File No. 763.72/1585

The Minister in Sweden ( Morris ) to the Secretary of State

No. 114]

Sir: With reference to the Legation’s telegrams No. 21 of February 161 and No. 22 of this date,2 I have the honor to enclose herewith copies and translations of the notes delivered by Sweden to the British and German Governments, protesting against the condition of neutral shipping at sea.3

The Foreign Office states that these notes are confidential as yet, as the contents of same have not been made generally known.

I have [etc.]

Ira N. Morris
[Enclosure 1—Translation]

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the British Legation

In the course of the present war, the Royal Government has found it necessary, more than once, to protest against the measures taken by the belligerents without the regard due to the rights and interests of neutrals. As far as the relations between the belligerents themselves are concerned, it is not necessary to examine whether these measures are just fled by the necessities of the war or according to the principles of lawful retaliation. In any case, such considerations could not be appealed to to the detriment of neutral powers who are in no way responsible, either for the war or for the means employed by one or other of the belligerents in order to harm the enemy.

Nevertheless, the neutral powers have seen their losses and difficulties multiply, and the state of affairs is becoming gradually worse, on account of the intention of the belligerents to retaliate by measures of the same character to attacks which they consider to be unlawful.

In this respect, a new outlook of the most threatening nature has just been opened up.

The German Government, citing the intention manifested in Great Britain to try to protect British commercial navigation by the use of neutral flags, comes to the conclusion that ships flying neutral flags are open to suspicion and that, for this reason, even vessels which are really neutral will be exposed to the most serious dangers. The Royal Government has not delayed in addressing a protest to the German Government claiming for neutral navigation, and more especially for Swedish navigat on, all the security which is assured to it by the application of the rules of the law of nations. It must, at the same time, protest against any misuse of its flag, a misuse which, under the present circumstances, might lead to the most disastrous consequences. The tolerance which may have been accorded to isolated incidents in the past is no longer possible under the present conditions of the war, especially since it has become a question of systematic and premeditated misuse. The Royal Government hopes, therefore, that the Royal British Government will employ all the means in its power to prevent such misuse, and reserves all its rights with regard to the damage’s and losses which might result, should this hope not be realized.

[Enclosure 2—Translation]

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the German Legation

The Royal Government has just received, through the intermediary of the Swedish Legation at Berlin, the notification signed on the 4th of February [Page 140] by the Chief of the General Staff of the German Navy, as well as the memorandum of the Imperial Government annexed thereto.

The Royal Government does not consider it necessary to discuss the means which the Imperial Government intends to put into force with a view to making war on its enemies, that is to say with questions which directly interest the belligerents, in so far as these documents relate only to them. But, on the other hand, these measures are of such a nature as also deeply to concern the interests of the neutral powers. Likewise, the Imperial Government has believed it to be its duty to cite circumstances intended to prove that the neutral powers had lost the right to complain of what might happen to them as a consequence of the operations of war which the Imperial Government is preparing in the waters surrounding the British Isles.

The Royal Government cannot recognize the forfeiture of this right. It has openly protested against all applicat on of the doctrine, according to which the necessities of war would justify violations of the law of nations. In this respect, it calls to mind, firstly, the note of November 12 addressed to the representatives of Germany, of France, of Great Britain, and of Russia. Moreover, at the time of the British proclamation regarding the North Sea, the Royal Government did not fail to declare immediately and in the most definite terms that it could not recognize the right of a belligerent to limit, as far as neutral nations are concerned, the use of the open sea and of other routes common to all. If it is the intention of the Imperial Government to put us in the wrong because we thought it sufficient to enter a protest, purely and simply, it must be called to mind that inasmuch as the belligerents have within the limits of the law of nations, the choice of means, neutral powers likewise enjoy the same liberty, provided they observe the neutrality which they have proclaimed.

It has been stated above that Sweden protested when Great Britain, upon declaring a certain portion of the North Sea to be a military zone, claimed the right to limit the routes of neutral navigation. These protests have been repeated in the above-mentioned note of November 12. The Royal Government still maintains the same point of view. It, therefore, makes all due reservations concerning the declaration which has just been published by the Imperial Government.

While presuming that the German authorities will do all in their power to remove the dangers which threaten Swedish navigation, the Royal Government cannot conceal the fact that it is aware of the risks to which this navigation will nevertheless be exposed. It has made a formal protest to the British Government for the purpose of providing against any misuse of the national flag.

The Royal Government has the right to expect that the Swedish flag shall be respected by all parties and under all circumstances. It, therefore, hopes that Swedish vessels will not be exposed to the measures announced by the German authorities and makes all due reservations as regards any damages and losses which might result from the carrying out of such measures.

  1. Ante, p. 109.
  2. No. 22 not printed.
  3. Copies of identical notes delivered by the Norwegian Government were forwarded by the Minister in Norway with his No. 74, March 15 (File No. 763.72/1636).