Guns from battleships being scrapped in Philadelphia Navy Yard during December 1923, with USS South Carolina being dismantled in the background.

The New Naval Agreement

FEW international conferences can ever have met under less auspicious circumstances and with less promise of success than did the London Naval Conference of 1935. The system of naval limitation established by the Washington Treaty of 1922 and the London Treaty of 1930 had immensely benefited all the naval powers and injured none of them. Notwithstanding this fact, it became apparent as the date for the recent conference approached that it would be most difficult -- indeed that it probably would be impossible -- to agree upon a renewal of the existing treaties or a continuance of naval limitation on the old basis.

Preliminary bilateral discussions had been begun in London in June 1934, on the initiative of the British Government, in the effort to find a satisfactory basis on which formal negotiations might be undertaken with some promise of eventual agreement. The result of these preliminary conversations was not encouraging. But the terms of the Washington and London Treaties, which expire December 31, 1936, made it obligatory that a conference be held in 1935. It was also felt that, in spite of the apparent difficulties, no stone should be left unturned in the effort to negotiate a treaty which would at least preserve the principle of naval limitation and avoid the chaotic situation that would result if upon the expiration of the two existing treaties there should be no agreement whatever to take their place.

The conference convened, then, in London on December 9. Almost before it had settled down to its work, the Japanese delegates advanced (virtually as a sine qua non to agreement) a proposal for a so-called "common upper limit" which, in effect, meant the complete scrapping of the basis on which the existing system of naval limitation rests.

In substance, what Japan proposed was to change the existing ratio of 5-5-3 for the United States, Great Britain and Japan respectively, to a ratio of 3-3-3 or 5-5-5. The Japanese delegates preferred that this naval parity be achieved by a scapping of

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