File No. 763.72112/3897

The British Ambassador ( Spring Rice ) to the Secretary of State

No. 182

Sir: I have received the urgent instructions of my Government to point out to you the serious and dangerous difficulties which His Majesty’s Government have to encounter in dealing with the question of the curtailment of supplies to enemy countries pending the announcement [Page 887] of the policy which the United States Government intend to adopt in this matter.

These difficulties extend over the whole field of the various memoranda which have recently been presented to the Department of State on all the aspects of trade with neutral countries contiguous to Germany, and the Embassy has already had occasion to point out the special difficulties and dangers connected with the urgent questions of the shipment of American coal to Spain and the refusal by the Swedish Government of reasonable transit facilities for the passage of goods to Russia. I am now instructed to put before you two additional instances of the grave disadvantage of the present uncertainty.

On April 28 last, His Majesty’s Government entered into a contract to buy the output of one of the principal molybdenite mines in Norway. This contract was concluded on very onerous terms in order to prevent the ore reaching the enemy. Several other companies have now approached His Majesty’s Government with offers to sell their output. If His Majesty’s Government buy, they must do so in competition with Germany and pay exorbitant prices. If they do not buy, the mines will almost certainly make contracts with the enemy who will thus secure large supplies of molybdenite and the transaction, having become a fait accompli, will hopelessly prejudice any subsequent demands which the United States may make to the Norwegian Government.

A similar difficulty exists in the case of the fish agreement in Norway, by which His Majesty’s Government have for some time past secured a large part of the Norwegian catch. Not only is this agreement unsatisfactory in itself, because it has in the past allowed a quantity of fish to reach Germany amounting to roughly half as much again as the total quantity required for Norwegian home consumption and because it has involved heavy financial expenditures which His Majesty’s Government can ill support at this moment. Furthermore its maintenance is now in jeopardy since the Norwegian Government are pressing His Majesty’s Government for 25 per cent increase on present prices and for the recognition of an increased percentage of export to Germany. … Meanwhile His Majesty’s Government have to allot valuable tonnage in order to transport about one hundred thousand tons of salt to Norway a year.

These are of course not the only two instances in which the whole policy of limiting the supplies of the enemy is now in danger. In these circumstances the neutral Governments concerned need only delay and defer negotiations with the Government of the United States until they have created a situation which no intervention by the United States will subsequently avail to remedy. I may add that the present uncertainty also gravely affects the continuance of such humanitarian enterprises as the relief of Belgium and northern [Page 888] France since it is becoming less and less possible every day to allot to the Commission for Relief in Belgium Allied shipping or neutral shipping under the control of the Allies. The relief work can not therefore long continue unless the course already suggested of requiring the Dutch and Spanish Governments, as patrons of the relief committee, to provide tonnage required for the transport of relief supplies is speedily adopted.

I am therefore instructed by Mr. Balfour to express the earnest hope that you will recognise the urgency of this matter and that you will be able to come to a speedy decision upon the discussions which have now been conducted between our two Governments for two months. I am to add that His Majesty’s Government are firmly convinced that on the immediate decision of these problems depends the question whether the war shall be shortened by a drastic restriction of German supplies, or whether it is to be seriously prolonged by the absence of such restrictions.

Mr. Balfour hopes that he may receive this communication at your earliest convenience.

I have [etc.]

(For the Ambassador)
Colville Barclay