No. 93 NAI DT S4714B

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Diarmuid O'Hegarty (Dublin)
(L.N. 4/15)

Dublin, 18 May 19271

Limitation of Naval Armaments Conference - Geneva 12th June.

Representation of the Saorstát

I am instructed by the Minister for External Affairs to request you to have the above matter placed on the Agenda for the next meeting of the Council. The following data represent the position up to the time of writing:-

1. In a Memorandum dated February 10th addressed to the Governments of Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, the Government of the United States proposed that representatives of these Governments and of the Government of the United States should discuss the possibility of extending the Washington Agreement of 1922 to all classes of naval vessels. (That Agreement allowed a total tonnage in capital ships (i.e. exceeding 10,000 tons) of 525,000 to the United States and Great Britain, 315,000 to Japan and 175,000 to France and Italy. The corresponding figure for aircraft carriers was 135,000, 81,000 and 60,000. Guns were not to exceed 16 inches in calibre.) France and Italy refused the invitation alleging that they could not agree to any limitation of light craft. Great Britain and Japan accepted the general principle of the proposal and subsequently agreed to attend a formal conference with the United States Representatives on June 12th.

2. The British Government requested the concurrence of the Dominions in the terms of the reply to be sent to the United States. The Overseas Dominions concurred in the terms of the reply. The Saorstát government received the proposed reply by post some days after it had been telegraphed to the Dominions, and the reply had been handed to the American Ambassador in London before there was an opportunity of considering it here.

3. In a Despatch of the 19th February, the British Government proposed that representation should be in the form of a single British Empire delegation on the Washington Model. No mention had been made of the Dominions in the American Memorandum and ' His Majesty's Government in Great Britain' was exclusively mentioned in the British reply. Our Despatch of the 23rd March2?(enclosed) contended that the only acceptable basis of representation was through separate full powers territorially limited (At the Washington Conference in 1922, the British held a full power without any limitation and it accordingly extended to the whole of His Majesty's territories. The representation of the Dominions with full powers had therefore no additional juridical effect whatever and the Dominion Delegates were an integral part of the British Government Delegation). Mr. Amery, in a letter to the Minister for External Affairs, evades the difficulty of the territorial limitation and seeks to imply that there is no real difference between his proposal and that of the Minister for External Affairs. Mr. Amery subsequently retired from his position and agreed that the British full power should be limited in like manner with the powers of the Dominion Representatives. The form of representation, as far as is known to us, was questioned by the Saorstát alone.

4. The Saorstát and Canada raised the question of the necessity of receiving an invitation from the United States Government. This also the British sought to side-track, but the difficulty was eventually overcome by a formal visit from the American Ambassador to Sir Austen Chamberlain to convey to him a message from the American Government to the effect that that Government assumed that the Dominions would be represented at the conference.

?5. The Minister for External Affairs wishes to point out that this conference is very important from the constitutional point of view. After much pressure from the Saorstát, the British have agreed to allow the principle of co-equality to find expression at a purely political international conference which will result in an international convention. For the first time - if they are held to their agreement - the British will sign an international instrument of a purely political character on a basis of complete equality with the Dominions. The technical side of the discussions cannot, in any case, be influenced by the presence of the Saorstát representative, but for the purpose of maintaining and advancing our constitutional position representation is, in the Minister's view, essential. He will be glad to have an immediate decision, as he wishes to send to the United States Government and to Mr. Amery the names of the delegates selected.

[signed] S.P. Breathnach

1 The original has been incorrectly dated 17 May 1927

2 Not printed.

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