File No. 763.72/3257

The Ambassador in Spain ( Willard ) to the Secretary of State


331. Minister for Foreign Affair’s at 7 p.m. handed me following copy of reply of Spanish Government to German note of January 31 [for] immediate telegraphic transmission to the Department. The Minister stated that the covering note verbale delivered to me at the same time in reply to Department’s circular February 3, 1 p.m., had been cabled Spanish Ambassador, Washington, for transmission to the Department:1

His Majesty’s Government has examined carefully the note which Your Serene Highness was so kind as to deliver to me on January 31st last, announcing the firm intention of the German Government to interrupt, beginning on the day following, all maritime traffic, without other warning and by use of all weapons, around Great Britain, France, and in the eastern Mediterranean, and I should add that its reception has produced a very painful impression.

The correct attitude of neutrality which Spain adopted at the beginning and in which she has maintained herself with unshakable firmness and loyalty gives her the right to claim that the lives of her subjects occupied in maritime commerce shall not be placed in such grave danger; and that this commerce shall not be injured or reduced to such an extent, throughout the zones within which the Imperial Government must struggle in order to reach its aims, by the use of all weapons and by abandoning all the limitations which it has imposed upon itself up to the present time in its method of naval warfare.

Even before the Imperial Government abandoned these limitations the Government of His Majesty protested, as it did not consider them [Page 118] sufficient to excuse the fulfillment of the conditions of international law: but at the putting into effect the method of war that Germany announces to an extent unfavorable and without precedent, the Spanish Government, taking into account the rights and duties of its neutrality, must present with the greatest right its protest of the Imperial Government, calmly as well as firmly, making at the same time the necessary reservations which the legitimate presumption of the unavoidable responsibility contracted by the Imperial Government, chiefly on account of the loss of lives which must follow its attitude, imposes.

The Government of His Majesty bases its protest on the statement that, to close completely the route of certain seas, substituting the right of capture (undeniable at times) for a pretended right of destruction in every case, is beyond the legal principles of international life; and above all and more than anything to extend the meaning of this right to the destruction, in the form announced, to the life of noncombatants, subjects of a neutral nation like Spain, is contrary to those other principles observed by all nations even in the moments of greatest violence.

If the German Government, as it says, trusts that the Spanish people and its Government will not refuse to listen to the reasons of its decisions and its necessity, hoping that they will cooperate on their part to avoid greater misery, and greater sacrifice of human life, it should understand also that the Spanish Government, disposed to offer at the opportune moment its initiative to support and everything that it has to contribute to the coming of a peace which is every day more desired, can not admit as legitimate an exceptional method of war, by which, in spite of its rights as a neutral and its care ill fulfilling the duties incumbent upon it in this respect, makes difficult and even hinders the maritime traffic of Spain, compromising her economic existence, and seriously endangering the life of her subjects.

The Government of His Majesty, firmer than ever in the justice that supports it, does not doubt but that the Imperial Government will be inspired by the sentiments of friendship which unite the two countries and will find, within the several needs of the terrible modern war, means by which to satisfy the claim of Spain, based on the unavoidable duty which obliges its Government to protect the life of its subjects and to maintain the integrity of its sovereignty in order that the course of its international existence may not be interrupted and in which it feels itself supported by reason and right.

I shall avail myself [etc.]

  1. Apparently not received from him; the following translation was forwarded by the Ambassador in Spain as enclosure to his despatch No. 551, Feb. 7 [received Mar. 9] (File No. 763.72/3460):

    The Government of His Majesty has received with lively interest the indication contained in the last part of the circular, directed by the Department of State at Washington to the American representatives in the neutral countries, a copy of which his excellency Mr. Willard was so kind as to hand to the Minister of State on February 5.

    The reply given to-day by the Government of His Majesty to the note of Germany of January 31, a reply whose sense and general lines were agreed upon in the Council of Ministers of the 4th instant, defines clearly the only attitude which the Government of His Majesty has considered it possible to adopt, taking into account the actual situation of Spain, and the development of its international life in this war.