No. 66 NAI DT S4714A

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Diarmuid O'Hegarty (Dublin)

Dublin, 8 March 1927

The Minister for External Affairs would like to have an opportunity of obtaining the approval of the Executive Council at the next meeting, for the attached draft Despatch on the American proposals for a Naval Disarmament Conference.1 The following notes will make clear the contents of the Despatch.

1. The second paragraph is concerned with the procedure used in communicating important messages to the Saorstát.

2. The American Memorandum suggests that the meeting of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference should be availed of to hold a conference between the principal Naval Powers with a view to reaching an agreement for a reduction in the classes of Naval Units which were not considered at the Washington Conference of 1921. The British and Japanese have accepted, the Italians and French have declined. The latter have declined because they cannot agree to any diminution in their strength in light cruisers and submarines.

3. There is no mention of the Dominions in the American Memorandum and in the British reply 'His Majesty's Government in Great Britain' alone is referred to. Notwithstanding, Great Britain asked the Dominions to approve of her acceptance of the Conference, and suggested that the Dominions and Great Britain should be represented by a 'single British Empire Delegation'. The Minister considers that participation at this Conference should if possible be avoided altogether, or if not possible to avoid participation that only representation as a distinct entity should be accepted. The reasons for this view are clear. Great Britain has been trying for several years to induce the Dominions to contribute to the Navy on the pretence that it exists mainly to protect the trade routes linking up the Dominions with Great Britain forgetting that there are (including India) some four million square miles of territory and over a hundred millions of people scattered over the world administered directly from London.

If the Dominions continue to allow themselves to be consulted about the strength of the Navy, and take part in Conferences for its reduction they cannot so easily continue to disclaim all interest when asked to pay for its upkeep.

The 'single British Empire Delegation' is a reversion to the federal state idea. It implies that there is a definite international and constitutional organism known as the British Empire and the Dominions, if they accept it, will run the risk of losing the position gained at the Imperial Conference. Moreover, if the Dominions with Great Britain form a single unit at this Conference they will have to tolerate being lumped with Great Britain at the General Disarmament Conference next year for the purpose of armament quotas, and if they are once regarded as being part-owners of the British Fleet and the British Army, they will not only find it hard to act as independent nations for any purpose internationally but they will lose their only influence in the League as small unarmed nations.

[signed] S.P. Breathnach

1 Not printed.

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