File No. 763.72112/1547

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

No. 235]

Sir: I have received your telegram No. 379,2 and despatch No. 359,3 both of August 21, 1915, containing the reply of the Royal Italian Government to your note of August 5 [3]4 in regard to the blockade of the Adriatic.

I have given careful consideration to the note of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of August 195 in regard to these measures of the Italian Government, and regret to find that it does not remove the objectionable features which this Government finds in those measures. It appears clear from the Royal declarations of May 26 and 28 and July 5 that it is the intention of the Italian Government to cause a blockade to be established along a large part, if not all of the coast of Albania, a country not engaged in the present war, and to establish the line Otranto-Aspri Ruga beyond which navigation without [Page 178] permission of Italian authorities is forbidden and will be regarded as a breach of blockade, thereby making the Adriatic practically a closed sea under the control of the Italian Government. The allegation that the Albanian coasts are visited only by the coasting vessels of adjacent countries is not, in the opinion of this Government, as intimated in my previous communication on this subject, a sufficient ground upon which to base a blockade of a non-belligerent country, as Albania is understood to be at the present time. This Government notes the statement of the Italian Government that the neutral territory included in the blockaded zone, that is the coast of Albania, is “invested as a matter of fact and not of law,” but notes with surprise a reference to the Naval Conference at London in support of the Italian blockade of Albania. Articles 1 and 18 of the Declaration of London expressly declare that a blockade of a belligerent coast shall not be extended to that of a neutral country nor bar access to neutral ports or coasts. These articles have been accepted by the Italian Government without modification in its decree of June 3, 1915, adopting the Declaration of London with certain exceptions for the present war. Although this Government does not regard the Declaration of London as of the binding force in the existing war, nevertheless it believes that Articles 1 and 18 accurately state the rule regarding blockade as established by the law and practice of nations for over a century.

That a certain zone of the Adriatic may rightfully be “closed temporarily and withheld from free neutral navigation” seems to this Government so obviously out of accord with the principle of the freedom of the seas, that the mere statement of the proposal is sufficient to show conclusively that this Government cannot regard this Italian measure otherwise than as an unallowable transgression of its neutral rights on the high seas.

This Government cannot admit that “the doctrines” or “positive rules of law” do not place “any limit to the exercise of the particular powers of belligerents in maritime warfare” in respect to the closing of a portion of the high seas to innocent neutral navigation, nor that the action of the Italian Government is justified by the “peculiar conditions of the Adriatic and its coasts, in the relations of traffic and Italian defense.”

The Government of the United States, therefore, feels itself bound to reserve its rights by protesting against the prohibition of the freedom of navigation on the high seas of the Adriatic and of access to the neutral shores of that sea and by formally giving notice to the Royal Government that it cannot recognize as valid any action of Italian authorities looking to the enforcement of these prohibitions upon American ships or American citizens. The Government of the United States will accordingly consider it its duty to look to the Italian Government to make reparation for any loss or damage which may result to the United States or its citizens through infringement of their rights by the application of these measures.

I am [etc.]

Robert Lansing
  1. Ante, p. 173.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Ante, p. 172.
  4. See footnote 1, ante, p. 173.