No. 522 NAI DFA 11/3

Extracts from a Department of Defence memorandum on the British Cabinet Committee on the Disarmament Conference (2/559) (Secret)

Dublin, 25 February 1931

[matter omitted]

IV. Saorstát Policy

The Saorstát has supported Disarmament proposals on various occasions at Geneva. This policy (if maintained) and its membership of the League Council will probably result in the Saorstát Representatives having to make at an early stage a statement on the Saorstát's present armament and future armament programme. Consideration of the nature of this statement will lead immediately to consideration of how the decisions of the Conference will practically affect the Saorstát. The Saorstát Representatives could possibly play a 'waiting game' and watch developments, but a statement or programme will have to be prepared unless the Saorstát Representatives in addition 'to playing a waiting game' base their policy on a 'certainty' that the Conference will fail and fail at an early stage. External Affairs would hardly agree to the adoption of such an attitude and policy.


V. Saorstát's Exceptional Position

The Saorstát's position with regard to armaments is most exceptional. It is, even when Germany is included, the most disarmed state in Europe. Its position is also exceptional in that it has only recently begun to be recognised that it has an external defence problem at all. Its military commitments have not been defined and no attempt has been made to estimate what forces will ultimately be required for its defence in time of peace. The demand at the Conference will be for peacetime numbers, expenditure and armament on which can be built on mobilisation sufficient forces to deal with the greatest warlike contingency likely to confront each state. Even if financial and economic considerations prevent the maintaining of these forces at present the discussions so far indicate that most states intend looking for power to increase their armaments when conditions improve.

Most states normally have estimates prepared indicating the minimum peace time armaments that will give them security. Most European States are at present maintaining the maximum peace time forces they are likely to need under any circumstances. The Saorstát's position is entirely different, and unless it is prepared to place its complete faith in the effectiveness of League action or take the risk of being allocated an armament quota that would end defence development and organisation, consideration will have to be given to a 'Defence Programme' on which its demands at the Disarmament Conference will be based.

Having noted what the Disarmament Conference and preparation for it is likely to mean to the Saorstát, the advantages and disadvantages of consultation with the United Kingdom Cabinet Committee will be summarised.


VI. Quotas in the Commonwealth

At the Washington and London Naval Treaties the Commonwealth was treated as a unit for the purpose of allocating Naval Armament. A secret paper circulated for the Imperial Conference 1926, E.103 'Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, Allocation of Quotas to the Several Parts of the British Empire', indicated that the Admiralty desire one Commonwealth quota for naval armament, the War Office a separate quota for each Dominion and India, and that the Air Ministry state a separate quota only is practicable at present but when Aerial Communications improve there should be only a single aerial quota.

As the sum total of separate quotas allocated to Britain, the Dominions and India would probably considerably exceed the total of a single Commonwealth Quota, the other Powers may object to a separate allocation of quotas in the Commonwealth, or urge that the separate quotas should be reduced.

This problem will have an important bearing on the Saorstát's preparation and programme for the Conference and it is desirable that information as to British and Dominion views on it would be obtained at an early date. The best means of obtaining such information would seem to be nominating a representative to consult with the Cabinet Committee in London.


VII. Allocation of Quotas Between Saorstát and Great Britain

The other Dominions and India are under normal circumstances absolutely responsible for their own land and air defence, and for a greater or lesser portion of their naval defence. The position of the Saorstát is quite different because of:-

  (1) Clauses 6, 7, 8 and the Annex to the Treaty.1
  (2) The comparatively undeveloped state of our Defence Forces and possibly
  (3) Our special geographical relations to the United Kingdom.

Great Britain under present circumstances could claim at least 20% of our Land Forces Quota, an unassessed but very considerable portion of our Aerial Forces Quota, and 100% of our Naval Quota (if circumstances were such that we were allocated one at the Conference).

A Saorstát Representative at the United Kingdom Cabinet Committee Meetings should obtain information as to the attitude the British proposed adopting to this question. It is probable that at some period before the Conference there will have to be an interchange of views between the two Governments on this matter, and it might be easier settled at Meetings with other Dominion Representatives also present.


VIII. General Information

If even some of the assumptions previously made in this paper are correct, the preparation of the Saorstát's case for the Disarmament Conference will involve the collection of much information and the consideration of many problems. Conferences on Disarmament, Security, and Arbitration have now been going on since 1919. With the exception of the attendance of our League of Nations Representative at the last session of the Preparatory Commission, the Saorstát has no personnel who have been associated with the technical and detailed consideration of this question. This will be a disadvantage in preparing for the Conference. Consultation with the United Kingdom Cabinet Committee will mean that some of the views and opinions of the British Experts on the subject will be known when preparing the Saorstát case. It will also mean that information will be available as to the lines on which Great Britain and the Dominion cases are being prepared. Consultation with the Committee may likewise prepare the way for consultation and collaboration with other Dominions on matters of common interest.


IX. Military and General Policy

It is generally assumed that it is not desired to antagonise Great Britain and the British Service Authorities on Defence questions. The Disarmament Conference will deal essentially with such questions. If Saorstát action at the Conference is not (where possible) to conflict with British Policy, it is desirable we should know the British proposals in advance. In this connection it is desirable to state that on previous occasions at Geneva, Saorstát Representatives have definitely and openly opposed British Policy on certain matters. On those occasions the Saorstát was able to do so with credit. In the event of a conflict of opinion developing at the General Disarmament Conference, Britain, because of the circumstances mentioned in Para. VII, can make matters difficult for the Saorstát, and also direct attention to the Saorstát's lack of independence in dealing with her Defence problems.


X. Objections to British Invitation

Two objections to accepting the British invitation can be made. One, that it will result in an attempt to commit several independent members of the League in advance to the policy of one of the Great Powers and that such an attitude is directly contrary to Saorstát policy in League matters. Such consultation in advance also serves to perpetuate the system of League Groups which is also contrary to Saorstát League policy. The second objection is that awkward questions arising from the problems mentioned in Paras VI. and VII. may be raised at the United Kingdom Committee.

The first objection is entirely outweighed by the importance of the reasons for accepting the invitation. With regard to the second objection, if awkward and difficult questions are raised in London, they are quite certain to be also raised at the Disarmament Conference. It would therefore be much more desirable that they were raised in London while there was time to consider and deal with them.


XI. Nomination of Representative in Accordance with Previous Policy

Information is not at present available as to the circumstances under which they were appointed, but Saorstát Representatives attended the Geneva and London Naval Conferences and the Saorstát, though not in practice affected, ratified the London Naval Treaty.

A Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, constituted much as the present United Kingdom Cabinet Committee, was appointed in December 1929 to consider certain aspects of Disarmament. This Committee asked that Dominion Representatives should act with it and Professor Smiddy was nominated as Saorstát Representative (Despatch 396, 30.12.29).2

The acceptance of the present invitation would be in accord with the attitude adopted on those occasions.


XII. Recommendations

1. It is therefore recommended that the Saorstát should nominate a Representative or representatives 'to consult' with the United Kingdom Cabinet Committee on Disarmament.

2. If the assumptions made in this Memo. are correct the Department of Defence will have to give considerable assistance in the preparation of material for the use of Saorstát Representatives at the Conference. Attention has already been directed in paragraph VIII. to the disadvantage the Saorstát suffers in this respect. It is therefore further recommended that consideration might be given by the Department of External Affairs to nominating a representative to consult with the London Committee, who would be available when preparing the Saorstát case for the Conference, and who would also be one of the Saorstát Representatives at the Conference. It is assumed the manner the London Committee will take of 'consulting' Dominion Representatives will be to summon them to its meetings. The Dominions Office Telegram refers to 'representatives in London' but the other Dominions could only nominate persons already available in London.

The other Dominions will probably nominate their High Commissioners but some of the other Dominions also invariably nominate the High Commissioners in London as one of their delegates to most League of Nations Conferences.

3. If the assumptions made in this Memorandum are accepted, it is also recommended that the Department of External Affairs be asked to indicate the assistance they will require from this Department in preparing for the Disarmament Conference.

1 See below appendix 3.

2 Not printed.

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