all that I have today.

Q. Anything on Cabinet meetings, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Nothing this morning.

Note: President Hoover's fifteenth news conference was held in the White House at 12 noon on Tuesday, April 23, 1929.

In his remarks, the President referred to the sixth session of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference, which convened in Geneva on April 15, 1929. On April 22, Ambassador Hugh Gibson, Chairman of the American delegation, addressed the session. The text of his address, which had been agreed upon in conference with President Hoover, follows:

Mr. Chairman:

I have sought your permission to make a general statement of the views of my Government in regard to the question of disarmament and have felt warranted in doing so at this stage of the proceedings because while we have not entered upon a second reading of the draft convention, we are bringing up for reconsideration various questions which have been previously discussed. It is felt therefore that in view of certain changed conditions it may facilitate the approach to these questions if I am permitted to take this occasion for stating my Government's views as to the means best calculated to promote an early agreement.

During the first reading of the draft convention, it was the duty of each one of us to put forward the views of his government on the various problems before the Commission and endeavor to persuade his colleagues that those views should be adopted. It was only in this way that we were able to throw full light upon the complicated questions, the solution of which we seek. When we come to the second reading, however, a renewal of the old discussions is no longer in order. Our first duty is for each one of us to examine all phases of the problem before us with a view to discovering what measures of concession can be offered by each delegation. Agreement upon a single text can be achieved only by a maximum of such concession.

For the purposes of my presentation the disarmament problem may be divided into two parts, land and naval armaments. As regards land armaments, the American delegation will be able when we reach this question in our discussion to defer to the countries primarily interested in land armaments with such measure of concession as I trust will materially facilitate agreement among them.

My country's defense is primarily a naval problem. The American Government has found no reason for modifying its view that the simplest, fairest, and most practical method is that of limitation by tonnage by categories, a method which [p.109] has been given practical and satisfactory application in the Washington treaty. While it is realized that this does not constitute an exact and scientific gage of strategic strength, we have nevertheless found that it constitutes a method which has the advantage of simplicity and of affording to each power the freedom to utilize its tonnage within the limitation of each category according to its special needs.

The American delegation has urged this view throughout the first reading, but, in view of the unacceptability to some other delegations of our unmodified thesis, my Government has sought in the various methods presented some solution which might offer the possibility of compromise and general acceptance. During the third session of the Preparatory Commission, the French delegation brought forward a method which was an attempt to combine its original total tonnage proposals with the method of tonnage by categories. Under this method, a total tonnage was assigned to each nation, and this total divided among categories of ships by specified tonnage. If I am not mistaken, certain modifications were suggested in informal discussions, so as to provide that the tonnage allocated to any given category might be increased by a certain percentage to be agreed upon, such increase to be transferred from any other category or categories not already fixed by existing treaty.

In the hope of facilitating general agreement as to naval armaments, my Government is disposed to accept the French proposal as a basis of discussion. It is, of course, the understanding of my Government that this involves an agreement upon the method alone and not upon any quantitative tonnage or the actual percentages to be transferred from one category to another. All quantitative proposals of any kind should properly be reserved for discussion by a final conference.

My Government is disposed to give full and friendly consideration to any supplementary methods of limitation which may be calculated to make our proposals, the French thesis, or any other acceptable to other powers, and if such a course appears desirable, my Government will be prepared to give consideration to a method of estimating equivalent naval values which takes account of other factors than displacement tonnage alone. In order to arrive at a basis of comparison in the case of categories in which there are marked variations as to unit characteristics, it might be desirable in arriving at a formula for estimating equivalent tonnage to consider certain factors which produce these variations, such as age, unit displacement, and caliber of guns. My Government has given careful consideration to various methods of comparison, and the American delegation will be in a position to discuss the subject whenever it comes before the Commission.

In alluding briefly to these possible methods, I desire to lay special emphasis on the fact that for us the essential thing is the achievement of substantial results. Methods are of secondary importance.

I feel that we are able to deal to best advantage with the specific questions on our agenda only if we bear clearly in mind the recent important changes in world conditions.

Since our last meeting, the nations of the world have bound themselves by solemn undertaking to renounce war as an instrument of national policy. We believe (and we hope that our belief is shared by the other nations) that this agreement affirming humanity's will to peace will advance the cause of disarmament by removing doubts and fears which in the past have constituted our principal obstacle. It has recently been my privilege to discuss the general problem of disarmament at considerable length with President Hoover, who has always been an ardent advocate of peace and good understanding. I am in a position to realize, perhaps as well as anyone, how earnestly he feels that the pact for the renunciation of war opens to us an unprecedented opportunity for advancing the cause of disarmament, an opportunity which admits of no postponement.

Any approach to the disarmament problem on purely technical grounds is bound to be inconclusive. The technical justification of armaments is based upon the experience of past wars and upon the anticipation of future wars. So long as the approach to the problem is based upon old fears and old suspicions, there is little hope of disarmament. The lessons of the old strategies must be unlearned. If we are honest, if our solemn promise in the pact means anything, there is no justification for the continuation of a war-taxed peace. Great armaments are but the relic of another age, but they will remain a necessary relic until the present deadlock is broken and that can be accomplished only by the decision of the powers possessing the greatest armaments to initiate measures of reduction.

In the opening statement at the Three Power Naval Conference in 1927 I took occasion, in suggesting certain tonnage levels as a basis of discussion, to say that the United States is prepared to agree to a plan for limitation at still lower levels which maintain the relative status of existing treaties with respect to the powers represented at that Conference. This is still the attitude of my Government and I am authorized to state that on this basis we are willing to agree to any reduction however drastic of naval tonnage which leaves no type of war vessel unrestricted.

A large part of the suggestions for limitation hitherto made seem to have been of such a nature as to sanction existing armaments or even to set higher levels with tacit encouragement to increase existing establishments. This is only a timid expedient and an agreement on the basis of existing world armaments (or at higher levels) can never be justified before enlightened public opinion as a positive achievement. At best it is purely negative. Fundamentally, our purpose should be to release large numbers of men from military service to productive effort, and, second, to reduce the heavy burden of taxation. So long as the nations are burdened [p.111] with increasing taxation for the maintenance of armament it is idle to pretend that the world is really advancing toward the goal of disarmament. In recent years the word "limitation" has come to be used chiefly in describing agreements at existing levels or still higher levels, and is generally looked upon as having nothing to do with actual reduction. It is useless to attempt to correct this impression by explaining that limitation may be at any level lower or higher than those existing. As a practical matter, it would seem to be best to accept the general public understanding of these terms. Let us therefore take the bold course and begin by scrapping the term "limitation" in order to concentrate upon a general reduction of armaments.

My Government believes that there can be no complete and effective limitation of armament unless all classes of war vessels, including cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, are limited. It could not agree to any method which would result in leaving any class of combatant vessels unrestricted. In its reply, under date of September 28, 1928, to communications from the British and French Governments concerning an understanding reached between them as a basis of naval limitation, my Government pointed out that this understanding applied to only one type of cruiser and one type of submarine and would leave totally unlimited a large class of effective fighting units. This note also called attention to the American position at the Geneva Naval Conference and the fact that a proposal for general reduction was urged by the American delegation.

This willingness of my Government, I may even say its eagerness, to go to low levels, is based upon the fundamental belief that naval needs are relative, namely, that what we may require for our defense depends chiefly upon the size of the navies maintained by others. Aside from the signatories of the Washington treaty, there is no conceivable combination of naval power which could threaten the safety of any of the principal naval powers. What justification can there be for the powers which lead in the respective classes of naval vessels to sanction further building programs in those classes? In the case of the United States we have already expressed our willingness to agree on a basis that would mean a substantial reduction of our present destroyer and submarine types. In the case of cruisers it is only possession by others of greatly superior strength in this class which has led to the adoption of the present building program.

My Government can not find any justification for the building and maintenance of large naval establishments save on the ground that no power can reduce except as a result of general reduction. Let us ask ourselves honestly what these establishments are for. As regards the relations of the maritime powers among themselves, there is no such need. Even if the danger of war is admitted, it could be guarded against just as well by the maintenance of relative strength at low levels as at higher levels. The principal naval powers have nothing to fear from the naval [p.112] strength of the countries nonsignatory to the Washington treaty. There is no conceivable combination of naval strength among the nonsignatory powers which need give concern. As an example, the cruiser strength of all the nonsignatory countries in the world does not attain to one-half of the cruiser tonnage of the greatest single fleet.

The people of every country are crying out against the burdens of taxation and demanding the suppression of unnecessary expenditure. My Government is convinced that expenditure for disproportionate naval establishments is indefensible in that it can be avoided by a sensible agreement among the naval powers. And we must recognize that the people who pay taxes are bound to feel well founded resentment against any policy which commits them to needless taxation through failure to reach rational agreements.

My Government believes firmly in its idea that naval needs are relative and that radical general reduction is possible only on the theory of relative needs. I trust that these views may commend themselves to other governments and that it may be possible to agree upon such reductions. If, however, it is impossible to agree on this thesis, it is obvious that there will remain only the thesis of absolute naval needs. This would mean that all thought of reduction is abandoned, that each country retains a free hand in building with an inevitable tendency toward competition. Surely we can hardly envisage such a sequel to our solemn undertaking to keep the peace.

My Government has always felt that we need no exact balance of ships and guns, which can be based only upon the idea of conflict; what is really wanted is a commonsense agreement, based on the idea that we are going to be friends and settle our problems by peaceful means. My Government has never believed that an effective approach to the problem of disarmament could be made by methods of reduction of armaments alone. It feels that genuine disarmament will follow only from a change of attitude toward the use of force in the settlement of international disputes. It is for that reason that I venture to make this appeal that the countries here represented examine the whole problem afresh in the hope that they will find in general world conditions and in the solemn obligation they have taken among themselves a reassurance as to their security and that they will find in this the confidence to enable them to dispense with the armaments which hitherto have seemed so essential.

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/209093

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