File No. 763.72112/1492

The Ambassador in Italy ( Page ) to the Secretary of State

[Telegram]

379. Your 292. Following received to-day from Foreign Office:1

By your note of the 5th [3d] instant your excellency informs us that the Government of the United States does not consider itself able to acquiesce In the declarations of blockade published by the Royal Government May 26 and July 5 unless some kind of provision shall have been made at the same time for safeguarding the right of neutrals to free navigation in the Adriatic, on which the aforesaid decrees placed limitations not allowed by the rules and usages of international law.

I hasten, therefore, to call the attention of your excellency in the first place to the fact that the notification of July 5 itself indicates the regulations which should be observed in leaving, entering, and passing through the Adriatic on the part of vessels intending to steer for ports on the coasts not included in the previous declarations of blockade. These regulations were later expressly applied also to traffic with the ports of Albania comprised within the limits of the zone of blockade, without notifying the powers thereof in the usual manner, inasmuch as these landing places are frequented only by the coasting trade of neighboring countries.

That, through the effect of the blockade, a certain zone of the sea should be temporarily closed and withheld from free neutral navigation, is in accord with the nature of this war measure; nor is it evident that, in this regard, the general doctrines or any positive rules of law place any limit to the exercise of the particular powers of belligerents in maritime warfare. The fact that, in our case, this result has been established within wider limits than usual is due to the peculiar conditions of the Adriatic and its coasts in relation to traffic and to our own defense, and specifically to the method of blockading an enemy coast by means of a barrier line placed at a distance, in such a manner, however, as not to hinder access to the neutral coasts bathed by the same sea.

The measures adopted toward this end, expressly permitting, under certain precautionary conditions, passage across that line to ships not suspected of contraband traffic, in substance reduce the effects of the blockade simply to a more rigorous exercise of the right of visit in so far as commerce with the entire Adriatic littoral is concerned, with the exception of the Austro-Hungarian coast; tile neutral territories included in the blockaded zone are invested as a matter of fact but not of law by our naval forces. The conference of London recognized this right to dispose the blockading force in the manner best adapted to achieve the desired result, regard being had for the freedom of access to neutral ports.2

The Royal Government trusts that the Federal Government, taking these circumstances into account, will be willing to recognize that the measures under discussion do not contain any violation of the rules and practices of universally accepted international law.

It further begs the Federal Government kindly to consider, from a practical point of view, whether it is right and proper to judge the measures taken in this war by the standard of laws and customs established under circumstances so different from those which new methods and new engines of warfare impose to-day; whether it is not more in keeping with the requirements of that equitable tempering of rights and interests, which essentially constitutes the juridical treatment of international relations, to renounce henceforth the [Page 174] rigorous application of the old rules, while insuring, on the basis of existing circumstances, the more suitable application of the general principles to which those relations must conform.

The particular conditions of the Adriatic Sea, the very peculiar ones of the Albanian coast line included in the zone of blockade, and the requirements of defense against the new devices of naval warfare, when given consideration in accordance with the aforesaid standards, acquire even greater importance through due appreciation of the acts referred to in the note of the 5th instant.

The Royal Government has too much at heart the approval of the American Government not to express to your excellency its confidence that these considerations will induce it to withdraw, without further discussion, from the stand taken by it in that note with reference to our decrees, which cannot have caused any real and appreciable damage to legitimate American interests, and which, on the other hand, have not called forth such remonstrances from any other neutral country.

Nelson Page
  1. Embassy’s translation subsequently corrected by comparison with the original, dated August 19.
  2. Proceedings of the International Naval Conference, p. 177.