File No. 600.119/366

The British Embassy to the Department of State


The British Government have proposed close consultation between British and American representatives on the whole subject of exports to neutral countries contiguous to Germany.

It is important to make it clear that such consultation is proposed solely in order that each representative may severally furnish information to his Government and make his recommendations to them for their independent consideration and decision.

The respective Governments would keep in their own hands the regulation of their own export policy. In so far, however, as that policy is directed to the achievement of a common result it is submitted that the deliberations of each of the associated Governments preceding its determination should be based on a common stock of knowledge of all the considerations which weigh with the other and such common knowledge can be best obtained by consultation and interchange of information.

For example, the British Government do not wish to issue export licenses, still less to initiate agreements with, or put pressure upon, neutral countries without giving the United States Government an opportunity to express an opinion and they hope that the latter wish similarly to keep in touch with them. Above all, in so far as imports into neutral countries are controlled by the British Navy, they do not wish to exercise such control as against the United States or in contradiction to the export policy which the United States may see fit to adopt in any given case.

For the last few months the British Government have made every effort to keep the Government of the United States informed through their representatives at Washington of every phase of British policy towards the border neutrals. They have sought by means of numerous formal and informal conferences to explain their policy, to invite discussion and suggestions and, above all, to subordinate their blockade operations to any export policy which the United States Government may define and declare. Pending, however, the provision of machinery for closer consultation they still issue or refuse letters [Page 932] of assurance at their own discretion only; they still detain or release ships at Halifax; they are daily, in the course of current negotiations with neutrals, making concessions or insisting upon demands which may alike affect the duration and the success of the war. If they have informed the United States Government of these steps, they have, they fear, failed to convey such information at the only moment when the United States Government could make use of it—namely, at the moment when policy was in course of deliberation. It is in this way that misunderstandings are likely to be avoided and coordination of effort secured, wherever necessary, without surrender of independent control. So long, indeed, as the United States Government is without the fuller knowledge to be acquired by direct examination in London of circumstances and considerations influencing the policy of the British Government, the actions of the latter must frequently appear unexpected and inexplicable to the authorities at Washington, who cannot imitate them without a sacrifice of discretion or diverge from them without a sacrifice of efficiency.

These considerations apply especially to the information now desired by the United States authorities as to the limits set to diplomatic and economic pressure on neutrals by naval and military plans and contingencies. The British Government hope to be able shortly to convey to the United States the views of their military and naval advisers, but these views, so conveyed, can be nothing but an approximate forecast based on estimates which may at any moment be falsified. The policy of the Allies towards Sweden in blockade matters was, for instance, suddenly and radically altered in 1915 by the unexpected extent of the Russian retreat and, short of such major changes in the strategic situation, the choice by Germany of a passing moment, particularly favourable to herself, for forcing an issue with any one of the border neutrals, might at any time cause the Allied General Staffs to recommend temporization where they had originally been in favour of adopting a firm attitude. This is particularly the case where naval considerations are involved, by reason of the greater obscurity which necessarily surrounds the naval plans of the Allies at any given moment. It is difficult to gain any true idea of such shades of opinion except by personal cross-questioning of experts.

The British Government cannot conceal their feeling that, in the present situation, the countries associated in the war against Germany can, in matters of war trade, neither avoid friction with each other nor ensure a fair treatment of neutrals. Consequently, they propose:

A recognized method of continual consultation in London for which purpose they would be glad to welcome American representatives, and
A recognized method of continual consultation at Washington, for which purpose they are prepared to appoint representatives.

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These two sets of conferences at Washington and London would not be Allied councils with joint powers of decision, but meetings of friendly associates for the purpose of mutual information on which each may base his own independent recommendations to his Government. The information and recommendations would relate to two main classes of subjects:

Applications by exporters for licenses to ship goods to the northern neutrals and applications for free passage of goods to those neutrals through the naval patrols.
Requests received from the northern neutrals for facilities for the importation of supplies and proposals put forward by them or by any of the Governments associated in the war against Germany as to the conditions upon which such requests might be granted.

It is understood that the French Government similarly desire to welcome representatives at Paris in connection with the central bureaux of economic information and the international committee on Swiss imports established there.